Monday, November 18, 2013

The Sullivans

When I think about representations of family life and home and my own experience of family life and home I am often, make that always, struck by how life bears so little resemblance to its fictional and documentary counterparts. Why is that? Is it the imperative of narrative and its forward momentum? The constraints of genre? An emphasis of things going to shit for the sake of 'compelling' drama? To be honest I don't really mind. I am not looking for a mirror. But recently I saw a short film Our American Revolution – a portrait really – of a family called the Sullivans made by the talented Keri Light, that did something really nice. It presented the Sullivans, writer Robert Sullivan, his wife artist Suzanne and teenage daughter, through the prism of their house and their found, collected and made objects.

The objects – a porcelain rendition of crossing the Deleware river, a dragon fly, wisdom teeth, a glass jar holding the wooden shavings of a dear friend's house, a birds nest (with eggs) found in Suzanne's family home back in Portland, Oregon, dried flowers and branches picked up here and there, home-made books, artworks and musical instruments – fill the house like a cabinet of curiosities. Robert and Suzanne recount the story of their first meeting and of falling in love twenty four years earlier, taking it in turn to add detail to the story. There was something deeply moving about the life they had made together and a relationship with home that it expresses. Robert, under the spell of Henry David Thoreou (1817–1862) describes it as the 'poetry of the everyday'. When I think on family life, mostly the pleasures of family life,  its always against the backdrop of home – how we live together sharing stories, meals, the veggie patch, music. I am describing a pretty common experience but Our American Revolution made it seem new.

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