The art of remembering well has been something I have had to explore and wrestle with over the last few years of my life.
Questions like, what do I do with all the stuff left behind by my loved ones?; how do I choose what to keep and what to give away?; what would they want me to do?; what is important to my life right now?; what is the best way for me to remember what really matters?
I am a collector.
I was encouraged to collect always.
I come from a family of hoarders.
All of these facts led me to compile a veritable mountain of ‘stuff’ squeezed into boxes, vintage suitcases, baskets, drawers and many other forms of storage all around my home. At one stage I moved house and required two articulated lorries to carry the ‘stuff’ half way up the country, that’s how much stuff I had accumulated!
I am a natural story-teller and every object collected had a story to tell and evoked memories of someone, something, or an experience that was important.
Following the Marie Kondo school of thought, everything I had gave me joy on some level! So when over a period of just under seven years I experienced the death of each member of my immediate family, the need to hold onto their ‘stuff’ was enormous and overwhelming. Each of my family members were ill for a period prior to their death and literally, as one life ended another illness was diagnosed, so there was not the luxury of time between each experience to process grief, thoughts or feelings. So all I could do was collect and hold on tightly to every little piece of ephemera, furniture, clothing, books, musical instruments, kitchenware, linens, photographs & slides, music (tapes, CD’s and LP’s) and so on, almost to what seemed like infinitum! Someone once told me that the usual cycle of grief is around four years for someone who is very close to you.
Following that reckoning I needed twelve years to sort this all out.
In 2011 when the last of my immediate family died I experience a feeling of freedom. Some may be horrified by this.
The burden of worry for those I held so dear was lifted.
No longer was there a need to care for or worry about a terminally ill person and life choices could be made again. In hindsight I jumped far too quickly into overdrive, teaching, opening a collective studio space, then a gallery/project space, making my own work, as well as curating anything and everything I could lay my hands on. I didn’t stop, I didn’t allow space to think, I dare not process and I firmly shut a door to feelings, packaging them all neatly in a box and burying it deep inside. By the summer of 2014 something from those depths began to stir.
There was a realisation that all the work coming from my hands had a theme of remembrance.
Questions of permanence and illusion were stirring, leading eventually to a realisation that the box so well buried was rising and would have to be opened. At that time it felt like a Pandora’s box moment, if the lid was opened would I ever be able to control what came out, should control even come into it at all? I wanted control to take the lead, being very fearful at what I would become if it didn’t. So I gave myself one month in the gallery space to explore the objects and begin to open the Pandora’s box.
There were more than ten large suitcases, baskets and boxes piled high on one side of the space, what remained of three lives, three souls I loved deeply. I covered the windows with paper to create a private safe space, locked the door and installed a video camera to document what followed. One at a time I opened a case.
Carefully taking each object out one at a time, remembering stories as I went, often talking to myself, and each of them recounting a tale, laughing and crying.
Then each object was placed in front of a photo of the person it had belonged to. The following days were deeply sad, joyful, disappointing and satisfying all at the same time, the great mysteries of grief! Each pile when complete was processed, choices were wrestled over and new, curated collections emerged, one for each person. I made a Polaroid photograph of each of my favourite items and documented everything by writing it carefully in an old ledger with my mum’s dip pens and ink.
A chapter for each person.
This was the start of my journey to remembering well.
Since then I have moved house four times, each time down-sizing, going from a five bedroom house to a one bedroom flat. This physical change in circumstances brought about more wrestling with the questions I started with and an absolute need to pair down and give away very precious things, as I no longer had the space to keep everything and had a deep urge to feel lighter.
Artist’s books have been part of my personal practice since my degree thirty years ago.
The last ten years have seen them become central to my work. I find book structures a perfectly neat little package in which to collect and explore ideas, materials and objects in a format that can be folded away, kept safe and transported easily. These days I have found myself working on quite a tiny scale. This clearly echoes subconsciously and organically my shrinking physical space, my small and perfectly formed family and circle of trust, as well as my love of travel and being able to make work on the move.
More specifically it is a scale for creating precious objects almost like a piece of jewellery or a tiny treasures, which is essentially what our priceless memories are to each of us.
In the present I have just one suitcase left full of family memories and a series of tiny precious books, along with ephemera ready to be constructed into another piece of personal history.
It is now an utter delight to open the suitcase and explore the objects and memories captured in such a tactile and unique fashion.
That is my journey so far.
Let me help you to ‘remember well’. Collecting your memories and encapsulating them in a unique handmade book. Click here to explore your next step