I’ll Be Seeing You
A selection of these works will be on show at Ort Gallery in Birmingham from 1st February 2020 in my exhibition, Mother. Click here for details.
I’ll Be Seeing You is a multidisciplinary project exploring the first year of living without my mother, Teena, who died suddenly in February 2019. Our close and yet complicated relationship suddenly became frozen in time, leaving me to explore several creative avenues in an attempt to remain connected to someone that was no longer present.
Inspired by my mother’s love for her garden, many of the works begin with botanicals at their core. From the final rose picked in my mother’s garden, to the symbolism of ferns as new beginnings, the cyclical nature of life and death weaves its way throughout these pieces in a way that honours both an ending and new beginning. The loss of her life but the beginning of mine as a motherless child.
Originally commissioned by Ort Gallery and made over a ten-month period, the work encompasses a number of process driven creations that grapple with experimentation, scale and [im]permanence. A collection of botanical sun prints — deliberately chemically unfixed — will slowly fade and transform as they continue to expose in the sunlight. A series of images produced from silver nitrate and fixed on to aluminium will slowly rust and fade over time. A single microscopy image of my grief tears symbolises an attempt to map out my journey of grieving at a cellular level, whilst large scale self-portraits provoke existential questions around the cosmological makeup of our bodies.
Interspersed throughout these creations are personal photographs made during the initial grief stages, alongside selected texts from my diary.
In the last few days I find myself quantifying everything to keep attached to something. I keep repeating out loud how many days she’s been dead. I count how many hours I’ve slept. How many meals I’ve been able to eat. How many days I’ve been off of work. It’s a way of tethering myself to reality, yet still feels reductive in understanding and experiencing death. Even the flowers and cards I’ve received suddenly felt sad this afternoon. Soaked in my favourite light in the house, how could this be all that she was.
And it isn’t. She will be with me in my thoughts, in our favourite songs, in the journeys we took and the places that we lived. She’ll stay with me in the films we watched and the animals we loved, the photographs we made and the letters we wrote and the messages that we exchanged.
As we walked around the hospital before she died I was thinking out loud about what happens to a person when they’re no longer here. Their voice disappears, their possessions become someone else’s, their thoughts turn into silence. Growing up I was terrified of things disappearing. It’s the reason I started photographing things. I wanted to record every moment, every person, every place. It’s hard to think that I’ll never take another photograph of her. She’ll never give me that knowing look that acknowledges the camera but silently gives permission. I’m learning that a person is more than a body, their things, but the spirit that they leave behind in you and the ways that they affected you.
It’s day 9.
There is a rare dream that I do remember, that visits me and haunts me. I’m in the dark blackness of the ocean, my body slowly rippling down to the deepest depths. I never reach the bottom. It’s torturous as I see myself outside of my body surrounded by an infinite sadness. At first the sun’s rays penetrate the water and dapple through it, even glitter across the surface as I look up. Slowly it disappears. It’s like floating in the ether, silent, hauntingly beautiful but tragic. Last night it was her voice in that darkness, talking to me, and I didn’t care about the darkness or the time or the pain this dream causes me. I just wanted to capture her words, her sounds, all the things I took for granted when she’d call and I’d be busy or walk away from when I needed time to be quiet.
In the dream it was me falling and her words that held me up.
When I stand in her bedroom I always think of her as light. She loved light and as the spring sunlight has filtered through in the last few days, I think of her and what this time of year would have meant. She abhorred the winter. In these moments when I capture slithers, slices, shadows, I think of it as her being here with me.
I gently woke but remained in the dream. Holding her close, the type of embrace that lets the other know that you do not want this to end. An Amy Mann song played in the background. She was here, but silent, eyes open, her arms holding me close too.
For a moment it felt real. Her arms around me, her cheek against mine and chin nestled into my neck. Her perfume filling my nostrils and the little chuckle she’d make when I held her dearly.
And then the moment was gone. Tears. The image turned into me holding her at the hospital, unresponsive, holding her tight to let her know I wanted her. Bringing moisturiser from home to soften her hands, soothe her bruises and cracked skin. I’d talk to her about what we’d do when she was well. We’d tend to the garden, watch the birds come and go, I’d take her for a seafood dinner, her favourite.