Friday, 11 June 2010

"Acquired" or "Inherited" vs "False"

The title of the post comes from the theme I'm going to be working with, and a short discussion I had with a fellow artist this week.

Let me explain; the theme for the new work I've just started is "inherited memory". When I grew up I was surrounded by stories, not just the ones read to me by my mum and grandmother but also the ones that would filter down from whispers and conversations between grown-ups, tales from my dad's childhood that he would share, and often they were not the ones with an all-over happy ending, and my maternal grandparents sharing snippets of family history in their kitchen, as we gathered 'round the table for a wealth of cakes, buns and cookies that were out of this world.

I'm fascinated with how these stories have stayed in my mind over the years and how well I remember them. Some of the people in these stories I never met, some I did meet but was too young to remember.

My maternal grandfather's brother, Karl-Erik, dancing. Doesn't he look like he's having a blast?

So although I have no memories, or my memories are very blurry and vague, of these people who were part of my family, I grew up with stories about them that made them alive to me. They became the myths and legends of my childhood. Some were villains, some I feel now, were vilified, and some were victims of circumstances they could not control. It's strange how so many of these stories have a touch of sadness in them, how they are never quite happy. But they are still stories I've inherited. So I've chosen to call what I remember an "inherited memory" because it's almost certain to be a re-telling of how a person or situation was perceived by the person telling it to me in the first place.

My dad and my paternal grandmother, in Peru. I believe the picture is from 1975 or -76 when my parents were living and working in Peru.

I have only just started making the tests for the vessels I'm intending to make for this body of work and I found it very interesting, that when I told a fellow artist that I was working with these "inherited memories" and after having explained them to her, she said "Ah, false memories". False? I'm not sure.

Now, I don't know how much of what I'm remembering is exactly what happened to the people in these stories. I was a child and children remember things very differently from adults. And adults will put their own feelings and thoughts into what they tell a child; we may try not to, but it almost always happens. Many of these stories were probably not entirely accurate, maybe some of it was tinged with someone else's emotion or how they remembered it, maybe they wanted what they told me to be exactly what had happened, I don't know. But does this make them false? Is my memory false because I'm remembering events I were not part of because I wasn't there to experience them myself? I suppose it could be an "acquired memory" as it wasn't mine to begin with, but false? It sounds so hard, too much like it's out to misrepresent, to bend the truth, a right out lie.

My parents, and other family members, at their wedding reception. My mum was pregnant with me at the time.

I'm sticking by my term. These memories may not be mine, but they were given to me, they were gifts of a kind and as such have become part of my inheritance. And as something inherited I will pass it on again, to my child, and undoubtedly I will tint these stories with the colours of my own emotions. But I will never call them false.

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