The act of remembering has been a way for me to preserve a sense of self from the time I was a small child. I have always felt that it was important to remember the unhappiness as well as the happiness, to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security, to remember that we live on a knife edge......
Remembering has also been an obsessive part of how I make artwork, I don’t like to work from observation, I prefer the plaiting and weaving of remembered ideas, emotions, an exploration of how these are projected on the external world and how that world impacts on them.
When I first embarked on this series of work ‘Bridge of Memory’ in 1998 I did so as a result of reading ‘Lost Letters’ by French historian Olivier Blanc. The book examines the last letters written by a number of individuals who were sent to the guillotine - letters should have been sent to relatives or friends, but ended up in a box in the Conciergerie for two centuries before Blanc found them inadvertently. They provide an extraordinary insight into what people think of in the last hours of life, what is prioritised and what is remembered.
As my own father sinks into dementia, doctors have explained that even though he will not remember narratives or ideas or people, the memory of emotions will stay with him and therefore he can access a level of happiness and contentment. However this ‘stripping back’ of his personality has repercussions for all his family and for me personally. He has no memory of ever having been a harsh father, he remembers me as being a really good girl, of whom he is proud. He retains no memories of what he did to me – what would his last letter be now?
Faced with this elderly vulnerable man who addresses me in the most loving way and who is so delighted when I call him, I can harbor no resentment, I forgive, I let go. In so many ways this is a relief but it still makes me desperately sad…….
Of course, the issue of memory and what we leave behind is a contentious one, where each perspective adds a layer of complication. I can’t disremember what has happened, I can’t disown the unhappy past because then I would lose all sense of self - I would betray everything I felt as child and as a young adult. I hope that I have avoided passing on the negative aspects of my life to my children and now my grandchildren, but who knows?
So this was the personal starting point for Bridge of Memory and it has grown outwards to encompass my lifelong interest in history, the fascinating and often disturbing narratives which bind us together or tear us apart as individuals, families, cultures and nations.
This series of work is full of disjointedness and connectedness - of painted images merging into photographic ones, of personal images joining impersonal ones to create an overarching narrative which belongs to all of us. It is an effort to reconcile a complicated past, to celebrate a personal escape and an acceptance of what my life has become. It is also a cataloging of my own memories of places I have visited and the impact that they have had on me, perhaps to ward off the fear of developing dementia myself.
Fion Gunn is a London based visual artist with an international multi-media practice.