19 May 2006

Memory Art

One of the central ideas in my thesis is that memory influences art in unique ways. As a concept, memory seems simple enough but it is actually complicated and problematic in unexpected ways.

Think of an intense memory from your childhood, or some other distant period. What is that memory made of? A smell? A feeling? A mood? A chain of actions or a single scene? Is the significance of the memory bound up in these things or in something else? Can you differentiate between the way you felt at the time, and the way you feel now as you remember it? If you were to share that memory, how would you ensure it was accurately transmitted?

First, memory is its own medium, like music, language, or vision. When you try to translate that medium into something else (like paint, photography, etc.) content and meaning are lost or modified, as they would be in any translation. Memories can never be totally shared.

Unless they are collective memories, which are tied to groups with similar ideas about a thing or event that resides in the past. Within Judeo-Christian theology, there are many references to doing things in memory of God, which points to the very big difference between your memory of something and a thing you do in memory of that thing. There is a kind of collective memory that is indicated by, communicated through, and perpetuated in monuments, memorials, and memorial acts.

And then there’s another kind of memory. The memory of your dead grandmother, for example is something independent of what you remember about her. It is more like her legacy. Our individual memories take us back in time, or do we draw the past into the future by remembering? Where dead loved ones are concerned, as we hold them in memory they are propelled into the present.

A final form of memory is pretty close to the monuments and memorials mentioned above. Physical things can be described as memory—like a souvenir not of a vacation, but of the past. Unlike the ‘official’ aspect that monuments frequently have, materials are incidental, chance, less contrived and as such, may be a more accurate window into the past.

What, if anything does this have to do with art? Well, memory has become a significant force in the social sciences, history, and literature as a remedy, cure-all, or counterbalance to oppressive, totalizing, and limiting historic discourses. Art has long been influenced by these ideas that surround history, and with memory’s blossoming there, it won’t be long until art is singing memory’s song.

I don’t mean for that to sound as condescending as I think it does. Memory is a beautiful, mystical, unfathomable thing. I welcome it into art’s expansive domain.


katperkins said...

Memory is a very interesting thing. I mean, Terra seems to very infrequently remember anything accurately from when we were kids. I was very surprised to learn in middle school that eyewitness accounts are really very unreliable. I think the concept of memory is so fascinating that artists can't help but explore it.

Anonymous said...

What was this post about? Grandpa Dan

Mary Ann said...

what I like about my own memories is that, 1. they make no sense the way movies make sense, and 2. they are so powerful that things long past feel like they were yesterday, and memory's complete negation of the intervening time is so disorienting that I think that someone should bottle it and get rich.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm. I will need to think this one over when I am actually awake. Grandpa Dan