– by Emma Schrader
I met up with artist Emily Hornum last week to discuss her current exhibition The Substance of Memory. Emily’s extensive body of work investigates the affect of changing technology on family archives. I was eager to find out how Emily would use her own family documents, some of which date back to the 1900’s, to consider how family narratives are created and remembered.
Tell me a little bit about yourself as an artist.
I’ve never found something that I’ve stuck with. I’ve always integrated a lot of mediums. You know, when people ask you what you do, I say ‘photography’. I’ve never really fitted that box as such. I’ve done a lot of sculptural things and the photographs are the end product. Now I’m really excited about installation, digital and new media.
I really enjoy these objects here, the folded up clothing in relation to the photographs. I think it’s another dimension to some kind of reality you are trying to make. Like, in that room with the sculptural work, the boxes. It’s like you’re trying to build a city.
Yeah, it’s funny because originally that wasn’t my intention. I was just kind of fiddling and started building. As these things grew my little name for them was Slide City, and I knew that wasn’t what I was trying to reference! It just ended up being quite an architectural reference, which is good because it has a strong link to memory and rooms. But in terms of the cityscape, it brings in that domestic aspect as well, like houses.
Which brings me to the pairs of photos, where you’ve got a figure in the landscape and then the (empty) landscape again. Are you interested in a particular place?
Ahh… and also these photos are from my Father’s slides. He’s not here anymore. So the story behind those as well is lost from me. I don’t know a lot about these stories. Just kind of removing the substance of what is the image. Changing and manipulating that memory. With technology we can just make it disappear.
When I was walking along these two kind of grabbed me, because, you can look at this photograph and immediately I start thinking of a story. Like… ‘This is the day that my uncle killed that fox!’
(Chuckles) Yeah, you can add your own little narrative to it as well.
Do you feel that you are asking yourself to try and fill in the gaps?
I think also to look at how we narrate. Like in these [wall projections] behind the images, we’ve got my Grandmother’s handwriting telling me who they are. We’ve got her writing ‘My lovely Owen’ and kind of telling us more about the story. I know we have a different way now, but I think this tells us so much more about the story, the character and about the time as well. I think that archives are becoming this thing where we all have access and are all becoming archivists. But the essence of the stories are changing in a way.
So, do you print off photos and write on the back of them?
(Laughs) This has actually made me archive a lot of tapes and negatives, and actually take notice of the them! I’ve become someone that’s documented a lot of our history, but in terms of the new stuff we’re all very individual.
What would you pick out as a difference between the way people took photos then, and now?
It’s become a way to communicate a lot more and to use as an everyday experience. Not to say that we don’t use them to remember things, but we’ve just become reliant on using them to just communicate as opposed to really… these kind of tangible, nostalgic things that we really have a strong connection with. They don’t sit on dusty shelves, and have this weight or smell. They’re not ruined or torn… I think that this changes how we feel about them. Not to say that you can’t remember things through digital!
Are We Rolling? Multi-panel video projection
We’re curating our own archives as well, we’re choosing what to put up on facebook, what we want to tag, what we don’t want to tag of ourselves. Like, this one [points to photo] has my Dad yelling at us because he’s just put the camera on the ground and you can just see. You know, it wasn’t easy to stop and starts moments, you get really raw fragments of things. So there’s that aspect as well, we’re changing what we document. Just how we relate to it and access it, it’s now on screens. Someone was just saying that they got rid of it all [hard copies] and just put it up on storage accounts.
Do you think it’s more likely to become lost?
We’ve come to rely on them being secure. At the end of the day, there’s an interesting tension between whether they are secure as, you know, locking them down and touching them and storing them.
The Substance of Memory is now on show until the 8th February. Please join Emily at Spectrum Project Space for a conversation surrounding technology and the family archive on Friday 6th February at 2pm.
Photo Credits: Emily Hornum