"The Right to be Forgotten"
Text by Katherine C. M. Adams, May 2023
Solo Show at Galerie BOHAI, Hannover

In this exhibition Esther Hovers captures material echoes of disappearance across various media. Here, images lost or withdrawn from circulation leave traces through the very ways in which they become absent. Processes of fading, erasure and dissolving in the featured works generate new material resonances, even as the works’ pictures exit the visual field.

Hovers’s eponymous series „The Right to be Forgotten“ tracks the visual remnants of a man who sought to strip the internet of his presence - images, data, and records of himself - by asserting a right to have search results about him taken offline. The man’s successful case resulted in the legal establishment of ‚a right to be forgotten‘ within Europe.

Yet, as Hovers explores this man’s image continues to haunt public archives - a persistence that reflects the limited geography and scope of this recently enshrined right. The formal entitlement to ‚disappearance‘ in Europe applies only to the platforms that aggregate images, rather than an entire network of data. By reframing and reiterating this man’s residual image through various formats and media - including cyanotype, image transfer and an unfixed photographic print - Hovers explores what occurs visually when one attempts to codify opacity within a system that overwhelmingly favors accessibility and transparency of data. Through a deep, multifaceted engagement with the materiality of photography and printmaking, Hovers illuminates these mediums’ ghostly sub-structures, pulling at the very fabric of indexicality.

In „Street Index“ Hovers presents embossings of various markings - such as graffiti, scratches in building walls and written expressions - inscribed across cities such as Cairo, Paris and Brooklyn. Hovers’ selection converges on urban markings that made a declaration, enabling the authors to bear witness to a particular moment.
In her reformatting of these works, Hovers approaches each inscription as a specific strategy simultaneously prepared for, but resistant to, a coming loss of historical memory. „Street Index“ brings together these signs as echoes of the original markings. Here, they occupy a new, common time together.

Three additional works - a textile modeled after the Dutch ‚smartlap‘ or ‚sorrow cloth‘, a photographic triptych and a film of a calligraphic performance - extend Hovers’ inquiries through specific cultural forms and environments. One image in the triptych taken in Cairo - a city often covered with a film of dust due to the region’s copious sand - shows notes scripted in dust on a car window. The textile work explores how sorrow cloths transmit unifying expressive vocabularies even while circulating beyond their original makers. The performance documents Hovers practicing calligraphy in the street with water, painting with a brush on concrete while the characters quickly fade.

Together, the works in „The Right to be Forgotten“ show how disappearance - whether culturally engrained, historically unfolding or legally enforced - leaves beyond not so much an absence as an altered field of possible recollections, a shift in the power of cultural remembrance. „The Right to be Forgotten“ shows Hovers tracing the connective tissues of collective memory without reproducing the blinding literalness of strict representation.

Text: Katherine C. M. Adams / www.katherinecmadams.info

Katherine C. M. Adams is a curator and writer based in New York. She is Assistant Curator at the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York and a graduating student of the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. Her writing has appeared in e-flux Criticism, BOMB Magazine and the Journal of Curatorial Studies among other publications. She received the First Prize in the 2023 International Awards for Art Criticism co-presented by the School of Fine Art, Royal College of Art and the School of Philosophy, Fuddan University, the University of Edinburgh and the International Association of Art Critics.

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