Interview with Hedy Ritterman about 'One man in his time'
Can you talk about your practice and in particular how this exhibition came about?
My work ostensibly deals with ideas around memory and time. I question how history is transmitted to next generations and if in fact holding on to the past is a hindrance or a necessity for moving forward. I am interested in the objects a person leaves behind after their death as tangible carriers of stories and real connections to those from the past.
Your late husband, Henry, seemed to be interested in wide ranging things, what themes emerged for you through the process of cataloguing and photographing his collection, and were these themes inherent to the objects or did they emerge from your creative practice?
My creative process takes its departure point from the objects themselves. Ideas around the individual objects as distinct from the sum of them emerged. I saw the original installation as searching for Henry’s essence through the things he collected as a whole, “one man in his time plays many parts…” But when working to make the book and handling each object separately I understood the value of each, object as archaeological relic, with its own distinct story and I particularly liked the fact that for many of the objects they became my secret narrative.
Through your creative process how much did you uncover/ discover/ learn?
I learned that perhaps one can only focus on the true spirit of a person you are so close to after they have departed .. Joni Mitchell sings ” you don’t know what you’ve got till its gone..” Once my focus was on the objects and their narratives I could appreciate the man for who he was as himself without the burden of the rigours of a relationship.
What were key things, or a key moment, that made you believe/ decide that this was something larger than your husbands life, or did the idea come first?
Henry was a collector and I watched him meticulously storing and scrap-booking what he salvaged from his life. My mother also had similar bowerbird habits and I observed others relish in the collected bits they shared. I think people are drawn to the past and items that help them relate to one another engender goodwill through commonalities .It’s the feeling of belonging to something greater than yourself whether through music or fashion or travel or sport; we all search for that sense of common ground. So in fact the idea was always there to do something with the objects that could be shared.
The exhibition is arranged chronologically, it was obviously a large walk down memory lane for you; how do you anticipate audiences will react to this arrangement and content? What was your decision to presenting it this way?
I work organically and instinctively. The project was overwhelming when all the boxes where in one place at my studio. At first I displayed them as I unpacked them, randomly in non-linear fashion, which had some appeal to me – however as I mused over the days I realised Henry was an organised, linear person and I needed to make the work resonate for us both. The transition to a more chronological order resolved the process and helped distinguish the differing parts of Henry’s life. Audiences reacted to the parts that were relevant to them particularly and then to the sum of the whole.
This exhibition is both conscious and reflexive how much of it was a mourning process, and how much was it about enquiry?
I would argue that most artistic practice has a therapeutic or cathartic component. The inquiry and research into art of this kind and genre gave me the consciousness that I had a language with which to explore my grief. Once I grasped my concept and started making the work I found the physicality and the performance of process evoked intense emotions. There were times of crying and times of giggling but mostly of marvelling at his life. This was indeed a ritual of grief, I call it dancing with memory, but an uplifting journey to the end.