HackelBury is delighted to be hosting the group exhibition Medium and Memory curated by art historian and contemporary art writer Griselda Pollock.
Medium and Memory stages four conversations pairing eight artists from different countries, generations, ethnicities, and personal histories who all share a deep engagement with the materiality of their media—painting drawing, moving image, photography and photo-collage—while focussing on memory—personal, historical, cultural, suppressed, discovered, restored.
Putting a still resonant, modernist medium-consciousness into tension with a post-modern sense of responsibility to ‘the burden of history’, these artists explore an ethical dimension in contemporary art—a refusal to forget—and the potential of contemporary art for aesthetic transformation of traumatic legacies of war, famine, genocide, colonialism and de-industrialization as well as the memory-effacing effects of the digital age.
Christine Taylor Patten works with a crow quill pen and black ink on paper creating abstract, meditative drawings that explore time, movement and change by a focus on the turning of a plane. Created by the accumulation of tiny strokes—the movement of her wrist making a single mark—her drawings build up densities that actually reveal light as her strokes block out the whiteness of the paper. This is evident in her monumental project macro/micro (begun in 1999) that pairs seven monumental drawings (from 2 to 7 metres), all titled with reference to John Lennon’s dream for a peaceful world in his song ‘Imagine‘, with 2000 micro drawings and related tangents, each only 2.5 cm x 2.5 cm in size. This massive drawing project reveals infinite possibilities for this simple protocol of seeing where each drawing takes her, from the geometric to the organic, from the formal to the hilarious, as they unexpectedly discover what the scientists and mathematicians who write about her work suggest echoes their understanding of the unplanned unfolding of the cosmos. We exhibit Imagine3with 9 Tangents from the 2000 drawing micro series and paired drawings inspired by a phrase from Jane Austen.
Benjamin Hannavy Cousen has developed an abstract protocol for painting that materializes, and thus makes visible, the ‘colour unconscious’ we hardly notice in literature as seen in The Sea, The Sea (Iris Murdoch, 1978) and 1984 #2 (George Orwell, 1949) and works from Asimov and Virginia Woolf. Systematically mapping the sequence of colour words occurring in his chosen text, the artist creates paintings by laying down a line of paint for each colour in the sequence of its appearance across the book. The paintings thus reveal the unseen, but, for the readers, unconsciously registered, coloured imaginary of major works of fiction, while the resulting physical build-up of his paint application creates an unexpected dimensionality for painting that takes on almost sculptural form.
Judith Tucker works at the intersection of social history, personal memory, ecology and place through drawing and painting, often working concurrently with a poet sharing her concerns. In her early work, she explored inter-generationally-transmitted trauma of her family’s displacement and forced migration. Her recent paintings and drawings focus on a British history through ‘Fitties’, historically the holiday cottages and gardens, used by the now-destroyed Northern mining communities, on the Lincolnshire coast and flatlands, themselves tragically at risk from climate change and environmental degradation. Alongside her atmospheric night paintings of Fitties, for this exhibition she has produced a series of new drawings working from archival photographs from the 1930s of the miners’ holiday cottages, thus layering, in different media, memories of memories while speaking to the present.
Asel Kadyrkhanova combines installation, moving image, sound and drawing to confront what is termed ‘the post-Soviet condition’ of many, radically different societies, all emerging after 1989 from the repressed trauma and unexamined legacies of both Imperial Russian colonization and mid-twentieth century Stalinist totalitarianism. As a post-generation artist, she explores the paradox of an unspoken weight and cultural absence of the memory of the mass famine in, and the political deportations to the gulags, Kazakhstan during the 1930s. In her hand-drawn animated film All the Dreams We Dream (2017-2020), the artist draws on childhood memories of travelling through the famine-ridden steppes that she has discovered in rare memoirs referencing the famine. Making drawings from their words exposes the artist herself to the traumatic horror she is bringing into visibility. Evocatively animated, the film takes us too on a journey over the deserted steppes in snowy moonlight, entering emptied yurts to encounter shocking, almost indecipherable chimeras created by starvation, clothed now in the compassion of her aesthetic wit(h)nessing.
Sutapa Biswas, born in India and arriving in Britain aged 3, registers another journey through the medium of film in Lumen (2021) from which we exhibit framed stills as independent artworks. While still a student in the early 1980s, she became a leading figure in the Black Artists Movement in Britain. As a conceptual artist deeply engaged in critical rethinking the legacies of colonialism and endemic racism, her work addresses in several media the entanglements of class, race, gender and memory. Her film, Lumen (2021), imaginatively retraces the journey made by her mother, with her children, to the UK from traumatized post-Partition India, evoking her sense of loss and displacement when arriving in a virulently racist Britain. Set in an Elizabethan mansion, reminding us of the material gains Europe acquired through colonialism, and featuring a single woman delivering a Shakespearean monologue (played by Natasha Patel), Biswas layers her evocatively filmed footage of a return to India today with archive footage and photographs of British colonial rule in India. Also in the show is her haunting short film about love and loss, punctured by exploding birds and the sound of children’s laughter, Magnesium Bird (2004). It mourns the death and transforms memories of the artist’s father, a political intellectual whose forced exile from post-independence India led the family to its relocation in Britain.
Bracha L. Ettinger works through a past she unknowingly inherited in transgenerational transmission by transforming a selection of archival images of world wars and genocide using a new medium she developed - an interrupted photocopying process. As a result, her works on papers bear only a ghostly trace ‘in ash’ of rare photographic documents of scenes of mass murder during the Shoah whose newly created surface she then touches in her present with a colour-ladened brush to ‘clothe’ the traumatic freight of the image and the past with wit(h)ness and fascinance—her terms for a prolonged compassionate re-gazing and openness to being with, and refusing to abandon, the pain of the past. HackelBury will show Matrix Borderline Case no.3 (1990) and the trilogy Nichsapha (Yearning) - Lapsus (1991). Fragmentary papers from the interrupted photocopy process are assembled into glass-mounted standing ‘figures’, which cast their imageless shadow upon the wall. One ‘document’ to which Ettinger has repeatedly returned, is a rare record of one mass murder of women and children in Ukraine, under German occupation in 1942, painfully resonating with the violence against women and children occurring worldwide, in war and in Ukraine today. Ettinger writes: ‘Art not only evokes memory but it creates memory for the future’.
In Revised Edition American artist Coral Woodbury uses sumi ink to paint portraits of women artists (from all eras) over the pages of her own copy of an infamous art history textbook, Janson’s History of Art, which included no women artists for its many editions from 1963 to 1986. Image by image, Woodbury restores the erased cultural memory of creative women, matched to the historical images on the page selected for each artist’s re-inscription into an expanded and inclusive history of art. Also included in Coral Woodbury’s Revised Edition, and in this show, is US-American artist Joanne Leonard who is one of the first women included in a revised edition of Jansen’s History of Art in 1986 with her work, ‘Romanticism is Ultimately Fatal’ (1972).
Joanne Leonard uses photo-collage to create ‘intimate documentary’. HackelBury will exhibit selections from Leonard’s on-going project, Newspaper Diary (2006 - ) that involves another kind of memory work—a pairing of press photographs from newspapers with images from art history and other books that remind us of older media, soon to be archaic memories, such as printed newspapers and hardcopy books. Leonard’s newspaper diarying performs a commentary on personal associations and of cultural memory traversing the space between the museum and the news and now digital media revealing a shared visual imaginary—the cultural store of images and image-memories—that shape the way we understand our present in pre-coded image repertoires of bodies and scenarios. Her daily practice of connecting images from the news with paintings from history also serve to mark time in her own life. Their creation enables her personally ‘to register the day’s passing’ while ‘responding to things in the world’ as the world’s diarist in images.
About Griselda Pollock
Griselda Pollock has curated exhibitions at Rijksmuseum Vincent van Gogh, Amsterdam (1980), University of Leeds Gallery (1978, 1999, 2006, 2015, 2019-20), The Drawing Centre, London (2006), Freud Museum, London (2009), and as part of 14th Istanbul Biennial (2015). She has written extensively on modern and contemporary art, most recently with a special focus on issues or trauma and cultural memory. Recent publications include Charlotte Salomon in the Theatre of Memory (London & New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018), Killing Men & Dying Women: Imagining Difference in 1950s New York Painting (Manchester University Press, 2022), and co-edited with Max Silverman, Concentrationary Art: Jean Cayrol, the Lazarean and the Everyday in Post-war Film, Literature, Music and the Visual Arts (Berghahn, 2020), her chapter focussing on the recent work of Scottish contemporary sound artist Susan Philipsz.