Free Associations @ Lori Bookstein Fine Arts gallery in Chelsea, 138 Tenth Ave, December 08, 2011 – January 14, 2012
It’s difficult to recommend starting your new year of 2012 with the exploration of termination, but why not venture to begin understanding the alteration of history and the perpetuation of an end? Janet Malcolm, journalist at The New Yorker and author of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1981), explores such concepts of recreation in her exhibit of collages of papers of an émigré psychiatrist who practiced in New York in the late 1940′s and 1950′s. She names the collection “Free Association,” which is, in one way, aptly titled, but, in another way, sidestepping more dominant and incisive themes of her work on the process of termination and revisiting the past through a different lens. Her actual process of repurposing and exposing this typically tightly confidential material (i.e., notes of a psychiatrist or physician) evokes both a sense reconstruction as well as a voyeuristic excitement.
Malcolm combines both a playfulness and inventive reuse of scientific lists and tools such as in “Irretrievable Hippopotamus” by juxtaposing a list of words for testing dysarthria, a disorder of speech in forming words, with the beautiful saffron and tumeric colors of aged papers. Her work alludes to an era when the thoughts and opinions of a physician or psychiatrist were held separate and secret. As the yellowed papers suggest that time is distant and curious compared to the current modern notions of patient-centered and Google-your-cure world. The works also transcend the materials and subject matter, however, and the lines, handwriting, and faded photographs work together to create dreamscapes and beautiful compositions with ambiguous openings into another world.
Her work in this exhibit also notably (perhaps unintentionally) raises the notion of indefinite endings and reworking through the past over and over again, breathing new meaning into ideas and objects with time, as if one is grieving through scrapbooking memories. By rearranging the pieces of the past, Malcolm parallels her process of reconstructing the termination of with her analyst in her New Yorker piece (published as “Profiles (Aaron Green,” New Yorker, November 24, 1980; New Yorker, December 1, 1980) and the subsequent publication of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession (1981) (a distinction noted in conversations with James E. Groves, 2011). The first rendition of the parting moments were written in a more emotional and vulnerable way, but her subsequent recharacterization of the parting with her analyst is more removed and distant. Similarly, in this exhibit, her pieces work through a sense that ending and show that memories are only temporary and can be reconfigured– that old thoughts can “live again” in a different form and perspective.
So while named Free Associations, Malcolm’s collection of works illustrate more precisely the challenge of impermanence and grief– that while we attempt to continue to record and document our memories and perspective with frenzied detail, our perspective is always limited by the fluidity and reimagination of time, both a beautiful and terrifying reminder of our own ephemeral presence.