Entering the front room of the space, we step back in time and place to a not-too-distant communist past: there’s a shopfront, framed by mostly empty shelves, save for big jars of pickled cabbage and smoked sausages, and a series of stacked up postcards announcing the exhibition. The facilities for a shop are there (it’s an old Deli), but the scene smacks of restricted availability. While the room itself is only the entrance to the exhibition, it already removes us from the hustle of bustle of Kings Cross and prepares us for an exciting show: Recount Me Always Anew (2015) is a book by the young Polish author Aleksandra Rychlicka, brought to life with the artist Eleanor Wemyss: an installation that shows us the rooms where the main protagonists of the novel, Jan and Ida, spend most of their time.
On the exhibition leaflet, we’re invited to explore the little house from top to bottom – even making ourselves coffee in the kitchen should we wish to. But first we find ourselves in ‘the writer’s room’, a stripped-bare storage-space on the ground floor with scribbled-on manuscripts, maps, books in Polish and English – and an array of ashtrays with cigarette butts – to start off our journey. Though the room seems a bit cliched for a writer’s pad with its minimalist, shabby interior, the chaos of paper stacked on the shelves and the signs of constant smoking, it’s fascinating to see the image come to life in a way that encourages us to explore and rummage around. It’s an engaging experience from the start: you become much more self-aware, feeling you’re invading someone’s private life. Picking up things, flicking through books and reading someone’s notes has an air of the forbidden. It’s uncomfortable – yet thrilling…
As we walk up and down the narrow stairway connecting the rooms, a Polish audio-recording of the book accompanies us. In the bedroom, we hear an English translation in the dark, the only source of light being the stop-motion-animation of a cat, projected above the fireplace. The same projection’s also visible in the living room one floor below, creating an ominous connection between the rooms for those who haven’t read the novel (as yet unavailable in English). Other motifs include jam jars labelled in Polish, and rolled cigarettes and ashtrays, which we find in every room – on the floor, on tables, shelves and fireplaces. It’s noticeably cold in here and, as so many visitors walk in and out, the impression this is an all-too-lived-in, decrepit old house becomes more and more apparent. Without having read the book, we still get the impression of a rough, unstable London life, so close to the shiny lights, bars and pubs near Kings Cross, and yet so far removed.
The idea of ‘walking into a novel’ on the whole is brilliant. Without knowing what’s supposed to happen, we become part of the performance as a photographer records our wanderings from room to room. By allowing us to explore the space freely, ‘Recount Me Always Anew’ bridges the gap between performance and exhibition: if you think of it, it’s not really about the objects we find, but the story they refer to. We can hear the tale itself in the audio recordings, yet only in fragments and in passing – unless you decide to curl up on the bed and listen it as a whole. There’s no real guide on how to behave, what to explore, which room to focus on, nor restrictions on what you can and can’t touch: Rychlicka and Wemyss have created a gritty fantasy space, and then left us on our own to explore it. Even if the story we imagine may be quite different from the book, what we see both animates us to find out what really happens in the novel, and gives us an extraordinary experience – one so simple – which mixes literature, installation art and performance in the most captivating way.
Recount Me Always Anew was exhibited 6th-7th February 2016 at the Geddes Gallery, Caledonian Road, N1 9DU.