Furen Dai (Brookline, MA)

April 2019. HD video and audio featuring museum collection letters. 18 mins 58 secs.

Dear Mother, is a research project and film based on the personal letters from the museum’s archive room located on the third floor. During her two week residency, Dai developed this project using the letters received by original store proprietress Sylvia Gray from the 1950s-1980s as her source text, including letters from her three children and other relatives, sympathy cards after her husband passed away in 1955, and business related documents. Dear Mother, reconstructs Sylvia’s image through these letters, other people’s words, and the artist’s imagination.

Filling a three-floor building with mundane objects her husband passed away, Dai reimagines the widowed mother and documents her daily mundane tasks— this time Sylvia’s living in the store. The lack of the protagonist’s voice despite her constant presence contrasts the voices of her children reading their own letters. The film features the voices of Sylvia’s son Sidney and her grandson Brandon; other grandchildren were also invited to be part of the film.

Periodically, the black and white pictures transform into colored portrait shots of the building’s interior to also preserve Elsewhere’s current image and document details for future reference. At the end of the film, Dai includes an interview with Sidney and Brandon Gray recalling their memories of the building and their beloved matriarch.


Project In Response To: The Records Room, an Active Archive

Above: Letters and postcards to and from Sylvia and her children.

Process

Above: Dai scans letters and postcards to and from Sylvia Gray and records audio of Gray’s children reading them aloud.