This autumn, I had the opportunity to work with an amazing group of people at Lokaal Dienstencentrum De Rotonde in Ganshoren.
A Lokaal Dienstencentrum is a community center for senior citizens. I had been asked by BrOes, the reference organisation in Brussels when it comes to dementia-related issues, to propose a series of artistic workshops in the theme of memory and photography, in the framework of my Photographic-Therapeutic Walks. For ten weeks, our group of ten had the most wonderful Tuesday afternoons, resulting in a unique expo moment in December. Over the weeks, tears were shod, memories revived for the first time in more than 25 years, pictures were shown which had never left the secrecy of their drawers.
Every week I returned home exhausted. Not because Jenny, Viviane, Peter, Anahit, Suzanne, Chantal, Paul, Françoise or Hélène had been difficult, but because of the sheer importance of sharing time with those among us who are a lot older (or younger) than we are. They are our bridge to times future and past, they are an answer to problematic questions about meaning and individualistic angst.
So let’s say something about memories, about (not) forgetting.
Right now, de Rotonde has been closed for eight weeks. They work hard at keeping some (online) form of their service active and everyone of the group is doing well, but they all miss the physical proximity of one another. Almost everyone in the group lives alone.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about this image we made. It was made during our fourth session together. An accidental miracle, a calculated mistake, time intruding in the still image. We are all channels through which energy passes, we are this energy, we are energy in which energy becomes itself, again and again. Light reflects on us, we are the reflection, we are that which is reflected. We leave an image, we leave a trace.
As an artist, which is to say nothing else than to say as a human being, I try to be open to the energies of others and of my surroundings. You don’t have to try to connect. You are connected. The trick is to make these connections conscious, and, through your openness, give others the opportunity to experience this connection.
We all miss, but some miss more than others. Never forget.
at home, May 5, 2020
THROUGH THE FIRE WE SHALL BE REBORN
— During the last session of the series of Phantasmata workshops in Ganshoren, before we had to start preparing the exhibition, we went for a final walk. With our group of nine, we went into the little patch of woods which used to be a dumping site, which is called the Green Heart, and which is definitely a locus phantasmatae for me, since I spent much of my childhood and youth there, and have been documenting the evolution of this little part of the city since nearly two decades.
*** Before we left our studio in the community center, everyone had to choose one out of the hundreds of photographs we had made over the course of the weeks. I had asked them to choose a photo which for a reason affected them more than all the other pictures on the table, and they could not show to the others which one they had chosen. I had not told anything of our reasons to go into the grove, but as I knew every little pocket of hills and shrubbery there, I had some idea where I was taking them. Not all of us were sure-footed going into the woods, where twilight had set in very early, it being late November and cold too. Two of them needed the help of others to walk, let alone to climb over fallen trees and down muddy slopes. As we reached a clearing where the grass and branches had long since been eroded from the soil, I explained the task ahead of us.
*** Everyone of them was to present their chosen photo to the group, after which the group would close their eyes and the person whose turn it was, would throw the chosen photograph in the fire I would make in a little pit I had quickly dug in the mud. While the photograph was burning, he or she would tell us why they had chosen that one photograph. Then, while everyone’s eyes were still closed, they should each make one photograph with the disposable cameras I brought, a picture of something there without telling the group what the subject was. Meanwhile, the others would just listen, to the stories, to the fire, to the birds, the shutter and flash of the camera and the other sounds of the city so close yet so far away.
*** The photographs they chose that afternoon have disappeared, turned to ashes and buried beneath the earth. Their stories, mostly of loss and loneliness, have been dissipated by the wind. But the moment remained, as did the photographs they made when they were the only eyes of our group of nine.
As an epilogue: after all the photos had burned, we walked farther into the grove, into the direction of my youth, back in time, into the future. Something had shifted in the mood of the day, as if we were no longer the same people we had been before. Laughter was in the air. It got dark quick, and very cold, but somewhat farther we saw a light in a little house that stands there since around the time of the French Revolution. I walked up to the light and as if by miracle, found a bar there, from another age, with nearly thirty elderly playing cards and drinking in focused silence. I bought them all drinks and not much later we were thrown our of the bar because we made too much noise.
at home, May 14, 2020