Ashlee Conery, Curator, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2016
With the rhythms of memory and decay, Humphreys' work lulls us into nostalgic melancholy. As the once numerous ‘Boomer’ generation is beginning to slow, and their children are confronted with a role reversal in care and attachment, his artistic practice since 2012 has emerged in situ of this changing dynamic.
In Suspended Monologue (2012) tightly framed gestures move at snail speed, hands emerging from dark and obscured masses, dragging flesh tones across the screen. Every movement orates an otherwise silenced exchange. The slow pans of Living Room (2013) reveal fireplaces trimmed with ceramic dogs and a scattering of family photos dusted to doll-house perfection. Though Humphreys' videos avoid the whitewashed and pale blue medical environments that often accompany age, inserted as if occurring overheard, are dialogues alluding to the medical realities therein. These dated domestic settings gracefully stage a juncture between home and memorial.
The images Humphreys selects and their accompanying discourse are recognizably personal. Memory Theatre (2016) layers clips of previous family gatherings in a now empty garden, defining with a sense of absolution distinctions between past and present. The garden once full of the bustle of family and pets is now still enough for birds to enter almost undisturbed. This is indicative of a natural order - cycles or reproductive activity proceeded by lulls, the entrance and inevitable exit of all things. A battle between fear and peace pervades all of Humphreys’ works, the fear of forgetting, the fear of a last time. Goodbye (2010-2013), awarded a place in Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2014, chronicles 96 goodbyes taken at the end of visits to his visibly ageing parents. A response to the predicted decline of his father, suffering from dementia, his trepidation is palpable as the camera follows his line of sight, continually turning back for last looks.
In the context of New Contemporaries’ Humphreys' work stood out as distinctive of his generation. Economic realities being different from those of their parents, arts grads are entering school later, with immediate family already in the final stages of life. They begin their careers when they are already care takers. What is visible in their work is a concern for showing the past in the present, making conscious recordings of intimate exchanges for posterity. A singular focus on potential futures or the future present, was the luxury of a different economy in a different time. The seemingly unavoidable realities facing those destined to remain on this planet another 50+ years, are manifesting in two ways: the customary envisioning of current technologies future potential or demise, and a nostalgic self-positioning. Using high definition video and photography, attempts are being made to pre-determine future histories with contemporary time-capsules. Exploring these tools for fixing memories so real and so detailed we may ensure we will remember and be remembered, Humphreys’ work is a natural though technologically determined try at immortality. Yet, ever present in videos
like Goodbye, is a shade of inevitable finality as direct as Tennyson’s affirmation that ‘all must die’1.
Mechanical ploys, such as showing footage in a continuous loop, imply the cycles experienced by both patient and nurse, father and son - a mental and physical stasis. Humphreys' parallel interest in exploring the evolution, limitations and decay of the tools we use to document, emphasizes the ephemerality of memories mental and material remnants. These parallel narratives around the mental and physical aspects of remembering subtly point at the impossibility of capturing life completely. In Performance for Photo Booth (Father & Son) (2016), Humphreys' recreates with his own body the postures taken by his father in a London photo-booth 2016 in a similar central London booth, producing a similar strip of prints. The
in 1967. He does so in relationship between the two subjects, found in their features, could be read as a simple discourse on father-son dynamics. However, Humphreys blows these strips to human scale, hanging them side by side, each frame looking as if to perform to the other. In this exchange a second question arises, for whom did his father take these images? Produced before Facebook and Snapchat their only potential audience would be a carefully selected one to four people. Yet the strip remained un-chopped in a drawer, memorializing Humphreys' father as a young man with no knowable audience.
Did some misguided encounter cause their production only to end before they could be put to purpose, or was the intention only exactly what they became - a document.
Repetition and imitation are arguably Humphreys’ methods for positioning the relationship he explores between memory, document and immortality. However, his work also seemingly reflects a set of coping mechanisms, enacted as an artistic process. By re-creating elements of family photos in installations where living-room walls a resurrected right down to the wallpaper, the desire to go back, remain, or re-live, is realized. These re-productions, however, are not the squares or rectangles of family dwellings, they are mazes that reveal themselves as flimsy and unstable settings. Small collages made of the happiest images are matted askew, alerting their audience to the divergent or collapsed reality they have entered.
An immersion in the moments of life, more alive then a memento mori, Humphreys’ works are an elegant depiction of mortality, that gives weight to dust and detail.
1 Alfred Lord Tennyson, "IV. Inevitable, All Things Must Die", in The Book of Sorrow, Ed.Andrew Macphail, 1916.