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B. Penn

1462: As lightly as an Option Gown


Dickinson often wrote about being 'homeless' at home. In installation 1462: As lightly as an Option Gown, the artist is looking at the idea of leaving the home to run from difficulty, find identity, living in many places (symbolized by eggs in suitcase) or leaving by 'turning to or going to the mind, but staying put". The second notion is likely the way Dickinson traveled. 

In being 'homeless' or 'homeless at home', one can still be tied to early authority or put up one's own personal armor (symbolized by the coat). The doll on the shelf (in the same room) is contained and lying immobilized, face up like a corpse, up against a wall or bed-like structure that is bound in the fabric filler found between old mattress ticking. The doll's insides are revealed 'publicly' and is displayed directly opposite the wall of the coat. 

The double frame (on another wall in the room) contains the full poem, printed twice. The image of the poem in the left frame is a worn, ghosted image of the poem and it is next to the clearly printed poem on the right. The two poems together could represent finding a new option for living. The dual frame could also symbolize relationship – knowing someone who has had a strong influence, then passes in a death that catches one off guard or keeps one in denial. 

Dickinson's poem seems to remind us how death as a reality is still taboo in our culture, and that as humans we continue to build up armor to avoid its discussion, waiting to face it only when death comes "unexpectedly", as if we can deny or be ignorant about the eventuality. 


We knew not that we were to live – 
Nor when – we are to die – 
Our ignorance – our cuirass is – 
We wear Mortality 
As lightly as an Option Gown 
Till asked to take it off – 
By his intrusion, God is known – 
It is the same with Life – 

c. 1879                                                    1894

by Emily Dickinson
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson 
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

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