The material and the maternal
Photography and Media research seminar
23 January 2008, Faculty of Arts, Scott Building, University of Plymouth

This was my first research presentation, giving the background to my PhD and my research study. Firstly, as an introduction to key themes and processes in my practice as an artist, I showed the films Looks Familiar, Nuclear Family, Canntaireachd, As Yet Unseen, Project, Verge (the version of Verge: Flux screened at Oddfellows Night in November 2007), and Small World.

I then introduced some recent research experiments: HairPiece 2 (7 December 2007) one of two Super16mm film loops (silent). Following a line from Verge (collaborative walking practice in liminal spaces, along the south west coastal path as it enters the industrial area of the city) to Poppies (embodying experience in the film strip through petals of wild flowers); connecting to petals of flowers from my mother's last garden... and the discovery last autumn that she had kept a relic from my childhood: a tiny satchel containing a cushion stuffed with my blonde hair. The artefacts were sewn by me from scraps of left-over material (the satchel was made of the same material as my grey school uniform in Cyprus), and a red ribbon and press-stud fastener. I was 8 or 9 years old. My mother holds the artefacts in her left hand for me to photograph, first the red and blue cushion, then the satchel. She keeps her palm flat and her fingers bent back and pressed together, as if she were feeding a horse which could snap its teeth and bite her.

In response to finding out that my mother still had these artefacts, I created two sequences of film, or ‘hair pieces’, using my own hair collected from my hair brush, household bleach, and an offcut of colour negative film which had been processed but not exposed to light so the developed emulsion was black.

HairPiece 2: the bleach removed the outer-most layer of colour to reveal a deep, poisonous green and yellow; this was more pronounced on HairPiece 1. Both filmstrips created the sensation of ‘looking through’ a screen/window into a space beyond, and the viewer became aware of the sensation of looking and seeing, and of the material texture and interiority of the projected film images.

I screened a QuickTime video I’d filmed on a stills camera when I visited my mum in her new flat in October 2007. Repeated movement: Jonni’s hands crocheting. I thought I would make a looped rotoscoped sequence by drawing the video frames with a pencil on animation paper, then filming the drawings and reversing the images to white light on dark ground.

Also, I showed some documentation of improvised performances during the two-day Daniela Kostova workshop I’d attended earlier in the month: Blue Window Drawing, filmed by Siobhan Mckeown of my hands drawing on the window in the MA Fine Art space, overlooking the horse chestnut tree, on the first floor Roland Levinsky Building at the university, in which there were several image and sound strands interwoven: blue watercolour pencil drawings - of people moving or birds flying outside - on the double-glazed glass of the window, my right hand with pencil, combined with doubled reflections of the interior; and off-screen voices in different positions relative to me and the camera.

Blue window drawing from Kayla Parker on Vimeo.

Then I showed stills from the video documentation, filmed by Daniela Kostova, of my juggling performance with three clementines, whilst wearing green evening gloves; and My Mothers’ Eyes, my face with cut-out Chromablue paper eyes (stuck to my eyelids with folded-over strips of masking tape). The contextual reference for My Mothers’ Eyes: as I made this experiment I expanded my original ‘embodied’ visualisation of Luce Irigaray’s notion of female genealogy - my kneeling and reaching down into a deep well or cave to grasp the hand of my fore-mothers, all standing on the shoulders of the previous ‘mother’ - because I could ‘see’ them all inside me like eternally living Russian dolls, peering out from the ‘interior past‘ through my eyes. In this way I contain within me the women in my family, running in a matrilinear chain down through the generations, Jonni my mother (Joan Highe), her mother Bid (Nellie ), and her mother Nanny (Lili Schneider).

Resonant theory: preliminary reading which informed my early research: Pierre Bourdieu, Judith Butler, Hélène Cixous, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Luce Irigaray, and Julia Kristeva.