Curated by Tim Clark, The Unforgetting is the first solo exhibition in London by Peter Watkins. Opening at Webber Gallery Space, the exhibition of photographs and sculpture explores the textures of personal memory in relation to the experience of trauma. Based on the tragic death of Watkins’ mother, where, on 15 February 1993, she walked from Zandvoort beach into the North Sea to her death, The Unforgetting (2011-2015) pulls together a selection of cherished objects. The culmination of several years’ work, the project investigates the artist’s mother’s childhood, as well as their shared German ancestry. The themes of time, recollection and impermanence are all presented through a collection of items, places, photographs and narrative structures that have historically, been circulated within the family for decades.
The complexities and contradictions found in the act of remembering are broken down throughout the exhibition. While carrying the weight of a family’s past within them, the show’s museum-like display encourages a universal dialogue to emerge between the viewer and each object. Their stories remain undisclosed to the audience and we are left to impose our own memories and experiences onto each item. Through the collection, Watkins prompts us to ask: How much of a person remains in the objects that are left behind? And what can these objects tell us of the trauma of loss?
Images of cans of Super 8 film withhold the images they contain; ceremonial glasses appear transparent and emptied of liquid; and a baptismal dress appears suspended and spectral, glazed behind yellow glass – a wash of colour in an otherwise monochromatic series of works. The recurrence of wood throughout points towards the exploration of a certain rural German identity but also heralds the passing of time. Woven beneath the works’ surfaces are ciphers that come to constitute a biography of the departed, an incomplete patchwork of facts, assumptions and storytelling. The exhibition’s strengths lie in its interplay between presences and absences.
Peter Watkins, The Unforgetting, 29 June-31 July, Webber Gallery Space, London.
Find out more: www.peterwatkins.co.uk/the-unforgetting.
1. Peter Watkins, The Unforgetting (2011-2015). Courtesy of the artist.