What is it about Magritte’s pipe? And what has it to do with Alice Anderson, whose extraordinary new solo show at London’s Wellcome Collection (22 July to 18 October 2015) revisits what Magritte referred to as “the treason of images”, the original title of his late 1920s painting of a pipe? The answer lies in the game of representation. Just as the surrealist pipe wasn’t the object it purported to be, so Anderson’s mummified objects are no longer the objects they once were. In Memory Movement Memory Objects, Anderson has taken all kinds of objects – a canoe, guitars, shelves, children’s toys, recently extinct technological devices – and, with the help of members of her Travelling Studio, encased them meticulously, mercilessly, in a copper/elastic thread, as brilliant and flame-coloured as her own hair. In the darkened spaces of the Wellcome’s galleries, the objects glisten like treasures in an Egyptian tomb. Platonic, geometric shapes – spheres, cones, cubes – are here, too. In more senses than one, Memory Movement Memory Objects is a return to form. It’s an exhibition that looks back as well as forwards as the objects assume multiple characteristics: they are presences and absences, ritualised forms and performed objects. One of the uncanniest moments comes in the form of the wrapped hi-fi speakers that still broadcast the club music that Anderson heard them playing when she bought them. The music has been commodified as an intrinsic aspect of the speaker – and then entombed. The thump-thump-thump of the beat is a something knocking to get out.
Many of the objects here are on the edge of memory – the record player, the Walkman, the Blackberry phone. And it’s memory, and the ambivalence surrounding it, that activates this exhibition so well. This is a process that’s run through much of Anderson’s work – from the 2011 wrapping of the Freud Museum in London, to the dolls, red-haired like their artist, that often peopled her earlier work as she negotiated the – Kleinian – phantastical palate of the transitional object. More recently, this play of memory and the object has been translated into an engagement with form. I like to think that the 20-foot high Monolith that Anderson created in 2011 for the contemporary art section of the Latitude Festival (which I curated, alongside Ben Borthwick and Anne Hilde Neset), was, in some way, a significant transition work.
Memory, as Anderson acknowledges, is an unreliable process. We will soon forget what a phone box looks like – maybe the experience of its wrapped shape will help remind us of it. Which is where the social nature of the exhibition kicks in. Each object is result of performed work, sometimes the result of hundreds of hours of many people’s work. It’s going to take a long time to cover up the shell of the 1967 Mustang that’s in the gallery. However – and I speak from the experience of spending an hour with it and my own bobbin of thread – it’s a strangely rewarding and contemplative thing to do.
Alice Anderson http://www.alice-anderson.org Memory Movement Memory Objects, Wellcome Collection, London (to 18 October 2015) http://wellcomecollection.org/aliceanderson Data Space, Espace Louise Vuitton, Paris (to 20 September 2015) http://www.louisvuitton-espaceculturel.com/index_GB.html