Susanna Greeves on ‘Memory Palace’ | White Cube


From the historical, we move to the personal and what you might term ‘autobiographical memory’ – so memories that are personal, subjective, even confessional. The 93 year old Lebanese artist, Etel Adnan, rarely leaves Paris, where she now lives and works, but she makes paintings and tapestries there, which draw on memories of Californian landscapes where she lived decades ago. Tracey Emin uses her own experiences and often her own body, as source material in her work, making forms of self portraiture that can be painfully intimate but at the same time have a universal quality. Georg Baselitz’s subject, as it often has been, is here his wife, Elka, but this image of her almost dematerialising into a haze is also an intimately observed portrait of aging. ‘The Nature of Our Looking’ is the first film Gilbert & George exhibited and shows the young artists in a living tableau. We can see that they’ve continued to appear in their own work since those earliest days when they met at Saint Martin’s School of Art in 1967. The ‘Memory Palace’ technique is about memorising, but more often, the way that we make sure of memories is to record them by writing and in other ways. In fact, writing is the imagery that we often associate with memory right back to Plato when he was defining the concept of memory, he used the image of the mind as a wax tablet So you can see that text and memory are intimately associated and these works all deal with text in different ways, from Cerith Wyn Evans’ neon lettering to Eddy Peaks’ graffiti inspired spray paint and Jessica Rankin’s delicate embroidery. Christian Marclay’s onomatopoeia works use words which convey sounds. They’re torn from classic comics, and collaged. So, it’s an auditory experience translated into a visual one and the same is true of Sarah Morris’ soundwave painting. It’s a form of notation that’s familiar from digital music editing. We recognise it as the record, or memory, of a sound, although that experience can’t be recovered. The final section of the exhibition considers ‘sensory memory’. That is both memory as it can be located, not in the intellect, but in the body and the senses, and the Proustian idea of memory, as something that can be summoned by a sensory experience. It includes artists whose work explores perceptual phenomena such as Robert Irwin, who is a leading proponent of the Californian Light and Space movement. Cerith Wyn Evans’ neon forms ‘After Noh’ draws on the notation of classical Japanese Noh theater creating a three-dimensional form in frozen light that captures energy and gesture over time and Imi Knoebel whose ‘Ort-Rosa’, which means ‘Place Pink’, creates a powerful sensory chromatic experience. Finally, we exit the gallery through Virginia Overton’s paneled wall in fresh-cut cedar planks appealing to our sense of smell that has such a powerful role in summoning memory.

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