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I’ve been thinking about knowledge. Of course
I know about German history, the Third Reich, the Holocaust, have learned much at school, through reading, watching documentaries, listening to interviews, visiting two concentration camps, and was almost muted by terror and shame. But: I realise now that while I keep going back to the subject, obsessively according to some friends, in my mind, in conversations, and once more with my art, I know at a remove. Through my investigations into the photographs of my dad I am pulling history close.

I had a very tired few days and as I wasn’t able to take much in picked up a book I first read at college, Roland BarthesCamera Lucida. We were ingesting a lot of critical theory at the time and it came as a huge relief to find a text (written by a man) that so openly combined the personal and the cultural. It beguiles me still and although I can’t decipher the tiny scribbles I made at the margins I am touched by the intensity of my original engagement, visible in those earnest marks in pencil and pink felt-tip pen. Over the years Barthes’ concepts of studium and punctum have inflected the scrutiny of my work, whichever medium I chose. This time too there was much that resonated, again, anew, and as the book is as much about photography as about his relationship to his (dead) mother I hoped it would help me think (and feel?) deeper.

Regarding photography Barthes said: ‘I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound: I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think.’ What is at stake for me/my project is how to make thinking and feeling join in ways that allow an unravelling towards understanding. The tension between studium and punctum – between the photograph’s ‘evidential force’ and the suddenly, unexpectedly, emotive detail – is as exacting as it is (can be) fruitful. Of course when we read we try to bend sentences to our will. When Barthes writes ‘… looking at certain photographs I wanted to be a primitive, without culture’ – I added ‘without history’ with a deep sigh. Borderlines, thresholds, which I approach and retreat from, and approach again.

One of my most treasured possessions, a heirloom really, is a little post-it note, inscribed by my dad with the word ‘pst’, which can mean a whispered ‘hush’, ‘be quiet’ and ‘look here’, ‘here I am’ from someone who is hiding and beckons to you (but not others). When I was at art-college my father, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, sometimes sent me a little money, accompanied by such a ‘post-it’ note. In the context of my project ‘pst’ becomes a more severe injunction/
prohibition, which I used to explore the coding of silences, borrowing language that speaks under fingertips, or, to the initiated eye, across the oceans of the world. The quality of the photographs isn’t very good, esp. where the baby blankets are concerned, which I snapped separately laid out on my carpet, to give you an impression. If they went to an exhibition I would want to show them folded, further withholding…

This going-back-in-time can disorient. Yesterday when I got up from where I lay I absent-mindedly tried to slip a foot into a minikin of a shoe, one of a pair of children’s clogs which I always have nearby.

It also heightens your attention: watching the news about what is happening in Ukraine, hearing the kind of language that is used, knowlingly, to produce and fortify polarisations, to blow up a country’s tenuous cohesion along its faultlines – scares the living daylight out of me.

And in the spirit of making the most of what I’ve got around me: the pains my nervous system posited at the outmost points of my body this week – palms, soles of feet, skull – helped me think about the limitations of knowing – not totally, with every fibre of my being, but something briefly, partially gleaned. And borne.

Injunction – collages (2014)
Dimensions: each approx. 15.7cm x 12.6cm
Materials: photographs, masking tape

Injunction – baby blankets (2013/14)
Dimensions: each approx. 50 cm x 72 cm
Material: Crocheted from wool/cotton yarn