It was that time of the day again, when day light slowly fades away, the shadows deepen at the edges of the room, and the weak remaining rays that enter through the windows form small dreamlike patterns on the interior, pulsating in rhythm with the moving tree crowns outside. The edges of things seemed to become more diffuse and the curtains, bed, wardrobe, fireplace, mirror, radiator, pictures and other knick-knacks ceased to be separate entities, and instead formed a comforting, low key, fabric-like backdrop to my thoughts. It was my waiting-time, where I spent an hour or so, on my own, in the bedroom, waiting for a phone call with a report from the hospital, telling me if my mother was beating or beaten by covid-19.
On the 20th April 2020 I knew that my mother had been taken in an ambulance to hospital with covid-19. I was told that she was very ill, that she was in ICU, placed in an induced coma, attached to a ventilator that helped her breathe as her body did its best to fight the ruthless and unpredictable virus. It was unexpected, it happened fast and by the time I found out she was already unconscious. I did not get a chance to speak to her, to say and hear all those important things or hold hands. In fact, the infectious nature of the virus, as we all know, prevented me from being anywhere near her. Separated from her, in a distant place, my waiting-time began.
During waiting-time words failed me and as an artist I felt an urge to visually convey the fleeting impressions, the piercing memories and the peculiar experience of time collapsing. I developed a routine of taking one photograph each day I waited to hear about mother, to capture what was on my mind. I set clear parameters for the process of making the work, so that process would not overwhelm me. I photographed in the early evenings, somewhere in my bedroom using a smartphone camera. Without a plan, I used my intuition to direct my practice. One idea was explored each day and the outcome influenced my next move. Minimal editing was done in the camera and I uploaded each photograph to Instagram. In a way, the making of the work made me able to cope with waiting-time and making it public made the artistic process manageable.
When photographing I tried to convey our closeness, I tried to somehow find her touch in my surrounding environment, as I remembered it from my childhood.
The photographs I took were of things that I focused on, things I remembered, objects that she had made, gifts that she has given me and souvenirs from places we had enjoyed together. There was jewellery, stones, seashells, old fabrics, ceramics, fading photographs and dried flowers, a myriad of textures, surfaces we might both have touched at some point. Eventually, the compositions became quite complex, showing more of an internal world, perhaps, where things bleed and boundaries merge. The photographs were about a mother and daughter relationship, about the connection between us even when there is great distance. They are also about her in the obscurity of the shadows and the mysteries of the soft evening light.
The final piece of work is a series of 21 photographs, one photograph representing each day she was on a ventilator in ICU. In the end, I carried on photographing for about a month after she returned to me. She carried on living, and I am eternally grateful that I have been able to speak to her again and say those important things. I am also constantly aware that not everybody is this lucky, too many lives have been and still are being lost to this virus, too many families are going through harrowing times. I titled the piece of work 21 Days and when mum had been recovering for about a month, I sent her the pictures. For her, my waiting -time was time lost, a black hole, nothing. It was only when she saw the images that she realised how difficult it must have been for me. This experience made me realise that art practice can be used as a strategy to work through difficult times, that it can be used as a tool to communicate complex emotions, it can also somehow break through the silence.
About Sara Davies
My art practice explores notions of belonging, it is visualising my Anglo-Swedish experience using performance, photography, film and writing. Sometimes I make larger installations, sometimes I perform, sometimes the work is more photographic in character.
My artwork invites the viewer to contemplate what it feels like to dwell, belong and reside in the shifting political climate in post Brexit times. I enacts memories of home in Sweden that persist in her daily life in England complicating the notion of being Anglo-Swedish. My visual art work inhabits a space between languages and histories. Merging from the gaps and overlaps in translation her work is formed by diasporic touch, a kind of nostalgic handling driven by longing and loss. The work is revealing how the ideas of homogenised national identity veils a web of interwoven cultural exchanges. Through articulating the particular I am creating a sense of the uncertainty in which we all live.
In recent artworks I focus on the Dalastuga; I examine the traditional red-painted croft environment from my position in diaspora. In Sweden, this type of place is often a subject matter in historical paintings, used as front covers in magazines and frequently visible in the IKEA catalogue. The red-painted croft by the lake in the forest has, over many years, been the subject matter and the source of inspiration in my art practice. It repeatedly emerge in my art practice, fragmented, layered and unclear.