Memory occupies the space in which Contemporary's Contemporaries is exhibited at The Rocks by Sydney Harbour. With its heritage listing, exposed piping and sandstone walls the gallery space exposes the remnants of times past. Beyond this physical space, several artists deal directly with personal, artistic or collective memories which will be explored in this essay.  


In recent years, the art display has been transforming the art experience. The presentation of contemporary art is constantly shifting from the stylised, and neutral white walled gallery to the unrefined, raw warehouse, to public sites and spaces. This has altered the way that art is experienced and consumed by the public. A reactionary discourse against the white cube has meant that the phenomenological experience of viewing art is just as crucial as the art itself. Yet, white walled galleries are still the standard when it comes to displaying contemporary art. Brian O’Doherty[1] stated that the white walls of a gallery

Contemporary memories

Memory occupies the space in which Contemporary's Contemporaries is exhibited at The Rocks by Sydney Harbour. With its heritage listing, exposed piping and sandstone walls the gallery space exposes the remnants of times past. Beyond this physical space, several artists deal directly with personal, artistic or collective memories which will be explored in this essay.  

 

In recent years, the art display has been transforming the art experience. The presentation of contemporary art is constantly shifting from the stylised, and neutral white walled gallery to the unrefined, raw warehouse, to public sites and spaces. This has altered the way that art is experienced and consumed by the public. A reactionary discourse against the white cube has meant that the phenomenological experience of viewing art is just as crucial as the art itself. Yet, white walled galleries are still the standard when it comes to displaying contemporary art. Brian O’Doherty[1] stated that the white walls of a gallery space reflected society’s neuroses and created a barrier between artist and audience. In Ella Condon’s work, Trace of Light, we see illuminated particles of dust falling through the air. The hypnotic movements and sounds gently slow-down time as the pieces of dust rain down, occasionally bouncing off each other, changing the course of their movements. In considering the space of Contemporary's Contemporaries and the raw nature of its crumbling and unrefined walls, Condon’s work stimulates the breaking down of O’Dohertys white cube gallery. Her dust particles could almost be crumbling plaster board instead, at once ephemeral and constant.

 

 A museum is a space for individual and collective memory. It houses ideas and objects whose value and significance fluctuates over time. It places questions about the art canon and national identity based on which artists are privileged and displayed over others. Those making these decisions are creating a collective narrative about what Australian art is and choose how it is to be represented. This ‘national canon’ is conjured by the permanent collection of the MCA which holds the largest collection of contemporary Australian artists and has been purchasing works since 1989, from living artists who are currently practising. Michel Foucault describes a museum as a place, ‘of time that accumulates indefinitely’[2] indicating that the museum and its collection sit both in the present and the past. Today’s museums are no longer static spaces to display objects. To maintain funding and relevance they need to develop public programs, educational tools, and use new technologies to engage with their audience. Adopting these inclusive techniques opens the museum to a wider audience and helps to distil the sometimes autonomous nature of contemporary art. Each individual experience helps to shape the collective memory of the galleries display. Rachael Helmore is inspired by the way visitors move around the space within the galleries. Her work, Figures in the Gallery, permanently mark moments of temporality as visitors occupy the space in a constant flux. As they observe artworks, she in turn observes them.

 

 

Like stories and histories, memories can be shared. Our unconsciousness grasps onto fragments of moving images throughout time and holds them, allowing them to sporadically flutter or surge to the surface. We live in a world full of images that are part of a post-postmodern, post conceptual confusion. This age of digital reproduction has been altering our memories and attention spans. Artists are competing against the constant bombardment of images and content from advertising and the internet. Public art is forced to vie with the everyday urban spectacles, a flash mob every weekend hardly bats an eyelash anymore. Kate Brown is a performance artist whose work, 15 Minutes of Fame, is concerned with the oversaturation of moving images which are dramatically decreasing the average attention span. The instructional nature of this work invites performers to film themselves in a ‘moment’ for 30 seconds. There is an aspect of chance in this work as the artist has very little control over the content of these videos, making it as surprising for her as it will be for the audience. This engagement with collaboration allows many voices to generate a collective artwork.

 

The contours and layers of the land bears witness to the time that has past. The Parcel (Taryn Raffan and Michelle Heldon) are interested in capturing the physical traces of memory across landscapes. The collected remnants of what is left behind creates physical fragments of memory. Here, memory is not a search for authenticity but an attempt to archive moments of time. Similarly, Nerida Ross captures images using an analogue camera, allowing herself and the image time to develop. Her work is a celebration of those rare, stolen moments of calm within the chaos of everyday life. The images become reflections of a desire to slow down and take the time to create or experience something in the present.

 

Memory is embodied. Moments when we cannot escape our memories are often brought upon by remembrances of a traumatic event. Trauma ruptures our imagination and daydreams.  It does not have to be lived to be experienced however, trauma can be collective. Walter Benjamin writes that, “To articulate the past historically does not mean to recognise it ‘the way it really was’. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger’[3]. This moment of danger is explicit in Victoria Greiner’s work, Allergic to Life, which is about the way bodies can seize hold of a traumatic experience and subsequently pass this trauma on to following generations. The trauma repeats itself indefinitely. This process is called ‘postmemory’[4] and poses questions about of how memory is constituted and articulated. Greiner’s work attempts to reconcile memory and trauma through the body.

 

Memory is fragmentary, unstable and highly influenced by imagination making it the perfect playground for artists to venture into. It sits in the past and is remade indefinitely by the present. It slips and crumbles, it erupts in moments of joy. Contemporary's Contemporaries is impregnated with the individual memories of each artist, generating into a larger collective narrative of what it is to be a practising artist today.

 

 

[1] Markus Bruderlin, Work on the White Cube, Situation, The MIT Press, Massachusetts, p32

 

[2] Robert S Nelson, Now is the Time, 2009, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. p96

 

[3] Walter Benjamin, Illuminations, 1968, Schocken Books, London p225

 

[4] Joan Gibbons, Contemporary Art and Memory 2007, I B Taurus, New York. p73

 

 

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