Last night saw artist Eva Mileusnic in conversation with Dr Judith Tucker at East Street Arts’ Patrick Studios in Leeds talking about the artist’s current exhibition, A Human Landscape. It proved a fascinating and enlightening discussion, undoubtedly enriched by Judith Tucker’s own art practice having a resonance with the themes of traumatic displacement, migration and memory underlying this exhibition
On entering the space, the visitor is confronted by a series of monumental textile pieces. Blurred and indistinct monochromatic images depict groups of people on the move. The images have a disturbing familiarity: the genre of photographs of forced displacement from which these paintings are taken have become etched into the collective consciousness of a certain generation. In this case however, the installation prompts an even more uncomfortable response through the use of ‘shoddy’ as the painting support and frame. Shoddy is a material created by the recycling of waste fibres, and its very texture and appearance when juxtaposed with this imagery evokes the industrialised horrors of the Holocaust.
The central positioning of the works in the room space forces the visitor to keep moving around all sides in order to see all of the paintings. Through this enforced migration, the spectator can only ever have a complete picture by combining the immediate viewable image with fragmentary memories of what has already been viewed. Even in front of the paintings, it is hard to get a clear reading of these semi-abstracted, dissolving images. The spectator is consequently left with a sense of the disparate and fleeting nature of memory itself. And as a further layer of metaphor, whilst the attempt to grasp and retain a picture of what is there may be almost impossible, it is never as impossible as grasping the experience of the trauma under scrutiny.
The second work in the exhibition is A Liminal Drift: a map of European/German industry sectioned into 20 square pieces, each framed and glazed with resin and mounted vertically on a variety of old chair legs in a grid-like structure on the wall. The newly imposed gridded structure references the new cultural, traditional and language barriers encountered by immigrants. In artificial light, the shadow forms created by the piece were exaggerated and suggestive for me of the frequently underlying darkness of the migrant experience.
I was particularly enthused by the clarity and value of the evening’s discussion. Judith Tucker led the conversation in a wonderfully well-informed yet accessible way, and for all non-art world people present, that must have been both a relief, and a real insight into Eva Mileusnic’s practice and the installation.
The artist is a second-generation Hungarian/British citizen, and her work is based on the personal WWII migratory experiences of her own family. This, the monumental size of the installation and the almost abstract quality of the paintings move the works away from the ever-present danger of cliché on the subject. Similarly, the problematic issues which may arise in terms of any re-viewing of images originally created by perpetrators is carefully avoided. It is a moving and beautiful commemoration of a past history with universal contemporary relevance.
The exhibition is on until 24 March 2011, Mon-Thurs 12am-5pm. Eva Mileusnic is also starting a new research project collecting a sound archive of migratory memories both historical and personal, past and present. Details may be obtained through East Street Arts or the artist.