Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Sites of Collective Memory

Roz Mortimer; photo by Val Phoenix
Opening today in the atmospheric and ever so secluded grounds of Southwark Park is the group exhibit Sites of Collective Memory, featuring works by four artists (including one pairing) on the theme of place and memory. Quite intriguing as it follows on from my visit two weeks ago to the day-long symposium Anxious Places, featuring one of the group, Shona Illingworth, in conversation with two of her collaborators.

Illingworth's talk that today focused on the process of developing the piece showing here, 216 Westbound, a recollection by John Tulloch of being on board one of the Tube trains that was blown up on July 7, 2005. Unfortunately, on the night of the private view there was so much chatter from the assemblage outside the room where the work was showing, it was difficult to hear what Tulloch said. Then a message flashed up onscreen that the computer showing it was scheduled to shut down in nine minutes! Those of us in the room watched the clock counting down with mounting anxiety. I did have a thought it was part of the artwork, but I don't think so, and went off to ask someone to reset the machine. It definitely deserves a more sympathetic viewing and full attention. Later, I spoke to Illingworth in the lovely garden adjacent to the gallery, and we chatted about her process. "I'm not so interested in making objects," she declared, before turning the conversation to allotments. She has a plethora of courgettes.

A cosy living room was the setting for CHUVIHONI, Delaine Le Bas & Damian James Le Bas's multi-disciplinary work on collective memory, in which voices reflect on seeing ghosts, as a pastoral setting with flickering animation is shown onscreen. I noted with alarm that the photographs book next to the plush chair had some liquid on it, as if a careless guest had dripped his or her drink on it. I shook the book and the liquid slipped off. Thankfully, the photos were unharmed.

It's interesting to walk in on works shown on loops. Sometimes it's hard to tell the beginning from the end, and in the case of Jordan Baseman's Little Boy, I actually came in toward the end, an explosion of manipulated film, with holes and burns marking it. When it restarted, I heard the brief testimony of a survivor of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima, which gave context to the subsequent abstract morass.

But, the most thought-provoking work for me was also the longest, Roz Mortimer's This is History (after all), which juxtaposed quite lovely, painterly compositions with a reflection on a hideous war crime, the slaughter of Roma by the Nazis in Poland. To this day, there are unexcavated mass graves under fields and in forests sitting side by side with a seemingly placid village. And people remember what happened, but there is no official recognition. It is one of Mortimer's "rebellious archives", as she explained to me afterward, aware of the tension between beautiful images and a grim story that is part of her working practice.

Sites of Collective Memory continues at the CPG Gallery in London through 10 August.