Catherine White describes her 2020 Bermuda Biennial artwork as a prologue to her life. The piece was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film that she found shortly after the death of her father. In developing the film, Catherine discovered a series of portraits of family and friends that her father had taken before she was born. The resulting insight into a day she never knew, yet longed for, led her to explore the notion of remembrance.
In Figment, portraits of Catherine’s father and mother, both discovered on that fateful roll of film, are printed onto a sheet of aluminium substrate. Hung at eye level, the result is an intimate experience that allows the viewer to join them in the frame. Whilst the reflection places the viewer in a time long gone, the coated surface of the material distorts the mirror image, mimicking the haze of memory.
Created as a way of re-connecting with her father, Figment is a quiet, emotive work, that simultaneously breaks down and puts up a barrier between the past and present. We caught up with Catherine, who lives in London where she works as an interior architect, to talk about the 2020 Bermuda Biennial and how her fine art practice strives to evoke the ephemeral nature of memory.
BNG: Figment was inspired by a roll of undeveloped film your late father had taken before you were born. What was it like to discover these photographs?
CW: It was really exciting and also a bit overwhelming. I had three rolls of film that I found and after sending them off to a specialised photo processing firm only two were viable, and then they could only develop them in black and white, not colour. I had no idea what would be on the film, so to find an entire roll of beautiful portraits of friends and family on a dreamy day out was a real gift. Seeing the world through my late father’s eyes was like being given an extra day with him.
BNG: When and how did you start thinking about turning the photographs into an artwork?
CW: Immediately I knew I wanted to do something with them. I felt that they embodied a moment as a group, so how to best translate that to other people was an exciting challenge. It was probably a year or so before I started seriously exploring what to do with them. I tend to let concepts sit a bit instead of forcing them. I have another piece I am developing from that series but in a much more intimate format.
BNG: Could you please talk us through the process of creating Figment?
CW: Two of the photographs which resonated most with me were of my parents looking directly into the lens of the camera. Possibly the one of my father was taken by my mother? I felt as if there was a moment passing between them. I was looking for a way of capturing that moment and showing it in a way that would allow me to think on what they were thinking about. With families and children on the boat, perhaps their minds had turned to a family of their own.
I started by overlaying transparencies of the portraits to represent a combined thought. The strongest representation was simple; a family portrait without me in it, but that was complete when I stood in front of it. A figment of their imagination. A prologue to my story.
BNG: You have in the past described your landscape works as “looking back from afar”. The same could be said for Figment. How does our memory of people and places alter them and how do you attempt to capture this in your work?
CW: I often focus on details or moments. Pairing the concept down to its bare bones can help the essence of the memory increase in strength or resonance. Removing the noise and focusing on the moment or detail allows me to bring you to that memory. Being often away from Bermuda and my late father creates a perspective that allows for reflection.
BNG: This is your first Bermuda Biennial. What does it mean to you to be included in the exhibition?
CW: It is an honour. I’ve grown up seeing the Biennial and admiring participating artists. This year is no different, although I am so sad I have not been able to visit in the flesh!
BNG: What are you working on at the moment?
CW: I have a few pieces I am developing, again looking back. My mother’s house is “home” and there is a certain sense of emotional safety when I look out of her windows and see her garden. I’m looking at ways of exploring that concept, capturing that emotion.
Follow Catherine White at @c_white_art