On a rainy Sunday, in an inconspicuous nook of Edinburgh, Café Renroc appears through the grey light; a welcome bustle of warm-faced tourists, all jangling tea cups and cordialy dropping crumbs from buttery flapjacks. But enter this “Edinburgh vision of an Amsterdam Tea Shop”, dodge the friendly staff and head down the black, spiral staircase of wrought Iron and you find yourself descending (like Vicky in the Red Shoes, or Alice down the Rabbit Hole) into a tiny world of wonder and familiar terrors which lurk just beneath the surface (and, I don’t mean the décor).
Rebecca Freeman’s new series of etchings The Half Remembered Memoirs of a Wayward Brother gently seduce us like a Hans Christian Anderson story at bed time… Deceptively enticing with their delicate line and pallette of gloaming, dreamy blues, they are suffused with the quality of myths or fairy tales but without being twee or overburdened by narrative. These images pose familiar scenarios (of family snapshots, the illustrated books of our childhood, dreams) but which have become threatened, sometimes destabilized entirely, by their proximity to carnality, violence and insanity.
The series are populated by some recurring characters and motifs, the main protagonists being a woman, a tiger, and their anthropomorphic tiger children. But the character’s identities are mutable and in a constant state of flux; in this world humans can posses the savagery or irrationality of wild creatures, whilst the tiger characters often display the empathy or intelligence more commonly assosciated with ‘higher thinking’ humans. These contrasts and juxtapositions can be variously humerous (as when a tiger partaking of a civilized high tea, gazes on in paralyzed shock at the corpse of a human); enchanting (as two tigers fly through the midnight sky of an imaginary womb); or disquieting (when the woman, legs splayed, is devoured lasciviously by the tiger).
In this series Freeman has meticulously, and eloquently captured a tension in human nature and relationships, so often poised between civilizing etiquette and intellect, and the raw, untameable forces of instinct. There are times when any of us has looked into the face of someone familiar, transformed by rage, or passion, or madness, into the remote and unthinking face of a wild animal. At those moments we have felt the real peril of looking into the face of the tiger. But equally, almost anyone has been struck by moments of inexplicable wonder when met with some glimmer of recognition by a wild animal… When a seal on a rocky outcrop in Orkney replies to your hopeful whistles, or a house pet – seemingly ‘noticing’ your pain or anguish in a particular circumstance – seems to display an unusual amount of tenderness towards you. And it is all of these infinitely wonderful, dangerous, and fluctuating relationships which Freeman captures in this new series of prints.