Preserving Memories and Petites Histoires

Towards a Space of Release

A Critical Commentary

By Anna Newland Hooper

BA (Hons) Fine Art

Somerset College School of Art and Design

Plymouth University




Table of Content



Acknowledgments                                         p. 3

Introduction                                                  p. 6

Chapter I   On ‘space of release’.                   p. 11

Chapter II On traces and ‘petites histoires’.  p. 18

Chapter III On Tarkovsky, the poetic image

and the role of the artist.             p. 25

Conclusion                                                    p. 35

Note on this commentary                              p. 39

Bibliography                                                  p. 58

Appendices                                                   p. 70







I am immensely indebted to my tutors for their constant inspiration, their passion and infinite patience. You have gently pushed me to challenge myself and discover my true potential.


Real, worthwhile education does not reside in bricks and mortar, but with the people whose uncompromising integrity and dedication have inspired many generations of students.


Thank you to: Eileen Rosamond, Jane Kelly, Graham Seaton, Stuart Rosamond, Stewart Geddes, Chris Dart and Tim Martin.













Where do our memories go when we think we have forgotten them? Do they lay dormant in a remote corner of our troubled minds? Do they wait hopeful for the moment they can be reignited and cheered, cursed, loved, cherished? Or do they leave our bodies through the unspoken truths passed down by generations? Do our memories make us who we are, the real essence of our beings, the fuel of our days and nights? Are we just riding on the illusion of time, with the arrogance of knowledge but pleading ignorance on how we have become who we are?

















My work is an act of love. Or is it?

There is a preoccupation with the discarded, disregarded and the interest in the traces left behind. The evidence of processes collected within the objects I choose to preserve, traces of memories, emotions and human activities that would otherwise be forgotten, dead. But it is also a preoccupation with my own preservation, with my own need to hold on to traces of my memories. In this sense my work is a selfish act. In the words of Karl Marx:


“Men can see nothing around them that is not their own image; everything speaks to them of themselves. Their very landscape is alive.”[1]


This selfish act is also manifested in a preoccupation with looking, photographing, cataloguing and can best be explained in the words of Merleau-Ponty:


“Since the seer is caught up in what he sees, it is still himself he sees: there is a fundamental narcissism of all vision. And thus, for the same reason, the reason he exercises, he also undergoes from the things, such that, as many painters have said, I feel myself looked at by the things, my activity is equally passivity – which is the second and more profound sense of the narcissism: not to see in the outside, as the others see, the contour of a body one inhabits, but especially to be seen by the outside, to exist within it, so that the seer and the visible reciprocate one another and we no longer know which sees and which is seen.”[2]


It has been interesting to attempt to divide my concerns into chapters for the purpose of this commentary, as my work is one continuous project focused on the same concerns. This process of division has allowed me to reflect on my practice in a more structured way, and as a result of this reflection the text will be divided as follows.


In the first chapter the notion of ‘space of release’ will be discussed, as referred to by Neville Wakefield in his essay on Rachel Whiteread[3], the gap between an object and its cast, between an object and its representation. Joan Gibbons[4] expands the subject further as we will discuss in more detail in Chapter I. Marchel Duchamp’s ‘infra mince’[5], infra thin, will also be touched upon. As will be demonstrated, the space being discussed here is not specifically a physical space but an emotional one, a space that allows for the release and exchange of emotions. It was this aspect that had a real resonance within me and spurred me to investigate the notion further. The research undertaken during my second year of study underpinned almost the entirety of the work during that year and culminated with an installation based around discarded clothes, recovered from the local recycling plant (fig 1).

My main interrogatives were whether these clothes still contained traces and memories of the lives of their past inhabitants, and could these act as emotional triggers for the observers, and maker for that matter, of the work? And if those traces had any resonance with others, was there value in attempting to preserve them?


These questions will be answered throughout Chapter I. The work of Rachel Whiteread and Rinko Kawauchi will be considered to this purpose. Chapter II will further attempt to resolve these questions, where mention of the work of Christian Boltanski will be made and his notion of ‘petites histoires’[6]. Pierre Nora’s extensive essay on ‘lieux de memoire’[7] will also be referred to as its themes are closely related to the placement of memory, as is my work.


This second chapter will also look at my current project, the ‘S Project’ (fig 2).

My practice falls mainly within photography and film, specifically drawing on the indexical and archival characteristics of the photographic image. These characteristics, amongst others of these two mediums, suited my preoccupations best, as will be discussed in Chapter I.

Theories of semiotics will be mentioned throughout the chapters and reference to Roland Barthes and Charles Pierce’s theories will be made.

The theories of Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky will be considered in Chapter III, alongside his notion of ‘poetic image’.[8] The work of Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi will again be mentioned in this final chapter.

The role of the artist in today’s society will also be discussed at length in this chapter and in the conclusion.


The preoccupations underpinning my work can mainly be framed within a psychoanalytical methodology, as will be discussed throughout the entirety of this commentary. Key theorists of psychoanalysis like Sigmund Freud, and Donald Woods Winnicott will be referred to in the text along with an interview with psychoanalyst David Crosher.


Above all, my work is about memory, my own, other people’s, our collective memory. Andreas Husseyn as referred to by Gibbons,[9] clearly points to,


“A relationship between the reordering of the notion of memory and the breakdown in the coherency of modernist’s utopian narrative. He argues that our current obsession with memory derives from a crisis in the belief in a rational structure of temporality. For him this crisis is evident in the way that time is perceived and experienced has become even more evident in the way that both time and history have been collapsed by an information revolution that threatens to make categories such as “past and future, experience and expectation and memory and anticipation” obsolete. The current preoccupation with memory can be seen as an attempt to recover a mode of contemplation outside the universe of simulation and fast-speed information and cable networks, to claim some anchoring space in a world of puzzling and often threatening heterogeneity, non-synchronicity and information overload. He sees the current preoccupation with memory as a way to find a new mooring.”[10]


Questions on whom this anchoring role should fall upon might be answered with Joan Gibbons’ statement:


“Art has become one of the most important agencies for the sort of ‘memory-work’ that is required by contemporary life and culture.”[11]


The concern with the state of our collective memories reflected in the state of our society is one of the driving forces behind my current project, and will be the main point of discussion in the conclusion of this commentary. The value of preserving so-called obsolete technologies will also be discussed in the conclusion.


Above all, I hope that this commentary will serve as a clarification to others and myself as to the intentions and connections within my work and whether these are fulfilled in my processes.


“I don’t think it’s an ontology, but a desmology – in Greek desmos means connection, or link….What interests me is not so much the state of things but the relations between them. I’ve concerned myself with nothing but relations for my whole life.”

Michel Serres[12]


This concern with ‘nothing but relations’ is where my love lies.

Chapter I

On ‘space of release’.

 Keeper of secrets or preserver of traces?


“Empty space in the sense of a mental and social void which facilitates the socialization of a not-yet-social realm is actually merely a representation of space.”

Henri Lefevbre[13]


My artistic and creative expression is through photography and film, and my work is an attempt to make sense of life and the world around me through the observation of the apparently unimportant.  In the second year of my degree, experimentation with new materials trying to redirect my intentions had not brought about much satisfaction. The pull of my original concerns was too strong: the discarded, disregarded, traces and memories. A new body of work started by collecting discarded clothes from the local recycling centre and systematically cataloguing the individual items by the means of hand written and photographic lists (fig 3). This process facilitated a form of searching and looking for traces of memories of others but also for my own memories. Through questioning my practice and reflecting upon research in sketchbooks, a form of answer seemed to present itself. It was about space, emotional space.


“Lived space: the third dimension of the production of space is the lived experience of space. This dimension denotes the world as it is experienced by human beings in the practice of their everyday life. On this point Lefebvre is unequivocal: the lived, practical experience does not let itself be exhausted through theoretical analysis. There always remains a surplus, a remainder, an inexpressible and unanalysable but most valuable residue that can be expressed only through artistic means.”[14]


Could this valuable residue be an unseen emotional space I was trying to find and express in my artistic practice?

Could photographing the items of clothing individually, for instance, be an unknowing attempt to record these residues and at the same time to create an emotional space?

In his essay on Rachel Whiteread, Neville Wakefield refers to space as a ‘space of release, heavily impregnated with memory’[15].

Joan Gibbon also refers to Wakefield’s notion in her book ‘Contemporary Art and Memory’, and expands it further:


“For Wakefield the separation is ‘synaptic’, a charged gap between the object and its cast…a space through which interiority and exteriority can form a two-way traffic and one which, due to the traces of lived experience captured in the casting, is as much redolent with somatic memories as with emotional associations.”[16]


These ideas where very much present in my work and the final installation was intended to create a ’space of release’, for others and for myself; the separate elements within it intended to create a two-way traffic between interiority and exteriority, but also to create emotional associations between the viewers and the work.


The idea of a gap between the observed and the lived is not new. Marchel Duchamp called it ‘infra mince’. “Infra mince cannot be verbalised”, Duchamp declared,

“but can only be described by examples, such as the difference in            displaced volume between a clean shirt and the same shirt worn once or    the taste of one’s mouth lingering in the taste of exhaled smoke.”[17]

This idea of ‘infra mince’ appeared to me to have a clear link to Lefebvre’s mention of ‘valuable residue’, and was further explored in my work in a short film. A single camera, fixed on a close-up shot of my hands, very slowly folding the clothes, pausing to reflect on what possible traces they might hold.


The sudden realisation of a clear parallel between the intentions in my latest work and what Joan Gibbons was describing of Rachel Whiteread’s casts was enlightening:

“The casting techniques in pieces such as ‘House’ or ‘Ghost’ (fig 4) not only preserve residual memories that are co-extensive with the life of the object but do so in a way that creates a ‘space’ for the play of imagination and free association, so that the work functions both to remind (re-mind) the viewer of the past and to liberate his/her thoughts and feelings in the present.”[18]


These were the notions that underpinned my own work. Whiteread’s act of casting to “remind the viewer of the past and to liberate….feelings in the present” had been what I had been attempting to achieve through the act of photographing the clothes. This gained even greater clarity upon discovering how Gibbons also relates these notions to photography through the mention of Charles Pierce and semiotics:


“That the photograph has a particular indexical relation to the real was recognized by Pierce himself, who in his typology of signs noted that photographs are characterized by a physical connection to the thing photographed.” [19]


Photographs, and films for that matter, are “built on conventions that we must learn to read”[20] according to David Chandler in his book on semiotics, and as Victor Burgin argues, “the viewer comes to the photograph with pre-textual knowledge”[21]and that pre-textual knowledge will influence the viewer’s perception and could, consequentially, influence his or her emotional responses. That pre-textual knowledge could easily bring with it memories and emotions of the past. Pierce also recognised that the photograph is


“in dynamical connection with the individual object, on the one hand, and with the senses of memory of the person for whom it serves as a sign, on the other.”[22]


Gibbons expands this further and clearly links this idea to that suggested by Wakefield:

“…the photograph as the status of a ‘degenerate’ sign, and the gap that this degeneration produces between the object and its photographic signifier opens up a space in which new meanings and relationships can be produced.”[23]


These theories appear to have a clear link with my work. They validate my choice of artistic medium, photography and film, in my intention of creating a ‘space of release’, in current and future projects.

On the theme of photographically recording events that physically generate a space in which an emotional release can occur, the work of Japanese photographer Rinko Kawauchi should be mentioned, as her work speaks to me of that ‘space of release’. By looking at the world without judgment, with almost child-like innocence[24], Kawauchi maintains a sense of wonder that in our image-saturated world is crucial to genuinely create a space for others to relate to. In this way she is able to create images (fig 5) that, as previously mentioned by Gibbons, form a two-way traffic between interiority and exteriority.

There are many debates over the state of photography, even more so with the advent of digital media. Many theorists have debated at length over the positions of photography as a medium in modern times and an entire stand alone thesis could be filled with all the debates. Arguments on the responsibility of photography were brought about by Susan Sontag in the 70s[25]; Walter Benjamin discussed the questions of its veracity and reproducibility[26]; Roland Barthes made it the focus of his seminal work ‘Camera Lucida’[27]. The focus of this commentary is on the specific themes that link directly to my work, but for further research one could refer to the very exhaustive works of Professor Liz Wells[28].

Above all the debates, however, photography remains my main mode of practice and the words William Henry Talbot Fox spoke during his presentation to the Royal Photographic Society in 1839 explain why:


“The phenomenon [photography] which I have now briefly mentioned appears to me to partake of the character of the marvelous, almost as much as any fact which physical investigation has brought to our knowledge. The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our ‘natural magic’, and may be fixed for ever in the position it seemed only for a single instant to occupy.”[29]


The ‘magic’ of photography also allows me to search for the ‘space’ I have been looking for, to somehow preserve memories.

In order to understand some of the personal motivations behind my work and gain a more objective perspective, I met with psychoanalyst David Crosher[30] in my studio one day in November. The concept that my work can mostly be viewed as a big, moving transitional object[31], as per Winnicott’s theories, was quite clear to me from the outset. In her book ‘The Methodologies of Art’[32], Schneider Adams states:


“Winnicott, like Freud, saw human development as a continuum in time, and the events of childhood as the foundation of adult character. The transitional object becomes the paradigm of all art, which always has a transitional aspect.”[33]


Interest with memory and the past in my work is to me a clear evidence of these concepts. Further reflection was caused by other elements pointed out by David as, according to him, my work is also an attempt to recover my own memory of something delicate that has been destroyed. That word release again and memory. Memories.

After all the preoccupation with memory is not new. Frances Yates dedicated an entire volume[34] to tracing the human preoccupation with the art of memory. The art of ‘memorizing’, primarily by way of making visual lists, has preoccupied artist and scholars for centuries as Umberto Eco displays in his book ‘The Infinity of Lists’[35], and although my intention is not to memorize the content of the slides as such, my written and photographic lists are an example of a mnemonic attempt in artistic terms.


My own preoccupation with memory is not new either and has filtered through earlier years of artistic practice. “You are trying to make a beginning, trying to find a place where you can begin again.”[36]

Suddenly an essay by John Berger[37] read years earlier sprung to mind. In it he discusses ‘the urge to be at home everywhere’ and the problem with emigration and displacement. Living in a foreign country for eighteen years, having moved to England from Italy in 1995, somehow makes me displaced, an immigrant, a foreigner. Reflecting on earlier works and my current preoccupations, there is a clear evidence of the urge Berger mentions.  The final project for my Access course was titled ‘Finding Home’ and it included, amongst other elements, photographs of my children (fig 6 – 7) and since then my work has focused on finding and creating a ‘space’. According to the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, “the house is the quintessential phenomenological object, meaning that this is the place in which the personal experience reaches its epitome.”[38] Bachelard sees the house as a sort of initial universe, asserting that “all really inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home.”[39]

John Berger expands the concept further in his previously mentioned essay:


“The mortar which holds the improvised ‘home’ together, even for a child, is memory.

To the underprivileged, home is represented, not by a house, but by a practice or set of practices. Everyone has his own. These practices, chosen and not imposed, offer in their repetition, transient as they may be in themselves, more permanence, more shelter than any lodging. Home is no longer a dwelling but the untold story of a life being lived.”[40]


So, my displacement has compelled me to attempt to create a home, a space, not a physical one, but an emotional one, where stories of lives being lived can be told, a ‘space of release’ where traces are preserved, held together not by mortar but memories.


Louise Bourgeois famously said:


“My inspiration comes from the beauty of the past. That’s where I am        completely omnipotent. Our past is ours. Sometimes you have good     memories, sometimes you have bad memories, but they are your             memories.”[41]


I am not trying to be omnipotent, I am trying to hold my home together.


Chapter II

 On traces and ‘petites histoires’.

 What is the value of preserving and representing memories?


“Sometimes, I’d like to write a book

A book all about time

About how it doesn’t exist,

How the past and the future

Are one continuous present.

I think that all people – those living,

Those who have lived

And those who are still to live – are alive now.

I should like to take that subject to pieces,

Like a soldier dismantling his rifle.”


Yevgeny Vinokurov[42]


In his book ‘Reflections’, Walter Benjamin stated ‘to live is to leave traces’[43] and it is these traces that have become  central to my practice.  The project my work will focus on this year, and hopefully in the next two years for a Master’s degree, is once again preoccupied with memory and traces. The attempt to recover my own memory of something delicate that has been destroyed, as referred to in the first chapter, has been replaced with the desire to preserve something delicate that would have otherwise been destroyed and somehow represent it in a new, accessible way. The focus of this new project is no longer on discarded, unwanted and maybe unusable clothes. Thousands and thousands of film slides, the remainders of the visual culture archive of my place of study, have now become the focus of my work, together with the histories and memories that these slides may hold (fig 8).

Christian Boltanski calls these traces the ‘petites histoires’. In many interviews he has stated:


“Part of my work has been about what I call ‘petites histoires’, small memory. Large memory is recorded in books and small memory is all about little things: trivia, jokes. Part of my work then has been about trying to preserve ‘small history’, because often when someone dies, that memory disappears. Yet that ‘small’ memory is what makes people different form one another, unique. These memories are very fragile; I wanted to save them.”[44]


Boltanski often works with appropriated objects and photographs (fig 9), which are also central to my own work.  Appropriating objects can eliminate a direct autobiographical recognition but it nevertheless can still relate the work to personal memories and preoccupations and, as already mentioned in Chapter I, there are psychobiographical elements in my work. Nevertheless, my preoccupation is primarily with the memories and traces contained in the appropriated objects, like the clothes and the slides, not necessarily with the objects themselves, although preserving these is also preserving the memories within. Pierre Nora talks of ‘lieux de memoires’,[45]


“the privileging of memory over history represents a freedom of knowledge which, when accessed in lieux de memoire, can become less prescriptive and allows transformation from the historical to the psychological, from the sociological to the individual, from the objective message to its subjective reception, from repetition to rememoration.”[46]


In undertaking the project with the slides, the element of indexicality of photography could not be ignored, as mentioned by Pierce and referred to in Chapter I, and even more so in images that are intended for an archive of some kind. Again, as in Chapter I, the debates over the state of photography are many, even more so with the advent of digital technology that has rendered many other technologies obsolete. Originally photography could be viewed as an index, in semiotics terms, of the effects of light[47], and despite digital technologies


“increasingly eroding the indexicality of photographic images, is arguable that it is the indexicality still routinely attributed to the medium that is primarily responsible for interpreters treating them as objective records of reality.”[48]


This is very relevant to my current project, as the slides belong to an analogue era and therefore do hold a direct indexicality, and although in my artistic process they are being digitally photographed, they maintain a true link to a forgotten reality.


Photographic images are also very often displayed grids, sequences or series. These methods of display are often used in my own work, and more clearly so in my current project, where walls are covered with rows upon rows of film slides. Bernd and Hilla Becher often used series in their work as


“a photographic series eliminates the intervals of time and physical distance between exposures, the subjects….assume their place in a strict, typological grid of formally and conceptually related examples – an evolving archive of related structures.”[49] (fig 10)


These notions of an ‘evolving archive’ and the elimination of the ‘intervals of time and physical distance’ appear to me extremely pertinent to my current project, as its focus is one not only of preservation but representation, thus attempting to create a ‘living, evolving archive’.


Another analysis of the use of sequences in photography comes from Minor White:

“The time between photographs is filled by the beholder, first of all from himself, then from what he can read in the implications of the design….the meaning appears in the mood they raise in the beholder.”[50]


This last statement appears to me to clearly connect to the two-way exchange between interiority and exteriority that Gibbons mentions[51].

However displayed and however indexical the photographs may be, we still attach value in preserving images and this is becoming more and more the role of artists.

Another argument on preservation is pressing here. Many contemporary artists are rethinking the conventional spaces, like museum, as space for preservation and remembrance. Boltanski, argues that:

“ …once my glasses are part of a museum’s collection, they forget their function, they are then only an image of glasses. In a vitrine, my glasses will have lost their reason for being, but they will also have lost their identity.”[52]


So the question of preserving objects that we consider a repository of memories is paramount, whether they belong to a so-called obsolete technology or not, but how? My current project has encountered this very problem. Creating lists (fig 11), both hand written and photographic, refers to very traditional mnemotechnics or ‘art of memory’, as referred to by Frances Yates[53], but the main purpose of this work is not only one of preservation but representation. The answer, as previously mentioned, could be the creation of a ‘living archive’, living as opposed to the traditional idea of archive:


“The archive is popularly conceived as a space where things are hidden in a state of stasis, imbued with secrecy, mystery and power. The motif that pervasively recurs is that of dust and dirt. Dustiness implies a place of no movement, of objects that have been left to rest.”[54]


A ‘living archive’ on the other hand, is out in the open, accessible; it serves a purpose, it has a clear function.  The ‘S Project’ aims to be just that, of asserting its significance  “as both a collective memory and a site of creative regeneration.”[55]

And is not regeneration absolutely necessary in this current time of recession and political unrest in our society? The Dark Mountain Project proclaims:


“So we find ourselves, our ways of telling unbalanced, trapped inside a runaway narrative, headed for the worst kind of encounter with reality. In such a moment, writers, artists, poets and storytellers of all kinds have a critical role to play. Creativity remains the most uncontrollable of human forces: without it, the project of civilization is inconceivable, yet no part of life remains so untamed and domesticated.”[56]


Reflection on psychoanalytical elements is again necessary at this point. Creating an archive of any type, in my case of slides, requires a lot of repetition. Repetition while compiling a list of headings for pages. Repetition while photographing individual slides. Repetition while hanging page of slides for display.

During our meeting David Crosher points to Freud’s notion of repetition compulsion[57].

“Here one might think of obsessionality, anality, and the positive and negative construction that might be put upon such behavior – on the one hand, the gaining of mastery and eventual insight, the anchoring and stabilization of self in habit and routine, even ritualization, and on the other, the over-need to keep at bay what is feared, dirty, what might break in – acted out because the content has not yet been brought into mind.”[58]


Unsurprisingly, therefore, repetition is a prominent feature of my latest work taking the form of hundreds of apparently identical slides, row upon row, floor to ceiling (fig 12). However, this repetition has generated a sense of renewal and positivity, which I assume to be a resonance of the memories within these slides. This resonance has spurred an enormous desire to talk about these slides, to show them, to make it possible for people to view them and in a way to restore them to their original purpose.

My work had so far been quite nostalgic, melancholic and at times maybe morbid. All traits of my personality; but with a new found desire of wanting to distance myself from the bearing of the past, aware of my limitations and the unsolved traumas, but refreshed and spurred by all the stories of which these slides speak of. Pericles states:


“What you leave behind is not what it is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”[59]


The lives of others are so intrinsically part of the slides my project is focused on, their traces, their stories so tied in the social history of the area I live in. How could all this wealth be discarded, disregarded, considered obsolete? Are memories ever obsolete? The research undertaken and discussed within this commentary clearly points to a necessity of preservation and ideally, in my view, of representation, to the creation of living, evolving archives. It is this view that motivates my work.

Let me be surrounded by hundreds of thousands of small, precious images; let me concern myself with nothing but relations!


Chapter III

On Tarkovsky, the poetic image and the role of the artist Do artists have a social responsibility in today’s culture?

“I am of the persuasion that knowledge and the ability to confront and metabolize what’s happening is the first order of the day.”


Suzi Gablik[60]


My love affair with photography has been a long term one, as previously mentioned. In the same way, film and moving image have become increasingly important in my work, being mediums that allow me to document and expand my practice.

The step from photography to film has been a natural, seamless transition, just as the transitions often used during the editing process. A curiosity in the technical aspects of filming and editing with the exciting possibility of learning new skills also motivates my filmmaking and has led me to produce many short films. (fig 13- 18) Again though, as for my studio practice, the moving image work is underpinned by theory and no other artist engaged in film has had more impact on me than Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky.

In his book ‘Sculpting in Time’[61], Tarkovsky attempts to answer philosophical questions which arise from working on films, while at the same time discussing his art. When asked about one of his films Tarkovsky replied:


“What is this film about? It is about a Man…..It’s a film about you, your father, your grandfather, about someone who will live after you and who is still ‘you.’ About a Man who lives on the earth, is a part of the earth and the earth is part of him, about the fact that a man is answerable for his life both to the past and to the future”[62]


He goes on to say: “You have to watch this film simply;…watch it as one watches the stars, or the sea, as one admires a landscape.”[63]


To watch, look, without judgment, trying not to hold onto pre-conceptions, aesthetic or emotional, with the innocence of a child.

This attempt at a simple gaze reminds me of the innocence in Rinko Kawauchi’s work, already mentioned in Chapter I.


“Instantaneous and magical moments like fireworks, create an entirety that give us her visual poetry.”[64]


She captures these moments in a limited spectrum of cool, pale blues that have become her signature colours. According to Juan Eduardo Cirlot in his ‘A Dictionary of Symbols’ “blue ….stands for religious feeling, devotion and innocence”[65], thus the work can be read or suggest these themes. These same feelings can be found in some of Tarkovsky’s images, specifically his personal polaroids (fig 19). In his book, Tarkovsky refers to the traditional genre of Japanese poetry, the haikku[66], as ‘pure observation’. [67] His notion of poetic image is apparent in Kawauchi’s visual poetry, and in so many other contemporary visual artists, for that matter, as Tarkovsky states:


“I find poetic links, the logic of poetry in cinema, extraordinarily pleasing. They seem to me perfectly appropriate to the potential of cinema as the most truthful and poetic of art forms. Certainly I am more at home with them than with traditional writing, which links images through the linear, rigidly logical development of the plot. That sort of fussily correct way of linking events usually involves arbitrarily forcing them into sequence in obedience to some abstract notion of order.”[68]


Here Tarkovsky is referring to moving image, but this logic could be easily applied to photography, if viewed as a suspension of motion, an incomplete sequence. I view the slides in my current project as this, a sequence of images and memories coming together to narrate a multitude of stories. Film slides are not fixed in a filmstrip, their editing into whichever form of categorization is open to inaccuracies and constant alterations creating never-ending sequences of possible stories.

As observed in Chapter II, sequences are often employed by photographers as a curatorial choice. Tarkovsky adds:


“The method whereby the artist obliges the audience to build the separate parts into a whole, and to think on, further than has been stated, is the only one that puts the audience on a par with the artist in their perception of the film. And indeed from the point of view of mutual respect only that kind of reciprocity is worthy of artistic practice.”[69]


Mutual respect between artist and audience and the integrity of one’s art are recurrent elements in what can be viewed as Tarkovsky’s manifesto. I recognize his influence in my visual language, especially in my own films, attempting to recreate feelings of innocence and visual poetry also found in Kawauchi’s work. However, his influence is primarily one of thought, even more so in the context of my current project. Rescuing slides from being permanently discarded and taking on the role of curator/ historian/ archivist has required a high level of integrity and commitment only possible with clarity of intent. Tarkovsky states:


“In any case it is perfectly clear that the goal for all art – unless of course it is aimed at the ‘consumer’, like a saleable commodity – is to explain to the artist himself and to those around him what man lives for, what is the meaning of existence. To explain to people the reason for their appearance on this planet; or if not to explain, at least to pose the question.”[70]


It is a bold statement, charged with a sense of faith in the integrity and the role of the artist. Tarkovsky sees art as a means of assimilating the world.


“Through the subjective experience of art man takes over reality,     opposed to the objective truth of science.”[71]


These statements require reflection about the role of artists in general, as mentioned in Chapter II, and more specifically in questioning my own role as an artist.

“Surely” Tarkovsky says “it [art] cannot be worth the effort for the sake of hearing one’s own echo?”[72].  He calls art a


“meta-language, with the help of which people try to communicate with one another; to impart information about themselves and assimilate the experience of others.”[73]


The artist and art critic Suzi Gablik has similar views and states that


“artist see themselves as active participants in a global world, and who are willing to make art in the service of something more positively social or environmental.”[74]


In a society saturated by communication of all types we cannot afford to pretend to be deaf to what we are being called to do. I could not be deaf to the call of the slides and the memories they hold, to assimilate past experiences and attempt to represent them, to somehow bring them back to life.

Tarkovsky also focuses on time, in a cinematic sense, but also in an existential sense. The passing of time and the advances of technologies are leading us to believe we no longer need our past, our memories.

Tarkovsky’s view that “time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal”[75] is interesting for the relevance with the discussions brought forward in the previous chapters.

According to Tarkovsky, the past is more real than the present, the present acquiring weight only in its recollection and “the time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.”[76]

The preoccupation with memory in my work often culminates with film, with images moving in time. It is in the editing process that a more personal, autobiographical element in my work is imposed. The deliberate cutting, discarding, re-putting together of fragments of time allows me, in some way, to re-order my own memories and create new ones. Through photography work I allow myself less freedom, very rarely editing my images, wanting to stay true, as much as possible, to what my eye, through the camera lens, captured in the first instance. It is paramount in my work, and for others’ work to have an emotional impact on me, that a clarity of vision is in place and followed, sometimes uncompromisingly.

Tarkovsky himself states:


“For the genius is revealed not in the absolute perfection of a work but in absolute fidelity to himself, in commitment to his own passion. The passionate aspiration of the artist to the truth, to knowing the world and himself in the world, endows with special meaning even the somewhat obscure…passages in his works.”[77]


The truth Tarkovsky mentions is one of intention, of ‘absolute fidelity to himself’, regardless of the medium one chooses or the work generated. This fidelity to my intentions, but also to the stories collected within the slides is paramount in my latest project.


Further in his book Tarkovsky addresses the subject again by adding:


“I see it as the clearest evidence of genius when an artist follows his conception, his idea, his principle, so unswervingly that he has this truth of his constantly in his control, never letting go of it even for the sake of his own enjoyment of his own work.”[78]


It is not genius that interests me, but following the conception of my project, not compromising it however tempting it may be, keeping to my ideas and my principles, never letting go.





Through this commentary I hope to have been able to undertake an objective and critical review of my practice, and to have answered the questions posed in order to gain a deeper understanding of my motivations.


The many voices encountered during my writing have helped to sustain the arguments presented and have allowed me to place my work within a clear theoretical framework.


In Chapter I, I have learned about ‘space of release’, as per Neville Wakefield and Joan Gibbons writings, together with the work of Rachel Whiteread and Rinko Kawauchi.

Marcel Duchamp’s suggestion of ‘infra mince’ was also discussed to help answer the question I was posing.

Both Wakefield and Gibbons, and Duchamp long before them, clearly point to an invisible space where traces of lived lives are held.

This gap between an object and its representation, or the intangible difference between a clean or worn shirt, felt to me to have an incredible importance as a record of our existence, of our passage through life.

These notions underpinned the final installation in my second year of study and supported the idea that residues of lived lives and experiences somehow remain trapped, but also preserved, in the objects we leave behind. Furthermore, this ‘space’ where traces are held allows for a two-way traffic with the viewer of the work and, by association, possibly create an emotional release.

Further research led me to Christian Boltanski’s ‘petites histoires’ and Pierre Nora’s ‘lieux de memoires’ and enabled me to deepen the awareness of the motivations behind my practice and these notions are discussed in Chapter II.


Boltanksi and Nora’s ideas reaffirm the suggestions brought forward in Chapter I and clearly link to the notion of ‘space of release’.

The small histories Boltanski talks of are not only those everyday, apparently insignificant events never recorded in history books but left to collective memories. They are also those intangible traces I have spoken of before, the evidence of a human presence. Our experiences, physical and emotional, somehow leave traces of ourselves behind and those traces hold the memories of those experiences. To discard these traces indiscriminately, to not acknowledge or attempt to hold on to ‘spaces of release’ is to deny our past and leave no evidence of our existences; it is to have no history.


My current work, the ‘S Project’, is an attempt at creating a ‘living archive’, a ‘lieux de memoire’, breathing out memories and traces. The thousands and thousands of film slides I am working with hold hours and hours of lived experiences, of time spent, of thinking, pondering, discussing, primarily about art. But they are also silent witnesses of lives that are no longer lives, of relationships, human contacts.  To ignore their existence, or worse, discard them, is to loose fifty years of our local history, of the history of this college and the histories of all the people that have passed through these doors. Our collective memory would be much poorer, our history inexistent.


Chapter III is almost entirely dedicated to Andrei Tarkovsky and his notion of ‘poetic image’ and the role of artists.

His is the visual language I belong to, I aspire to; my film and photography work always looks at Tarkovsky’s legacy, at his integrity of vision and integrity as an artist. Rinko Kawauchi’s work was again referred to here.


The role of the artist has been the subject of much thought this year and my current project has brought about more reflections on the subject for me. What is my role? As an artist but mainly as a human being concerned about the emotional instability of our society. Overtaken by fast changing technologies, we are leaving behind what is really important.

Andrei Tarkovsky once again brings us insight:


“Bereft of memory, a person becomes the prisoner of an illusory existence; falling out of time he is unable to seize his own link with the outside world – in other words he is doomed to madness.”[79]


Our memories, the social histories of the places we live in, the passion and skills of our educators are being eroded by our race to an unknown future. How do we not see the damage we are inflicting on ourselves, our children and our environment in the process? Now more than ever we need to pause and reflect; we need ‘spaces of release’. This is where I see my work being located, within the necessity of emotional release and preservation, and representation of memories for future generations.



At times overwhelmed by the possibility of this madness of the likes referred to by Tarkovsky, feeling useless in this changing world, I question my place, my role as an artist and as a human being. A reassuring answer comes once more from David Crosher:


“At all events, when later in our conversation she began to worry about her art, to question whether she ‘should be doing all this, whether it was right for her or worthwhile – I found myself unhesitatingly saying, suddenly aware of the transformative influence, ‘Yes, absolutely.’”[80]























Note on this commentary


I have found putting my thoughts into words for the purpose of this commentary extremely difficult. At first I believed it to be a difficulty in writing, being that English is not my first language. It is only when I encountered this passage from Junichiro Tanizaki’s book ‘In Praise of Shadows’ that I realized I was trying to force my thoughts into a style of writing that is completely unnatural to me. I had started to question my ability to express myself academically when all along I was having to adhere to a structure and style that, in my opinion, does not suit a ‘fugitive sensibility’.


“One of the oldest and most deeply ingrained of Japanese attitudes to literary styles holds that too obvious a structure is contrivance, that too orderly an exposition falsifies the ruminations of the heart, that the truest representation of the searching mind is just to ‘follow the brush’. Indeed it would not be far wrong to say that the narrative technique we call ‘stream of consciousness’ has an ancient history in Japanese letters. It is not that Japanese writers have been ignorant of the powers of concision and articulation. Rather they have felt that certain subjects – the vicissitudes of the emotions, the fleeting perceptions of the mind – are best couched in a style that conveys something of the uncertainty of the mental process and not just its neatly packaged conclusions.


Susan Sontag has put the matter well in explaining her choice of style in ‘Notes on Camp’: “To snare a sensibility in words, especially one that is alive and powerful, one must be tentative and nimble. The form of jottings, rather that an essay (with its claim to a linear, consecutive argument), seemed more appropriate for getting down something of this particular fugitive sensibility.”



Extract from: TANIZAKI, Junichiro. In praise of shadows. London: Vintage Books, 2001. p. 68-69.


This note is not included in the final word count.












He or she who abandons a project before starting it,

Who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,

He or she who doesn’t reply when they are asked something they do know,

Dies slowly.


Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,

Reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead

to the attainment of a splendid happiness.[81]








[1] Karl Marx, quoted by Guy Debord in his essay “Theory of the Derive”, published in Internationale Situationiste 2, 1958 (Accessed November 2012).

[2] MERLEAU_-PONTY, M. The Visible and the Invisible. Northwestern University Press, 1968, p.139.

[3] WAKEFIELD, N. Separation Anxiety and the Art of Release. Parkett 42, 1994, p.77-79.

[4] GIBBONS, J. Contemporary Art and Memory. I.B. Tauris, 2007, p.30-31

[5] ADES, D COX, N HOPKINS, D. Marcel Duchamp. Thames and Hudson, 1999. p. 183.

[6] you tube  (Accessed 7 October 2011).

[7] NORA, P. Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Memoire. Representations 26 , 1989.

[8] TARKOVSKY, A. Sculpting in Time. University of Texas Press, 1987.  p. 20.

[9] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 5-6.

[10] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 5-6.

[11] Ibid. p. 5 and p. 150 note 14.

[12] BENNET, J.  Emphatic Vision. Stanford University Press, 2005. p. 1.

[13] LEVFEBRE, H.  The Production of Space. Blackwell Publishers Inc, 1991. p. 190.

[14] LEVFEBRE, H. Space, difference, Everyday Life. Routledge, 2008. p.37.

[15] WAKEFIELD, N. Op. Cit. p. 78.

[16] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 31.

[18] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 33-34.

[19] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p.34.

[20] CHANDLER, D. Semiotics the basics. Routledge,  2007. p. 43.

[21] BURGIN, V. Photography, fantasy and function. Macmillan Press, 1982. p.198.

[22] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 34.

[23] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 34.

[24] Hasselblad Foundatoin (Accessed 20 December 2012).

[25] SONTAG, S. On Photography. Penguin Books, 1977.

[26] BENJAMIN, W. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Penguin Books, 2008.

[27] BARTHES, R. Camera Lucida. Vintage Books, 1993.

[28] WELLS, L. Photography A Critical Introduction. Routledge, 1997, and ,The Photography Reader. Routledge, 2003.

[29] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 37.

[30]  David Crosher is an accredited member of the Society of Analytical Psychology, London. For full text of e-mail see APPENDIX III

[31] SCHNEIDER ADAMS, L. The Methodologies of Art. Westview Press, 1996. p. 200.

[32] [32] SCHNEIDER ADAMS, L. The Methodologies of Art. Westview Press, 1996.

[33] Ibid. p. 201.

[34] YATES, F. The Art of Memory. Pimlico, 1992.

[35] ECO, U. The Infinity of Lists. MacLehose Press, 2009.

[36] CROSHER, D. Op. Cit. Appendix III

[37] BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. Bloomsbury, 2006.  For full text see Appendix IV.

[38] BACHELARD, G. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, 1969. p. 5.

[39] Ibid. p. 5.

[40] BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. Bloomsbury, 2006.  For full text see Appendix IV

[41] GREENBERG, J. JORDAN, S. Runaway Girl – The Artist Louise Bourgeois. Harry R. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, 2003. P.17.

[42] BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. Bloomsbury, 2006. p.21.

[43] BENJAMIN, W. Reflections. Harcourt Brace Jovanavich, Inc. 1978. p. 156.

[44] Youtube (Accessed 7 October 2011)

[45] NORA, P. Op. Cit.

[46] NORA, P. Op. Cit.

[47] CHANDLER, D. Op. Cit. p. 43.

[48] Ibid.  p.43.

[49] MODRAK, R. ANTHES, B. reframing photography. Routledge, 2011. p. 323.

[50] Ibid. p. 333.

[51] GIBBONS, J. Op. Cit. p. 31

[52] BREAKWELL, S. WORSLEY, V. Collecting the traces: an archivist’s perspective. Journal of Visual Practice Volume 6. Intellect ltd, 2007. p. 176.

[53] YATES, F. Op. Cit. p. 11.

[54] BREAKWELL, S. WORSLEY, V. Op. Cit. p. 176.

[55] Ibid.

[56] The Dark Mountain Project Manifesto. (Accessed 3 October 2012)

[57] FREUD, S. Beyond the pleasure principle. Penguin books, 2003. p. 32.

[58] CROSHER, D. Op. Cit. Appendix III.

[59]Think Exist (Accessed 24 November 2012)

[61] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit.

[62] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit.. p 9.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Hasselblad Foundation (Accessed 21 October 2012)

[65] CIRLOT, J.E. A Dictionary of Symbols. Dover Publications, Inc. 2002.  p. 54.

[66] Haikku is a very short form of Japanese poetry typically characterised by three lines.

[67] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit. p. 66.

[68] Ibid. p. 20.

[69] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit. p. 21.

[70] Ibid.  p. 36.

[71] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit. p. 37.

[72] Ibid. p. 40.

[73] Ibid. p. 40.

[75]TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit. p. 57.

[76] Ibid. p. 58.

[77] JOHNSON, V T. The films of Andrei Tarkovsky: a visual fugue. Indiana University Press, 1994. p. 31.

[78]TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit.  p. 76.

[79] TARKOVSKY, A. Op. Cit. p. 58.

[80]CROSHER, D. Op. Cit. Appendix III.

[81] This poem is generally falsely attributed to Pablo Neruda but it was written by Brazilian writer Martha Medeiros in 2000.

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Appendix I                poem by Martha Medeiros                                                         p.71




Appendix II               extract from BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos.   Bloomsbury, 2006.                                          p.72                                            




Appendix III              e-mail from David Crosher                                           p.74




Appendix IV              extract from BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos.   Bloomsbury, 2006.                                 p.77                                                                                                                            






This poem is generally falsely attributed to Pablo Neruda but it was actually written by Brazilian writer Martha Medeiros in 2000. The first rule of research, cross -reference your sources! For full text see Appendix I.



He who becomes the slave of habit,

Who follows the same routes every day,  

Who never changes pace, 

Who does not risk and change the color of his clothes, 

Who does not speak and does not experience,

Dies slowly.


He or she who shuns passion,

Who prefers black on white,

Dotting ones i’s rather than a bundle of emotions,

The kind that make your eyes glimmer, 

That turn a yawn into a smile, 

That make the heart pound in the face of mistakes and feelings,

Dies slowly.


He or she who does not turn things topsy-turvy, 

Who is unhappy at work, 

Who does not risk certainty for uncertainty, 

To thus follow a dream, 

Those who do not forego sound advice at least once in their lives, 

Die slowly.


He, who does not travel,

Who does not read, 

Who does not listen to music, 

Who does not find grace in himself, 

She who does not find grace in herself, 

Dies slowly.


He who slowly destroys his own self-esteem, 

Who does not allow himself to be helped, 

Who spends days on end complaining about his own bad luck,

About the rain that never stops, 

Dies slowly.


He or she who abandons a project before starting it,

Who fails to ask questions on subjects he doesn’t know,  

He or she who doesn’t reply when they are asked something they do know, 

Dies slowly.


Let’s try and avoid death in small doses,

Reminding oneself that being alive requires an effort far greater than the simple fact of breathing.

Only a burning patience will lead to the attainment of a splendid happiness.




BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos. London: Bloomsbury, 2006.  p. 50 – 52


The visible has been and still remains the principal human source of information about the world. Through the visible one orientates oneself. Even perceptions coming from other senses are often translated into visual terms. (Vertigo is a pathological example: originating in the ear, one experiences it as a visual, spatial confusion.) It is thanks to the visible that one recognizes space as the precondition for physical existence. The visible brings the world to us. But at the same time it reminds us ceaselessly that it is a world in which we risk to be lost. The visible with its space also takes the world away from us. Nothing is more two-faced.

The visible implies an eye. It is the stuff of the relation between seen and seer. Yet the seer, when human, is conscious of what his eye cannot and will never see because of time and distance. The visible both includes him (because e sees) and excludes him (because he is not omnipresent). The visible consist for him of the seen which, even when it is threatening, confirms his existence. The desire to have seen- the ocean, the desert, the aurora borealis- has a deep ontological basis.

To this ambiguity of the visible one then has to add the visual experience of absence, whereby we no longer see what we saw. We face a disappearance. And a struggle ensues to prevent what has disappeared, what has become invisible, falling into the negation of the unseen, defying our existence. Thus, the visible produces faith in the reality of the invisible and provokes the development of an inner eye, which retains and assembles and arranges, as if in an interior, as if what has been seen may be forever partly protected against the ambush of space, which is absence.

Both life itself and the visible owe their existence to light. Before there was light, nothing was seen –unless by God. Neither the optical explanation of visual perception nor the evolutionist theory of the slow, hazardous development of the eye in response to the stimulus of light-neither of these dissolve the enigma which surrounds the fact that, at a certain moment, the visible was born, at a certain moment appearances were revealed as appearances. As a response to this enigma, the first faculty accredited to the most important gods was that of sight: an eye, often an all-seeing eye. Then it could be said: The visible exists because it has already been seen.



The Genesis story is consistent with this. The first thing God created was light. After every subsequent act of creation, the light allowed him to see that what he had created was good. At the end of the sixth day he saw everything that he had made and, behold, it was very good.

The Genesis story acknowledges the mystery of the visible coming into being. This mystery is sustained and repeated in the universal experience of what has come to be called natural beauty. Whatever normative categories are employed, such beauty is always experienced as a form of revelation. It is felt to speak.

A waterfall is a waterfall is a waterfall. Its appearance and significance, look and meaning, become identical, whereas usually the y are separate and have to be brought together by the one who is looking and questioning. Beauty’s revelation is this fusion. Such a fusion changes one’s spatial sense, or, rather, changes one’s sense of Being in space.

The boundlessly visible includes but also excludes man. He sees, and he sees that he is being continually abandoned. Appearances belong to the boundless space of the visible. With his inner eye man experiences the space of his own imagination and reflection. Normally it is within the protection of this inner space that he places, retains, cultivates, let’s run wild or constructs Meaning.

At the moment of revelation when appearance and meaning become identical, the spaces of physics and the seer’s inner space coincide: momentarily and exceptionally the seer achieves an equality with the visible. To lose all sense of exclusion; to be at the center.






E-mail attachment from David Crosher.


Meeting with Anna Newland 14/11/2012


Anna had asked if we could meet in order to get my ‘psychoanalytic perspective of the reasons behind [her] work’ which she thought to include as an appendix for the dissertation/thesis she is preparing. We met at SCAT and on the way to the room where we talked she showed me her latest project/installation. This consists of stands, like walls, covered with hundreds of old projector slides used in past art lectures at the College. She told me that, had she not retrieved them, all these slides would have been thrown away, ‘discarded’  ‘forgotten’. In the conversation that followed I felt the job she had given me was to report back or clarify the psychological themes and factors that were occupying her personally and link these to their possible objectification in the piece of artwork I had  just looked at and examined for a few moments.

Anna said she wanted to record our conversation but, unfortunately, the batteries of the recorder were low and it didn’t work. I asked why she wanted to record and she said that her memory wasn’t good; there were whole patches of her past life she couldn’t remember. She thought this might be because of the effect of medical treatment (ECT) or the result of some traumatic event. She had asked her older brothers whether anything like that had occurred in the family and they thought not. She herself remains uncertain, not knowing whether there has been trauma or abuse or not, whether there was something she should be trying to remember or not.  She went on to say that she had felt, discarded, forgotten, unloved, like the slides.

It would thus seem significant that her installation is the ordered presentation of an act of reclaiming historic, valued images threatened with extinction/oblivion – as she has felt herself to be, not least, I understand, by thoughts of suicide. As a viewer one has to peer into each small slide – of pictures, sometimes with annotations, comments -  to begin to get the meaning of the piece, as if it is being suggested that retrieving, distinguishing, really seeing,  is not easy, takes effort.  The slides are dimly lit so one is ‘seeing through a glass darkly’ and, in my case, thinking of that glass as a metaphor for the psyche – that visible/invisible transparency through which we see, apprehend  -  or project ourselves,  to use another image to which, offstage,  Anna’s work alludes.

Anna also spoke a little about her repetitive behaviour – of her  constant need to tidy, order, clean. Here one might think of obsessionality,  anality,  Freud’s repetition compulsion,  and the positive and negative constructions that might be put upon such behaviour – on the one hand, for instance, the gaining of mastery and eventual insight,  the anchoring and stabilisation of self in habit and routine, even ritualization, and on the other, the over-need to keep at bay what is feared,  dirty, what might break in – acted out because the content  has not yet been brought into mind. Mythic amplifications might include the notion of the Eternal Return (Eliade) or Sisyphus and his boulder (see Camus). Later Anna referred to repetition differently when she said that sometimes she found herself crying – crying and crying, for a long time, without knowing why and somehow the crying seemed endless, not bringing relief from the despair.  A stuck sorrow, one might say, yet to find resolution in mourning.   I was moved – all the more by the flat exhausted tone of her voice.

Unsurprisingly, then, repetition is a prominent feature of her work – the hundreds of outwardly identical slides, the row upon row, floor to ceiling. It is this that at once gives the piece its overall scale and, I think I am correct in saying, extends, generalises and emphasises its meaning. This, at its simplest, I take to be the assertion, as against forces that would discard and forget, that art and responses to and thinking about it, very much matter and must be preserved  – over and over again and in capital letters: ART MATTERS.  And to the making of this message Anna brings a considerable power of persuasion. For instance, having peered into a few slides one glances again at the whole, now to become aware, even as one forgoes the detail, of the sheer accumulated mass of particularised and beautiful material that might, so casually, have been lost. Surrounded by the mute calm presence of the slides, the thought is shocking:  ‘ O heavens, I hadn’t realised there was quite, quite so much’. And, perhaps because I was viewing inside an educational establishment, I also thought of the fears, recently expressed amongst others by Danny Boyle, creator of the wonderful Olympic opening spectacle, that the proposed ebacc and new educational policies may be marginalising more creative aspects of the curriculum.

Creativity, Anna being creative,  I thought  cropped up in another way when she spoke of her interest  in an idea in a book she had been reading , of the ‘space of release’ between an object and its representation. This, as I said to her, brought to mind Winnicott’s ‘transitional area’ ( which I might have described, but didn’t)  as the evocative ‘space or place-between’ of the (transcendent) imagination, carrier, transformer, integrator of opposites. And this integrative action is, of course, alluded to in the installation which implicitly seeks to bring together opposite poles of destruction and creativity. But, at least for me, the destructive bit – that the slides were going to be thrown away – remained on the periphery, came from outside, only told to me by Anna.  Perhaps  I didn’t have time to see it  within the piece itself. Perhaps she intends to make this clear in an informative note or a title, I don’t know.  Perhaps for her personally this means, though – and I think she might confirm this – there is more work to be done on her anger about feeling forgotten, unloved and neglected. Thus there was a note of pained bitterness when, at some point in our conversation, she exclaimed, referring to the slides, ‘but the originals could have been lost, for ever.’

Yet she also remarked that while she thought of herself as an ‘explosive’ person she had been surprised that, as an artist, she seemed drawn to the small and delicate. She said this as if discovering something new and unexpected about herself and, of course, the trait is again reflected in the installation, in her choice to make it out of small, quite fragile objects carefully and precisely mounted/hung/ arranged/ (re)ordered. Perhaps what this might mean psychologically – as also her reference to ‘originals’  – is that for Anna making art is a process of ‘releasing,’  of sorting out,  getting back to a beginning, of focussing and concentrating , making a new start from a centred point,   perhaps of reaching back within herself to the  small, delicate, sensitive child from where she can gain renewal.  At all events, when later in our conversation  she began to worry about her art, to question whether she ”should be doing all this”, whether it was right for her or worthwhile – I found myself unhesitatingly saying, suddenly aware of the transformative influence, “Yes, absolutely”.

To end I should like to mention that during the writing of this recollection I have been subject to a persecutory anxiety  that should I not remember  details of our meeting  Anna might feel  terribly upset.   What has emerged from our conversation is how vital a function memory is for our sense of continuous existence and that not being able to remember or not being remembered may be a very disturbing experience which can render us uncertain, absent, make us feel unworthy, of no matter, and perhaps most importantly, bring memories of being uncared for– all feelings that are wounding to the Self.  What I believe Anna seeks to show through, instead, the large care of her art is the converse: that retention in memory  – preserving – can be an act of love.






BERGER, J. and our faces, my heart, brief as photos.  London: Bloomsbury, 2006.

p. 54 – 57, p. 63 – 64.


“Philosophy is really homesickness, it is the urge to be at home everywhere.” – Novalis

The transition from a nomadic life to a settled one is said to mark the beginning of what was later called civilization. Soon all those who survived outside the city began to be considered uncivilized. But that is another story-to be told in the hills near the wolves.

Perhaps during the last century and a half an equally transformation has taken place. Never before our time have so many people been uprooted. Emigration, forced or chosen, across national frontiers or from village to metropolis, is the quintessential experience of our time. That industrialization and capitalism would require such a transport of men on an unprecedented scale and with a new kind of violence was already prophesied by the opening of the slave trade in the sixteenth century. The Western Front in the First World War with its conscripted massed armies was a later confirmation of the same practice of tearing up, assembling, transporting and concentrating in a “no-man’s-land”. Later, concentration camps, across the world, followed the logic of the same continuous practice.

All the modern historian from Marx to Spengler have identified the contemporary phenomenon of emigration. Why add more words? To whisper for that which has been lost. Not out of nostalgia, but because it is on the site of loss that hopes are born.

The term home (Old Nores Heimr, High German heim, Greek komi, meaning “village”) has, since a long time, been taken over by two kinds of moralists, both dear to those who wield power. The notion of home  became the keystone for a code of domestic morality, safeguarding the property (which included women) of the family. Simultaneously the notion of homeland supplied a first article of faith for patriotism, persuading men to die in wars which often served no other interest except that of a minority of their ruling class. Both usages have hidden the original meaning.

Originally home meant the center of the world-not in a geographical , but in an ontological sense. Mircea Elide has demonstrated how home was the place from which the world could be founded. A home was established, as he says, “at the heart of the real.” In traditional societies, everything that made sense of the world was real; the surrounding chaos existed and was threatening, but it was threatening because it was unreal. Without a home at the center of the real, one was not only shelterless, but also lost in non-being, in unreality. Without a home everything was fragmentation.

Home was the center of the world because it was the place where a vertical line crossed with a horizontal one. The vertical line was a path leading upwards to the sky and downwards to the underworld. The horizontal line represented the traffic of the world, all the possible roads leading across the earth to other places. Thus, at home, one was nearest to the gods in the sky and to the dead in the underworld. This nearness promised access to both. And at the same time, one was at the starting point and, hopefully, the returning point of all terrestrial journeys.

The crossing of the two lines, the reassurance their intersection promises, was probably already there, in embryo, in the thinking and beliefs of nomadic people, but they carried the vertical line with them, as they might carry a tent pole. Perhaps at the end of this century of unprecedented transportation, vestiges of reassurances still remain in the unarticulated feelings of many millions of misplaced people.

Emigration does not only involve leaving behind, crossing water, living amongst strangers, but, also, undoing the very meaning of the world and –at its most extreme-abandoning oneself to the unreal which is the absurd.

Emigration, when it is not enforced at gunpoint, may of course be prompted by hope as well as desperation. For example, to the peasant son the father’s traditional authority may seem more oppressively absurd than any chaos. The poverty of the village may appear more absurd than the crimes of the metropolis. To live and die amongst foreigners may seem less absurd than to live persecuted or tourtured by one’s fellow countrymen. All this can be true. But to emigrate is always to dismantle the center of the world, and so to move into a lost, disoriented one of fragments.


Baudelaire was among the first to name and describe the homelessness of the new city crowds.

“….like errant homeless ghosts

doggedly bemoaning.”

Yet the judgment-not the poetry-is too sweeping. The very sense of loss keeps alive an expectation. How easy it is to lose sight of what is historically invisible-as if people lived only history and nothing else!

Popular ingenuity is often invisible. Occasionally, when gathered into political action, it becomes visible. The rest of the time it is used daily for clandestine personal survival. At the practical level of dodging, picking up, hustling: and at the psychic level of turning in circles in order to preserve one’s identity. The masses, the required anonymous labor force, persist in remaining a population of individuals, despite their living and working conditions, despite their displacement. And the ground of each one of these preserved individualities is like a home.

The “substitute” home has little to do with a building. The roof over the head, the four walls, have become, as it were, secular: independent from whatever is kept in the heart and is sacred. Such secularization is the direct consequence of economic and social conditions: tenancy, poverty, over crowding, city planning, property speculation. But ultimately it is the consequence of a lack of choice. Without a history of choice no dwelling can be a home.

With the traditional dwelling which was a home, the choice may have been ancestral, even beyond living memory, but every act of maintenance or improvement acknowledged and repeated the first choice, which was not one of taste but of insight, in having chosen a place where the two life lines crossed. The choices open to men and women today-even amongst the underprivileged-may be more numerous than in the past, but what has been lost irretrievably is the choice of saying: this is the center of the world.

Nevertheless, by turning in circles the displaced preserve their identity, and improvise a shelter. Built of what? Of habits, I think, of the raw material of repetition, turned into a shelter. The habits imply words, jokes, opinions, gestures, actions, even the way one wears a hat. Physical objects and places-a piece of furniture, a bed, the corner of a room, a particular bar, a street corner-supply the scene, the site of the habit, yet it is not they but the habit which protects. The mortar which hold the improvised “home” together-even for a child-is memory. Within it, visible, tangible mementoes are arranged-photos, trophies, souvenirs-but the roof and four walls which safeguard the lives within, these are invisible, intangible, and biographical.

To the underprivileged, home is represented, not by a house, but by a practice or set of practices. Everyone has his own. These practices, chosen and not imposed, offer in their repetition, transient as they may be in themselves, more permanence, more shelter than any lodging. Home is no longer a dwelling but the untold story of a life being lived. At its most brutal, home is no more than one’s name-whilst to most people one is nameless.