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.