Freya Powell

21st Feb 2019

Hi Freya, thanks so much for participating - we hope you’re enjoying the tea!

Hello Conch! Thank you for the invitation and the lovely tea!

1. Can you give us an introduction to your practice, interests and experiences?

I grapple with the lesser-knowns: death and its aftermath, trauma, overlooked histories, and unexplored archives. I navigate the distance of history and attempt to make palpable disregarded accounts that have previously been shrouded in silence. I create multi-disciplinary, time-based projects that ask the questions: When does a life become grievable? Does history leave a trace?

2 + 10*. What are you working on at the moment? Can you talk to us about your working processes, and how you go about researching ideas? + If you had unlimited access to resources and funding, is there a piece or project that you would like to realise?

In a county-run graveyard in Texas more than 300 unidentified migrants bodies/remains were buried. They died while fleeing their native countries and making the impossible journey to the U.S, in the hopes of something better. Once found, the county buried these individuals in mass graves. In 2013, forensic Anthropologist Dr. Lori Baker started to exhume the remains and use DNA testing to identify the deceased, hopeful to return the remains to the families and offer a sense of closure, echoing the heroine Antigone, defying the state to honourably bury her brother.

The role of the Greek chorus in ancient Greek tragedies was to transform the passion of the characters into a distilled focus, a collective character. Working with 15 actors/ performers/ vocalists in a bilingual narrative, the chorus will seek to recognise the lives of those laid to rest as unknowns by addressing the silence of their burial and our complicity and grief in the process.

I learned about Sacred Heart Cemetery from a news article a couple of years ago and have been slowly researching about the site, the issue of migrant deaths on the border, and the role tragedy can play in a contemporary setting. The project will be performed by 15 actors/ vocalists making up the chorus in a park here in Queens (NYC) this September.

“To see political events tragically is always to accept our complicity in the disaster unfolding” – Simon Critchley

3.Can you talk to us about your interest in Archives; as a format; for researching, cataloguing and presenting work; what do you feel is the importance of preserving a collective experience or an individuals?

In my work I play the messenger between the viewer and the archive. I am consumed with the preservation of private memories. Public memories are made up of formal accounts and exist in documents whereas private memories are carried in the mind and on the tongue of the individuals who experienced them. Public memories make up history and are immortalised without tears. Private memories carry eccentricities and speak of the loss, joy and struggle experienced. Whether I am building archives or investigating them my work involves the collection of personal memories.

“The live can never be contained in the archive, the archive endures beyond the limits of the live” – Diana Taylor

I am interested in finding a space (or creating one) in between these two forms (the archive and the repertoire) where the collecting of memories can exist in a multitude of mediums, but still be of the body – allowing affect.

4. Can you tell us about your piece the silence of the unsaid?

In July of 1970, the U.S military launched an Athena test missile from a base in Green River, UT, to test re-entry speeds and impact for ICBMs. The missile lost control, went off course about 400 miles, and crashed in a desert in Northern Mexico. It was carrying two containers of Cobalt-57, a radioactive element. In March, 2016, I travelled to the site of the crash to learn about the memories that lingered.

5. Who, where or what has you excited at the moment? Who, where or what is causing you concern at the moment?

Artist: John Akomfrah!!! His use of archives is immeasurable AND his eye for editing/ pacing/ composition is remarkable.
I am expecting a baby in April so there is a lot to be excited and concerned about. On a global scale I am most worried about climate change... in which I feel both complicit and helpless.

6. What role does place play within your practice?

History and silence are intrinsically linked. Where one narrative prevails, another is often overlooked. I am drawn to sites with histories that are lesser known or forgotten. I make connections between the physical sites and the memories and myths they embody. Presenting minimal, yet poetic, projects that tie together the discounted and dominant narratives, I re-present these histories to make the human experience felt.

7. There seems to be an intersection between the political and the personal within your work, evoking collective experience and collective memory. Can you talk about that and perhaps given the current political climate in the US, tell us if and how that has influenced your practice?

Since Trump started running for President I experienced an increase in street harassment/ catcalling, to varying degrees. As his offences against women were being reported and sound bites of his rhetoric were being repeated I felt a shift or regression towards a public acceptance of violence against women and increased anxiety. After he won, like many people, I felt numb. I am very much interested in the distance between the personal and the political and how that space can be navigated. Last year I completed a single channel video ‘A Murmuring’ that spoke to that space of anxiety/ trauma experienced by women. Lists of words used when explaining the emotional impacts of trauma, excerpts from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’, imagery of waves crashing and hands kneading clay are all juxtaposed in an attempt to portray both visually and aurally, the inner turmoil of trauma.

8. Are there any books or authors that you find yourself coming back to time and time again, if so who are they, what are they and why?

Roland Barthes
John Berger
Hito Steyerl
‘The Waves’ – Virginia Woolf
Emily Dickinson
Anne Carson

and constantly reading/ researching texts on: memory
the voice
the collective

→ Also looking at the work of: Dons Salcedo, Roni Horn, Christian Boltanski, Sophie Calle, Ellie Ga, John Akomfrah, Ragnar Kjartansson, Susan Philipsz.

9. We’re interested to hear more about your work omniscience and oblivion. When listening to the mediated memories it was hard not to interpret or assume the disconnect between the voice and the memory being recalled. With the advantage of both time and distance, can you reflect on this work?

Combining my interest in language and the use of individual memories to speak to the existence of a collective or shared experience, I created an audio archive – Omniscience and Oblivion. It is rooted in the Greek rivers – Lethe and Mnemosyne. After drinking from Lethe you would experience complete forgetfulness and from Mnemosyne you gained infinite memory. I am constantly thinking about the power of forgetting – we are taught and trained to remember, but perhaps sometimes it is better to forget.

I invited participants to anonymously share, via an online form, one memory they would like to keep forever and one they would like to forever forget. From these written contributions, I recorded voices of different individuals reading these memories. Each moment was mediated: by the choice of the words used to recall the memories, by the grammar and syntax used, by the reader, and finally by the pared down presentation; An empty room with a bench and 4 speakers.

From this process of distancing the listener is invited to navigate the speaking subject by listening to the language and the voice, the written vs. the spoken word. The project presents seemingly everyday memories that point to the existence of a collective memory. In the act of listening the viewer is privy to a juxtaposition of the ‘linguistic function’ and the ‘bodily excess’ (Lawrence Abu Hamden) and left to ponder the connection or disconnection between the voice and memory being recalled

*although I don’t have unlimited funds for this it is a project that felt hard to reach/make happen for a number of years.

hands holding “The farewells take place in silence, but with tears” - Italo Calvino


Freya Powell is an artist and educator based in New York. You can find her at & @freyapowell7.