Passing by the tree, the skin of memory

An exhibition by Nathalie Hartog-Gautier

Tue 28 May to Fri 28 June at Alliance Française de Melbourne.
Free entry

To be officially opened on Tues 28th May, 6.30pm to 8.00pm by

Therese Kenyon, practising artist and curator
Sue Forster, Editor of Imprint, Print Council of Australia

About the artist

Nathalie Hartog-Gautier was born in Paris in 1954 and moved to Australia in 1981 where she graduated in Fine Arts, printmaking and print media. She is a painter, draughtsman, printmaker and photographer with a particular interest in the natural world and memory. She has exhibited in a number of group and solo exhibitions in Australia and overseas since 2000 and has won several awards such as the Jacaranda Acquisitive Drawing Award in 2012 for the latest one and is a recent recipient of the NAVA Australian Artists Grant.

About the exhibition

This body of work is about my aunt who suffers from Dementia. She remembers very little of the past and to visit her is like entering another world. I wanted to remember our time together. When I see her or think of her I attach images which, to use Proust’s expression, “will break the spell”.

My aunt doesn’t speak French anymore and from the new language she has created, I developed a set of poems based on our surrealistic conversation. They translate my emotion into written sounds and rhythms.

The paintings of geometrical shapes are a representation of the space we live in but with illusions and distortions translating the world my aunt lives in.

I also wanted to remember the everyday objects that were part of her life: rubbings on paper such as the armchair she used to sit on and other pieces of furniture: a tactile and intimate photography of her objects.

I constructed fragile paper vessels made from cotton fibers, it dries like the skin. It wrinkles. They carry balls on un-knitted wool, holding its own memory and the passing of time.

They are remnants of a past life and the memories of things past. As Proust wrote, they become my trees, awaking, recollecting the account of our days together.

Nathalie Hartog-Gautier, 2012


Excerpt from The Skin of Memory, a text written by Dr Rod Pattenden (curator and writer - Chair of the Blake Prize, exploring the spiritual and religious in Australian Art).

Memory begins at the fingertips. It is like a momentary prick of anticipation where ‘pins and needles’ stitch together meanings. Life is filled with edges and surfaces that brush up against us as the literal fabric of life. Skin on skin, bodies make meaning among the relations we build as children and adults, emanating out through the worlds we inhabit. The looking that is invited through art making includes this aspect of skin. The eye is not a detached impassionate point of observation but remains a part of a body that inhabits space and all its relationships. The eye is alive like a fish swimming through a sea, always plotting a course of connection that brings orientation and identity.

Looking at this skin of memory has concerned Nathalie Hartog-Gautier for some time. In this body of work she brings it close to home as the works find their genesis in contemplating her relationship with her aunt. This important maternal figure from the artist’s life has recently suffered the affects of dementia. This has brought with it increased disorientation and a lack of logical communication. It has however heightened the artist’s awareness of the more peripheral aspects of intimate relations such as touch, sound and residual memory. Such intimate codes are forms of visceral communication filled with love and delight. Such art making does not give us detachment but brings the potential for touch.

The exhibition title Passing by the Tree, references Marcel Proust’s observation that we can rescue the past even when it is otherwise hidden in the present. By activating the residual memory of objects, we unlock their haptic or felt power to evoke memory, where with shock, the past becomes present. We not only discover what has been lost but more potently we discover ourselves in relation with those things that we have loved. Instead of finding our energies dispersed such containers of memory make us alive to ourselves in new ways. Proust observes that through activating this poetic relation they ‘overcome death and return to share our life.’ Memory adds a thickness of time to our present moment and serves to orientate us people who love, and are in turn loved.

To explore this territory of thick relations the artist has employed a number of artistic gestures. A suite of drawings obtained by the direct rubbing of objects, indicates the subtle change of hand pressure and appear like photographs massaged into consciousness. They somehow mimic the touch of the eye on familiar household objects such as a clothes hanger, a chair, and a bag. The artist invites us to consider a vocabulary of intimate and often pre-verbal information through objects that carry the history of her family and their sense of touch. These objects animate the human even as they declare themselves as ‘things’ devoid of character or personality. They act like sponges, filling up with the memory of their human handling, a tactile caressing that refuses to be shaken off.

The vibrant abstracted colour drawings offer a contrasting gesture as they fizzle with energy and form. They mimic the logic of language in their construction yet evoke states of mind that are electric with meaning. They represent pattern and form as in language; yet contain idiosyncratic mysteries that thicken the nature of language to include atmosphere and relationships outside the frame. The artist recounts conversations with her aunt that did not use either French or English but a gobbledygook of speaking unfettered by logic. This is a language that goes back and forth between two lives in a shared moment of meaning. It doesn’t make any sense but at the same time it means everything. These works serve as visual contemplations of this heightened awareness of communication that goes beyond the surface of logical or formal geometric composition.

Nathalie Hartog-Gautier is a recipient of the NAVA Australian Artists Grant

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Thanks for sharing! / Merci pour le partage!


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