The Making of Portrait of the Dying Self

January 29, 2015

Jennifer Rabin Portrait of the Dying Self

At the time that I made this, it was my most ambitious work to date. I knew it would be the largest in scale (130″ x 13″ x 86″) as well as scope, because it was going to take four people to do the livecasting. What I didn’t realize was how transformative it would be to make it.

One of the most difficult parts of losing someone is losing the part of yourself that was defined by your relationship to that person. When you lose a parent, you are also losing the part of yourself that was a son or daughter. When you lose a job you love, you lose the part of yourself that was filled up by that role. When my marriage ended, I not only had to grieve the loss of my husband, I had to say goodbye to the part of myself that was a devoted wife, a best friend, a partner. I clung to those parts because they gave my life purpose and meaning, and I wasn’t ready to let them go. But it became clear that I would have to in order to move forward.

I decided to make a self portrait of the part of me that was dying away so that I could lay her to rest. I chose to have the mold taken off of me when I was at my most frail because I also wanted to say goodbye to the part of me that was shattered, frightened, and fragile.

Three sculptures and mold makers extraordinaire–Shelby Davis, Cat Holtz, and Crystal Schenk–and photographer Damien Genardi came over to help me. The whole process took seven hours from beginning to end, three of which were spent on the table.

They started at my feet and worked their way up, so that my face would be the last thing covered. At around the two hour mark, I went to another place.

Making of Portrait of the Dying Self

Once they covered my face, there was only a small slit under my nose to breathe out of. I couldn’t see or hear anything. I felt them knocking all over my body to test whether the plaster was curing, but the rapping felt far away, as did the rest of the world.


They broke me out as quickly as they could. I don’t remember much because I was in a formidable amount of pain, but I do remember getting off the table feeling lighter.

Later, one of them would say to me that although they couldn’t explain it, they felt as though a part of me that had gotten on the table never came out of the mold.


Once the collaborative work was done, I had to prepare the mold.


Then I had to pour and clean up the casting.


After that, I finished the casting with resin and fiberglass to give it more structural integrity and a more beautiful surface.


The entire time I was working on the piece, I found myself talking to the sculpture, telling her she was going to be okay. I was very careful with her, always moving her gently. The process allowed me to take care of myself in a way that I hadn’t been able to for almost a year. Because the wounded part of me was embodied and outside of myself, I was able to feel love and compassion for her, and I was able to let her go.

Dying Self first gallery view

Dying Self Rear View

Foot detail

You can see more photos of the finished piece here.

The Making of Hollow Points

January 22, 2015

Hollow Points side view

When my parents came to get me, I’d been lying on the kitchen floor for days. I kept mumbling, “I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die.”

My father, in an attempt to bring me back to reality, said, “What are you going to die from, sweetie?”

This,” was all I could say, by which I meant the pressure over my sternum that radiated through my chest to my shoulders and throat, making it impossible to take a full breath or to speak above a whisper. Surely, it was on the order of a thousand pounds per square inch and soon my lungs would collapse or one of my vital organs would stop working. I remember reading in seventh grade about spontaneous human combustion. It was puzzling to scientists and to me at the time, but now I felt certain that it was the result of someone’s heart exploding from an insurmountable loss, like mine was about to, and that at any moment I would cease to exist.

For months, whenever a polite stranger at the grocery store or coffee shop said hello and asked me how I was doing, I thought Is this person blind? Can they not see the giant hole through the center of me? Can they not tell that this shirt I’m wearing is the only thing keeping my insides from spilling out onto the floor? 

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On the other side, I have learned that if your heart is broken badly enough, it cracks you open. If you survive your grief, it increases your capacity to experience wonder. It fills you with awe. That’s what this sculpture is about. It’s made from over 1500 hollow point bullets, which are incredibly lethal, but dammit if they don’t flower into something beautiful.

The first step was having a mold taken off of me by the obscenely talented, kind, and beautiful artist Crystal Schenk.



Then I poured the casting into the two-part mold.


In the meantime, I had to borrow a gun, which made me deeply uncomfortable, and order tactical ammunition by the caseload, which no doubt landed me on some government watchlist (or even more disturbing: it didn’t). Once the bullets arrived, the challenge was to figure out how to get them to do exactly what I wanted them to do. Artist Shelby Davis helped me brainstorm this part. (I should tell you that the first iteration of our plan involved shooting a gun from the top of a tree. I should also tell you that we weren’t stupid enough to actually do that.)

First, I had to do some target practice to get comfortable with the 9mm loaner. I’m afraid there were some casualties:

sparkle girl target practice

The test run was a success.

I got exactly what I was (literally and metaphorically) shooting for.

Making of Hollow POints

After that was hundreds of hours of this:


And it all led to this. You can see more photos of the piece here.

Hollow Points square

Update: I Want My Life to Mean Something (Tear Jerker)

May 19, 2014

Original submission photo, which some of you may remember:


Introducing, at four days old, the youngest participant in The Mean Something Project.  Welcome to the great wide world:


I Want My Life to Mean Something (Tear Jerker)

April 27, 2014

A new image was just added to The Mean Something Project. I receive photos from all over the world, and each one inspires me. Each one represents a life, a story, a wish. Each one reminds me that we’re all connected by the same universal desire.

I’m so moved by the fact that people have taken this idea and made it their own. When I received the latest photo, it brought me to tears.


For more info about the project or to participate, click here.