Monday 15 February 2021

Art and Ideas: Time and Memory


                                                                     ' Childhood Garden' 
For the last   5 weeks I've  been  participating  in City Lit  online course  ' Art and Ideas : Time and Memory '. I did  a course  in the same series  in 2019 (   in a real classroom !)   on  the subject ' Space and Place'   and  found it thought-provoking and inspiring - I've been re reading some of the  articles recently.   
In lockdown ,  without the stimulation  of   travelling , visiting galleries  and new experiences, like many people  I've been remembering  the past,  recalling people  and places  I hadn't thought of in years so  it was a topic I was keen to explore  further.   The structure of the course  works well   using Zoom,  each week we  have  a series of readings  on a particular  aspect  which we discuss in small groups    and then shared screens  highlight work  of  contemporary  artists . 

For our  last  session   this week, we will be sharing personal  work  produced in response  to the course ( subject of another blog post)  and in thinking about that , I've  reviewed   the themes and ideas that most resonated  with me.   

Week 1 ‘ Art and Oblivion’   In the first session we introduced ourselves  and looked at types of memory : semantic, personal, involuntary, procedural, cultural, collective, shared.

The  readings  were : Jorge Luis Borges ‘Funes the Magnificant’   )A young man  who could reconstruct every moment lived or dreamt , spending so much time minutely reliving  the past , looking backwards,no time to observe or be in the present ) and Marc Auge ‘ How we forget to remember’  

Artists  included 

Rachel Whiteread  ‘ House’  

Cornelia Parker  Mnemic Traces  ( memories found in objects  that hold evidence of  what the object  has lived through )  ‘ subconscious of a monument 2005’ Room for Margins  1999 .   Some of this work  I was lucky enough to see at  the Whitworth gallery in 2015

  'If we remembered everything   could we make sense of anything?'

Week 2 'Haunted - involuntary  memory '

We  looked at the ways in which memories are triggered, what is it that causes the ghosts of our past to suddenly appear?   Readings  were  from   Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’( ‘The way by Swanns’   translators intro  and extract) and   we shared  our  ‘ Madeline Moments’! 

My memory to do with feel of  fabrics and threads.  I still  have scraps from childhood  dresses   and wear a  fabric mask made from fabric from one of my mum’s  dresses. She’s still protecting me.

 Artists  looked at included Tracey Emin ‘ Why I never became a Dancer ‘  ( an approach to ‘ recovered’ memory in visual arts ) and Mike Kelley ( composite architectural models of all  his school/ colleges constructed from memory

 Our homework -  to map spatial memory, quick floor plan of  childhood home/ school  or familiar building from childhood  

                                                               '  Childhood Home'

 We  moved into a  new build   in 1964 ( when I was 3) . From 1979 when I went to university  only visited for short periods until 1995 when Dad died and the house was sold. Revisiting in  2010   with Ian  who was seeing it for the first time, they’d made substantial improvements , my old bedroom knocked through  to make new bathroom etc it  looked so different. The owner  still remembered  my mum on her Pashley   tricycle  with ‘ wide load'  ‘ sign on basket  from more than 20  years earlier. 

Week 3 'Collective  Memory'  

This session explored collective and cultural memory  with  discussion of readings :Introduction and essay by Maurice Halbwachs from The Collective Memory Reader and David Rieff, In Praise of Forgetting.

Artists/ Artworks  included : Cornelia Parker  'Magna Carta ( an embroidery)  2015', 'War Room  2015' 

Thomas Demand ' Room 1994'  

 Ai Weiwei  Dropping a 'Han Dynasty Urn  1995'    ‘ Straight’ 2005- 2012  ( both of which I saw at RA  exhibition.   

 Jeremy Deller ‘ We’re Here because We’re Here’ 

Looked particularly at work of Anselm  Kiefer  ( unforgettable work seen at RA  and White Cube which triggered memories of my own) 

 Week 4 'Mediated memory'  focused on photography as a medium of memory storage, and exchange – as well as questioning the reliability of our memory when shared with others or filtered through other Readings were : Susan  Sontag on Photography; extracts from Mediated Memories in the Digital Age by Van Dijck -  ( Pictures of Life, Living Pictures )  and a wonderful extract  from Esther Kinsky's ' River'   ( I ordered and am now reading the whole book !)  A lot of the discussions  were about authenticity. 

 Artists  included  Gerhard Richter and Christian Boltanski:  sharing’ autographic’ memories.  I particularly  liked  work of  Idris Khan , every page  of   Roland Barthes 'Camera Lucida ' superimposed , illegible.  

  Our homework  was  sharing a photo '  Seeing/seeing yourself through the eyes of others'   .  I  chose  and sent photos before  reading the texts !  ‘ The Day of Bees'   July 17 2020.    I also had  ideas around ‘ memory  storage' : crates of  slides and packets of photos in garage , not  looked at in 15 years  ! Many people  are spending lockdown sorting through old photos: like ‘ Funes the Magnificent’  I feel that if I started doing that  there wouldn’t be any  time for experiencing  the present. 

                                                                     ' Day  of  Bees' 

'Memory Storage' 

Week 5 ‘ Momento Mori’  ( remember you must die )

Readings: Chapter 10 of Gulliver's Travels; describing a race of immortals ( Struldbrugs ) living among the mortal.  Lucretius 'On the Nature of Things'; an extract from 'An Introduction to Heidegger' ( Dasien's awareness of mortality)

Art works  were mainly video/film :    Mark Wallinger ‘ Threshold to the Kingdom’   2000

 Bill Viola ‘ Ocean  without a shore’  2008 

Kris Vervaeke   Ad infinatum

Hirokazu Koreeda ‘After Life’1998  

The subject  was challenging and might seem morbid  (especially in the times we're living in ) but  ultimately life affirming, in accepting mortality,  to make the most of life  as you don’t know when  you will die.  

Lucretius : "Life is granted to none for freehold, to all  on lease"

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