'The Lining of Forgetting: Internal and External Memory in Art'

This thought-provoking exhibition plays off memory's elusive, fluid nature

Arts Review

'The Lining of Forgetting: Internal and External Memory in Art'

Austin Museum of Art – Downtown

through Aug. 8

The way I remember it, I'm 3 years old, standing in the den of our house in Longview, watching my brother Ken, who's three years my elder, go out the back door to catch the school bus.

And I'm thinking: "Why does he get to go to school? He's only one year older than me."

A silly memory, but I've long thought of it as my earliest one, and I hold onto it, even though it isn't something I can confirm as having actually happened. No one else in my family remembers the event – and why should they? I'm not even sure why I remember it – so there's no way for me to confirm: Was I really 3? Was I in Dr. Dentons, as I recall it sometimes, or pajamas, as I picture it at others? Was my brother Ray, who would have been 9, leaving for school with Ken or not? The sensation of the moment is vivid, but the details blur and shift. In trying to pin down this memory, I might as well be trying to hold a stream of water.

My personal experience of memory as fluid may be why the works that drew me the most deeply into "The Lining of Forgetting: Internal and External Memory in Art" were the ones that play off memory's elusive, ever-fluctuating nature. David Rokeby's Machine for Taking Time (Boul. Saint-Laurent) presents side-by-side screens that run footage captured by a pair of surveillance cameras in downtown Montreal over a year's time. Only Rokeby has edited the video so that, as the cameras languidly pan past rooftops and trees, the images subtly shift across time, through different times of day and seasons of the year. Shadows melt then reappear; leafy trees magically shed their foliage and grow it back, and not in the caffeinated jitter of time-lapse photography but in a smooth, instantaneous shifting like the double image of a lenticular cover. It's as if you're looking at a place and have become lost in recalling its appearance at other times, the memories flowing in a steady, ceaseless, dreamlike stream. Was it early morning or twilight, late autumn or midsummer? "It all blurs together," we'll say when struggling to recall a moment from the past, and here it truly does.

The images by Dinh Q. Lê from his From Vietnam to Hollywood series do something similar, though what's being blurred in them isn't just personal recollections but fact and fiction. He's taken large-scale photographs of both the Vietnam War and cinematic representations of it and literally has woven them together, employing the techniques for weaving grass mats in his homeland of Vietnam. The results pixelate and fragment history, rendered here in black and white, and fuse it with film's lush romantic drama, saturated in fiery oranges and reds. You can get some of the impact from reproductions such as the one running with this review, but it pales in comparison to what you feel standing before the real thing, 3 feet tall and 6 feet long, where the intricacy of the work and painstaking craftsmanship are inescapable. Being conscious of every strip and the constant overlapping on this outsized scale makes the work at once epic and deeply personal, a sense of an individual's past being swallowed in a mass culture fantasy of history.

Not surprisingly, being a drama geek, I was mightily amused by Emma Kay's Shakespeare From Memory, in which she attempted to pen synopses of the Bard's plays without resorting to any reference works or prompts. The results, typed out formally on 26 separate sheets of bone-white paper, range from pagelong, detailed accounts (Romeo and Juliet) to vague, single-sentence summations (Coriolanus), with a few plays that she apparently couldn't remember anything about; below the titles, the pages are blank. Of course, Kay's memory trips her up in quite a few places, leading her to mash up characters and put lines in the wrong plays, which can be fun for those in the know. But whether or not you're a Bardophile, it's one more example that this thought-provoking exhibition from the Weatherspoon Art Museum provides of memory's shape-shifting nature, its ability to morph and change what we think we know into something else. "Remember me!" the ghost of Hamlet's father urged his son. Based on this show, Dad, that's easier said than done.

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The Lining of Forgetting: Internal and External Memory in Art, Austin Museum of Art

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