In his fourth exhibition with the gallery, Mike Womack presents 14 works of sculpture that act as mnemonic mausoleums. This body of work was conceived in the winter of 2011, while the artist was caring for his ailing mother, who was struggling with long and short term memory. Having a prior interest in various scientific subjects and theories (including mirror neurons), Womack came across the work of neuroscientist Yadin Dudai and was struck by his comment that recollections are corrupted each time one thinks of them, and thus “the safest memories are those in the brain of people who cannot remember."

Womack compiled a list of compelling memories and worked with a hypnotherapist to retrieve the unrecalled memories. During the sessions, the artist, an accomplished draftsman, would make charcoal drawings of each memory before the hypnotist instructed him to forget the content of their sessions. With the help of the therapist and an assistant, the drawings were covered, catalogued by the memory and the artist’s age at the time, and then never seen by the artist.

“I wanted to extract early memories in the form of drawings and re-entomb them in a surrogate vault so that one could see the residue of the extraction but never truly know what’s there - so I decided to cast them in concrete. I was drawn to this fragile understanding of knowledge - that to know something is to ruin it. I see this starkly paralleling the Uncertainty Principle or Observer Effect and in this regard relates closely to my previous work on technology. After each drawing we spent a lot of time doing exercises that would allow me to forget and have no memory of what I’d drawn. I truly recall very little from these meetings and I have never seen any of the drawings, beyond the margins that are now visible in the sculptures. I then spent 9 months learning how to cast a sheet of paper into a block of concrete. I determined the best way was using glass fiber reinforced concrete in various combinations with steel, fiberglass mesh, and basalt rods. Each drawing is cast in just one pour - making for the strongest bond. I cast them while they were slip-sheeted and at the last moment I would pull off the slip sheet and place the drawing into the mold face down, so that the image was never visible to me.”

Womack’s concept aesthetically codifies an idea of uncertainty by casting the memory drawings in inscrutable concrete, a heartbreaking, obliterative dance with quantum mechanics. The lyrical charcoal gestures are subsumed by the comparatively stark, industrial material of their blocky, monolithic outer armor. With only the faintest charcoal scuffs as ghostly hints of evidence, each sculpture's silent weight directly confronts the viewer's imagination. The works are of varying size and shape; they lean, hang, rest on the floor and are mounted on the wall or pedestals. The result is both a deeply provocative, emotional investigation and an object lesson in the methods of display of modern sculpture, consolidating the visual whole in historical terms.

That both his parents passed away during the making of this body of work only enhances the potent poignancy of these sculptures. Accessing his earliest memories and then having the self control to preserve them unseen offers the epistemological consolation that knowing is possible.

Installation View: Mike Womack, Observer Effect, Zieher Smith & Horton


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