Vestige by Sue Carrie Drummond is an offset printed bound concertina that examines the artist’s relationship to clothing she has kept for sentimental reasons. The book is printed monochrome in a rich, warm brown. The darkest browns are in the sizable negative spaces, while text and imagery are knocked out to varying degrees of lightness. On warm off-white paper, even the brightest elements feel soft and delicate. The limited palette and minimalistic images make Vestige cohesive and immersive.
Vestige is driven by its text; lyrical prose written in first person. Via worn out articles of clothing, the narrative covers the writer’s relationship with her father, mother, friends and lovers. The book culminates with one romantic relationship, but the earlier ones help introduce the narrator and provide the context for that relationship. The narrator’s relationship with her parents seems to foreshadow and impact her romantic life, but is interesting and relatable in its own right. More than any specific relationship, Vestige is about the narrator’s way of relating to her own past and the people who shaped it.
Text and image are sparse. Meaning is found in subtlety: pacing, composition and juxtaposition of text and image. Passages employ metonymy and double entendre to slow down the reader, complicate the narrative, and reconcile the book’s lyrical delicacy with its charged confessional content.
One such page reads,
“We drifted for miles / while I adapted to their fit, / breaking them in.”
Pertaining to hand-me-down clothes as well as ex-lovers, the double reading is reinforced by the background imagery, which has transitioned from the fabrics of old clothing to what appear to be bed sheets. As the metonymy becomes more obvious in these middle pages, the reader is encouraged to reread the more ambiguous beginning of the book, which now takes on new depth.
Structural and compositional clues help readers navigate these ambiguities without resolving them, which would rob the book of its richness. Pages without text serve as transitions between trains of thought. The result is a book with three loosely demarcated sections and a conclusion, all of which blend fluidly together. As one reads, the book is unified and the narrative progresses naturally in chronological order. On a second reading, one begins to note correlations between text and image, pacing and composition, which signal shifts in tone and subject. For example, in the opening section of the book the images of a sweater hem stretch the full width of each spread and the text sits just above this horizon line. These compositions feel stable, calm and strong; the narrator talks about her parents. As the book continues into the tension and confusion of romantic relationships, the text sinks to the bottom of the page and the images are angular and unstable. Even the relative sharpness or softness of the imagery fluctuates throughout the book and influences how the text reads.
The book’s strength is in the way that gradual shifts in mood and increasingly loaded figurative language effectively expand the narrative. This gradual departure from the literal requires a reappraisal of what has already been read, and poses multiple readings of the content to come. In this way familiar symbols, like clothing and domestic spaces, elicit explorations of deep psychological territory like memory, relationships, and the body. The depth of these topics transcend the narrator’s specificity, which allows readers to contemplate their own relationship with the past, and the objects and places that define it. Vestige encourages introspection, but also empathy.