Naakita Feldman-Kiss was never privy to detailed accounts of their grandfather’s family history. The stories of his childhood were not extensively shared with them as their grandmother’s were. He was “far less sentimental and far less nostalgic . . . we were encouraged not to ask.”
With an artistic practice using storytelling “as a site to explore inheritance, mythology, personal and collective memory, and experiences of diaspora,” Feldman-Kiss naturally saw an opportunity to blur the lines between fact and fiction and delve into autofiction. Crafting the narrative visually with personal and public documents, and audibly from a dialogue between themself and their grandfather, narrated solely by Feldman-Kiss.
On February 17, 2021, the first edit of Remaking Edgware screened in Montreal as part of the Museum of Jewish Montreal’s Microgrants for Creative and Cultural Exploration series. Audiences joined Feldman-Kiss on their exploration of a familial history beginning in Leipzig, Germany before the second world war, and concluding with their grandfather’s arrival in Barbados.
Just as Edgware was remade when their grandfather, as Kiss reflects in their piece “arrived in Barbados, they named their new home ‘Edgware’, after the London suburb in which they waited out the Blitz,” Feldman-Kiss remakes and reinvents Edgware through personal and public archive, the story of their grandfather’s history, and the idea that memory is distinctly either implicit or explicit.
I sat sat down with Feldman-Kiss (virtually) to revisit Remaking Edgware, and unpack the process of creation. To ultimately reveal how, as the Museum surmises the piece aims “to rediscover and reimagine a history made quiet by the experience of diaspora and trauma.”
How did the project get started?
I grew up with this massive family tree in my childhood house. We had this huge family tree document that was carried with them from Germany, and it’s full of centuries of names and dates and occupations and all of these documents that are in German but also in Sunderland German. They’re quite old and no one went through the business of translating them all. Some pieces were translated so that people in my family could get their German citizenship through repatriation laws. It felt odd to me that there was this huge document that felt like such a privilege to have and be in the company of, but I had no idea what was on it. A few years ago they were all scanned, and I had access to them and some pictures. I wanted to explore and piece together this family history I only knew a part of but I didn’t know what I would find. I assumed it [the project] would end up being autofiction if I wanted to create something that was a holistic narrative surrounding it.
Outside of the project, in your other work, has memory been a theme you have explored?
I’m very invested in storytelling and mythmaking in my art practice. Memory is a really big part of my work. A lot of my work looks at storytelling and the way that stories become malleable in their retellings, how history is continuously made active every time we tell it, and how stories can change over decades of retelling. When a story first occurred has really nothing to do with the story that you’re telling in the current moment because it’s been so informed by the different contexts in which you’ve retold it and all of the things that you’ve built your identity around.
In the process of developing this work I internalized some of the information as if it were true but it’s not. It’s a historically informed, familiarly informed autofiction yet I still internalized it as truth in some parts of me. I’ve created a bunch of new memories to help me have a holistic understanding of what my family narrative is.
Passage from Remaking Edgware (Theirs revisited), correspondence from the Haenschke Family, Feldman family archive, Navy Gardens, Barbados, Coordinates, Tageo Worldwide Index. All materials on the pages courtesy of Naakita Feldman-Kiss.
What was your experience like working with your fellow micrograntees and the Museum of Jewish Montreal?
It’s been wonderful. I worked with Alyssa quite closely. She has so much historical and cultural knowledge. It would have taken me a long time to write this without her support editorially because she was able to go into my script and say this timeline doesn’t work because Germany wasn’t actually a place then, and to chart it more historically with dates. That understanding alone helped me bring a lot of strength to the storytelling. She also helped me figure out different kinds of archival practices.
The people in the cohort were also wonderful. We all come from varying backgrounds of experience and identity, and being able to work closely with people at this point is always so nice, and obviously, we all spend a lot of time alone right now. So having that sense of community was wonderful to develop with.
The archive is always so interesting because it becomes a piece of history in and of itself, and you want to believe it’s the whole picture, but it’s not, there’s always stuff missing.
There’s always stuff missing and there’s always very dominant voices that are telling those stories, we know that when we go into it. But there’s always hope there is going to be a different experience with it, or you’re going to be able to find new information that changes the whole narrative, but it’s really not what we encounter. I think about it a lot personally because I’ve done so much archival work within my family, and then a little bit outside as well. Why are we so invested in retelling the past? There’s a certain kind of curiosity about it that feels nearly voyeuristic that I’m becoming more and more interested in.
And then we’re led to what gets left out of the archive. You’re always hoping something purposely got left out and you want to be the one to bring it to the forefront.
Absolutely. There’s also this other part of it that feels like you’re looking for the big reveal or you’re looking for the dramatic story. But a lot of it, like this family tree I have show they were lawyers, there was a surgeon, it’s all so banal and I was almost disappointed when I got the translations back. What does it mean that we want these stories to be big and dramatic and tragic? These stories of success are pretty incredible and not a lot of people have had the privilege to just live nice normal lives. It completely changed my personal relationship to family history and making and writing because actually it’s really cool that there is a lot of normalcy in these lives that came before. I’m sure there was a lot of normalcy that wasn’t documented and wasn’t included. I’m finding more and more room to celebrate the kind of banality of these histories. There were stories that were quite traumatic about that part of my family’s life that didn’t get integrated into the final piece. It’s about trying to move away from this voyeurism with which we tell history and into how to be person-centred. How to have the story told through the eyes of a child; what is it to inject joy where we expect there to be trauma?
You mention implicit and explicit memories, and their differences. Implicit memories shape childhood and seem to be the crux of who we are, how we move through the world. And when I was reading your work, the researchers are kind of saying those memories are there, but not really.
It’s very foundational but completely unseen and unquestioned too. But it is formative in the way that we interact with the world and even the way that we interact with our explicit memories.
Relatives in Germany, Feldman family archive, Passage from Remaking Edgware (Their’s revisited). All materials on the pages courtesy of Naakita Feldman-Kiss.
Is the footage in the archive reel mixed with your own and outside sourced material?
It’s pretty much all archival that I found on archive.org. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends that live in Europe so I got footage of London and Paris I was able to integrate. And I tried to get some from my family in Barbados but it didn’t work out.
It’s the first time I’ve worked with archival footage and I managed to stumble across two pieces in particular that were an hour and a half in length of one family’s travel diaries and home life. Within that raw footage, we’re able to watch the family evolve and watch the main kid get older. It was an intimate experience and I then had these actors. I didn’t expect to develop a relationship with these people.
You don’t know them, but listening to your narration and to the experiences you revisit, you feel that you were connected to these people on a personal level, but you’re not really. You’re telling a story that isn’t this family’s story, yet showing their footage alongside your words, there is a lot of rewriting going on.
It’s a weird play with intimacy and I haven’t really thought much about that. It’s true, I’m rewriting a narrative that is kind of mine, but not really, onto a family that’s absolutely not theirs [not related] in such vague terms.
Pretty much all of this piece is fiction, the dates are approximate, the locations are real and then the characters I’ve described are real, but what happens [the scenarios] between all of these things [dates, locations, characters] is manufactured.
My uncle and my cousin have both seen the work, and they each remarked, they didn’t know any of that. Yet, no matter how many times I say this work is fiction, people don’t think that it is, and I think that is interesting.
You have this undercurrent of truth to it, but then so much of it is not true but you’re hanging on to that one truth, I don’t know why.
We want to believe. I’m thinking of some autofiction novels that have come out and made people really upset when they were deemed fiction. We get very attached to the stories that people tell and we become very invested in them. And perhaps that is more of a reflection of the way we relate to information on our own, as opposed to the way we relate between people.
Tschaikowskistraße 5, 04105 Leipzig, Germany,Google Street View, Passage from Remaking Edgware (Mine reimagined), Zoo Leipzig Animal Kindergarten (1935), Zoo Leipzig Website. All materials on the pages courtesy of Naakita Feldman-Kiss.
The proximity of the Leipzig Zoo to your family, and the zoo’s history coupled with what happened to your family and what happened to Jews in Germany, there is an irony to it.
I was talking to a friend and he said that’s actually an interesting hook because it was integrated in the halfway point before. Bringing people in and setting the scene this way felt like it would foreshadow the way we treat people and the way colonization has created so much movement and created so much pain and created so much violence, but all of these different paths kind of follow the same narrative, a lot of them are born out of similar themes but we just keep on enacting them within different communities and different living creatures.
My grandfather was born in Leipzig, and they lived very close to the Leipzig Zoo. The flight path that’s described was all real, but the dates are kind of fudged so I could integrate some things in. The Leipzig Zoo was in such close proximity and that’s kind of where the research started, as I was given the address of my grandfather’s childhood home.
Passage from Remaking Edgware (Mine reimagined), Immigration document from departure to Barbados (prior to British naturalization), Feldman family archive. All materials on pages courtesy of Naakita Feldman-Kiss.
At the end of your reflection you talk about how it’s not even your story it’s our story and it made me wonder if everyone has their own Edgware, and could your Edgware become everyone’s metaphorical Edgware?
Autofiction allows entry for so many people to see themselves in stories. Knowing that there is some element of nonfiction or historical accuracy based on it, can create a lot of different experiences of empathy or even perhaps personal projection. Coming to the end of the text, I realized this entire thing was an exercise in my own history making and in how we expand our stories into the realm of fantasy.
There were a number of things that came out by doing this research that I found out about my family that weren’t true, like narratives that have been totally central to the way I’ve understood my family’s history that actually don’t fit the timelines I found in the documents. Even when we’re doing individual history telling, we are kind of working towards more holistic views of history. And that’s why the individual narrative does belong in the archive in ways that it historically hasn’t been.
Header and feature images designed by Orly Zebak. The image on the cover of the book in the header is the cover a family photo album from the Feldman family archive, courtesy of Naakita Feldman-Kiss.