Immured for hours on end in the 60s style geodesic dome which had landed adjacent to the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park with its satellite Pavilion, it was easy to forget the outside world, but also to forget hunger, cold, and other everyday concerns and feed the mind and spirit instead.
From the flood of five hours of sound on Friday evening to the seemingly endless ways of examining the notion of memory over the next two days and evenings, 2012′s Memory Marathon was literally an overwhelming experience. Physically and mentally drained I am still trying to make sense of it all. What will stand out in the memory?
From Friday’s performance of La Suite by Tarek Atoui, the eerie sounds from the voice of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe (aka Lichens) took me somewhere else entirely. He is not shown here as I was too spellbound to take a photograph.
John Hull, writer and theologian, on blindness, devastatingly objective yet a powerfully emotional insight into his world. Blindness is not just forgetting what something looks like but forgetting what sight is. The film project Rainfall, an excerpt from which was screened here, uses his audio diaries to stunning effect. This was the most affecting presentation of the weekend for me.
The Lebanese-American poet Etel Adnan, someone new to me, accompanied by Gavin Bryars on piano, was gently profound on death, burial and memorial.
Siah Armajani gave an again objective , matter of fact, ruthlessly minimal yet moving view of an Iranian sensibility applied to life and art in the USA. He had wished for escape from the burden of memory, even to the extent of considering a lobotomy. He also said if more people read Walt Whitman the world would be a better place.
Historians Donald Sassoon and Jay Winter, were both powerful eloquent speakers on how collective memories of history, particularly war are shaped and distorted. Jay Winter has written on Sites of Memory, looking at how we use place to memorialise.
John Berger, benign and erudite, the person I was most looking forward to hearing, did not disappoint. A beautiful film Ways of Listening showed a conversation between him and Tilda Swinton, reflecting on childhood and soldier fathers, was followed by discussion with Hans Ulrich Obrist and a reading of a current piece on last year’s riots in Croydon, interspersed with memories of childhood trips there with his mother.
Richard Hollis, art editor, who collaborated on many of John Berger’s books, and Timothy Taylor, about to be the wonderfully named Professor of the Prehistory of Humanity in Vienna, each gave us ‘Memory Theatres’ for our time using visual images from the ancient past to contemporary art, museums of memory. Timothy Taylor’s use of the seven planetary symbols of Giulio Camillo included Diana, as the moon symbolised as a huntress, giving a personal link for me to remember.
Marina Warner‘s piece on storytelling from memory, focussed on the 1001 Nights, used textile analogies of weaving and pattern making, giving me more personal memories.
We had learnt that we have to personalise memories to remember them. The brain makes and remakes myriad connections which are what memories consist of. I guess this could involve association, identification, empathy and distaste. We remember in different ways, using all the senses, famously smell (Proust’s madeleine), sound, taste and, above all maybe, image. I am a visual person so I certainly think I use sight more consciously than any other sense. Ed Cooke showed us how to use images and analogies in a spatial context to create memories and help us then recall them. Those of us who went on his Memory Walk put this to entertaining effect memorising the US Presidents while circling around the Serpentine Gallery.
We were also haunted by absence. The weekend was dedicated to Eric Hobsbawm, who was to have spoken but died shortly before. He had been deeply involved in the planning. Memory is so much about death and there were other tributes to Chris Marker and Cedric Price. Ai Weiwei, one of the collaborators on the design of the Pavilion (see my earlier post), was still unable to leave China although his text messages on memory, sent throughout the weekend, were displayed in the Pavilion.
3D colour photographs of China taken by Michael Craig-Martin’s grandfather and inherited by him. One of several ‘family photo’ presentations. Can personal mementos become meaningful more widely?
Ida Applebroog’s ‘What is Lovely Never Dies’ art as slogan forming and reforming on the move.
Gilbert and George re-enacting their Singing Sculpture with ‘Underneath the Arches’. Life as a memorial?
Pierre de Meuron and Jacques Herzog, architects of the Pavilion, reluctant to interpret their work, leaving it open ended for the spectator to form their own memory? (quoting Susan Sontag Against Interpretation)
China Miéville, accompanied by Evan Calder Williams, on Salvagepunk, rubbish as memory, dystopia and decay.
Brian Dillon and Jeremy Millar in a tribute to Chris Marker, using film images and readings.
Beat poet John Giorno reliving memories of Warhol and William Burroughs.
Other incidental memories: a robot having a stroke (Luc Steels) and a headbanging demonstration (Isabel Lewis), actually both illustrating body memory.
From why and how we have memories to the memory of the universe; how we store individual and collective memories mentally and in the form of artefacts from prehistoric stone axes to digital, in and through different media, different ways of creating and interpreting memory, it is central to everything we do. How could we forget or do we need to before we are overwhelmed by the quantity of memories?
This strange combination of Hay Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Royal Institution Christmas Lectures and Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremonies was like nothing I have been to before. This is my memory of it, selective, edited, personal. There will be many other memories.