The fleeting feeling of Andrew Fish’s artwork is intentional. Concerned with the ubiquity of picture-making and -taking in our society, Fish’s work explores the ephemeral nature of technology-based images through the blending of traditional media and contemporary digital motifs. In this exhibition at Boston's Childs Gallery, the artist examines human memory in the context of the digital age. Memories shape our recollection and understanding of the past, but they are constantly changing. We forget, revise, or misremember, much as we delete, alter, and manipulate digital images. In an age where ubiquitous imagery is so easily edited, what we remember, even how we remember, seems to be constantly in flux.
A “memory palace” is a mnemonic enhancement technique dating back to ancient Greece, in which spatial visualization is used to recall information. According to Roman authors Cicero and Quintillian, the Greek poet Simonides invented the technique when asked to identify the remains of dinner guests after the roof of their banquet hall collapsed. Simonides, an earlier guest of the fateful party, used his visual memory to recall the seated position of each diner.
With this body of work, Fish plays with the memory palace concept: faceless, shadowy figures inhabit equally immaterial worlds. In creating a series of images of obscure locations, his artwork summons memories that will be unique to each viewer. Fish conjures places that feel familiar but lack the recognizable features of photographs and maps, and omit details observed in the present moment. In doing so, his scenes invite immersion, yet simultaneously feel as if they are moments slipping away in time.
In these paintings, as in his previous works, Fish reacts to the immediacy of digital photography and social media imagery but strips away their transitory qualities by engaging in the lengthier, more permanent processes of painting and printmaking. Through the abstraction of pervasive contemporary pictorial motifs, Fish documents our societal obsession with related technologies in a painterly fashion. He also addresses the question: How can an artist respond to, and find relevance in, this kind of environment? In the Information Age, with so many images at our fingertips, Fish’s work asks the viewer to consider their relationship with the content creator, as well as the relationship between the ephemeral and the permanent. Memories, constantly mutating, lie at the intersection between what is ephemeral and what lasts over time. We are constantly forgetting, just as we are constantly replacing digital images with new ones, and yet some images persist in their familiarity and resonance.
The artist will be present at the January 17 opening reception, 6-8pm. The exhibition runs through March 10.