© Sian Bonnell, House Beautiful #18, 2002

An extract of Sian Bonnell's proposal that won her The British School at Rome Photoworks 2011 Fellowship.

An extract of Sian’s proposal:

All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. – Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

I have no idea why my mother decided that my sister and I should become Catholics but this early experience has in no small way coloured my perceptions ever since.

I have the dubious privilege of being born Church of England but raised a Catholic until the point of First Holy Communion when my mother decided that she couldn’t go through with it! It was not her who had to endure the catechism, so I am a bit miffed to put it mildly, that from the age of seven, not only have I had to contend with indoctrinated Catholic guilt but also an inherited Protestant work ethic on top.

One of my earliest memories is of a luminous ‘Arlady’ placed by my side at night and the bedtime worry that my soul (a large white oval table cloth hanging inside me) would always need a jolly good wash. This mixture of the mystical, the absurd and the domestic has been the source for much of my work but it is only now in middle age that I have begun to analyse it.

Summary of Proposal

My current research involves a substantial investigation into belief, fear & anxiety found in communities throughout western Europe. With particular emphasis on folklore, customs, superstitions and old wives tales and the histories surrounding them. I am interested in discovering if these customs and beliefs built on fear, become warped from repeated retellings through the generations. How can we negotiate the fact that we find ourselves believing them whilst knowing that there is no actual truth to them?

This work is a consolidation of the investigations commenced in County Cork two summers ago while I was on a residency in Ireland (two of these images were published in Portfolio issue #50 last year). In this work I depicted traditional superstitions but then began simultaneously to invent new, completely absurd ones. I was intrigued to discover that my fictions were accepted as genuine and believed and I realised the importance that text and language played in this.

In this research I am questioning the role of the photograph in creating fictions, the role of the camera as conduit for the intentions of the photographer and both the visual and written contexts surrounding these.

The work I propose to make in Rome will be a continuation of the above but with emphasis on the inherited myths, traditions and superstitions stemming from the Roman Empire and the early Roman church which form our heritage in Western Europe. I am particularly interested in the role of ‘place’. How can the intention of the artist/photographer be conveyed via a still or moving image which transforms an ordinary place into a sinister one or obversely a place of wonder? I am fascinated by the manmade places created for deities; the grotto, the garden as well as the natural places which have been enlisted as a holy place, such as the grottos of Pertosa in the Cilento.

To read how Sian’s doing with her Fellowship, you can read her blog here.

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