Personal Statement. A Journey into the Strangely Familiar by Mikki Gleave.


 Silent Witness

Wind chants across wasteland

Salty moisture falls

Spitting white

Froth solidifies on Dreuf’s hill

Melts to red

Fades to grey

Skies hangover quenches her thirst

Colour returns

Digging into his surface

Dancing behind chaos.


photo (2)Mikki Gleave – Silent Witness, 2017 . Spray paint, soil and paint on plastic .

I am interested in the memories extraordinary ability to recall the past and this interest has provided opportunities to develop practice by making new connections between memory and the uncanny. Memory and the uncanny make a perfect combination because every part of our existence, whether it is listening to music, viewing art, reading a book or entering a building create an immediate feeling or a response that will perhaps return another time. My work aims to articulate the hazy details of past experiences and emotions through application and removal of materials.  I draw theoretically from Freud’s comparison to the layers of the psyche to those of an archaeological dig- if it makes an appearance we can bury it or leave it at the surface and acknowledge it. In the poem I wrote entitled Silent Witness, Dreuf’s place is an anagram of Freud – the words hinting at the many layers of the mind and the memories that can be retrieved from them. The removal of wax and soil from the surface reveals clues that are depicted in trace like forms amongst a seemingly strange landscape.  And indeed for me, to work with different materials results from a need that painting does not satisfy: working directly with my hands enables me to enter into a connection with memory.  I work strongly with the trace and am concerned with how this emerges in photography, film and painting. Works’ are opaque and multi-layered, aiming to capture the layers and fabric of the mind and prompts the feeling that there is something hidden behind the traces and marks. On closer inspection however, it is apparent that things aren’t completely hidden.  Current work highlights the vagueness of borderline experiences and the complexity of the psyche perhaps changing each time it is viewed as they venture beneath the surface. The surface however is inexhaustible.

IMG_5755Mikki Gleave – Silent Witness, 2017. Spray paint, wax, soil and paint on card.

Our memories are based on our experiences, our histories and can linger in either darkness or light. Some recollections are strong and vibrant and sometimes they are buried in our subconscious, blurred and faint. They may be filled with gaps like childhood memories and may be faded traces of a remembered moment. My intention as an artist is to create work that articulates the minds ability to recall memories and furthermore, highlights the existence of life within the surface. Thus memories are depicted through an exploration of mark making to reveal traces within the work. Cassie Findlay reports the need to leave a trace is an essential part of being human . We desire to leave some evidence representing our existence. Graffiti for example is one of the simplest methods of free expression for individuals to creatively voice their opinions. Graffiti is however washed away and this leaves one with an unsettling tension , what the French philosopher Jacques Derrida termed ” archive fever”. As a society we are keen to show our existence through symbols and marks but uncertain that our traces will remain or be removed (Derrida , 1995). As an artist I am preserving my existence by using materials , which in my opinion are symbolic of memory. For example , I make comparisons to the act of graffiti by using spray paint in my work to establish my existence and thus preserve memory.

To understand memory as both a form of knowledge and a powerful vehicle for the imagination is to be found in Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time (A la Recherché du Temps perdu, 1908- 1922). According to Proust, memory bridged the gap between past and present , connecting personal experiences to a wider audience. Proust contemplated on two types of memory: the voluntary and the involuntary – involuntary memory can occur when we encounter something and it evokes recollections of the past with conscious effort. On the opposite side, voluntary memory is characterised by a conscious effort to recall the past. Going back to the ancient Greeks, we begin to understand how they saw memory as a means of recovering divine knowledge. The historian Francis Yates has shown these memory skills or mnemotechnics were classed as one of the liberal arts and the art of memory often resulted in spectacular displays of recollected data. Research compares the memory as a mnemonic surface or etcher sketcher to explain its function- it can store thousands of images, reawaken them, and be ready to produce new forms. (Gibbons , 2017). I’m particularly interested in these theories as I consider the past to be a strong part of my work. It is a past fondly remembered but nonetheless peppered heavily with somewhat darker elements. It is the external and internal landscape that cloaks my memories thus acting as a departure point for my practice.

A feeling of the uncanny entails a sudden revealing. It pounces on us, out of nowhere. It requires another way of thinking about the beginning. The beginning is already past, it is haunted with memory. It will neither begin nor end (Royle, 2003). If anything is to put the uncanny in a nutshell, Nicholas Royle’s  succinct description does. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) considered that the human psyche contains numerous layers of information that are repressed out of frustration, fear and anger. A moment that is unfamiliar is revealed immediately afterwards or at a later date. In other words, it compares to a forgotten memory that is revealed when something or other taps into the layer of the mind. Whilst these theories act as a scaffolding for informing my practice – I am particularly concerned with  individuals experiencing different feelings and furthermore , I contend that Art work exploring this ambiguous concept is very much a personal encounter. Viewing a piece of art is often pursued in silence, where we are at one with our thoughts. It is perhaps during these times of solitude that the feeling of the uncanny occurs. My work aims to unsettle time, sense and space and by doing so, provokes the audience to experience their own individual sense of the uncanny.

photo 2

Mikki Gleave – Silent Witness, 2017. Spray Paint, soil, ash, acrylic paint on board.

The body of work entitled Silent Witness was created using ash, soil, spray paint and wax. In the book Purity and Danger anthropologist Mary Douglas articulates dirt absorbs atmospheres and retains a memory of what it has encountered. It is therefore a silent witness to events, (2005). By its nature dust is uncanny as it is formed from the decay of the home. It is composed of the detritus of the living and includes shed skin from the inhabitants’ as well as the decomposition of the house. Curtis has written a book entitled Dark Places : The haunted house in film and discusses how cloth holds the sometimes bearable gift of memory. I’m suggesting that the soil I use within current work and the cloth I use to wipe away paint and wax has absorbed atmospheres and retains memories from the past- thus becoming a silent witness to events. The techniques I use explore Surrealist strategies whereby unplanned and additional associations are generated by new juxtapositions.

Recent Works and Exhibition.

I am currently moving away from projecting photographs of still images and videoing my paintings. Small scale works created with paint and soil onto various surfaces including Perspex, plastic and card were videoed and edited on Adobe Premier Plus. The process of videoing acts as a signifier of moving across a landscape  saturated with memories, fading to black for several seconds and then to white thus acting as the process of closing ones eyes and thinking. Furthermore this process reinforces a physical presence behind the work . The final  piece was exhibited as a projection in the LJMU MA Fine Art show Busted Flush at St Johns Market, Liverpool.


Mikki Gleave, Silent Witness, 2017, Video Projection.

The frame attached to the work signified a window frame or opening and the black out blind was significant of a moving landscape behind. On reflection however, I feel that the frame interrupted the viewing of the work. It needed to be free without anything in the way in order for the viewer to appreciate the true experience. Videoing my work however has opened up countless opportunities’ for my practice and I aim to continue to push this medium to its full potential during my final year and look at the visual language of film making , particularly of those created by Andre Tarkovsky. I intend to project works’ on a much larger scale , onto four walls within a completely darkened space without sound . I feel by perhaps having a smell of turpentine or wax within the room will heighten the experience. The associations connected with a particular smell may evoke a personal response and return in different places when least expected. Smell is strange: it can be familiar and return unexpectedly and distort the present into the painful and/or pleasurable world from the past. (Royle,2003)

On leaving the space the viewer was able to walk and see exhibits of my work depicted on hand made paper and board. Having tangible pieces of work is important for me, (as is with all my work), because I want the viewer to feel an intimate connection through touch and smell. The process of being able to walk out of an enclosed space into an open space or vice versa acted as a metaphor of coming face to face with a memory.  I am considering however for the future, not to exhibit several works’ as perhaps it would have more of an impact to have one  painting on board or paper – the same scale as a projected image thus reinforcing stumbling across something familiarly strange.



Mikki Gleave, Silent Witness , 2017 Spray paint, acrylic paint, wax , soil and charcoal on boards. 4ft x 4ft



Mikki Gleave , Silent Witness, 2017, Spray paint, acrylic paint, wax, soil and charcoal on board. 4ft x 4ft.

The above piece of work on board was worked into and worked over several times until I felt satisfied it translated the layers of the mind. I created this particular piece shortly after hearing of the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London. It is a response to the turbulent times we live in and the memories we build from experiencing private and shared emotions. It is important however that this work, (and for that matter, all the work I make), evokes different responses within the viewer and they are able to see different things within the image – they are ever changing surfaces which are open to different interpretations.


Mikki Gleave, Silent Witness, 2017

(Collection of Polaroids’ and paintings on paper) acrylic, wax, soil , ink ,gloss and charcoal.

The above image depicts the view from the space projecting the video piece. The work is a collection of paintings and painted Polaroid’s exploring memory that were created on an uneven concrete floor whilst listening to music. Each image translates layers of memories, from childhood up to the present day. They are charged with different emotions that are often too intense to put into words.


Mikki Gleave, Silent Witness. Mixed Media on Paper x 4. 74 x 51 cm



Silent Witness, 2017 Mixed Media on Paper 74 x 51 cm

Artistic References.

I am particularly drawn to the work of Susan Hiller whose work is very much about private memories as well as the ones we share . Her work provokes personal experiences of memory, through sound and image. Hiller’s video piece Belshazzar’s Feast, the Writing on Your Wall is an example of work that prompts the viewer to respond to it in different ways. The work was prompted by hallucinations experienced on television screens and Hiller seeks to encourage the role of the imagination by creating a situation that provides the audience to see images in the flames. Thus, they create their own fantasies and judgements. (Gallagher, 2011).

Susan Hiller. Belshazzar’s Feast, the writing on Your Wall. 1983-4. Collage, video and sound.

I have also looked at the work of Do Ho Suh, an artist based between London, Seul and New York who is known for his architectural spaces, psychological and mnemonic dimensions. In the 1990s Suh started to make recreations of architectural spaces composed of planes of translucent fabric supported by metal pipes. Suh compares his fabric creations to personal clothing and architecture is an expansion of this. Thus the architectural spaces Suh creates are closed structures and are perhaps symbolic of the inhabitants within. Curtis discusses how houses have a particular relationship to memory as the inhabitants within project their psyche into the interior. The house is equally alive as it stores memories from the past (2008).  The Rubbing/loving project took 3 years and involved covering every interior surface of the artist’s former studio and apartment in paper and taking its impression by rubbing it with pastels to reveal the entire spaces memory. He is concerned with how he has a longing for a space and how home is a space that you have to leave at some point in your life and when you return it isn’t the same. Suh considers that through his rubbings, he is able to get to know the space and will often find marks that he did as a child, bringing back memories of growing up . (Mark Rappolt, 2016) Suh allows the viewer to have very individual thoughts about the space. They aren’t subjected to feeling uneasy by witnessing disturbing objects, but rather allowed the freedom to respond to it personally. I’m suggesting that Suh’s method of working is a form of spiritual connection to a place he fondly remembers. Suh is able to transport these life sized rubbings to different places and will undoubtedly create individual responses. The work, (initially created in the space that was occupied by the artist), can be witnessed by thousands of people with different feelings and thoughts. This , I argue is familiarly strange.

Do Ho Suh, rubbing/loving. 2016. Mixed media, dimensions variable.


Memories live within works of Art and thus become a part of our memory. They will always be strangely familiar in the associations and connections we have made with them. Franz Kline’s work for example continues to remind me of strange isolated countryside buildings associated with childhood walks and each time I view it, the images associated with the work come flooding back. Interestingly, it was when Kline was looking at his sketches on a large projector that he began his first large scale blown work.


Franz Kline, Vawdavitch, 1955. Oil on canvas. 158.1 x 204.9cm

I make reference to Kline because his work encourages the infinite possibilities of meaning within the surface that offer the immensely complex imagination to travel to wherever it chooses. There is a violent silence within vawdavitch and its presence has the ability to disturb and awaken memories from the past.


“if the world comes to seem uncanny, this will not happen gradually , reasonable doubt by reasonable doubt; it will come all of a sudden. It will be prepared of course, like an avalanche, but when it comes, it comes all at once. The uncanniness comes as a revelation”. (Gordon C.F . Bearn).

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