by Sara Palmieri
“[…] The tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta”. “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta”.
The first time I pronounce this name the involuntary memory that precedes me marks the opening words of the novel by Vladimir Nabokov which I read 30 years ago. The fictional force of such book has stamped an involuntary connection in that verbal movement of my tongue, a connection to a sudden memory that awakens a powerful emotion linked to the moment I read that book, to the fantasies it prompted, and to all the times in my life when other images recalled it.
Madeleine is a woman, a lady from Beirut who suffers from a disease that causes a slow decline in memory, in thinking and in reasoning.
When she weaves pieces and threads of wool Madeleine calms down, feels like she is less lost.
The last pieces of wool that Flaminia Celata added to the sculpture named Madeleine belong to the lady herself and arrived in the hands of the artist after an exceedingly long journey. A journey which started 6 months, 26 kilos and countless meters of thread ago, a thread made of wool pulled out from garments belonging to people with memory-related issues, weaved in small twists and sewed together through the same identical movement day after day, sometimes night after night, until the gesture no longer needs be remembered to be accomplished. The procedural memory, which the artist also recalls in other works from her exhibition, “the memory of doing things”, becomes the ultimate, resolutory, and liberatory process and act after a research lasted more than four years.
Once something has been given a name, that something ceases to be an object. Once something has been questioned, it becomes a subject of its own, an ego endowed with answers, apt to dialogue.
The first time the artist pronounces such name, her thoughts turn to Proust’s madeleines in In Search of Lost Time, where the narrator tells how the taste of a madeleine soaked in tea suddenly prompts an involuntary childhood memory, “filling” him “with a precious essence”: “I had ceased now to feel mediocre, contingent, mortal”. The visual memory was dozed but not the smell, not the taste through which the mind is able to let a sensation resurface, to create that je ne sais quoi which doesn’t exist yet, to imagine it.
Celata decides to give a name to that memory that gets lost, that loses its conscience, its own ego. She decides to give the matter a will and a body and to make it an interpreter, a witness, a perceptive threshold. She opens a relationship through the senses, lets the gesture gain the upper hand and become independent and cathartic, she lets it have words and movements of its own and watches it become Memory and then again forget about itself, change and grow just like a remembrance changes in time and through the flow of emotions that give it new meanings.
Unspinning and respinning in a different shape, going in and going out, holding back and letting go.
There is an infinite past and an infinite future to that recurring gesture. The past of those reminiscences “so long abandoned and put out of mind” whose “shapes” were “either obliterated or had been so long dormant as to have lost the power of expansion which would have allowed them to reach consciousness”, and the future eternally awakening a new potential form. A form which is generated not by a thought or a drawing, but by the symbolic gesture that seeks a union between wanting to hold back and learning to let go, and that takes charge of all the identities represented by the threads recomposed in it like souls that regain their weight and space, and their dignity.
Madeleine is a woman, a woman whose name must have ringed through the lips of someone who had passionately loved her. Madeleine is a man, a man who wears his green scarf each time he gets on the boat to be caressed by the wind. Madeleine is a child who was bought cotton candy on Sunday by his father, a child who once clung to a red sweater and never went away. Madeleine is the excursions on the mountains from those carefree years when you were there.
An experience that went through trying to understand, study, and know, while leaving a small crack, a deliberately open chink, so that love could find its way in and its final liberation: as thin as a thread, endless like a bond feeding on other bonds, one after another, until it generates a new body, until it explodes in a shape that recalls its old features and tries to imitate them. But it no longer needs it, they could no longer hold that birth of love. The artist, both daughter and mother, does not cut the umbilical cord, that marrow of connections and impulses between body and brain: she exhibits it so as to remind us that we must cling to ourselves in order to accept and finally let go, thus showing us a way out, a gaze floating upwards.
Memory exists independently of us. It survives time and the caducity of the body.
And so Madeleine, together with the other works exhibited in I am memory at Curva Pura, is a manifesto of hope and a legacy, both the artist’s body and our body freed from the constraints of time and form, a tangible witness, an everlasting matter, a silent guardian of our history.
“But when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring, more immaterial, more persistent, more faithful, remain poised a long time, like soul, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection”.
Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu.
Madeleine, sculpture in recycled wool threads, 2020-2021.
Thanks to Ninni Romeo, to the Gomitolorosa Association, to the psychologist of the Associazione Alzheimer Uniti of Rome Alessandra Drewien and to all the people who have donated their garment or someone else’s for their contribution to the realisation of this project.
Sara Palmieri is a visual artist, curator and teacher who lives and works in Rome.
She has been collaborating with Flaminia Celata for several years on the ideation and circulation of projects focused on the development of potential through photography, constantly bringing her individual research to the core of a shared debate.
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov [Lolita, Boston, G.K. Hall & Co. Publisher, 1997] A la recherche du temps perdu, Marcel Proust [In Search of Lost Time, Volume I, Swann’s Way, translated by C. K. S. Moncrieff and T. Kilmartin, New York, The Modern Library, 1992] Il senso della memoria, Jean-Yves Tadié – Marc Tadié
Materia e memoria, Henri Bergson