Gone are the ‘Dolls Houses of Death’ and the blood splatter remains of the last Wellcome Collection exhibition – Forensics. I have returned to Euston to the same display space to Alice Anderson’s painstaking sculptures at ‘Memory Movement Memory Objects’ their new exhibition. I have read nothing about Alice’s work, no reviews. I am completely fresh to this experience.
As I walk into a dark room I am momentarily disorientated. I see bodies clothed in black, barefoot, moving with intent and care. There is the occasional gleam and glint of copper wire as they wind thread around the carcass of a car, a Ford Mustang. More than a static exhibition this is a participatory experiment, at first I am unsure if I have come into the right place, I stand still to watch.
Gripping the press release in my hand I scan down to check that I am indeed in the right location. The press release talks of Alice’s work as a process of mummification. I feel as if I am witnessing a sacred ritual, it feels reverential, in their silence they seem to be honouring this object. This studio space is the first of five areas that you encounter that lead you through Alice’s exhibition. In the simplest of terms they are objects bound in copper wire, but their beauty and mesmerising qualities lead you far beyond this basic description.
I walk into the next section and see recognisable objects: a bicycle; a television; and a telephone. I feel I am on more familiar terms here. They are gleaming at me, beautiful in the darkness, the copper a warm, vibrant, and eye-catching treat. Much is familiar, but some objects leave me more perplexed, I think I recognise their curves and angles but I am not entirely sure. One thing I am sure about is their beauty, the surfaces catch the light in this cleverly curated space.
It is the next section that really makes me think about objects and recognition. ‘Assemblage’ is a room that messes with your powers of detection, here items are grouped and bound, strange bedfellows form unlikely new attachments. I try to work them out, I see a skeleton skull, the jaw on top, perhaps a pair of handcuffs, then I am lost. I notice a press photographers kit left in the middle of the room, it is a press preview day after all. I recognise it, but suddenly I take a second look. If Alice had bound these objects would I know what I was looking at? Now I am thinking about this visual process of recognition.
I enter another section that defies all recognition, ‘Abstract Objects’. I am not sure if I have been dropped into a child’s adventure playground, gleaming ropes playfully wind themselves around the space. I see the shadows they cast on the floor, another way to see and interpret these objects. I look up and glimpse someone standing in the centre of what could almost be a sacred circle. She is still in contemplation. She moves on and I take her place, as I rotate to look at these sculptures I think they have all been wrapped in different ways. The I realise it is the way the light hits the wire, it changes the patterns on the objects. As I look closer I see strand after strand, a spider’s web woven around me and I am caught in its mesmerising pull.
Some objects have been wound differently, it completely changes the way they catch and reflect the light. I am no longer thinking about the objects but the incredible time-consuming process of wrapping them. When I have carried out collection care on museum artefacts it is a slow intimate relationship. You spend ages looking at the way objects are put together, you think about how they were used and who owned them. You notice finger marks, indentations and imperfections. I think of that process and then I think of Alice, this exhibition is just as much about how the act of creation sustains the memory of these objects. My thoughts turn to the first room where the participants are actively mummifying a car, they will have clear, intensified memories of its surface and shape, the curves and angles. These objects now become markers of time, they resonate with that intense focus and, ultimately, energy that has been expended on them.
The final room shows me ‘Distorted Objects’, the shapes once recognisable are becoming transformed by the process of mummification, the copper wire intended to preserve the memory, corrupts and transforms. Objects become a hybrid mix of the recognisable and the abstract. This is not a passive process. Alice’s work is for her a commentary on our digital world, where the act of remembering seems almost obsolete with instant handheld access to collective memory at the touch of a button or the swipe of a screen.
As I stand there I think of my Aunt who has Alzheimer’s, the digital does not affect her world in the same way as mine. It is her memory itself that is self-destructing and removing her from the power of recognition. I didn’t think this exhibition would remind me so vividly of her. I look at the objects and recognised some, I look at others and they are echoes of the familiar but there is much that is unsure and unknown.
As I leave I see this process of mummifying the car is continuing silently, but I view it in a new way. The glint of copper wire caught in the light by movement is like the firing of a synapse in the brain. The object underneath is recognisable but as time and this process continues it will lose some of its recognisable features and definition. Alice Anderson’s exhibition has completely surprised me, it is beautiful and curated in a visually stunning way. But it also speaks powerfully to us about objects, how we understand them and perceive them. The sculptures are so much more than objects bound in copper, they are visual prods for our memories, and sometimes challenging puzzles. Ultimately they are capsules of time spent in concentration and effort, and everyone hums with this undeniable energy.
Alice Anderson’s Memory Objects Movement Memory is Free and opens 22 July 2015- 18 October 2015 to find out more please visit the website http://wellcomecollection.org/aliceanderson
There is an events programme complementing Alice Anderson’s work, please see the website for more details.