For this edition of Fan Mail, Mirka Laura Severa of Amsterdam has been selected from our worthy reader submissions. Two artists are featured each month—the next one could be you! If you would like to be considered, please submit your website link to email@example.com with ‘Fan Mail’ in the subject line.
Mirka’s photographic series Swallow is deeply veiled. She returned to the Czech Republic, Spain, and Germany to photograph with the intent of confronting memories. As if trying to analyze another person’s dreams, I freely associate in order to make sense of the images. But by doing that, I mostly analyze my own mind. Thinking about Carl Jung, dreams are highly unique to the dreamer and the dreamer has vital knowledge to decoding the dream–that is, all the experiences of their life. And so, the artist has a special first hand knowledge of their art. I want some memories to apply to these images, but the images feel intentionally secretive. Perhaps I can look at them as if they are tarot cards trying to send me a message.
After sending Mirka my description of her images, she replied with only a little detail.
I’m attracted to the foliage of this mountainous location, looks like Spain. Are these flowers growing under the shade cloths?
Mirka: Spain? yes.
shade cloths? yes, its a net.
Saying the word ‘swallow’ as I look through the images immediately gives basic meaning when looking at hands swallowed by a tree, a person soaking in the river, the cat squeezing through a tight space. What is this first image, a black form submerged in of water? a hand–I see a tiny bit of flesh?
Mirka: It is ink over my face.
My thoughts later as I read Jung’s ‘Man and His Symbols’: The literal reading might be the obvious truth. You don’t want us to see your face. You show us a vivid scene but not a clear depiction of your body. Ink is black; ink is text; ink is the substance of tattoos. Water is a great beauty and beast–it is seductive, refuge, baptism, cleansing, life-giving, stormy and suffocating.
This is the first figure to appear before us, covered by a palm frond–a sign of the location, Spain. The figure looks as though standing or sinking, not alive or dead. And in the next image, unneeded stuff and an overgrown bush–not sure what type of plant this is but environment looks hot and arid, central is the netted yellow ball. Seeing the poured cement roof, I imagine a quaint house above.
A mysterious cave–how is it illuminated?
Mirka: I did a installation with almost 200 grave candles in a ocean flooded cave in Spain…
In the corner of a small room, keep the pillows off the floor while you change the sheets. There’s a big guy napping in the park next to a cedar tree. Where a fish had begun to decay, there is prolific life. Some big foliage going wild behind the hotel’s dumpsters and you are stuck in the dusty little rented room. The coffee machine used by so many looks gross. Knives hang where pictures used to be, faded wallpaper in this old place. A figure in a black jacket in a shallow river just dunked their head–was it cold?
Mirka: Yes-it’s a river in czech republic-where my grandparents had a hut. The jacket is from my grandfather. He wore it when he was fishing.
Faded screen by flash–wish I was out there walking the beach. That’s a pretty cactus, but you can make it prettier with red plastic. Covered like the meticulously constructed cloth houses, red in the center like the red cave. The only other figures are two distant men–one on a tv walking alone on the beach and another napping father who appears not to see you–and a distant child. These images all seem taken in isolation. I wonder if you are the figure and if there is another camera person?
Mirka: They are all self-portraits except the guy–that is my father under his favorite tree next to a forest where we have a little hut in Czech republic-where he originally came from. There’s also one of my mom.
I am left asking myself–How do we decode a message presented to us in images alone? Does my description of your work do anything to reveal her message? Or does my looking at these images reflective the state of my own mind?
Mirka: A quote that I was accompanied by throughout the whole project is by Haruki Murakami from his novel, Kafka on the Shore. Until a minute ago it felt so real, but now it seems imaginary. Just a few steps is all it takes for everything associated with it to lose all sense of reality. And me-the person who was there until a moment ago now-I now seem imaginary too.«
Reading Dr. Jens-Ole Rey’s writing about this work tells me that Mirka’s photographic process was cathartic.
“The major part of our memories
is virtually “asleep” within us, waiting to be
“awakened” by some outer cause, in which case
we suddenly realize those memories consciously
and allow them to, once again, gain a tremendous
sensual presence. ”
“Once arrived, painful
memories can lose their terror when processed
artistically and/or emotionally.”
“Only by means of photographic fixation, Mirka
Laura Severa is able to add form and structure [to memories],
by which they are stabilized and completed.”
The images show the ambiguity of memory by being ambiguous and avoiding interpretation.
“…the self-portraits staged in detail: A
state of uncertainty between depth and surface,
between veiling and revelation, between then
and now. “
By examining the past in the same location, Mirka intentionally “projects herself on the past…”
“In the photograph which shows her
lying on the bed of her deceased grandparents,
she increases this realistic examination of her
memory by wearing her grandmother’s dress.”
“…the whole series
is divided into two parts: In her self-portraits
she (re-)constructs her memories by accurate
arrangements, in which fundamental objects of
her own past appear as props. The other photographs
show mostly vacant “spaces” …”
And by intentionally refraining from much verbal detail, she wants a subjective reading of the images and to stir the viewers’ memories rather than reveal her own.
“In analogy to the subjectivity of memory,
Mirka Laura Severa deliberately leaves the viewer
in the dark about her personal archive and
seals herself off to a concrete interpretation.
“The pictures describe moods and
feelings rather than concrete situations”, says
Mirka Laura Severa. She explicitly invites us, the
viewers, in this very moment, to share our feelings
with her, which, to return to Murakami, may
seem imaginary in the following minute.
–Dr. Jens-Ole Rey
A Museum Of Things
The work “Swallow” consists of 74 image in total, which were made into a book and a small edition of handmade analog c-prints with sizes raning fom 80/70 to 110/75cm.