Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land, Newfoundland 1989-1991

A series of 3 assemblages.
medium: each assemblage includes black & white photographs, selenium-toned silver prints; memory map drawings, pencil on paper; story panels and a title panel, screen print on plexi; and found natural objects from the site, installed on and around a wooden shelf, approximately 20 feet long.

This series focuses on a set of hand-drawn memory maps and spoken texts in which my relatives in Newfoundland express memories about themselves and the land on which they were born. Several have moved away; many have lived in the same place their whole lives. The series concentrates on three precise bits of "landscape": the places where my grandmother, my grandfather, and my great-grandmother were born.

These narratives and memory maps are accompanied by photographs of my relatives and of the landmarks I was directed to by their stories. I took the photographs of the places to rhyme with the memory maps they drew for me. The series also includes my own memory maps and stories of my experiences as a visitor to my ancestors' land. I also collected natural "souvenirs" there, including stones, leaves, and seaweed.

The series reveals a pattern of land use in rural Newfoundland where land has been passed down from generation to generation, divided into smaller and smaller pieces among sons and nephews and, with some interesting exceptions, inherited by daughters. But the statements that interest me most are the ones I regard as poetic and even elegiac — describing an affectionate connection to the places and a sadness over changes and loss that have occurred over time. This may be seen as sentimental. I believe, though, that this is not merely of nostalgic interest, although I do this work, every part of it, with my heart pounding in my chest. When I listen to stories of my family's history in Newfoundland (which I've never heard before), I sense that these stories come from a past that affects me. When I walk around the land, when I choose the stones from the shore, when I look at my notes and photographs, I feel a poetic inheritance that cuts across me as a woman and as an artist. These intersections are powerful, some are painful, and all are elusive, fragile, and improbable. But I have no difficulty in stating the central premises of my present work. I have tried to reflect on the natural environment, spatial relations, land use, and geographical imagination.

This series of stories and photographs is like a net that was set at one point in the flow of people, events, and natural changes that make up the history of these three places. I see these places as palimpsests, as impressed with those people and events as the surface of an old slate blackboard or a marked wooden table-top. When we describe the land — or, more frequently, remember events that occurred at particular points on it — the natural landscape becomes a centre of meaning, and its geographical features are constituted in relation to our experiences on it. The land is not an abstract physical location but a place, charged with personal significance, shaping the images we have of ourselves.

Marlene Creates, 1991

A publication of the complete series is available:
Places of Presence: Newfoundland kin and ancestral land,
Newfoundland 1989-1991