These past few months have been a time of reflection, introspection and thoughtfulness. Of course there have been many other things going through my head too: aprehention of the unknown, feelings of anxiety and loss. It has been a stange experience. One that everyone is going through differentlly. A time that has been isolating and yet somehow bringing togetherness. This picture is of my home studio (i.e. the kitchen table) this morning. Listening to The Jealous Curator podcast, which I highly recomend, and going through a giant stack of photos, books and alblums from my family history (thank you, mom and dad!).
Earlier this year I was invited to partisipate in an exhibition in Russia. I have been working on my piece for this exhibition since the beginning of March. It is a break from my usual focus of interest (whales, of course) and is by far the most personal art project I have worked on yet. I feel this time period in contemportary history has influenced my project. An intensity of reflectiveness in my day-to-day life. Sorting through an old suitcase of musty-smelling black and white photographs of family members is like holding the past in my hands. Photos that were taken over a hundred years ago of people I don’t know, but I know they are important to my family history. Searching faces for resemblances. Trying to discover something about these people that can no longer tell their story. Seeking to find connection. The pictures are mixed together. Some from Russia, some from the Canadian prairies. Sometimes the backs have writing. I assume the writer is explaining who the people were or where it was taken. A jumble of faded handwriting. Sometimes in English, sometimes in Low German and sometimes in Russian. I find it interesting how the black and white evens out the differences of time and place, making it difficult to tell apart. I can’t help my inner dialogue as I look at these faces. This couple was my great great great grandparents… I wonder what they were thinking when this photo was taken? Was this a special occasion? Was it their first time being photographed? I wonder what they would think if they knew that many years later their photo would make it’s way from person to person into my hands and that I would be carefully and critically observing and then painting them? What would they think of me? And so on. What difficult lives these people lead. Pioneering and farming. Fleeing as refugees. Living through wars. Loosing children. It is hard painting protraits knowing their future and that sometimes they passed away not long after the photo was taken. My family history (and many other’s too) is rich with sacrifice and love and sorrow and victory.
I have been enjoying this project (although it has also been emtotionally tiring at points). Art is a great way to process. Not only processing the photos, but also the time period I am living through now. A time of calmness and reflection. As some of you may also know, my grandmother passed away at the end of March. She was my last living grandparent. 99.5 years old. My parents have been taking care of her as she lived with them in their home for 8 years. Over these years, and especially over the past year as I was able to help with her care, I have developed a deep relationship with her and it has been difficult to let go. Sorting through misculanious stack of black and white photos I realize that she was also my connection to these faces I don’t know. I need to create something tangible out of the efermality of lost memories.
To be honest, I have felt a little burnt out this week. But really, it has been a long four months. Sometimes you just need to take a break. Today I desided that before I get too involved in what I “need to do today” I would take a moment to write down my thoughts, take some pitures and share them here with you. It is a beautiful journey to learn about the past and I am so thankful to have access to these pictures and family history books. These past few months have been strange and I hope you are doing okay too. Maybe it is time to stop, take a little break and do some reflecting. I would love to hear about how you have been filling your time and dealing with the past few months.