There’s a great interiew with David Foster Wallace’s widow, artist Karen Green in The Guardian. Green, who is understandably not interested in being a “professional widow,” discusses her frustration with how Wallace’s death has “defined” her in the public’s eye, and the forgiveness machine that she created after he died but did not use herself.
The first piece of art that Karen Green made after her husband, David Foster Wallace, took his own life on 12 September 2008, was a forgiveness machine…
“Before David died,” she says, “I had been working on some machines, with a five-year old – the son of a friend who had a gallery down the road from mine.”…The day that her husband hanged himself she had been working on a political machine that involved a bright-coloured circus tent, elephants and donkeys. For a long while after that, she says, she couldn’t make any art at all, wondered if she ever would again, but eventually, tentatively, she developed the idea for her conciliatory Heath-Robinson. “The forgiveness machine was seven-feet long,” she says, “with lots of weird plastic bits and pieces. Heavy as hell.” The idea was that you wrote down the thing that you wanted to forgive, or to be forgiven for, and a vacuum sucked your piece of paper in one end. At the other it was shredded, and hey presto.
Green put the machine on display at a gallery in Pasadena near the Los Angeles suburb, Claremont, where she and Wallace had lived in the four years they had been married. She was fascinated by the effect that it had on people who used it. “It was strange,” she suggests, “it all looked like fun, but then when the moment came for people to put their message actually in it, they became anxious. It was like: what if it works and I really have to forgive my terrible parent or whoever.”
In the end, Green didn’t use the machine herself, except to put a few tester messages through. “I couldn’t give it my full attention,” she explains. “I was worried it wouldn’t even work for the full four hours of the show’s opening. I was also kind of a mess about surviving the opening itself. Seeing people, chatting. Not ‘kind of a mess’ – a mess. I couldn’t imagine doing it.” She thought she would come back to visit the machine after the opening but instead she drove to her new home, not far from where she grew up, and stayed there. The machine was overwhelmed, too; it couldn’t process all the requests and was eventually dismantled. “Forgiving is never as easy as we would like,” she says. “Apparently quite a lot of people cried.”
LOVE the forgiveness machine. (And the gloves.)