The Other Reality

Mourning. Memory. Archive: A Remix (And a Statement)

Posted in MFA, Not Completely Random, Studio Work by aryckman on March 19, 2009

But why do I have to part with my memories; memories that are contained in such a state of scrap that externally they resemble garbage?

What kind of memorials begin to appear to prevent the past from being buried? How can a relationship with the past exist in which memory functions as an active process, allowing continual reconsideration, rather than as a form of entombment, to which archives and museums are sometimes compared?

So by taking flight into the [archive] love escapes extinction.

Many years will be spent searching, studying, classifying, before my life is secured, carefully arranged and labeled in a safe place—secure against theft, fire and nuclear war—from whence it will be possible to take it out and assemble it at any point. Then, being thus assured of never dying, I may finally rest.

Mourning is regularly the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on.  Even after a “proper mourning,” a sense of self may be fully infected by the residues and memories of the lost object, in which case mourning is a process with no beginning and no end.  An intention to mourn that precedes and anticipates the loss of the object.  My sense of loss goes in two directions, past and future, the loss of youthful expectations and the premeditated mourning of the things I know will change. Both of these can extend to places and emotions that exist outside of my grandfather’s house but because I know that he is aging and wont be around forever I feel that this is an important place to start addressing it.  I want to start by finding the things that are lost-past, describing events, remembered physical details and emotions that I associate with his house. I want visual evidence that supports my memory, to see if my memories still have a physical reference, to prove the validity of what I say or remember so that it cannot be contested. A record of memory.  Maybe this is my way of trying to prevent them—my memories, objects, and grandfather—from being lost. Maybe this is more about my denial than about my sense of loss.

How do we retain access to memory and history?  If I distrust my memory—neurotics, as we know, do so to a remarkable extent, but normal people have every reason for doing so as well—I am able to supplement and guarantee its working by making a note in writing or in photographs. I have only to bear in mind where this ‘memory’ has been deposited and I can ‘reproduce’ it at any time I like, with the certainty that it will have remained unaltered and so have escaped the possible distortions to which it might have been subjected in my actual memory. Then I am in possession of a ‘permanent memory-trace’.  A record of memory.  I need to gather the evidence of what I might forget—people I love, people I hate, experiences, places, events, important moments, as well as all the little stupid things that make up a life, as an external brain. If history is a true narrative, documents constitute its ultimate means of proof. They nourish its claim to be based on facts.

But really, if you think about the narrative that collections or assemblages of things make, the interesting thing is that there are always at least two possible stories: one is the story that the narrator, in this case the artist, thinks she’s telling—the story-teller’s story—and the other is the story that the listener is understanding, or hearing, or imagining on the basis of the same objects.

What distinguishes a pile of necessary papers from a pile of garbage? To deprive ourselves of these paper symbols and testimonies is to deprive ourselves somewhat of our memories. In our memory everything becomes equally valuable and significant. All points of our recollections are tied to one another. They form chains and connections in our memory which ultimately comprise the story of our life.  To deprive ourselves of all this means to part with who we were in the past, and in a certain sense, it means to cease to exist. Why must we look at our past and not consider it our own, or what is worse, reproach or laugh at it? Why do I have to part with my memories?  As long as memory exists that’s how long everything connected to life will live.

What does an archive allow? What systems do we rely upon and methods do we develop for coping with uncertainty as well as for organizing our lives? In what ways are what we remember, memorialize, organize and archive predicated on chance operations?  The only value these things have is that I have assigned some kind of value to them.  I am trying to see immortality and meaning through objects, and at the same time I am trying to say that my own process of accumulation is really quite analysed and thought through.  So by putting the remnants that I collect into these boxes I’m using the box as a frame to draw attention to something placed within it. Of course, a box isn’t a frame, it’s a space; and in that sense everything that I’ve done in each box is an installation within an installation.  A sanctuary of the mundane and the banal.  These objects, however, are my memories—my story—and they will never be more than mere curiosities to a viewer. To obscure them is to create a blind field. It animates life external to the box.  The box demands that the viewer fill it with objects and images, and yet whose?  Absence in and of itself creates a disturbance that opens the possibility of projections that shift the mirror of identification and desire to the viewer.  In this way I can reinvest my loss into the social.

Works Cited

Boltanski, Christian. “Research and Presentation of All That Remains of My Childhood 1944-1950” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 25.
Freud, Sigmund. “A Note Upon the Mystic Writing-Pad” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 20-24.
Freud, Sigmund. “Mourning and Melancholia” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud The Hogarth Press: London. Vol. 14, pg 241-258.
Green, Renee. “Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 49-55.
Hiller, Susan. “Working Through Objects” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 41-48.
Kabakov, Ilya. “The Man Who Never Threw Anything Away” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 32-37.
Min, Susette. “Remains to be Seen: Reading the Works of Dean Sameshima and Khanh Vo.” Loss: The Politics of Mourning. Ed. David L. Eng and David Kazanjian. LA: University of California Press, 2003, pg 229-250.
Ricoeur,Paul. “Archives, Documents, Traces” The Archive. Ed. Charles Merewether. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006, pg 66-69.
Scribner, Charity. “Left Melancholy.” Loss: The Politics of Mourning. Ed. David L. Eng and David Kazanjian. LA: University of California Press, 2003, pg 300-319.