AUGUST CHALLENGE DAY 18
For the Silly Season I've set myself the challenge of visiting a different art exhibition on every day of the month and blogging about it.
Tuesday 18 August
Exhibition: Alice Anderson
Place: The Wellcome Collection
The show is called Memory Movement Memory Objects and consists of everyday objects tightly cocooned in copper filament, the same wire that’s used in electrical coils. So we have two issues here: the aesthetic of wrapping and a question about memory.
Artists have been wrapping things for almost a hundred years. The oldest wrapped object I know of is Man Ray’s Enigma of Isadore Ducasse, a sewing machine that he swathed in a blanket and tied with rope in 1920. A lesser-known surrealist Maurice Henry produced his Homage to Paganini in 1936 – a violin tightly wrapped in crepe bandage. More recently the Christos wrapped on a grander scale – bridges, monuments and even mountains. What does Anderson add to all this?
For one thing the copper wire does give a beautiful sheen, akin to metal plating but with a rough effect. For another, the clarity of the outline leaves little room for doubt about the nature of the thing wrapped. Of Man Ray’s sewing machine, only the general outline can be seen, so that there is always a question about whether the object inside is what the artist says it is. With Anderson there is a much higher probability (but still no certainty) that what looks a 1980s telephone, a domestic vacuum cleaner or an electric guitar is that thing. A third point is about the material used for the wrapping. If Henry’s choice of bandage for his violin gives a different signal to Man Ray’s blanket, so Anderson’s copper wire too carries its own significances. One is that it gives a certain shiny, pristine opulence to the finished object. The other makes a connection with electricity, since copper wire has always been the most common material used in electrical cabling.
The question about how we form memories can be related to this last use of copper since the nervous system operates with electrical impulses. But I am still a little fuzzy about how a copper-wrapped coca-cola bottle (or a Ford Mustang, a tangled hosepipe, a suitcase) helps understand the brain’s memory circuits.
If pressed however I can think of three particular aspects of the experience of memory to which these wrapped objects are related metaphorically. The first is that the outlines of memory are imprecise and can mislead; the second, that memory is indiscriminatory, latching on to mundane things as much as to significant ones; and thirdly, like chrysalises, memories can lie dormant before re-emerging into the consciousness.
The show is beautifully lit and very glittery on the eye, though the large quantity of objects, especially in the brighter rooms, does tend to dilute the effect.
I should add that several activities for visitors are being organized, including the chance to help in the wire-wrapping process. When I was there two young volunteers were engaged in winding filament apparently endlessly around the aforementioned Mustang.