living objects, spatial stories, deep memory.
pedro soler, november 2006.
“It has been common to look upon memory as more fundamental than perception, and, more or less explicitly, to regard the world of perceptual objects as built up on the basis of its pronouncements…And of course in one very general sense this is true. The fact of persistence in consciousness, whereby the bare moment of awareness is enabled to become a portion of a more or less enduring experience, is the necessary presupposition of any philosophy; without it, ‘experience’ would not be at all." (1)
I stood and looked over the frozen lake. It was the first time I had been in such a cold country, new on these shores. The sky was grey, the dim light reflecting off the snow and the dark trees mark with their trunks black vertical lines. I sense voices whispering just outside my hearing, there are stories here but I dont know them. I gingerly test my weight on the ice, it holds. There are no bird sounds. Silence, apart from the hum of traffic in the background. I take a step further and the ice creaks but it supports my weight. I walk out to the centre of the lake and marvel to be walking on the water, like Jesus on the Sea of Galilee.
Imagine now, that those voices whispering just outside my hearing, could finally be heard - and not just by me, but by all who passed by there. The voices are in layers and you can navigate down among them, the memories of those who have thought, stood, walked, sailed this place where you are now. The collective unconscious becoming collective consciousness, "the past and future collapse".
In Puerto Lumbreras, I order an ensaladilla rusa, in the Los Rosales, the bar where the autocars stop on their way to Sevilla, Valencia, Madrid .... Swirls of passages, personal histories, I have a whole series of memories and they intersect with all the other memories of all the other people - l'ensaladilla rusa goes from personal to universal.
The Greeks considered Mnemosyne (memory) to be the Mother of the Muses – which is to say, the mother of all the Arts.
How far is this memory mine and how far can I reach into shared layers of conciousness ? Inaccurately, softly aware, or is it just an illusion ? How far can I reach out of my personal world, memories, to something shared, common ?
One way of doing it is to make a picture, a representation. Take an Australian Aboriginal painting for example, its like a map, a diagram on bark. Points and circles point to mythical events and concrete places, maps of shared experience. The song lines - diagrams that tap into ancient memories (2) - once you have the key, you know the song and you sing it.
Intervening directly in the environment are the markings in the Grotte de Niaux (Ariège, France). There are 4 groups of red signs painted on the walls as you descend down into the earth. The last group is at a crossroads, the cave splits in two and at the right hand side is a rock marked with red points and lines. We dont know what they mean, but if we follow the right hand path we arrive at a natural dome painted with animals - some of the finest preserved. The markings are clearly signs of memory, direction, attributions or signifiers of space, pointers to the invisible. They augment our capacity of relation or understanding of a space.
12 000 years later, digital technology gives us another way of accessing information embedded into the landscape, space as memory container. The group Mobile Bristol (3) have been working for some time with GPS and a PDA - this equipment, and the software that they have developed, permits one to write sound in space. Their most recent piece Riot 1831 "is designed to make you feel as if you are in the midst of the 1831 riot and the stories and language are based on the reports from the actual event." Another project, as yet unrealised, uses the same technology in an area of Moscow to write an spatial crime novel (4). Here sound is used to augment, narrate and signify space.
In "Free Network Visible Network" Diego Diaz and Clara Boj (5), use the eyes instead of the ears to augment our experience of space. Using augmented reality technology they visualise data flows overlayed on the "real world" thus revealing hidden layers of meaning - and operability - in the environment. Sonia Cillari, on the other hand, tries to visualise "emotional architectures" - giving visual and spatial form to the invisible architectures that constantly swirl around us (6).
Using image also, but with a different intent, Melik Ohanian explores simultaneous but spatially seperated time in his movie "Seven Minutes Before". Using 7 cameras in different places shooting at the same time in one take. "... what was important with "seven minutes before" was to record time in a few different places at the same global time and without artifice. .. the past and the future collapse". (7) In the accompanying map "Topography & Trajectories" he lays his video out spatially. Time is simultaneous and yet discrete. Its the terrain of memory. Eternally resonating spaces that last.
But is not just spaces that hold memories - objects also, actions, postures, open out common memory spaces - like a hamburger at Pinguin's on a hot summer evening in Benicasim village - or Agnes Hegedus's moving piece 'Things Spoken" includen in the Artintact CD-ROM published by ZKM in 1999. An elegant interface lets you navigate through a database of objects. When you stop and select an object you "zoom" in, accessing associated thoughts and memories and entering a new, shared, area : "the great success of "Things Spoken" is that it has transcended the narcisisitic, exhibitionist or psychoanalitic "me". It acts as a mirror of our own history, our own singular memory, beyond that of the artist's" (8).
In this sense one is reminded of Christian Boltanski's installations - especially Perdu (1998), a presentacion of 5000 found objects. To the contrary of "Things Spoken", where a shared area of experience is opened out thanks to the meeting of the author's and our own experiences and feelings, these objects are without their stories (which is part of the grand melancholy of the installation) and so our experience of them is entirely subjective, intuitive or personal.
In their 2006 essay "Testimonial Objects: Memory, Gender, and Transmission "(9), Marianne Hirsch and Leo Spitzer comment : "Focusing on a book of recipes and a miniature artists' book from the Terezín and Vapniarka concentration camps, this essay argues that such material remnants can serve as testimonial objects that carry memory traces from the past and embody the process of its transmission. Inspired by Roland Barthes's notion of the punctum, we read such testimonial objects as points of memory—points of intersection between past and present, memory and postmemory, personal and cultural recollection." and later, "The term point is both spatial—such as a point on a map—and temporal—a moment in time; and it thus highlights the intersection of spatiality and temporality in the workings of personal and cultural memory. The sharpness of a point pierces or punctures: like Barthes’s punctum, points of memory puncture through layers of oblivion, interpellating those who seek to know about the past." (10)
How do objects carry memory traces ? In the case of books the message is contained within, but with, for example, Boltanski's found objects, we are left orphan. Digital works like those we have mentioned above open up the possibility of sharing subjectivities, memories spreading through objects and spaces, creating "punctum" that take us beyond a purely personal space - using technology as a microscope, augmenting our experience, memory probes. Piercing the divisions between personal and social experience. Hearing the voices at the lake.
As these capacities are already present in us to greater or lesser degrees, we could imagine that eventually these technologies will be reabsorbed into our biology. The desire to connect inner and outer worlds results from the deepseated dream of the magnum opus, the deepening of "reality", the access to hidden spheres, collective unconscious, like the magic of before. But our magic now is built on an industrial civilisation, on layers and layers of structures and patterns of thought that could one day turn back into biological technology.
"Once consolidated, a long-term memory item could regain susceptibility to consolidation blockers, that is, reconsolidate, upon its reactivation. Both consolidation and reconsolidation require protein synthesis, but it is not yet known how similar these processes are in terms of molecular, cellular, and neural circuit mechanisms." (11)
In other words long term memory creation and recall is accompanied by the manufacture of proteins in specific areas of the brain. So we tremble on the edges of mystery, "it is not yet known", clumsily operating our computers and digital technologies to layer our knowledge into objects and spaces, opening tools out to public use, opening code out to shared acceleration, making the collective unconscious a collective conscious. Until we start to be able to absorb all this back into ourselves and we are naked again. Human in the arms of Mnemosyne.
(1) Rogers, A.K. (1922) The Logic of Memory. The Philosophical Review. Vol.31(3). 281-285.
(2) recomended listening : "Ancient Memories (Skream remix)" by Digital Mystikz (DMZ008) 2006
(6) http://www.soniacillari.net/ . Curiously on sending this text, Clara Boj told me that she has been developing a project with Sonia to visualise human relacions in physical spaces, "the point of interference-connection between people who passed through various places in holand and valencia".
(7) Melik Ohanian interviewed by Benjamin Weil in Atlantica 43, verano 2006
(8) Annick Bureaud, june 1999; http://www.olats.org/reperes/offline/juillet99/things_spoken.php
(9) In "Poetics Today" (Summer 2006) - Porter Institute for Poetics and Semiotics
(10) see also Alan Radley, ‘Artefacts, Memory, and a Sense of the Past’, in Middleton & Edwards (eds.),
Collective Remembering (London: Sage, 1990), 46-59 where he argues that memory is reliant
on resources that exist ouside of the individual.
(11) Irit Akirav and Mouna Maroun in "Cerebral Cortex" 16(12):1759-1765 2006