article of Pamela Kember — 2006

Carol Lee — Transgressions between the art of memory and forgetting.

Pamela Kember

" Imagine . . . that our minds contain a block of wax, which in this or that individual may be larger or smaller, and composed of wax that is comparatively pure or muddy, harder in some, softer in others, and sometimes of just the right consistency . . . Let us call it the gift of the Muses' mother, Memory, and say that whenever we wish to remember something we see or hear or conceive in our own minds, we hold this wax under the perceptions or ideas and imprint them on it as we might stamp the impression of a seal ring”

Plato, Theatetus,.

The metaphor of the wax tablet that Plato likens to our memory is consistent in the way in which we consider the act of remembrance even today. For artist Carol Lee, her latest monochrome painted works of ink on paper and wax, become a writing surface, that renders itself both able to imprint and evoke memories through complex marks, lines and forms in space.

Like the human psyche, memories buried deep in the traces of our mind – where our past events, or traumas are often forgotten, sometimes repressed, until an image, sound, taste or smell, instantly evokes the time and place. It is as if the exact moment can be relived – we might call this a state between memory and forgetting.

The artist’s fragmented work also build into a body of ideas that map both a personal journey, and one that points towards a more universal condition of wandering the recesses of the mind- our ability to recall, and to remember those shadows and marks that are imbedded in our subconscious.

When we are confronted daily with an endless stream of visual simulations, it becomes difficult to remember the real, rather than these simulacrums; copies, images without substance or origins.

So how can we look for ways to recall a voice, a place and person, or conversation and attempt to fix onto our past?

Our memories are constantly drifting, as Lee point’s out- they are twisting and slipping away, never fully recalled, nor totally forgotten. Her multi -layers of ink on paper fall between painting and drawing, and have many facets in their relationship to the moment of loss and of the invisible, to those symbolic elements of encounters between people, and places in time and in memory.

They provide a critical insight and reflection upon the artist’s relations with others, in particular her mother, and of being a mother of her own child. There is always the possibility, of reading the images marks, and lines and their relationship with one another as having one, even more meanings, however non are incorrect, there are limitless possibilities, for like memories they can never be fully grasped or explained. We can either relate to these visual dialogues, or merely gaze at the myriad of markings and figures that form a ‘body’ of work to seek our own connection between past and present.

Such borderlines between being here and elsewhere, become wall-like marks in Lee’s works, those that divide human from human, tensions and solitude, mind and body.

Another artist as well as psychoanalyst, who plays on such themes, is Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger, who uses the word – ‘Metramorphosis’, to define this process of change in borderlines and thresholds between being and absence,; memory and oblivion; the I and non-I or what she terms a process of transgression and fading away.

In Carol Lee’s multiple fragments, there is also a desire to seek a place were memories reside, either the void, or the seat of memory- what we come to call our unconscious - and often memories are remembered through these acts of repetition.

Such repeated striated ink markings, black lines, and small dark figures that emerge as tiny, solitary forms amidst vast emptiness, keeps alive both her memories and traditions- some associated with childhood; objects, games, and places – here these painted objects become multiple sites that undergo continual remembrance and renewal.

It is as if the first mark or line that appears painted in ink on paper becomes a ‘seeing as’ game- do we encounter a wall? A river? A mountain? A path? Whereas circular forms also evoke endings coming around to new beginnings,

Yet beyond the lines, the minute solitary figures rarely move across thresholds, rather they hover on the brink of the abyss- to remain forever static, isolated in their thoughts. Heads trapped in boxes, confining us to small worlds of voids, and of nothingness- but how can we remember- do these lines turn into something memorable?

Vast white spaces among ink black marks and lines, form traces that refuse to keep us fixed both here, there, and everywhere,

In the ancient myth connecting the origins or invention of drawing, Dibutades, the daughter of a Corinthian potter, before her lover's departure, sees his silhouette cast against the lamp light. Taking up some form of marker, she then attempted to keep, as a gift, the face or profile of the young man drawn directly onto the wall, so that even with his imminent departure - he would remain long after the physical body leaves. What might have become a faded memory in her mind, thus becomes a material reminder of absence.

This account by classic writer Pliny's concludes that at a later time, Dibutades asked her father to cast his face in clay, so that the image would become immured in concrete form, forever.

Carol Lee’s work connects the specific individual experience with that of the universal concern for mourning, one of loss and of the unspoken –stories and voices that were never told could not be spoken of.
Sometimes her drawings imitates such figures trapped, or confined to small dark spaces, Such intimate worlds begin with the mark, the trace of the line that also means to be transported- to journey to another place.

Everything becomes a detail, and forms a connectedness to everything else. Yet there is also that innocent space, that of the child’s mind, one that locates or echoes moments of silence- yet also of breathing. As when you gaze at a child asleep- you too begin to inhale their world- one at peace if not momentarily before awaking to their own night dreams, or fears.

Whether we are reflecting upon past loves, compassionate moments, or words spoken advisedly,by our parents and elders, the moment of their loss sometimes becomes too difficult to face.

Carol Lee’s collection of fragments, are as if such a family album exists in drawings- part documentary, part illusion each piece of paper becoming abstract zones, of light, shadows, concentrated thick lines, where the world, a mapping of the round- of endings and beginnings remain perpetually in flux. Other symbols from her childhood emerge, lines that resemble fans, cupboards, a singular light- bulb, or a paper boat- she reminds us of paper folding for symbolic, ceremonial or artistic use, as when placed in a boat and sailed downstream, signify that all souls returned to their resting place.

Sometimes the drawing of the small figure represents a body in motion, at other times; still, contemplative, and resigned to their confinement.

Others show hand in small hand, the child and the adult journeying on, whether facing the real world, or the unknown; it is as if a magnetic field moves them forward.

Carol Lee’s delicate constructions; her black and faded marks on wax occupy space on either side of the threshold: one a fragmentary world, transitional yet never absolute, the other, between traces of the present, but also of eternity.

Pamela Kember