The eighth East Wing exhibition at the Courtauld Institute presents the latest in Amelia Whitelaw's ongoing series of large-scale dough works. The Fall is a time-based installation commissioned for this exhibition.
The East Wing uniquely places the work of rising artists, such as Whitelaw, alongside work by established artists, including Turner prize winners Mark Wallinger and Anthony Gormley.
Whitelaw's work functions as an ecology of memory. It addresses and articulates experiences of remembrance. The meaning lies within the substances and processes of the installation's making; ideas become material and materials take on a life of their own.
Journeying in time and space, flesh-like dough moves through the installation and leaves physical residue that acts like a memory of its own passage. It brings to mind the idea that biographical and autobiographical memories are as essential to human existence as nourishment from food. And that forgetting is as essential as remembering.
In Whitelaw's The Fall, gravity will stretch out 200kg of fresh salt dough from a net suspended five floors up. Four obstructions will hamper the dough's descent through the middle of a stairwell. These concentric holey barriers are further structured nets suspended from the ceiling. The highest net has the widest mesh and each net below has incrementally tighter weaves and are stretched into different geometrical shapes.
Many strands of dough become entangled in the first net, some will fall to the net below, some further still. The dough's movement will slow until it is almost invisible and eventually it stops. Dried out dough tresses remain hanging from the nets, appearing frozen in time.
Familiar to all Whitelaw's 'dough' series is the juxtaposition of organic material with a man-made or mechanical structure and the playing out of a kind of struggle or clash between the two. In The Fall, it is the stages or nets the dough is forced through that opposes the dough.
Dough serves as one of the most universal symbols for life and the things that sustain it. As bread, dough is one of the most humble and everyday of materials, yet it is charged with historical and psychological meanings accumulated since Neolithic times. Its association with death, as seen in ancient Egyptian and contemporary Mexican funerary rites, is also key to Whitelaw's work.
Albert Camus' non-religious novel, The Fall, uses a Christian vision of the journey to the afterlife (as interpreted by Dante in the Divine Comedy) as an analogy for his protagonist's personal 'fall'.
'When one comes from the outside, as one gradually goes through those circles, life -and hence its crimes- becomes denser, darker. ' The Fall, Albert Camus
Whitelaw's installation will transform the existing space- drawing the staircase that surrounds it into the work, evoking further the feeling of stages of Dantean descent.
Whitelaw isn't trying to illustrate the sort of purgatorial process which the Divine Comedy inspired in the artwork of Gustav Doré or William Blake. Purgatory can be seen as a process of purification. In Whitelaw's The Fall, the purfication is a loss or forgetting. When the dough has stopped its descent, it cannot be re-lived, only traced.
'By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' Genesis 3:17-19