Moderna Blondin

Nelson Fine Art Center
Downtown, Johnson City, TN
March 2013


Shimmer Machine, An Artist’s Statement by Jaime Santos-Prowse


I daydream about a girlhood I never experienced, that perhaps no one experienced.

In the utmost escalation of this fantasy, beyond all reality, I am blonde. Small hands for a small body contained within a protective fortress, isolated from ugliness, discomfort, pain, and death. Ageless in both body and spirit, my purity would shine continuously in all directions, tinting all moments in its radiant golden hue. My body would not know disease, injury, sex, or decay. It would suffer not even the smallest humility. I could float innocently in my safe detachment, like Persephone before her abduction, Rapunzel before meeting a prince, Aurora before her 16th birthday, Danae before being impregnated by Zeus, and the Lisbon sisters before they all comitted suicide.

In the Swedish fairy tale The Magician’s Cape, a magician kidnaps young girls from nearby villages and brings them to his castle, which has an enchanted garden that abundantly grows beautiful flowers and fruits. The girls are made to dance for him and live as his servants until a beautiful, blonde maiden overpowers him with her goodness and purity. Her hair is literally the salvation of herself, the captive girls, and all the neighboring villages. According to this symbology, I would not be the heroine of this tale because I am brunette. I would not be the one that escapes. I would be the one who is made to dance, made to be this evil little man’s whore. When he’s done with me, I may be cast out into a world that resents me. Or I may die. (The story is unclear about the fate of his slaves.) This story brings to mind other stories, such as Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring, which always leads me to questions of purity, safety, innocence, and light vs. darkness. What does it mean to be pure? Is our interest in the isolated maiden not actually about her safety and preservation, but her eventual tragic defilement? What is it like to be thought of as too innocent to suffer, instead of deserving? Who needs to be redeemed? And why?

At the beginning of this project, I wanted to understand my role and to enact a fantasy of transformation into purity and isolation. We could pretend, all of us, that the illusion maintains the meanings we still archaically hold against our better judgment. It hums so quietly beneath the surface, all I wanted was a moment for it to howl. But as it happens with any idea that has time and space to breathe, it became about other things, too. The contemporary spectacle of blondness, youth, and beauty as it exists in our intensely visual, digital culture. Self-denial and pleasure. The ornamentation of innocent luminescence.

I can choose to think of purity differently. We all can and sometimes we do. At my fringes, I still find myself enchanted by the shining promises of a purity that redeems everything.


Special thanks to Dick Nelson, Sidney Alexander Blevins, Robert Santos-Prowse, Marie Porterfield Barry, Karlota Isla Contreras-Koterbay, Jordan Alexandra Mullins, Claire Gillen, Kelli Dillon, Gail Hickman, and The Schroeders for their generous contributions. And thank you to those who shared their pictures!

More photos in the Moderna Blondin Flickr album and at Liz Layton's website.