Memory Theatre – Robyn Fleet & Susan Mabin

29 March – 25 April 2018, MUSE Gallery, Havelock North
By Megan Seawright

The complement of two artists working alongside each other, each to their own work whilst forging an apparent interwoven connectivity, is softly apparent in MUSE’s current exhibition

This beautiful synergy has emerged through long-term sharing of studio space and collaboratively running children’s art classes. It reflects comfort with their familiarity and a personal consideration of each other.  Their work sits easily alongside each other, with five large works from Fleet and fifteen sculptural works by Mabin.

The idea of Memory Theatre, where experience, emotion and memory are recorded through geographical landscapes (like the archaeological preserves of Pompeii) is expanded on through Fleet’s work. Her work holds close to this methodology of rediscovery through unearthing layers of the human condition.

“We are built in layers of memory and events, like the past, present and future, and as nothing is pre-planned in my painting, it’s unfolding as I’m working.”  Fleet

Rather like an excavation scene, the layering of paint is applied and pulled back on itself letting us know that time and evolution have concentrated into each completed work. I like them. The palette is pale, the saturations of colour are earth muted and potently eruptive in a gentle, ‘just here’ way.  The works are calm, yet I imagine beneath the scenes of such surrender, perhaps the theatre of memory is more gushing, with the artists own inner expression, life experience and bearing to the wider world paid for through the layers.

 “I am quite a tactile person, my painting is more central through using my hands, rags and brushes.”  Fleet

We can see her markings. There are finger lines and deep etchings offering substantial movement, hidden through the larger size of most works. The paintings offer me time. I consider my own layers of memory and what events in my own life have led me to here, worthy musings from an art work.

Susan Mabin presents us with memory theatre through fifteen figurative sculptural works. The evidence of layering through casting, scraping and moulding are clear signatures. They are the overt markers of the hand-made, purposely imperfect concrete plinths that support her clay figures. Mabin’s point is, “it’s unmonumental.”

We converse on how our social, emotional and physical geography is layered by monuments, all with bias of their own. Events convey truths, and positive and negative positionalities depending on who you are and what power you have.

 “I like to make things, it’s really that simple.”  Mabin

And in keeping with memory theatre, she has excavated monuments of the every day. Each of her figurines is cast from the same mould and then intuitively sculptured to pare back their expression, to intentionally expose the true nature of relationship, and to preserve their intent, fixed in clay. Some are quite simply scary in their glance, and monstrous (King of the Castle II). Others are poetic (Head inside a dream) and some sadly considering repair – inner repair and outwardly broken (Beheaded & Bewildered). What better ode to our human condition. I am moved by the consistent process of altering the same initial moulding. It’s like seeing the multi-faceted layers of ones’ being.  Furthermore, the deal of creating her own plinths establishes a keen sense of location and power back to the artist herself, suggesting we can stand on our own without the stock standard white base, ready for use in galleries. An artist’s work is their own, in making and definition, and I like this claim against standardisation.

At some point, both women have realised their work held convergence: The intersections of recall, memory and reality, the present moment of creating existence in some semblance of pattern perhaps. We occupy the world through the lenses we live by, and we transform the past, through recall, repetition, and ‘give away’. We attach to memory’s existence through our perceptions and life experiences. We are defined by these things, they create our identity and our inheritances, we shirk them, we love them. This Memory Theatre – as a directional arch for unfolding human nature and the inner and outer explorations of both artists – certainly encourages our contemplation.


Memory, identity and habit: a personal riff;  Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, Editorial, June 2014, Artlink.









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