Christopher’s work revolves around the quest for identity. It’s a postmodern symptom. The industrialization and the instant access to difference places, languages, faces and times, tends to confuse people. As we grow up, it’s inevitable to go through a phase where we find ourselves being defined by the look of others, by the way we relate to the collective identity. It’s a way to find a social recognition, but as we come to understand later on, nothing is more important that our individual identity and the quest for it can be a life-long journey, very demanding and often overwhelming and consuming.
Christopher is sort of a victim of this malady. He was born in France where he spent the first thirteen years of his life and has been living in Portugal since then. It might not be his case, but changing countries at that age can be a ticket to a more autonomous thinking about identity, given that there’s an immediate split between the notion of “individual identity” and “national identity”, which we all know is a complex and dangerous concept, as both “Portuguese” and “French” can testify for.
This split (or any other able to separate the I from the We) turns the focus of the quest to a more intimate level. Who am I? What features are my own? What will I be? , these are questions that cannot be answered without recognizing and working through the impact of the collective identity, the past, the family heritage and the historical events. But who authenticates all of these? How can we choose from these references, which belong and are of interest and which not?
In this project, Christopher sets out to look for his identity in the midst of long lost family photographs. Yes, we all know the family album, the archive and the digital manipulation of memory related documents is fashionable nowadays and very high rated in the art market, but I’d like to suggest there’s something more authentic (maybe therapeutic, definitely fragile) in the way Christopher engages with the digital brush as he repeatedly erases everyone faces.
I do think the excessive use of archival images says something about the inability of the artist to create something new. On the other hand, I don’t think that is a bad thing. As artists work through their memories, they make space for new things and they prepare for a world of imagination. Everyone needs to get rid of the weight of history, traditions and heritage, in order to be able to fully express their creativity. I see it as a generous gift the fact that Christopher “chooses” to show us the moment of his dwelling.
Marianne Hirsch defines “postmemory” as a connection to the past that “is mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation.”[i] The fragmented, often fake memories, with which we all grew up, are intensified by a world cemented over an unforgiving visual culture. Instead of the daily-readings, the nightly reading, the weekend and the holiday readings which nurtured an affirmative imagination, we now watch series and movies almost on a daily basis. Without realizing, our individual memories are forced to identify with the collective memory. Instead of working through our personal narratives we build upon our stories, we write new roles for ourselves, roles that fit dramatic plots, where heroic and inhuman characters always succeed.
As Christopher, the narrator, projects his non-identification, we, as viewers, go through the opposite process, since because of all the disappearing faces we easily remember similar moments from our family albums. The non-personalized figures presented in the album manage to be representations of our own family members because their anonymity erases the distance created by the fact that their time and location differs from ours.
Hirsch says something about Christian Boltanski’s work that I’ll here appropriate to describe Christopher’s work: “Each of his works aims not toward particularity but toward anonymity, not toward an individual but toward a collective identity. He often speaks of the effort to erase himself, so as to be able to reach a communal memorial layer, an amalgam of unconscious reminiscences and archetypes through which viewers can supply their own stories as they look at his images.”[ii] However, even though both Christopher and Boltanski were born in France, exactly forty-four years separate them, so the focus on anonymity, putting the collective in front of the particular (the former through erosion, the latter through repetition), has very different references.
On this subject, I want to suggest that Christopher’s erased faces are akin to the use of the Guy Fawkes’ mask by the anonymous movement. They both accomplish the same effect: by erosion or repetition, we are left with a collective identity that gazes us, instead of us being the ones whose gazes undress the individual nature of an identity that is forced to be resumed in a single face.
The non association of A face with A identity (and thus the questioning of the theatricality behind traditional portraiture) is an anti-authoritarian and anti-propriety statement, even if this is a marginal symptom of how important are the roles played by visibility and invisibility in what is made visible. [iii] So I’m left with this question: is it possible that there aren’t a lot of differences between the use of the balaclava, as a way to protest against a superficial and coercive identification by the authoritarian force, and the use of the digital eraser, as a way to work through fictional memories, deny the postmemory and embrace the remembering of “real events”?
[ii] HIRSCH, M. (1996) “Past Lives: Postmemories in Exile”. Poetics Today, Vol. 17, No. 4, Creativity and Exile: European/American Perspectives II, pp.659-686