I performed (43), along with my mother Cordelia (65), auntie Barbara (56) and my daughter Isabel (3), and presented narrations through film, soundscapes and digital technology which were situated in my family home.
In this research, it is the personal and the shared family memories of women in my maternal line that form the focus. The initial process involved these female family members choosing family photographs to work with, exploring them as mnemonic devices. This created thematic content, which was primarily developed through a sequence of interviews designed to explore the images for memory and meaning. This led to a series of narrative scores, which were further explored as the basis for creating performance.
I designed a one-on-one interview format, to respond to and engage with the personal conditions of the interviewer and the participant. The interviews were informal, held in private, and could be stopped and resumed at any time. During the process, I asked that the photograph be hand-held for a memory prompt or as a pretext of memory. This approach was to stimulate an experiencing of the weight and texture of the photograph, and thus encourage emotional connotations to provide an effective response in recalling memory. For example, the photographs chosen by my mother and auntie were taken directly out of the family album; some of the images were old, dog-eared and written over, whereas most of mine and Isabel’s images were printed images from computer files holding hundreds of photographs. Although this may not have impacted directly upon the act of remembering, I could see the reverence and the care taken over holding the images as if holding and touching the memory and the people themselves.
Some of the memories triggered during these sessions were intimate and presented questions as to whether they should be publicly shared. This decision primarily rested in the hands of the owner of the memory. Studying the family album in this way produced a series of tensions. Patricia Holland and Jo Spence state, in their interpretation of family pictures, that the difficulty in negotiating the family photograph can be a “potential site for conflict” (1991: 2). They discuss their interpretations of family pictures, which are in essence difficult to negotiate, as they are an entanglement of “private fantasy and public history” (1991: 2). In particular, Holland (1991) alludes to secret tensions and relationships between family members that only members of that family would be able to see. She asks the question, “does one want to include pictures in the album that reveal tensions as they are not the memories we want to project into the future?”
The Family Ties Network is a group of artists, filmmakers and writers who explore memory, space, place and the family in photography and moving image. On of their members, Suze Adams (2012), explores how memory confronts imagination where there is a tension between facts and fiction. Such concerns were evident within my own research, whereby, as within the series exploring mother ethics, I had to decide whether we as a family wanted to share and reveal certain family narratives, tensions or secrets. My aim in relation to these issues was to openly discuss and share our thoughts and parameters of the project with all involved. This led to a decision-making process about what would, and what would not, be shared. This enacts an ethical commitment which reinforces that each person has agency in the ways they are represented.
After all the interviews were conducted and the materials gathered, Andy and I listened to the chosen narratives. We began to isolate phrases and sections into themes and stories. Our method was inspired by Kristin Langellier and Eric Peterson’s (2004) approach in selecting sections of aural narratives so as to retain the feel of the telling. Andy and I preserved the false starts, repetitions and self-interruptions, where the struggle to remember can be heard, whilst at the same time keeping the speaker’s original meaning and intention. The main aim of this phase was to generate narrative recordings, which could serve as frameworks or scores for solo work. This process revealed a particular way of working with family, guided by the principal intention of sensitively recording and listening to personal and family memories. This form of working, I suggest, is a key feature of this practice; the actions of interviewing, collecting stories and conversing with family about their lived experience.