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The expression ‘swan song,’ is derived from the Greek myth that swans are mute, but burst into song just before they die. Over the ages the legend was embraced by poets and came to mean a person’s last eloquent words or performance: a final farewell appearance. In the context of this cycle of work, I am exploring the swan songs of a sequence of historical, or otherwise atypical artists and intellectuals, who produced remarkable final works which were intimately connected with their deaths. The body of work is realized as a cycle of photographic encounters with the landscapes and architectural sites connected to particular swan songs, selected for their poetic and political resonance. In this sense, The After-Image (Swan Songs), seeks to record echoes etched in landscape, and acts to engage the physical locations of these swan songs as a point of departure for a sustained meditation on final acts and their sites of articulation.
The large format c-type prints realized within the framework of the project include for example the River Ouse where Virginia Woolf took her life; one-hundred miles off the most westerly tip of Ireland where conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader’s sailboat was found capsized; an uncultivated field outside of Rome where Pier Paolo Pasolini was murdered shortly after realizing what would be his last film; as well as Canoe Lake where Canadian landscape painter Tom Thomson mysteriously died. Other swan songs in the series also include: Walter Benjamin, Shannon Jamieson, Mark Lombardi, John Lennon, & Antoni Gaudí.
I have come to understand this body of work as an exploration of how the past continues to inform the present. The term “after-image” is incorporated into the title to allude to the continuance of a phenomenon after it has past. This concept of persistence emerged through my explorations of the swan songs that I followed, in that these swan songs continue to agitate, or activate, or haunt the present. With this concept of the after-image in mind, I have began to think of this project a potential method of engaging in conversations with ghosts, or rather with revenants that continue to populate the present.
Fiona Annis / Canada