FULL CIRCLE: Evolving Family Studies (2007)

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In 2004, after years of infertility and medical intervention, I was coming to terms with my inability to conceive. While grieving, two dear friends, a lesbian couple, got pregnant. At that same time, the great debate over same sex marriage seethed nationally. I live in Cambridge, a midsized city of 124,000 in southwestern Ontario. Cambridge is the home of some people who denounced loudly the legitimacy of homosexual love and same sex union: home of the infamous heckler at the first gay marriage; home of strident letter writers to our local newspaper; home of our then local MPP who vocalized publicly his belief that a family constitutes a biological mother, biological father and biological children, only and ever. I felt stunned. My idea and hope of ‘family’ for myself was forced to shift, while others, lucky enough to find and develop families of their own, were scrutinized and judged.

I began to ponder ideas like ‘who belongs in a ‘legitimate’ family’ and ‘what makes it so’? Biology negates the love for and of adopted members, foster members, step parents and siblings, in-laws, group home families, friendship families. Geography negates members who live in other homes, members who have passed on. Race, class and religious affiliation negate the reality of love bonds. Marriage certificates, while publicly sanctioning family legitimacy, leave out whole segments of society. How broadly or narrowly do we extend our definition? Can a family have only one member?  Do people from whom we have separated emotionally still belong to our family? Can one belong to more than one family? How and why do we make such distinctions? Who has the right to decide?’   

How can one explore such questions without reflecting on the beauty and aesthetic of who we are and how we are positioned; our social mirror reflects its own distortions and truths. Every family is unique.  In family therapy there has long been a diagnostic method called the ‘family sculpture’ which looks at where each family member positions themselves in relation to one another while doing a banal activity such as watching television. Amongst other things, it helps to diagnose closeness and distance between family members, issues of centrality, power, bonds, etcetera. 

Full Circle is a series of ¼ to ½ life size family portraits. Each family has chosen its own pose and worked with me over many sessions. Their choice of pose tells a much truer story than any choice I may make. The families presented here live within the greater Cambridge region.  They live visibly and invisibly amongst us, depending on our focus. Difference (and sameness) lives harmoniously side by side. This is our humanity. From the single parent family, interracial family, and transgendered family, to the 95 year old widower and World War II vet, our concept of traditional and legitimate is challenged.  The family constellations are all distinct and the configurations chosen are unique; collectively, these families resonate together.  

Reality, whether we like it or not, stands nakedly before us. Full Circle is an exhibit about intimacy and vulnerability as well as resilience and connection; feelings innate within any family.  There is no beginning or end to a circle; it is whole and has an infinite capacity to expand its edges to accommodate and embrace. Coming full circle we eventually return a place of truth: physicality is nonessential, love is its own genesis. I am proud of this project and honoured by these families’ willingness to share themselves.  This world can be a hostile place. We all do the best we can.  Feeling love and a sense of belonging is a wonderful and life affirming experience. These families belong to each other and they belong to our communities. They, and I, hope you enjoy the show.     

Jane Hook

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Sponsored by the Waterloo Regional Arts Fund