A sum up (of sorts).
Re-visiting this has been a great exercise in rediscovering an interest in picking apart the intricate details of everyday things we may gloss over. Unearthing the intention, meaning and sometimes arbitrary nature of these processes has been a great way to have a new look at the how and the why. It also hasn’t hurt to re-engage my brain into this way of critical thinking before I re-enter into education.
The subject of memory is one that has been widely investigated and employed by many artists and writers. Joan gibbons’ ‘Contemporary Art and Memory Images of Recollection and Remembrance’ provides a concise inquiry into memory and how it appears in contemporary art. She discusses many works relating to memory, and how they approach it, touches on the subject I am exploring
‘memory is no longer a vital agent of knowledge, without which our experience of the world would be ever transient and ever instantaneous.’ (Gibbons)
She stresses the importance of experience, and its impact on our world. Her focus, however, is more on the act or remembering, reinvention, representing a personal memory and its impact on contemporary culture, rather than how place is directly associated with memory, and how one informs the other.
Memory itself is a subject that one could write endless amounts about. I am interested in, however, the relation of memory to place: the way we recall things in terms of our personal geography; how our memory informs the way we interpret places; the chance of a place permitting collective memories; the way a place holds significance, the character of a place.
Place has always been of interest, to know a place is to feel at ease. The way we approach place is changing, a lot of this is due to the progression of Psychogeography, and the Situationist International. (The Situationist international 1957-1972 Guy Debord was the founding member. He directed the movement away from the artistic and instead thought it should focus on artistic, social and political critique.)
Again I am only briefly touching on this subject, as this is not where my focus lies, but I feel it is important to give grounding to my line of enquiry. Psychogeography employs a playful approach to place; it enables freedom and the option of responding to a place in a purely emotional way. Psychogeographical acts can range from walking to merely imagining. The key ingredient is reinvention, having the same geography, but interpreting it in a different way. ‘Psychogeography’ by Merlin Coverly provides a succinct literary overview into the subject. He compares many key figures in the development of Psychogeography, Guy Debord, Iain Sinclair and Peter Ackroyd, to name a few. But my interest in this piece of text lies not in the historical overview of the subject, but with the analysis of the process, and the identification of the key themes that run through this psycho-scientific interpretation of place.
‘Much contemporary Psychogeography approximates more to a form of local history than to any geographical investigation.’ (Merlin Coverly)
This idea of local history, is a combination of place and memory, and relates to the idea of collective memory.
These pieces are by no means a definitive survey; the texts I have chosen provide a brief yet broad overview of memory and place. I want to explore how memory relates to place and how place becomes a vessel for memory. I will look at how a place can facilitate collective, shared memories, and in turn how these then inform places and spaces we inhabit. This is not a critique of the theorists I have chosen, but more an investigation into their ideas.
This has been a long winded set of writing so I will put these here to peruse at your leisure.
The purpose of this exploration was to provide an overview on the forces at play when we experience place, and to examine the role memory has in this scenario. I have discovered a push a pull of influences.
It is the equal importance of understanding our current relationship to the environment we are occupying, and the acceptance, and appreciation of our memories which enables us to interpret and truly give value to the place we occupy. The echoes of our memories affect how we emotionally connect with a place, but in turn the place itself inspires memories. These inspired memories, and original memories and the place we are experiencing all work together to create an impression.
I was interested to investigate how we read place, how our intimacy with a memory or experience can transcend the physical, and live on merely in feeling.
‘Transcending our memories of all the houses in which we have found shelter, above and beyond all the houses we have dreamed we lived in, can we isolate an intimate, concrete essence…’ (Bachelard)
Is it possible that these ‘essences’ live on forever, and how we see a place is constantly being informed by them?
The significance of place is a key factor in our determining our relationship with it. Non-places exist all around us; our relationships with such places are fleeting, and hold no real importance.
Therefore these non-places have no real opportunity to affect us deeply enough to evoke any emotional, or memorable experience. What these non-place do, however is facilitate, and it is here where collective memory has the ability to thrive. This is only due to that fact that the non-place involves a vagueness that is common experience, providing snippets of information that many have encountered, and are to encounter in the future.
This consideration of the significant creates connection between memory and place, between person and place. As discussed in chapter two and four, in very different ways; the role of the importance of a place, is what informs our memory, it is what creates a dialogue between the individual, and the place that entity is experiencing.
I only briefly commented on the social implications of place, in terms of gender. I felt it was important not to get caught up in the feminist quarrel. However I was interested to find that this notion of significance carried through, just in a slightly different way than what I expected. The role of the home both as a tool of control, and as an anchor for the wanderer. (See Chapter 2 ) I found this interesting, considering Bachelards’ theories of the home being a symbol of safety. They seem to contradict one another; can a home be both a symbol of power and repression, and the one place we innately consider our safe ‘corner of the world’ (Bachelard)?
Contemporary artists have a lot to gain by employing sensitivity to memory in their work. The ability to create a dialogue through experience ensures that the viewer walks away from the piece with a sense of attachment, with a stirring of feeling that ultimately creates an individual, yet universal interaction with the piece (again, back to chapter 2, specifically collective memories ). With all the artists discussed in this essay, they all bring this feeling of sentiment into their practice.
The contradiction of safety/oppression, perception/inspiration, memory/place and past/present is where I leave my closing to the essay. Memory and place is a constant redistribution of powers. I started this essay with the unspoken intention of proving one model had more bearing than the others, but in fact I have found that it is impossible to make a distinction.
To do such would require forethought, planning for an experience or interaction that has not yet occurred, and memories that have not yet been brought to the surface of our consciousness. The fact of the matter is that the way we interact with place is constantly influenced by our memories, and the memories we possess are created from the fragments we collect from the places we experience. One cannot exist without the other.
Place without memory is merely an empty space, a vessel with no meaning. Memory without place is immaterial, non-existent, it holds infinite value, but with nowhere to expand and experience.
This may have proven nothing, or it may have sparked something more in you, either way the act of picking this process apart provides me with a great sense of understanding, even if it only just touched the surface,