A Decade on: Our Play

2022 is a 10 year anniversary of my 4 Generations of Women project, which began one summer in South Bohemia. The whole project found its expression quite inconspicuously, through observation of the dynamic within the household, which suddenly and through various events, became occupied by women only. At the time I was preparing for an exhibition in London, in collaboration with my friend Roz Driscoll, an American sculptor. The theme of the exhibition was inspired by a Greek myth of Demeter and Persephone, with a particular focus on the powerful mother/ daughter relationship. I looked at the women through this lens.

It was somewhere here that the seed was planted and the project exploring the bonds and tensions between the mothers and daughters in my own female line, began to grow.

In 2012 I had no idea I would be be able to carry on the project for another decade: my grandmother was 87 already and my grandfather passed away only a few years before that. She was still in deep mourning then and I felt like a witness, standing back, observing from a distance.

The Thread Between Us, 2012

Now 10 years on I reflect on how much has changed and how much has remained constant: I have a second daughter who has joined the female line after a 16 year gap. My centre of gravity has somewhat shifted. We have relocated from London to Prague. My older daughter remains in the UK and it is now she who comes to visit us. Because of this, my sense of “being in between” remains.

The 4 generations still reunite regularly in our house in South Bohemia.

So how to mark this special anniversary within the film mythology of my very special female line?

I thought much about this and decided on a performance in the location of the summer house and the barn in particular. This is the place that has become the heart of the project. An empty stage, with a white table and chairs, evoking a domestic space as well as a theatre. I wanted to use a projection of the moving images capturing the five of us over the years, as a way of inviting the ghosts to share the stage with us.

I made costumes for us out of paper, so that they could function as fragments of a screen for the images to fall upon. I was also drawn to working with paper, firm yet fragile, because it gives a feeling of something provisional and theatrical. Clothes made of paper are not practical, or functional. Wearing them gives our performance a quality of a childhood play, a kind of heightened reality of the make believe. A space of play which is a space of infinite possibilities. And therefore future.

It feels important that the ghosts of the past are given a playground to dream of the future. I feel it helps them to become released from the rigid fixity of the past into which they are confined as soon as the present instance turns into the moment of the past, as soon as “now” becomes a recorded video image.

Here is to 4 Generations of Women and to always being able to play.

Tereza Stehlikova, 2022

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