Written without ever using the letter ‘e’, La Disparition [A Void, 1969] is a novel in which Georges Perec attempts to give a form to absence by subtracting from the text the element that the narrator, the characters and the puzzled readers are unknowingly after. Throughout the book, the missing element is everywhere: in the oddness of language, in the discomforting way of reading, in the detective storyline – all locked up in the loop of the ‘e’, shaped as ‘a sort of parabola, not fully confocal in form and fanning out into a horizontal dash’.1
The paradoxical idea that absence may be the sharpest manifestation of presence is at the heart of not before it has forgotten you, a group exhibition featuring works by Clémentine Bruno (1994, FR), Mara Fortunatović (1987, FR), Eva Gold (1994, UK), and Bella Riza (1987, UK). Considering the ways in which regimes of visibility operate, the exhibition explores the tenuous shift from being perceived to not being perceived, conjuring the forms of affective engagement that we develop with what has left, as well as with what is left of what has left – these hollow tracks and concave masks cast by what has disappeared.
After a first iteration at The Pole Gallery in Paris (Mar–Apr 2022) – an outdoor display of single artworks on a street pole in Le Marais, where this genuine piece of urban furniture, witnessing the permanency of urban fluxes, operated as a testimony to the impossibility to fixate change – not before it has forgotten you is travelling to NıCOLETTı, London, where it presents commissioned and existing artworks by the four artists.
In a new body of work comprising posters made in collaboration with Anna Clegg and Beatrice Vorster, as well as a painting, Clémentine Bruno questions the notions of appropriation, absorption and continuation of past forms, approaching complex realities through the interweaving of past and present, fact and fiction.
The backbone reference of Bruno’s series of work is The Adoration of the Name of Jesus by El Greco (1570): devised as haunted collage, these works operate as metaphorical reinterpretations that explore the processes whereby difference and change can emerge from repetition. Seeking to bring forth what is hidden, the resulting artworks are slippery objects that break down strict definitions while excavating subtexts: as an offshoot of the painting, the posters turn the singular into the multiple and put at stake the question of their status and functionality. In so doing, the artist investigates the makings and workings of art history, as well as visual imagery and their underlying discourses such as, in the case of El Greco’s painting, the notion of morality and its pictorial representation.
Questioning the interplay between visibility and invisibility, Mara Fortunatović presents two artworks that play with the architecture of the gallery space. One of them is an installation made of thin shafts hanging from the ceiling inspired by the ‘jalousie windows’, a type of blind used to screen something from view, but also to see without being seen. The other, entitled Electra, is a set of functioning electrical cables that are knotted in the manner of macramés, leaving thereby the viewer unsure of their status. Her display is completed by a sealed envelope containing the certificate and receipt for a lost artwork, through which Fortunatović brings forth the question of equivalence and the contractual apparatus that enables the transfer of presence into absence and vice-versa.
Similar reflections on processes of seeing and being seen permeate the work of Eva Gold, who is presenting a series of work comprising a sculpture made of rubber belts, a urinal, and a drawing representing a room in a sex club. Suggestive of human activities yet devoid of their presence, these works signal a past presence (e.g. how each second hand belt buckle has its own forgotten story with a previous owner), perhaps a recent one, hence sparking the concern that something is lurking and we are being spied on.
Gold’s drawing, in this sense, depicts the room of a male-only sex club, a playground designed for perverts but closed to women. The overhanging, top-down perspective reinforces the troubling feeling generated by this interplay of absent gazes, paving the way for the layering of fiction and experience, as well as the development of fantasied narratives that are as much the artist’s as the viewer’s. Drawn from memory during lockdown, when nightclubs were closed, Gold’s drawing evokes the intensity of intimate physical interactions between strangers; the freedom of bodies pressed together in the dark; the warm fluids that are coldly exchanged. Here, personal and collective experiences intersect, conjuring the longing for togetherness in times of isolation. It invokes the history of a community developing bonds and connections – from the belts’ ties to rumours of urinals linked to showerheads –, twisting and shaping a network of hidden and circulatory relations taking place in subterranean landscapes, but also of a community subjected to erasure, which often has to hide in the urban panorama to survive.
Topics of erasure and community are also being examined by Bella Riza, whose work explores the representation of memory, cultural experience and personal histories, often in connection to ideas of belonging and emotional traces of conflict. In line with her previous film Salt House (2017), Divided Island (2018) reflects on the filmmaker’s relationship to her father’s native Cyprus, which he left in 1968 and could not return back to due to intercommunal violence. As a result, Riza grew up in the UK with impressions of a place built up through her father’s stories – from her visits to Cyprus emerged feelings of discontinuity and resonance, an intimate distance from which she can approach the reality of a lost place. As such, her work is an attempt to map and re-imagine spaces, unearthing absent memories through construction rather than documentation, a process whereby image-making becomes a means to excavate subjective experiences and sensations of loss.
This project has received support from Arts Council England and Fluxus Art Projects.
1.Georges Perec, A Void, tr. G. Adair, London, Harvill Press, 1994, p. 4.