Work-in-Progress: Doctoral Research

Nov 29, 2012 in Inspiration

Maria Lusitano Santos
Un(memory): Performing childhood times and voices in the video essay



My practice-based research began through a wish to investigate new ways to represent childhood in the video-essay, which I found to be more inclusive of the point of view and the voice of the child. I collaborated artistically, through video, with my own child for three and a half years. When researching what other artists-parents did before me, I realised how they tended to observe and direct their young children over various years, using always the same type of directive method, and through the metaphor of childhood growth. This evoked in their projects the main trend of constructing childhood as a concept, through the standard of “childhood development”. Recent criticism to this model points out how its use of time relegates the present times in childhood, to the ones of the past, projected future, or mythical eternal time. This type of approach to time, that is present in the projects I studied, evokes the myth of primitivism, where children function as “primitive beings”, that are speechless and mute.

Since I am working within the context of parenthood, from the onset of this project I explored  my own point of view through autoethnography. In the beginning, I was particularly interested in my childhood memories. I shifted away from that when realising how, as a parent, I myself embodied, and performed in my interactions with my child, certain types of constructions of “childhood”.

Becoming aware of how I embodied conventional cultural constructions of childhood, I started recording conversations about issues such as time, memory and various constructions of childhood with other artist friends. At the same time, I continued to film and play with my son, inspired by Jean Rouch´s shared anthropology. My practice made me pay particular attention to my son’s particular subjectivity, expressed in the project through his voice formulating his own ideas throughout our recorded dialogues. But even though my child didn’t mind filming with me, I discovered that he was more interested in play or conversation, then in filmmaking. Anyway, we built together an archive of three years of videos which we watch regularly. While gathering material for the video archive, I completed three video-essays in which I explored various aspects mentioned above. These were all assembled into a larger video-essay titled un(memory).

In my video essay, I aim to present the various, complex voices of childhood, through a novel approach to the concept of time in childhood, achieved by moving away from the one expressed by the classical developmental paradigm, which presents children either in the past or in the future. Even though those types of times are visiblein the video-essay, un(memory) focuses on the present times of childhood, as the ones being lived by the child as a competent participant of the world. This approach is facilitated, I believe, by my effort to enhance my son´s presence in the project as a speaking subject that can clearly express his point of view. That is possible due to a common and powerful ground of subjectivity, which is the one provided by the experience of parenthood.