Translating Hiraeth is the second in a series of video installation works which uses the affective or emotional fields
held within silence to investigate the complexities of (re) stor (y) ing personal narrative. The first Mother. Mary Martyr.
Fy Mam Mair Merthyres reframed the bureaucratic process of 'closed adoption', and engaged with the body and pre-verbal memory.
The installation suggested a palpable sense of (dis) location besides a visceral (re) connection to the maternal. In Translating
Hiraeth I have extended Fy Mam. Mair. Merthyres to negotiate the bodily issues of familial and cultural (im) placement in
an attempt to address the complex and ambiguous process of 'translation' when (re) stor (y) ing the self across disrupted
and dispersed identities.
Working with an archaeological
sensibility I use contemporary letters, perceptions and reflections to expose the emotional tensions held within the past/present.
Through the exploration of family and social silence the work draws on these other narrative positions to negotiate a relational
text which falls somewhere between transgression and empathy. By working with particular issues and showing the different
emotional viewpoints I am not working towards a definitive resolution, but rather attempting to expose the broader underlying
cultural dynamics at play which impact on individual lives.
I will examine the apparent
dialectic between the necessity of story and the politics of privacy. I am interested in the psycho-social processes at play
- the influence of 'the social' on the telling of story at a particular historical moment - what can be spoken, when, where
and to whom, and how this in turn impacts on the individual's emotional well being.
Judy Durey is currently completing
a PhD through the School of Arts at Murdoch University. She was adopted under the British Closed Adoption Scheme in 1951, and has a particular interest
in the area of Adoption. Her work is interdisciplinary and addresses loss, and the process of (re) stor (y) ing disrupted
and dispersed identities. She is a practising visual artist and a former nurse.
Paper - (Re)stor(y)ing Disrupted
Identities: Privacy and the Public Voice.
Stories move in circles. They don’t move in straight lines. So it helps if you listen in circles. There are
stories inside stories and stories between stories, and finding your way through them is as easy and as hard as finding your
feel at home is to ‘know’ those stories - to incorporate them
within a sense of be(longing) - to know one’s place in the world. The above
quote originated in a play entitled “Coming From a Great Distance” and was performed by A Travelling Jewish
Theatre. In our itinerant and fragmented society it is story which connects our lives over time and across space to a
network of people, and particular events. What information could be more particular than the situatedness of one’s birth, the knowledge of one’s mother, father, siblings – and the stories of connection
to their cultural background? “If people’s stories are destroyed they wander dispossessed on the fringes of other
people’s stories” – listening.
White Cameleon (1991) Christopher Hampton writes: “Perhaps the person with roots takes them for granted, while the person
with no roots whatsoever is vividly aware of them, like some phantom ache on an amputated limb.” Gertrude Stein wrote: “It’s great to have roots, as long as you can take them with you”. As migrants we talk about putting down roots. Perhaps these statements raise more questions in relation to silence and family
separation. Is identity something that we know/and/or feel? How is it related to notions of home, affiliation, place, belonging,
itinerance, loss of “origins”, and silence?
a world full of displacement, boundary crossing, complexity and multiplicity, there are many who feel a need for (re)connection
at this present time. I would argue that for those who have been separated through silence from their “original”
family continuums, this contemporary feeling of dislocation is amplified. Within most cultures, a sense of ‘biogenic’
relatedness, within story, filtered across time, links people, places and pasts in a way that is full of corporeal meaning.
In other words it ‘matters’. It adds a particular density to our
personal point of reference, within a shifting ‘locale’. Without such knowledge, I believe, we cannot fully answer
ourselves the now clichéd existential question, ‘who are you and where do you come from’? For many there is a yearning within the notion of be(longing) which sits outside the verb to be. It is
the excavation of this silence which feeds the project of (re)stor(y)ing. To be, is to come from. Our understandings of the
past feed into our ongoing, life long revisions, and constructions of the self – our identity.
and secrecy go hand in hand. As past social policies are reviewed by historically and culturally locating them from within
current thinking, we understand that they were shaped by the ideologies and practices of their time. But there is also a present
cultural determination, and a political correctness as to which silences from the past can be brought into public consciousness, and who may speak about them. Secrecy about one’s past is disempowering and for disempowered individuals,
finding a voice is therefore a vulnerable act of empowerment, and is necessarily tied to recovery. The telling of story is
also the social medium through which we empathise, and share our humanity.
the context of this conference I feel most qualified to focus upon the
(re)stor(y)ing process for those who were placed under the ‘closed adoption scheme’. The (re)stor(y)ing
project as I see it, encompasses the interrelationship between reconstructing the facts of the story, and ‘physiologically’ and emotionally incorporating
them into a more embodied sense of self, through lived experience and a meaningful kinaesthetic ‘creative’ process.
Knowledge as objective meaning making in terms of positivist research is more about provability and facts, whereas knowledge
in this context is more about making sense of the experience through experience. And more embodied research process has been
developed through the interrelationship between experience, practice and theoretical inquiry.
Translating Hiraeth is the second in a
series of video Installation works, in which I use the affective or emotional
fields held within the silences of adoption
to investigate the complexities of (re)stor(y)ing personal narrative. The earlier work Fy Mam Mair Merthyres
reframed the bureaucratic process of ‘closed adoption’ and engaged with the sensory body, and the time prior to
language – the pre verbal. This piece was inspired mainly by the emotional intensity and sensory responses I experienced
when I returned to my (birth) mother’s house in Wales. Through the work I attempted to create a palpable sense of (dis)location besides a visceral (re)connection to
the ‘maternal’. In Translating Hiraeth I have extended the focus of the story to try and articulate bodily
issues of familial and cultural (im)placement. This piece includes the discovery of my birthfather’s family.
Here I was given excess of language in the form of family stories, politics, and even another language which resonated, yet
was ‘other’. We shared an intimate relatedness, yet, I had no prior
life experiences which connected me to my family’s, stories, place and their particular culture.
the domestic front adoption is now seen as the most ‘extreme form of out of home care’ and is mostly supported by a policy of ‘open adoption’ with ongoing contact between the birth
parents, their children and adoptive parents. However there are many people searching for their families of ‘origin’
who were adopted under the past ‘closed’ system, including Aboriginal people, many of whom were adopted into white
Australian families, and an increasing number of
adopted people from overseas who may never have access to information due to circumstance. There are of course particular
differences within all of these and it is important not to collapse these experiences together, yet there are also similarities
and points of recognition between all of them. There are also issues that
will resonate across many other areas of family separation where there has been silence.
Whilst drawing from my broader research project, I reflect on the interrelationship between my own adoption search
and what I would call an embodied art praxis, where a ‘participatory understanding’ or ‘connected doing’ combines with a deeper inquiry. I will draw on aspects of the creative and reflective
process as I touch on some of the critical thinking which has emerged. Through the interdisciplinarity of the project, I extend the use of art as a ‘radical’ and necessary device to understand and question the experience of the process itself.
there is a history of erasure and a need to reconnect in the present, a process of (re)membering forward has to come into play. By putting the missing pieces of story together, art as ‘performance’ can help to materialise the past, and help to incorporate new information about identity into
an ongoing sense of ‘self’. This phenomenological and cognitive integration of personal story is, I believe, an
important aid to emotional and mental wellbeing.
the area of research, Donna Haraway insists on a “vulnerable…situated… embodied nature of vision”,
opposed to the authoritative, objective “view from above” (1991:
188) or “the conquering gaze from nowhere” (1991: 196). Working
with the body and validating ‘the emotional’ as agency within the
(re)stor(y)ing project, offers a sense of empowerment to those involved, whilst in the broader context it acknowledges the role of emotion as part of our meaningful communicative social practice. It acknowledges the publicness of emotional
interaction, and the important relational aspects within and when sharing individual stories, that are crucial to the wider
empathetic process. Whilst contemporary ideology can shift past power bases,
it also paradoxically has the power to relocate silence in the present. I have found that there is much in contemporary identity
politics and abstract theory that doesn’t sit easily with the material life experience of adoption, at a practical level.
this paper, I would like to draw aspects of cultural studies and scientific research together, and I have divided the (re)stor(y)ing
project into two areas of embodied ‘understanding’. The first
area has to do with the
process of making sense of, and acknowledging the experiences associated with the prior ‘relatedness’ to, and subsequent separation from the mother, before adoption. This time has to do with sensory perception, where responses
are recorded according to the flow of positive and negative affect.
a developmental psychologist, Daniel Siegel (1996)(1999) points out, drawing on Larry Squire’s earlier work that this early form of memory is ‘non-declarative’ or implicit, and
involves the direct encoding of emotional , behavioural, somatic and perceptual experience into non-linguistic representations.
These are laid down as early pre-symbolic cognitive representations. Siegel maintains that these early interactions are not only associated with security and survival (Stern: 1985), but form the foundations of attachment, through an early “mutual attunement”. This enables an ability to thrive emotionally, and according to Siegel, lays the groundwork for future dyadic relationships (1996). The adopted adult has no remembered language
for their earliest experiences as they fall into the ‘pre-verbal’
search and at reunion, the adoptee can experience intense emotional responses which are difficult to place and put language to. I believe the creative arts, using a range of sensory triggers can help to make sense of the past, and help to facilitate
a process of putting language to their emotional experience. Undoubtedly for some, feelings of ‘recognition’
and loss enable a motivation
and caring to connect at a deeper level.
second area of ‘understanding’ or connection, in the (re)stor(y)ing process appears to be an inversion
of the first, but has more to do with the cultural issues of reconnection, or (im)placement. I believe, the wider the
divide between the birth family culture and the adoptive family culture, the harder the (im)placement process is for the adopted person at reunion. As a result of past silence,
there is often an excess of language at reunion in terms of the ‘new’
story, family mythologies and perhaps a different language. The adopted person
is presented with ‘new aspects of story and new ‘particular’
facts about identity which they may not ‘feel’ attached to initially, but know they are part of in a bio-genealogical,
intergenerational sense. At a bodily and sensory level they may feel a strong connection, but
have no remembered life experiences to link ‘new’ cultural
information to. Creative kinaesthetic devices are very valuable when (im)placing oneself within the ‘new’ familial
and cultural story. However welcoming the family may be, the adopted person is
initially an intimate stranger to their closest ‘blood’ relatives, and an outsider to the family culture and sense
of shared history. The corporeal realisation of being part of the ‘biological’ family social history as well as
having the intimate experience of the adoptive family, but without being part
of their intergenerational history, I believe, situates the adopted person in a
version of Homi Bhabba’s third space, or his notion of the in-between. (1994).
interacting with the new environment in a creative and meaningful way, phenomenological associations can be made by connecting
particular ‘events’ in the present to new significant others, family
‘monuments’, places and their pasts. I found the creation of simple
ephemeral memorials not only enabled a more embodied understanding of the past, it also provided an experiential hook, in
memory, to hang new information on in the future.
This can take the form of a simple creative ritual - even an arrangement of stones documented by a photograph, video
or drawing, or a piece of automatic writing performed at chosen family sites.
Any intentional, creative act associates a range of different sign systems, movements and sensory affect with new meaning,
and will registe a ‘dispositional representation’, or personal associative
memory, which links ‘new’
people, places, and past events.
points out that there are at least three types of cognitive representations which interact to form an associative memory.
They are the symbolic linguistic or semantic meanings associated with words,
the symbolic pre-linguistic which take the form of images or ideas, and the pre-symbolic which has to do with sensation and movement. In this sense
the performative or creative ‘ritual’ in the present, becomes a physical repetitious act of (re)connection between
the self and the ‘original’ family story.
Research shows that when past silences are lifted, for many adopted people the desire to reconnect in some
way is very strong and does not in itself reflect any failure in the adoptive relationship. In Let the Offspring Speak, Margaret McDonald refers to the desire for contact with the birth family as a “basic human
need” (1997:123). Philosophically it may be difficult to identify what is meant by this “basic human need”.
Yet in ‘real life’ terms adoption search can develop an intense emotional focus of desire for both the mother
and adult adoptee.
‘the emotional’ has been left outside serious research, in fact social
policy and institutional knowledge in general has been based on rationalist
models of the human subject dating back to Enlightenment thinking which associated ‘the emotional’ with
irrationality, the ‘hysterical’ female body and the pejorative.. Drawing from a range of disciplines, I am interested in our cultural interpretations of ‘the emotional’,
and the connections between, creative activity, perception, silence, memory, meaning making and agency.
the Enlightenment theories, it now seems ironical that science is linking emotion to rationality, and I believe in this context, throwing new light on some of the
processes involved in adoption restor(y)ing. Neurobiologists are even investigating the connections between emotion, memory
and decision making (see Demasio 1994; LeDoux 1996; Kandel in Day (1995), Kandel & Squire 2000). They are looking into
the emotional meaning of stimuli, particularly those associated with anxiety, and how different neural systems are responsible
for registering different emotions. LeDoux (1996) examines research linking our ability to have unconscious emotional reactions
based on past experience, and our ability to store unconscious emotional memories. This fits with Psychoanalysis. Freud’s
interests in the unconscious originally began from a biological standpoint but he was unable to verify his ideas with scientific
data and moved towards his theory of psychoanalysis. There can be no fixed structural notion of individual selfhood that science
can definitively know, as ‘the social’ constantly interacts with the biological body within the ongoing processes
of life, just as we, as social subjects react in a relational way to the world,
and those around us. Yet, Antonio Demasio (1994:165) elaborates on the connection between the body, emotion and reason with his “somatic marker hypothesis”. He says, there is often a physical body
signal, a ‘gut feeling’ accompanied by heightened emotion and visceral feedback from the body, which comes into play to warn us against making poor cognitive choices,
within our social environment. Within the context of this discussion these ‘gut feelings’ could also be registering past sensory connections
Eric Kandel is a psychoanalyst, trained psychiatrist and neurobiologist working at Columbia University.
He is renowned for his work on the “biology of memory”. In 2000 he won the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his work
in uncovering the neurobiological mechanisms within the conversion of short term memory to long term memory. He has been working
with ‘implicit’ memory storage and the unconscious recall of perceptual or sensory responses, to provoked anxiety.
Kandel has also been working on ‘explicit’ memory which involves the conscious recall about people, places and
things. Both types of memory storage work at a cellular level which has to do with protein synthesis. Extreme positive and
negative affect enhances the release of what is called a neurotransmitter at the nerve sinapse, intensifying the registration
of a significant event. Kandel’s work is relevant to both aspects of this restor(y)ing project. His work also draws
the neurobiological domain into the area of social inquiry.
we can link this information to the earlier research mentioned, which indicates that early experience for the infant is linked
to strong feelings of survival and security. This early pre-verbal experience is registered at the level of affect. The separation of the infant from the mother results in the loss of all sensory connections between them,
or the ‘mutual attunement’ mentioned earlier. If we assume that strong
inhibitions can develop at any age to prevent memories of traumatic events from coming to consciousness, the trauma due to
the loss of the mother and associated affect, might be seen in light of neurobiological
research, to be part of a network that has come to be linked to neural mechanisms associated
with strong feelings of anxiety about separation. This may help to explain the heightened experience, and at times the range of emotional reactions which are difficult to
put language to, which are associated with search and reunion, The sensory ‘recognition’ and intense feelings of loss might suggest a rekindling of the initial trauma.
Bracha Lichenberg Ettinger (1995 ) describes the connection within utero and after the birth, as “a liquid out of focus relatedness where there is a sensory interaction and exchange of psychic
affect …. a palpable visceral relatedness”. When putting stories together about early separation and subsequent
reconnection, the intense emotional, temporal collapse within the past/present makes sense in psychoanalytic discourse, the field of neuroscience, and contemporary theory.
has been written about the intensity of search and reunion (Verrier: 1993), (Sorosky, Baron and Panor: 1978), (Lifton: 1979,
1990, &1994),(McDonald:1997, 2001) to name but a few, but little has been written
which specifically helps unravel the emotional complexities at a level of ‘practical
consciousness’, - in a way which helps make sense of the
experience and the (re)stor(y)ing process through the body.
Reunion experiences vary
widely. Some adopted people experience ambiguous feelings of loss
and euphoria - somatic resistances registering both simultaneously. For a few
there may be a detached denial. For some the prior ‘relatedness’ may have been idealised during search, tapping
into an ‘infantile’ desire to recover the initial loss, which of course, can never be met.
social silences are uncovered, the lack of knowledge about the self may also feed feelings of disempowerment and a political
need for agency. At reunion emotional euphoria, sensory connection and
apparent physical similarities can be a strong force of attraction. Although physical resemblance, shared mannerisms and other similarities in themselves, do not necessarily guarantee future
relationship or a strong sense of belonging, particularly when there is a large cultural divide. Cultural expectations and
romantic media representations sometimes influence imagined ‘fairytale’ outcomes. The multiple issues are complex
and for most people lasting relationships have to be developed over time through building on a shared sense of experience.
creative practice can play a very useful role in the continuing (re)stor(y)ing process, by becoming an ‘act’ of
translation which helps to make sense of experience. By working with local issues and tensions held within the story, and
using emotion as a generative core and a key to the creative or performative work, connections can be made which enable a
more embodied understanding to be reached through the kinaesthetic or physical process of a connected doing, thus combining the body with material and
practical processes associated with new cultural meaning. Conversely when there is denial, or difficulty in feeling deeply, the function of art with a level of motivation and caring may help restore the pulpability of the experience.
with any translation there is always loss- it is never complete. There is no certain achievement, unified truth, or definitive
answer. The American poet Lyn Hejinian writes, “To place a work in translation is to place it in transition and to leave
it there unsettled”. In adoption (re)stor(y)ing, the act of translation is always felt through degrees of transition.
I discovered my father’s family near the slate quarries of North Wales, I felt a stronger cultural
divide. They warmly welcomed me into their community, yet it was a very different experience from the earlier ‘easier’ reunion with my mother’s
family in the South, where we had more in common, and also shared a strong physical resemblance. In the North, Welsh was their first language and their strong political, nationalistic sentiments
highlighted my English upbringing beside the negative aspects of their history.
This strange dichotomy led me to examine the complexities of familial
and cultural (im)placement in more depth, and to appreciate the value of creative acts within the complex processes of reunion across wider cultural
Thomas J. Csordas (1999) discusses the nexus of culture and experience as a standpoint of being in the world, requiring what
he calls a “cultural phenomenology” - the process of synthesizing the immediacy of embodied experience with the
multiplicity of cultural meanings and possible interpretations. For me, the Welsh language resonated, was beautifully melodious
and yet remained “other”. For my ‘new found family’
it underpinned notions of cultural heritage, nationalism, politics, collective identity, and story. By way of response, I
decided to work with Welsh words in a physical way. This created new relevance for me as I associated myself with various
family sites and cultural monuments. Using the simple performative act of filling cloth sample bags with available material,
such as earth, sand or slate, I then labelled each bag with a chosen Welsh word, videoed it, and left it there. In this sense the ‘simple ritual’ which I suggested earlier in this paper became a bodily act of translation into
the narrative, which tried to access the past through a compensatory performance within the present. For me it was a concrete
way to approach aspects of the family story and language.
describe the project at length is beyond the scope of this paper but three poignant words
were “cof”, “hanes” and “hiraeth”. “Cof” means memory and was inscribed
onto every family grave, whereas “hanes” means story. I worked with the word “hanes” at the slate quarry where many family
members have worked over the years. The grave stones at the family chapel were made from local slate, which came from this
same quarry. The word “Hiraeth” was inscribed onto one particular grave. ‘Hiraeth’ is an old Welsh word meaning something like longing or
yearning for. But I was told there was in fact, no exact translation in English
for this sentiment, which I thought poignant. Here it was evident that translation does bring you closer to something, but in Lyn Hejinian’s words, it also “catalyses one’s own otherness”
– there is always slippage.
Naomi Quinn and Claudia Strauss (1994) use ‘schema theory’ and ‘connectionism’ to examine how we distinguish
between an explicitly remembered or “familia type of situation” and a new cultural situation. Schemas are cultural
understandings that have come to be shared to a greater or lesser extent without being universals. In adoption search and
reunion the “familia” situation takes on new meaning when connecting with immediate relatives for the first time,
in a linguistically different cultural setting. Quinn and Strauss (1994), (1997), Seigel (1999)
talk about how we make sense of a new situation based on our previous
experience, which includes the linguistic, cognitive connections we make, plus the sights,
smells, sounds and so on, that go with that experience.
say, schemas are well learned, but can adapt to new or ambiguous situations in an ‘improvised’ guided way to determine
the differences and similarities of a new situation. Here we can refer back to Eric Kandel’s work on explicit memory
storage about people, places and past events.
emotion and caring come into how any new situation is approached and affects how it is registered. “This caring and motivation enacts some cultural understandings more than others (Quinn & Strauss,
1994: 290 )”. This motivation, emotion and caring is crucial to (re)stor(y)ing
family narrative and to the (im)placement project. As we know emotional
arousal during or after an experience strengthens the neural connections that result from that experience (Kandel & Squire
2000: 172). This alters the neurochemical environment, in which the relations, among the features of those experiences were
encoded, and render the mental representations of those associations stronger, than they would have been, had s/he not cared
so much about what s/he was observing or, in this case ‘creatively’ doing.
Similarly, philosopher, Merleau-Ponty (1962) suggests culture
does not reside only in objects and representations, but also in the participatory
nature of perception and the embodied processes of the experiencing self. He
talks about the intentional threads that trace the connections between ourselves and our worlds. I think this intentionality
highlights the relevance of the private, simple, ephemeral memorials mentioned earlier. In this context, our emotional responses
and creative constructions within the (re)stor(y)ing environment become a productive
and meaningful act of healing.
As I pointed out earlier, there are stories within stories and stories between stories. The personal story is always relational and therefore joined to other
narratives, and by extension is situated within a wider familial,
social, historical and cultural context. The renegotiation of narrative is an ongoing process rather than a certain achievement. “We excavate the different aspects
of the personal past which by its nature is also part of the biographical landscape of the family” (Hansson, 2000 ).
By exposing the personal past, we also in turn, reveal details about other lives. When dealing with past social silence, the act of translating the self within the (re)stor(y)ing project falls somewhere
between transgression and empathy, and is a process which ultimately relies on integrity.
To conclude I want to return to the title of the video, Translating Hiraeth. If ‘translating
the self’ is a necessary ‘act’, or performance of passage, and ‘Hiraeth’, the desire to understand something that, due to silence and
cultural difference is not quite translatable,
the broader research
project interrogates the elusive nature of that
‘performance’, to examine the processes of embodying
‘new’ aspects of identity. By working with emotion through informed material practices of creative production,
we can enable ‘new’ knowledge, towards deeper understanding and wellbeing, at a level of ‘practical consciousness’.
In adoption, to (re)story the past, as our present lives continue to become story, is to acknowledge identity
as occupying a fluid position within and between the many narratives of our experience
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