Playing Happy Families – Meddling, Squashing, Questioning the Family Square

What has happened over the last week in this collaborative exploration of family histories? Not much, yet still enough. Petra Suko and I had another conversation on Zoom where we started to look together at some of our experiments with photographs of various relations. As to be expected, Petra focusing currently in her artistic practice on ancestry showed a lot of different works, whereas I, still fumbling with how to approach this new terrain, had created just two simple collages. Petra shared not so much her paintings but mostly moving image works and a few multi-layered photographic collages. I am still thinking about these pieces but for this post I want to focus on my first stumbling steps, partly because they triggered a shift in me that made my doubts about engaging with such personal material through my artistic practice somewhat dissipate.

Excerpt out of one of the two collages

Yet what did I actually do in these collages? During our exchange of family images I was often stunned by how the images in Petra’s email were coming together, edge on edge with no distance or apparent spatial order. At times I could hardly look at it, it felt too close and oppressive as if one capture tried to outdo the other. Being what I am this made me want to try it out for myself. I must say that I failed miserably and placed my mementi mori on plenty of white background.* I gave it another stab and I decided to see what would happen if I used my own pictures as a quasi response to Petra’s family photographs. Following on from our discussion on siblings I created a loose collage of four images in a square. Something visually quite timid but to me far from boring as it made me look beyond the content of the individual image at what they seemed to share, the self-representations of family.

I recognised what I had long known that is that family photographs are highly selective and used to create mostly rosy tinted stories. This intention tends to be fuelled by what can be described as an economy of happiness, an idea put forward by Sara Ahmed that suggests that affect in the form of a quest for happiness is utilised to sustain consumer behaviour. Yet why does it matter so much to me, and likely to many others as well, that past moments in family life are portrayed as oozing with happiness? That we had a fun childhood with loving parents? The visual language to create this myth is quite simple. Any laughter captured seems to be sufficient enough to symbolise this desired good, to create sets of happy families seems the main purpose of the family album.

I made another collage, this time choosing images where the representation of family bliss starts to show cracks of discord. I combined two group shots with forced smiles with two images where ‘the brother’ steps out of the bounds of childhood and represent themselves as teenagers and not only as sons and brothers. I tried to engage with visual traces that reveal that the representative surface starts to show crevasses, like a glacier, as family bounds tend to become loose. What I actually make of it I really do not know quite yet, other then that what photographs capture goes often beyond the intentions of the people involved. More on this next week.

As I seem to write mostly out of my own perspective in this blog, I will suggest to Petra to pick up the thread and share her thoughts. I hope she will pick this baton.

  • Later on I found out that Petra had not created these collages but that the arrangement was down to coding.

How to Explore what is Conveyed through Family Histories – in Dialogue with Petra Suko

About a little bit over month ago I started to collaborate with my friend and colleague Petra Suko on a new project. Petra works with traditional approaches such as painting and drawing but also uses digital media to make short films and screen based works.

But maybe it is best to start at the beginning that is last August when I first visited her studio in the 7th district in Vienna. Petra Suko creates large scale, layered, figurative paintings which simply stunned me with their vibrancy and even more so through the topic they addressed. In this new work, she engages ruthlessly with her family’s history and how it impacts and connects with her everyday. A topic that has also been loosely shimmering at the edge of my own practice ever since I emptied my family home in Austria following the death of my father in 2015. At the time though I felt slightly overwhelmed and, probably for the best, I postponed to open the door to this potentially explosive Tardis.

To create some sort of order I stored the jumble of documents and photographs, with some of the negatives going back as long as the 19th century, in two large boxes and keeping them firmly shut I put on the storage shelf in my studio. My justification was that this would allow me to focus on my doctoral research whilst getting to terms with the loss of my father. Having this sprawling puzzle out of my sight worked really well and it turned out that these repositories were actually not too dissimilar to the carpet in the average English home where unwanted issues get firmly buried.

That is until recently when Petra and I decided to use our artistic practices and embark on a dialogue centring on our families histories. Lifting the lid off these boxes has raised, as I feared and partly wished, many unforeseen queries. Neither neat nor particularly organised. What I could not foresee though was that these questions have opened up and expanded into all kinds of directions making apparent that so much in the family narrative was spared out or left unanswered.

At the moment, we tend to talk mostly via digital platforms about individual members of our families, about relationships and what we have been told, what was based on facts and what turned out to be fiction. From time to time we also explore how to develop a collaborative piece that can reflect both practices but how we approach this is not quite resolved. It might be in part because of how family histories are conveyed through a mostly skilfully edited combination of tales and photographs. And on top of this, not to make it any easier, the link to the past and how we remember adding to the narrative of family is deeply personal. Taking a few steps back helps, but what foot will lead us and when has still to be decided.

More on our how we move forward in a week or so.

Preparations

Several months ago Joana Cifre Cerdà and I started a loose collaboration initially triggered by a then for me topical book: The Day of the Triffids. I made a moving piece about this, got it out of my system so to speak, and our meandering conversation gradually drifted to how the politics of fear and social distancing has affected our behaviour and interactions. We worked slowly, communicated via Zoom to share our experiments. The outcome of this process is now on show as part of BEEF’s (Bristol Experimental Exanding Film group) Department of Moving Images exhibition in the large Centre of Gravity show at at the old Soapworks/Gardiner Haskins in Bristol.

Below is a short text that describes the piece. If you happen to be in Bristol come and have a look. The show is open Wednesday to Sunday. The old Soap Works is a large and airy building complex near Temple Meads railway station.

Preparations by Joana Cifre Cerda and Claudia Pilsl

In this moving piece we explore possible reactions to an unforeseeable event and deal with the persistent numbing anxiety of something that resides outside of our control. The kitchen as a safe zone and locus of comfort is the stage where we engage with our own unique responses and copying mechanisms. Joana vents her fears in a frenzy of cutting and wraps, like a spider, perishables in fine string to store for later consumption whereas Claudia engages with the some of the objects that live in her small kitchen in  Vienna. These cooking paraphernalia, with their concrete physical presence  and humble functionality affirm that there is still an everyday albeit filled with uncertainty and anxiety. They suggest a continuity from past to present moment with an implied promise of a future where food will be prepared and eaten.

https://www.centreofgravity.uk/projects

The Return of the Triffids

It has become reality, finally. The Day of the Triffids, this story of a dystopian world where the ones who survived the carnage of the war are then attacked and killed by plants. As a threat, this could barely be worse because the majority of the people had gone blind after watching a meteor shower that was meant to be a harmless entertainment during post-war reconstruction. Surrounded by permanent darkness, they could not see what comes at them, the viciously snarling tongues, the thick clouds of green dust that these invaders use to slay their prey. The Triffids of 2020 stay also invisible whilst trying to satisfy their craving for human flesh. Even though we have not lost our eyesight, we are unable to see when they attack us with their sneeze of particles nor do we feel the sting of their first contact. Yet these invaders from outer space are not quite like the ones described by Wyndham in 1951. They have evolved. Before they start to devour us by eating our lungs whilst we are still alive, they use our bodies as hosts and to travel around expanding their population with each encounter. The Triffids of 2020 love globe trotters, jetsetters, commuters, and everyone in between. All of us are fertile ground, without us they cannot live, with them we may die. To do what we love, what defines us as individuals has become suspicious and potentially dangerous not only to one but all the ones with whom we share the air. Hundred days in, we have learned to distance ourselves and keep safe. We vigorously wash hands as if we were Pilatus and the sins of selfishness and human greed could be revoked. Masks to cover our breaths have become the norm, a stroll in the neighbourhood is now a highlight of the day. Many have developed a craving for a change of scenery, to leave where they live behind even if it were for a few hours. The only safe way is to use virtual simulation as within the digital realm air cannot yet travel. This is hard and even the socially introverted crave the company of others. Sometimes we gently touch the screen, share some words and the air with our neighbours across the road to briefly forget and feel alive. Only few can see the triffids within their hosts, they wear special glasses or have learnt to squint, like artists, at an early age. There are also the brave ones that risk their lives caring for the injured or working on new ways to kill the Triffids as the salt water cure does not work anymore. The rest have to hope, are reduced to waiting, whilst seeing the world as they know it crumbling. They dream and travel in their minds, they can make plans for a reconstruction, work hard at staying human and kind. The Triffids have returned but so has spring and so will summer.

 

Resident: Exhibition Info

 Below is the the main info on Resident. Please share! 

Claudia Pilsl:  Resident

Exhibition  28th January – 4th February 2020

 

Exhibition Opening: Tuesday 28th January 2020, 5 to 8pm

 

Beginning of 2018 Claudia Pilsl undertook a 3 months residency at x-church in Gainsborough. Her proposition to the community was to explore the question What does it mean to be a resident?. For this she spent time with everybody who was willing to let her join in and become, if only temporary, part of their lives. The wish to understand better what it means to be a UK resident stems from her increasing anxiety about the status of EU citizens post Brexit. Having lived longer in England than in Austria, the country of her birth, the place she identifies with most is not a particular country but Europe as a whole. For her as a migrant and future EU guest-worker it is therefore not easy to define what means to be a resident within the borders of a nation state.

The main piece in the exhibition is a video (1h 44min) in which the artist merges footage from a long drive in a white van around Gainsborough and an audio track edited from over 15 hours of recorded interviews during her residency. These conversations center on what it means to be a resident, how it is to live in his area, what the future could hold for this small market town. The two exhibited series of photographs were generated during a walk with Clive Maclennan, a resident of the south West Ward in Gainsborough, and during various sessions at x-church. As part of the exhibition, the artist also hosts the pop-up gallery Chateau Marcus, a temporary show space in an old shed. This shed initially intended as a studio during her sta soon became a show space for local artists. As an exhibition space within the exhibition Chateau Marcus will show a series of works by Joana Cifre Cerdà, Clive Maclennan, Kev Snell, Knaithan Parks. Also on display will the collaborative project facilitated by Michael Bowdidge: Slumgothic Live Collage and a slideshow of the arts activities at x-church from 2006 till today.

Bio: Claudia Pilsl is a photographer and media artist based in Bristol and Vienna. She creates installations and projection works and engages diverse audiences in and beyond the gallery space. Her work is included in major collections such as the Museum of modern Art Vienna, Kestner Gesellschaft Hannover, the DG Bank Collection, the Art Collection of Upper Austria, SK Stiftung Cologne, and the Photo Collection Austria. She won two major fellowships (Arts Council Austria, City of Bremen), the Prize for Visual Art of Upper Austria, and a Research Fellowship at Southampton Institute. She has just submitted her doctoral practice research on ‘Photography and its Contribution to the Understanding of Digital Porosity’ at the University of Plymouth (Funding by The 3D3 Center for Doctoral Training Programme). Prior to starting her doctoral inquiry, she undertook an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London (2013) and an MA in Combined Media at University of Applied Arts in Vienna (1994).

Contact: Claudia Pilsl, mobile: 07563698599  email: claudia@claudiapilsl.com

websites: www.claudiapilsl.com Blog: https://loosespace.wordpress.com   https://chateaumarcus.wordpress.com/

http://www.slumgothiclivecollage.co.uk

Resident will be shown at Project Space Plus in Lincoln!

IMG_9746Beginning of 2018 I undertook  three  months residency at x-church in Gainsborough and explored with the local community what it means to be a resident. Gainsborough is a 20 min train ride from Lincoln and this gives everybody involved a chance to come to the show and see what I have made. Middle of November I went with Kev Snell, a local artist from Gainsborough, to have a look at Project Space Plus in Lincoln. And it is great! A beautifully structured space that will fit perfectly to show my work and to host Chateau Marcus. Yes, the pop-up gallery is on the move and I am really exited about  being able to curate a exhibition within the exhibition. But more on this soon!

IMG_9744

Thinking in and beyond with a bilingual brain

IMG_9229.JPGIn October I handed in my doctoral thesis which was simply put a relieve.  Even though I have lived a long time in the UK, at times I still struggle  to find the exact words for what I want to say. This is because often my thinking takes place in a space between my two languages, German and English. Both have a specific grammatical structure and offer words that do not exist in the other. At most times I relish this as it allows my thoughts to move beyond their lingual borders. A slice of EU in the brain. It opens up a possibility to meander outside  the confinement of the individual cultural context, allows for the mind to embrace both and spread out. As Elisabeth Wehling a linguist and expert on political framing states, words are not just words but trigger reactions in the brain.  A  multi-lingual intellect is therefore likely to have much more layered reactions and I’d like to think that this helps me to engage differently with a question. The drawback with me though is that I make mistakes which can be frustrating at times. It feels that I have done my thesis many times over in order to get to this version. Now, not having to correct and re-correct, adjust and readjust a large document, all day and half the night, makes my life look different.  I still think a lot about my topic, how digital porosity affects the conveyance of data. Yet I also have started to embrace my newly enhanced agility in manoeuvring complex thinking in my bilingual trans-cultural brain. The viva will be on January the 21st and I look forward to this opportunity to discuss my thesis with experts in my field. Fingers crossed my brain will focus on articulating in English!

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