A Conversation, A Farewell

My earliest memory takes place in a moment of confusion. I am lying on my back & my vision is limited; it is as if I can only see in terms of shadow & light. There is a good amount of grey; grey that I will later learn is the walls in my mother’s childhood room.
There is confusion because I don’t know what is taking place. I feel I’ve become aware for the first time. Before I was sleeping, then I woke up.

Memory is a noun, an abstract noun: it isn’t something we can hold, something we can see or feel. It is the process of recalling stored information. That information can range from the dates of important works of art to telephone numbers & the location of your keys. That information is also your entire life—the minutes & seconds. Memory works by the process of Encoding (registering), Storage (creation), & Retrieval (recall). I learn that the Parthenon was built in 432 B.C., I store that information in my mind, & then I remember it when I take my Art History midterm. This is how memory works.
As we get older, our memory becomes impaired. “Can a memory ever admit it no longer recognizes itself please,” writes Rusty Morrison. It fails us; at times it stops completely. It is harder to register, to recall. Why is this? It makes sense when we are young that things slip our minds. But as the body develops, shouldn’t the mind do so as well? Or, shouldn’t it continue until we are no more?

Our memories serve as the way the mind collects the past; the way the body remembers what is has done & been through. I remember. I remember me. We remember as a society, as certain groups, as individuals. We are shaped by our memories. We remember falling out of the tree & are hesitant to climb one again. We remember that the road is pot-marked here & to drive slower. We have Topographic memory—the ability to recognize familiar places; it kicks in as we take the train out on to the island. Our memories make us. I think of Marina Abramović & her performance Freeing the Memory, in which she recited words in a stream-of-consciousness. “When words no longer come to mind the performance ends,” she wrote in the description of the piece. She spoke for an hour & a half before her memory was freed. & can we trust memory? Is memory faithful? I remember an event that my mother insists never happened. It involves me as a child getting locked in our garage & panicking because I couldn’t find the light switch. My mother says this never happened—so who is right? People forget that which they no longer wish to remember. They are able to avoid registering events & then it is as if they never occurred. To erase a moment, a year from your memory.
Forgetting is an important part of remembering. The mind must make room for new information, new names & dates of artifacts from the Gothic period. It isn’t possible to remember everything. We need to be able to forget in order to continue to remember. How does the mind know what to keep & what to let go? What makes one memory worth more than another? The mind forgets on its own, without informing us. We can remember the words to a song, & then years later have trouble singing it. The memories we bring up most often are the ones we keep.

What is the relationship between memory & language? If I weren’t able to say “I must remember this,” would I be able to remember & then recall? Can the mind remember without being told to? Language gives us words, so it can be said that it gives us memories. In order to express these memories we have to be able to speak them—language. When we were younger we remembered in images; some memories only exist as images, but we still need to give them voice.
The recent Tino Sehgal exhibition at the Guggenheim consisted of two performances, “The Kiss” & the piece “This Progress.” “This Progress” involved a series of guides leading guests up the museum’s spiral while asking them about progress. Each person had a conversation that was carried on between the guides until a guest reached the top of the museum. The only way that piece continues on is in the memories of those who attended the museum. There is no physical artwork or exhibition catalogue, just the memory of your conversation.

I am interested in memory because I believe it helps us connect to our past & our pasts are linked to people & structures—schools, offices, stores. Homes & houses. As Mary Warnock writes in her book Memory, “After all, one of the most familiar, and as we shall see, most valued kinds of memory, certainly ‘conscious’ and not a matter of habit only, is the way in which we remember places or people when we are absent from them.” Our memories are full of houses that we do not occupy. My memory contains two specific houses. The one I grew up in & the one I lost. I am interested in how a word can mean multiple things for different people. In order to write this thesis, I had to define the word “home” in my own terms & in my own beliefs. I set out to write about the different representations of home & what home means to me.

(The beginning of my Critical Introduction from my thesis)