Developments

I’ve started to collect more images again. I remember feeling like this as the previous project really started to find a direction. I feel alive visually and emotionally to this notion of ‘Legacy’. I’m not sure where all the audio will go, but it rests in my mind and I refer to it continually as I go about my daily life. It is informing me.

 

Jo Spence

I remember watching the BBC Arena programme mentioned early in this later edition Jo Spence and being fascinated by the process of photo-therapy with Rosy Martin and I’ve been aware of Spence’s work through the intervening years and perhaps particularly the work about her response to breast cancer. I had decided to go to the Richard Saltoun gallery exhibition of Spence’s “The Final Project”, which deals with the artist’s response to her imminent demise through leukaemia. I was therefore extremely interested when my tutor suggested that I look at that particular work in relation to the Legacy project. And so I thought I would put down some of thoughts regarding the work before I meet up with some fellow students to study the work in a few weeks time.

What particularly interests me in this work, as I see it in the book “Jo Spence: The Final Project” is how she looks at herself – and the condition – through two different lens’. Firstly there is a layering aesthetic that couples images from her personal archive through ‘slide sandwiching’ – an arcane process that Terry Dennett, Spencer’ long term collaborator says “gives a Photoshop-like effect” in the preface to the book that accompanies the exhibition. I remember when Photoshop layers were introduced as “giving a sandwich like look!”. The other aspect is how she embraces the notion of death, how societal attitudes to death are conditioned by culture.

However the layering idea is interesting to me. Firstly she used images from her archive, both embracing and seemingly rejecting a temporal notion to the work. Here she is both then and (another) then. The work is titularly anchored to a conversation with mortality, and probably not ‘about’ mortality. The consequences of her condition have been clearly explained and the terms of reference to her collaborator have been delineated in a similar way. I’ve been thinking about the archive a great deal in relation to ‘Legacy’ in that I seem to have two choices; develop the narrative without one, or invent one. Spence creates a narrative from the conflation of two images, each presumable, with their own specificity. Of course one can repurpose narratives through context and form, but interested in playing with the idea of layering.

I now have several hours of recording with my mother, and those words might develop a component of the layering, though how they will manifest is something I need to play with. I will continue to delve into the family’s archive to see what might be available, but I have exhausted my mother’s shoe-box.

 

 

Narrative fatigue

I think it has something to do with telling the truth. I’m only at the beginning, but presumably there comes a point when you grow bored of telling it, and that point coincides with your “freedom”.’ ‘So rather than forgive you’re going to try and talk it out.’ ‘Yes, narrative fatigue is what I’m going for. If the talk cure is our modern religion then narrative fatigue must be its apotheosis,’

Some Hope by Edward St Aubyn

My obituary

The call came out of the blue “I’ve got your obituary” came the rather surprising claim from my mother. “I’ve found it”. I was silent, I couldn’t work out what it was she was saying and detecting the confusion she added “the one you wrote…. For your father”. “Ah, you mean eulogy, I think mother”.

Solving that short term confusion meant that the words I had conjured about twenty years ago were extant. I knew I threw my copy away, on the day, in the bin, what further use would I have for them. But she had kept a copy; I suppose I must have made two copies.

I looked at it before the fourth session on her memories continued and handed it back. The words that I saw, perhaps speed-read, suggested they were a lie. I remembered how difficult it was for me to write something that wasn’t obviously me dumping on his memory at a funeral service and being mindful that there were people in the pews who might be sorry he was gone.

Mum suggested after a while that I could take it home and look at it, copy it perhaps as long as brought it back, reluctantly I put it in my case and waited until I got home before reading it again.

There is a sense that I was trying not to write something damning, but I can see the absences in the text, what I didn’t say and what I did say which missed things out. There are no lies in any explicit form and the truths that I did speak were heavily layered with contrived context for the audience I was speaking to. Except perhaps for that line about love.

So stories are about the edit, what one chooses to say and what one chooses to omit. I’ve now about eight hours of recordings of my mother rehearsing her life and in the edit of the eulogy I never mentioned her once, except in passing – though she said to me in the first session that she felt a huge sense of relief at his death. A release.

Another secret revealed at the latest session, coming right out of the blue – nothing more serious that old fashioned infidelity – but by an individual that left me speechless. Obviously not my father as he was a serial philanderer, but a member of the family that shook me – surely not I thought. But then one of the issues I am coming to terms with is my sense of naivety and that perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by anything anymore.

The paper that mother gave me to read smelled of Imperial Leather soap, and even though I have always used this brand, like Proust’s ‘madeleine cake’ it always reminds me of my grandmother. Her bathroom at the back of the house, the cream coloured walls and white tiles above the sink. The black and white tiles on the floor and the cistern above the toilet bowl almost touching the ceiling, the chain with a black shiny ‘pull’. And the flannel that we were told – make sure you use it! Mother’s remembrances are starting to repeat, suggesting that I should rest for a while or start a different tack. Circumstances mean that I won’t be going for two or three weeks in any case, which will let things lie for a while, however I want to consider what these memories are telling me: above love, about control and power, about revelation.

Three times I have taken a camera with an intention to make some images, and I have almost entirely failed to make anything. Can I make anything out of this research? What does it all mean to me? I am acutely aware that my mother welcomes my attention, so I am wondering whether she is embroidering her account to entice me back, to lure me to return and centre her in my world, even for the two hours we work on this.

And then what do I do with this knowledge? Can I trust it? The ethical issues around me having some sort of control of the source material already mediated by a great deal of time and emotion become mediated yet again.

I don’t feel in a crisis in respect to the direction the work will grow, assuming it does take flight, rather wondering whether and how any work might develop a course or direction.

Secrets. Lies. Power. Love. Sex.

Here’s the Eulogy497

Wondering

memory cropc2

Yesterday the drive to my mother’s provided a good deal of conflict. The hoar frost and mist was beautiful and several times I was tempted to turn around and forego the two hours in the car, the two hours with a recorder asking her, prompting her for her memories, especially when they drew so many bad memories from me about him. I didn’t turn back, I just turned back the clock with my mother. Disciplined.

I have no idea how or what any work might manifest itself with these conversations. I am more and more troubled by her recollections of the life she led, how I was glad to get away, but realising now that in doing so I exercised something that she unable to do herself. This was reflected in her relief she described when he died. Thoughts about sacrifice, about duty and expectation. The lack of perceived choice. Institutionalised emotional and physical abuse. About legacies abounding all around.

At all three sessions so far we have reiterated the side of him that we both admire – his work ethic, his temperance in respect of alcohol and gambling, that he never struck her, almost as if the recognition of them legitimised her continuing to stay with him. What it said about me I cannot say.

I know this is a mediated memory, a story told with a long hindsight focussed around him and less about her. I set out to tell another story, not wanting to plough over old feelings of him, but his personality is dominant, it bulldozes its way through just because he is common to us both.

The frost had gone by the time I was returning home and not for the first time I am wondering whether I should continue with this project. Whether it is worth the pain I must surely be subjecting my mother to. Whether it is a vanity project. Whether I should have made petty pictures of the frost and wondering what it must be like to be unencumbered.

Covered memories

Sofac2

I was wondering about secrets, or perhaps more specifically the revelation that made its appearance to me recently. I was curious as to whether the recounting was a deliberate act, or one triggered by the process of purposefully talking about the past. Was it perhaps a memory camouflaged by time which then broke cover because of reflection, or was it a means to ‘off-load’ a burden, a weight from three score years and ten ago – 1945, a lifetime ago?

And then this happened, another ‘secret’, one much closer in historical terms introduced itself to me from a clear blue sky in a discussion about further discussions of the past. The first revelation still raw, still evoking incomprehension is now swirling in a cauldron with another, altogether different, yet equally appalling story. And I wonder where love is in all this, it was surely not absent, it wasn’t excused from the scene. Surely no-one asked it to leave whilst these episodes played themselves out to culpable audiences. Isn’t love the thing that binds families together or is it its opposite, is it the absence of love, or is it simply that the family comes together under some emotional carapace to protect its un-innocence, its unwillingness to confess to its unnaturalness?

The phone call. “Well you know about this, don’t you?” was how it was put to me before providing this new headline. My silence prompted the continuation “oh, I thought we all knew.” Well I didn’t, I had no idea and even now cannot comprehend. I think I can find a way to work out how the earlier episode might have happened and perhaps even why, perhaps even offer a shred of sympathy. But not this new story.

It was after this news that I met with my mother for the second time, and whilst I was provided with more details than I thought I ought to have, no more revelations emerged – well at least none that are on the same scale as those previous. There was some specific talk of love, but not much. Mainly though there were implicit references to love, and perhaps moreover, its absence. Nothing moved under my feet this time, perhaps confirmations of what I had felt about how things were. The timescale for the discussion this time around was from when she met my father to when I left home, about 21 years. About conceptions and perceptions, about the frailty of character and purposeful decisions which now seem incomprehensible.

I have a lot to think about before we meet for the next session, and whilst this last meeting provided no shattering revelations I think it was perhaps all the more difficult to comprehend because of it

Back to the surface

But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, still, alone, more fragile, but with more vitality, more unsubstantial, more persistent, more faithful, the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls, ready to remind us, waiting and hoping for their moment, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unfaltering, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.” Proust, In Search of Lost Time.

cloudc2

I remember a conversation with someone who had become very close, which drifted, as these close conversations sometimes do, to the personal. We talked about secrets, not yet revealing them, not quite yet at that moment ready to share them but yearning to, for to do so would be to cross a bridge and create a bond that would test us, when we were not yet ready to be tested.

Secrets are never secrets if they are told, even if the listener is the first and only person ever to be told. Their potency is diminished by revelation, in direct contrast to the energy that passes between the correspondents during the disclosure; the flow seeks to make the gift equivalent to the receipt, partnering to a consensual destination. So what secret if any, would I reveal I thought at the time, if I were asked, if the conversation went there? The arc of the conversation drifted benignly away at that time, ebbed perhaps by a common comprehension of the un-readiness to commit. But leaving it there held the idea of a shared intimacy, on the cusp kept the temptation intense, thickening the blood.

Thinking now about that time and other similar conversations, how I had desired to reveal but not knowing what it was I would risk devolving at that transitory moment, anticipating the urge to bond through a sharing of something intensely personal but then consciously letting it go. And now I remember all those secrets that other people had revealed to me. Were they just acts of faith or of longing? Did those confessions of (usually) a deeply personal nature mean that they desired something similar from me? Were they so trusting of me, desiring of me, that they were prepared to risk some part of themselves in order to get closer? I remember wondering why so many revealed so much of themselves to me, men and women and most not receiving something similar in return.

I hold a lot of secrets, I suppose we all do. And I wonder now about those secrets that were told to me that I haven’t passed on, whether their burden was passed to others in a similar quest for intimacy. Secrets about sex. And what about those secrets of mine that I have that I haven’t ever shared with anyone? Innocent secrets because they involve only me. Secrets about death. Do secrets diminish with age, I wonder, do they have a ‘use-by’ date? Recently my burden of secrets was increased by one. It is an old secret. But is it my secret now? Why should I feel the liability of this knowledge? I should have checked I know, I should have said “have you told anyone else?” but I didn’t. And unlike a previous conversation it wasn’t revealed to bring the teller closer to me, it was part of a history, albeit told to me in a quiet and intimate space.

And what if I told someone else? Someone who had no connection with the person who told me the secret? What if I told you? Until recently we were strangers, does that mean I can tell you with no feelings of remorse. You will feel closer to me because you now know something vital about me, but not that close, because it is something about another with whom you have only me as a connection. So I could lie and make it all up just to get closer. Just another fiction wrapped up in some kind of erotic suspense. Is that what all secrets are about? Sex and death?

I wonder what you might think if I said – you’ll never believe this but my Aunt and Uncle were part of a ‘Swingers scene’, long before it became a fashion in the 1970’s? Or that a cousin of mine’s husband committed a murder on a Christmas day over thirty years ago, and despite going to prison with no question regarding his guilt; only a few people know really why he did it, the court certainly? Or something much much darker? Are these third person secrets less compelling, less erotic to the ear than first person recollections of a past clouded in some sort of mystery? Close to me because they are familial, so I feel touched by them, I become vested in the allure of the secret and hope to become more interesting because of it.

But secrets can become a bind and whilst some will just peter out others will continue to resurface “unscreened” momentarily by some quirk of circumstance. I have some secrets that I stored away in my adolescence that still repeat, still hang over me, almost daring me to ‘own-up’, to be rid of them, expunge them from my being. And so I wonder if that is what my mother did recently when I started to talk to her about her history. Did the act of purposeful remembrance invoke secrets that had lain dormant for decades? And if so why the need to tell me the one that is the ‘much much darker’ one? What purpose? An unloading – a release from all those years of unscheduled internal repetition?

I wonder now if this is a secret. This episode came out as part of a conversation within my family, told as part of a retelling of a personal history and whilst it was a bolt which from out of a clear blue sky, no instruction to ‘keep it to yourself’ was uttered.

And now some time after the revelation I am wondering more and more about that terrible secret, how its ramifications might have been felt on so many people that I have know all or most of my life might. How many of them knew or know of it? I am also wondering why I am using the word secret! Is it a secret or is it that I simply didn’t know, perhaps I am the last person to know? Is it so awful that no one has ever wanted to raise the topic in conversation that I find that difficult to comprehend and that my lack of knowledge is down to the family blocking it, suppressing it? Is the familial memory in a constant state of denial or has Freud’s “Mystic Writing Pad” been communally utilised for whatever reason?