Sophie Jodoin: Open letters.

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Sophie Jodoin, 2013, Letter 4 [conté on mylar, 35.5 x 28 cm]

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Sophie Jodoin, 2013, Letter 8 [conté on mylar, 35.5 x 28 cm]

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Sophie Jodoin, 2013, Letter 7 [conté on mylar, 35.5 x 28 cm]

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Sophie Jodoin, 2013, Letter 9 [conté on mylar, 35.5 x 28 cm]

Jodoin feels she is drawing “the last remnants of something.  They represent the loss of a gesture, of a way in which we used to communicate.  The new generation has never even written a letter, so for them it is not even nostalgia.  The letter is a relic.”

Memory: A very short introduction

Memory cover

 

I just finished reading Jonathan Foster’s Memory: A very short introduction which covers a lot of ground for a mere 138 pages.  He looks at how memory works from encoding to storage to recall, as well as forgetting, memory impairment, and improving memory.  Throughout he draws on the studies of scientists and psychologists, and gives a surprisingly thorough overview.

Most pertinent to my interests was the idea that memory is not a reproduction, rather the is a re-construction:

Remembering is not the re-excitation of innumerable fixed, lifeless and fragmentary traces. It is an imaginative reconstruction, or construction, built out of our attitude towards a whole active mass of organised past reactions or experience, and to a little outstanding detail which commonly appears in image or in language form. It is thus hardly ever really exact, even in the most rudimentary cases of rote recapitulation… (Bartlett as cited in Foster, 2009, p. 17)

Memory is a perception, and as such it is not the truth, only a truth. It is filtered through the mind and is subject to interpretation, and not just a single interpretation, throughout their duration memories are reconstructed many times over as new understanding gives way to new perspectives. “The memory that we assemble may contain some actual elements of the past… but – taken as a whole – it is an imperfect re-construction of the past located in the present” (Foster, 2009,  p. 14).  We are all aware on some level that memories are not completely accurate, the cliched example being the varied accounts of an accident when there are numerous witnesses, but even personal memories are reinvented whenever we revisit them.  While reproduction suggests creating the same thing in an identical way, reconstruction implies starting anew to create something that has already been, but has left no trace.

Forgetting on the other hand can be seen not only as the anthesis of memory, but perhaps also as a sometime collaborator in the the process of memory.  There is a suggestion that forgetting occurs in order to make way for the storage of newer, more important, memories:

There are two traditional views of forgetting. One view argues that memory simply fades or decays away, just as objects in the physical environment might fade or or erode or tarnish over time. This view represents a more passive conceptulisation of forgetting and memory. The second view regards forgetting as a more active process. According to this perspective, there is no strong evidence for the passive fading of information in memory, but forgetting occurs because memory traces are disrupted, obscured or overlaid by other memories. In other words, forgetting occurs as a consequence of interference. (Foster, 2009, p. 62)

Forgetting and subsequent remembering concerns our access to the way the memory is stored, whether it is in the short term memory (or consciousness) or long term memory.  It can occur that a memory we are not actively aware of can be prompted by a trigger of some kind.  So often when we say “I forgot” it is this kind of forgetting we are talking about, and the phrase “I forgot” actually means “I forgot, but I remember now.”  Much more disconcerting is the knowledge that there are many many things which we seemingly have forever lost.  Although proving this kind of forgetting is much more difficult: “The existence of forgetting has never been proved: we only know that some things don’t come to mind when we want them to” (Nietzsche as cited in Foster, 2009, p. 62).  Anecdotal evidence suggests that forgetting is actually a relief, as Foster explains in his recount of the study of a man with a near perfect memory (likely related to his synaesthesia) who discovered after some time that he couldn’t bear to have conversations anymore because of the overwhelming wealth of associations he got from this simple interaction (p. 133).  People have a tendency to remember the things that are important to them, and let go of details that are not useful or interesting.  It is true that sometimes we lose details we would rather have kept clear, but as an alternative, a perfect memory is not necessarily a blessing.

 

Reconstruction rather than reproduction

Bartlett  argued that what people remember is, to some extent, mediated by their emotional and personal commitment to – and investment in – the original to-be-remembered event.  In Barlett’s own words, memory retains ‘a little outstanding detail’, while the remainder of what we remember represents an elaboration that is merely influenced by the original event.  Bartlett referred to this key characteristic of memory as ‘reconstructive’, as opposed to ‘reproductive’. In other words, instead of reproducing the original event or story, we derive a reconstruction based on our existing presuppositions, expectations and our ‘mental set’.

(Foster, 2009, p. 12)

Two works from January

I wrote this (detail 2)

Justine Giles, 2013-2014. I wrote this in a language I can’t read (detail). [Cut-out and graphite on vellum, 594 x 841mm]

In July I started experimenting with the idea of writing as a form of drawing.  Since then I have become more and more interested in the functions of the left and right hemispheres of the brain and what they mean in terms of art making. The left hemisphere, which controls the right hand (my dominant hand) is a linear thinker, this is the part of the brain where language is stored, and it is also the part of the brain that is utilised in writing the alphabet.  The right side of the brain is often associated with creativity and a more holistic understanding of the world.  The right side of the brain is more associated with art.  In looking at text as a drawing process, I realised that it became a very interesting question of which part of the brain is in control.  When drawing the English writing I was trying to pay attention to the forms of the letters over the words and the meanings, but in the process I would slip between the two modes of understanding, sometimes breaking out of the characteristic almost meditative mood that takes over when I am drawing.  I began to think about the watercolour I did that incorporated German written in a child’s hand.  Because I don’t understand German, it occurred to me that this was more like drawing, however to push it further still I knew that the next step must be to draw a language where even the letters are a mystery to me.

The above work, written in Farsi and translated by a friend, reads “I wrote this in a language I can’t read” or at least that is what I believe it to say.  It talks about Trace in the faint graphite gridlines used to create the pattern of the letters, as well as graphite on the wall that is seen through the cut lines, and more faintly through the slightly translucent paper.  This work also experiments with the idea of both additive and reductive marks (drawing and cutting). It is about the hemispheres of the brain, of tricking the right into believing that these are just beautiful lines, and frustrating the left in its quest to make sense of the language.

It is about not knowing, and never having known (as opposed to remembering and forgetting).

Prefigurements

Justine Giles, 2014. Prefigurements. [Ink and ballpoint pen on detail paper, 420 x 594 mm]

These handwritten book dedication pages are fascinating to me.  The combination of printed words and personal messages inscribed, create something unique.  There are many books in a print run, but as soon as someone alters it with the addition of their own handwritten text, there is only one just like this.   These works are representations removed from their original context (as part of a book) and original scale, but painstakingly copied to the pressure of the handwritten line.  This communication was meant for one person, but in the process of leaving the possession of the recipient, they are now messages dislodged from their purpose, outdated.

In the absence of the book, these become representations of a transaction between people.

Problems with installation

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For January I was allocated a difficult almost corridor-like space which leading to the stairs to the mezzanine offices.  From the entrance of the space directly ahead was a gap that led to the stairs and the walls were either side.  In discussion with my supervisors we came up with the idea of adding another wall to the back to conceal this area, as you can see in the first picture above, and giving me a much more workable space.

There were a number of problems with this installation that I need to keep in mind for July (and beyond!)

One of the biggest problems was the humidity in the studios which warped all of my paper dramatically.  Not only that, it warped all the paper differently!  Never having worked with prints before it didn’t occur to me that the grain of the paper would be different on different prints, but I discovered this was the case when some of them warped top to bottom and others side to side, and they bowed out from the wall by a good 20cm.

The translucent papers seemed to fare better (perhaps because they are slightly waxy in texture?) although the thinest ones looked the worse for wear by the end of the week.  I need to be wary of the materials I use, and I also need to consider how to hang them given the humidity.  As you can see in the images above to avoid the excessive curling I had to secure the paper to the wall at the corners, and it is still evident that the paper is trying to curl at the edges.

I need to become better at installing my artwork to create interest in the space and to encourage more connections between artworks.  One of the criticisms I received was around the symmetrical layout of space.  I chose to hang it this way because I didn’t consider these works together as a series (rather I was presenting a number of strategies or threads) and wanted to avoid having a wall of this and a wall of that.  I know it was quite clumsy, so this is something I want to note for consideration when I install in July.

One thing I thought was successful about the installation was the work on the far wall: I wrote this in a language I can’t speak. The subtlety of the image makes it difficult not only to photograph, but also to see clearly in a white cube.  That being said, the subtlety is an important part of the work itself.  I remedied this by adding a rectangle of graphite drawn straight onto the wall behind it, and hanging the work slightly out from the wall.  The graphite behind lifted the cut letters just enough, and the layered effect only added to the reading of the work.

I’m really happy with how the space looked with the added wall.  I’m also happy with many of the works individually.  I now need to be conscious of the selection and presentation.

Simryn Gill

Simryn Gill 1 Simryn Gill 3Simryn Gill 2

Simryn Gill, 2005, Pearls [paper, glue & hemp fibre].

“The very word evisceration says it all, as she and her helpers in this dour dark deed creep into the graveyard of second-hand books with sharp knifes and steal their organs” (Taussig, 2008, p. 106).

Simryn Gill’s Pearls series are strings of beads created from the pages of books.  The artist receives a book, which she then destroys and reconstructs as a string of ‘pearls’ which are then gifted back to the giver, thus completing a transaction.

Taussig, in his essay in Gill’s 2008 monograph, points out that books are sacred, and there is a sense of horror in the idea of willfully desecrating them, and yet with sacrifice comes consecration (p. 106).  The transformation of lines of text into individual pearls represents the idea of language as a commodity.  There is a richness in knowledge (pearls of wisdom), as there is in the tiny beads produced by oysters. Gill has remade and in some ways revalued the books.  None of the content is missing, it is all carefully contained wrapped up in the layering of the paper pearl.  It is no longer accessible, but it is still present.