Kristen Mary Sweeney
At eight years old, with only a day’s notice, my Mother told my older sister and me to pack our bags because she was leaving my Father. I had little relationship with my Father, until now. Before I had a chance to resolve my feelings about him, my Father met an untimely death. I was bewildered, and confused. I had no idea how to mourn a man who had barely been in my life. However, the day of his memorial, something changed. Instead of feeling upset or angry, I noticed that I was curious. Curious about the man he was, and had been, curious about his Mom (my grandmother) and his 17 siblings, curious about what led him to drink himself to death, and curious about how I fit into any of it.
To satisfy my inquiries, I turned my camera, first on myself, and then on other family members. I had always suffered from a huge disconnect from my Father. After his passing, I came to realize that this disconnect also existed in my relationship with my entire family. Realizing that I was not alone in this disengagement with family, I sought universal truth within the ideas of death of family, and the tradition of the family portrait. I started by taking the only tactile piece of my father I had, his ash, and creating self-portraits with them cloaked upon my face. I wanted to feel something for my father, an intimacy, a grief, and most importantly, some sort of closure. I next investigated my relationship with my living relatives. Before his memorial, it had been years since I interacted with my father’s side of family. How, I wondered, would these people react to my reemergence into the family? By posing despondently next to them, I monitored how they reacted.
My work exposes my personal story, but it is not about me. By using myself in my art, I explore where the individual fits within the family structure; in today’s society where the idea of the nuclear family has almost grown extinct. Recently, I have been presenting my work in installations; disbursing family relics through domestic rooms. My work chooses to explore the more “realistic” and less idealized view of family. By opening my private life, I allow viewers to contemplate what goes on behind closed doors in their own families.