For the first time, Bryonie and Gemma worked together collaboratively as artists to produce Holding Together, an exhibition at the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland launched in December 2019.
We discovered a wealth of papers, photographs and objects in a private family archive shedding light on lived experiences of 19th– and 20th-century Ireland. Stories pieced together from the archive touch on plantation; the family’s north-south connections and migration; its Quaker faith and later move into the Exclusive Brethren church; and the flax spinning industry in Belfast.
In Holding Together the archive is used to reflect on the fragmented and incomplete nature of memory. As each moment passes, its thoughts, feelings, words, sights and smells enter into a process of forgetting.
Throughout our lifetimes we gather necessarily shifting senses of self from this simultaneously decaying and growing mass. An archive externalises that process. It is composed of materials that have lasted through time and can be handled, looked at, sniffed and read, but it tells no more complete a story of its subjects than our memories do of us. The scraps it preserves, though, we hold on to and work to understand and put together, because the past helps to shape the present.
Fabrics, paper and photographic images from the archive are used in the artwork to gesture at fractured stories handed down from a family’s past and think about what they mean in the present and how and why we pass them on.
We invited people to bring something of their own to the launch – a photograph or letter or other small item – that conjured up something about their past. During the event, Gemma and Bryonie facilitated a conversation about what these items mean and why. Labelled photographs of each item were added to the exhibition after the launch