How does memory function? What is history? How do contemporary artists frame the past in their work? Art21 documentary Memory explores these questions through the work of the artists Susan Rothenberg, Mike Kelley, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Josiah McElheny, and concludes with an original video artwork by Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. The film is introduced by Isabella Rossellini.
A transplant from New York, Susan Rothenberg produces paintings that reflect her move to an isolated home studio in New Mexico and her evolving interest in the memory of observed and experienced events. In her early career, she became noted for her series of large paintings of horses. Sitting in her studio, Rothenberg speaks candidly about her working process and her occasional battles with artistic block.
In a body of work that includes sculptures, performance, and installations, Mike Kelley explores contemporary culture’s obsession with repressed trauma. Many of Kelley’s projects draw on his own memory. The project “Educational Complex,” a model of childhood education and upbringing, led Kelly to create a performance/video called “Day is Done,” which will eventually consist of 365 tapes, one for every day of the year. In scenes that he writes, directs and scores, Kelley has drawn on yearbooks to re-stage high school rituals with surreal elements, such as donkeys, devils, and eerie music in a student-body assembly.
Tokyo-born Hiroshi Sugimoto uses traditional photographic techniques to produce images that preserve memory and time. Sugimoto views his black-and-white seascapes as a preservation of time, a glimpse of the creation itself. Sugimoto recalls the influence of Marcel Duchamp on his art, and especially on his own exhibition where he has mounted giant white plinths with photographs of 19th-century machines. These are juxtaposed with images of three-dimensional models that illustrate mathematical theories.
Josiah McElheny’s work re-imagines and transforms objects from their original source to examine and reflect the modern self. In his exhibition “Total Reflective Abstraction,” McElheny uses a silvered glass technique to build on the theories of Isamu Noguchi and Buckminster Fuller, proposing a completely reflective “utopia.” McElheny’s mirrored objects relate to one another in an infinite matrix of reflections.
Memory concludes with an original work of video art by the artists Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler. Known for their haunting video projections, Hubbard and Birchler’s work alters temporal, cinematic and architectural expectations of the viewer through the use of looping narratives. Using recurring and non-recurring characters, interrelated dialogue, and ambient sound, the film evokes Art21 themes of Power, Memory, Structures and Play, as well as sleep, dreams and longing.
Art21: Art in the 21st Century is an award-winning series of 24 programmes in which 100 contemporary artists explain their creations, their creative processes, and their perceptions of art. Available for the first time on DVD in the UK, Art21 covers a wide range of artists and contemporary visual art.