J/F/M/A/M/J/J/A/S/O/N/D (2015)

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Artist Statement

The starting point for this work was a junk store on Queen Street West in Toronto. Back then, the street carried a distinctive blend of scents. Some disoriented individuals would beg for small change. The antique stores were overloaded with trashed furniture and abandoned personal belongings. I bought about twenty photographs. Most of them were group portraits.

The pictures landed on a shelf at my place. Toronto was becoming a new home to me at that time. I had been asked whether the people in the photographs were my family members. My first response was a sarcastic nod. Then, I gave names to the strangers and made up some life stories. It did not take long for the adopted pictures to eat into my memory of relatives left behind.

Initially, I did not attach any significance to the \"family reconstruction\" process. I never paid too much attention to my origins. However, as time kept passing by, some doubts emerged. I started having mixed feelings about my right to put a picture of an unknown person into my family album. It did not seem fair. I had to do something about it. Throwing out the pictures was not an option. I wanted to keep them. Then I started to think about sharing my new family members. That would be like relinquishing a part of my identity, at least the fake part.

In 1999 I started a website under the name of My Family. It was a rather simple website. Visitors were prompted to submit a name and select a date. A picture with a caption including the entered name would appear. Apparently, some participants were under the impression that they were searching a real database of my family members. Only when the same picture appeared for different names did they realize it was not exactly like that. To me it was important that with every new name entered my bond with these “relatives” was weakening. My original doubt did not go away but the act of giving names to unknown people ceased to be solely my doing.

The My Family experience defined my work for years to come. The list of names entered by visitors to the site has served as a backbone for several other works. New pictures have appeared. Several true as well as hard-to-believe stories have been added. Some pictures came from my own albums but the most interesting ones were found at flea-markets. I got myself busy creating interactive setups and animations to produce new layers of ambiguity. Eventually, my personal story has been merged with lives of unknown people to the point that now I feel quite comfortable with my online identity of mixed origin, so to speak.

Even though art-gallery-installation format has been used for this series, the core portion of the process has taken place online. The work has been undergoing continuous transformation until reaching its final shape as J/F/M/A/M/J/J/A/S/O/N/D.

Tomasz Konart, 2015

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