15 September 2016, Jewish Museum, St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
I want to sincerely thank the personnel at the Jewish Museum for believing in me and my work, giving me the opportunity, structure and support to present'One Man in his Time' here.
This exhibition is the merging of all of my parts, as mother, grandmother, daughter, sister, in-law, aunt, friend, widow and artist - I thank all of you who are integral to my life for giving me the time, space and encouragement to explore what I seem to need. In other words, sorry for being so unavailable of late.
I feel incredibly lucky to have art as a means, a language , to work through my endless feelings and thoughts - there is a definite cathartic effect in addressing issues of grief and mourning that can otherwise get swept away with the routine of life. Sometimes it has been so helpful to work at this and other times incredibly confronting. I won't pretend that there hasn’t been many a time when I've questioned myself as to why I keep doing this.
By bringing my private ritual of dealing with loss, into the public arena I struggle with exposing the intimate and personal, both for myself and my family. Being a very private person myself, this dichotomy between public and private is a constant tension, sometimes quite harrowing yet other times incredibly liberating
One of my favourite artists, Doris Salcedo, says that it is the role, even responsibility of the artist to rupture the natural course of forgetting and so delay death and ritualise life. This is my impetus, it compels me. I want to reaffirm life, the life of one Henry Ivor Ritterman - one man in his time - a time cut short but a time fulfilled.
Time in fact became the emerging theme of this show - I confront it - bring awareness to it and try and stop it
This exhibition gives memory a space, gives it sound and material form. It is my way to make the intangible tangible.
And what better place to do this, than in a museum; the home of collective memory.
Those of you who knew Henry would agree that he would be rapt to be here, he would be so proud to have his medals on display, his achievements honoured and his warmth and love fill the gallery.
I use his possessions, the objects of his life as my palette. Henry kept his things meticulously stored - his childhood and schoolboy memorabilia lovingly placed in boxes, he kept trinkets from old girlfriends, and scrap-booked important clippings from his and his family's life. He collected and stored his history and I have displayed it - we are working in collaboration; partners again.
My display is my way of drawing him - A portrait as a memory landscape - not to depict Henry but to convey his essence and even in a strange way to evoke his smell. I have purposely displayed his things on the ground, in an almost garage-sale aesthetic, exposed and vulnerable, alive - in stark contrast to usual museum protocol of housing objects in precious vitrines situating them firmly in the past.
For me, these hundreds and hundreds of objects are also archeological relics - each having their story and each serving my aim, my responsibility - to rupture forgetting.
They are markers of an era, of events, of emotions, of taste, of interests, of community and of time itself. These familiar ordinary objects are tangible evidence that once there was a body, a life that touched them and in handling them I have learned so much more than I expected about Henry and about myself. Strangely, I feel like I know, understand and appreciate him even more now than I did when we were sharing life.
Maybe there's a lesson here for relationships - take out your things from time to time and see what happens?
The new work, upstairs, that evolved from the first iteration of this show heightened my awareness of the honour in the act of making itself - the wonderfully slow process of contemplation, research, looking and labour which somehow helped to me to accept my reality of living in harmony with absence.
There is an obsessive nature to the new work - work that tries to give shape and structure to time itself. It reflects the need to find some concrete form at that time when the world seemed to float in an endless spiral of pain. Religious and cultural rituals help and I reference the 5 stages of mourning that the Jewish religion advocates
The first stage is between death and burial, then shivah, seven days of intense grief followed by shloshim, 30 days after the burial, where mourners are encouraged to rejoin society. The fifth and final stage is the twelve month period. After this year the bereaved are not expected to continue their mourning except briefly for the Yurtzeit, the yearly anniversary of the death. Jewish tradition, in fact, chides a person for mourning more than the prescribed period.
So here am I, almost 7 years after Henry's death, still performing my personal rituals, questioning time, asking if it is indeed the healer it is supposed to be and I am still not sure of the answer - Yes, I have moved on through the pull of time and life itself. But as an artist I have the means to delay death for as long as I can, to create that space of memory - to celebrate a life - to bring Henry back for us all to enjoy.
I could not make this space alone and I want to thank so many of you here. Without the support and encouragement of those of you who believe in me I could not keep going as I do. I am strong but not that strong - I take my strength from the love and lessons gleaned from many of you- family, friends, colleagues but there is oneperson to whom I dedicate this exhibition that showed me how to do it all- Rezi Ritterman, Henry's Mother ,the most courageous, unselfish, empathic, resilient person I know.