Thursday, September 13, 2012
(From the Laura Petrovich-Cheney Art Blog)
Christina Turczyn, Poet and Painter
In my dream, I walk a path over a bridge that seems familiar. I follow a thread that connects past and present. It drops into the water like a swallow’s wing, then surfaces again.
In my dream the air is quiet and clear, as after a rain. Memory is bordered by a rectangle of sky.
In a recent exhibit, Laura and I had a chance to talk about places and memory. I’d shared that sometimes, in my work, memories resulted in landscapes, instead of landscapes summoning memories. We talked, among other things, about paintings that originate in memory. I have always found the tension between recollection and place to be very interesting. What are the topographies of our dreams? What are their substrata? When I paint, I let my thoughts flow onto the paper in the form of places. At times, I will observe a landscape and render its contours through an interpretive lens. At other times, memory takes the shape of lakes, roads, and unfamiliar terrain. Do we remember places, or do places remember us? Can we revisit places in our visual work that we have never seen? In Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, theorist and critic bell hooks raises the issue of ancestral memory: Objects from the past carry, within their fiber, the ideas and life of the past. In so doing, they not only affirm the work of an artist as well as his/her history, but also resist temporal and cultural erasure.
Is it possible, then, that artists can render places they have never visited? Perhaps they have been “there” through museums, books, or the nuances of imagination. Perhaps they are connected to a place through historical trauma, passed from one generation to the next. The trauma of war. The trauma of dislocation, separation, grief. Artifacts serve as forms of witness, enduring past the edges of words. Likewise, buildings that survive devastation create a maze of meanings, only partly decipherable in the present.
As a daughter of immigrant parents, I experience a sense of continual returning. As many members of my family remained in their country of origin, we experienced, collectively, a sense of separation. In my own life, that awareness plays itself out as a search for home. A sense that nothing ever remains the same, and that if any purpose is to be found in journeys, beginnings lie within. In my home town of Passaic, I reconciled stories of the past and present. During major holidays, we remembered relatives who could not join us. We selected a time, went outdoors, and observed a constellation. “They can see that star as well,” my grandmother said. So the stars within the blood etched a mirror.
I cannot say exactly why I paint or write. At times, it is to witness what exists, what speaks, what lives, what loves, or that which has been left behind. At other times, I paint to enter a space between the past and present, where cloud or winds weave through corridors. Wind speaks, creates an image. A building rises up from the rubble. I return home.
As bell hooks observes in Art on My Mind, “Subversive historiography connects oppositional practices from the past with forms of resistance in the present, thus creating spaces of possibility where the future can be imagined differently–imagined in such a way that we can witness ourselves dreaming, moving forward and beyond the limits and confines of fixed locations” (151).
(Photo above by Christina Turczyn: “Fractals of Rain”)