• Tony Davidson

The Art of Remembering

Updated: Jun 13

This was written for one of Kilmorack Gallery's ikigai rooms and was inspired by Ade Adesina's and Robert McAulay's work. Published 13th November 2020

Things die twice. First, when they are gone, and a second time when we forget them. The second forgetting is more painful because the past never really leaves. It remains in ghost form: dormant not dead, waiting to erupt in dreams, poetry or paint. We can try to forget, dropping things into the oublier, a dungeon of memory. Lost things go in: felled woods and disappeared paths, letters, horses, and our own embryo-lives - and they are hard to retrieve. They are there because forgetting helps us live in a depleted world, but it is stronger to remember. It builds a better future. This is one of the roles of artists: to remember and help us navigate.

Kilmorack’s next exhibitions show work by two of the great rememberers - Ade Adesina and Robert McAulay. Adesina remembers personal things: the Baobag trees and de-wilding of his childhood in Nigeria. He also remembers the universal and threatened. He lino-cuts Atlantean worlds: submerged but dry. Layers of memory meet here like a giant time-train station terminus in a Wonderland of memory. Not letting these things die and showing us what is important is the power of Adesina’s work. Robert McAulay’s colourful and textured paintings are about memory to. For the twenty years I have exhibited McAulay’s work in Kilmorack, he has created one small body of related works, and then moved on to the next. They are like a set of novellas, illustrating one dream-recollection before moving on to another. In these works, a remembered thing from McAulay’s past hides in undergrowth, the mist or trees. It might be an abandoned cooker or a car which was once important to its owner; or it could be a ghostly building or the estate of McAulay’s childhood. These are memories that can be pushed under the surface but accepting them is better. It is a way to understand ourselves. Images that linger with an artist, and rise to the surface, are often painted. James Newton Adams paints the she-shed, a Couple on the Beach or Meeting the Parents. These are mini-stories around a remembered image. ‘This is what I’ve seen,’ they say. ‘This is the world and don’t let it fade.’ Sam Cartman’s landscapes are memories distilled down to shape and colour. He remembers the geometry and vibrations of landscape and chooses to forget the surplus and confusing. This is what gives his work power: his ability to decide what to leave in or to keep out. We all do this, but in Sam Cartman’s paintings it is done knowingly and with Euclidean precision. How far back can we remember? Steve Dilworth’s work takes us into deep time: the memories of the ancient Harris stone he carves, a vile of deep water captured from the bottom of the Minch, wood that has floated across the Atlantic to the Outer Hebrides, or the dried body of a small bird. These all have memories. His work embodies their recalled presences as power objects in the same way our ancestors may have worn a tooth around their necks or a lock of hair. Remembering the past is power. Forgetting it is death.

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