Back to School

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School starts September 5th, tomorrow.  This is the term where I will start to develop my major project; my thesis.  My original plan had been to document my father’s move from Calgary to Toronto, however, with his death, I’ve decided to take another path.  

My interests lie in the area of Identity and specifically the intersection of “Place” and “Culture.” Towards developing an understanding of the topic, I have narrowed my focus to a small set of research material:

  1. Arnold, Grant. 2015. “Introduction”. Residue: The Persistence of the Real curated by Grant Arnold, Vancouver Art Gallery.  London UK. Black Dog Publishing.
    The book discusses photographing the residue of what once was; that which remains or does not remain.  This notion presents options on how to address gaps in the archive of my family history or as a document of change itself.  How does one represent things that no longer exist?  In some cases, however, a residue remains.  There is often the space itself.   
  2. Augé, Marc. 2—8. Non-places: An Introduction to Supermodernity. New York, New York. Verso.
    While my interests lie with place, this work offers a view of non-place and in doing so, helps define place.  Simply put, place is a space that offers some attachment, an emotional bond, with a person.  Any of several elements could develop the attachment, such as: history, events (memories), people, things, landscapes, etc.  Place can exist at different scales, ranging, for example, from the home, to the national level.  I’m interested in how place influences one’s identity and the affect that comes with a change in the substance of a place, or by leaving the place: migration. 
  3. Burley, Robert. 2015. “The Disappearance of Darkness”. Residue: The Persistence of the Real curated by Grant Arnold, Vancouver Art Gallery.  London UK. Black Dog Publishing.
    See [Arnold] above. 
  4. Goldchain, Rafael. 2008. I Am My Family: Photographic Memories and Fictions. New York, New York. Princeton Architectural Press.
    This book offers a fictionalized account of the author’s family history and as such, in my mind, represents one dimension of identity, expressed as a culmination of a family history. Another interesting aspect is the author’s choice to rephotograph himself in the roles of the different family members, even when original images were available.  In doing so he highlights the physical similarity one might observe in a family. 
  5. Henrich, Joseph. 2016. The Secret of Our Success; How Culture is Driving Human Evolution domesticating our species and making us Smarter. Princeton, New Jersey. Princeton University Press.
    There are two thoughts this book introduced to my thinking process: first the relationship between the evolution of our physical being and our culture. Second, the norms, values, knowledge that our cultures comprise. The latter point likely informs or is constituted within our identities; the former point suggests, to me at least, the importance of culture in our species. It is more than a nice-to-have; it is inherent in our being just as a limb or digit might be. With that linkage, I wonder if this offers an explanation as to why identity is so important to people.   
  6. Kehrein, Renate. 1981. Denke Ich an Sonneberg: Sonneberg bis zum Ende des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Berchtesgaden, Germany. Unpublished.
    The work provides the perspective of a young girl (she was about 13 years old when the war ended) in Germany between 1939 and 1945.  When the war started her father, a soldier, was transfered to Silesia, leaving the author, her younger brother and mother in Leipzig.  In 1943, when the bombing intensified, they  moved to live with her Grandmother in Sonneberg. The author talks about daily life: washing cloths; making potato dumplings; her experience with a pet cat; a description of her grandmother’s house.  The war is exposed through comments on its impact of daily life, such as the confiscation of children’s sledges by the German Army to support the effort on the Russian Front.  These stories offer insight into the way people lived; their place; their identity.  The author’s grandmother was my father’s grandmother and thus the stories told are of my ancestors. 
  7. Pink, Sarah. 2015. Doing Sensory Ethnography. London. Sage Publications Inc.
    This book offers insight into representation; considering beyond the image, the visual, as the only form of expression to include sound, feel, taste … the other senses.  With respect to the question of how I might convey the notion of Identity in an artistic form, I might consider the various manifestations of Identity beyond what is visible, such as food (taste & smells), and language (sound). 
  8. Sheffer, Edith. 2011.  Burned Bridge: How East and West Germans Made the Iron Curtain. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 
    This book talks specifically about the crossing point in the “Wall” between Neustadt in the West and Sonneberg in the East erected after the Second War.  Sonneberg, the birthplace of my father, grandparents, great grandparent, etc. is prominent among the places in our family’s history.  The book offers insight into some of the effects that affected this place.  It also complements the work by Kehrein.  

My current focus is to develop and refine the theoretical foundation of the work. The model I have in mind describes relationships among place, culture and identity.  With these relationships, one might then look to how place and culture, for example, convey identity.  Kehrein’s book offers some storylines that can be explored, that individually might simply be interesting, but when threaded together, might offer a broader narrative.   With a tentative narrative, the question of what should be represented in the art work that would convey the narrative?  Augé offers some thoughts in a discussion on place and the things that make up place, that result in a personal and emotional attachment: possessions; graves; monuments; spaces, landscapes; etc.  Following the choice of what,  then I must answer how to represent the things: photography, film, sound, etc.  Pink’s book offers some thoughts on the different formats.  Burley suggests approaches for representation when there are gaps in the record.  

The development of the art work will be iterative, tested in the end by the message I want to convey through the narrative, and how well individual threads contribute meaning to the narrative, how well the icons and their representations work in each thread.    


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