About a transforming perception of time
A small place for a travel back in time. In basements and garrets we store our past, hidden in boxes and dusty shelves to make space for new goods which - in a certain amount of time - will also fall into oblivion. But in the rare moments we let ourselves immerse into these remnants of bygone days, we start to remember and sometimes even relive past moments, emotions and sensorial impressions.
With a focus on cities and how we might engage with its sites as well as it s non-physical aspects, I concentrated on a rather obvious feature of urban environments: dwelling. However, flats and houses do not only offer space dedicated to dwelling but also, amongst others, storing. As this project is located in the field of memory studies, I accompanied my mother and one of her sisters encountering a family's internal "place of meaning": my deceased grandmother's mansard. Invented as an external living space for servants during the 18th century in France, mansards became a popular architectural feature of bourgeoise houses in Western Europe. Each apartment building of the housing estate my mother and her sisters grew up in during the 1960s and '70s, provided four inhabitable rooms under the roof henceforth mostly occupied by adolescents. Their purpose shifted a second time when the last offsprings left the parental home: they transformed into storages shelving abandoned objects.
Story-telling: calling a space into being
As a mode of representation I chose to film the fieldwork process. Before we started with the group conversation I filmed the mansard as the chaotic place it is today, containing a vast amount of items my ancestors accumulated over seven decades. Sitting at my grandmother's kitchen table, the attic was called into being through story-telling and cognitive mapping. For the second part we climbed the stairs to the mansard and looked at material objects we talked about during the group conversation.
This research addressed the question of how two or more individuals, who have a mutual relation to a space, negotiate their differing recollections of a "site of memory". Furthermore, my anthropological endeavour is to stress the relevance space has for collectives and shared memories. Material objects have the ability to trigger memories, thus a mansard - that initially was used as living area and later transformed into a storage room - is a suitable place to conduct research concerned with memory.
Passing on oral history
Theories of collective memory and family provided a theoretical framework to address issues of recollecting childhood memories. In a situation of story-telling and ascertaining whether memories are recalled correctly or not, my mother and her sister passed on their family's history drawing on the concept of oral history.
During my research and the later phase of analysis and interpretation I decided to apply the approach of auto-ethnography. A project resulting from a collaboration with a researcher's own family that draws on a subject she or he is utterly involved in, should always target an auto-ethnographic approach. Additionally, to understand the construction of a family in the 20th century, this essay underlines the notion of the "perfect mother" to demonstrate in how far ideals might differ from reality.