Mother holds plate after walk

A grieving mother holds her finished plate after her evaporation walk

Photo courtesy of: Lori Esposito

Lori Esposito

Lori Esposito's "Evaporation Walks" exhibit was on display at the Kennedy Museum of Art in Fall 2016

Photo courtesy of: Lori Esposito

Evaporation Plate in green

A finished green evaporation plate

Photo courtesy of: Lori Esposito

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Faculty member uses paint and plates to cope with grief after death of her sister

Lori Esposito now shares healing exercise with others who are grieving


Grief and despair affect people most often during the end-of-the-year holiday season. That is when people can’t help but remember their loved ones who are no longer around to share these special moments.

The overwhelming feeling of loss was what Lori Esposito, Ohio University chair of Foundations and lecturer in the School of Art + Design, Painting and Drawing, said led her to take a special walk to honor the memory of her late sister, Renee Esposito.

That day was the birth of what Esposito now calls the Evaporation Walks, a performance piece that makes a painting while you walk.

EVAPORATION WALKS EXPLAINED

During an Evaporation Walk, the participant carries a dish or plate with pigmented water, vegetable dye, ink, or spices on it. As it splashes and swishes from being carried, the paint creates a map of motions and a record of time.

“Each plate commemorates a walk as an action and place, and the end of the walk is determined by the completed process of evaporation,” Esposito said. “This practice focuses on the pace and rhythm of the walk rather than predetermining the arrival at any destination point.”

THE ORIGIN OF THE GRIEF

Renee Esposito died from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression following a difficult stint in the U.S. military. Prior to their separation, the Esposito sisters were the closest of siblings who spent much of their childhood living together in California, Massachusetts and Maryland with their mother, Judy, and stepfather, Charles Fox, a former chair of the Ohio University School of Film.

After finding out about her sister’s untimely death, Esposito said she needed to find a way to move forward. She wanted to create a unique meditation to both honor her grief and her sister’s memory.

“Stigmas can be placed on certain types of deaths or mental illness,” Esposito said. “I really wanted to retell that story in a way that honored my grief journey, not as a horror story, but something that I’m growing stronger from, while also carrying forward the memory of my sister.”

Esposito said the first place she went to in her moment of loss was away from everything.

“I wanted to go out into the uninhabited, void of landscape – what I perceived to be as making myself as small as possible,” she said. “We all mythologize landscape, we colonize it and don’t often look at, ‘what was here before.’ We can determine whatever we need it to be at any given moment.

“This can be a beautiful thing, there are some drawbacks to it, but this is, in part, how we build and construct our identities and that is what I needed to do in this time when I lost my sibling. I needed to reconstruct my identity and be by myself. Walking became a way to return to myself and walk away from everything that reminded me of who I once was and how my responsibilities were perceived, because they were overwhelming at the time.”

THE WALK

To move through her grief, Esposito ended up walking with her plates in many beautiful places like New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming and even the Ohio countryside.

“That was rehabilitating for me and that was what made it performative, because it was not about the theater of ‘here I am everybody’ – I was my own audience,” Esposito said.

Esposito pointed out that people often walk and run marathons to raise money and awareness for many different causes.

“Evaporation Walks are a little different. We’re not walking to get somewhere or to get in shape, but it’s a way of intentionally being in the world and being transient,” she said. “Walking, in this instance, becomes a creative act.”

DRAWING THE ATTENTION OF OTHERS 

Over the years, Esposito said she has walked with her evaporation plates in deserts, cow pastures, cities, canyons, suburban neighborhoods and along highway ditches.

She admitted that sometimes she can feel silly walking with a dinner plate along the side of the road because truckers honk their horns and many drivers slow down to see what she is doing. However, she said she stays focused and doesn’t let it distract her.

“The plate forces me to walk attentively. Otherwise there’s this invisible suffering in silence,” she said.

Esposito said the paint and the plate are metaphors and create visibility for the process of becoming.

“The performance object gives us a visual marker for what would otherwise be an everyday mundane thing,” she added. “It makes us think about the pedestrian differently. Carrying this plate makes walking evocative, something we may not be totally familiar with. I’m balancing a shallow dish filled with intensely colored liquid with all of my effort. Something is at stake.”

TIME TO HELP OTHERS

After realizing the healing powers of the Evaporation Walks on her own life, Esposito decided to share the practice with others.

In 2014, she presented the Evaporation Walks concept in a workshop to the Compassionate Friends, a group of mothers who have lost a child to suicide or murder.

“The walks found a home because these people knew what to do with the plates and were waiting to do something to honor their children,” Esposito said. “It was meaningful and touching for them. Many of them had words of wisdom to share and these were some of the wisest and sincere people I had encountered. That encouraged me to keep sharing the work as it gave me a stronger sense of purpose.”

Esposito has presented and facilitated Evaporation Walks as far as California. She also has been asked to introduce it to cancer and other trauma survivors around the country.  

“This work speaks to bereavement culture. It’s not about suicide survival or my sister, but rather a journey of transformation,” Esposito said. “I needed that as a person who felt that I was going through something that no one else could understand. It profoundly connected me back to the planet and my humanity. When I passed the practice on to others, it activated a community for those people who participated later on.”

FORMER STUDENT JOINS THE COMMUNITY 

One of Esposito’s former students recently wrote her to thank her for sharing the Evaporation Walks with her during a recent Ohio University Kennedy Museum of Art artist talk.

The former student wrote that she had been trying to decide what she wanted to do to acknowledge the 10-year anniversary of her mother’s death and had not visited the grave site for more than a year.

“Though she did not die a tragic death, she did die alone and it was a traumatic shock to our family that she was just gone,” the former student wrote. “I am still suffering from her loss and I miss her terribly. We had become very close friends, not just mother and daughter. After hearing your talk, I decided to walk for my mom.”

The former student said that her mother died on a beautiful fall day and is buried in a lovely place that has a show of fall autumn leaves.

“Today was one of those 99.2 percent absolutely perfect fall days and was a good day to get away from Athens and life here,” she wrote.

For her Evaporation Walk, the former student said she used a casserole dish that her mother had given her. 

“This casserole dish made many dinners and deep dish apple pies that were shared with my mother, son and family,” she wrote. “I managed to break it somehow, but could never throw it away. After your talk, I was trying to figure out a plate to use, and as soon as I saw the dish, I knew this was it.” 

The former student said she and her mother loved to wake up early to drink coffee and plan their day. That morning she made fresh coffee in memory of her mother.

“I drank the coffee while traveling up to my mother’s grave site, leaving about a quarter cup for her,” she wrote. “It has been a long time since I had drank coffee with her on such a beautiful day. I have to give you credit for this; if it had not been for your art, I would not have such a wonderful healing experience. Thank you.”

She added that she walked exactly 42 minutes and 21.9 seconds until the paint in her casserole dish was completely evaporated. She told Esposito that the number nine is the angelic number, which was the perfect number for that day.

THE MEMORY COMPLETE

Esposito said that when she looks at a finished Evaporation Walk plate, she vividly remembers that experience.  

“I’ve done more than 50 plates,” she said. “The plates are documentation of the walks, and my carrying hands. They also are like thumb prints, a more accurate document of the experience than a photograph.”


This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.