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Magdalena Reuss

Memory paths
Notes about Elisabeth Wedenig’s series of works Second hand journey

“If one of our gifts is to be described as more awesome as the others, it is, in my view, the mind. Something suspicious lies in the fact that the strength, the failure, the unreliability of the memory is much more incomprehensible to us than the same elements of our other mental powers.“ (Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814)

The mind, the memory – both basic prerequisites of our existence as thinking human beings, most probably the most important. Without them, neither speaking, acting intentionally and contextually would be possible, nor would we have the ability to orientate or keep social relationships. Our memories do coin us, either in a positive or negative way, they make us who we are.

However, remembering has its tricky side: can we trust what we remember? No. The memory is not precise, the past gets blurry and acquires subjective nuances. The sudden appearance of perceptions and feelings leaves us with a feeling of reality, in a way that we maybe experienced it, however, our mind does not give us a truthful depiction of what we experienced. Some things are saved, others are forgotten, others again are overlaying – a scientific term for this is “distortion-“1 There is the attempt of making glimpses stay by thinking of them in order to trigger the memory – but it is transitory

Elisabeth Wedenig has studied the topic and the field of research of memory intensely and has built her series of work Second hand journey (2013 – 2016) on it. As a starting point, she did not use her own memories but her grandfather’s travel memories from the 1950s which she found in her house: postcards, pictures, city maps, notes.

“I wanted to take over elements of his trip, I wanted to overwrite them and make something new out of them, something of my own”, the artist explains her intention behind addressing her grandfather’s experiences. She travels on his traces and his paths, superposes these memories with new experiences and closes gaps by means of her own memory or of invented content.

Elisabeth Wedenig also poses the question of how reality is experienced. Is there anything like the one reality? Can you empathise with the experiences of another person? On the travel paths of her grandfather she finds her own, personal reality and, mixed with her grandfather’s memories, elaborates it in an artistic way.

Topics such as memory, dreams and perception of reality already were fundamental in former artistic works of Elisabeth Wedenig. Her main means is painting. Her painting is mainly abstract with some figurative elements – what seems to be the perfect allegory of fainting memory. The painting develops by the process of painting as such and parts of it evolve like a collage. Perspectives mix up and overlay each other, the completed works are projections of the collected experiences, places and events. Some topics appear repeatedly and continuously get more abstract. Apart from painting, Wedenig also works with the means of photography and develops it further; what you can also find among her works are drawings, which are made very fragmentally. The material used is canvas, wood, acrylic and oil colours, pencil and paper.

The Second hand journey route:

Replay / Second hand journey 1

Route 1954: Zürich Zurich, Genf Geneva, Lourdes, Côte Basque, San Sebastian, Madrid, Sevilla Seville, Cádiz, Barcelona, Nizza und Côte d'Azur Nice and Côte d'Azur, San Remo

Route 2013: Zürich Zurich, Genf Geneva, Marseille Marseilles, Lourdes, Côte Basque, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Madrid, Sevilla Seville, Cádiz, Granada, Barcelona, Nizza und Cote d'Azur Nice and Côte d'Azur, San Remo

The running dog / Second hand journey 2

Route 1955: Belgrad Belgrade, Thessaloniki, Istanbul, Athen Athens, Kap Sounion Cape Sounio, Corinth, Varkiza

Route 2014: 2.1: Istanbul, 2.2: Thessaloniki, Athen Athens, Kap Sounion Cape Sounio, Varkiza, Corinth, Peloponnes Peloponnese

Building apples with oranges / Second hand journey 3

Route1956: Budapest, Warschau Warsaw, Kiew Kiev, Moskau Moscow

Route 1999: Riga, Moskau Moscow, am Sura at Sura, Nischni Nowgorod, St. Petersburg

The chronologically first journey addressed in Second hand jouney by the artist took place in 1999 and led her to the east of Europe and Russia. It was only years after that she connected this series with found pieces of memory of her grandfather. This travel is the third part of the series of work: Building apples with oranges / Second hand journey 3. The journey mentioned differs significantly from the series of works Second hand journey 1 and 2 as Elisabeth Wedenig’s journey took place a long time before she discovered her grandfather’s itinerary, with Moscow being the only destination they had in common.

Building apples with oranges refers to the English equivalent of the saying in German “to compare apples to pears”. Concretely speaking, what you see in the painting are apples and oranges indeed but what the artist intended with the title is more referred to comparing her journey with her grandfather’s one. Because there is a difference between their itineraries, the memories differ more and more respectively and still, it seems to be an impossible task to reproduce the experience made with the grandfather’s experience. At this point the memory processes of recognising and of misremembering set in.2 The own journey made is partly recognised in the grandfather‘s souvenirs, sometimes it is even reflected and the memory contents of two different people combine to build a new “false” memory and a new artistic result. Also, mementos found afterwards, by the time passing, create the impression to actually have made the described experience by yourself and lead to a distorted memory.

The series of work is characterised by large-scale paintings. The colours merge, mix and dilute, just the way as memory is likely to do. Sometimes, a human, an animal or a plant shape is intertwined into the structure of the picture, which you don’t immediately recognise.

The frame of the compositions are the journeys, which are integrated into the painting by means of a technique using adhesive tape. Analogously to the memory, some stripes are brittle, leaving small gaps between the coloured elements, others, in turn, are sharp and almost function as separating lines on the large-scale formats.

The colours and figurative elements in the otherwise rather abstract and vague paintings are closely linked to the respective travel stage. The bear in its violet-cool environment, similar to Deduschka, for example, clearly resembles Russia.

It is not only Wedenig herself to elaborate the grandfather’s memory, she also plays with the reception of the viewers, with their perception and the possible recognition of their own experiences. Maybe they recognise the travel route, an element of an object, a colour, an impact, which triggers memories, impressions and emotions.

Apart from the paintings, Elisabeth Wedenig presents a number of postcards of the grandfather’s journey, which she elaborated. In A piece of Russia the overlapping of memory is visualised most vividly: the sights on the cards have been painted over and substituted by abstract compositions reminding of nature elements. Here, just as in the other group of works, too, the landscape is in the foreground – just as already in Wedenigs journey in 1999. Elements of water, meadows, clouds and forest form a common thread and modify the existing pieces of memory of the 1950s. With a thin brush, for example, she creates a landscape made of trees and bushes in A piece of Russia #6 and, in a more gestural and dynamic style, she creates billowing clouds (A piece of Russia #7, among others).

The journey in 2013 was made in view of the project Second hand journey and was Elisabeth Wedenig’s attempt to travel, as exactly as possible, on the same route as her grandfather – to the same places, with the same means of transport, with photos taken at the same spots, in the same order.

The main means of Replay / Second hand journey 1 is collage: sequences and elements, also from former experiences, are connected, newly arranged and condensed.

Taking a closer look at the pictures makes you realise that a lot of pieces are not meant to belong together. Lines lead trough idyllic compositions of landscapes, the drawing is perforated, reflections are not consistent, perspectives constantly change. In Sevilla Wunderland, for instance, you can clearly see that: seemingly unrelated objects such as trees, meadows, patterns and corridors are compressed and make up a new place with surrealistic flair. The experiences have condensed by being recalled and replayed in the mind, they merged to form a vague memory. Here, too, Elisabeth Wedenig plays with the impreciseness of the memory, bringing to life new, subjective realities.

This group of works is formed by large-scale paintings and drawings on paper enriched by perforated dots forming lines and contour lines. You can also find pieces of photographs elaborated by means of collage.

In the group of works The running dog / Second hand journey 2 Wedenig depicts the abstraction of reality and the erroneousness of memory even more to the point. She chooses an element from the second journey and paints and draws it again and again: the dog. On one painting it is painted in a very detailed and concrete way, whereas in the second one the head is missing, then the rear part of the body, reaching the point where the whole representation of the dog is abstract. The outlines vanish, colour fields dominate the painting, just as gaps rule our memory.

The drawings (Dog on paper) accompanying this group of paintings show depictions of a dog being more and more overdrawn by geometrical shapes to being completely replaced by them. This is to show that, by rethinking and recalling, memories are being overwritten and newly moulded and assume new forms.

Place cells / Second hand journey 1-3 bends the conclusive bow encompassing all groups of work. The artist groups found pieces of memory, photographs, postcards and city maps of her grandfather together with her small-scale paintings and drawings as intermediate stops of the journeys. These stops are mixed and result in a kind of “new map”.

The title derives from the scientific term of a sort of cells in the brain region of the hippocampus. Place cells are responsible for our orientation skills. Here, too, places are not sorted based on geographical aspects, to the contrary, even places that are far apart can be located next to each other in the brain.3

This aspect is elaborated by Elisabeth Wedenig by means of a canvas on the floor, uncommented, the pictures seem to be arranged randomly. Similar to a nomads’ carpet, the canvas is placed in the room and takes the viewers to a journey as well as to their memories.

1 Cf. Foster, Jonathan K., Gedächtnis und Gehirn, Reclam, 2014

2 Cf. Foster, Jonathan K., Gedächtnis und Gehirn, Reclam, 2014

3 Cf. Monyer, Hannah, Gessmann, Martin, Das geniale Gedächtnis, Knaus, 2015

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