In 2020 Erien Withouck’s fascination for overlooked figures and myths led her to the Shetland Isles. Several islanders told her of the mythical “Selkie”, a hybrid creature which has the ability to remove its seal skin and take on human form. On Midsummer’s eve, a female Selkie emerges from a foaming sea and sheds her seal skin. A man sees her on the shore: he carelessly steals her skin and makes her his wife. Always longing for the ocean, the Selkie prefers the freedom as a seal to her expected role as a good mother and housewife, she eventually reclaims her skin and returns to her former home.
This myth is the sort of transient tale that chimes with Withouck’s aesthetic and sensibility. The antagonism between the fleeting nature of oral history and the desire to capture things permanently on film raises an important question: what do we wish to remember, and what would we rather forget? A literal reconstruction of the past is neither useful nor appropriate. The camera offers the chance to play, to intersect the paths of history and imagination.
Her photographs illuminate the traces of these unknown figures and mythical creatures which escaped the pages of history books, subtly capturing the unwritten habits, routines and cultures that still slumber on in remote communities. In scenes that beautifully evoke the fisherman’s world of pounding waves and craggy cliffs, the sea – with its continuous ebb and flow between eternity and fluidity – is clearly the protagonist. This ambiguity is exposed in the imagery of Erien Withouck.
- Text by Dagmar Dirkx (.tiff)