Monday, June 6, 2016

Tendrils of Story

Minneapolis Bridge Collapse (cropped) by Danielle Bora

I read an article in the paper recently that sounded like the outline for a book, one of those composed of separate stories that miraculously converge at the conclusion. The first story would begin with a swim trip for children. Their school bus ride home would end with the yellow school bus perched precariously at the split of a collapsed bridge, hanging half over water. It is 2007 and a bridge has collapsed in Minneapolis during rush hour. The story would focus on a handful of those children on the bus, both during and after, the injuries, the nightmares. Then it would zero in on one family with several children who were aboard that bus.

The second story would be eight or nine years later and explore the rise of ISIS and its impact on the Somali community of the Twin Cities. It would tell the story of young boys suddenly disappearing, reappearing in Syria with the intent to join ISIS, the families left behind puzzled and fearful.

Then back to the bridge, one boy in that family years later, receiving a settlement from the bridge collapse, using it to board a flight that takes him to Turkey, then Syria, funding his friends' journeys as well.

Stories surround us, but we need to pay attention. Reading a lot helps us to recognize the tendrils of story as we walk into them like cobwebs, but it was not until I was writing or painting that I seemed to encounter stories everywhere. It is like a second ghost-like world that always existed, but suddenly becomes visible.

My artwork tells stories and my starting point is to find the story. I began story gathering when I began family history research.  I've learned to step into old photos. To feel the person viscerally. Needless to say I've always loved well-written time travel because in a sense I try to step back in time through imagination. The essence of people is not so different despite our more modern conveniences.

When I went to Lithuania I began to collect stories that in turn became paintings. Some came from books, some I collected from others, some I observed and constructed out of threads. Some were fully formed, but others were poetry and vignettes, gaps left to be filled in by the viewer. I remember one of the old shops in Vilnius with Hebrew lettering on its storefront. In the dust on the window someone had written in Yiddish "You did not die, the nation of Israel lives".  As the viewer I had to identify the juxtaposition of ideas to paint the story.

 I remember the writing on the wall at the Ninth Fort near Kovno, a killing field for the Nazis. On the

I Was Here
wall were carved the names and towns of origin by the Jews held captive on the eve of their execution. It needed something more to complete the story, the sense of the person who carved it into that wall.  I had a painting of a person that I had painted over with just the ghost of the person remaining.  That became the base for the painting I Was Here. 

When I did a series on interviews with elders, I focused on their stories, looking for themes and the personal story arc that informed their life. I wrote poetry to enter their story, to feel it before I could paint it.

And my most recent series on memory loss... This returned me to the personal as I watched my mother go through that most personal of losses. Story was everywhere and told through motifs of memory jars and birthday greetings. I seem to have become more adept at seeing story and perhaps the personal is where it is most easily present. Ultimately story is how we explain and understand the world, how we step into someone's experience and feel it.

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