I would like to share three video works, which have never been made public apart from a few private shows. Each of them refers in a different way to family and home as the spaces of complex, emotional relationships – a place where we live and share with others, and a field in which gender images and corresponding social roles are imposed, and (perhaps) new ones produced.
1. Talk, 2016
In the video, I put on clothes that belong to the members of my immediate family. I try on T-shirts, shirts, sweaters, bras, pants, leggings, sportswear, pyjamas, and boxer shorts. We had built-in wardrobes in our flat, one next to the other, in a narrow corridor. Looking inside, you could see many condensed, adjacent, accumulated worlds.
My mother accurately pointed out some of the contents of these wardrobes in her poem, written a few years after we moved out of that flat:
That’s just 25 pairs
Monday to Friday
For 5 people
There were 7 of us
And there was still Saturday, Sunday
I like the mathematical character of this description, and how she pays attention to the number of objects – and to time. Her poem reminds us that home means constant labour, encompassing Saturday and Sunday. But in the video, beyond the labour necessary to provide the clothing, I was interested in their social and personal significance. I think that, rummaging through the private wardrobes of my family members and trying on their clothes, I experienced a somewhat undefined desire to play around with different gender roles and aesthetic codes assigned to them. Here, I can also see the first attempts to manifest my non-binary identity – at the time, this was something that was yet to be named. Today, I use the term non-binary to describe myself, but at that time it was completely unknown to me.
The soundtrack is composed of a selection of Facebook messages between me and my mum. With a few exceptions, mainly her statements were used. There are also elements incomprehensible to most viewers. For example, the number “N: 68” refers to my mother’s name, Natasza, and how many lunches were sold in her catering business. The number – as in the verse about socks – designates a measurable amount of labour.
*Natasha Rączka, Fifty, 2021
2. Cinderella, 2016
This polyphonic conversation is composed of quotes from books and films. Some I have chosen because of their emancipatory power (Sylwia Chutnik Kieszonkowy Atlas Kobiet [Pocket Atlas of Women]), while others (e.g. Cinderella) I invoke as pop-cultural reference points – archetypal fairy tales that can be used and re-written to change their original meaning. I compiled these quotes intuitively. I was interested in the sense of isolation and alienation that can be felt in the statements of the chosen heroines. For me, the completion of these texts is a form of meeting these separate characters, who are often left to their own devices, and a symbolic contravention of their social isolation.
I invited my nearest and dearest to create the improvised recordings: my friend, mother, mother’s sister, grandmother, and great-grandmother. Each has a different timbre of voice, reacts differently to spontaneous reading, and interprets the constructed dialogues differently. This gives them a special emotional tone.
The text was based on quotes from the following books and films:
[all dates refer to Polish publications]
3. News from home, 2018
The sound layer of the film consists of messages and e-mails sent to me by my family during my studies. The sentences have been altered in order to distort their content, to blur the line between document and fiction. This compilation does not contain any answers, just a multitude of words written to me: questions, assurances, hugs, and advice. My aim was not to evaluate the content of these messages. I was more interested in the ambivalence that can be felt when hearing questions taken out of context, the confusion that can be provoked by affectionate wishes.
The text is read in English, with my fellow students in mind. While translating it into Polish, I felt a problem with the linguistic re-gendering of messages, that in English in no way suggested the gender of their authors. Back then, everyone used feminine pronouns when referring to me. By changing them to non-gendered forms [in Polish, mixed form, i.e., containing both the female and male version of the word – for example odczułaem instead of odczułam or odczułem], I had the strange feeling that I was somehow erasing some meaning of the original messages. Questions expressing excessive concern about independence and constant reminders to stay safe – these sound different when they are addressed to a female or a male subject. At the same time, I felt great freedom with the opportunity to retrospectively alter the meaning of these statements, confusing their meaning, disturbing the hierarchy in which we functioned at that time, and experimenting with ways of addressing each other.
Ada Rączka is a graduate of Fine Arts at Städelschule. She works with images, text and video. She searches for a visual and textual representation of reproductive work, such as cleaning, cooking, caring and nurturing. Author of the poetry book “Let’s not do anything, I beg. But let’s tell others we did” [Nie róbmy nic, błagam. Ale powiedzmy innym, że robiłyśmy] (2019) and the zine “Trying to get out of the belly and trying to get into the belly” [Próba wyjścia z brzucha i próba wejścia do brzucha] (2021) performed with Zofka Kofta and Girls* to the Front.