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How does the visualization of a memory, whether of a person or an experience, change over time? How does someone hold onto a dream as it begins to fade seconds upon waking up, leaving only a vague, indescribable feeling? How does the death of someone close affect your memories of that person?
The title of Maya Bloch’s exhibition—Life goes on without me—comes from the final line in the song “Just a Gigolo,” and the ambiguous, dreamlike worlds in her new works—with their spatial omissions and distortions of time and the ghostly faces of their inhabitants—encourages an understanding of this phrase not only as a meditation on misfortune and impending death but also on a person’s legacy, on being remembered or forgotten.(1)
The settings for Bloch’s compositions allude to fin-de-siècle salons, Weimar-era cabarets, and public dancehalls, which all center on communal activities such as eating, drinking, and socializing. Yet the impressionistic imagery and the way the artist frames the scene persuades against a reading that would identify a specific time or place. Instead, Bloch’s works offer something else: an alternate reality, a supernatural world in which people and spirits freely mix.
Bloch continues her formal exploration using graphite and colored pencils, which when combined with water offer an array of painterly effects: sharp lines, coarse rubbings, and thin, swirling washes. Blank patches reveal the underlying white layer of gesso. The occasional flashes of color in otherwise deep and nuanced monochromatic pictures are striking. Her opaque surfaces are like the deep depths of an ocean storm, or swirls of shallow spills. Few bodies are fully rendered. Some figures appear to wear masks; others seem like ghosts. Several smoky faces are on the verge of evaporation. Their expressions can be grim, solemn, and fatigued, but a handful are obviously having a good time.
Bloch’s work reconciles science and myth. The inner self cannot separate itself from others. What makes us different? What do we have in common? What do we leave behind? The idea of extinguishment is hard to understand, if not accept, and the myth of the afterlife—ubiquitous across time and culture—has developed over centuries to explain existence beyond time. People say “He will always live on in our hearts” or “I will always be remembered.” While such sentiments provide comfort to both the living and the dead, but memory and its disappearance is a difficult impression to visualize. Does consciousness continue or cease when you’re gone? Who really knows. In any case, life goes on without you.
1. Based on “Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo,” performed in Austrian and German cabarets in the 1920s, “Just a Gigolo” was made famous over the years in versions by Louis Armstrong and Bing Crosby, and by Louis Prima and David Lee Roth after that. The original tune, set in the aftermath of the First World War and tinged with antimilitary sentiment, tells the story of a military officer whom young women once fancied but who now ekes out a living by pirouetting older women in a dancehall.