Naomi Schwartz’s works in her exhibition The Structure in the Falling, at the City Library, evoke the sense of comfort we derive from memories. These works of ink and collage seem like swatches of textures, shape, and fabrics that are often all that remain in memories of fleeting contentment. It’s a mother’s blouse or a quilt in the car, the lining of a handbag or the wallpaper at a holiday house that you followed with your fingers as you went to sleep. These abstract collages are layered like mind associations that hide and disclose fragments of stories.
There are several works titled Whose sleeves?. These works were inspired by the rich depiction of kimonos on late 16th century Japanese screens, Tagasode. In the screens kimonos are rendered in a natural state between clean and dirty draped over the structure itself; a trompe l'oeil of living. In Schwartz’s work the viewer is asked to imagine “Whose sleeves?”—to whom does each of these objects belong. While they seem so abstract and geometric, not wrapped around their owner, they still can communicate so much of their owner’s identity and personality. The clothes, like the screen, both hide and reveal.
Schwartz’s work also takes on the abstract form of shapes and structures that are like garments cut from a pattern before it is sewn. They are like the hazy, curved and layered memories an adult might have of themselves as a child. The curved forms of fabric like patterns of stripes, checks, pink circles on orange and buds about to bloom, suggest a woman whose shoulder you remember well. They are like the memory of falling asleep on a cotton sun dress lap. It’s the vanilla smell of Shalimar perfume. They take you to the ridges of a beautiful bottle on the dresser or a swish of fabric before a dinner dance and a pile of dry-cleaning and after dinner mint wrappers in the morning.
Ropes and knots are a dramatic motif in these artworks. They evoke notions of how memory is contained and released. It as though memories can become entwined and knotted. They are like thickly twisted braided fibres that can be made stronger with repetition; or as in Schwartz’s work – split and frayed. The unravelling or splitting of the tightly wound ropes of memory and consciousness, reveal, as in the Split Ropes piece, textured and colourful layers of beauty and intrigue. Between the split ropes are leaves, caves, diamonds and dandelions. The split rope acts compositionally almost like the curtains opening on a proscenium arch to a backdrop of a Russian ballet. As an audience we wonder what will emerge from the cave.
Schwartz’s work reveals a tension between what is tightly woven, neat and contained and what is loose, unravelled and falling. It is this contrast, like the unravelling of tightly plaited hair for romantic escapes down towers that creates a sense of drama and narrative in the series. In works such as In Under the Shadow, Bundle and Sleep there is a pillowy soft comfort in the artwork that is like a bed or nest. They are warm, safe spaces that protect and hide. These seem like the places one would stop and enjoy. The sharp angular forms throughout the work contrast with these billowy fabric forms to suggest the momentary nature of contentment.
The title piece of the show, The Structure in the Falling is a work of dark bulging ink shaped crosses. The paradoxical notion of a structure in falling denotes a reason in chaos, or a necessity in letting go of some notion of control, order or direction. The thick short crosses, like birds, planes or flailing falling figures have a rounded cushioning form. It seems that one may only find these places of comfort depicted in the collages, when willing to embrace the ambivalence of the metaphor of falling.
Throughout this work, there seems a sense of joy in the act of unravelling and remembering. There is warmth that makes reminiscence seem comforting rather than confronting. The sense of cushioned landings encourages courage. We are reminded of places in our memory we were caught, held and protected.
The Structure in the Falling at Melbourne City Library