[ED. NOTE: At the Boston Hassle, our main goal has always been to encourage our community to experience art and culture in person. However, given the confusing and sometimes misleading climate of the COVID-19 era, we can no longer fully endorse this message, nor can we personally attest to the safety protocols of any given establishment. For this reason, we urge our readers to take caution before visiting any institution we cover. We also urge folks to take proper precautions and do necessary research before attending a local gallery. Please see the italicized note at the end of this article for ways to view art and support local spaces in these times. We hope that soon we can recommend, unequivocally, that our readers experience the outside world to the fullest. Thanks — BH Art Team]
On view at the Museum of Fine Arts in Rochester, New Hampshire (March 6–April 3), Sleepwalking consists of eleven still-life photographs created in tribute to artist Doug Breault’s late father, curated by Amy Marie Regan. In his mixed media process, Breault entangles digital images and combines them with physical space, questioning the nature of the construction of truth, memory, and meaning. His work combines and contrasts images of the natural world and those of electronics and artifice–light and dark, possession and forgetting–to show how the living are left to consolidate and reconsolidate memories of those who are no longer with us, and to interplay the past on future generations.
Boston Hassle: What is it like sharing personal recollections and memories through your work?
Doug Breault: It’s a tricky process for me. I find it really interesting how the further away you get from the experience the less reliable your memory becomes, and your brain can fill in the gaps and invent hazy disconnections. The translation from my personal memories to the finished image is abstracted through process, using metaphor or camera manipulations to build upon the inherited objects of my Dad. I started taking photographs immediately after my Dad passed away when I was a freshman in college, because I was concerned about forgetting meaningful places. I spent a lot of time on the ocean off of Rhode Island and in the woods with my Dad as a child. Now my work connects to memory in a more abstracted approach, leaving clues to a narrative and identity that is manipulated through intertwining fragments.
BH: Your work looks very much like a collage. What did you do to create this effect, and what does your work say about memory and the realities we create?
DB: My formal education is in painting and photography, and my early work was focused on collage which later unfolded to involve sculpture while I was in graduate school. My time studying with artists Santiago Cucullu and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons in graduate school taught me the importance of subordinating form to process, and that the concept should lead the outcome of the artwork. These photographs are assembled similarly to how I would approach collage, using paint, printed photographs, and found objects. None of the photographs in the series are Photoshop composites. An aspect of the project has been connecting to specific locations significant to memories of my Dad, either by physically working on site or using the internet to collect Google street view screenshots or low-resolution photographs taken by others. Appropriating photographs from Google searches and scouring social media platforms has been a compelling investigation into the capacity of the internet to preserve a life.
BH: You say the exhibit’s title came from “the space between being awake and asleep, reality and the uncanny”, and Freud’s idea that sleepwalkers are subconsciously attempting to return to their childhood home. What draws you to the concept of home in both the personal and popular imagination? What is home?
DB: While Freud’s theory doesn’t pan out in recent studies of sleepwalking, I think the mysticism around subconsciously returning to a place considered home conjures some intriguing emotions. I actually did sleepwalk as a child, sometimes attempting tasks like searching the fridge or trying to open the door to venture outside at night. It’s fascinating that sleepwalkers are physically moving and talking while in the deepest stage of sleep. I am a sentimental person- seemingly invaluable relics hold a lot of weight for me. I think of home as a place of comfort that extends beyond the physical structure, but ingrains those feelings into the architecture and objects. Our senses are linked to emotions and recollections of people and experiences, both good and bad.
BH: There’s something powerful about memorializing/immortalizing someone through photographing objects they owned, as a way to, as you put it, invent their identity and keep them close. How did you choose the physical objects to include?
DB: I started unearthing objects owned by my Dad that were packed away in the early stages of COVID. I was home more and was able to slow down finally. I piled his leather jacket, a golf trophy, a leather watch, his Coast Guard whistle, and other items onto a table in my studio for several weeks before I started having a plan. The photographs became an investigation in solitude that allows me to position myself within the frame, using my own body and shadows to replicate and connect to his absence.. Some of the photographs contain printed photos I took as a child or my flip phone as a teenager, held together haphazardly with painter’s tape and dollar store clamps, testing the durability of memories that are cobbled together.
BH: You said these images evolved as a result of retreating to memories of your father as a child. How does your own impending fatherhood (congratulations!) influence your relationship to these pieces?
DB: It was also early on in the project when I learned I would become the father of a baby boy this spring. This incoming new role helped continue to push a transition of seeing my parents as people beyond their role as my parents. I never got to know my Dad as an adult. This process of piecing together my ideas and second hand accounts of him from my new perspective has underlined the importance of empathy and compassion for others. This series will unfold into a different series where I hope to create photographs after my son is born that investigates this new role for me as a Dad.
The Rochester MFA is open Monday-Friday, 9 AM-4 PM.