Book Thief



Susan Francis, RESIDE artist in residence 2012, from 'Book Thief'

Susan Francis, RESIDE artist in residence 2012, from ‘Book Thief’

‘Recursion is the process of repeating items in a self similar way. For instance, when the surfaces of two mirrors are exactly parallel with each other the nested images that occur are a form of infinite recursion.’

It’s strange how when you begin to engage with a context, instances within everyday life begin to resonate, intertwine and reflect that back to you. Recently I travelled to Belfast to celebrate my father’s 90th birthday with my father and my sister, all that’s left of our family there. My sister Heather is 10 years older than me and has recently taken up writing as a pastime. When I was in her house she pulled out piece of writing that she had written recently entitled ‘The Dark Room’.
Heather was married and had left home by the time I was nine years old and before that our paths rarely crossed as she inhabited the adult life of the workplace while I was still locked in the private world of childhood. ‘The Dark Room’ described a period long before I was born when Heather was very young and lived with my parents in a rather bleak flat on a troubled estate on the edge of Belfast. Our mother suffered throughout her life with bipolar, including suicide attempts and numerous stays in hospital undergoing electric shock treatment and psychiatric therapy. In the depths of her depression she always slept in the afternoon and both Heather and I, in our own individual childhoods, played happily around our mother waiting for her to wake up. Although it was a dark time for my mother, the flat, which they seldom left, was a place of safety for my sister and her only of the view through the tall high windows was of the clouds floating by outside. During this time she would take the books down from the bookcase and build paths around the room, playing at stepping over treacherous waters while my mother lay sleeping by the fire, and this memory is at the centre of her writing.

I read this piece of writing with real emotion as a couple of years ago I was artist in residence on Reside, an online residency passed from one artist another. During that residency I hired the village halls nearby for an hour each time, with very few materials and no preconceived plan as to what I would do there. In one of these halls I took some books and this is the work I did on that day

You may want to watch the video, read the account accompanying it, and bear in mind that Heather and I had never shared this together until now.

Susan left this message last week on the post ‘A Different Repetition‘. I was very moved by her telling of this personal discovery. Here is Susan’s beautifully simple, yet so expressive video: Book Thief



3 thoughts on “Book Thief

  1. Very thought provoking. Even without reading the associated story. I viewed first and came to my own understanding. I recognised the use of available materials to enhance play. In my childhood (late 50s), constructing one’s own reality was an essential part of play and a way of investigating how the world worked.

  2. Thanks for the reply. I find play fascinating and it has emerged a number of times in my work such as in the video Polly Wolly Doodle and in an installation I once made with devices to play the game ‘He loves me, He loves me not’. The simple formula of repetition is used in so many children’s games to explore much deeper issues and emotions within, I guess, a safe structure. I remember my three year old son being told off by the health visitor as he re-enacted again and again the Twin Towers coming down, (which had been on the TV live just hours before her visit), with his lego bricks. I found it both significant at the time that he needed to do this, and that she, as adult, felt obvious embarrassment and a need to stop him.

  3. Yes, I agree, I’ve always been fascinated by play too, especially when I was playing in my own constructed world in closets or under tables or tents made from sheets and dining table chairs. I remember once, decorating the back seat of my grandparent’s car. I completely inhabited it and made it my own little moving world. I was distressed to find after awhile my grandmother cleared out all the stuff in the back which were my decorations! I love watching children play, I find it so revealing, not only in their activities and immediate responses but also in my own thoughts as I watch.

    It is curious when adults are uncomfortable when children play. I think artists and creative individuals are very fortunate to be able to keep a link to their childhood selves. Far too many people have their childhoods stripped from them or cast if off as worthless.

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