Peter Watkins – The Unforgetting
‘I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting but rather its lining.’
– Chris Marker
On the 15th of February 1993, my mother walked from Zandvoort beach into the North Sea to her death.
The Unforgetting is a series of works that explores the texture of personal memory, and is told through photography and sculpture, and is presented in installation form. It is a series of works made up of remnants, exploring the loss of my mother, and our shared German ancestry. Often borrowing from the language of museum presentation, these works explore the complexities of memory in the (re)presentation of personal narratives. How much of a person remains in the objects that are left behind, and what can these objects tell us of the trauma of loss, and of how memory so easily turns to narrative.
The presentation of objects carry the weight of a family history, but the personal charge with which the images are made remains undisclosed and often obscured, encouraging a dialogue between the universal and the highly personal—images of cans of Super 8 withhold the images they contain; ceremonial glasses appear transparent and emptied of liquid; and a spectral baptismal dress appears impossibly suspended, glazed behind yellow glass: a wash of colour in an otherwise monochromatic series of works. The recurrence of wood throughout points towards the exploration of a certain rural Germanicity; but wood here also represents the passing of time, and of the “here I was born, and there I died,” as Hitchcock’s Proustian Madelaine exclaims in Vertigo, when pointing to the sawn sequoia tree. These works are universal in their stoic unwillingness to disclose their deeply personal roots; but woven beneath their surfaces are the stories and narratives that come to constitute the biography of the departed. This series finds its core, therefore, in the interplay between presences and absences—the absence of the mother, and the traces of her life explored in states of Unforgetting.