Made in Mattoon

When my grandfather passed away I inherited some of his belongings. I added them to a collection which already included items from my grandmother. I am curious about the stories embedded in the objects and wonder what new connections forge from their proximity to one another today?

Working with the expanded field of documentary, this project is an excavation of materials––as well as a construction of an archive. Building a collection of objects, memories and stories, I explore these things to learn about my grandparents lives as individuals, and as a couple. I explore their personal memories and try to find where they intersect with the collective. I want to preserve something about their generation, the Greatest Generation, so it is not forgotten.

For my mid-residency and thesis projects, I pull letters, photos, and objects from this archive. I select, curate, maintain and arrange them like a miniature museum. The items are indexical portraits; readymade works of art. The white gallery space of A402 isolates each object, delineating every form as the first of two manifestations––an installation.

Through a circuitous, meandering tour of the individual items, without the benefit of being anchored in specific narrative, the viewer is left to question what the relationships are between the objects. The purpose for displaying them is unclear, and the story behind the collection is not communicated anywhere in the gallery. The viewer can only imagine how they might piece together clues to create order. Ultimately, though a narrative is suggested, the story is unknowable.

However, for the second manifestation (my thesis project), the items become launchpads to discoveries I share in a hybrid documentary (working title: Made In Mattoon, still in process). In this instance, I explore my grandparents’ relationship within the context of collective and personal histories.

One central question of the film asks the audience to consider family and marriage culture in the U.S. The film allows space for reflection upon perceived American values—both real and imagined. Flipping the narrative on its side, another question is centered on how one metabolizes and participates in that culture. Flipping narrative on its side, I look to deconstruct the ways we use archives and documents to preserve some stories, while selectively discarding others.

Working with the archive as a subject for the film is in itself a kind of circuitous tour. I begin the process thinking I will eventually grasp the truth, only to learn that I cannot be objective. My own memories and biases are embedded in the very stories I create about my grandparents’ lives. To make things more complex, when I interview my grandfather on camera, I notice the lens changes the dynamic––like we’re performing the truth, rather than living it. So, what have I discovered? The mind seems to bend and crop reality the same way a camera lens does. What is photography if not the cropping out of the entire world for the enhancement of preferentially selected subject matter?

Both the installation and the film hold distinctly different spaces for the past and present, micro and macro worlds suspended within each object. Even if the viewer is incapable of finding the ‘true’ narrative within the installation, they can piece together clues suggested in the film, in a similar fashion I piece together my grandparents’ past.

Made In Mattoon (cut from May 2021)