(Re)constructing myself

I have been at West Dean College this week, for a felting course. The first three days, over last weekend, are an annual chance to get together with my teacher and mentor, Jeanette Appleton, and fellow textile artists for an extended group crit about our current work and an opportunity to generate new ideas to fuel future work. The rest of the week is a more open course, but those of us who know what we are doing are free to get on with it.

I wasn’t sure about taking a whole week away from the MA but decided that if I could get my essay done while I was away, I would still be on track for our assessment in January. Writing the essay has reinforced my view of the importance of forgetting and not-knowing as providing the space for construction and getting-to-know. The realisation that the narrative in my head and the narrative in my family photos seemed to belong to two different lives felt at first like a failure: why couldn’t I be like all those people who seem to be able to remember such a lot about events and to illustrate them with photographs?

I’ve been reading about the significance of forgetting: for instance in The Art of Forgetting by Adrian Forty and Suzanne Küchler (1999, Oxford: Berg) or Gavin Lucas on ‘Forgetting the Past’ (in Anthropology today vol 13, no 1, 1997). At both an individual and a community level, forgetting is essential. Remembering everything would be impossible, burdensome and deadening. What I’ve learned about how memory works – a good introduction is the entry by John Sutton on ‘Memory’ in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – suggests that all memories are a construction in one way or another.

It is interesting that looking at artists whose work I think deals with forgetting as much as remembering – Julie Mehretu especially – has revealed how important it is to have both the mental and physical space to make something new.

This idea of (re)construction seems to me to pull together my research and my current work. Thinking about pixelation in June I wrote that to me it represented ‘uncertainty: growth, replacement, rediscovery, forming and re-forming.’

While I was at West Dean, I talked through my portfolio with Jeanette. Referring both to my drawings and my photographs she noted that I was constructing myself as an object. In the long-exposure photographs, my body becomes the object: I know that it is me but the image is not of my ‘real’ everyday body. It is something linked to the body but also of itself. In the drawings, I am constructing a view of my past self, where presence/absence is a continuing theme.

I feel I may need a mind-map to show this fully but I think what Unit 3 could be about is finding a way/ways to bring together me now, the object in the photos, with me as a child, the image in the drawings: not just constructing but integrating. And it may be a bit obvious but making felt is a good metaphor for that.

There’s something about the idea of the continuity of the self – because obviously I think I am the same person as that little girl on the tricycle despite the gaps in my memory – and the importance of the everyday that I want to look at.