Martina Grlić, Reminiscence of Life, 2021, oil on canvas, 23 5⁄8 × 19 3⁄4".

Martina Grlić, Reminiscence of Life, 2021, oil on canvas, 23 5⁄8 × 19 3⁄4".

Martina Grlić

Fragment Gallery | Moscow

“Life communicates itself to us through convention and through the parlor games and laws of social life,” observed Gerhard Richter. “Photographs are ephemeral images of this communication—as are the pictures I paint from photographs. Being painted, they no longer tell of a specific situation, and the representation becomes absurd.” That was nearly twenty years before Martina Grlić’s birth in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1982, but the patchy Photorealism she practices—the oddly specific way that arbitrary snippets of memory float over abstractly painted backgrounds of the nine paintings in her exhibition “Hypermnesia,” like detritus on the surface of a still pond—inevitably recalls Richter’s precedent.

In Girl’s Dream (all works 2021), pretty bows of purple ribbon and a blurrily rendered heart locket drift over the washy grayish-blue Monet-esque surface like jellyfish at low tide. In Reminiscence of Life, a pastel-hued birthday cake topped by freshly extinguished candles hovers over a backdrop of sea-green murk. A similar juniper-and-sage ripple serves as a ground for the delectably confectionary pink of the abstracted pastry-cream swirls in Leftovers, whereas the cake itself is missing, as if it had disappeared into the dedifferentiating haze beneath.

Grlić’s gambit is to render representation abstract, so as to isolate the arbitrariness and candy-colored lucidity of its capacity to recall and reproduce fragments of experience. The show’s title, “Hypermnesia,” refers to a psychological condition characterized by abnormally vivid memories or recall of the past. In Grlić’s case, what’s recollected is not only fleeting as an unavoidable casualty of time’s passing but is inherently contested as a remainder of Yugoslavia’s transformation from the socialist state in which she was born to a network of European-style capitalist democracies, with the attendant self-imposed erasure and reconstruction of the national past. What persists of the personal narrative amid this blurring are ultra-lucid fragments of utter triviality that emerge from a morass of decorative abstraction in snippets and ultrarealistic cameos, always in danger of dissolving back into indefiniteness.

Only one of the pieces in this small show contained an actual human likeness, and it was among the smallest works on view. In Best Friends Forever, a roughly torn-out fragment of a snapshot of two tipsy men performatively hugging it out for the camera drifts awkwardly over a wash of cobalt and navy. These figures reflect an acute sense of depersonalization, of objectification. Instead of any specific human connection, they share only the fate of being players in a photograph. The picture’s frayed presence as an object in and of itself is what denotes the specific sentimental value it might share with others collected on the bulletin board of partial recall along with other inexplicably significant images of childhood—like that one very special birthday cake or dressy ribbon.

Grlić’s engagement with Photorealism’s inherent mnemonic complexity differs from Richter’s in her inevitable cognizance of how memory, in its uneasy orchestration of elements, is complicated by the new omnipresence of the digital interface. But paradoxically, for that very reason, these paintings reward viewing in person. On-screen, their near-fluorescent, quasi-pixelated brashness seems natural and unremarkable, but their physical materiality brings forward the subtly graduated swirls of Grlić’s coloristic modulation and the gentle traces of the manual evident on the surface, marks that are erased when the paintings are viewed in digital reproduction. Thanks to this internal difference, they act out a new way to play and maybe rewrite the rules of the parlor games built out of the ever-unstable past.