Heaven’s Gain – Case Files
July 5th, 2013. “Hey Bro, well its 7 months today since you was taken away from us . . . I know you don’t want to see us down & heart broken. It is going to get harder b4 it get easy but we trying.” Since the murder of her twin brother on December 5, 2012, Elena Jo McElwee, writes to him on the 5th day of every month. She fills the blank space on her bedroom walls with notes to her brother. She must maintain this connection with him. She must never forget.
With over 300 unsolved murders in the last two decades, Chester, PA, is known as a place where you can get away with murder. For the last 06 years, I’ve collaborated with community members in attempt to understand the physical and psychological implications of this popular perception.
Case Files- My attempt to borrow the aesthetic language of Police case files is to expand the investigation into the realm of the emotional, physical, and spiritual landscape that transpires from unresolved trauma. Each constructed case file can supplement a forensic means to identify, classify and organize information into one concise body of evidence to bring these stories to the present. The material inside contains a family portrait I have taken, and an image from the murder scene captured around the time of day the crime was committed. Both photographs were captured with a 4×5 camera. Additionally, to give the families’ a vehicle in their own depiction, I’ve collected ephemeral material (letters, love songs, drawings, diary entries and other objects), which is interwoven into the presentation. The ephemera collected consists of two main types of expression: historic documents highlighting the legacy of the individual who was murder, along with documents relating to how the individual family member featured is processing their loss internally and externally. ie: Shanell Brightwell, 26, lost her father, Garry Brightwell, when she was a girl, and ever since she can remember she has collected local newspaper clippings of various acts of violence as a means to process her loss.
My ultimate assumption of this work will be to forge pathways towards justice, healing and restitution by serving as an archeological index for investigating, disassembling and reframing each murder as a living memory that simultaneously traverses and molds the landscape, psyche and soma of Chester.