by Natalie King
Andrew Renton’s poetic refrain, ‘How not to remember?’ in his catalogue essay accompanying Kathy Temin’s capacious three-part installation at ACCA in 1995 urged us to remember. Now, nineteen years later, I vividly recollect the way Kathy adeptly sculpted the domestic interior of ACCA, then situated in the Domain Gardens in South Yarra, with felt, fur and padding. Soft/hard, sturdy/pliable, memory/forgetting, loss/longing unfolded in her un-monumental installation. The Yiddish word haimish or homely comes to mind: a configuration of memorial objects compelling us to remember personal and collective histories. Kathy was part of a cohort of artists exhibiting at the artist-run space Store 5 who manipulated domestic materials, refashioning and softening the hallmarks of high modernist abstraction.
At the time Kathy exhibited Three Indoor Monuments, I was working as Curator of Monash University Gallery (now MUMA) affiliated with ACCA through shared staff and occasional cross-programming. In retrospect, it was unorthodox for a pedagogical university institution with a collection to link with a contemporary art space. Before 1995 I worked with Kathy on a number of projects. In 1994, I curated Bad Toys at ACCA, which included Kathy’s abject cluster of mutant forms in Corner Larme Cubi, 1993. Her four-part reconfiguration of geometric painters (Vasserely, Stella, Malevich, Mondrian) Repenting for my sins was my group exhibition The Subversive Stitch at Monash University Gallery in 1991. My association with Kathy extended to her involvement with a series of talks generated by S.W.I.M (Support Women Image Makers) to counterpoint the dominance of male lecturers at Prahran College.
Three Indoor Monuments was an early example of context specific art making. By manipulating scale and ambience, Kathy adeptly choreographed the cottage interior of ACCA with three separate environments. A knee high wooden maze consumed the large gallery floor as a sculptural extrusion of Frank Stella’s painting Arbeit macht frei, 1958 (“work makes you free”); a slogan at the entrance to Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. The second room contained a muffled, white padded cell rendered in 500 synthetic fur rectangles accompanied by diminutive stools that had an associative range from comfort to psychological isolation and minimalism. Recently, Kathy reminded me that I helped her install these uninscribed or anonymous plaques in variations of white. The third interior was a dysfunctional rumpus room containing a round television with a letter her father, a Holocaust survivor, wrote to Temins around the world searching for family members.
Kathy conflated art history, personal history and Jewish history. She took great care with her publication with its wonky, tangerine lozenge shapes on the cover and hand made typesetting. At ACCA, she positioned her temporary monument indoors taking us into a place redolent with compressed emotion and lost memories.
Natalie King is a curator, writer and Senior Research Fellow at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.