Mixing Memory and Desire: responses to the work of TS Eliot

Dates:6 April 2018 to 11 April 2018
Times:Friday to Tuesday 11am to 7pm, Wednesday 11am to 1pm

 Showcasing the work of six artists, ‘Mixing Memory with Desire’ is designed to complement Turner Contemporary’s exhibition Journeys With ‘The Waste Land’. The selected work is both a celebration and examination of the poet’s legacy, individual artists responding very differently both in terms of media and orientation. Julia Iwasz and Ruth Martindale are drawn to the potency of Eliot’s imagery, James Swinson and Jane Madsen to the connection with Margate itself, and Othman Abdullah and Nicholas Addison to Eliot’s notion of tradition and his religious and political affiliations.

The exhibition includes collage, moving-image, painting, photography and stone carving. All exhibitors are either staff or alumni of the University of the Arts, London.

Artists’ statements

James Swinson

Locating The Waste Land  (1922) and its production in Margate led me to the glass and wooden public shelter on the A28 Canterbury Road. Legend has it that this was the site where T.S. Eliot, in recovery from a nervous breakdown, penned some of the verses for the poem.

The shelter is not a library, study or pastoral site of quiet contemplation; it is an observatory of the world in motion with the intersecting flows of people, traffic, trains and the sea. The restless montage of The Waste Land, which is the hallmark of its modernist status, is in tune with the dynamics of the location in which it was conceived.

Eliot’s poetics in The Waste Land reflect the influence  of the second industrial revolution of the late early 19th century. The emergene of the new technologies of cinema, the internal combustion engine and flight, inspired the historic avant-gardes to focus on time and montage aesthetics that reconfigured memory and desire.

The shelter as a monument to The Waste Land is explored through moving image.

Jane Madsen

In T. S. Eliot’s poetry rich and evocative images and objects are suspended and held out in the space of desire and in the rawness of yearning. Desire is constantly thwarted, transgressive and impossible. The images and objects Eliot composes are ones that can almost be touched but at the same time they are abandoned, used and broken. Everything is out of reach. For Eliot the terrain he occupies is at the margins. There is a chronic state of being outside looking in; of being at a perimeter that cannot be traversed.

My work for the exhibition, Running at the Edge, will be projected as black and white images. The edge of the sea at Margate is the starting point. On the Harbour Wall a boy runs along the edge it is blurry and unclear whether he runs to or from something; the horizon can be seen and the sky weighs the image down. At the waters edge the sea laps over fragments of broken mirror glass and of oyster shells. These objects show the risk of being injured; that desire or any aspiration for pleasure is perilous. Memory is suggested through the blur of black and white images, which are used to create a sense of the visual past of analogue photography.

Julia Iwasz

Making work in response to T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922), so full of imagery and ideas, was a stimulating prospect. I found that my approach altered, to allow myself to be influenced by the poem rather than to focus on particular aspects of it. Eventually I decided to use collage, or a mixture of collage and drawing, to reflect on its fragmentary style.

Eliot, writing about Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913) in a letter from 1921 states that “In art there should be interpenetration and metamorphosis,” a claim referring to the effect of interweaving elements from the past and the present within the ballet. Collage seemed to be the best way for me to achieve this requirement.

Eliot borrowed lines from many others including Shakespeare, Dante and the Buddha’s Fire Sermon, so I have also borrowed widely, and more humbly perhaps, from sources as diverse as the Oxford Historian Magazine and a Fired Earth catalogue.

In his notes on The Waste Land Eliot mentions that it is Tiresias, (the blind prophet of Apollo who spent 7 years as a woman) who binds the sections of the poem together; though blind, Tiresias ‘sees’ the future. In my images I hope to combine some seemingly incompatible images into a compatible whole, messages from the past influencing visions of the present and possibly the future.

(One or two other images are included which are solely drawing.)

Nicholas Addison

Returning to Eliot’s great poem for the first time since adolescence has undoubtedly led me to a way of working in which I have been ‘mixing memory with desire’. In a large water colour, ‘I Tiresias… Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest-’ I pursue a ‘double-plunder’ stitching imagery from the poem with events and people from Eliot’s biography. The result is an ‘almost-triptych’, an unseemly mix that highlights sources and recurring themes without resolving into a clear narrative.

In two clusters of paintings and drawings I take works from my youth (16 to 20) that chime with some of the themes in Elliot’s work juxtaposing them with recent painting in which these themes are reconfigured. The Commedia dell’ arte cluster acknowledges Eliot’s simultaneous delight and denunciation of low sources and the origins of his poetic imagination in French Symbolism, the self/crucifixion cluster touches on the ego and its denial.

Othman Abdullah

The Waste Land was translated into Arabic for the first time in 1955. It became profoundly significant for the development of a modernist Arabic poetry. My paintings incorporate Eliot’s title in Arabic script, over-written to form a palimpsest. In the act of painting the text gradually becomes indecipherable, forms begin to coalesce and suggest ghostly presences. For me these resonate with the line from The Waste Land in which Eliot quotes from Dante’s Inferno (c 1320) (below in italics):

Unreal City

Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,

A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,

I had not thought death had undone so many.

Sighs, short and infrequent, were exhaled,

And each man fixed his eyes before his feet. (lines 60–65)

An important figure for Eliot was the African, Church father St. Augustine of Hippo (AD. 345-430). I also present work produced in response to his teachings, specifically the City of God with its denunciation of sensuality in favour of a simple life. Additional paintings, Prayer 1 and 2, allude to the last line of the poem, ‘shantih, shantih, shanti’, a peaceful resolution or counter to all the despair of The Waste Land. ‘Shantih’ is a Sanskrit, Hindu/Buddhist chant about which Eliot notes: ‘ 433. Shantih. Repeated as here, a formal ending to an Upanishad. ‘The Peace which passeth understanding’ is a feeble translation of the conduct of this word’ (1922).

Ruth Martindale

What struck me most when reading The Waste Land was the concept of a broken fractured society where the world is so dry that nothing can grow, flourish or develop. I have always been drawn to the natural world, plants and growth and so I found the idea of a world that is so baron very poignant; I have used these ideas in my work for this exhibition.

I come from both a fine art and a craft background having studied art and completed a traditional apprenticeship in letter carving. I am particularly interested in how letters can be seen as image without having to be read for meaning, the same way that poetry can evoke a feeling without the need to understand every phrase.