INTERVIEW: WERONIKA GESICKA
We’ve all fantasized with the idea of photographing our memories and saving them on a hard disk. Weronika Gesicka’s work is a study of what those memories would look like were they to actually be captured, and it’s simply mind-blowing. Each photograph is a disturbingly thorough display of how our brain can deceive us by filling those missing gaps in our memory, and fictionalizing something that once felt so real. Blurring the lines between reality and fiction, Gesicka’s work is bound to spark some thoughts about the role of memory in our lives, and how memory can shape who we are as a person, and who we want to become.
Tell us a bit about your process. Where do you get your vintage photographs from and how do you go about doctoring them?
I started my series ‘Traces’ by looking at various images on the Internet (library archives, magazines, or even crime photographs) and came across a collection in a photo bank. Then I began to search for more images using the same keywords: family, home, children, parents. The results included authentic family pictures mixed with staged family pictures, some of them possibly including hired models. Therefore, I began to mix those images together, creating a new “family album”, in which the truth blends with fiction.
The one thing that fades the fastest when remembering someone is the person’s face. I’ve noticed that in your book ‘Traces’, you often modify and/or hide your faces. Is that intentional?
Yes, the face constitutes one of the most important elements of our identity. It takes just a second to recognize someone from his or her facial features. In some of my work, I’ve decided to deform, hide, or simply remove that element of identity, which is one of the most important ones, because then a peculiar kind of uneasiness appears automatically. Subconsciously we search for that face, we wonder what that person could look like. Our memory works in a similar manner: when we can’t remember something, we try to bring back missing elements and that idea keeps us on our feet.
In your work, inanimate objects and live subjects tend to blend together in a surprisingly organic way. How come?
Memory works in a very peculiar way. It often emphasizes certain elements of reality while also blurring others. We remember various details from the past; sometimes a person who is close to us, a location, or an element that stands out. Inanimate and animate elements in my work are sometimes combined into one, giving them an equal chance to accentuate their presence, precisely as is the case with memories.
Although the vintage photographs that you select depict moments of casual happiness, once doctored, they become slightly unnerving. Is this intentional?
Yes, I wanted my work to be a peculiar combination of humor and uneasiness. American photographs of that period have their own specific atmosphere: they show a perfect, pastel world, a land of happiness where everyone would like to be. But when we look closer we begin to notice the scratches on that picture-perfect surface. My work highlights such scratches and modifications, which due to their surreal character, result in the viewers seeing things from a completely different perspective.
Why are you so fascinated with memory?
For me, memory is identity. We are who we are because we possess the continuity of memory, both in a personal and individual context as well as in a wider, social one. Therefore, it is a subject that we can view from many perspectives and one which touches all areas of our lives.
For me it was always an important subject, because I was brought up in a multi-generational family in which events from the past, old photographs and the stories related to them, were brought up on numerous occasions. I have this fear somewhere within me of losing some of these stories, and want to make sure that they are always remembered.
Is there anything that you would rather forget?
In the past I had the idea that it would be nice to have the possibility to be able to completely erase certain memories that are traumatic or simply unpleasant, but I wonder whether that would result in erasing a part of my identity. After all, who we are is formed not only by good things but also bad ones. So I don’t think I have any memories which I would like to completely erase, because I would feel the loss of something important.
Is there something that you can’t recall and yet really wish you could?
I am the type of person for whom memories are very important, and actually I would like to remember almost everything, which is of course impossible. I have a problem with throwing out old things because each piece reminds me of a certain event, and I always believe that by throwing something away I will forget about an important moment.
If I had the possibility to remember more, then I would like to remember everyday moments that usually don’t leave a significant mark within the memory.
Why are people so afraid of forgetting?
I believe that the fear of forgetting is related to our fear of death and of leaving nothing behind. This lies somewhere within us and translates into the fact that we want to remember as much as possible and to be remembered. We erect monuments, large constructions, have children – we want to leave as many signs of our existence as possible. It’s our way to become somewhat immortal.
There’s a thin line between imagination and memory. How do you draw the line?
I believe that sometimes it is difficult to actually draw such a line. The human mind tends to fill in the gaps in our memory – if it does not possess the actual details of memories then it creates them on its own. We sometimes add elements to the past in order for it to be complete and constitute a cohesive whole.
They say your memory can play tricks you. Has there ever been a time when you truly felt deceived by your own memory?
We have many family stories which are repeated on various occasions, during gatherings or the holidays. Over the years I’ve heard many iterations of these stories from multiple sources, and I did consider some of them as my own childhood memories, because there were extremely vivid images concerning these stories within my memory. However, it turned out that I can’t possibly remember them because I wasn’t even alive when some of them took place. Because these stories were constantly repeated from childhood, their images were formed inside my head and I have accepted them as my own memories.
What do you want to be remembered for and why?
I think that in the past I used to think much more about how I wanted to be perceived by others, and thus, how I am going to be remembered. However, because now I focus my attention on the sole mechanisms and subjects related to memory, I don’t think about what I would really want to leave behind. Perhaps now I subconsciously halt such thoughts because of the fear that they would block me in some way, or because of the fear that what I am doing is not good enough to be the mark I leave behind in the world.
How does social media affect our rapport with memories?
Social media made us share each moment of our lives more eagerly. Each memory becomes equally important due to the fact that we are overwhelmed by photos of our friends, close and distant ones, presenting each moment of their lives. We are also more conscious about creating memories according to how we want to be remembered. We want everything to look perfect, to present every moment as best as possible, which results in us getting further and further from the truth. Now we no longer want to be remembered for who we are. What we want is for our ideal, created image of ourselves to be remembered.
Your Instagram doesn’t showcase much of your work. How come?
I usually present my work in the form of larger projects and I like to present them in a wider context. Recently, Instagram has been a place where I can show what’s happening around the projects rather than the works themselves. However, perhaps with the following projects I will take more advantage of the possibilities presented by Instagram.
What’s next for Weronika Gesicka?
I am currently working on new projects that are taking my entire focus. These projects will also be related to memory, but will be taking memory on from a completely different perspective. I’m also focusing on photography itself, and the influence the medium can have on our memory.
INTERVIEWED BY RALPH ARIDA