In Search of Lost Time, 2007
Series of 10, inkjet on aluminium, varying sizes.
Exhibited in 2008 & 2009 as part of Responses to Conflict and Loss at University of Hertfordshire Galleries, Euston Crypt and Peterborough Museum.
Rooms once decorated and occupied; albums and torn up photos found in a nursing home bin, an indication of a life documented.
My grandmother, Odette, was born in the outskirts of Paris on the day the First World War broke out. Her father had to leave to go to the front the next day. When her mother died a few years later, her father married his brother’s widow, as was customary in those days.
As a young woman Odette worked in the reception of Antoine, the famous Parisian hairdresser who invented The Shingle. He cut her hair, and the result was striking enough to turn her into the subject of some of Man Ray's photographs of faces, hands and masks.
Later Odette moved to Copenhagen where she met and married a Jewish businessman from Poland. In 1942 they had a daughter, my mother. The Germans occupied Denmark in 1944, and soon after the little family fled to Sweden, where they lived till the war was over. In 1960 Odette was widowed, and she spent the second half of her life living as a wealthy, independent woman, travelling the world.
In the final years of her life Odette lost her memory, leaving her oblivious to who the people around her were, but still remembering the time in the 1960s when she bought the fabric that decorated her room; curtains, pillows and bed cover.
One time when my mother went to visit her at the nursing home, she found a waste basket full of torn up photographs. Some dating back to the 1940s, some from more recent years, most of them portraits of family members. That my grandmother had torn up these photos and discarded them really shocked me. But she must have felt resentful towards all these faces staring at her from the old photos. She must have known they were related to her somehow – but she didn’t remember! The photos had lost their meaning, because they had lost their anchoring in reality, their grounding in her memory.
Odette died in a nursing home, July 2006, on my 30th birthday.