The Photogram as a Domestic Diary (2013)

Pamela Salen

About this exposition

Using a heuristic a method of inquiry, my practice-led research investigates a creative visualisation of memory, autobiography, and domestic space. I approach these experiences from the perspective that home is not necessarily a fixed or ideal place, but rather an on-going condition underpinned by the tension between preservation and transformation. Within these parameters, home is defined primarily as a self-referential process whereby memory and autobiography are integral. I examine photograms and paper sculptures as methods of engaging with, recording, and cataloguing memory. How space is perceived and thus translated onto paper informs my understanding of the visceral and direct qualities of memory as an artefact, as well as a mode of storytelling. Through this, my research aims to contribute, through unconventional image-making processes, to how memory can be triggered and home re-constructed as a domestic diary. I argue that memory is provoked by an intimately-scaled, reconstructed portrayal of home as both an iconic and abstracted space whereby touch, light, and paper are necessary aids. Home is an important area of exploration because of its immediate link to memory. My research offers insight into how domestic space can be perceived as a diary.
typeresearch exposition
affiliationMonash University
published inJournal for Artistic Research

comments: 4 (last entry by Justy Phillips - 02/05/2014 at 14:54)
Laura F. Gibellini 16/12/2013 at 11:44

I find that Pamela Salen’s exposition ‘The Photogram as a Domestic Diary‘ has improved greatly in terms of maturity, complexity and organization and I think the process of synthesising and rewriting has been very positive and beneficial. Her personal take and original exploration of the notions of memory and home and how they inform each other and relate to one another is very compelling. Her use of the photogram as a medium to register memory and the passage of time is poetic and sensual and I think that the combination of texts, research, images and videos create a worth reading exposition.

Stephanie James 16/12/2013 at 11:46
Pamela Salen’s interests and the methods that she uses to explore her memories of the ‘homes’ she has lived in are pertinent in current thinking and practicing on the subject. The exposition is engaging the reader in a series of approaches; story-reading, dream analysis, the making of artefacts through the production of photograms, defining contemporary contexts and is inviting a consideration of how lines of connectedness run through the research in reconstructing spaces from memory. Salen reveals a heightened sense of awareness and her ability to relate metaphorically through connecting people, places, the warmth of the day, the light in the room, all of which is unravelling her own autobiography. Carl Jung aptly plays an important role model for Salen through using his dream analysis as a methodology in her own practice.  Attempts to understand the nuances in the different aspects and use of ‘home’ and ‘house’ provide insight into how the artworks are generated.
What is valuable to the research subject is how ‘home’ is understood by Salen – ‘a specific form of experience whereby the autobiographical story can take centre stage.’  The reader understands that house is merely a concrete solid structure yet home is where the experience is played out and is not delegated to structure in the object sense but that object-sense is enmeshed in the memory. The photogram is the method by which Salen explores this intimate autobiography-creation, it draws in the light and exposes an interior sense in several ways; depiction and image, spatial construct and a process in making that through chemical reaction reveals the light that has ‘touched’ the paper. The photograms are cast in flesh-like warm tones, which enhance a sensual interiority relating to one’s mental and emotional being. The images are not crystal clear; they are impressions exposed mirroring the way memories are formed in the minds-eye. The photogram; for the process in which it is created, is chosen rightly as the materials and processes convey meaning and reflect the thought processes.  The co-dependency of the made artefacts and the theoretical thinking is well defined with an analysis of the photograms as outcomes providing deeper understanding.
This investigation will certainly be of interest for PhD students using the ‘home’ as a place/space for research. Weaving as a methodology for interrelating disciplines such as; psychoanalysis through the study of dreams, visual art practice as research, camera-less photography and creative writing, creates new understanding.
The seemingly separate relationships in the exposition are drawn out in an inspiring and complex way, which is ideally open-ended affording the reader with much to think about and connect to. Carl Jung and Anais Nin are both significant to the research, for Nin descriptions of places are often connected to ‘childhood separation. The open-endedness of the methodology impacts on the findings in this exposition in a positive way, it invites the reader to participate in the investigation; researching, thinking through and resolving. Ideas and understanding are contemplated in Heidegger’s concepts of the ‘home’ residing in the mind and inseparable from thought. Salen’s attention to ‘home’ provides an in-depth explication, which supports her research inquiry. The historical context is provided through the inclusion of further influences such as artist, Uta Barth.
The research issues are contextualised in a range of ways; through psychology, art practice, literary sources and historical references. Psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s development of therapies for his patients using dream analysis is the most significant context for Salen’s research. Particularly connected is Jung’s analogy of the ‘house’ as a metaphoric place of construction of the self. Salen herself identifies with this in her approach to research methodologies and creates, like Jung, ‘objects’ that communicate, and for the protagonist, ‘act out’ the ideas.
The author’s previous artworks demonstrate that this exposition is part of a much larger journey into what is an expansive research project that creatively changes as it encompasses new theories and ideas around the importance of dreams and how they generate new material for exhibition, and develop knowledge and understanding.
The exposition proposes an interesting set of reflections on a period of investigation and research. The photogram technique contains the very essence of memory making; the images contain a sense of continually ‘becoming’ rather than permanently fixed. Salen has exploited the photogram not only for the indexical nature of photography but also for the imprint: the developing, appearing, emerging memory of the constructed room.
The strength of this project is that it is on-going; fluid in its approach with evolving resolutions emerging in various forms as it proceeds.
Ralph Klewitz 17/12/2013 at 23:19
Pamela’s project fascinates me by its compilation of the two narratives, ‘factual biography’ and ‘prosaic biography’. The former gives me insight of why, what, when and how something happened in her live. The latter informs me about how Pamela has experienced and interpreted certain events. Thereby, I also appreciate hearing her voice in the audio recordings, because this form of communication connects my interest of Pamela’s artefacts with her narratives. I interpret her sculptural artworks as an experimental visualisation of drastic life events, namely the daunting shock of a devastating fire that burnt out her home and the consequential loss of her possessions. Whilst reading through Pamela’s exposition, I value the above-mentioned narratives in combination with the sculptural artefacts as an interesting and personal contribution to Artistic Research that could be contextualised in a qualitative research paradigm. I would suggest it to be a constructive contribution to discussions held in evocative and interpretative discourses such as Creative Analytical Practices (CAP) in Autoethnography. In saying that, my understanding of such discussions would then not be part of her published project but rather a separate research with this in focus, ideally a collaborative research between Pamela contributing her outcomes from Artistic Research and a scholar sharing his knowledge from currents discussions in Autoethnography.
My personal orientation in Artistic Research situates in defining the meaning of this discipline and contributing to its own and unique academic discourses. Thereby, I position myself in discussions that distance themselves from methodologies, which combine artistic practice with disciplines that are not directly related to the latter. However, I am quite open to invite and to be invited in discussions across disciplines, because it is my experience and understanding that interdisciplinary in research offers great potentials.
Interdisciplinary research implies for me the exchange of cutting edge knowledge and, in our field, artistic forms of expression. It is my experience that experts in respective disciplines always know more and better about the current state in their own research. Therefore, I interpret Pamela’s writings outside of her own field of expertise and, more importantly in this particular project, her personal experience, as peripheral statements. I conclude there might be a danger of these intellectual excursions where it might raise an issue of citing and contextualising knowledge, which has been revised today, because contemporary research has emerged over the time. To this complexity comes another one. For instance, her summary about C. G. Jung’s particular theories evoke in me a more compulsory exercise to meet expectation of traditional academic conventions rather than adding to the value of the contribution in Artistic Research. However, Pamela expresses her personal interest in this particular knowledge and states that it resonates with her practices. Given this information, I would then have anticipated learning more about how reading and interpreting Jung’s text influenced, or inspired, her practice. She does elaborate a little, but then quickly jumps away from the paper sculptures to another group of artwork she has produced. She then mentions the paper sculptures later, but never does really elaborate how Jung’s text has, or might have, informed the artistic process of her particular sculptures made out of photographic paper, which are, in my understanding, the central artefacts in her exposition. Generally, – in my understanding – the “how?” and “why?” questions in her exposition remain answered sometimes only vaguely.
I might suggest that if Pamela would have kept the focus on the above-mentioned two narratives ‘factual biography’ and ‘prosaic biography’ plus if she would have drawn out links from there to her photographic paper sculptures, possibly outlined and scaffolded the potentials of a collaboration with a scholar in Autoethnography, I believe her exposition would have had an even stronger impact. But again, I am arguing from my position in the discourse and interpret Pamela’s project from my personal standpoint rather than postulating a generalising comment. 
Justy Phillips 02/05/2014 at 14:54

Pamela Salen’s submission offers an engaging, poetic and powerful narrative to the field of contemporary art practice engaging with constructions of home through personal memory, historiography and the domesticity of place. The submission interweaves eloquent contextual writing, powerful personal narrative, video and photographic stills around a tightly curated sequence of investigations.


This submission is of particular interest to artists/ scholars engaged in durational and historiographical practices. Key themes underlying this submission include investigations of the present, personal narrative, everyday lived experience, embodied sites and the ‘in-between’. Those interested in notions of being with-time, as Boris Groys’ interpretation of ‘con-temporary’ might suggest, will find this submission revealing in its methods of production and presentation. Imagined and constructed very much in the present, Salen’s artworks reveal an embodied and acutely aware remembrance of the past, with streams of personal narrative flowing easily through the submission. Artists working with photographic process, both analogue and digital will find Salen’s imagery both intriguing and softly meditative, where that which is occluded becomes the reference for ones own imagination. In this sense, the work will certainly appeal to those interested in exploring the in-between, including those engaging with Deleuze’s concept of mileu (middle) or that, which is in-between.


The Photogram as Domestic Diary opens beautifully in terms of the spectrum of possibilities it unfolds; the re-imagining of place, the recounting of personal experience – remembered or invented, and for me, most pertinent is the notion of home as an embodied site of personal memory. A memory or lived or imagined experience.


The artworks produced are potent explorations of temporality and lived experience. I find them to be innovative and surprising and shifting in-between something lost and something found.


Definitions are well considered throughout adding sharpness and clarity to the artist’s development of key notions such as ‘home’. The concept of home as ‘autobiographical story’ is particularly well developed, extending a multiplicity of avenues for the reader venture into. The author draws an interesting conceptual line back to nineteenth century Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi, making reference to Hammershøi’s ‘silent interiors’. This is an insightful connection, which draws me further into Salen’s photographic stills Childhood, Bedroom 2 and The Studio, Jack’s Room, where again, it is my own memory, which comes flooding back. Salen articulates her process of making clearly and inventively. These passages are a pleasure to read and are generously rewarding in their detail. The distinct processes of research, production and publication of Salen’s paper models reveal an acute understanding and empathy with home as embodied interior. The models themselves are achingly beautiful, with installation images providing a wide range of sculptural configurations.


In Salen’s conclusion, we return to the personal narrative of the author. Once again I enter a bifurcated interior, full of warm sunlight with no access to the exterior world beyond the window. For me, this is where the real poetry of these artworks rest, in the bowels of my own history, my own interior, quietly at rest until I leave this room where I am sitting, exchange the window of this screen for the window to my garden. And then…


Justy Phillips, 15th December 2013.

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