Yana Sakellion

My Father's Letters, Digital Video, 2min 15 sec

This piece is based on personal narrative (below) and expresses my early fascination with handwritten letter-forms and textile qualities of handwriting. I am employing digital video and animation to convey my childhood associations between the object and the meaning, while experimenting with kinetic typography.


My love for letters as objects started even before I could read. The first time I saw
one was at the very tender age of 4. I knew exactly what I was looking at because my
family collected correspondence (postcards, letters, cards and scraps) sent by my father
from Greece. Every time a new addition arrived, my mother and grandmother would
gather around and read it aloud so that I could hear. Long at first, the messages got
shorter and shorter as the “Father-pile” grew. Nonetheless, those envelopes were still
carefully placed in a specially allocated drawer and kept, more or less, in chronological

Sometimes I would be allowed access to the “Father-pile”, although someone else would
remove of the letters and put them back in place. There were a small number of holiday
cards, the most beautiful things I‘d ever seen on paper by that age. They seemed
impossible compared to the poorly produced, plain, unimaginative postcards we got from
our relatives from Ukraine; not for the lack of taste on their part, but due to the decline of
print industry funding.

I remember one card in particular. Even till this day the image is very sharp in my mind.
Printed on a snow-white heavy weight paper, there was an embossed illustration of a
spring cherry grove - flowers blooming, petals falling, little birds flying. Under a tree
stood a young beautiful couple, holding hands. A handsome dark-haired man, and a fair
woman with a delicate profile were looking into each other’s eyes, smiling tenderly.
Everyone at home (my mother included) noted that those happy lovers looked just like
my parents. It must have been an anniversary card my father sent. Devoid of cynicism in
those days, I loved picking this card out of the pile, examine the watercolor illustration
and every bit of the glitter on it, open the cover and feel the insides of embossed cavities
with my fingers.

Not being able to read yet and having forgotten the context of the letter, I just let the
intricate weaving of blue ink wash over me. Starting at the very first symbol I’d follow
each thread, letting my eyes flow with the curves or jump over mysterious obstacles left
by my father’s pen. Once I reached the end of the letter, I would start right back at the
first mark again. It became a sort of a meditative practice.
Somehow I believed that by the sheer repetition of this process and my good sense, I
would be able to will the meaning into existence. I can’t recall if it actually ever
happened, but I did experience waves of euphoria whenever I seemed to have recognized
something familiar in the lines of ink. It was real to me, and that was good enough.
Eventually, I stopped my love affair with the “father’s pile”. It happened in a space of a
year or so of those imaginations, when I finally learned to read, or perhaps when I saw
my father that same year on his first visit back, which lasted a few days and left no
significant memories.