Art & Memory

Lorena Guillén Vaschetti, Untitled VI from the series Historia, memoria y silencios (History, Memory and Silences), 2009, giclée print

Reprinted from Culturemap.

I found the Lincoln Logs yesterday. What’s curious about such a find is that I bought them for my boys when they were little because it reminded me of my own childhood.

I exist in a cloud of memory these days, having recently dismantled my childhood home. A year ago, I called my two sons into a family meeting and told them, “We’re ditching the burbs boys, go upstairs and put your childhood in a box.” And so they did, while I walk around as some kind of zombie curator of family nostalgia.

Now, with the family photos packed up in storage and the house transformed into a neutral zone, I call “chez creamy and dreamy,” the house has lost its soul.

Artists have better things to do than cling to a set of dusty Lincoln Logs. Examples of artists sourcing memory abound in Houston right now starting with the FotoFest International Discoveries III exhibit, through Dec. 22,  followed by Becky Beaullieu Valls and visual artist Babette Beaullieu’sMemoirs of a Sistahood- Chapter Three: Ava Maria at DiverseWorks, tonight through Saturday and finally, Brandy Holmes’ KriegieWartime Log, based on the POW Journal of Warren E. Arieux, at Divergence Music & Arts,  Saturday through Monday.

Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself.

Photographer Kyu-Ho Kim knows about losing his home. The body of work now showing as part of International Discoveries III includes striking photos of his demolished residence.

Kim is from the Bukgajwa-dong section of South Korea, which recently embarked on an aggressive redevelopment plan called, “New Town.” Barbed wire and sharply angled concrete formations take on an eerie, bittersweet tone in Kim’s lens. These otherworldly landscapes suggest an inbetween space, between decay and rebuilding. There exists a whiff of sadness, tinged with an emotional distance. From rubble, an unseen beauty emerges. “Your work makes something beautiful out of destruction,” I told the artist. He nodded yes, smiling.

Hidden and invented

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti rescued what was left of her family photos from the trash. With her mother and herself being the only living members of a large Italian family living in Argentina, the discarded photos took on an added meaning.

Yet, it’s what she did with them that’s so stunning. Left in the exact tight rubberbanded bundles, one of Vashetti’s photos lets us experience the treasure of memory, revealing its hidden quality instead of the image itself. In another photo, she manipulates a family photo by bringing out more detail in the part that coincides with her own memory and blurs what is less clear. Memory is a murky thing, Vaschetti leaves the mystery intact. “Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Babette Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

British photographer Marcia Michael was faced with a different problem when she considered her family history.

When she looked for historical representations of black people in the U.K. she found few, so she did what any resourceful artist would do, she created her own archive, appropriating the style of historical anthropometric photography.

Michael’s powerful portraits have created a second history that dwells in loss and reinvention of personal legacy. Chatting with Micheal proved illuminating. “Photography often speaks to how a culture values people,” the artist told me. How true, the lens can indeed judge us.

Our version of the truth

I ran into Valls walking in a dream state among the artifacts of her life and work on the DiverseWorks stage earlier this week. Tattered lace dresses hang from narrow white totems, while delicate wood canoes dangle from the ceiling.

“What’s that?” I ask Valls, looking at a macabre wire and wood sculpture of a woman, that is created during the course of the evening by her sister.

“It’s female,” she replies. “That’s all I know.”

The Beaullieu sisters revel in twisting family tales into compelling interdisciplinary dance/theater. Now on their third chapter, they hone in on their Catholic upbringing, specifically the Virgin Mary, a key denizen of their hometown Lafayette, La. “It’s so satisfying to create art around memories,” says Valls. “I find truth and honesty in my work.”

Yet the team doesn’t always remember everything the same way, which, in this case, makes the process all the richer.

“Memory is not necessarily the truth, it’s our version,” says Beaullieu.”Remembering the past changes you in the present.”

I’ll never forget their very first sistahood piece, which used family films, sculpture and dance to spin a tale of growing up in the 1950s. By the end, I felt like a sista. According to Valls, that’s the point.

“I find personal meaning in my own narrow stories,” she says. “I’m a daughter, sister, mother and wife, and use my place in the nuclear family to connect to a universal sisterhood.”

Holmes found something considerably more potent than an old toy in her grandfather’s POW journal. “My jaw dropped as I turned the pages,” she recalls.

The treasure trove revealed entries from numerous soldiers, and included poems, drawings, jokes and even recipes. Out of the these pages, Holmes has fashioned a devised theater piece with the assistance of aHouston Arts Alliance grant.

Although all the activities of the play come from the journal and her research about the Stalag Luft 1 camp, Holmes has created fictional characters,who each deal with the stress of confinement in their own ways. She even brought in actors Philip Hayes, John Dunn, Alex Randall and Chris Viles into the research process.

“Hopefully, the play does justice to my grandfather’s journey,” she adds.

Memories transformed, invented and transcended, leave it to artists to make more of a memento.

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