Responding to the death of parents and brother, Nottingham artist Stephen Elvidge has used his new collection to interpret how memories fade and change as times passes.
The mixed media collection featured drawings, photography, sculpture and sound recordings of Elvidge’s parents and family home. The images in his archive could all be said to feature some kind of deficit; they are spaces of his living history that are rife with gaps, absences, holes and fragments.
Using the Belper Community Cottage as a space to exhibit the work was an clever, if somewhat unconventional, choice by Kunst Gallery. The cosy entrance hall and side rooms acted as a surrogate for the council house which Elvidge grew up in and used to take many of the pieces on display. Speaking with Elvidge during the opening night, he explained how his childhood home, the council house in which his parents had lived for 50 years, was quickly sold after their death; for him is was essential to document the space before it too was taken away.
The exhibition dealt with universal themes central to our understanding of what it is to be human. Whether it be a Facebook Timehop from a year prior or the construction of a detailed lineage of your family tree; we are all in part formed by our memories, our experiences and those of our loved ones.
But can you trust your memories?
Meaning, like life in general, cannot easily be separated into binaries of life/death, presence/absence, mother/father, past/present. Each piece in the exhibition was positioned uncomfortably between the shifting states of absence and presence, challenging the photograph as a means to represent reality. Elvidge is drawing heavily on Derrida and Roland Barthes who say that the photograph is a kind of absented presence. You see something, but what you are seeing or is no longer there, for example Elvidge’s photograph of a silhouette of a mirror once hung on a smoker’s wall, now only a faded outline or his coat hangers waiting to be filled in an empty closet.
It’s not enough to say that presence is absolute truth and absence is imitation or copy, the two are intertwined. Listening to the fuzzy recordings of Edvidge’s father’s voice not only evokes feeling of loss, but also joy at the fragments that remain.
The timely exhibition reminds us that our desire to record, retain and remember the past – and our loved ones – is vital to who we are as humans, but it is no substitute for the real thing.