Lucy Waring and Mnemosyne
By Catherine Spaeth
After Dada and Surrealism artists have been interested in making palpable the pull of time upon us by displaying a variety of objects that do not reach back into history so much as into the span of a life. At the same time in art history, Aby Warburg devised his Mnemosyne Atlas in the hopes that from its origin and continuously into the present, art could be legible as a culturally shared memory in visual display. Viewing the Mnemosyne Atlas was understood by Warburg to be inherently and desirably expressive of trauma. Benjamin Buchloh paraphrases from Warburg’s unpublished introduction the Atlas:
It is in the area of orgiastic mass seizure that one should look for the mint that stamps the expression of extreme emotional paroxysm on the memory with such intensity that the encryptions of suffering live on, an inheritance preserved in the memory.1
In ancient Greece the figure of Mnemosyne was the Goddess of Memory as well as the mother to the nine muses of the arts. in Lucy Waring’s installation Mnemosyne has herself become the muse. Fraying family heirlooms exhibited in their original velveteen and satin cases, yellowed plastic molded as the packing of toys, stray pens and candy wrappers – the things one would either collect or discard – are presented beside one another equally in careful placement and display. Vision and touch are deeply involved so that “looking at” will, given time, become peering behind and through, bending over and crouching down, not so much in the curiosity one feels at the flea market but in a visual engagement with increasing fascinating detail and temporal shifts.
There is difficulty in holding things apart and together – the display of each object beside another has value in its own containment and in its relations to what is beside of it. A general theme of display is put forth by the use of plexiglass containers. These are not then the vitrines of an institution, but are on a personal, intimate scale and multiple. Further, display is rarely straightforward, but involves a withholding, and this play of visibility and concealment is what pulls upon the body while at the same time containment is – discretely – installing the unavailability of these objects.
These relations between one thing and the next seem to inevitably extend to the windowsill, sink, fire extinguisher and the broom. There is no clear boundary to the work as a whole, but a tension is maintained in placement to the extent that there is an overriding sense of composure, and it is as though everything else in the room has been summoned to hold itself inside of this composure and on its own terms. In this way Identities can feel quite serial – as one identity is posing beside another together they are not only equivalent but sustaining in their difference, this one from the next .
Gustave Flaubert wrote that “In the sight of an old pair of shoes there is something profoundly melancholy.” In recent art historical scholarship there has been a strong interest in parsing out the difference between a general state of melancholy and the task of mourning. In melancholy, there is a generic sense of loss, internalized and abstract, whereas mourning involves itself with the irreplaceable, the facticity of what has been lost. In Lucy Waring’s installation there exists no clear separation between melancholic beauty and the one who keeps busy in her task, tending to every detail of the past and imbuing it with the desires of the present. The result is a display of unusual sophistication and mystery.