CATALOGUE - Miklos Gaál. Tenting Overnight in Your Own Garden. - From the artist book of Laura Toots, "Perceiving Something Different After Something Significant Although Things Remain the Same". Lugemik publishing, Tallinn, 2012
I remember a red coffee box from my childhood home with a specific significance. It was a refillable metal coffee preservation box that had an image of a friendly female figure serving coffee dressed in a Finnish folklore dress.
As it happens, the coffee lady resembled my mother with dark hair in a bob cut; my mother happened to possess the same exact dress that she was wearing. The dress was a traditional folk model, a beautiful set of decorative garments with a silver brooch that my mother would occasionally wear in festivities during my childhood in 1970s and 80s Finland. These happy resemblances appeared to my sister and I, as children, as elements that enriched our daily setting. Sure enough, we imagined the coffee serving kitchenware model was our mother.
This childhood logic makes a lot of sense. It was perfectly natural that our mother would appear on the box. Besides the fact that the coincidental resemblances were remarkable, the warm gestures of the advertising image also suggested “mother” well. We used to associate the dress with our mother exclusively, possibly even recognizing that it had some sort of special social significance, but that too would suit our mother very well.
I’m not sure if my sister and I actually talked about this understanding of ours but it seems now that it was a mute agreement that didn’t need to be questioned further. (I think it was only afterwards, at a later age, that we told our mother about this.) It is not possible to say exactly how it was because this remembrance has such a strong imprint and the memory of it has certainly evolved since as a popular anecdote in our family.
When looking at the box more closely now, I am surprised to see how modest the similarities actually are in comparison to my memory. Indeed, the friendly coffee lady is only roughly reminiscent of my mother, and her dress is not the same exact one that my mother had (1). Nevertheless, the imaginative relationship was a significant part of our understanding in the way children sense abstract concepts and make unaffected conclusions about them that fall into their own fitting frame of reference.
Sigmund Freud used photography as a metaphor to describe the way memory operates. Photography, with its fragmentary and evocative elements, provided him with a new perspective on the awareness of perception as an auxiliary apparatus to our natural senses. In his recurring photography metaphors (2), he draws a link between how an exposure can be developed into a picture and how a memory of the past is processed.
As a rough analogy to the dynamics of memory, memories in the psyche are like negatives that can each be printed as a positive after an interval of time, comparable to memories that can transform into an impression that reveals itself intensively. Memories are preserved like in an archive where even the inaccessible memories can eventually pass over into consciousness.
Memories are specifically subject to unconscious processes. Their recollections can take different guises in their own right, superimpose several elements, manifest positive or negative fantasies or be involuntary artificial memories. It is in the surfacing process where the conscious and unconscious activity appear, altering the memories with its actions in which one’s desires and orientations are not fully carried out. However immediate and accurate in appearance, each time a reconstruction of the past is revealed it is getting further from its source fabricating the re-narration further.
Perceiving Something Different After Something Significant Although Things Remain the Same (2010) is an anthology of childhood recollections by Laura Toots. Toots’ project consists of two elements that create a mishmash of facts and fictions, cherishing existing elements from the adult world that have triggered her childhood fantasies.
Photographs from her family archive function as documentation of a familial setting to build the fantasies upon. The second element of the project is a suite of freehand drawings. Based on the artist’s personal memories, the drawings trace singular features and details that have served as building material for the artist’s imagination of her parents.
Processing memories through drawing, the media that is often described as closest to imagination, is a delicate artistic technique. For Toots, drawing has served as a practical tool in the reinterpretation of private memories where its spontaneous nature plays a role in the reconstruction process. Her drawings were initially not meant to be shown as such but made as sketches drawn in order to create ideas for photographs that were to be shot. The drawing process, shaped in the course of making, was thereby intuitive and undirected, and the act of drawing served as a space to recognize, react and respond to sources of memories.
The unintentional process shows as a lack of conscious reasoning in the output drawings that brings to mind a child’s way of comprehending things. Done with a blue ballpoint pen, a device that is always at hand, but a poor drawing tool, on simple copy paper, with a prompt drawing line in the axonometric-like distortions. Each stroke has a serious function in the reduced descriptions that describe only what is necessary, like an intuitive sentiment giving shape to an emerging remembrance, where the act of drawing performs a re-enactment of memories that are experienced and re-interpreted anew.
Juxtaposed with the private drawings, the photographic material of the project provides another insight into the child’s mind. Unlike the drawings that describe exclusively immediate family surroundings, the miscellaneous photographic material goes further afield, suggesting perhaps the perception of a child that is starting to be more aware of wider settings and taking first glances outdoors from home. Being attentive to details, recognizing similarities, making initial comparisons between the family entity and the world surrounding it, studying them carefully, though without perceiving the significance they have for adults, but instead making one’s own conclusions of it all. It is similar to what one might expect from a child's careful adventure to the outside world initiated by an awakening independency where ultimately even the fantasized superhero parents are put to test.
Miklos Gaál is a Finnish artist, currently living and working in Amsterdam.
(1) Googling the box dismantles the childhood myth further: The box from the coffee producer Paulig is a sought-after second-hand item. The lady appearing is the coffee brand's third Paula-girl Ms. Anja Mustamäki, who is wearing the dress of the former Sääksmäki municipality in Western Finland (now part of a bigger joint municipality of Valkeakoski), whereas my mother’s dress was a Carelian dress from the municipality of Kaukola (present-day Russia).
(2) Passages about photography relating to memory appear in particular in lectures A Note on the Unconscious in Psycho-Analysis (1912), The Dream-Work (1916), Resistance and Repression (1917) and in The Return of the Repressed (1939).