JENNIFER LONG: MENDED LEAVES
A curator and a care-giver in conversation
A long sleek grey table is covered in dozens of photographs of over-sized leaves. Look closer, and you’ll find the foliage appears layered, like a patchwork quilt. A pair of golden paint-by-numbers looking leaves sit nestled against each other; a broad, dark green leaf bears at its centre shingles of teal, seafoam, and ochre; a flower sits afire in scarlet, crimson, and marmalade.
These pieces are part of Jennifer Long’s series, Mended Leaves, the most recent entry into her decade-spanning lens-based consideration of motherhood, caregiving, and community.
At home in Toronto, the photographer shares her work with Peppa Martin, a visiting Vancouver-based gallerist, writer, and curator. The conversation flows from photography to family, care-giving, the pandemic, and how it has all shaped Jennifer’s current art practice.
“The artwork evolved as I circled close to home, walking through my neighbourhood as a way to reclaim public space during the lockdowns.”
“While on these excursions I collected petals and leaves and upon returning home these tokens were pressed in books, placed in vases, or laid out for immediate intervention. Using on-hand art supplies, I began exploring ways to transform the foliage through repairing tears, matching and re-imagining colours, and other such experimentations. These instinctual and meditative explorations gave me time to reflect on the experience of mothering during a period filled with unease, when time bent, stood still, and stretched in unfamiliar ways. I was altered by the act of care-giving during this time and those I provide support to were also affected. It led me to consider how the balance of self-care and giving of oneself is fundamentally tied to communication.”
Jennifer explains that the project began with her daughters.
“My idea was that we were going to collect leaves and use old art supplies to mend them. The girls lasted maybe 30 seconds and walked away,” she jests.
While her daughters weren’t as enthused about the project, it allowed Jennifer to consider “what happens when you’re care-giving, and what’s the effect of your care-giving on someone else.” For her, the pandemic’s disruption of daily life opened up space to meditate on the transformative capacity of care-giving, and family life.
"Through a Feminist lens, I work with constructed narratives that are inspired by the quiet moments in women’s lives where seemingly nothing (and everything) occurs."
“I think it’s interesting being a photographer,” Jennifer says, "documenting your family, and being aware that what you’re documenting can shift the way your children remember their experiences.”
For Jennifer, her photos also capture the tactility of memory. “Gravel on legs after a fall, or the hair on the back—those are the sort of details that I come back to. It’s small details. I never come back to the whole story.”
It’s these sensory experiences that feel most special to her as a parent, and not the major life moments that you’d expect. “Something amazing could have happened and all I’ll remember is ‘[my daughter] had a skinned knee that day.’”
"I am especially interested in the complex emotions that underlie these mundane points in time. Themes of vulnerability, growth, and community are explored within my practice as I examine daily life and my rituals within it."
Sometimes she finds herself in periods where she’s documenting her family life very actively. Other times, she will take snapshots of quick moments. In other situations, her work is based on “something I’ve snapped on my phone and then I get the girls to recreate it with me later.”
It's clear that Jennifer’s images are made (and remade) in conversation with those she cares for; the photographs aren’t something she takes of her family, but are instead made with them, again echoing themes of motherhood, care-giving, and transformation. “It changes… how they relate, the dynamic with each other, and with you,” Peppa comments.
Peppa notes, “I think it’s really important for daughters to see that you can work creatively in tandem with care-giving. You don’t have to forego your identity entirely for the family.”
“That’s a huge point,” says Jennifer. “One of the things I did find a lot during the pandemic [was that] it was very clear what my husband did for a living. Whereas I would be seen simply shifting through photos. I found I had to be very clear [in] articulating, this is my work, this is what I do, you just can’t always see it.”
Find Jennifer Long's work featured in our Winter 2022/23 issue, BOTANICALS.
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