Uncanny Homecoming: Exploring Identity and Alienation in Casey Meyers’s “I’m Feeling a Little Strange”

Casey Meyers’s series “I’m Feeling a Little Strange” is about homecoming, but there is little at-homeness to the spirit of the series. Instead, the art discusses life and identity as they lapse into mute simulacra, reflections that appear as lived experience but are not quite ‘real’ in the sense of actual presence. The crisis of belonging described in Meyers’s series, though, emerges from inner strength, the will to dive inward to look directly at ineffable alienation even if it is bottomless.

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Personal context plays an important role in this series. Meyers tells us that this work comes on the heels of losing her independence after being on her own for several years and is a laboured process of striving to create art while inhabiting a space of low motivation. The context of moving into her parents’ home gives the series its liminal quality; because it is persistent through torpor, it is a work of personal transition, of asking oneself how to put together an adult identity inside her childhood home.

The troubled mental and emotional palette of the series saturates this brave persistence with deep, abiding melancholia. What emerges are artifacts at an attempt of creation and connection: portraits of tapped-out depression, disassociated shadow wanderings, suicidal ideation, dulling coping mechanisms, and important surges of willpower.

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The problem at first looks like connection, but it is more accurate to say re-connection: reforming intimacy with life, which the subject is estranged from. Having lost the way, the character of these photographs searches for the way home. But it is like a terrified fairy tale, the character finds their literal home only to find themselves not at home with themselves, still lost in spirit, a string of discontinuous identities.

Meyers’s above portrait illustrates this point about elliptical identities rather beautifully and tragically. The soft focus on her tired and obscured face intones desolation. Her eyes look but do not register; instead, they gaze through, showing a lack of emplacement. The bouquet that stands in the way of her seeing her face fully look like flowers collected on a summer night walk, alone, and then captured on the back porch to speak of gone days; because the flowers are lighted out, we know the feeling is not warm nostalgia, but dull aching numbness.

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Numbness–or what we might better describe as a dissociative state caused by exhaustion and anxiety. In this portrait, space dissipates as an interior drama rages inside her head. Her tired eyes and resigned expression suggests the severity of the fight prevented sleep. Through these two portraits focusing on her face, and leaving out the rest of the body, Meyers locates her strangeness as psychic, mental. But the titled balance of her head carries none of the posture the previous portrait claimed.

The “strangeness” referenced in the series’s title, as I suggested earlier, speaks to the disconnection from oneself, estrangement, evidenced in the previous self-portraits. This feeling of estrangement toward her own body also plays out onto the world around her.

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Houses and nature, too, become infected with this gaze malaise. In keeping with the previous portraits, this house shot describes headspace. The drained sepia tone, torpid gray sky, and insidious phantom trees paint the longing for home in estranged strokes. Expanding her range of subjects in this way deepens the problem of homecoming; homes, like people, retain trauma in heavy connotations that colour space. The sharp angularity and frightening reach grab our eye, but the content turns us away.

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While it is difficult, and probably irrelevant, to surmise Meyers’s relationship with every house that appears in this series, it is important to remark that houses serve as uncanny encounters with wanting to find home. Indeed, the vast, cold night and light bursting through ghastly tree limbs defamiliarizes the house, yet it is a beacon that commands our attention. Meyers engages with houses in this way to convey the sense of wanting to return home–to belong–but being kept at bay.

Selfhood is at stake with unresolved homecoming. In this between void that encroaches on one’s humanity, the shadow of banishment takes over until life is but a shadow. The elongated, deformed figure we see creeping from the bottom of the frame is exiled from an interiority–selfhood, identity–that these odd houses seem to embody (or house) in the traditional sense. Clearly, this desire wrecks on false promises. The feeling is anguish; the evening light acts a bewitching channel of communion, accentuating failure to reach the connection that is within sight.

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Meyers gives us a closer look at exile. It is being visibly locked out from meaning. Whereas before, the drama plays out through gazing and observation, here the camera brings us into close quarters. The hunched walker figure conveys withering, the deteriorating shape of the human form. The physical weighs down mental, emotional, and spiritual anguish.

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It would be overstating to say that the character of “Strange” is completely void of home. Yet, interactions inside them are unfamiliar. Familial fetishes, like this cat, offer no recognition. Like Meyers’s first portrait, the return gaze bypasses regard; the look is not constitutive–it does not affirm the identity or existence of what it looks at. There is no companionship between it and what it beholds.

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Even the will to stand is saturated in weight. Yet, this image distinguishes itself by recognizing that the will to stand within this struggle feels like an insurmountable task. Somehow, motivation rescues the character from sitting in depression to standing, no small resistance. Standing bravely–wanting to ‘believe’–the evaporation of color tinges the message with the duality of the series: in pain, but surviving and thriving.

Meyers’s portraiture, you may notice, isolates parts of her body in dramatic moments. These last two portraits explain the duality of engagement expressed in the wider series.

As her hands are held up to the light, they are held up to two different gazes. The pictures of the same scene tell us different things. The left is a portrait of surprise–the realization that the hands are accessible, are of her. The moment of realization carries warmth, overpowered by morning light. The other, a mirror meditates our gaze of the hands; we become disconnected, off to the side.

Both shots dramatize the struggle with contact, ownership over the body: engagement versus disconnection. What the difference signifies is an imperfect balance, the tendency to flow between relationships with herself of presence and distance.

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Standing despite depression, “I’m Feeling a Little Strange” sheds truth on the experience of battling illness with art. In honesty, without glamour, Meyers presents estrangement in evocative ways that blend despair with hope. Her homecoming is beset by difficulties, but her art demonstrates perseverance. This duality animates Meyers’s photographs; through adversity the images show words of encouragement, statements of growth, the courage to live. Homecoming might prove difficult, but it is integral, the way forward. In this path, the series shines.

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To see more of Meyers’s work, visit her Instagram.

 

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