Bittersweet, Olympic, Polyurethane Foam – Dementia, an exhibition by Rolf Nowotny


Welcome to the 2089 Winter Olympic site. Long after the warnings of carbon emissions reaching irreversible levels had been ignored and forgotten, the last ever Winter Olympic games was held on Rolf Nowotny’s wasteland Earth. An ash burdened, frost bitten and flood flattened landscape – the only for miles around with any variance in altitude. I had imagined myself there, at the 2089 Winter Olympic site, I imagined I had made it to the games, that I made it to 2089. In David Dale Gallery, I’m huge and looking down on a projection of the future, a desolate business-pitch diorama. I stood looking over across the slopes, far from each other. I trod across the cut-out river and through thoughts of skiing in Bormio. I thought about skiing down polyurethane foam. 

There were eight collections of structures on the floor; carved from polyurethane foam, equestrian in appearance, smoothed with a wire brush, varnished and surrounded in a thin spread of concrete. Each carving grew up about a foot or so, shaved into slopes – both architectural and mountainous. A once fluid concrete was smeared over wood and left to set. Raised up over the concrete floor below, the wood facilitated a horseshoe-shaped, grey sediment-leeched river in the middle of the gallery. Cut out from the wood floor, the water barely moving, the river generated a soft drone. All four walls were covered in a thin, frosted flexible PVC – rectangles had been cut out for the two doors, one for the entrance and the other for an office, and yet another set for the four half-foot-tall, unfired clay reliefs of domestic scenes on the back wall. Moulted babies breath, scattered among other flowers, lay dead at the foot of the waxy, carved slopes. 

In my mind, I had skied down the carved, smoothed and varnished polyurethane slopes of Bormio into Dementia. With each parallel turn over glistening butter I became taller, an inch or so with each downward glide. I arrived in Dementia a giant – larger than the mountain itself, large enough to see over Monte Vallecetta’s neighbouring peaks. I used to ski with my mum, or rather I would travel with her to the resort in a bus full of school children that attended the academy where she taught. I wouldn’t ski with her, my mum, I was assigned an instructor in a group. Alphabetically designated by surname, I skied with Monroes and McLeans and Miekles. Italy was the last place I travelled to go skiing, before, I had skied in Scotland and Austria. All three trips melt into one, they’re not distinct in my mind, I remember skiing – I remember doing it – in white snow tinted peach from the single lens of my goggles.

Everything tinted peach, unlike Dementia; where I stood still, an erected authoritarian statue lent over the grounds of the 2089 Winter Olympics; where everything was tinted grey. Large, detached and pacing in abandonment the grounds felt placid. A degeneration of memory, like that which I saw in my great grandmother, is a loss and a desertion that crawls in through the fractures in the plaster. Slowly, not all at once, the misplacement of memories is not only the concern of the individual. Frustrations are not felt over a misremembering or forgetting of a skiing trip in Austria but that of something more familiar, a face or a name, fosters concern. Old pictures become easier than new ones, unfired clay reliefs replace C-41 processed photographs. Each of a different domestic scene, the reliefs, of easily familiar images – those of furniture, windows, bathrooms – of an older house, a house long lived in. Discernible up close, encouraging of peering in past the plastic, the apparent precariousness of the clay, alike to a forgotten name or face, had encouraged – in me – cause for concern. 

There was a peacefulness and an urgency in Dementia, a coalition between the unsettling reality of accepting the ramifications of a hereditary, degenerative disease and the acknowledgement of having wilfully misremembered three holidays in peach. Not everyone will make it to the 2089 Winter Olympic games, might not live to see it or fail to remember it. I will ski down polyurethane slopes, in my mind, from Bormio to Glasgow, and remember the colour of snow and being held in suspension above evergreens below. Memories peach-tinted for good measure, to assure me of erasures. In Rolf Nowotny’s grey tinted world, an abnormal desolate landscape; empty, but not completely of memories or feeling, is not cold in its engagement with dementia but, rather, carefully sentimental. 

Dementia by Rolf Nowotny is open from April 6th to May 11th. David Dale Gallery, open Thursday through Sunday 12 to 6 PM.