Loss and return:
Exploring collective memory in an Irish family archive 1950 - 1966 through installation art practice.

This enquiry has its origins in a childhood immersed in family stories, myths, home movies, photographs, furniture and even love letters that informed our family narrative as an Irish emigrant family living in England from 1950 - 1966. In 2003 I discovered my father’s 8mm camera and started making short experimental films and as a consequence became curious about the collection of the home movie footage he had made of those early years. Circa 2005 my mother passed on to me some 29 letters she had in safe keeping for over fifty years. These are my father’s letters written to her during the early days of his emigration 1950-1952 – her return letters were lost. In 2008 these family records became the focus of my research project. Drawing on existing theoretical discourses on memory and the archive and deploying art practice my research project asks a series of interrelated questions, such as, what ‘time’ do we encounter in a family archive, what kind of spaces are represented and who has agency? How does truth and fiction intertwine in these accounts and what are the links between autobiographical, biographical and social or collective memory?
I employ a combined methodology that employs art practice as its core activity while making use of ethnography and oral history. Artistic strategies, such as: appropriation, found-object, assemblage, collage, digital photographic processes, sound and experimental short films reconfigured from the home movie footage are integrated with oral histories collected from the extended family. My subject position offers me the opportunity to be simultaneously both inside and outside the project – alternating as subject and object - while employing my own memories and experience through my multiple roles as daughter, niece, sister, artist and researcher.