The best thing about hosting this exhibition, has been how it has helped me to define, much more of what the project is about. The fairly straightforward concept of taking photos for a fictional photo album, has always had other layers within it that I found hard to define. l knew there were reasons for some of my decisions, that weren’t entirely aesthetic, but I wasn’t able to verbalise why. It just seemed the right decision. Comments I got from visitors either hit a chord or didn’t quite resonate. However, by exploring these different views, I was able to gain a greater insight into my decisions.
The first comment that made me stop in my tracks was from a man who had deliberately made the journey to see my show. He said he had walked into the installation and immediately began to feel uncomfortable. With the space having been made to look like someone’s flat, he felt like an intruder poking around in someone else’s personal space. I loved this. It was a perfect reaction. I have always been interested in the idea of personal space and how it can represent ones own personal emotional privacy. In putting on this exhibition I am revealing very personal feelings and allowing others to encroach on my personal private space. It’s only fitting that by entering the make-believe flat, a person experiences this as a physical feeling as well as emotionally.
Some people couldn’t see past the weirdness to the essential message, but I saw in one the sudden realisation of what it was about, while I was talking. I had wanted to show the video clips of me while we were making the photos, although I was aware that they didn’t have the same emotional impact of the photos. The photos, once at least six had been viewed, were able to convey some of the emotional content of the subject matter, but the videos had the effect of showing how mad the project was and could be quite funny. They emphasised the wierdness rather than the sadness. So showing the videos was a bit risky. However, after seeing the videos and peoples reactions, it started to make sense to show them. Many people from Hastings would tell me about an old lady who used to push a pram with two dolls in it, who had lost twins in real life, also a man who dressed as an Indian and carried around a doll dressed as a squaw. There is a madness to the project, but it does make me ask the question- how mad do you have to get to show pain? My Aunt showed her pain through her doll, which wasn’t mad, but perhaps a little odd. There are reborn babies for sale and adults buy them, along with clothes and pretend they are real. The only difference between myself and the photos of me with the doll, is that in real life, you can’t see the grief that I carry around with me, but in the photos, its there for everyone to see. I’m carrying it around in the form of a doll.
Several people would ask if the project had been cathartic. I was quick to point out that it wasn’t therapy. I felt a bit sensitive that it wouldn’t seem like art if it was seen as therapy. Also, it would have been impossible to do the project if I had not reached a certain level of acceptance about it. Just putting on the show brought a lot of past feelings to the surface again, so I definitely need to be in a secure place to do it. What I would say though, is that there probably is an element of finishing things off. I have been playing at being a Mum, play has a therepeutic element to it, whatever age one engages with it. Roles can be explored, wishes fulfilled, happiness felt. In the words of a Dean Martin song- Theres always a happy ending when you make-believe. (from the film Artists and Models)
One comment made, was to do with the commercialisation of having a baby. I rejected this immediately, but then thought about it afterwards. Part of the reason I did an installation was I wanted to show all the things I had bought for the project. Once again, I wasn’t entirely sure why, I think it was partly to show how far I had gone with the project, and to show them in the kind of setting they would be found, but I also felt there was some emotional element to the clothes and objects bought. I had certainly found some enjoyment in buying items like the black patent shoes, as they reminded me of my favourite shoes I had had, also the little red coat. They weren’t bought for a real child, but they satisfied something in me. Linking this with my decision at the beginning of the project to make beautiful photos, there has to be something here about the marketing of the perfect family life. Not having had children, I am bombarded with these images but I’m lucky enough to have good memories of life with my own family when I was growing up, so grew up believing in them.
The most moving aspect of the feedback I got was those people who came because they identified with the project and shared how they felt, including their own experience. It was hard not to be affected by it. I also appreciate those who came and were really positive in their praise, it was lovely to get this encouragement. All in all, it was very satisfying and interesting to exhibit my work.