America Through a P.O. Box
My name is Katharina Marchant and I am currently pursuing my MFA in Photography at Utah State University. I have a Bachelor's in Painting and Criminal Justice from UNLV. My work has always been a study of society and culture. From moving every two years of my life I experienced many different societies and find the differences fascinating, especially when an individual is never accepted by his surrounding culture. My paintings were studies of what it meant to be from Wyoming, a state I lived in for some middle school, high school, and some of college. I also created work about American children growing up in Berlin during the 1980's and 90's. I found inspiration for this work in the beginning line of a film. In 'A River Runs Through It,' the main character Norman begins his narration by reminiscing, "Long ago, when I was a young man, my father said to me, "Norman, you like to write stories." And I said "Yes, I do." Then he said, "Someday, when you're ready you might tell our family story. Only then will you understand what happened and why."" I began to consider how I would write my story, photograph my story, and create my story. I did not grow up near family in the sense that many people do. I did not have the opportunity to visit my grandparents during the summer or have lunch with an uncle periodically. Often my family lived a few countries away. My family became the squadron my father was assigned. Often members of this squadron moved to the same base over and over again. The children in these military families became my family members. I started thinking about my family, the dynamic of family, the culture of my family. My family was strange. When asked, "Oh, where are you from?" my father could respond without hesitation, "I'm from Elizabethtown Pennsylvania. Born, bred, and Amish fed!" When my sisters and I were asked the same question we tripped over our words. We scrambled for the correct answer. My father was so proud of being an American but for my sisters and I the only tie to America we had was a piece of paper confirming our citizenship. Because of this division of "from-ness" in our lives, my sisters and I found comfort in the fact we were not alone. Our family, our Air Force, our military family, created their own culture, their own home. We became from wherever the Air Force sent us. Just as families are traditionally from a single spot on the globe, my friends and I are from cylinder brick homes with barely enough room to fit a five person family. We are from abandoned military posts, demolished bases, and forgotten instillations. We have our own nomadic subculture that allows us to view the world from the outside and from within. We are Americans but we are also America's forgotten children she doesn't claim. We spent years of our lives dedicated to America. Traveling from base to base, our fathers leaving for months on end in the name of America often without notice, dealing with the stress of war, parents dying, parents living, parents divorcing, we are the dedicated invisible soldiers who often never see America until our teen years. Often the only contact to America a Brat has is through the P.O. Box. Every other day my mother would pack us kids up. We would drive through town, through the German streets, past the statues of the Kaiser, past fields, cows, and finally onto the American base. We would wait, often impatiently; while my mother opened the box. Once open we would receive America. Letters from the government, taxes, absentee ballots, advertisements, and letters from American relatives we never had met. Sometimes my mother would save cereal box tops and send for prizes, we would then receive America's Tony the Tiger. It was America. All this mail was grand but nothing compared to the highly anticipated and cherished J.C. Penny catalog. Now this surely was what it meant to be American. Basketball, Arizona Jeans, Barbie and G.I. Joe was no doubt as American as the apple pie I had never tasted. We lived in a German world. Us Military Brats were born in Germany, spoke German, wore German clothing. Often our mothers were German, we ate German food, watched German television, but for a few hours while we were on the American base we were American. While driving on the base, while flipping through the J.C. Penny catalog we were American children. America Through a P.O. Box is 2.5x3 feet and created on stretched canvas. There are ten layers to complete the image. The work is a mixed media piece that consists of paint, paper, transferred photographic images, and caulk. The base layer consists of paint and tissue paper. Paint and photographic images transferred with caulk and acrylic paint are layered on and scrapped off repeatedly. I react to the canvas instinctively while layering the middle ground. The final images are transferred with clear caulk to create the finished work. This specific piece had 7 photographs systematically applied and reduced. The upper images the viewer sees are of the P.O. Boxes and the Kaiser. The construction process of my work was inspired from the work of the Constuctivists. These artists utilized various mediums to achieve a singular concept. The Constructivists are considered early developers of photomontage which inspired painters and photographers to combine various mediums. The work of Alexander Rodchenko, Joseph Beuys, Jane Hammond, and Max Penson has specifically influenced my mixed media and photography work. The lifestyle and culture of a Military Brat is so difficult to understand or convey that the abstract nature of mixed media is desired. I created this work originally in a traditional photographic sense but the work was lacking in the emotional understanding of the Military Brat's situation. To fill this hole of understanding, or lack of understanding, I utilize gestural movements in the piece through addition and reduction of information to convey this sense of emotion. To grow up from country to country, state to state, and never given permission by natives to belong is a strange way of living, but the military child prevails in this situation. Over the next few years I plan to show this complete body of work around the world in towns near military instillations. My goal is to create understanding, respect, and recognition for these children. By displaying this work in civilian towns near military bases I plan to create a cultural tie between these two separate groups of individuals. There are moments and memories in our lives we label as important, life altering. By receiving mail from America and living moments on an American installation the military child has confirmation of their American-ness. The child also needs to be aware of their global-ness. The child grows to be a citizen of the world and not only America or the country of origin. A Military Brat's eyes perceive the world from the inside and outside of a culture. This unique opportunity should be recognized and respected.
Marchant, Katharina, "America Through a P.O. Box" (2014). Graduate Research Symposium. Paper 72.