An exhibition by Pirrin Francis
“He liked the fragility of those moments suspended in time. Those memories whose only function had been to leave behind nothing but memories. He wrote: I’ve been round the world several times and now only banality still interests me. On this trip I’ve tracked it with the relentlessness of a bounty hunter. At dawn we’ll be in Tokyo.” 1
In Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (2003) he recorded moments of ubiquity as he traveled around the world, filming extreme poles of survival across three vastly different cultures during the Cold War: Japanese, African, and European. The video imagery is overlaid with the voice of a female reading letters written to her detailing his physical and emotional experiences of the places he found himself. Despite the absence of key facts and figures relating to the positioning of these cultures at the time, Marker’s close up and inquisitive look manages to transcend the need for themi. Through a combination of visual, audible and temporal elements, Marker is able to communicate a historical and nostalgic depiction that subsequently creates a liminal relationship between past, present, personal, and cultural historiesii.
Similarly to Marker, Pirrin Francis’ exhibition Nightfall Recollections relies on the recording of disparate moments in time and their transcendent temporal nature. Francis’ work often employs large installation environments. In these installations there are multitudes of merzbau like cardboard constructions that resemble cities or castles. The viewer is compelled to kneel down to put the structures in to a more familiar perspective, like she is begging them to act on their inner child. Adults though are tentative and remain in a stubborn standing position, observing from atop. While most installations tend to stay within the conventional parameters of the institution, video installations like Francis’ embrace these complex, layered scenarios that transform and dissolve components of physical spaceiii. For Nightfall Recollections, the perceptual understanding of the house (or home in this instance) becomes a new conceptual frame for Francis’ work; no longer a cardboard fort of memories, but an all encompassing encounter that the viewer is welcomed inside.
Pirrin’s work often uses found imagery and video; in this case it has been found in her own history. These recorded moments of her and her family are abstracted from her timeline, and with no precise contextualization it is not immediately apparent that you are being given this personal insight into the artist, making her work deeply subjective, yet universal and democratic. The sound that emanates from her work is like an ambient wilderness, but there is some interference reminiscent of on an old film projector that makes the environment seem familiarly distant as they anticipate the appearance of corporal images. Her work represents a unique view of time, while the digital age brings a camera to every warm body, most of the population up until now did not have their childhood recorded so adamantly, and certainly not in the hyper-realistic definition that it is now. These faded images from decaying technologies have captured something so precious: someone who has now grown in a point in their history, which can only be revisited through these afterthoughts. While at first these audible and visual accounts of moments seem disjointed, there is a phenomenological connection that binds them, a sort of tacit understanding embedded in the idea of memory.
“So they had to come there, both of them, under the rain, to perform the rite that would repair the web of time where it had been broken”.1
There is an intersection of reality and fictive mythology that flows through Pirrin Francis’ works. Within them there is a deliberate framing of the textural gestures of the mouth, hands, and eyes. Certain areas are masked and others put in to sharp focus. The plinths in Nightfall Recollections stand holding these images like totems, or spiritual iconoclasts of an idea, or a memory; these once simple family excerpts are raised to the position of the ‘object’ and the sacred. The hand drawn animations bring this spiritual connection to the forefront, as the duplicit nature of history playfully undulates like that of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. Like the disparate forest spirits in Princess Mononoke (1997), her work speaks of a metaphysical longing for a perceived unity of existence, and offers the possibility of a transitory reconciliation.
“He wrote me: I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?”.1
Francis’ work usually focuses on found material, much of it with somewhat recognisable historical or cultural content. In her 2011 work at The Block, Are They Biological, these images were projected within and out of a cardboard city of sorts. These socio-historical clips from the Lumiere Brothers and Thomas Edison were interlaced with her own content, creating a parallel narrative. This is where Nightfall Recollections draws a new tangent, working almost purely from an autobiographical stand point, drawing together her own narratives and found imagery, and overlaying them with semiotic symbols of diamonds, totems, and masks. Marker argues that the temporal, audible, and visual elements of the filmic apparatus mimic the image process of memory, and being that traditional history is no more than a memory written down, then documentary-like practices provide a more comprehensive account, allowing for an easier platform from which to articulate historiesiv. Almost like a physical embodiment of Marker’s ideas, the elements of sound and time displacement that underpin Francis’ representation serve to enunciate the feelings and emotions associated with the manipulated visuals.
These found, personal, and semiotic elements are laced together; pulled in to a singular environment in which they merge, creating an alternative narrative. These tangential narratives are like surrogate memories in which the viewer is offered a meditation, enabling them to amalgamate themselves with the beings before them. This experiential encounter of time and image acts on Lacanian mirror identity formation, offering an intuitive experience with an open-ended resolution. This notion is something unique to the screen, as the viewer both sees themselves as themselves, and as another, in and as the imagev. As children get older, parents begin to tell them of things they did, creating their history and implanting memories of these forgotten moments. As memory is a malleable and susceptive thing, these moments need not have ever happened in order for them to be rememberedvi, thus, through her use of the screen and universal imagery Pirrin Francis’ work becomes a part of the viewer’s augmented memory.
By Andi Halfpapp
1 Chris Marker, Sans Soleil (DVD 2003).
i ÁkosÖstör, “Sans Soleil by Chris Marker,” in American Anthropologist, vol. 89 (Wiley, n.d.), 1022–1023.
ii Jeremy Barr, “ProQuest Document View – ‘How Does One Remember Thirst?’: Phallic and Matrixial Memory in Chris Marker’s La Jetee and Sans Soleil” (FLORIDA ATLANTIC UNIVERSITY, 2011), http://gradworks.umi.com/14/96/1496233.html.
iii Hugh Marlais Davies, Ronald J. Onorato, and Museum of Contemporary Art Diego San, Blurring the Boundaries: Installation Art, 1969-1996 (Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 1997).
iv “Immemory by Chris Marker — Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory,” accessed May 28, 2013, http://www.chrismarker.org/immemory-bychris-marker/.
v Amelia Jones, Andrew Stephenson Nfa, and Andrew Stephenson, eds., Performing the Body/Performing the Text (Routledge, 1999).
vi Elizabeth F Loftus, “Make-believe Memories,” The American Psychologist 58, no. 11 (November 2003): 867–873, doi:10.1037/0003-066X.58.11.867.