EVERYBODY IS INTERESTING
Writer Mary J. Oliver and I have taught and exhibited together for nearly twenty years. Currently we are both working on projects relating to the past and the nature of memory. Mary has just published an unusual memoir. ‘Jim Neat, The Case of a Young Man Down on His Luck’. She uses a mix of prose, poetry and photographs to slowly reveal the secret life of her father, a hobo in Canada during the 1930s.
Creative ways of working with the past
I have discovered 2 diaries written in1949, one by grandmother in English and one by my grandfather in Russian. I’ve used these as a starting point to explore their relationship. In 1949 he left her in Cornwall, and went to work in British Guiana on a Gold mine. The diaries record time spent apart and time spent together when she sailed to be with him.
My grandfather kept a diary for over 60 years starting when he escaped from Russia during the 1917 revolution. His job as a mining engineer meant he lived in some very interesting often remote parts of the world. My grandmother joined him in most of his postings but she only wrote a diary for this particular year.
Over a few months I have worked with photographs, letters, written pages of their diaries and filled a sketchbook that brings together written and visual material through collage and experimentation. The pages are a response to the material I have discovered and an attempt at looking at a relationship between 2 people conducted across many miles and often through letters.
I have done a lot of reading between the lines, using imagination to fill in gaps. I like to think of it as being inspired by the ‘unsaid’. I am weaving threads of narrative provided by my grandparents’ diaries. The creative process allows material to be distilled and stretched to hopefully resonate with others. I am now at the threshold of taking this research to a next step whatever that turns out to be.
While working on these projects, Mary and I have mentored each other in ways that have proved invaluable and we are now sharing with others what we have learned through a series of workshops
DATE: November 2019
CLIENT: HYPATIA Trust, Penzance