Have you ever seen “After Life,” the Japanese film by Hirokazu Koreeda? If not, you probably ought to slap it up on your Netflix queue. Or go to the video store, if such things still exist in your neck of the woods.
I saw it some time ago, and it has stuck with me ever since, as its premise bores down deep into your soul, like a groundhog. The idea is that we all get to choose one memory to re-live, forever, in the afterlife. Good movie, sure, but once you hear that concept, who wouldn’t begin to contemplate?
Now that my daughter is beyond the baby stage, there are far more opportunities to stare in wonder at her beauty, as the initial stress chemicals have mostly receded. My son’s a looker too, so I often find myself trying desperately to cherish the time, as it recedes from my grasp.
I often ask myself, might this be the moment?
We all know what I should be doing, right? I need to document the crap out of the next few years. Photos, videos, audio clips. You name it. That’s the done thing. Try to defeat time by selecting moments, culling them from the herd, and permanently enshrining them in binary code.
But I don’t do that as much as I should, because I secretly hope that if I pay enough attention, as it’s happening, I might have the chance to relive one of these brief periods of intense happiness. That blasted film really stuck.
This urge, or impulse, has existed at least since we’ve had cameras. And likely before.
Close your eyes, and you can almost see a bearded man with spectacles looming above you, entreating you to hold still. He smells like a mixture of sweat and tobacco, with a hint of peppery bacon. Then he disappears under a black curtain, and POOF, there is smoke everywhere. You begin to cry, and reach for your mother, who is conveniently beneath you, enveloped by a different black cloth.
That’s the rub, when you look at “The Hidden Mother,” by Linda Fregni Nagler, a new book published by MACK, in conjunction with the Nouveau Musée National de Monaco. From what I could tell from the end notes, it might have also been the Italian pavilion at the Venice Biennale last year. (In case you were wondering.)
There is no text to set up the premise, except the title. They saved the essays, by Massimiliano Gioni and Geoffrey Batchen for the end. To contexualize what you just saw. But is it necessary?
I’d say no. Page after page gives us images of anonymous children, perched upon their hidden Moms. Ghosts, phantasms, KKK figures too stupid to know the proper sheet color, all those ideas pop into your head. But you always know what’s going on. The mothers are there to help the children hold still, as the exposures at the time were most certainly not 1/8000 of a second.
Will the book hold your attention? I can’t really say. It is fascinating and chilling at the same time. All those babies, gone forever. All those memories brought together by a futuristic stranger, so it can be called “Art.”
Is it? Undoubtedly. A compelling project too, if only for the manner in which it so clearly subverts the intentions of the long-dead shrouded sitters. All they wanted was a piece of paper to help them remember what their dear children looked like, when they were little.
I’ve got pictures of my own too. Don’t you worry. You do to, I’m sure. But the act itself, the desire to will something into a memory that will last a lifetime, is the part that makes us human. Because Elephants can’t operate a camera. Right?
Bottom Line: Very interesting archive, creepy and smart
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