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The memory of forgetting
Historically, the catalogue essays of curated exhibitions have united work under the umbrella of curatorial intention. Under this schema the work's ability to surpass illustration largely rests with the art itself. From the theme shows of the '70s, however, emerged a rather more sophisticated version of the group show. Rarely are works today as crudely linked as they were once, under banners such as "The Weather" or "Interiors". Increasingly, the interaction between curator/writer (text) and artist (image) is undertaken on a collaborative basis and accompanying texts seek to contribute on a parallel and complimentary level. From out of the coffee shops of Leichhardt percolated the basic premise for The Memory of Forgetting: an exhibition of miniature artworks held at ThePerformance Space and directed at an exploration/ investigation of the relationship between image and text. It was an ambitious undertaking by four Sydney artists: Michael Bognar, Bruce McCalmont, Diane McCarthy and Ingeborg Tyssen, and an imaginary essayist, Juan Pinguino Enfadado from the Universidad de Coma Corazon.
The use of an imaginary text recalls both Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and its predecessor Alessandro Manzoni's The Betrothed, both of which use narrative as a device for contemporaneous comment. Even more than this, The Memory of Forgetting critiqued, through parody, the use/misuse of wordy language and French texts as a means of supporting, authenticating or validating exhibitions. A large blown-up extract from the catalogue was centrally located in the main gallery of The Performance Space and served a number of functions: it provided the viewer with some clues to the tongue-in-cheek nature of certain aspects of the exhibition; its large scale made comment on the seeming ability of text to overpower artwork; and it operated as a purely visual device which unified and anchored the small scale works.
Michael Bognar's serigraphs evoked the idea that at 'borders' or 'edges' things happen which are significant but possible to miss, like footnotes or a subtext. He used the screen printed image of a piece of decorative border-like an architrave or ceiling moulding-which was repeated to suggest a frieze/continuum and was presented as a number of fragments. Within these double borders Hungarian words were placed parallel to and not much higher than the skirting boards, drawing attention to the architectural details of the gallery and recalling the building's own history, traces of its other existences, yet ones which co-exist and relate to its present life. The pieces could be seen as a playful comment on the relationship which occurs between visual work and text, and, at the same time, they were a more serious comment on the idea of communication as able to function, somehow, outside the parameters of language.
Bruce McCalmont's series of bas-relief-like works ushered the viewer into a strange disorientating space that defied the rules of perspective and scale. These balsa wood constructions suggested, both in size and material, that they could be maquettes for much larger works which would be all the more disturbing. Their eerie shadows and labyrinthine spaces evoked memories of Gothic movies which McCalmont had further manipulated, distorting, flattening and collapsing our accepted reading of these schematic rooms.
Using 'the golden mean' as a starting point for each piece McCalmont probed the conventions of constructed visual perception : his structures refused to recede, the stairways tipped over, flipped forward, the room tilted as though on an axis-spinning apart, conveying the idea of collapse within an implied system(s) of order. Hidden and fixed like theatrical backdrops were paintings- mostly of Dutch interiors-which offered space and architecture seamlessly blended, but which here appeared hopelessly confined by McCalmont's own pictorial misconventions. McCalmont used the symbol of the house, not as a haven, castle, sanctuary, or roost but upended, as a 'house of cards', a scene of violence or confinement, a prison or maze, in which nothing appeared to be fixed or stable.
Diane McCarthy's work implied a relationship between the physical sites of dreaming and the different dreams they contain. As various as our memories-all the dreams we have had and all the beds we've dreamt in. Her bed sculptures acknowledged the frailty and vulnerability of those dreams, their fine wire twisted and bent, like a bed in which someone has tossed and turned and which has retained a trace of the process. Small areas of canvas and wax stretched across some of the frames and indicated sheeting, or a membrane marked with 'living' memory.
These beds appeared in various configurations and in materials which ranged from wire to wood and plaster. Hair rollers as pillows, hairnets as sheets or veils and fine wire conjured up that unselfconscious process of fumbling distractedly with some small object (paperclip/bobbypin), only to look down and find that you have indeed given it a recognisable form. McCarthy's double beds, where often the two pillows merged as one, recall something of the eo-mingling of Joy Hester's embracing figures.
Memory as a process of imprinting, and its retention as an arrangement of fragments, was explored by lngeborg Tyssen in a series of minute photographs. These tiny photographs were set in a blackness which served to further isolate the image. It was as if Tyssen was quoting from memory, using the blackness to break the idea of a
continuous thread, presenting instead a group of fractured recollected images from 'sites' of culture. Tyssen delved into the relationship between the viewer, visitor, or tourist and the relics on display- each mirrored the other in their dis-location. Her camera mimicked the 'sideways glance', producing an image with a sense of out-of-the-corner-of-the-frame about it. This proposed a closer representation of viewed experience than that which is usually associated with a photographic record-as a documentary account usually constructed around capturing the clearest definition of the object on display rather than giving any indication of it in terms of its context. Here an element of mystery pervaded: nearly all works contained a strange light, casting shadows, adding an eeriness which again recalled a filmic perception.
Rather than suggesting a narrative, this haunting light gave the impression of another presence or perhaps of forgotten memory.
The Memory of Forgetting functioned as a collaboration on a number of levels. The use of a small scale format and the placement of works at the edges of the walls, outside the conventional eye level height, had a strangely unifying effect. The large spaces around the works meant that these scattered pieces could be viewed as one work-an installation covering the entire area of the gallery. Each artist echoed quite similar ideas and the overall orchestration enhanced the whimsical and metaphorical quality of the work.