Exhibition: Judith Duquemin & Anke Stacker, 2008

What’s in a Madeleine      

Written by: Judith Duquemin

Madeleines. Exhibition. Anke Stäcker & Judith Duquemin
7th – 28th May 2008.Horus & Delorus Contemporary Art Space Sydney
"Madeleines" is an installation of paintings and photographs that utilize abstract formations, colour fields, nature and language as psychological triggers for the reconstruction of memories. Stäcker’s photographs derive from places, buildings and walls in the urban landscape, often possessing a dreamlike appearance. Duquemin’s minimalist acrylic paintings are combinations of flat tertiary colours and geometric grids. This unlikely combination of artist and genre is linked by each artist’s desire to experiment with and manipulate visual content in order to articulate personal memory.

"Madeleines" is a term coined by Marcel Proust to describe phenomena in the environment that trigger involuntary memories about past events.

“And suddenly the memory returns. The taste was that of the little crumb of madeleine which on Sunday mornings, when I went to say good day to her in her bedroom, my aunt Léonie used to give me, dipping it first in her cup of real or of lime-flower tea…And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in the decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me, immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set…and with the house the town…the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine…the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea”1.

Proust called those moments of involuntary memory "madeleines" after the petite madeleine, a small traditional shell-like cake from Commercy in north-eastern France, named after a 19th century pasty cook Madeleine Paulmier. 

Duquemin and Stäcker commenced their lives in the middle of the last century in places far apart. Stäcker has German and French ancestry and was born in Hamburg, the second largest city in Germany. Duquemin of Guernsey Island descent was born in Brisbane and grew up in the rural cane farming region of Bundaberg,  Queensland. The artists met while completing a Master of Visual Arts (Research) at Sydney College of the Arts, in Sydney during 1998, following previous careers that helped them to raise children. 

Stäcker is a photomedia artist and her theme is the city. Like international contemporary photomedia artists’ Bernd and Hilla Becher, Gabriele Basilico, and Frank Thiel, her photographs document urban places in transformation. A taxi driver for many years in Melbourne, she finds the scenario for her urban compositions by 'cruising around the city and finding things almost at random’. She is attracted to wastelnds, ruins, things in disrepair, because they remind her of childhood memories. Stating ‘I would have seen war ruins, whole streets and apartment blocks destroyed. I remember the street in my neighbourhood, we could look into the flats from below with walls missing and floors caved in and part of the bathroom dangling in the air…I think people have a fascination with ruins because it is nostalgic, about things past, other lives, the transient nature of being…’2.

Often ruins initiate memories of certain flowers from Germany. Some of the flowers grew in her grandmother’s ‘memory garden’ located on the outskirts of Hamburg, while others grew in playgrounds of rubble in Hamburg resulting from the demolition of buildings destroyed by war. Stäcker says: ‘I use flowers I find in the urban environment…they are not necessarily flowers I remember from Germany. I change them and put things together which are not together in nature, for example, the blue-purple flowers are growing on a bush in bunches, not single, have nothing to do with grass. The angel’s trumpets grow on trees hanging down not standing upright. The photo titled "Firestorm" uses dandelion, which is a typical city flower and grows between the pavement in Hamburg and Sydney’. Flowers are a trigger that involuntarily provide for her, memories about ‘love and safety’ …walking through the war ruins in Hamburg with her father, holding his hand, feeling safe…and playing in her grandmother’s garden.

Duquemin is a colour field painter who utilizes flat colour, hardedge technique, schema and irregular grids as triggers to explore personal experience. Colour fields against a formula of neutral grey backgrounds made up of primary colours are madeleines that enable her to explore the romantic and prosaic aspects of her early years growing up in idyllic Bundaberg, a progressive city surrounded by a patchwork of sugarcane fields on the Queensland Coral Coast. Based upon her own experiences and the history of the town, "Bundy" is an installation of six square irregular grid paintings with titles that reflect episodes of a carefree upbringing. For example:  "Campfires, Cubby Houses, Goannas, Cane Toads and Magpies". Duquemin’s parents emigrated to Australia from Guernsey, a small island located in the English Channel, following the end of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands in WW II, to begin new lives in a developing country that offered freedom, safety, equality, wealth, and a strong encouragement to populate.

Duquemin claims, “Every painter knows that all of painting is about madeleines it is a reason why painting is, and always will be such an attractive and viable art form". The triggers are manyfold, for example the weave of the canvas, the texture of the paint, the flat surface, colour, little developments and accidents along the way, the action of painting itself, as well as the less visible actions, concepts, percepts, design, abstraction, the size of the canvas, seeing an exhibition, or the environment where one thinks and paints. Madeleines trigger all levels of consciousness. I prefer to call it silent knowledge or what the Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi defined as tacit knowledge, ‘knowledge we know but cannot tell’ that in someway finds an outlet through creativity”3.

What’s in a madeleine? Madeleines are psychological triggers that appeal to certain predispositions in humans, such as remembering things good and bad, to persuading people to buy things mostly when they don’t want them. In semiotic theory madeleines work like symbols that trigger resonances in the brain of specific memories or circumstances not altogether explicit. Creative process activates involuntary memory and is instrumental for creating paths of understanding about process, subject or self.

Despite differences in discipline and subject, the unifying trigger (or madeleine) in this exhibition is the use of abstract colour fields, an awkward term for a photomedia artist because colour fields are more readily associated with painting. Colour field painting is primarily large painted areas of solid colour and carries links to Post Painterly Abstraction, Suprematism, Abstract Expressionism, Hard-edge painting and Lyrical Abstraction. Colour Field painting is devoid of rhetoric, references to nature are reduced, and the psychological use of colour is emphasized 4. Early colour field painters include Mark Rothko, Ellsworth Kelly, Helen Frankenthaler as well as Australian painters from The Field exhibition staged in Melbourne (1969).

Stäcker’s transparent colour fields are created from a combination of ambient light sources, and the result of attaching pieces of yellow, red, blue and green gift-wrapping paper (for example cellophane instead of filters) in front of the camera lens to create images that resemble dreamscapes. Duquemin’s opaque colour fields are inspired by ‘grids of green and brown sugarcane fields on a flat earth terrain, and colours that stand out in the dazzling sunlight’. The placement and selection of colour within each grid representing ‘geo-psycho-social’ aspects relating to the memory that she has inadvertently revisited. Edited Nov. 2023


1. (Adapted from Swanns Way In Search of Lost Time).

2. In conversation with the Anke Stäcker

3. Polanyi, M., The Tacit Dimension, Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd. 1966, p 4

© Dr Judith Duquemin 2008

M Theory Coloured Pencil on Paper. Sketch. A4. Sincressis Italy 2014 © Judith Duquemin 2014

J Theory Coloured Pencil on Paper. Sketch. A4. Sincressis Italy 2014 © Judith Duquemin 2014


Written by Alessandra Scappini, Art Historian Italy & Director of Spazio D'Arte, Empoli, Italy


Associazione culturale per le arti contemporanee

Via della Repubblica nn. 52/54

50053 Empoli (Firenze)



Judith Duquemin. Work in progress

Vernissage Sabato 15 marzo 2014 ore 18.00

Domenica 16 marzo ore 17.00

Judith Duquemin è una artista di origine australiana che vive e lavora in Inghilterra. Ha lavorato presso la nostra residenza e propone la sua ricerca creativa basata sulla integrazione di più teorie tra scienza e arte, utilizzando la tecnologia per alimentare la propria poetica e la capacità di creare.

“La mia pratica pittorica – scrive - solitamente esplora la composizione bi - e tridimensionale utilizzando esempi di pattern asimmetrici, geometria euclidea, scienza araba, texture, o tassellature, algoritmi visuali, campi di colore, tecnica hard – edge, grafica digitale. Le immagini sono create come pitture acriliche, e di seguito come ricostruzioni digitali di supporto ad un approccio sperimentale nella costruzione dell’immagine. Judith concepisce infatti la tecnologia come capitale umano, quindi come potenziale per nuovi spazi mentali.

In verità, nelle opere realizzate con estrema precisione e manualità certosina attenta al particolare, l’artista cura la definizione della forma che tende a raggiungere la perfezione della geometria, nello stesso momento in cui pone in crisi ogni certezza definitiva, ogni forma conclusa e ogni limite dettato dai calcoli algebrici. Infatti attraverso le variazioni e gli accostamenti non precostituiti, ma casuali, di colori e forme, interrompe la logica razionale stimolando la visione a cogliere la proliferazione di elementi cromatici. Diventano frammenti dell’universo in cui cogliere “l’anello che non tiene”, il “punto morto del mondo”, come sottolineava a suo tempo Eugenio Montale, interrompendo la “collana dei ricordi”, secondo la poetica metafisica dechirichiana, per avanzare oltre con l’occhio della mente, per scoprire territori inesplorati che frantumano ogni ordinata simmetria. Anzi proprio quest’ultima può rendersi dinamica per affidarsi al corso della natura, secondo l’intento di “movimentare” la staticità propria della misura e della proporzione razionalmente conclusa che talora sembra occludente senza offrire spazio, mentre proprio al suo interno, ab origine, si possono scardinare parametri consueti e reificare ulteriori forme infinitesimali e spazi incommensurabili che sollecitano la tensione all’infinito.

“La mia ricerca – continua l’artista - intende stabilire un legame fra l’astrazione geometrica antica, moderna e contemporanea e la storia dell’arte, dell’architettura, della decorazione, e le nuove osservazioni scientifiche relative alla questione della composizione asimmetrica”.

Al di là della resa pittorica di effetti tridimensionali attraverso la combinazione di forme piatte e di contrasti cromatici che sembrano rinviare alla Gestalt, anche se non tutto si risolve in un fatto percettivo, Judith accoglie anzi la tecnologia per sollecitare la percezione cognitiva, modificandone i canoni nel momento in cui la visione ottica subisce effetti spaesanti provocati dall’illusionismo dell’immagine digitale. Quest’ultima è prodotta dallo scatto fotografico di un’opera pittorica, che sembra addirittura realizzata con i software di computer graphic, tanto da generare nel gioco tra realtà e virtuale possibili modificazioni nelle modalità dello sguardo sul mondo e sulle cose. I suoi riferimenti alle concezioni di Lev Manovich si concentrano essenzialmente sul concetto di riproducibilità attraverso la copia in codice binario che si caratterizza sempre come un originale, all’infinito, per cui il computer diventa un meta medium attraverso il quale forme, immagini, suoni, spazi sono riconfermabili come serie di dati numerici in progress e non assoluti, creati da un pensiero vigile intento ad approfondire la visione attraverso un percorso pittorico che si caratterizza come processo di conoscenza e di edificazione di se stessi, giorno dopo giorno, nello studio delle forme e dei colori nello spazio indefinito, per cogliere e avvalorare l’illimitatezza della non dimensione interiore come scavo continuo senza frontiere.   

“My painting practice – the artist writes - currently explores two and three-dimensional composition using examples of asymmetrical pattern, Euclidian geometry, Arabic science, tessellation, visual algorithm, flat-colour fields, hard-edge technique, digital graphics. Images are created as acrylic paintings, and later as digital reconstructions to support an experimental approach to image making.

My inquiry builds upon: a legacy of ancient, modern and contemporary geometric abstraction within the history of art, architecture, ornamentation; and new scientific observations concerned with the asymmetrical composition of matter”.

Judith Duquemin. Brisbane, Australia