Essay: I know you louise boothe

Rachel Kalpana James has always been interested in how we know ourselves and others. She works with and critiques the authoritative systems of history, language, and memory and exposes them to be slippery constructs at best. Finding Louise Boothe’s diary was apt to James’ ongoing investigations of what truth is and how we come to it. The diary is handwritten and dated 1941; the book is worn and filled with stains suggesting repeated handling and age.

The installation consists of a video loop and digital prints. The video shows a documentary-like interview with people who were given the diary and asked for their reactions to it. Inevitably, the human tendency to insert one's own experience, result in the interviewees revealing more about themselves than something about Boothe’s ‘real’ identity. The digital prints are grouped and mounted formally like an archive. The presentation suggests an authoritative positioning of historical material and includes pages of the journal itself as well as digitally manipulated interpretations. There are also charts that show data collected in a methodologically scientific way, as if the number of times Boothe referred to her mother is relevant to finding out who she truly is.

The diary, with its old-fashioned cursive writing, fascinates and entices the viewer who is drawn in close in order to read the private words of an unknown woman. Though there is nothing extraordinary to discover, the banal occurrences she chose to record, “went downtown for a tube of cream,” “Cecily has two long tables,” “Mary came down at 1:30. We had dinner out of my oven. Baked salmon and baked potato and cauliflowers,” allow the viewer to begin to form an image of her. One is dissatisfied that an event hinted at is never given form, and intrigued that with only bits, the human desire for narrative can make the leap and impose an identity.

This project is researched thoroughly and the material examined, taken apart, and reassembled to give the most comprehensive summary of the diary possible. The installation takes on the ‘authentic’ voice of the archive and the museum to render meaning, and yet, it is human intervention, the interviewees and the viewers, who give form to the person of Louise Boothe. The fragments allow one to glimpse a sliver of (possible) truth and so to pull this life from oblivion. Truth is a slippery construct but stories, read and told from somebody’s position, are as authentic a tool for making sense of the past and present as science and theory. Without the subjective voice, the constructed systems of the archive and scientific analysis are futile. What we are left with then are stories that change with each telling, stories that always hold a kernel of truth, hence the certainty of the title, I Know You, Louise Boothe.

Corinna Ghaznavi
Independent Critic and Curator, 2007
Published in RKJ Catalogue, 2007

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I Know You Louise Boothe