In simple terms, memory is a process of encoding and recording the events of day-to-day life which can be recollected at a moment’s notice or re-emerge when least expected. Memory renders our relationships, behaviours and experiences, fragmenting them along the way. Implicit memories are those that are forgotten and re-emerge, they also remind us how to walk and talk. Explicit memories are those that can be consciously drawn upon, they’re the ones that remind us of what we’ve said or who we’ve seen and the places we’ve been.
The recent work of Brisbane-based, interdisciplinary artist Bridie Gillman uses the latter of the two forms of memory by consciously drawing upon past experiences (explicit memories) and recycling them into lyrical, abstract formations of colour. The works act as a meditative process for Gillman, who recalls her experiences and emotions of place through formless abstract shapes.[i]Spontaneous forms of colour reflect the fragmented and inconsistent nature of our memories.[ii]Often abstract, memories distort material events and happenings, replacing them with vague, fragmented notions of colour, smells, or sentences spoken.
This choreographed suite of works built from memories forged while travelling through regional parts of Australia’s east. Gillman’s own memories traverse collective memory, reflecting the melancholia of Australia’s brutal colonial past and her own discomfort with residing in the Australian landscape. This discomfort is expressed through the use of colour; unlike previous bodies of work, Gillman is using a sullen pallet to portray an emotional representation of the landscape. All the while, other works in the space reflect Gillman’s own place in urban Brisbane using a similar pallet and sense of melancholy.
The painting it’s been raining for days (2017)reflects a subtropical melancholy experienced in the humid grey of a Queensland storm. Again, in Enoggera Reservoir (Avery hot New Year’s Day) (2017), the weather appears as a tether for memory, recalling a New Year’s Day celebration in well over 30 degree heat: the clouds have moved on, cicadas are humming and the hot stillness induces sweat.Both of these works capture, through colour and composition, a geography of memory written onto the brain by synapses as the weather registers itself to them by affecting the body: sweat, humidity, being stuck inside, having to escape to water.
Geography and memory share an inextricable connection. The relationship between the two has been explored across a range of disciplines and varying contexts, such as post-colonial theorist Edward Said’s seminal explorations on the relationship memory and geography share with collective histories. Said argued that the multiple memories of a collective event (say of settler colonialism in Australia) have manifest impacts on the geography upon which these histories unfold: the memories of a place can influence its manifestation as much as the event itself, and over time our memory of a place can become something beyond the event that was experienced. An afternoon walk can be remembered as impossibly long, or a driveway remembered as steep as a cliff-face.
While Gillman’s paintings are records of certain events in certain places, they do not resemble landscapes.Instead, they are memoryscapes that figure memory and the process of remembering itself and the effects time, new experiences and brain chemistry have on what is preserved of our personal and collective pasts.
[i] Artist Statement, 2017.