I am interested in the tension that exists between perception, memory, and recall in creating and sustaining personal (and cultural) narratives: what do we choose to remember, or forget, and how do we preserve these landmarks? Neurologist Oliver Sacks describes the connection between our past and present reality as “moorings in time”, creating a vital expectation of our places in the future, as well as influencing the ways in which we engage with our world. Implying a sense of anchoring or stability, the theme of “mooring” is an underlying theme in my work.

The use of photographic imagery and its role in creating and preserving meaning is an important element in this current body of work. While photographs are taken with the archival intent of capturing a specific moment, person or place, the viewer imposes an entirely unique narrative of their own that often may not pertain to anything that is depicted in the image. Rooted in the midwestern working/middle class landscape of South Chicago and its suburbs, these works are autobiographical in nature, prompted by real and inferred memories embedded in the shadows of these appropriated family photographs. Albert Einstein said, “Memory is deceptive because it is colored by today’s events.” The subject matter in this body of paintings are the shadows that have been extracted from archived family photographic images, rather than the images themselves. The effect is disorienting, ambiguous. With both the subject and context removed, what is left is merely an impoverished recollection of a recorded event. Topographies are carved around these edited recollections, a reinterpretation scarred into smooth painted surfaces. The shadows emerge as landforms; moorings are created. The medium is oil and cold wax on birch panels, wax carrying a traditional reference to preservation, yet is also malleable and subject to the elements, alluding to memory’s fragility and flux. The ethereal painted background surfaces reference what French philosopher Gaston Bachelard refers to as the “ceaseless murmuring” of the unconscious mind, and a reflection of the tension between our internal and external experiences.

In conjunction with these paintings, photographic mixed media works incorporate indecipherable family imagery, re-photographed just out of focal range. Using the original photograph as reference, blind contour line drawings created with pens and paint markers serve as a form of topography, attempting to chart and reinterpret an ambiguous experience. The use of line in all of these works is an important unifying reference to structure, visually connecting to the underlying element of topography in a quest for mooring.

The subtle interaction between our past and present subsequently influences our interpretation of the future. My work seeks to provide a poetic observation of the internal and external influences that write and edit our autobiographies. It ultimately asks us to consider the role of the perception and recall of these stories and myths, family histories and identities – or the absence thereof – in constructing and preserving personal and cultural narratives.


Feeman, Cathy_10

*All images are copyrighted and property of Cathy Feeman