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.
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.