For a couple of years my work centered on a letter from my father. (The letter had remained hidden among a pile of correspondence for many years after his death). It became the subject of my dissertation and of studio work. My fascination with this object so seemingly mundane and yet packed with personal significance shaped the way I looked at things and drove me to question the validity of our reliance on memory as an accurate source of information.
I questioned the value of memory in assisting our decision making. There seemed to be a contradiction between the (in)accuracy of memory and our unquestioning sense of reliance on it to inform almost all of the choices we make.The letter held all these ideas – uncertainties, questions, contradictions – it pulsed with them and pulled at me inexplicably.
Then within the space of an hour my sense of inquiry and puzzlement was reconciled. Last summer I attended a lecture at How The Light Gets In Festival at Hay on Wye that focused on truth and lies. What constitutes a truth, reality or fact? And how can something be a lie, fiction or unreal?
The crux of the questioning seemed to rely on evidence – if a proposition or reality can be proved to be real or not. Thinking about reality and fiction in this way made me realise just how insistent we are for the reassurance of a reality of any kind to make sense of our existence. Asking questions to prove or disprove realities therefore takes up our much of our time – will the bus arrive on time? Will the medical treatment work? Does God exist? We seek answers for even the most inexplicable scenarios.
Back at the lecture (in the beauty and comfort of a large yurt!) the questions that I have been grappling with about the inexplicable nature of things became plainly obvious. If something can be neither proved nor disproved then it is enigmatic. The pull I had been feeling towards my father’s letter (which seemed to link me to him) was a sense of enigma – the inexplicable, unclear and un-provable. I was seeking answers to something that has no answer and that explains this physical sense of unease – I’m looking for something that doesn’t exist. My father doesn’t exist physically but within the emotional lives of myself and his loved ones he does. The letter is insignificant and worthless in one sense and yet of great value in another.
Things don’t always make sense, are not always real and are often inexplicable – that’s the truth of it, a reality in itself. Figuring all this out has helped and I enjoy working with these ideas and within the physical and psychological space occupied by the notion of the enigmatic.
An enigma by definition must leave us feeling a little uneasy and uncertain. My current work focuses on objects associated with the loss of security with regard to human displacement. I’m trying to identify a handful of objects that best suggest a sense of home and comfort that we might fit into a pocket or bag. I have a few ideas. They appear in my imagination almost like the universal semiotics we use to sidestep language barriers – symbols for male and female etc.
Here is where a sense of the enigmatic creeps in again – I know when I find the objects capable of expressing my ideas they will be perfect in communicating notions of the personal, of home and loss; full of meanings on many levels; complex in that sense yet simply identified.
Last week I was in Berlin for a few days with my husband and we discovered an app which claims to break down language barriers allowing refugees to communicate across languages and cultures using commonly understood icons called ICOON for Refugees. I might find my objects there…