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The Perception of Memory—Considering Time in the Portraiture of Wanda Bernardino

Some days, our personal lives can be blighted by a chronic sense of time. One day we might be five years old—in which case a year invariably seems like an age; each moment lived out mechanically in discrete steps—whilst as we get older, time has the quality of appearing more continuous, more fluid, more rapid.  The years blur. Indeed, philosophical considerations of time focus on its enigmatic quality—in other words, what is it? In the  fourth century, philosopher St Augustine said of time:

What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I know not.

Such questions are equally valid today, valid in the sense that no current consensus exists as to the precise nature of time. We all think we know what time is, as it has such an earthly quality, whereas in fact all of our experiences are based on the fact that we’re living through time – this moment being distinct from the next. From day-to-day, it is merely enough to suppose that time exists—and thus we can allocate the words ‘day’, ‘tomorrow’ and ‘yesterday’ a definite meaning. To give a humorous example, our understanding of time is sufficient in that we never expect Lord of the Rings to be a story about Bilbo Baggins receiving an extraordinary birthday present found in a volcano. These expectations hold true.

Once when studying English, a few members of the class expressed surprise at Shakespeare being part of the early modern period. As a rite of passage, everybody in school complains of difficulty in understanding ‘old English’ however they would undoubtedly complain more if presented with actual old English – that being the English of the Anglo-Saxons. As a follow-up, somebody in the class raised the issue of what the English language will be called after the modern period. It didn’t occur to this person that the English of a particular time—be it now or 100 years in the future—will always be modern by the very nature of the word.

The permanent state of flux of modernity is the focus of the artwork of Wanda Bernardino. Bernardino speaks of modernity haunting her work; wrestling with the issue that we consider modernity to be today, but in the past modernity was considered to be that time. Our yesterday was at some point modernity, and by a similar token modernity to us will be someone else’s past. This idea is taken and is presented by reworking historical paintings: ‘ restaging the artistic process that was initially undertaken, and [to] explore the sensation of making and remaking the marks that created the subjects’. A visible vector by which temporal emphasis is conveyed is  by blanking out the faces of the paintings’ subjects,  a process which forces the observer to recognise that the paintings do not have a permanent  history . Bernardino’s brush marks ‘make the subject disappear and yet remain,  moving beneath the surface of the painting – replacing classical form with material content.’

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Current work by the artist can be seen at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol as part of the ‘Oneself as Another’ exhibition which currently runs until the 26th of March. Entry for students and under 16s is free. Work is also exhibited at the Affordable Art Fair (AAF) at Battersea and runs until the end of this weekend (16th March, 2014). Her work is currently represented by bo.lee gallery by which the artist can be contacted, or can be contacted directly at her website.

Many thanks go to Wanda Bernardino for the information supplied to make this blog post happen, as well as providing photographs of her work.




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