Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University. This Friday’s #ArtCrush is Cassandra Keenan, a fourth year photography student in thesis. 

In this series, Cassie and Morgan talk about working with family relationships, documenting physical objects and exploring the truths/untruths of family histories.

Who or what are your main inspirations?

My main inspirations are honestly the people around me, I love talking to my fellow classmates and professors about everything, it helps me stay connected to not only the people I surround myself with, but also my art. The inspiration for my art also comes very naturally to me, and I find during moments of connection with others is when I come up with some of my best work, and most of the time it is during the most random moments, that’s what I love about art and inspiration, there is no time line.

What subject matter do you tend to spend the most time working on?

I mostly work with very personal subject matters, pretty much anything that is effecting me at the moment, or what I feel strongly about. Nothing is truly off topic for me as an artist, so far I have worked on many projects with a subject matter which relates to myself personally, this includes my mental issues, such as my severe panic attacks and anxiety, continuing all the way to helping me mourn the death of my grandparents.

I try not to limit myself or my art, especially that of my photography. This is because my art has always been an emotional outlet, and I have always felt like it is the only way I could truly communicate what I’m feeling or going through at that moment, my art is my form of stress relief.  Of course it is bound to change in the future, but that’s the fun of being an artist, you are never truly tied down

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Cassandra Keenan, B.B.Y.A, Digital Inkjet Print, 2018

What body of work are you working on right now?

At the moment, I am mainly focused on finishing my Thesis and Grad Ex work called “Film”, it revolves around nine 8mm film reels which were all recorded by my grandfather, starting in the early 60s. The film captured moments of my grandparents young adult life, to their wedding and honeymoon, all the way until my mother and uncle were young children.

During my initial research at the beginning of the year I was mainly focusing on the documentation of my family history, especially that of my mothers side, but as I interview my family and looked at the many documents, I quickly came to realize that alot of the stories that I was told growing up was not told accurately, mostly because I was too young to know the truth.

My thesis then took a major turn, and instead of searching for the truth pertaining to the documentation of my family’s history, I wanted to look at the untold truths and document those moments. This is when I found the films again and got them digitalized, this was the first time in about twenty years that I saw them again, and they quickly became the main focus of my thesis.  I began to solely look at the nine films as the manifestation of all the untold truths that were told over my life time through the use of the editing that was done to each of them, I wanted to explore and identify each edit and untold truth within each of the individual films, which now stood in place for my family’s documented history and from there the series “Film” was formed, the series contains four parts, “Life”, “The Truth & The Edit”, “Glitch” and “Proof”, all of these names resembling different aspects related to film and archiving.

What draws you to the act of documenting these film rolls involved in your body of work, and how do you believe this adds to the significance of your work?

The Truth & The Edit” is the part of the series “Film” where I document the film reels. The work consists of fourteen photographs, each documenting the physical elements of the untold truths and manipulations that had been woven into my family’s history, these became very significant to my work, because they resemble the physical manifestation of my concept.

The first eight photographs are documenting the four film containers and their respective reels, the photographs depicting the four containers, “B.B.Y.A”, “Shower”, “Honeymoon”, and “Unknown #1”, each resemble the truth which are contained within them, and the labels on the front reflect on the moments captured within, they are the ‘real’ and the ‘truth’.  The next four photographs document the four reels that were once contained in the pervious containers, “B.B.Y.A Reel”, “Shower Reel”, “Honeymoon Reel”, and “Unknown Reel #1”. These four photographs represent the manipulation and the untold truths that were being told within my family’s history, and the editing that had been done to each reel can be clearly seen within some of the photographs, these edit points show that someone had physically edited and removed a piece of information from the recorded history.

The last six photographs document the small six film reels, “Made in Canada”, “Shar”, “1 Florida”, “2 Florida”, “Unknown Reel #2” and “QUE”. These six photographs also depict the untold truths and lies within my family history, some of the reels can be seen missing large sections of the film, which obviously mean they have been heavily edited, while others have lost their labels, leaving the contents of the physical reel unknown to the holder.

I was drawn to documenting the film reels and their containers, because as my thesis moved forward I could no longer see them as the absolute truth of my family’s recorded history, I began to only see them as their edits and nothing else, and it came to a point where I felt I had to document them as their own absolute truth, that being documenting the real and the edit. 

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Cassandra Keenan, B.B.Y.A Reel, Digital Inkjet Print, 2018

As your thesis explores familial relationships, how do you navigate working with a topic that is so personal? How has your relationship with your work evolved over the course of the year?

I actually found it really easy to navigate such a personal topic this time around, I was lucky enough to have a support system behind me to not only support the path I decided to go on, but also aid me when it had gotten difficult. But the idea of my thesis actually originated from a series that I worked on the pervious year, this series also focused on family history, but that time it focused on my fathers parents, who had passed a couple years ago. That series, “Waves of Memory”, was very hard on me emotionally, it fully drained me because even after a couple years I was still mourning the lost of my grandparents, and the series had opened old wounds, and as time went on it helped me navigate these emotions, and lead me to where I am now, where I can be more focused and understanding of the information laid out in front of me.

You often talk about family history in the context of the ‘truths’ and histories that are passed on generationally, but including the lies and untold truths that these stories hold. How have you decided to play with these ideas in your work to extend or mould the truth/untruths with you approach and contextualize your work?

I came to use the edits and untold truths to tell my family’s history because of the fact throughout my life these truths where only told to please a child’s ears and wonder, but now as an adult I seek to understand the truth of my own history.

With finding the film reels again, I began to question the documentation of my history, especially when my grandfather watched them, and mentioned how heavily edited they were, when I questioned him, he said that every film had to be reviewed by his parents (my great grandparents), and anything they didn’t agree with, must be removed and destroyed without question, so with alot of the reels you can see that they are missing large portions of their film. This made me very curious about the edits and made me want to explore them even more.

Is there anyone who you would like to work with in the future?

I don’t know if there is anyone I would like to work with in the future specifically. I am always open to working with anyone, especially those who I connect really well with, and can have a great back and forth creative conversation with, I do always work my ideas out with people who are around me, but I haven’t actually collaborated with anyone yet. I’m hoping in the future to open that door and work on some amazing work, just haven’t found that person yet.

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Cassandra Keenan, #15, Digital Inkjet Print, 2017

How do you feel the thesis critique process has helped you with your critical thinking skills within your art practice?

The thesis critique process has definitely helped grow my critical thinking skills when it comes to my own work, even when we are critiquing another persons work I am still able to grow as an individual artist.

I am surrounded by so many wonderful artists, with their own amazing histories and point of views, It’s never just one point of view looking at my work. Having those many differences giving their opinions is very valuable to me as an artists, it helps me grow and look outside of my comfort bubble, and I owe it to them for helping me grow.

Even the bad or harsh critiques I take to heart, I know its not against me personally, my fellow classmates want me to grow and do better, I take every critique as an opportunity to grow. 

Are there any specific OCADU Faculty who have influenced your work? A specific discipline or course?

Simon Glass and Nicholas Pye are two OCADU Faculty which come to mind right away, I had the privilege of having both of them as professors for my main photography courses. I honestly believe I wouldn’t be as strong as an artists as I am right now if it wasn’t for both of them. They both pushed me, well beyond what I thought was possible of my own art, I say this in the best way possible, they both saw that I could grow and create more meaningful art, and the art that I created for them, were the first time I was truly making art for myself.

What is one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in photography?

The one piece of advice I would give to someone starting out in photography is don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid to be yourself, to experiment, to try something new or scary, and don’t be afraid to grow. It is when you are afraid that you truly stop growing.

Friday #ArtCrush is a weekly blog series highlighting students in their final year at OCAD University.

Interview by Morgan Sears-Williams

About the writer: Morgan is a photo alumni and runs the Friday #ArtCrush series on the OCAD U Photography Blog. She loves speaking to other artists about social justice, how to break barriers within artist communities and nurturing the arts in alternative non-institutional spaces. She is the Art Co-ordinator for The RUDE Collective, and has done workshops on intersectionality and allyship relating to LGBTQ folks. To see more, you can visit her website or her instagram.