Thursday, March 13, 2014

An Exploration of Memory

This week's Artist's Lab began with an introduction to Keren Kroul whose colorful watercolors hang on the walls of the Tychman Shapiro gallery. Her brightly colored geometric segments repeat and twist, moving forward and away. White space is carved out, drawing one's eye to the negative space that defines the larger image. Complementing her work are large sculptural forms by Jeffrey Haddorf, assembled from ceramic and metal. Through the open space within his sculptures you glimpse Keren's colorful imagery and realize that each echoes aspects of the other.

Keren began by orienting us to the concerns that inform her work. With one parent from Argentina and one from Israel, Keren spoke Hebrew at home and Spanish in her daily life in Mexico and Costa Rica. As the only Jewish child in her Spanish speaking school, identity became a central focus of her artistic exploration. Keren explores identity through the lens of memory, reconstructing it through fragments that repeat, creating emphasis.

Along one long wall hung watercolors that captured forms that tied to memory, the reflection of Israeli blinds on the floor, a braid from her grandmother's twin who died in the Holocaust, figures curled in the ground. It is a storyboard of sorts, replete with iconic imagery. The colors change, becoming brighter, more optimistic as figures begin to connect to the landscape. In the last panel are geometric forms which Keren carried over to her next body of work, expanding on the forms as if a meditation, a repetition, but with variations of form and color.

Keren began as a painter, but when she was pregnant twelve years ago she sought a non-toxic medium and shifted to watercolor on paper. That practical decision opened up a dialogue with drawing and paper and became an ongoing exploration. She abandoned the physicality of the large stroke of painting for very focused work with small brushes applied as she stands. Always open to happy accidents, Keren creates forms that conjure neurons or perhaps a coral reef.

What is the relationship between memory, art and history? How would we draw it? These were the questions that were posed to us as we broke into groups following Keren's discussion; familiar turf for me as my work focuses on memory and I have often contemplated the linkage to art. Several of our groups drew double helixes while a third created sculptural forms to express the interrelationships between memory, art and history.

Memory seems more immediate than history, there is someone who remembers an event that presumably occurred in their experience. Both memory and history are created through the lens of the viewer and thus can differ among those recording it. Each is also subject to distortion. History represents more of a collective view, not necessarily universal, but codified and reinforced within a group. It in turn begins to create a collective memory, less immediate and more subject to being shaped by art or history.

We continued our exploration of these themes with a video which explored how art shapes memories of history and creates acts of remembrance. The work of Shimon Attie was presented as an illustration of the layering of time and memory. Attie projected images of the former Jewish community of Berlin on buildings, matching photos to the original location, juxtaposing time and place to create remembrance.

Equally powerful is his project Portraits of Exile which uses light boxes submerged in water to juxtapose the 1943 rescue of Denmark's Jewish community with present day refugees.

Memory is fostered through imagery and story creating a fundamental linkage to artwork. While artwork may represent and shape history, whose history it represents and with what level of veracity can be an open question.

Author note: Art and memory is my personal artistic focus. I have addressed many of these issues in my personal blog and am providing some of the links below for your reference.

Art and Memory

In 2013 I attended a workshop at the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies on the topic of Holocaust memory and its expression through art and literature. The following entries were based on that workshop.

Creating Collective Memory
Juxtaposing Time and Place

To view information on lab artists and lab discussion links and handouts, please go to theJewish Artists' Laboratory website.

*The Jewish Artists’ Laboratory is an arts initiative through the Sabes Jewish Community Center featuring 25 artists exploring the theme of Light through study and art making. The project is funded through The Covenant Foundation and similar projects are being done in both Milwaukee and Madison. Artists explore how the theme of Light is relevant to Jews and non-Jews, to religious and non-religious, to the community and to the individual, to the artist and the non-artist.


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