I’m so happy ‘cause today I found my friends
They’re in my head¹
By Viktoria Razina
Walking around the Young Masters’ exhibition, you encounter a space separated from the rest by white curtain. When you slowly enter this provisional room, the very first thing you see are shadows. They stretch onto all the walls, taking the majority of the room. Their source is placed right in the middle – sixteen plants of different kinds, each positioned on wooden crates of various heights. When you come closer, you notice that some leaves are browned. At first you think nothing of it, but then you see that they actually have a picture on them. Photographs of the group of friends were printed on each of the brown leaves, with light shining from below accentuating their quality of a negative photograph.
They are the artist’s old friends, with whom she lost touch over the time. Just like that, once best friends are now forgotten, with only photographs as reminders of the past. Shadows, light, memory – those are the elements defying the work Today I Found My Friends by Siryne Eloued.
This is not the first time such artwork was exhibited. Siryne used the similar idea during the INTERFERENCE – International Light Art Project Tunis 2022. This art festival was hosted near her old college, which made her reflect on her past memories. Those were the good old times: just spending time with her friends, listening to Nirvana or other punk rock bands without any worry in the world. Yet, she realised she barely remembers any of those friends. She could not get this connection out of her head, as her friends started appearing there once again. But to best portray such a subject, one has to resort to the technique which would encapsulate its strangeness, changeability and temporality.
She surprisingly found many similarities between memory and printing: “Memory is a psychological printing. It imprints on us, on our brain, and neurons.” That is why this theme perfectly came together with a technique which was on her mind for some time, but now finally found a worthy subject – a chlorophyll printing.
Chlorophyll printing is a rather archaic process, and can be best described as a direct printing on the leaves, using chlorophyll as its photosensitive solution. This printing is only temporary, and after some time fades away. This experience was rather challenging for Syrine, for various reasons. She had to experiment with many different plants to discover the most ideal one for this method, as well as figure out the method itself. Should she use direct sunlight? And for how long? And when during the day? She dedicated a lot of her time answering those questions. The whole experiment even altered her daily schedule. But, maybe surprisingly for some, she did enjoy the experience, as it “forced her to connect to the physical world” as opposed to the digital image with which she usually works.
The photographs created are shadow prints – negatives, made out of shadows and light. Although those two elements are considered opposites, they are actually only different sides of the same coin. Shadow is only visible when there’s light, and light naturally creates shadows of objects in its proximity. For this artwork, Syrine had to play with them a little bit, as there had to be an equilibrium between prints’ exposure to light and then to dark.
Because of her background in psychology, she is naturally drawn to subjects that have a connection to the human psyche. There are many psychoanalytic theories about shadows; it represents physical reality but also something hidden. Everything has a shadow, and when we want to treat something we also have to treat its shadows. When Syrine started with this project, she in a way “brought her past to light”, but the bigger light you put on something, the bigger are its shadows. To incorporate all these ideas, she created an installation that is at the same time intervention: leaves with photographs inhabit plants, and plants inhabit the space, but then, there are also their shadows, which are imprinted on the space on a bigger scale than the installation itself.
Syrine chose the ivy plant for the project, mainly because of its photosynthetic abilities. Yet, out of all the sixteen plants, only one of them is ivy. The rest are different kinds, some with bigger or more shaped leaves. The ivy leaves with photographs are simply pinned onto them. This decision was made to create more interesting shadows. The plants are also on different levels on those wooden crates, mainly for the same reason, but it also works in relation to memory. Different memories are on different layers of your brain, one you remember better than the others. The same way, the photographs on the leaves disappear individually, depending on particular exposure to light or how watered they are.
There is a great difference between the impression the room, and thus the artwork, gives during the day and during the night. When you enter it while there’s still daylight, the shadows are almost invisible. You only see the pictures that are lighted by artificial light. This makes the artwork more light-hearted, when the focus is almost solely on the interesting technique Siryne used. But when you enter the space when it’s dark, with all the looming shadows coming towards you, and the unknown faces staring back at you, you discover the averted side of Today I Found My Friends.
There is also this dichotomy of the relationship between light and plants in general, and between light and the leaves with photographs. Plants usually need light to survive, to thrive, but in this case, the exposure to sunlight actually makes the photographs fade. It is then only on us if we make sure to prolong its life, or will deliberately kill it. Someone needs to take care of artwork, as the whole plant is growing and fading at the same time – one memory fading, a new leaf appearing. As Syrine put it: “In order for new memory to grow, old one needs to die”.
1] 1. Viktoria Razina: In Conversation with Syrine Eloued in February 2023. Unpublished Manuscript. All quotes are from this interview unless stated otherwise.
2. 2022.intunis.net (Syrine Eloued) No author, no date given. URL https://2022.intunis.net/siryne-eloued/
Photos by Tom Meixner