“STUFFED is based on my memories as a child bubbling back to the surface as decades locked away. What I used to cherish is not reduced to ash, but the ascension into something greater.”
"A few years ago I was helping my parents clean out the attic in their house. It was full of all sorts of youth memorabilia: action figures, trophies, maybe a few throwing stars, and so on. I browsed through box after box snagging a few things that I knew I wanted to keep and others that were destined for the trash bin. Tucked away in a corner were two giant boxes labeled “Justin’s Stuffed Animals”. These were exactly as the label described. My ‘stuffies’, ‘lovies’, best friends, or whatever other moniker I gave them thirty years ago.
"I took the boxes home and started going through them one by one. Each dive into the box called-up a distant memory from deep inside the vault. It was a flood of reflection that drowned me in both nostalgia and uncertainty. Over time, they began to emerge as a device representing more than just close inanimate friends from long ago. They were an audience to years of emotional distress. I could recall places that I hadn't thought of in decades. I could feel the air, smell the smells, and experience the emotions welling back up inside, but it was more than nostalgia; it was muscle memory. And that is a feeling that didn’t necessarily need, or want, resurfacing.
"Was I remembering this correctly? Is this a real memory or just a convenient companion piece to whatever it is I’m looking at? After so many decades tucked away up a ladder, through a door, across a room, inside a box were dozens of memories stuffed together burning through my psyche once again. How was I to best preserve their memory and my own? I didn't want to just give them away, but had no intention of continuing to store them. It wasn’t hard to realize what needed to be done next; ascension by destruction of polysynthetic friends that comforted me when all seemed strange and what I now know was trauma boxed away for years to come, now unearthed from an attic deep inside my past. What’s a boy to do? Burn them all."
STUFFED is a photo series incorporating Justin Nolan Key's personal childhood stuffed animals, deconstructed in order to challenge inner personal trauma from his adolescence. Through the use of familiar objects, it’s an attempt at normalizing the conversation about repressed emotional wounds.
“Almost all of us have some memory of a cherished stuffed animal or doll we once loved, says Chauvet Arts director Jorge Arrieta. "I remember placing several of them around the border of my bed to protect me while I slept. I think it worked. This series aims to revisit some of our past memories, good or bad and to bring with us those which serve us best and move us toward the light and to let the rest go or try and heal. We do want to have fun with this exhibition and that's why we have a vintage claw machine where you are invited to bring a stuffy to let go or to rescue one and begin a new journey.”
The show is on display at CHAUVET Arts in downtown Nashville from June through the end of July, 2023. Gallery operating hours are Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.