Collected Memories, Collecting Dust | 2011
Tute rein se turne en déclin/ Tut cheit, tut muert, tut vait à fin.
All things to nothingness descend/ Everything falls, dies. comes to an end.
(Wace 1170. Prologue du Roman de Rou. ll 65-66)
Mate i te tamati, he auru kowhao; mate i te matua te takere.
To loose a child is a leakage, to loose a parent is the bottom dropped out.
Photographs help us to remember by prompting thoughts of the invisible. Going through a box of snapshots that correspond to my childhood, I see a snapshot of my mother, broadly smiling, standing under a Broadway marquee.
Where was I when you and Daddy went to New York?
You stayed with your Grandmother.
There are no pictures of my grandmother and I, sitting in her tiled sunroom (her winter garden), listening to the Saturday evening radio broadcast of the recitation of the rosary, but I remember. (Langford, 2007, p106)
Collected Memories, Collecting Dust is a body of work I produced for my Masters of Māori Visual Arts (MMVA) Thesis exhibiton in 2011. The source photographs were taken in a blur over the first few weeks following my paternal grandmothers death in the spring of 2010. My Dad pestered me to do it - I had a 10 month old baby and my mind wasnt fully on my artwork at that point. He called me to say they had to start clearing out the house at the start of April; I had to 'get a move on' he said.
So I got my camera out and photographed everything, making the time to fall in love with, and thoughtfully say goodbye to the strongest, most resiliant and resourceful woman I've ever had the luck to meet.
At the time of my grandmothers death, my parents, sister and I had lived next door to her for 15 years. She and my Poppa had lived in the house since the 1940s, they were there through the war, sustained a sucessful blacksmithing business, raised four children and many more grandchildren.
Our lounges of our houses were linked by a tiny Narnia type corridor that seems surreal in my memory now because it was so small and creaky and dark; going through either end brought you out into a different world. Her house was layers upon layers of history, old sentimental ornaments, useful and expired cleaning products and baking tins were kept next to the items that she used everyday - her favourite china cup and saucer, her hearing aid, her telephone number list.
I wanted to work with these photographs for my MMVA Thesis exhibition because I felt that they talked about whakapapa (geneology) and turangawaewae (having a place to stand) and my papa kāinga (home). My Māori roots gave me a framework that could articulate my Jèrriais history and my Jèrriais identity.
My father also passed away in the autumn of 2010, and so by the time I had my final exhibition, the photos were all that were left of a life that felt like it had been wiped off the chalkboard at the end of the school day.
As well as giving me something solid that said 'we were here, 1995-2010, & B4, IDST" (in a tiny act of defiance I graffitied this on the inside of a cupboard wall before the house was sold); in exhibiting the photographs I was giving other people something too. The aesthetic of the photographs seems to be the aesthetic of the war generation.
When ever I have shown this body of work (it's been exhibited in Jersey, the UK and France), people have commented on how it 'brings back long forgotten memories of our childhood' (Harry & Lorraine, 2011, p.c.) with a 'strange sense of familiarity, but not [familiar] at the same time' (Karen, 2011, p.c.).
Māori artist, Fiona Pardington talks about how she is an 'animist' - she looks to capture what isn't in the photograph. The aim is to bring the mauri (life force) and wairua (spirit) of the object or taonga (treasured possession); plus her own connections and experiences of the taonga, into the photograph.
The photographs in Collected Memories, Collecting Dust are not simply documentary - I've placed myself and my grandmother into the photographs, wanting to 'hold time and offer a moment in stasis where the past and the future hover in a beautiful hesitation' (Devenport, 2011, p9).
My MA Thesis, Activating a connection: Creating the place where the whakapapa, kōrero and taonga of my islands meet discusses the above themes in more detail. It is available to read in in full text on Academia now.