Visions of Lives Past and Present
“Fragments of my father’s past lives offered what little I do know about him.” In Mark Clowney’s photo essay for Storyboard no. 02, he reflects on the legacy left by his father, and the odd similarities in their respective photography practices. After his father’s death in 2012, Clowney, whose interest in photography was growing at the time, sought out hundreds of his father’s old 35mm negatives stored in a makeshift basement darkroom of an old family home. Looking through this cache of images, Clowney was able to piece together a portrait of his father that he had never known. “These objects were the only connection to the lives he had lived before fatherhood.”
Throughout this issue, we’ve asked each of our stalwart contributors to wander in the ether of lives lived—astral and earthly, abstract and mortal. Their north star is a term born from video gaming: infinite lives. It imbues a character with a certain level of immortality; a way to live beyond their hard-coded lifespan, to cheat death.
Of course video games represent only one potential path to immortality, however fleeting. History is a reminder that the promise of rebirth or the existence of an afterlife has fascinated us for centuries. Whether driven by curiosity or, more commonly, viewed through the lens of faith, these ideas pervade collective consciousness. Reincarnation, a central tenet of many Indian religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism among them—posits that, after death, a living being’s non-physical essence starts life anew in a different body. For Christians, the resurrection of Christ affirms the power of God, while heaven and hell connote dominions beyond death.1 Islam espouses a linear concept of life, where upon death the faithful are judged by God—their deeds on earth either rewarded in paradise or punished in hell.
For skeptics, however, the physical and spiritual worlds don’t necessarily co-exist let alone align. Perhaps that’s because for so many, life in the present is a complicated enough riddle to solve.
In the stories we’ve assembled for this issue, the term infinite lives manifests in myriad ways–from generational photo archives and the stories of those who have long been marginalized in the creation of culture to the allure of historical reenactment, a process to resurrect unrealized artworks, and complicated legacies of labor, industry, and race in Pittsburgh.
For example, in a wide-ranging conversation with Sean Beauford and Brendon J Hawkins, creators of the Guest of Honor series, the topic of public trust and the shifting role of art museums offers a vital point of departure. Important questions are considered: Who controls the narratives we digest in art museums? Who are the gatekeepers of culture? How can cultural institutions be more welcoming?
In her essay about London-based artist Jeremy Deller’s contribution to the 2018 Carnegie International–a series of miniature video installations in the museum’s Hall of Miniatures–associate editor Mimi Yiu critically examines the concept of historical reenactment. Reflecting on their Fruit & Other Things project, artists Lenka Clayton and Jon Rubin talk candidly about why they wanted to bring new life to rejected artworks from past Internationals. And in an in-depth essay investigating Pittsburgh’s troubled labor history, the work of artist collective Postcommodity offers an indigenous lens on the topic.
When considering visions of lives past and present, the work of Pittsburgh-based collage artist Stephen Knezovich (external link)–whose work Overslaugh Redux graces the cover of Storyboard no. 2–immediately came to mind. Knezovich is drawn to the tactile nature of collage, to the way it connects the past with the present by recycling, reinterpreting, and reprocessing our collective printed histories. Overslaugh Redux will soon be available as part of Storyboard’s Artist Editions series of limited-run prints.
This convergence of past, present, and even future lives brings to mind the concept of anemoia—nostalgia for a time you’ve never known. I’ve often experienced this phenomenon in my own life, particularly when traveling for vacation. On boardwalks in beach towns evidence of past visitors are imprinted on the natural and man-made environments: graffiti scrawled on rocks where waves crash at high tide; hearts and stars carved in orange Formica countertops in pizza shops. Or at lake shores in tourist destinations, where you know thousands of others before you have engaged in the same rituals–sightseeing, fishing, mini golf, hiking. Does this nostalgia represent a desire to live in an era other than our own? Or could it simply be the psychic residue from a past life? Whatever the case, such moments offer a palpable sense of lives converging, tempered by pangs of sweet sadness for days gone by.
- To better visualize hell’s “topography of torment,” refer to “Mapping Dante’s Inferno, One Circle of Hell at a Time.” ↵