Off by Heart and Out of Breath
A Silva Rerum
In the summer of 2014, Wendy Morris walked from the north of France to Vlissingen in the south-western Netherlands, looking for traces of her Huguenot ancestors, who in the 17th century took this route to escape religious persecution; eventually, they were to find a new home in South-Africa. In her search for traces of her refugee forebears Morris could find brief histories of them after they arrived at the Cape of Good Hope, but no traces of them leading up to their departure from Europe. She could find no letters exchanged between relatives, no documentation of lands or property lost, no narratives of escape handed down through the generations. To remedy the absence of narratives and a sense of discontinuity with this history Morris set off on a project of recuperation. She started to compile a silva rerum for the families that had fled France. The term silva rerum, a ‘forest of things’, originated in Roman times to describe a work encompassing different genres of writing. In the 17th century in Poland, it re-emerged as a description of a family chronicle designed to provide continuity between the generations. Off by Heart and Out of Breath – a Silva Rerum is a ‘living book’ that merges traces of the past with experiences in the present and invites entries in the future.