My cake is a similar form of portal. Lemon cake doesn’t actually take me to Rome, but in holding the recipe I enter into a kind of timelessness and placelessness, where Rome can appear in my kitchen. But beyond that, the recipe offers up a way of understanding process: adding cornflour to thicken custard, whipping eggs and sugar until they bubble thick with air, inverting the whole cake before speckling with icing sugar. The small details of this process conjure images of people making these same gestures repeatedly over years. Cake as time travel: giving me a history of sunlit kitchens, making citrusy magic with simple ingredients.
Emma talks to me in similar words about the humility of paint. About the awe of making a single mark with a brush, and the echo of past artists making this exact same gesture. Paint as a kind of temporal straddling – or what she calls a temporal reaching – is always in the foreground of her mind, and the portals that open up in her compositions are at once disturbingly flat and murkily deep. In Peripheral Visions, the vast triptych that carries viewers through episodic stanzas, open strokes of paint that loosely hold a form might be layered over a flat block of colour, which might give over to a light wash, behind which reveals further depths so lightly and deftly blended to become almost indiscriminate, unknowable colour. It holds so much at once that I try to unbake it with my eyes, to work it out, to return it to its components – my human impulse to order, to understand. There is always much more going on than I can comprehend in a single look. The interplay between flatness and depth feels close to how we live between screens and life, between realities.
In The Exchange, two figures stand either side of what could be a portal, a window, a door- way. The bronze casting anchors their feet to the base, so they appear stuck as if in quicksand, unable to pass through. Emma talks about the speed of digital life: the effect of the flood on consciousness that creates a kind of collective distortion. It can leave me feeling both rootless and rooted in anxiety. Limitless connection in fact appears to be limiting us, closing in our senses of understanding each other and ourselves. The Exchange’s portal could in fact be a mirror, perhaps a reflection of a remembered self.
Memory isn’t as simply reflected, however – something Fineman explores particularly in her monotype prints. Printed artworks are essentially a ghost image, a reversed phantom of the marks the artist made on the etched surface. The process prints us a memory, and more – often small finger- prints, folds in the paper, extra blots. The brain processes a memory only once, when it converts, commits, an event to memory. After this, each time we recall that memory we are in fact remembering the memory, rather than the event. Our association with our past is therefore blotted, and picks up the dust of emotion that changes the imprint of something each time it’s recalled.
Fineman embraces these slippages in time and memory, the imperfections that offer up an impression of feeling more real to life than something overly rendered to appear ‘real’. In this way, she follows and belongs to a group of other female painters like Rose Wylie, Marlene Dumas, and Tasha Amini, all of whom embrace ambiguity on the canvas. Within the difficulty, clear sketched outlines often emerge, which could seem cartoonish or childish but are in fact very precise. Sketchiness is the point! A line can never be the thing it seeks to delineate – can never be the window, the body, the crucifix on the wall – but is always the absolute truth of the artist’s hand. The proof that the artist was here, and that trace will continue to be here in the unchanged relationship between painter and canvas. Our sense of time and our sense of self might slip between realities, but we continue to paint as proof that we are here