311211 - signing out
I'm done with posting each day on this blog; I've exhausted the images I felt compelled to post. I opted for a daily blog post because it seemed to me I had so many images for this particular set of thoughts that I wanted in one location as a body of work.
This project began in 2005; the final three images are pretty much the first pictures that spawned the rest, they were taken in the final days of clearing my parents' house and leaving my hometown.
My father died in September 2005 and two weeks later I began a BA in Fine Art. These two facts are both coincidental yet significantly related. The BA was a hangover from when I left school in 1976 and wanted to study art. Unfortunately I was academically capable; with working class immigrant parents it was out of the question that I wouldn't study something "sensible", so I opted for the most exotic thing I could manage at the time, which was to study Russian alongside English. It's interesting, with more than a half century to look back on, how loose ends begin to tuck in.
I never used Russian professionally, pursuing art instead. After the fall of Communism I discovered a use for Russian. It's the language I still mostly use to communicate with my Hungarian cousins. They grew up under Soviet Communism and knowing Russian was compulsory. My Hungarian father was able to reconnect with his family and I met some of them for the first time in 1990; I was 32 and had grown up without any sense of belonging to a family. (My Swiss mother's relatively wealthier tribe despised that she had married a penniless "displaced person" and settled in England, and I only met a few relatives once, always feeling like the poor relation.) I like my Hungarian cousins and stay in touch with them but I still think of them as "my father's family". I did not learn Hungarian from my father; it is difficult now to remember how profound was the sense that he would never see his family again, so it was a language he spoke only to his wartime compatriots.
The whole journey of my Fine Art BA became inextricably entangled with clearing my parents' house. My mother's life was little in evidence; it was almost entirely my father. As I waded inch by inch through all the accumulated clutter I relived the unhappy years in that house. Throughout my childhood every spare penny was sent to my father's family to pay for things they couldn't buy; this was an extra expensive thing to do as, often, the customs fee was the same price as the goods being sent. There was a constant presence of "other" as I grew up; my parents with their atrocious foreign accents – not an issue anymore as the world speaks Globalese but quite a trigger for xenophobia when I was young – and this other family who drained away the little we had.
The only way I knew them was through photographs and the only way I was known to them was through the seasonal torture of being posed in my school uniform to scowl into a lens. Very, very significant for how I feel about people in pictures and also about the degree to which I consider all photographs to be a lie. (For "lie" read "creative construct"). We presented the respectable schoolchild, not the weird foreign family; they sent pictures of celebrations and funerals. I doubt living under communism was fun.
From 1945 to 1989 my father was not able to reconnect with his people as his part of Hungary was devolved to the Ukraine after the Yalta accord. His birth village lies barely 10km inside the Ukraine. After the end of the war the Soviets depleted the male population of these villages severely. My father, like many other Hungarians served with Germany; his fate would have been to be sent to a Gulag had he returned; the Ukrainian based family could not cross into Hungary. During my Fine Art BA I spent some months on an Erasmus exchange to Hungary. It was only during this time that I began to understand how a lot of my childhood had been shaped by historic circumstances, how it had left its legacy of sadness and frustration in my father, why things were as they were. And I learned how the darker chapters were part of that story, understood some of my mother's oblique references and why I actually knew little about my father. This, too, is not unusual; many people only "see" their parents after they have gone.
Something of this darkness seemed resident in my parents' house; an accident of positioning, the morning sunlight streamed into the kitchen but thereafter the house was dark. My foreign parents tore at me: my mother in my teenage years pushing me towards finding a Swiss husband, my father later on after the fall of Communism, determined that I would forge a life in the Hungary he had never known. Although they had settled in England, the one thing they didn't ever really want was for me to be a normal English young person; I wasn't allowed out in my teens. On top of the normal hours of boredom that are natural to my generation I suffered being stuck in my parents' gloomy house. I craved the light and I would watch it travel across the walls and make brief appearances around corners. I find it hard to forgive being incarcerated on long summer evenings when the light seemed to linger forever. I began a lifelong habit of sleeping badly, lying awake to watch as car lights swept around the bedroom and I attached identity to these roving lights and travelled with them.
Going to university the first time round was my escape and I never returned home. I didn't marry a Swiss man. Around the time of 1989 my first long-term relationship fell apart and, very briefly, I had contact with my parents and also because my father had reconnected to his family. I won't belittle how much this meant to him: to wait for something for 45 years is no mean thing. He was 20 when he last saw his parents, said goodbye to his 14year old brother on a roadside, didn't ever see any of them again. He and his surviving siblings met as old people. My son is now 20 and that really puts it into perspective; if I never saw him again ... However, being pregnant with that same son in 1991 became my buffer against being sucked into a vicarious Hungarian life; it became clear that my father didn't want to go to Hungary but I should and I resisted it.
Since 2005 I have spent time in Hungary, and the Ukraine and Poland and Germany and educated myself about how my father's story fitted into the bigger picture. I didn't enjoy most of what I learned and went through many phases of sadness and anger and mourning and confusion.
The pictures that I have posted as abstractlight seemed to occur frequently, at first unconsciously and then deliberately. I didn't know what they were but when I encountered them I would often experience strong emotion. Some of the images that people have been kind enough to comment on favourably were taken in some grim locations; I wanted to see beauty, to stake a claim on the present as I kept being sucked back into postmemory. I couldn't photograph what had taken place and wasn't really interested in landscape or snapshots for a scrapbook or travelogue. The images are maybe a kind of therapy, sometimes became a talisman against unhappiness, often for me they represent moments when fear is irrationally present in broad daylight. Some of them are about the past, some are about the present world we live in, a percentage were made this year in response to less than happy circumstances. So each image is both less than the whole but greater than what is framed. For a more philosophical and erudite exposition on this concept please see Minor White on Alfred Stieglitz and Equivalents.
Studying Fine Art forces one into a declaration or statement of one's manifesto, a really insane pressure in three fleeting years; I feel pinned down as being someone who does "lens based work about identity and displacement". I have explored the theme very fully and am partly addicted to this kind of picture taking but I also feel burdened by it. It is not everything that I am or the only kind of work I do and I'm not even as miserable as this text would suggest; this background engenders plenty of "Galgenhumor". Mostly the work has come together over five or six years, though compacting it has given it shape and structure that was not planned at the outset, hence the occasional accidental series that actually bear no relation to one another except as a repetition of the same underlying concept.
I am pleased that the images acquired a life of their own in this blog and met with approval on their own terms without anyone knowing their background. If you have read this, I hope it does not detract from them. I would like to thank everyone who has been kind enough to visit this blog and share their thoughts with me. I have enjoyed your company. I am bringing this to an end here, though I continue to post as equivalence and as onWednesday with my friend. Love and luck, abstractlight.