Small World Oil on linen 39 x 54 cm

Postmemory

Joseph Clarke 
Millennium Gallery 2010

'Postmemory is a powerful form of memory precisely because its connection to its object or source is mediated not through recollection but through representation, projection, and creation – often based on silence rather than speech, on the invisible rather than the visible.'
Marianne Hirsche

'The true picture of the past flits by. The past can be seized only as an image which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again.'
Walter Benjamin

In conversation Ralph Freeman states: 'If I paint a tree, am I painting the memory of the tree as I saw it or am I creating an interpretation inspired by those who have created such paintings before me ... as an artist I am building on foundations that others have set before me.' Are we all responding to a collective memory, connected through shared experience gathered by the passing of time?

The title of this exhibition relates closely to the term ‘Postmemory’ coined by Marianne Hirsch in her written work Frames: Photography, Narrative and Postmemory – a work focusing specifically on the effects of inherited memory on second generation Holocaust survivors. Hirsch uses the term to distinguish first hand memory from the powerful effects felt by those acquiring memory second hand creating a reverberation of those initial events. However, Freeman is emphatic in stating that this body of work is not related to this text or directly to specifics of his own experience as a second-generation survivor. That territory corresponds more directly to previous works - those who are familiar with Freeman’s oeuvre may recollect the ‘Foundations and Fragments’ series that was exhibited at Tate St Ives and the Freud Museum, where he dealt with this issue directly. It is clear when looking at Freeman’s work since, that a clear process of transcendence continues to take place.

It is evident that this collection of paintings is not obviously related to any specific event – at the same time it is also clear that we are witnessing the passing of time on and under the surface of the work. A theatre is provided in which all events have a relevant place. These paintings are a tableau through which one can meditate time as a trace through the use of physical matter, a lens through which the past can be experienced and memories relived. Whilst a history is demonstrated, a strong sense of displacement is created by the discord between formality and detail, and that which is elusive.

If we search for a literal interpretation in works such as ‘Sliding Through’ or ‘Connected Still’, then perhaps we can interpret a broken timeline, a faded or incomplete memory, life’s conflict of loss and discovery. The physical presence of form and the glowing aura remaining from that which has escaped from view. These paintings are melancholic but also reassuring. They affirm the strength of boundaries and structures that remain standing despite or because of time and experience.

As with his other love – modern jazz, Freeman deals with formal structure and the intuitive process of impromptu escape and discovery. Through Freeman’s personal journey we are reminded of the connectivity of time, even when it appears broken, like with musical improvisation, the link is reformed at a given point, through reinterpretation, the evolution remains intact.

These paintings are testament to memory but, importantly, also acknowledge that which remains obscure or appears lost forever. We are reminded that we are the product of that which we remember alongside that which we forget. So how can we ever know ourselves?