THE MOMENT SOMETHING IS UNDERSTOOD IT BEGINS TO BE FORGOTTEN
6 - 23 May 2015
Opening Night | Thursday 7 May 6-8pm
Bridie Gillman, Sarah Poulgrain + Kylie Spear
Bridie Gillman, Sarah Poulgrain and Kylie Spear examine various interactions between the body, place and sensation. These emerging artists from Brisbane explore ways in which sensory experiences and memories can be translated through found materials, installation and time-based media. The moment something is understood it begins to be forgottenreflects upon the vulnerability of memory through a slowing and deconstruction of remembered moments.
IMAGES | Bridie Gillman, Draped wall excerpt (detail), 2014, digitally printed banner, 1m x 1m, 2014| Kylie Spear, Haptic Memory Study (Feet), 2015, video still| Images courtesy of the artist.
THE UNBEARABLE MINEFIELD OF MEMORY
“Mnemosyne, said the Greeks, is the mother of the Muses; the history of the training of this most fundamental and elusive of human powers will plunge us into deep waters.” – Frances Yates, The Art of Memory
“The struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting” — Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
There’s a trick one can use to tease out memory. You think of a certain object, a certain sign, even a certain smell and imagine it in your house. As part of a path with which you are familiar. It lays itself on the histories of the ancient Greek trick of placing objects in rooms in order to recall stories, the Romans’ extension of that practice into amphitheatres, and later, Giulio Camillo’s 16th Century Memory Theatre – a matrix of mnemonic cues that pointed to a more whole (and indeed, now speculative) knowledge of the Universe.
Today, we lament the end of history at a point of information saturation, but in remembering, we can not lament an ending, only our forgetting of it. The use of memory in contemporary art allows a poiesis back into the frame. It gives us the capability to see outside ourselves, reminding us that fictions are possible, and without them, we wouldn’t have the ability to see outside our overbearing rationalisations. Science, had it not been for imagination, would still be in the realm of the mystical.
While we yearn for rationalisations, they can also dissolve curiosity, intimacy, and emotion.
As the exhibition title infers, once something is understood, it indeed begins to be forgotten. Bridie Gillman, Sarah Poulgrain and Kylie Spear take memories of place, object, body and sensation to knot and unknot them. The three artists push back at what Bernhard Stiegler refers to as the ‘industrialisation of memory’, which claims a loss of individuation and hence, the loss of ability to imagine beyond already rationalised realities.
Sarah Poulgrain approaches this with humble, almost flaccidly cool sculptural objects, humming with a dull drone, a white noise exemplified but familiar. But the flaccidity in the objects isn’t about lameness. Nor is it merely about the long-dead aura of the everyday object in its art context. Rather, Poulgrain pays homage to what Georges Bataille called a ‘non-productive expenditure’, in which value is attributed not by means of physical or material utility, but through the transference of energy between the maker and the object; non-productive objects become a site of energetic intensity, whether attractive or repulsive, energetic nonetheless.
Poulgrain reconstructs her personal experience of the every day, through her perceptions of a consumer culture in a drowning neoliberal society might consider valueless. Her work shifts mundanities into mundeities; objects profound in their seeming listlessness turn into live beings. It’s precisely Poulgrain’s engagement with the object as a sensual mass that denies the object, and hence, the memory—since the object draws from and pays special attention to the artist’s memory—institutionalisation.
That resistance to the institutionalisation of emotion or ‘chargedness’ is also evident in the work of Kylie Spear, who takes it on through the body, intimacy, sound and the screen. Symptomatic of any body displayed through screen, a dichotomy of physicality and representation of physicality presents itself as a tension. Spear, however, elaborates on this tension by pulling in small flecks of memory – peripheral memories that recall either the mythical (the felt) or real (the physical), and exemplifying those small moments.
Spear’s work is charged with a sort of intimacy that allows one to feel their body while viewing the screen; even though the disengagement of the cool pixel is present, the sumptuous way in which the artist approaches movement and memory incurs an empathy. In her sculptural installation Haptic Memory Study, the artist, using her feet as a memory trigger, recalls grounds that she has walked upon; represented between two screens, awkwardly out of sync. It’s slow, it’s sensual, and it makes you re-assess your presence in front of it. The artist ultimately questions the validity of any ‘truth’ in remembering, and the place that the body has in recollection.
Bridie Gillman takes a more utilitarian, yet still subjective approach to time and memory. Her practice is deeply rooted in the artist’s travels and in the representation of cross-cultural memory and experience. It’s through the hybridity associated with travel that the artists avoids attributing a concrete meaning to the work, avoiding the universalisation of experience, instead allowing the dialogue to be formed between object, viewer, and the viewer’s set of own memories.
Gillman works with materials that she finds around her; rubber tyres, tree branches, a piece of hose. In this exhibition, the artist presents a eucalyptus tree branch – while the tree is native to Australia, it can be found in countries such as India, China, and as far as Europe—all cultures encounter the tree differently.
Represented on a banner is Gillman’s photograph of a strewn fishing net in Tokyo. At the time of taking the photograph, the artist was unsure of why it needed to be taken, but intuition willed her finger to drop on the shutter and she later made the link between that fishing net and one that she’d seen in Indonesia, where she lived for some time. Her memory had played her, and it should also play you.
Ultimately, there are no ultimates. As Yates said, the waters of memory are deep and elusive. These artists embrace that.
- SARAH WERKMEISTER
 Roberts, B 2006. Cinema as Mnemotechnics: Bernard Stiegler and the industrialisation of memory. Angelaki, 11(1), pp.55–63
 See Bataille, G 1933 The Notion of Expenditure.