Maureen Cummins, “Accounting”
Artist: Maureen Cummins (High Falls, NY)
Title: Accounting (2012)
Medium/technique(s): Silkscreen and letterpress
Edition size: 30
Number of pages: 60
Dimensions, open: 14″ x 8″
Dimensions, closed: 14″ x 4″ x 1/4″
Accounting was inspired by my attendance at the centennial commemoration of the Triangle Factory Fire, an infamous disaster which occurred in New York City on March 25, 1911. As in previous years, the names of the dead were read aloud, but this time, due to the tireless research of one researcher, seven previously unidentified workers were added, making the list complete. This moving event inspired me to delve into the question of how disasters happen and how people heal.
Accounting, which mimics the look of a nineteenth century financial ledger, interweaves three layers of text in order to present both the personal and financial accounts behind this notorious industrial “accident.” The first is an imagined insurance claim submitted by the owners of the factory, Blanck and Harris, which lists dozens of items in order of value, from “40 garment presses” to “100 bolts of cotton lawn,” before ending with “146 workers, mainly women and girls.” Above this—and rising symbolically out of it—are the original testimonies of the survivors, for whom such a disaster had been “simply a matter of time.” The design of the book reinforces this temporal aspect: each spread encompasses a single minute as time expands and the terrifying 18-minute countdown begins.
The final textual layer describes—through the voices of the dead—the long slow aftermath of the disaster, and the final full-circle resolution. The narrative ends with the words, “For the first time in a century, all 146 of us were—in spirit—present and accounted for.”