Mărțișor is an old tradition celebrated all over Romania every year, on 1 March. It revolves around wearing red and white string, a practice that is thought to bring about a prosperous and healthy year. In the Romanian countryside, people honour the tradition by hanging string at their gates, windows and sheds to protect against evil spirits and invoke nature’s powers. The custom builds on a rich history of folktales based on agriculture, harvest and regeneration. It’s here that photographer Laura Pannack (b. 1985) found the basis for her recent book, Youth Without Age and Life Without Death, published by Guest Editions. Pannack took inspiration from Petre Ispirescu’s story of the same name – a fairy tale that tells of a child who is promised eternal youth. The artist’s resulting project looks at what it means to stop time.
The artist explains, “This project is a response to my need to escape, adventure and roam in reaction to internal pressure I feel that time is moving too fast. It seems like a shared experience that hours, days and weeks pass, and life slips away.” Pannack embarks on her own journey, in an attempt to freeze the world around us. Polaroids, drawings, photographs and hand-written notes explore the intangible, presenting a landscape that sits in between fantasy and reality. Subtle interventions and symbols such as clocks, orbs, animals and the motif of red twine run throughout the book, contributing to a feeling of magical realism.
In one image, a spinning wheel is placed in the middle of a forest. Brightly coloured string spreads from branch to treetop, evoking the yarn-based installations of Chiharu Shiota. In another picture, six men in traditional dress cross a rope bridge over a river. The stream below them gleams in the dappled sunshine of the morning. A sense of isolation permeates the series. A blindfolded man stands in the snow, holding the reigns of a horse. A woman sat in an abandoned hall searches her handbag for an object. Pannack captures the inscrutable, as viewers are left to wonder: who are these people? What are they looking for?
Youth Without Age and Life Without Death paints a familiar, yet slightly off-kilter, world that is seductive and tantalising. Each image, like the original fairy tale, poses a kind of challenge, as something to be solved or figured out. The ethereal compositions offer a view on the fragility of life. In turn, we are reminded of the startlingly beautiful moments of the everyday, the rhythms and repetitions that we can find in our own daily lives. As the photographer says, “Time elsewhere is relentless, but here something of it is left behind.”
Youth Without Age and Life Without Death, Laura Pannack | Guest Editions
Words: Chloe Elliott
1. Blind leading the blind © Laura Pannack
2. The way was long and even longer © Laura Pannack
3. The wheel of time © Laura Pannack
4. The waiting room © Laura Pannack