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Higher Degrees Research Examination Exhibition - Michael Nay

Start Date

Feb 13, 2016 12:00 pm

End Date

Feb 17, 2016 5:00 pm

Michael Nay, Cleave - Clasp 2016 (detail), oil on canvas, 2010 x 1830 mm


Memorist Evocation:  Painting as a Mnemonic Device

By investigating the connections between the real, remembered and imagined, this research project set out as an enquiry into the capacity of painting to function as a mnemonic device. People that use such devices can be referred to as "memorists". Through process based drawing, collage and painting, I placed objects, imbued with traumatic family histories, into compositions that were visual attempts at remembering spaces of my childhood. My intention was to test relationships that exist between drawing and collage and how each of these processes could bring to painting the experience of remembering. Painting, I concluded, was an articulate practice that benefitted from the disjointed and fragmentary nature of collage as a preparatory process.

The paintings draw on remembered events with the backdrop of the 1960's and 1970's of my childhood. Inherited objects from this time provide evidence of my ancestral trauma of penury, diaspora and war. In my hand these vestige objects have the literal weight of their primary function and the metaphoric weight of memories. Vestige describes a disparate group of inherited ancestral objects including a bayonet from the Great War, Family Bible and whimsies such as a ceramic figurine. The paintings are about these real objects and their histories painted on canvas from life or photographs, coalescing in contextual spaces based on uncertain childhood memories.

The project was supported by research into theories of memory, objects and landscape. Each contribution, philosophical or clinical coacted for strategies and methodologies in making. Psychoanalytic theories (van der Kolk, Laplanche and Pontalis) provided working definitions of memory-recall that aligned with painting strategies in the studio. The work of Maurice Halbwachs offered insights into existential questions relating to physical objects in daily contact and notions of permanence and stability. Ian Farr theorized the relationship landscape has in the consciousness of childhood. Jill Bennett in her work Empathic Vision discusses the use of fiction and fantasy in art that endeavours to visually register experience of traumatic memory.

Artworks discussed in the Context chapter are significant because they exemplify the evocative potency of trauma, memory, banal objects and interior spaces in collage and painting. The work explores various interpretive modes of painting that challenge ways of perceiving the encounters between subjective realities and the above topics. Examination of work by Albert Tucker and Imants Tillers provided a perspective on trauma and diaspora. Paintings by Matthias Weischer and Dexter Dalwood are used to discuss the relationship between pictorial 'interior space' and memory. Historical perspectives on still life and collage in the work of Picasso and Braque are contrasted with a contemporary collaging of 'table top' space in the work of James Lynch.

In conclusion I found that vestige objects have the ability to draw something out of the painter, more than could have been understood at the beginning of the project. An intimate engagement was established with the objects. They were near enough to be touched and constantly scrutinized. This intimacy allowed me to reflect on their original intended functions: killing, advertising and story telling, all being different to their banal utilitarian, domestic functions as remembered from childhood. The paintings problematize the relationships between real objects, their remembered banality and their representation in paint.

My thesis demonstrates that with techniques I have employed, I can bring these things together. Paintings have considerable coherency (structurally) to offer a plausible pictorial account of how one might visualize and make sense of the snippets of childhood memory that have such a significant role to play in psychological and social formation.

Exhibition opening: Friday 12 February, 5:30pm - 7:00pm

Exhibition dates: Saturday 13 February - Wednesday 17 February

Gallery Hours:
Wednesday - Monday 12pm - 5pm during exhibitions
Closed Tuesdays and Public Holidays