For some time now, I have maintained the opinion that a place can exist as much in the mind as on the map. I believe that, like the idea of place, all of our impressions of the world are formed at the intersection of myth and reality. I also consider the past to be a living character among the conditions of the present. Of course my opinions are heavily colored by my personal experiences, and in particular, by my conflicted relationship with the cultural area known as Central Appalachia. In this place, I’ve always felt the past breathes with such force that it threatens the present.
Apart from my personal biases, new research is showing evidence of “transgenerational epigenetic inheritance” – the ability for ‘memories’ to pass between generations through alterations in DNA. What these studies suggest is that “the [environmental] experiences of a parent, even before conceiving, can markedly influence both structure and function in the nervous system of subsequent generations”. This speaks directly to what I have long suspected, that we can inherent a sense of place that goes beyond individual experiences and stretches across generations to affect current behaviors. In our DNA, we may truly possess The Memory of Forgotten Things. How amazing is that?
From 2006 to 2010, my imagery and research revolved around a proliferation of abandoned homes in the mountains of southwestern Virginia where I was raised. I had relocated to Richmond, Virginia two years earlier, and for me, it was only with this geographical distance that the abundance of these structures became visible. Why were so many of these houses found in our area? As a sixth generation resident of my small town, I was certainly aware of the turbulent economic history Central Appalachia has long faced as a continued victim to the boom and bust cycle of the coal industry. Yet, these homes were not simply emptied and abandoned by a loss of population or economic opportunity. These homes were shuttered against the outside world. They were fixed in place with all the physical objects of a previous life left where they lay.
I saw this as the evidence of a widespread attachment to place and an ingrained resistance to change. While certainly not unique to the area, at the time, this attitude appeared to me to be particularly pronounced in southwest Virginia. The point at which attachment began to move into abandonment fascinated me. When exactly does the resistance to change cross from preservation to negligence?
On my trips down home, I would visit these unintentional time capsules. I was a trespasser. I was a voyeur interloping across space and time. I collected thousands of photographs. I harvested bits of ephemera. I amassed visceral and visual experiences. More importantly, I gathered memories.
Looking through the photographs I had collected over the previous years, the reoccurring images of two chairs caught my attention. I had visited this particular property on multiple occasions. I never noticed in my visits, but in the photographs I could see that the positions of the two chairs had shifted with each visit. Who was moving them? I don’t know and it doesn’t matter. What intrigued me was how with each new position their relationship altered.
In 2009, I completed the suite of prints titled The Memory of Forgotten Things. Continuing along with the other major themes I had been researching, this suite encompassed a more focused exploration into the use of memory. My interest was not in the past, but in how individuals and communities choose to relate to the past. My interest was in the imperfect process of remembrance. The ability of our memory to continually reconfigure its relationship to our present, always shifting the past in accordance with our present needs to create a conflation of time, fact, and fiction. With memory, there is always the danger of becoming attached to a place, people, or identity that has never in fact existed.
Like the recall of an ever-changing memory, each print in The Memory of Forgotten Things was pulled as a 1/1 unique impression. Using a series of hard ground and aquatint etchings on eight copper plates and the addition of colored paper chine collé, I created the suite by printing the plates alone and in varying combinations. The colors used were chosen from a palette I considered to be the colors of memory. The shapes speak to the gaps and voids of memory, and to the importance of both the visual and spatial experience in the process of recollection.
Best sellers for me, the remaining prints from this suite are now available for purchase online. I hope you will give one a home.
Click through the image above to see a preview of the available prints.
On a side note (apology) as I finish writing this post, I'm really starting to feel like this!