12 May 2021
12 May 2021 - Written by Lucia De Stefani
In her work The Bird Song Is Deafening, Australian photographer Teva Cosic explores her multicultural identity and fragmented roots, connecting the residue of memory, loss, the past, and the future.
When she was an adolescent, Teva Cosic and her father would go camping in the Outback, a vast expanse in Australia’s sparsely populated interior, deeply ingrained in the country’s history and folklore. It was a simple time they spent together, marked by the profound bond between the two, reflection of the father-daughter relationship. Cosic recalls observing her father closely, finding him again in his usual gestures. Fifteen years later, she finds him again, back together in the familiar land, his gestures and demeanor unchanged. And yet.
“It was different. But he hasn't changed,” Cosic says.
We meet her father by the sight of his arms reaching into frame—his gentle, playful hands make an appearance as he tickles a pod from a dried-out flower. “He's always picking things, taking photos of seeds and plants,” she says. “I was just observing these things that he continues to do, that I’ve always remembered him doing… He hasn't changed. But everything around has changed.”
Relating the past to the present, finding enduring connections that at once overlay and distance the two moments in time, is the essence of Cosic’s The Bird Song Is Deafening—the title borrowed from a poem by Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer. “[It created] a nice balance between the metaphorical… Thinking about hearing birds and memory can be quite deafening in a way,” Cosic says.
Born in Cairns, a small Australian town, Cosic grew up immersed in a combination of cultures and heritage, and the images she presents tell all of these stories—of the people, the traditions, and the low horizons that connect them all. Her images pull together these various threads from Australia, where Cosic was born, to Sweden, the birthplace of her mother, and Croatia, the birthplace of her father, which Cosic has visited many times. The combination of these places and cultures formed at once a deep sense of enrichment and awareness, and yet it brought the sensation of not quite belonging but still being part of them all, Cosic says.
“A lot of what I've been making has revolved around my own memories, bringing the past into the present,” she says, “and also by speaking with my parents, drawing from those intangible images that we create when we think of memories of places. That comments on the fact that we're constantly in the past and in the present, trying to connect the times in some way.”
Even the process of reviewing her photos adds an extra layer. Shooting on film, then patiently waiting as the rolls develop, created a “fragmented process” of diluted time.
“It's a nice time to distance yourself from what you're making. When you get the work back, you're a bit more fresh. Sometimes I need to stop and put that away and come back and look at it again with fresh eyes. Because things change.”
Change is immanent in any moment that Cosic commemorates as well as the images that help immortalizing it. A playful photograph of her mother mirrors how our past pays a visit to the present again and again. The image recreates an old photograph from Cosic’s childhood, when she and her sister were playing, drawn from her family archives. Now the actors are new: We see Cosic’s mother and her niece, while Cosic also peeks in, her foot stepping into the frame. Cosic brought the lipstick and cucumbers, and her niece started painting her grandmother’s face, adorning her with flowers.
“[I was] going back to family archives and trying to think about my experiences as a child and [my niece’s] experiences as well, and connecting again between past and present.”
Her manner of tying different moments together appears again in a black-and-white photograph of a festive banquet of sugar-coated cakes—alluding to Cosic’s father side of the family. Food takes center stage in Croatian tradition, a symbol of communal moments, a sign of gratitude and appreciation, and of the family’s ties—a deep sense of rootedness that went missing at times from Cosic’s experience, living so far from her relatives in a vast land.
“It's been such a long time, I suppose. There are a lot of things I'm coming back to.”
All photos © Teva Cosic, from the series The Bird Song Is Deafening
Teva Cosic is an artist based between Naarm/Melbourne and Gimuy/Cairns. Her research and practice explore the complex tensions of family and cultural history as they intersect with boarder notions of identity, migration and belonging. Find her on PHmuseum and Instagram.
This article is part of the series New Generation, a monthly column written by Lucia De Stefani, focusing on the most interesting emerging talents in our community.