Patricia Fernandez at Commonwealth and Council
I’ve just read your book and have been looking at your show. They both are wonderful. Thanks so much for making this work. I’m excited by your questioning of memory, and of history; your stories in the book, as in the drawings and wood carvings, make me question my own agency as viewer and as the compiler of facts and memories in this show – as I build my understanding my fallibility and my curiosity are engaged. Yay.
In the book I found this quote: “Are we destined to live the dreams of our parents?” Perhaps yes, Patricia, yet I think we may live our learned belief, our dream, if you will, of those dreams.
I appreciate the conflation in the book of your friend “James” with “R,” your father as a young man. This feels psychological and romantic, Oedipal, even. And your character Barbara, her mystery… is cinematic and literary in its strength and in its evanescence. It almost becomes my past that I (finally) cannot reach in this book… and yours, and hers, and Pepe’s, and etc.
Doesn’t every parent have a revolutionary past? (Or – a past in revolution.) I think of small things I gleaned from conversations of my parents’ and from books in their libraries; these half-heard phrases and partial memories of my now-deceased parents became for me a history I sought, and one that I assumed as my own.
It’s beautifully sad, your book, and also ennobling. Its characters remain people, humans, and the voice is yours throughout; but there is power and interest in it beyond the personal, beyond narrative, and toward…what? poetry? testimony? certainly art.
I hope you’re well, I also hope that you may find a way to respond to this message. I’d like the show to have a presence at Notes on Looking and this seems a nice way to do that.
Thank you for spending the time reading my book. I am glad that it made you think about your own parents, their memories and your own. I often think about my parent’s lives, their past, and how they might have been before I was born. I was always interested in how things became written into history books and how my parent’s history had nothing to do what I read about. My brief elementary school education in Spain included Christopher Columbus, Isabel and Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs and Franco- all as unquestionable historical benevolent rulers. And this was at a time when a socialist party was in place. A transition into a democratic state had supposedly already taken place but there were still street names and statues memorializing Franco. I went on so many family road trips, and drove by Valle de los Caidos without a person in the car saying a word. How can you even begin to explain something so huge that is in the past but living on in the present? I think when you have an entire generation that had to communicate in codes, and live in silence, you go to the fragments or objects that you can find to rebuild a narrative. And these are often abstract. So I have been searching for some kind of evidence that allows me to locate memories in a place I know and object that may I find, or create.
My father once said to me something that his mother said to him (or at least it sounds like something she would have lamented): people don’t write any more, we don’t record our thoughts and our actions (and assume responsibility for these by writing them down). He was referring to letter writing. Hand writing.
When I found a whole box of correspondences James and I had written to each other, from the very place my father had spent so much time at in Paris, my memories of rue de Latran, La Sorbonne and the Latin quarter began to overlap with the stories my father had told me about. It became important for me to rewrite everything using my words and his voice to write about the past in the present as I could remember it. I began to implicate myself as I considered my parent’s role during the revolution; I wanted to reconsider all the things that I did know and didn’t know then, which had taken place, and assume responsibility for them- a responsibility to our inherited dreams.
I recently spent some time in France talking with Spanish republicans, those that had left Spain earlier than my parents, the ones that had left their country by foot over the Pyrenees…they had a lot of stories that they wanted to tell… and through decades of connecting events, people and sites, their stories came to overlap with my own. What was most interesting to me was speaking with their children, who were looking to understand what had come before them, that which had inevitably shaped their lives. We are looking for the same thing; their parents’ actions had superficially shaped where they lived, what language they spoke, and other exterior conditions, but had most importantly affected that thing which could not be changed- their consciousness, their beliefs.
EB, one of the men I met in France and write about in the book seemed relieved to tell me what his role was in the French Resistance, after working with the Spanish Republicans and the reds in Spain. He had never written a testimony of his journey across the Pyrenees and informed me of this, as if entrusting me with the value of this knowledge. He kept repeating the words las ideas se van sembrando, referring to ideas being planted, in children, in descendants, in future generations….
I am so interested in the guarded memories that make up these people lives and identities, as well as the construction that takes place within the re-performing or remembering. I think there is a place for this in art, a place where ideas are being moved forward and are being reshaped at the same time. I think it is the role of the artist to find form or a temporary location for these ideas to exist, and continue.
I hope these words respond to some of your previous thoughts and maybe bring up some other ideas.
Hello again Patricia, thanks for your quick response! I was away this weekend and am just now getting back into things.
I like what you say, “People don’t write any more, we don’t record our thoughts and our actions (and assume responsibility for these by writing them down).” I know that much of the way I understand things is through writing (I make my notes in long hand), and indeed my own awareness of that regret you express inspired me to begin what I do at Notes; my desire has been to build a record of our time, and of my thoughts, such as one might find in a series of correspondences – and I certainly feel the responsibility that you and your grandmother mention. Going on record is analogous to testifying about what one sees or does.
I also appreciate that you bring me back to the historical (and present) Spanish source for this work; for although the feeling of searching is universal, among you and the children of ex-pats – refugees – there is a particularity to the lack of speaking and remembering that I cannot really know. Can it be that the population who stayed, and the post-Franco Socialist government, feel some shame of complicity? The fact of one’s endurance within an abusive society can suggest a sort of complicity, yes? This reminds me of the shame and lack of memory that is common among survivors of family and childhood abuse. For me, your show transforms the specifics of your story into a metaphor for the human condition of searching – for meaning, for cause, for history – and then the structure of the work allows me to find evidence of my own particular story. Nicely done, Patricia!
There were two brief letters to Young in the room with the book, they were pinned to a wall atop one another and were hand written on copy paper. It occurs to me that at least one of them might have been a carbon copy – is this correct? But the letters were not identical, their messages differ a little. I appreciate the way you play with time in these two letters – the onion skin copy paper is from another time and yet both letters speak about future actions. Also, the confusion of copy and original, and the variation in the letter writer’s voice is nice. The two messages are very much the same, and yet… something else is happening. Can you tell me about this piece, and its relation with the box?
The box is wonderful! To me it represents so much: history – your own past, the history you seek, and the history you and Young will create together – craft (through the adoption of your grandparent’s skills (wood carving, stitching, and writing) – and so becomes art. (Your New Byzantium show reminds me that art is a habit of living and a habit of making.) Your mention throughout the show of “responsibility” reminds me that you are giving to Young responsibility for the care of box, and for his additions to it. Young also must produce a yearly exhibition of this box. Thus begins a connection between you and Young; and this structure requires that the connection between you two will develop, rather than remain static. (If you’ll forgive me, this structure is passive-aggressive in the way that all art is. Caring for and keeping art is a daunting responsibility.)
I think I shall stop for a moment. I am in a phase of over-thinking everything I do. This is good for me, in that I must ask questions, and struggle to find my voice, but bad because I’ve lost, or I don’t trust, my judgment. I am a little frozen. Possibly you understand?
all the best,
I left for Paris last week and am travelling in a southern direction at a slow pace, through France. For this reason it has taken me a while to write back to you. I am borrowing a friend’s computer to be able to write to you and am struggling with the french keyboard- so I apologize for any grammatical mistakes or automatic accents that may appear. I came back to France to continue research into a project I began last year along the France-Spain border. In three days I will begin walking over the Pyrenees, partially along le chemin de St Jacques, to my grandfather’s house in Burgos, in order to arrive in time for his 90th birthday (and spend some time with him).
The box for Young, or Commonwealth and Council, titled Box (a proposition for ten years) is an avowel and a reiteration of a relationship that I learned, through coming to know my grandfather. My relationship with him grew immensely as I began to copy his carving and we were able to connect through the objects made. Box, which represents a relationship, is a time based work that transforms through the passing years and builds upon a conversation (also, admittedly implicating and binding two people). It is not a one sided dialogue, or can be realized in its complete form without the involvement of Young. Starting with a box, the familiar form that is used by my grandfather, I use the idea of repetition and the act of carving to bring forward a record of a past. But other variables come into play as the box becomes the site where my relationship with Young is built and represented in each year long iteration. It is an active construction of a future dialogue where we are able to trace time, words, patterns, and memories in objects.
The two letters on copy paper, presented on the wall with the most recent one covering the oldest one, one on top of the other, are writings that reiterate and reconsider the function of the box with the role that we play as it is being built. The letters are among some of the objects that live in the box. They are both un-dated writings on copy paper, denoting the possibility that they are a copy of each other or a copy of a text existing previously, or someplace else. They are valid as a record of this relationship for the future and a copy of a recorded past, pointing to some of the questions involved in the desire for the original.
Box is being presented in the gallery for the first time this year, with many other iterations to follow. At this time some things were pulled out of the box for viewers to read, some could be partially seen, while others remained concealed. Such is how relationships begin.
I hope you are well,
Thank you Patricia, I appreciate your effort in responding to me from afar. I will draw from our exchange and publish this as a conversation – with images – at Notes. I may take the opportunity to add my responses to the show and to individual works within the show.
I am very grateful to you for “talking” with me about this project! The show at Young’s seemed so personal (on one level) and I really hoped to include your voice and your ideas in anything I might write about it. I think this conversational approach greatly expands the possibilities for understanding the work and the experience.
I hope you enjoy your slow journey through France.
Patricia Fernandez, Box, a proposition for ten years, will be remain on view at Commonwealth and Council through May 4, 2013. As an extensive exhibition of the artist’s work, New Byzantium presents Patricia Fernandez was on view through April 6. The artist book mentioned in this article, which was published by New Byzantium, is currently on view at, and is available for purchase from Commonwealth and Council in a limited edition of 100.
Commonwealth and Council: http://www.commonwealthandcouncil.com/
New Byzantium: http://newbyzantium.org/