(un)veilings / back pain

Old Market Square and the Floating Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba and postcards freely distributed.

The specific task of this interventionist artwork is to open up the capacity of perceiving history -- that which happened or is happening to others -- in one's own body, accessed perhaps through one's own memory. In this way, the work functions to dismantle the abstraction of the violence and the dangers of generational repetition by bearing witness to the body.

When I first created the work and photographed my children's backs I thought it was about a public memorialization of trauma that is so unfamiliar in our culture of monuments to death and war heros. What I had not realized was the significance of how I had etched the words of my own pain onto the glass that was then laid over the photographs in the ground.

In an essay written for the exhibition catalogue, Anna Carlavaris spoke of the "vitrified figures on the shore of childhood's "then," (sic) images of the self's own still(ed) painful past". It has since occurred to me that I was also unconsciously rendering visible the dangers of repeating the cycle. Without rigorous attention and care there is constant risk of inflicting the pain and carrying the burden over to our own children (albeit perhaps in different ways), as we work through the stages of finding safety, mourning and remembering.

Backs are not only physical and fleshly, they also signify what is behind -- what is held in the memories and histories of past events. It is no accident that one of the most common physical ailments in North America is back pain.

The work's function is not as a monument or memorialization as was the case in the installation of the earlier version in Winnipeg, but as a promissory note -- a performative engagement. The postcards offer a site for voicing, a space for personal narrative and for witnessing. They also offer a chance for connection in that they can be sent and received by another. This spoken and heard testimony of the cycle of woundings and the hazards of inflicting our own suffering onto the backs of future generations is urgent. Cultural traumas are lived in the personal. Coming to terms with their effects must also be lived as personal in order to challenge the pervasive violence endemic to this culture and serve community as healed survivors.

The postcards' texts are:

What in my mother's life fed her need for silence and denial?
What shame did my father experience as a child?
Only recently, have I really understood that I was not at fault.

Parler est impossible dans une maison pleine de cris et de chuchotements.

Yesterday, my son put his wet hands on my back.
Shocked, I reacted as if the buckle of my father's belt
was hitting me.
Triggered into terror and pain,
I feared my capacity to do damage.

Entendre est impossible dans une maison pleine de cris et de chuchotements.

I have had a difficult relationship with my body.
For years, I lived only in my head - even outside of myself - so as not to feel.
It was the only safe place I could be.

Respirer est impossible dans une maison pleine de cris et de chuchotements.

Believing my own story has been so very difficult.
The worst thing about not having any physical scars is that there is no evidence to prove the wounding, even to myself.

La confiance est impossible dans une maison pleine de cris et de chuchotements.

Having allowed myself to feel (my pain, my fear, my anger, my pleasure),
I could begin to live without the past constantly seeping in like liquid drops of fetid waste.

Être présent est impossible dans une maison pleine de cris et de chuchotements.