Alice Anderson: Memory Movement Memory Objects?

Wellcome Collection, London

July 22-October 18, 2015

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What to make of Alice Anderson’s show at the Wellcome, Memory Movement Memory Objects? What indeed to make of the artist herself – soft-spoken intense, with a French accent at odds with her name, and a bun of ginger hair bound to the back of her head? At her previous show at the Freud Museum, much was made of the similarities between the hair and her choice of technique – wrapping objects in fine copper wire – and of a childhood habit of twining and plaiting her hair, as a sort of displacement activity, by the sounds of it. My displacement activity as a child was writing. Now I have written a book (RED: A Natural History of the Redhead), and Alice Anderson has filled five areas at the Wellcome with an extraordinary, in some cases unrecognisable, array of objects bound, or mummified, as the artist puts it, in this same fine copper wire.

As any redhead could tell you, the hair ends up being what you are judged on, or by, or remembered for. When you enter this show, the connection between artist and medium seems ridiculously obvious, but look again. A text as you enter states ‘This is no invitation to nostalgic reverie but a request to be fully conscious of our ability to weave memories in the here and now.’ Where else might one weave them, you could ask, but lo and behold, as you walk around the show you really do find yourself pondering memory: threads and mazes and Minotaurs, Rapunzels and Penelopes, weaving memories and memory’s habit of distortion (and indeed of mummifying moments) are all there. It’s pretty darn clever, to be honest.

It is also a tiny bit pretentious. (Well okay – a lot pretentious.) Visitors are invited to assist in the mummification of a Ford Mustang, so long as they accede to the instructions provided, which are, I would guess ‘Take shoes off. Put on black smock. Look solemn. Think Tilda Swinton.’ The movements of those taking up the challenge do become fairly balletic, however, there is a dance aspect to this work (more cogitations prompted, on learning steps, on memorising), and the whisper of the wire on metal is very much more soothing and agreeable than you might imagine.

Then there are the items themselves. The most startling are termed ‘hybrids’ – strange concatenations of limb bones and spines that resemble relics from some Area 51. Some of the most attractive are ladders, with some steps wrapped, some not. The final surfaces have the same pleasing plumpness as church hassocks. There’s a gorgeous broken dish, the gleaming halves wrapped separately, and a sort of wunderkammer of tiny geometric objets, together with one room draped with what might be the wire-encircled ovipositor of some copper monster, out of sight. Wrapped speakers murmur Euro-techno-pop. The copper gleams. Your head starts coming up associations and connections you had no idea were in there. It’s a small show, and really there is only one trick, one concept in it – but, for a destination that embraces the incurably curious, it’s an oddly successful, and memorable one.

Jacky Colliss Harvey is a writer and editor. She read English at Cambridge University and Art history at the Courtauld Institute. She has worked in museum publishing for the last twenty years and is known as a commentator and reviewer, speaking in both the U.K. and abroad on the arts and their relation to popular culture. At the same time, her red hair has also found her an alternative career as a life model and a film extra playing everything from a society lady in Atonement to a Parisian whore in Bel-Ami. She lives in London. Her book 'RED: A History of the Redhead' is available now.