Christine Bespalec-Davis [Interview]
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINE BESPALEC-DAVIS
SEPTEMBER DIGITAL RESIDENT
MHM: In some of your writing about the Constructed Memory work, you mention relocating from the Midwest to Tennessee. Can you tell us briefly the story of how you got to Tennessee? How has the process of relocating impacted your relationship with home and ancestry?
CBD: My family wanted to find a place that mixed what we loved about the city (we were living in Chicago) and rural areas where we grew up (Wisconsin for me, Nebraska for my husband). We went on a lot of road trips and never found the right fit for “home.” When we visited friends who had moved to Chattanooga, everything fell into place. There were little hints and signs that kept making us think “this might be it!” We took a leap of faith and made the move in June 2017. Being away from the midwest and in a whole new energy space really made me hone in on what “home” feels like and how those memories manifest when the places and objects are no longer tangible. My work tries to recreate those aesthetics and pay tribute to the people and places that fit together in my mind as the energy of “home”-- and where I came from.
MHM: Do you have any rituals in your daily life that inspire or influence your practice?
CBD: I pay attention to the little (but significant) things that cross my path or grab my eye-- I spend a lot of time walking and talking through my ideas which then lead to little discoveries of objects and ideas I incorporate into my work. I have a collection of feather, leaves, rocks, nests etc that I keep in my studio and draw from visually or incorporate into work I make.
MHM: Can you talk more about the process of collecting images and precious materials?
CBD: I’m a collector! I am drawn to objects and images and am very aware of the energy they give off-- I piece things together based on those energies and how it makes me feel when I look at them as well as how I think they might be interpreted by others seeing them for the first time.
MHM: When working with precious materials (old photographs and personal relics), how do you negotiate the boundary between creation and destruction? How do your decisions regarding the preservation or manipulation of the original objects reflect your philosophy on memory itself?
CBD: Many of the objects and images I am working with now were found in places related to my childhood or refer to my ancestry indirectly-- I spent a lot of time digging around in old church basements and friends’ attics in towns near where I grew up. I wanted to work with images that felt like my own but were still strangers to me in the grand scheme of things, so that the project becomes relating them to an emotion or memory rather than just taking a literal representation. I wanted to force myself to convey the emotion without being distracted by literal representation if that makes sense! Because memory doesn’t always make sense- it’s a very ephemeral thing.
MHM: What are you attracted to when you select a memory to work with?
CBD: Very rarely do I focus on a specific memory-- it’s more about the way things come together and speak to each other that makes a piece. Like memories, there are layers-- some are more clear than others. Living in the same place for a long time, people and places become palimpsests -- it is impossible to separate one layer from another.
MHM: What moments in your life have inspired you to meditate on the “plural acts of womanhood”? For example, you mention the impact that ironing has had on your communication with women in your family.
CBD: Becoming a mother was definitely a connecting point to all of the women in my life. I was suddenly thrust into this very physical and emotional things that was directly connected to my mother and all the women before me-- I felt that connection very deeply. It was around that time that I began looking at other artists that connected these “plural acts” into their work. Artists like Mierle Ukeles were directly relating this “woman’s work” to artwork and it was very inspiring. I started to think about how time had affected what women do and do not do. Ironing was always something that every woman in my family did-- except me! So I use ironing as a performative way to force myself into thinking about work and choice while participating in these actions.
MHM: You use transparent materials a lot, do you feel this relates to our psyche or the way the mind remembers?
CBD: Yes. Memories are never fully tangible or complete-- they always bleed into the known vs the unknown. It used to really bother me and lead me to start journaling at an early age. I even have a tattoo of a ginko leaf--medicinally ginkgo is used to support memory.
MHM: You refer to ‘places directly connected only to [your] childhood, yet hidden from sight.’ How do these spaces relate to the selection of and ability to work in your own studio with limited light?
CBD: I never thought about that! I guess I prefer to work with the space rather then change it-- I let the light and materials influence and inform my work organically. The cabin in my home was built in 1860 which aligns very directly with when my family immigrated to Wisconsin. Everything from the smell of the fireplace to the wood floors and walls reminds me of where my family got started-- so it ties me to home too.
MHM: Has becoming a mother changed the way you tell stories? If so, in what ways do you feel the significance of oral and creative inheritance is changing today? How does sharing a studio space with your daughter inform your work?
CBD: Ooh yes! My daughter set up her own work space right next to mine and we spend a lot of time talking about what we are making and why. She loves to try out the materials I work with and I enjoy telling her about my process and how the way I make things affects how I think others will see them. My son has always been very interested in stories relating to family, my childhood and family members. Certain stories have been told on repeat for years! But this oral history will be passed down to him and live on-- and that is a very emotional and precious thing.
Both my kids are great critics and offer all kinds of unsolicited advice! It makes me really happy to have them see me ake art along with all the other life business we are involved in-- they see that it is something I enjoy but also work that I make time for and how important it is for me to make time for that work.
[My daughter’s] work is amazing. I love how she puts things together. She wants to be an artist into adulthood and I hope she sticks with it because her way of seeing the world is so beautiful and unique to her-- I just love it.
MHM: How does the tactile nature of Constructed Memories (both in selection and transformation) influence the way you experience images before and after your process? Can you describe how they are different afterwards?
CBD: I often feel like I am guiding an image towards the way I experience it-- so the final piece represents the way I was feeling about it when I first looked at it. A work is done when it achieves that goal for me.
MHM: In what ways do you think your work preserves the heritage of the Feminine as reconciled with a shifting narrative of contemporary gender roles?
CBD: I want to share what I know and how I perceive these ideas. I hope that others feel a connection to the work in this way and that the processes speak to them of something familiar and comforting. Our narratives, and the work of women, the feminine etc, have always been layered and shifting. My work hopes to freeze small bits of it to be shared and discussed with others.
"I am compelled by memory-- both its role in our humanity and how it is constructed. Fragile and proven to be easily swayed, yet we rely on memory for evidence and validation. Each of the original photographs used in the series Constructed Memories was gathered into my possession over a course of years because I felt connected to the narratives on display. Often they were found in barns, neighbors closets or church basements-- places directly connected to my childhood yet hidden from sight. Employing transparent as well as found objects generates a collection of rituals, homesteads and heirlooms-- layered and sewn to construct meaning and documentary--creating a fabricated but still relatable memory.
Sinew is used to sew and bind an acrylic transfer of found photographs and type face onto gathered branches and ephemera. Semi-transparent and opaque materials mimic the known, unknown and the imagined."
- CHRISTINE BESPALEC-DAVIS