I remember the moment my mother announced she was leaving, sitting in the back of a car with my younger brother; perplexed, being told how things were ‘all for the best’. I remember the feeling of aloneness and of sudden separation. As a child I would often climb up the biggest of trees to physically feel at peace, away from what seemed like the emotional turmoil below.
Only after a spell in later life and a subsequent struggle with depression, in the past 5 years I have started to tackle all this in my art , starting with a moving image work named “Empty House Studies.” In this sequence of performative actions, I re-enact small vulnerable moments, gestures and actions that can take on an extra and deeper level of meaning.
I remembered an instance from years ago whilst working with a severely mentally Ill elderly man who was institutionalised and he could only do up the buttons on his shirt whilst listening to a particular Mozart piano concerto. This small action and gesture opened up a key to his past as a musician. More recently, I have thought of this when looking after people with Dementia. It is the key actions and and gestures that we hold onto to the end.
The “Studies” are situated within different spaces in an abandoned house. One particular piece involves an old silver cross pram which we used for my first newborn son. I re enact the actions I used to perform daily, to rhythmically rock our baby to sleep. Repeating these gestures years later, transforming into a sense of loss, pathos and the passage of time.
Another action takes place on the top of some stairs remembering as a frightened child, witnessing a violent argument between my parents and taking my mind off it by drawing on a wall, making large shadows with my hand in a shaft of light. I perform the ritual of washing up and preparation, which becomes a gesture of quiet calmness throughout life amongst emotional upheavals . Each sequence is a gesture from a lived experience, and how these gestures let fears and facts of our lives escape.
Rowan Hull 2022.