Bolton Film – A Festival of Excitement and Ambition

After my first ever film festival beginning of September in Berwick Upon Tweed I decided to check out what a more mainstream festival might be about. I chose Bolton mostly because it includes a relatively wide range of practices. As I have little experience other than some online events, I will in the following sometimes look at Berwick in relation to Bolton, no to evaluate but to unravel a bit of its structure.

Both festivals have an open submission but whereas Berwick works with a handful of curators Bolton deploys 24 judges coming mostly from a film industry background. It therefore makes sense that Bolton offers industry presentation and round table discussions involving organisations and enterprises such as Festival Formula, Doc Society, Director’s Notes or Shiny Awards. This is also one of the parts of this festival that is likely to appeal to students and novice filmmakers like me.

The festival director Adrian Barber stated that he regards Shorts as stepping stones towards feature length films, something that as an artist I would not necessarily underwrite. However, it makes sense in the context of Bolton as it is geared towards presenting new discoveries that could lead to new productions in mainstream cinema and TV. In contrast to Berwick, there were many filmmakers present at Bolton festival. This was exciting as it had at times a red carpet feel, reflecting also that the festival has been recently BAFTA and BIFA accredited.

That many people involved in the making of films were able to come is partly down to the programming. The main focus in the choice of film was western centric with the UK and its new talent at its focus. Yet not the entire programme was geared towards main stream and there were also sections on community film, an industry session on ‘working class voices’ in addition to VR and 360 films. One particular selection was titled ‘F-rated – Made by Women’, something that I personally object. Yes, I have figured out by now that the film industry is heavily dominated by white males from privileged backgrounds. Yet inclusivity could surely be achieved in some other form than creating extra sections. But maybe this is a topic for another time.

Overall it could be said that most work presented at Bolton festival was focused on delivering a compelling narrative and not necessarily set out to question the filmic medium per se. Or the importance and structure of a narrative. To me this alien and something I don’t quite understand, especially as quite a bit of selected work came out of film schools and university courses.

Having said that, I really saw a lot of interesting work that was thought provoking and relevant to today’s society. There was for instance ‘Tinned Pears’ by Libby Burke Wilde made with the charity ‘Chefs in Schools’. Zachary Woods’ satire ‘David’ about a therapy session going off piste also raised questions beyond the usual narrative and so did the VR ‘Hangman at Home’ by Michelle Kranot and Uri Kranot or ‘Hollow’ by Paul Holbrook (I look forward to seeing more of his work on main screen!) about the interconnectedness of violence, guilt and revenge and its ethical dimensions. There was also ‘View’ by the wonderful filmmaker Odveig Klyve who revealed the invasive presence of cruise ships in her hometown in Norway. Simply beautifully thought provoking in its quietness. ‘Swimmer’ by Jonathan Etzler offered not only an intriguing story about a criminal who refuses to come out of a pool to get arrested, a version of a Tristram Shandy stance of how to avoid dominant reality, but it is also technically really advanced and Etzler clearly has the aptitude to deliver fantastic feature length films. As part of an industry session Edwin Mingard, a last minute replacement for Hannah Bush Bailey from Doc Society, showed his film ‘An Intermission’ which was to me and my special interest of making films with people truly exciting. I managed to talk with him after his presentation about his take on collaboration. Truly exciting and I hope to do an interview on this topic with him very soon!

Overall I can say that I had really good conversations and made new friends as part of the festival. As a rogue filmmaker I had to engage with an alien world over several days and this forced me not only to think about my own practice but also enabled me to gain more insights in the complexity of what it can mean to be a filmmaker. One thing is sure though, as Odveig Klyve and I agreed on, not every filmmaker hankers after a feature length film or the big cinema. Some just want to make Shorts or work that can hold its ground not only on the screen but also in the gallery space. Where some of my own films might fit in this festival circus I still have not quite understood.

Berwick Film Feast

at the Maltings

Part of expanding my knowledge and skills as a rogue filmmaker is visiting three festivals and luckily I was able to travel and attend the very first one that I had earmarked in January this year: Berwick Film Festival, a to me legendary festival. It is in Berwick Upon Tweed since 2004 and has returned this year in a hybrid format after being solely online last year. I was told that the screened programme at the Maltings was reduced by third or so, and that they were not able to show media installations at other sites. Instead the festival makes use of the online space for streaming films, podcasts, hosting live discussions and more exhibition based works.

As I am very new to film festivals I didn’t really know what to expect. In spring/ early summer this year I had attended several festivals online which was extremely interesting and insightful but essentially a singular affair. When sitting in a cinema wearing a mask yet still with others who care about what lies beyond mainstream cinema, I felt quietly excited yet also a bit worried. In the first streaming I counted 14 people spread across the small Henry Travers theatre. What will happen over the course of three days? Will there be more people coming? Will anybody talk with me? These were the thoughts that came to my mind before the films of Rajee Samarasinghe simply blew me away. A master of silence and few words. Quite appropriate for this new beginning.

However, after the opening screening more people arrived, of course there was still social distancing, but it could be said that we were a crowd. I also began to meet interesting and nice people and was able to have really good conversations. For the visitor the festival, I think, offers a huge advantage. It is quite small. Every time I had a question I could just go and talk to a curator or filmmaker if they are present. What a privilege! I was able to talk with Adam Jacob, had a long conversation with Herb Shellenberger who curated, for instance, the selection from Anti-Archive Shorts, a Cambodian film production company. I learnt more about the general structure of the festival, featuring sections such as Essential Film, Berwick New Cinema Award, Filmmakers in Focus. I was also told that they had changed aspects in the overall programming this year, for instance splitting the prize money between all the nominated new filmmakers or including in the choice of retrospectives of filmmakers the works of two film coops. As I want to make in future films that not only involve people but explore more overtly collaboration the latter is of particular interest to me. I had an initial chat with Alice Miller, a bfmaf curator and PhD student at Leeds University, but will need to find out more as film coop or collective can mean many things from solely sharing resources to skill sharing to collaborating in a way that blurs the boundaries between who is in front and behind the camera. Very exciting! Maybe worth mentioning also is something that does the festival real credit. It can be said it is inclusive and its choice in programming is neither western centric nor are films from first world countries dominating the programme. If anything, the selection includes mostly vintage and new films from regions under-represented in main stream cinema.

Peter Taylor, director of bfamf, and Alice Miller at the opening of the festival

During the three days I saw many other excellent films and moving image collages and I want to name just a few to watch out for: Idrish by Adam Jacob, the work by Vietnam filmmaker Nguyen Trinh The, the newly digitalised version of Amma Ariyan by John Abraham, the also recently digitised version of Back Inside Herself by S. Pearle, and the films produced by SPS Community Media. The programme of the festival is still available online till the end of the month (or if accredited till mid of October) and I’d say it’s definitely worth seeking out. I for once will spend certainly more time watching what I have not seen yet and also revisiting the films that still capture my mind. Tonight I will start with two of the films I missed whilst being in Berwick: Rock Bottom Riser by Fern Silva and El Planeta by Amalia Ulman.

What does it take to make films with others?

artist, photographer, filmmaker? what does it take? dreaming about future potentialities with my friend Vera.

Three months ago I was awarded a Develop Your Creative Practice grant from Arts Council England which at first left me shocked, then briefly speechless and finally very grateful. Now one months in, I started in August with organising various elements, I feel simply excited to be able do things which bring me forward in my aim to become a more competent artist filmmaker. Why did I apply? Because of the lockdowns and a lack of showing what I do in an exhibition space I submitted some of my experimental films at festivals. This left me laughing out loud. I realised that I had no clue what it means to be filmmaker, why many of them seem to work with teams and what this actually involves. In short, I discovered that even though I have a lot of knowledge in photography and understand how my work can be contextualised in the art world, I have no clue when it comes to film and cinema. In fact I can whole heartedly say that I am a rogue filmmaker! Therefore I applied to Arts Council England for a DYCP grant so that I develop a better understanding.

I began my journey last month with organising meetings with filmmakers, booking tickets to festivals and arranging some more the time schedule of shadowing and mentoring with Bristol based community artist and filmmaker Anna Haydock Wilson and Plymouth based artist and filmmaker Heidi Morstang. This month I start to do things and tomorrow – hurrah – I will travel to Berwick Upon Tweed to attend my first film festival in person. I have already booked three days of screenings and all looks really special and exciting. More about the festival as part of this journey of growing competencies will follow in the next post.

When Loss means Gain

Yesterday, I read about the thriving business of covid tests wondering about the people who turn the impact of this pandemic, with a little of the people in power, into glittering opportunity. To me this is depressing to the point where I could lose hope, especially when I think of how difficult life has become for the majority who keep through their work the everyday together and cannot escape via a private jet.

Yet then it struck me: Does money have to be part always of the equation? And if not, do people like me also somehow benefit from this adverse situation?

When I first curated the show LOSS for artP in Perchtoldsdorf in Austria a year before the start of the pandemic, my thinking was mostly fuelled by my own unresolved issues with objects that are left behind. You know, the dropouts way off the grid of commodification, these items that hang around to remind us of a irretrievable past. The want to understand better led me to an interesting group of artists who don’t close the doors on those awkward things but question with their work the very practices of dealing with material traces of a non retrievable past. Oreet Ashery, for instance, looks in her 12 part web based video series ‘Revisiting Genesis’ at what death means in relation to our digital lives, something we just about begin to understand. Irene Andessner answered, I would say bravely, a request to engage with the clothes and trinkets of a stranger who had recently died. With the photographic work ‘Marion M.’ she stages and re-invents moments of this woman’s life, raises questions about the futility of human existence without providing any answers. Rosy Martin uses in her photographic series ‘Acts of Reparation’ inherited objects to re-engage with her parents, to make amends and seek closure. Elisabeth Wörndl in her series of photographs ‘Deconstruction’ investigates almost forensically the processes of demolition and reconstruction of a flat in Salzburg and seizes this as an opportunity to say good bye to her own childhood home. Stuart Moore and Kayla Parker explore in their film ‘Father-land’ through a dialogue about gifts and memories the traces of Cyprus in their childhood. Myself, with ‘Lassen’, a set of of 11 photographs, seek to make sense of the rippling time that I had experienced when emptying the time capsule like drawers and cupboards of my childhood room. For this I entered into a cycle of remediation greatly helped through a dialogue with the writers Dieter Sperl and Lisa Spalt.

It is obvious that I personally have greatly benefitted from realising this exhibition. The pandemic made it a much longer and, it can’t be denied, much harder journey that offered an opportunity of a prolonged engagement. In short: I was given time that would have been otherwise hard to find. I learned not only to value this opportunity of cultural exchange across borders, something that most creatives took for granted before the pandemic in the Western world. At times, to make this exhibition happen felt like fighting wind mills. Without the support and strength of Brigitte Lang of arP it would not have been possible. But maybe, this is the ultimate gain from this loss. The realisation that it matters to fight together, that it matters to fight for the right to speak out, for art to be seen and shared across national boundaries. To me, Don Quixote was no delusional fool and his stance for human values considered old fashioned is still a powerful signifier. After all, most of us do not stand above the law and can not rely on private jets to escape or the people in power to make dreams come true.

LOSS

4th to 26th September 2021 at artP, Perchdoldsdorf in Austria

Private View: 4th September at 11am

Katharina Manojlovic speaks at the opening!

Events of finite dimension cannot be avoided. Neither can they be stopped or modified to better suit one’s personal needs. Affecting everybody at one time or another, they can influence the course of a life whilst placing a more or less invisible mark as a reminder that something; a life or way of living, a connection, a closeness; had come to an irrevocable end. 

What tends to stay with us from these experiences are not only ephemeral traces and memories but also humble everyday objects. These ordinary things are not without agency and trigger reactions beyond their humble functionality. Being witnesses to a past presence they become mementi mori and help to bridge this gap between here and then even if it were only for a moment. They enable the virtual to entangle the many layers of past and present existence over and over again in what we do and think. As mementi vitae they can help us to connect with a loss or absence and through them we might be able to access or preserve a trace, or create alternative memories.

This exhibition brings together the works of seven artists: Irene Andessner, Oreet Ashery, Rosy Martin, Stuart Moore, Kayla Parker, Claudia Pilsl, Elisabeth Wörndl; who address loss through engaging with physical traces in form of objects, locality or digital files. When Michel Foucault (1989) suggests that ‘a work of art opens a void’ he not only proposes that art has the ability to raise questions without necessarily providing answers. His proposition also implies that artists can indeed disrupt the forced smoothness of the narrative in order to provoke the viewer to re-examine their preconceptions. These artists engage with events of finite dimension not only to satisfy the needs of their own curious minds, but also to open up a void for the viewer to engage with what it means to live whilst owing ourselves to death.

Drifting in and out of Google Street View’s Temporal Photo-scape

The following observations were triggered by a dérive during the production of my latest film project ‘mirage’. As I said in a previous post in April, with ‘mirage’ I wanted to engage with the shimmering shield inherent to online mediation. To highlight  its deceptive reflections I created as the first layer a dimensional collage. For this I used self-generated footage and gleaned online image material from Google Street View.

Whilst taking screen-grabs during a walk in Google’s virtual photo-scape of St. Werburgh’s in Bristol, I chose this particular area as the main locality, I also explored an intriguing feature that allowed me to view a particular location at different moments in time. Often there were four or even five photographic versions available, sometimes only two. Their parallel existence within one timeline still fascinates me even if the experience was ever so slightly surreaI. By the click of a button, I could look back as far as 2008 when this area was first visited by the nine eyes of Google and then -click- move forward to 2020, all in in less than a minute. Whether this constitutes time travel is debatable yet to me it exposes how easily online visuals can be misleading and create false impressions. In short, this unevenness in what is conveyed and how it can impact on an individual’s perception is a good example of the effects of digital porosity!

When examining these gleaned images I also noted subtle nuances in the photo quality and could not only see that over time resolution due to updated camera technology had changed but also how different filter settings had been applied. The latter is particularly intriguing as some of them seem to mimic the visual characteristics of certain analogue film material that goes back at least to the 1970s. It is not so easy to determine which individual might do what, whether the particular hue of the set of images was chosen by the camera person on the day or the editor afterwards. This positioning of the query might though be altogether naive and it is machine intelligence who decides and gives these images their vintage looks.

I can easily imagine that the process has come full circle and computers have taken on the creative roles whereas humans are mere operators. This would finally resolve the ancient issue whether to consider photography as a creative or scientific medium. And the next step? Like with factories in the past when human bodies were reduced to undertaking endless cycles of repetitions before full mechanisation, this seems all too clear. The nine eyes of Google won’t need humans anymore to fabricate their mirage and fully automated cars will drive around and AI will act as creative director choosing the hues of their liking. But will we then still explore locations through these omnipotent image-scapes or do we take back control? Will we go out once more and create our own rendering, our own interpretation of a locality? Have the lockdowns helped us to reconnect with our senses, our fine tuned eyes tuning informing our perceptions? Will we decide that nothing can replace an in situ experience and what we see can’t be reflected by happy snappy Google Street View captures?

One thing though is clear to me, not only the production of Google Street View has evolved over the years but also how the mirage of online mediation is being perceived. So have we as the spectators learned to see it as what it is, as just another impression of the real. Once more we might put the specificity of an individual’s vision first and engage with our surroundings through the lenses of our eyes and the nostrils of our souls.

The production of the film has been supported by a a bursary from The Brunswick Club.

Next post will be about how I got rumbled by the invisible walls of living with and between two languages.

Oberhausen – a 400 films 10 days extravaganza

As you know I am sort of new to what filmmakers do and I am desperate to learn more. Therefore I decided to sort out a ‘This is Short’ pass which gives me access to Oberhausen festival and archive but also to other festivals and lots more. The Oberhausen online festival is organised on the principle of show working in themed collection within viewing windows, meaning there is a timetable for live streams and selections available for 48 hours. Also accessible through the platform is a festival space with live streamed discussions etc.. Yet as I still needed to do some work next to going to the festival, I decided to focus on watching work and skipped the online discussions being somewhat wary of time and energy levels. How was it then to be at this prestigious festival via the porous arm of my Internet connection? It was much more exciting than anticipated and much more exhausting. This festival brings together wide range of work and being a novice I never quite knew what to expect. Over the duration, I managed to spend 3 to 4 hours a day engrossing myself in this wonderful smorgasbord of short and not so short films that seem to touch on all kinds of topics and discourses. Looking back at my notes I must have watched more than 130 films, to me this is not only a lot but feels a lot, and this is just a little over a quarter. Personally, having seen so much I found valuable and memorable it is hard to choose which ones to mention here and the few below are just examples of many more that I really consider worthwhile watching.

Dear Aki by Nina Kurtela

I loved Zoom on Circus by Dominique Margot which was made entirely via Zoom and captures the precarious situation for Circus artists during the pandemic. It was funny, lively, beautifully edited and compassionate. It brought home what tends to be forgotten about artists’ lives that is as zero hour workers they are dependent on performing in order to pay the bills. Dear Aki by Nina Kurtela is a fantastic exploration of identity through a series of fictitious letters written to Aki Kaurismäki. I adore how boldly this work questions the impact of locality on a person and admire the exquisite simplicity in how film footage and language were brought together to aid each other. Girl in Presence by Lynn Sachs and Anne Lesley Selcer was also made online and is a really compelling example of how collaboration in the current times can be deployed to create thought provoking work. I particularly relished how they used the depth of field, coming from photography as I am, this was a treat. before the fall there was no fall by Anna Dascović was probably my favourite film as it allowed for deep thinking about the conflicts between Croatians and Serbs, Muslims and Catholics, conflicts that go back at least to the 17th century. Dascović manages to show aspects of the Un Peace Corps with its young Dutch soldiers stationed in Srebrenica who seemed to have been virtually untrained in engaging with ‘otherness’. The film reveals aspects of racial prejudices through showing drawings and graffiti created by the soldiers in their barricades whilst also unpacking how racism – specifically targeting muslims – has been embedded in American and Western everyday culture for a long time. I also managed to explore the work of Melika Bass and was fortunate to see Personal Cuts by Sanya Iveković, an artist I have admired for a long time.

Zoom on Circus by Dominique Margot

Many of the films I really liked did not receive an award and I must confess when watching the prized collection I could not understand how certain works were chosen over others. Looking at so many films was an intense experience and a privilege that I could only take up because the festival was online. Yet watching film after film in your home on a smallish screen can be at times also overwhelming, and I wonder whether this would have been the case if I had been actually in Oberhausen moving with others from cinema to coffee shop to venue and so fourth. My only experience of looking at a large quantity of works over a short period of time stems from visiting the Biennale in Venice or Documenta in Kassel. There you have to walk in order to see things, you space yourself mentally with breaks in between. Why I tend to feel less tired when visiting these events might be also that I am familiar with the works of many of the artists. With film festivals I seem to know so little and every time I see something I make a new discovery. So much to see and digest! All in all, I loved every minute of it and am already looking forward to the next festivals in Austria and Poland.

before the fall there was no fall by Anna Dascović

MIRAGE – my latest filmic project

About two weeks ago I began working  on a new film provisionally titled ‘MIRAGE’ made possible due to a small bursary from Brunswick Club. My trigger for the idea was ‘The Wall’, a novel by the Austrian author Marlene Haushofer, which to me pre-empties some aspects of the current situation of uncertainty and change. In this psycho-sociological novel first published in German in 1963 Haushofer engages with the implication of a major disaster which wipes out the majority of the world population. The narrator in the story, a woman in her 40s happens at the time to be staying at a small holding in the mountains and survives by sheer chance. What has rescued her is an invisible wall that separates this alpine valley from the rest of the world. Haushofer does not make it clear whether what she creates is a dystopian view of a future, a radical criticism of modern civilization or the depiction of how a person in the state of catatonic depression perceives the world. What interests me the most though is how living in post WW2 Austria has contributed to the creation of this story. Brian Massumi (1998) suggests that a threat always implies potential danger, a sensed danger, not necessarily a fact-based danger. This kind of risk that is always there, as a ‘virtual in the actual’, has been instrumentalized, I suggest, to justify the implementation of the cold war.

Haushofer born 1920 in Austria had not only experience of a succession of radical political changes but also of what it means to live in a country that shared a section of the iron curtain with at least two if not three member states of the Eastern bloc. Seen like this, Haushofer’s story could be understood as a reaction to a politics dealing in affective facts where a glass wall conflates fact and fiction within an all too convincing mirage.

Drawing on my knowledge of digital porosity I want to engage with today’s glass wall, the shimmering shield inherent to online mediation, and highlight its deceptive reflections through collating self-generated footage and gleaned online image material. The outcome will be a dimensional collage in form of a 10 to 15 min long moving image piece.

So far I have read the book, earmarked lines and many paragraphs, and, thanks to Google Street View, have spent time taking myself for a walk in the virtual simulation my neighbourhood. In the middle of the week I will take my camera on this route to see with my own eyes what is there on the day and capture my own footage. Then I aim to compare my recordings with Google’s online mirage created by moments fixed in the past. Is this exploration of the suture between the virtual and the actual a futile endeavour? Most likely. Nevertheless, showing the cracks and overlaps in the unevenness membrane of online mediation could also be worthwhile. It may not only remind us of the possible linkage between fiction and facts but also show that, unlike Haushofer’s transparent and impenetrable wall, the virtual mirage of this shiny screen is far from perfect.

My Online Dive into RAI FILM Festival 2021

‘One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk’  by Zacharias Kunuk

Having invested a lot of time over years into understanding photography and the digital it was refreshing for a change to look at film, a to me less familiar topic. For this I went online, as you have to at the moment, and checked into the RAI FILM Festival 2021, an event organised by the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. I dare say I would not have attended where it not for my friend Niyaz Saghary. As it happens her film ‘VHS Diaries’ (2020) was chosen to be screened  as part of this festival and once I had watched hers  I seemed not to be able to stop exploring the many waves and depths in this reservoir. Over the course of seven days I watched nearly 30 films and listened to the two key not presentations even though I am not even particularly interested in anthropology. The reason is that I simply was fascinated by the many different approaches the researchers and filmmakers chose to take. I spent hours observing how a narrative was introduced, which kind of cameras and positions they deployed, whether and how captions were placed. To me as these pieces are not main stream it was much more noticeable and varied and left a lot of room for reflection on how this medium can be utilised to create entries to a topic.

I admired and marvelled over most if not all of the films that I watched regardless if were deemed prize worthy or not. Some of them I quickly want to mention here: I loved ‘Oyate’ by Dan Girmus for its power in allowing the film with its edit becoming the narrator, ‘VHS Diaries’ by Niyaz Naghari as it merged so skilfully subject and object leaving little room for the other, ‘A Columbian Family’ by Tanja Wol Sōrenson  for the skilful usage of the family album as a third voice in some of the scenes and for showing me how filming with two cameras can make such a difference. Of course, I really got drawn in by ‘Ayouni’ by Yasmin Fedda  and ‘Not in my neighbourhood’ by Kurt Oderson, as both topics are close to my heart, and could not but love the re-staging in ‘One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk’  by Zacharias Kunuk. The timing and filming in and out of white were simply divine.

Below: ‘Oyate’ by Dan Girmus ‘VHS Diaries’ by Niyaz Naghar

Initially, I thought that viewing this festival will be for me just like the other countless events I have attended online over the past year. But no it was not. Thanks to the week long access I could dive in and out, could pause and replay certain scenes where and when I wanted in contrast to the normal screening experience. Nevertheless it was immersive and I was somewhere else most of the time, not staring at but into the screen. I even told a friend when having coffee in the park that I had to get back to my festival! It simply was exciting and stimulating to the point that I not only wrote endless notes but also dreamt about it. So what’s not to like about online film festivals? It’s easier to opt out and because of the skipping one can miss vital elements. There is no vibe other than the one coming from the sensation of pure watching. And no cup of coffee with someone or  the  glass of beer or wine over which to share each other’s observations. Hopefully, film festival organisers will take forward from this year long boot camp in online isolation that streaming has its value. Personally, I would love to able to access films for a period after a festival so that I can watch those I have missed or wanted to see again. Or take up the opportunity to attend solely online when I am unable to go.

For now though, the next aim for me will be to attend a film festival in person! Who knows? It might be in Cefalù if flying is feasible, as my film ‘Days of the Triffids’ is part of the programme.

‘A Columbian Family’ by Tanja Wol Sōrenson

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.