Fowkes, Maja and Reuben, INTERVIEW on the Playgrounds, in the frame of Loophole To Happiness publication
We would be interested to hear about what draws you to work with archives, and especially family archives, or your own footage?
My work is quantitive. With my work I measure time, my time. That is the reason why I go back to my old work, I reuse it, sometimes without changing anything. The work itself changes as time passes. Going over and summarizing my own history is very important to me, it allows me to think ahead and progress. It only makes sense for me to create work that is somehow related to the past.
I work with archives also because I don't want to create any more waste – I feel I don't need to add to an already crowded and congested world. But mainly, I like to remain an observer of things, I like discovering and admiring their primary elements, which interest me and lead me want to work with them. I enjoy forgetting about the other viewers and observers, yet being one myself.
There was one time when I was in possession of some amazing visual material, however I was not able to use it for my own work, because I couldn't somehow relate to it well, it was hard for me to read it. I was also slightly hesitant to work with it because it was a personal archive. Though I consider the archives of the people closest to me as my own to a certain extent. I understand them, that allows me to work with them.
My father and my grandfather both collected peculiar things related to their occupation, in terms of publications or education, or in terms of creating a collection. That's why it's probably so inherent to me to be collecting, categorizing, scoring and constantly ordering different things. I enjoy doing it, I enjoy work in the museum – discovering, compartmentalizing, entitling and making it accesible to the public. That is what I do in a nutshell.
Could you also tell us more about the images that your father took in the playgrounds of Bratislava?
Playgrounds were initially b&w negatives, which were taken by my father. I do not know what was the intention at the very beginning, he had worked on the project before I was born. He was probably working on documenting the city for his lectures on public spaces at the Faculty of Architecture. I really like this category. I would recognize places in the photographs, which I used to go to as a child, later I would visit them purely as an observer, and now I take my daughter there. My photographs show romantic ruins of the original playgrounds, which my father photographed. Today, these originals appear to be ambitious projects with very big aesthetic aspirations, since they were practically the only functional and apolitical statues in our public space at that time. Each playground was original in its own way, even if it was not in accord with safety measures (I think most of the projects were done men who had no children). I blew up the photographs and adjusted them on boards which were leaning on a ruler that belonged to my father, creating a pedestal or a shelf of some sort.
What do they say about childhood under socialism? What do they say about gender roles, such as fathers looking after children? And more specifically, why did your father choose playgrounds as the focus of his photography? What is your impression of contemporary playgrounds and can you compare the freedom of play under socialism and now?
I cannot quite compare the differences yet, that is why I keep exploring this area. While I was doing an internship in New York, I photographed another series of playgrounds there. Politically and time-wise it is a completely antagonistic environment, though it was not my intention to analyze or judge the upbringing of children in socialism or capitalism. On the other hand, that is the reality, it cannot be avoided or unseen, but it it hard to discuss it, because evokes emotions and nostalgia brought about by time. What interests me are not just the reasons why playgrounds became a genre, but mainly the strange (perhaps incidental or unintentional, but nonetheless present) atmosphere, which was surely instigated also by the fact that photographer was, at the time, a man without any children. It is a bizzare and yet a familiar feeling that many of us know – going to a playground without a child (so with the usual purpose in mind). One becomes a true outsider. Back when I didn't have any children it was a completely different feeling when I went to a playground, compared to the present, when I'm with my daughter. My father must have felt very differently too. These realities formed the character of the photographs and that is what interests me. I see a bit of Antonioni's rationale here, the Blow Upeffect, where during the postproduction you notice something more acute in the photograph than the initial intent. This is what I was thinking about when I discovered the series of playground photographs. I realized that I have many photographs with the same theme in my own archive, though in this case it was about documenting the “time passing by” or the realities when I was simply killing time, either alone or waiting for my daughter, by photographing what I was right in front of me a that time. I keep adding more elements to the Playground series, though I'm doing it more consciously now. Whether it is some sort of an obsession now, to take a picture of every playground I'm at, or a lucky chance to identify a playground from the original archives – I cannot be sure yet, if this work will read a final stage. At the moment I simply have a need to return to the same places, to choose similar spatial situations and documenting them. I think I can complete amend my father's archive this way. I still respect his criteria, and perhaps that is why I keep discovering something new, something which was not the reason why the photograph was taken in the first place. The elements I discover now were always there, though to me, they now appear to be much more significant, and would probably go unnoticed if I wasn't deliberately searching for them.