Roots are the places you cannot find on the map.
Some time ago I entered an art contest. It was an open call for expat artists based in Brno, and it was organised by a Brno art gallery as part of the ‘ExpArt’ initiative. The selected projects were going to be on display in the gallery.
The theme of the contest, launched in autumn 2018, highlighted the notion of ’new place’ as a chance to start over, and creation as a complex process. It read: ‘Our actions define us and therefore, with our mere existence, we shape our new home, neighbourhood or country. Making it a new place, re-moulding into our own. Two words, one concept. One new home – the Czech Republic.’
I’d had it in my mind for a while to tell a story using photographs. I already had an idea, but it was still quite rough and unfinished: I thought I’d be working on it at some point. Then I came across the ExpArt page, and ‘Oh, coincidence?’: my idea went very well with the exhibition theme. So well, in fact, that I thought I’d give it a try and, ‘worst-case scenario, I will have told a story, and I will turn it into a special project for my blog’. I started working on it.
Now, six months later, I know that my project was not shortlisted for the exhibition, so I’m at the point where I’m publishing it as a special project on the blog. So here is the concept of my work, ‘Coisas da minha vida’, and, below, a sample of photos in its final version.
A special thank you goes to Zobni, for consenting to be the subject of my project, for answering my random questions, and for remembering, after countless reminders, to bring the Chinese souvenir and the soldier statue. I knew you were the right person for this, and I was not wrong.
THE CONCEPT: ‘Creating Roots’
This project tells a story, the story of Zobni and his everyday: what it looks like, what it means, where it takes him. Zobni was born and grew up in Brazil, he lived in Brazil, Indonesia and China until, almost two years ago, he ended up in Brno.
It’s the story of one person, yet it’s also the story of all of us. We all have our own everyday we live through. While each everyday is unique in itself, all of them are defined by similar habits and feelings: the intimacy of home, the casual gestures we make without noticing, the little things we say and think to ourselves when no one is listening. Such feelings may sound trivial and obvious, but in fact, they are also the most special, most authentic of all.
To tell Zobni’s story I have photographed and put together bits and pieces of his everyday. Places, objects, memories, snippets and glimpses: that’s what the everyday is made of, and it’s where we tell our story. It’s in the familiar sights of the everyday that we experience the strongest feeling of belonging, the deepest connections that we call roots.
The notion of ‘roots’ represents life as it happens. There is where you come from, where your physical roots reside. You cannot help that or make it different: it is a fact. And then there is where life takes you, where you choose to go. Those are the places where you end up (more or less consciously) planting new roots along the way. It is as if you were carrying seeds in your pocket and, here and there at some point, you dropped a handful of them on the ground, thus forging bonds, ‘planting the seeds’ for some roots to grow.
It does not matter whether your stay in one place is temporary or long-term. When you plant a new set of roots, you do not lose or get rid of the others. They are all there. They tell your story. They tell who you are.
The reason we never truly leave a place is that parts of it come with us, and parts of ourselves we leave behind. It is a bidirectional movement that escapes our control. Everything is interconnected and life is dynamic. We never stand still, not even if we try.
Roots are the places you cannot find on the map.
THE PROJECT: The table
‘REAL-LIFE STORY: Coisas da minha vida’ consists of two parts. The first is a wooden table seen from above with photo album pages scattered all over. The photo album as a whole is a metaphor of Zobni’s life in Brno. It is a collection of places, objects, and sights he is most familiar with and fond of.
Though mostly Brno-oriented, the album also includes reminders of the other places he’s lived in: Chinese souvenirs, tarot cards from Brazil, a post-it from Indonesia. The five maps featured in the album are a visualisation of his space, his freedom, and the journey that eventually got him to Brno.
Most photo captions are quotes from Brazilian songs Zobni knows very well, which he would unhesitantly share with anyone asking for music recommendations. Coincidentally (or not), the song lyrics also go very well with some of the snapshots in the album.
Here and there on the table there are also a few blank pages. They’re there for a reason: some chapters of Zobni’s story are yet to be written.
THE PROJECT: The photo enlargements
The second part of the project includes the enlargements of seven photos from the album. The photos selected are especially relevant to the concept of the project and Zobni’s life. If you look closely, though, you will notice that the images are not whole. They look like puzzles where one or more pieces are either missing or borrowed from other pictures.
Life is a puzzle itself, where bits and pieces that shape our very existence are mixed up. We try and keep the pictures whole, but rarely we succeed. Some things we forget, others get blurrier over the course of time, and others still we simply can’t or don’t want to remember. Nothing goes completely lost, though: it just falls into secluded corners of the mind we do not access very often. That explains why we get confused.
Coisas da minha vida (1/3), 2019, mixed technique on wood, 60 cm x 120 cm
Coisas da minha vida (2/3), 2019, mixed technique on wood, 60 cm x 120 cm
Coisas da minha vida (3/3), 2019, mixed technique on wood, 60 cm x 120 cm
27 de julho, 2018, photography, 25 cm x 38 cm
Backlight, 2018, photography, 45 cm x 30 cm
Cada dia uma viagem, 2019, photography, 45 cm x 30 cm
Konec, 2019, photography, 45 cm x 30 cm
Madalena, 2018, photography, 25 cm x 38 cm
The Road Home, 2018, photography, 25 cm x 38 cm
Underpass, 2018, photography, 25 cm x 38 cm