This work has been written about before but I have a somewhat different take to it so I will give it a shot. Family Tree by Rozalie Hirs and Harm Van Den Dorpel explores the meaning of a family tree. Its most basic shape is much like that of a typical family tree, where there are many branches at the bottom (where people are best remembered) and just one branch to start it off (where only one ancestor’s name is still remembered). Instead of having people names like John or Mary, this work has phrases and punctuation as the “branches” and “leaves” of this tree. Sometimes words like mother or father appear, but these words would be next to useless on a real family tree so it is sufficient to say that this type of family tree has none of the ancestor documenting qualities that a regular family tree has. This work is constantly in motion, whether because it is moving up and down due to mouse movements or because of the work’s latent kinetic properties. On top of this more gentle swaying, the “leaves” are always moving and switching places as well. This work uses flash to keep up these movements. Because of this constant movement, the work is very difficult to just read. Bits can be caught in an order but they cannot by any means be read as a print book would. Because of this I was only able to read parts of the complete. My eyes could not keep up with some of the faster moving parts. I believe the artists made the choice to have so many moving parts moving at such different speeds with some faster than the eye can track because one person can never have the full view or story of a family. Even if one is well acquainted with the family and talks about inter-family politics often (why would you do that??!!) theres still no way to get a fully rounded perspective. Families are so messy and difficult, there is no good way to know all the backstory and heartache that went into the way that particular unit acts.
The words and phrases do not seem to be random despite the difficulty of reading them. There were more than a few times when phrases paused, as if it were a suspended arch, and the words came together to form a sort of poetry. Near the top (and where this is easiest to map) I caught the phrase “mother/ femme fatale/ pulled from the/ mud” and near the bottom “mother/ butterfly of tales/ worth a lifetime.” As I was trying to document it seemed like the art was actively trying to prevent my reading in couple of places. The first I noticed was at the very bottom there is a string of lines that I could read at first but as I stayed near the bottom the branch literally flipped upside-down and began moving more rapidly. I cannot be sure that this is what was occurring but I would be willing to hazard a guess.
Perhaps the best parallel, as Guillermo pointed out, to describe the look of this work is to that of a mobile that one might hang above their child’s bed. I believe this rather obvious imagery is purposely reminding us of children that will inherit the family tree. They will get all the bad with the good, the neurosis with hopefully the love and good habits the guardians will pass on.
It is also worth the time to point out that this work is both English and Dutch, which carries along the common language of elit as being English while working to preserve the language that I do not doubt is the author’s mother tongue.