Eleanor Epstein: The Work of the Divine Non-Binary [Interview]

People and events discharge their energies onto the land, and these residual energies signify their presence in silent waves or vibrations.
— Marilou Awiakta

Cinematic self-portraiture searching for a non-binary divine through place-making in the southern landscape. This collection is about uncovering and embodying a mysticism deeply entrenched in the generations of women in the region. The daily duties of which have been far from their perceived gender norm. 

“No matter how large or wealthy the establishment, the mistress was expected to understand not only the skills of spinning, weaving, and sewing but also gardening, care of poultry, care of the sick, and all aspects of food preparation from the sowing of seed to the appearance of the final product on the table. Fine ladies thought nothing of supervising hog butchering on the first cold days in fall, or of drying fruits and vegetables for the winter. They made their own yeast, lard, and soap, set their own hens, and were expected to be able to make with equal skills rough dress for a slave or ball gown for themselves. It was customary for the mistress to rise at five or six, and to be in the kitchen when the cook arrived, to “overlook” all the arrangements for the day."

-Eleanor Epstein

The Work of the Divine Non-Binary: Interview with Eleanor Epstein

MHM: Place is really important to your photography, can you talk more about the process on how you choose a space?
EE: There’s a sort of hunting/stalking process that happens. I’ll drive by the places day after day and some will start to talk. It’s usually the lighting that speaks. 


I was up on that bluff that I’ve looked out on for years... something broke inside me and I started chanting ‘delivering the dreams.’

MHM: Do you think your images contain a narrative? If so can you talk about a few?
EE: When I talk about process I mention getting lost in a higher state of being. In that state there comes a narrative. There’s a setting with props around me, but the words and story become activated when I embrace that I am just a vessel. Specifically Dealer of Dreams- I was up on that bluff that I’ve looked out on for years and after trying many compositions something broke inside me and I started chanting “delivering the dreams” over and over in my head. I really believed that’s what I was doing that it was of the land I was standing on.  


MHM: Do you connect with your images more during the creation of them or after while editing and looking back?
EE: There’s always a moment when I’m shooting and I feel like I got the image I was searching for. An image can take hours to click. To get to that state of understanding involves total submersion into the potential of an image. In that case it is completely through creation that the bond occurs.  


MHM: Do you feel nostalgic for your female ancestors or more re-awakened by them from the discharged energy within landscape?
EE: Our female bodies gave their bodies to the land and it is in that land which we sow new seeds every season. I think they never left, but are instead continually existing in the land and guiding us. Since I’ve returned to the south I can feel their energy again. 


‘Plato believed that the human soul exists eternally, and exists in a ‘world of forms (or ideas)’ before life; all learning is the process of remembering ‘shadows’ of these forms here on Earth.’

MHM: What are you reading or listening to that inspires your practice?
EE: I’ve kept a book from the library so long now that it belongs to me and that is Bloodroot; Reflections on Place by Appalachian Women Writers by Joyce Dyer. Reading it is like experiencing the idea of innatism by Plato in that upon experiencing the writer’s words I am filled with a knowledge I already knew in my soul. “Plato believed that the human soul exists eternally, and exists in a “world of forms (or ideas)” before life; all learning is the process of remembering “shadows” of these forms here on Earth.” I’ve also been listening to and reading the interviews of John Maus. 


MHM: How do you want viewers to feel or react to your work? 
EE: I want to say something about the importance of mystery and magic here. Doors, and gates, and portals. 


MHM: You also make sculptures, do you see these two bodies of work as part of the same series or as two different entities/how do they inform each other?
EE: They are a back and forth of the brain. When one is drained the other begins. Always informing the other. 

MHM: Are there any new or upcoming artists that you admire? 
EE: The work by Genevieve Figgis at The Half Gallery has been catching my eye the past year. In college i was blown away by Ramell Ross’s work about Alabama. That work has now circled around into a documentary. His work is crucial.  

MHM: If you had to choose a tertiary medium (outside of sculpture and photography) to work with in the future, what would you choose? How would this choice inform your past and future work?
EE: I’d say dance, performance, and film are actively other informants of my work. 



MiniDocs: Reel 3 


"This Mini Doc started on a drive with Eleanor. She stated "I don't exactly know where we are going, we have to get lost to find it."  As we drove around, she pointed out various landmarks and operative moments that I could not quite see myself. I became a little frustrated as I kept missing these magical sightings she described so vividly. She says she has trained herself to see in this way. Investigating the landscape is part of her creative practice. She drives around in search of everyday cinematic spaces to capture self-portraits. I turned around to her backseat, and there laid 20 different costumes ready to tell their story. That day, we landed at a gate which opened up to the blue Chattanooga skyline. She had luckily bought a blue jacket the day prior that perfectly matched this skyline. I thought, "You could not warehouse this kind of moment even if you tried." It was as if this landscape was calling to her.  In her artist statement, she speaks of the landscape as having a deeply divine spirituality. I saw this; she unfolded into this nostalgic feminine energy, a mystery of self and ancestry. Fluid, in the way that water moves, is her process and Eleanor as a being." - Claire Bloomfield




Eleanor Epstein is an interdisciplinary artist who casts a critical glance on the residue of antebellum ideals permeating women in Eastern Tennessee. Inspired by a childhood of valleys, mountains, and etiquette in southern Appalachia she pursued a BFA at the Rhode Island School of Design. Believing the light on the land to be the source of magic, she hunts for dreamscapes while driving every day. She has exhibited in Rhode Island, New York, and Tennessee and currently resides paces away from the Tennessee River.

Mineral House