I went to see an exhibition of the work of the American artist Jackson Pollock last Thursday. Being in Liverpool for the afternoon and it being a gloriously sunny day, I walked down to the Albert Dock and went to the Tate Gallery. Admission to the gallery is free, but it was £10 to see the exhibition, on the top floor of the very atmospheric building. Not having a vocabulary to express any understanding of any sort of art and not being conversant with the conventions of abstract art, it is impossible to say anything about the exhibition. It was thought-provoking, some of it was dream-like, but that doesn’t convey much to anyone.
No matter! The point was that I had gone to an exhibition last Thursday and on Monday started to tell a friend that I had been. “I went to an exhibition at the Tate in Liverpool last week . . . there was an exhibition of work by an abstract artist . .. he was an American artist . . . he died in 1956. It was interesting stuff, provocative. Oh dear, I cannot remember his name.”
There was a moment of deep frustration. This happens from time to time. Just with names. Back in 2012, I went to the doctor and expressed fears about memory loss. He looked at my date of birth, 1960, and said, “This comes with age. While you are here let’s do some other tests.” I left his surgery with high blood pressure and high cholesterol and no cure for the loss of names.
My greatest fear in life is dementia. Cancer, heart disease, even neurological disorders, seem preferable to that gradual retreat into a world of confusion and shadows. I am told that the rest of my memory is functioning perfectly, that there is no cause for concern, but if the loss of names offers an insight into the dark world of progressive memory loss, then it is a frightening prospect.
Of course, the conversation was hardly over before the name “Jackson Pollock” sprang to mind, just as the names of the people I meet, and cannot greet properly, spring to mind when I have gone further down the street. Perhaps there is some psychological block, some part of the sub-conscious preventing names from coming to consciousness, perhaps the part of the brain where names are stored has become dusty or overloaded. Perhaps, one day, those experiments with mice will cure not only those trapped in the dark lands, but those embarrassed they cannot remember a name from four days previously.