A Collection of Heirlooms

A Collection of Heirlooms

It is strange how matter disperses and then reconvenes. When my grandfather passed away, I inherited some of his belongings. I added his things to a collection which already included some items from my grandmother. Some of these objects had lived together before, in their house on Richmond St., in Mattoon, IL–in a previous lifetime when my grandparents were married–long before my birth. I wonder what stories are embedded in the materials, or what new connections forge from their proximity to one another.

Working with the expanded field of documentary, this project is an excavation of materials––a collection of heirlooms with stories surrounding my paternal grandparents of Mattoon, Illinois. Building an archive of objects, memories and stories, I explore these things to learn about their lives as individuals, and as a couple. I document the process, and preserve something about their generation, the Greatest Generation, so it is passed along, and 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), the items are 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. The film allows space for reflection upon perceived American values—both real and imagined. One central question asks the audience to consider family and marriage culture in the U.S. Another question is centered on how one metabolizes and participates in that culture.

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.

(3:23) Clip from Made In Mattoon, hybrid documentary film