As I entered the University Art Gallery, a somewhat unknown treasure trove located in UC Irvine’s Claire Trevor School of the Arts, I could faintly hear the muttering of a child at the back of an otherwise silent rectangular room filled with what appeared to be a collection of miscellaneous forms and figures lost in time and space.
“If Memory Serves,” a contemporary art exhibition curated by Kellie Lanham, Isabel Theselius and Allyson Unzicker, three of UCI’s finest MFA students, explores the mysterious and somewhat miserable qualities of memory. Composed entirely of art created within the last decade, the exhibition also includes a variety of different artistic mediums, such as drawing, photography, video and mixed media. An opening reception for the exhibition took place Thursday night and attracted Anteaters and non-Anteaters alike to the immaculate white-walled gallery adjacent to the Cyber A Café.
The student-curators first decided to organize the exhibition last May, and spent much of the summer that followed searching for artworks to display.
“We decided that we would just go out during the summer and look at whatever art we thought … with no theme, nothing tying us down, just whatever artwork we liked,” Lanham explained.
The trio then reconvened in September to sort out the works they had collected and make the final decisions.
“We each chose two artists that we looked at [there are six artists in the exhibition in total], and really saw this theme of memory overarching,” continued Lanham.
While many museum art exhibitions are curated with a specific historical or stylistic theme in mind, “If Memory Serves” made use of a more ‘organic,’ way of curating, according to Lanham.
“We let the artwork make a theme,” she said.
Hanging from the ceiling near the gallery’s entrance are several vibrantly colored cotton linens that make up Judith Raum’s “Eve Running.” Some of the shapes, colors and lines stained on these thin strips of fabric may call up past memories or resemble one’s past visions, yet after a lonely minute of staring, appear to be completely unfamiliar and unrecognizable.
Marina Sauter’s pairs of photographs, mounted on opposite walls of the gallery, capture images of specific locations within buildings or houses that one does not usually intend to view, such as the flat square space between two perpendicular descending staircases. Such simple images are present in the memories of many. A more detailed description, found in the carefully crafted paper brochure given out at the gallery’s entrance and includes brief essays by each of the three curators, reveals Sauter’s works to be mere juxtapositions of historically famous movie stills and indoor snapshots of the artist’s own home or studio.
“The main theme we’re going for is that memory is not just a linear narrative; it’s not just our personal stories. It’s actually fragmented, coming from multiple sources. It’s coming from our own memories, but it’s also coming from things we’ve seen on TV, that we feel like we’ve lived and this unconscious mechanism that creates memory, rather than it being organic and our own,” Lanham said.
“The two drawings with the hands in the blinds. I thought that was interesting because it’s the same drawing on opposite sides [of the wall], but when you get close to one of them, it’s kind of hazy; kind of like a memory, and when you look at the other one, the first one looks like its darker, but when you get to that one, it’s the same way as the one you saw previously, and now the one you saw previously looks darker,” remarked Lidia Garcia, a visiting friend of one of the curators. “I felt that was a really interesting idea.”
This work, Swedish artist Martin Dahlqvist’s “Double Trouble,” begs the viewer’s interaction, instilling in him or her the urge to compare these two drawings that occupy opposite ends of an entirely blank wall opposite the entrance to the gallery.
As I reached the back of the gallery, I finally viewed the video artwork I had faintly heard from the entrance. The child’s voice I had recalled hearing was actually the voice of the artist, Cristina David, narrating the story of her mathematician father’s death while she was still a child and its impact on her life, while images of geometry problems he had taught her and a gift he had given her, a small toy car, danced across the screen.
Whether pleasant or sorrowful, artificial or real, memory, as proven by “If Memory Serves,” is a dynamic and indefinable concept that radiates through the respective artwork of several talented living artists. “If Memory Serves” will be on display in both the University Art Gallery and Room Gallery until February 9.