Words you never want to hear:

“The best thing about your project is the title…”

So moving on. Four main themes emerged from my first meeting with tutor Laura this week

  • Flow, and how the story might role out from an alternative anchor point from the current chronological approach
  • Loosen the sturdy grip currently in place over visual narrative
  • Use the projections more as visual punctuation
  • Weave into the project archive of Other Mothers not currently present (a necessity as I have either lost contact or time will not allow a visit)

In thinking about how to loosen narrative control (the end being to increase viewer engagement and view choosing their own navigation around the work) I’ve been looking at two artists: Christian Patterson and Martina Zanin.

Christian Patterson: Telephone from Redheaded Peckerwood

There are two elements of Patterson’s Redheaded Peckerwood which seem especially relevant to my own work.

The first is the combination of materials – archive photographs, written documents, new photography and graphics – and how it is threaded together to create both a main narrative and the potential for other narratives. Added to this is the switching between black and white and colour, different shapes and sizes of items and different placements upon the page (which, I feel, brings the empty areas of the page into the picture itself).

I think what brings these combinations together is rhythm: the documents, dotted periodically through the work, give us an insight into the mind of one or both of the killers, their education level, their age (before we find out for sure), work like a base drum throughout the book. A similar effect, though on a different note and rhythm, happens with the black and white ‘documentary images’ – of the basement, the burnt out interior and the shotgun spray for example. And the same with the use of colour. The overall impact is rather like a jazz piece.

The second element of relevance for my own work is how much is told so sparingly. I found Redheaded Peckerwood deeply scary and loaded with menace. Yet the only face you see (other than those of press photographers towards the end) is of a 15 year-old-girl. The menace is suggested throughout – the knife stuck in the wall, the died fluffy toy, the burnt out bulb, the noose-like drip of the telephone cable (two if you include the shadow). Patterson hints and shuffles, our minds do the rest.

There’s a similar use of visual suggestion in Zanin’s I Made Them Run Away, which is about a peculiar threesome – a mother, a daughter and a man who is desired by the mother but is not there. Zanin’s work again combines text (by the mother) and photography.

It again uses ambiguity (we’re not always sure whether it is the daughter or mother in the picture) and maintains an unsettling balance of menace and desire throughout (the dog’s snarling teeth and the just visible panties and innner thigh), the obscured male grabbing at a smiling woman/girl’s face or the reaching hand trapped by the car window.

And then there’s the torn images, cutting out, we presume, a male figure, a violence of sort presented in soft, muted tones across the entire work. If there is anger there (there is) then it is a cool, simmering anger. But who’s anger, or is it held by both mother and daughter? The mother, we know from her letters, desperately wants male love. She does not directly blame her daughter for scaring the men away. In her letters, is the daughter the removed presence (just as ‘the man’ is the removed presence in the photographs)? The answer here matters, because it is the start of sensing the communication gap between the two. Is this work a conversation between a mother and daughter? Or just the start of one?


Patterson, C. (n.d.). CHRISTIAN PATTERSON | Redheaded Peckerwood. [online] www.christianpatterson.com. Available at: http://www.christianpatterson.com/redheaded-peckerwood/#1.

Martina Zanin. (2021). I Made Them Run Away. [online] Available at: https://martinazanin.com/i-made-them-run-away/.

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