‘MEMORY THEATRE’ at the 57th VENICE BIENNALE
Memory Theatre:, 44 mins 24 secs., colour, has just been inaugurated at the 57th Venice Biennale in an exhibition at the European Cultural Centre, Palazzo Mora: an official collateral event curated by the Global Art Affairs Foundation, Venice, Italy, (May 13- 26 November 2017).
‘I was dying. That much was certain. The rest is fiction. 1
Recurring themes in Kirwan’s conceptual practice are memory and memorial and fragment and trace. The idea of the trace as a mark that has barely been made or that may disappear, and asks was something there, and was something left behind? This involves the pursuit of that which is apparently elusive; not necessarily in order to achieve a goal at the end but to consider the thing that cannot be held.
The work is underpinned by her philosophical inquiry into the concept of the fragment especially as suggested by Frederich Schlegel who posited its radical recasting as a dynamic practice which aims at fragmentation for its own sake. This essential incompletion is itself a mode of fulfilment in which the idea achieves itself and constitutes the ‘properly’ romantic vision of a system in which totality is both finite and plural at the same time.
This dynamic process of thinking that is both self-defined and simultaneously defining itself is at the core of Kirwan’s practice which opens up questions about the relation between the finite and infinite, unity and chaos. Kirwan acknowledges and explores the partial nature of the fragment as a shard of memory which oscillates between past and present. Her work questions time, space and existence through an enquiry into what is memory and how might it function and be represented. Central to this, is the question of how is time in itself memorial and memory? Drawing on her own experience of sudden traumatic loss and widowhood, Kirwan’s performances generally involve the enactment of pointless tasks such as measuring the water in the sea with buckets. Seemingly endless repetitions emphasise the absurd but for Kirwan also, are a kind of practice of the philosophical fragment.
Repetition evokes also endless searching and yearning which some psychologists identify as intrinsic to the bereavement process.2. Thus Kirwan extends her processes into long journeys especially in Central Asia and the Middle East. She travelled alone in Syria during it’s catastrophic plunge into war in 2011. She drove from the UK to the China border with Azerbaijan and back by motor car along the E40 European route, a 53 day journey through 10 countries with Simon Pruciak and Jarek Karpik in 2013. This research project on the phenomenology of travel, ‘Image of the Road’ is ongoing with Pruciak. 3 Recent journeys include the UK to Azerbaijan by motorcar, across the Black Sea (Georgia to Ukraine), travels in the Caucasus, also with Pruciak; and solo travel in Turkmenistan.
Intrinsic to Kirwan’s futile reiterations and journeys is the essential incompletion which is itself the mode of fulfilment. However, the sensorimotor and haptic elements of her performative encounters serve also as a metaphor for navigation: as tools for orienteering and personal mapping in the fog of bereavement. And yet… all deaths presage other deaths…thus as the widow awaits her own, she marks with infinite futility and pointlessness, the finitude of human existence.
1. Simon Critchley, : (Fitzcarraldo, Editions, London, England 2014) , p.7.
2. Parkes C. and Maciejewski P.K., Bereavement: Studies in Grief in Adult Life: London, (Tavistock, London, England, 1972).
3. Image of the Road, with Simon Pruciak, ongoing: https://vimeo.com/119118625