Posts Tagged ‘Memory’
The Intangible Archive is the project that I’ve been working on, with sound artist/composer Philip Reeder. I presented on it last week at the Association of Art Historians conference, and I’m on my way to San Diego to present at Museums and the Web 2012. Rather than a linear, temporal sound walk, it’s a spatial way of engaging with memory. It’s an extension of the archive, where I’ve re-archived memories according to their links with place. People can search the archive by walking around St Ives, looking for memories to listen to. It comes out of my practice, which asks people to articulate their memories and finds creative ways of sharing those memories with others. Sharing memories with others is a form of re-archiving; augmenting the memories others through encounter. This creates a multiple, distributed archive, where there are many different forms of remembered encounter, each one unique, connected to place, and archived in the memory of each person that searches for fragments of the archive to make their own story of place. Voices that don’t often get heard getting their say in history. Making archival silence into archival noise.
The Intangible Archive is an archive without walls. It’s a way of encountering memories from the archive, outside of the archive itself. Using mobile technology and headphones, participants can create their own history of place by walking around St Ives. A soundtrack composed by Philip Reeder, from field recordings of St Ives, plays while participants walk, and at certain points, voices from the Memory Bay oral history archive will speak. Instead of being told a particular history from a particular point of view, the direction of walking determines the narrative.
There are more video snippets at
What Phil and I were trying to achieve with this (a rhizomatic encounter with memory, looking at the intertextuality of memory in the form of oral history, and the materiality of place, and the spaces in which these encounters occur to create a continuous narrative of place. More or less.) proved to be tricky to communicate in the St Ives September Festival programme. We didn’t want to scare anyone off by describing it too loftily as piece of sonic art, which it wasn’t really, as it was a test project to see how people responded. But neither is it an historical audio tour. I wrote this for the programme, with Phil’s help:
Put on some headphones. Take a walk around town. Encounter memories of St. Ives as you wander the streets. Fragments of memory, swept up from cobbles and beaches, tidied away into the archive, are pieced back together to again litter spaces around town. Archive voices entwined with original material create a rich soundscape to find stories of creative community.
Devised by composer Philip Reeder and St. Ives Archive Research Fellow Jeanie Sinclair, UCF
Wednesday 14th - Sunday 25th September, Mariners’ Church Crypt, Daily from 10 am until 4 pm. Free.
We were hoping that would get the balance about right.
It didn’t. The first day was somewhat disparaging, and I began to wonder why I’d thought this would be a good idea at all. The first people to do the walk, an older couple on holiday, came back after an hour or so. That seemed positive to me. I asked them how they’d got on. They were somewhat hesitant, so I encouraged them to be honest as it was a research project and I wanted their opinion so I could make improvements. “It was quite nice, but we wanted to know more about the history of The Digey.”
So, lesson number one, explain things better.
It went on a bit like that for the rest of the morning, and I probably wasn’t doing a great job of selling as I ended up being a bit apologetic; I didn’t want to disappoint anyone else. I should probably mention that the demographic at the festival does tend to be older people and those with very young families. I realised that explaining that the HP ipaq PDAs that we were using work like satnav made more sense to people unfamiliar with smartphones.
One person actually said he wasn’t interested once I’d explained it, and left. Feeling very downhearted, I started to wonder if it was impossible to create something that would be accessible to everyone at all. The one person that I knew from the archive that came to have a go was foxed by the technology as a previous user had somehow managed to turn on the standby after three minutes button.
I realised that Phil’s sound track wasn’t going to work for anyone with tinnitus, as two sufferers reported back negatively.
I learned to stop talking about the project in terms of the negative, of what it isn’t, after one very nice local man came in and interrupted my weary apologia by saying yes, he understood what it it was thanks, and was very interested, and could he come back with a friend on Sunday? I felt then like a prize chump for patronising the only person to come to the Crypt Gallery that day who understood what we were trying to do.
So, be more explicit. It’s easy to get caught up in the detail and fail to summarise what is essentially a simple idea.
On day two, one of the ipaqs stopped working, so I only had two that worked.
I started being a bit more upbeat, and a few more people came. I’m glad, actually, that I didn’t have any more people come, as there wouldn’t have been enough equipment.
I got more positive feedback. Some people would, they said, rather be told where to go, and be given more direction. Others liked the idea of just wandering. There were some really lovely comments about Phil’s music, and in particular the way in which it enhanced a sense of presentness in time and place, making people look at things in new ways. I think in some ways that it worked better for those who were locals, or knew their way around the town better; existing knowledge and memories of place woven together with the sound walk created the kind of thoughtful intertextual experience I’d hoped for. At least it did while the technology was working.
The GPS drift seemed to be a bit of a problem. Areas I’d tested thoroughly didn’t deliver any content for some users. It’s very hard to get things in the right place using a pixellated map image when you need things to stay in a street that’s only a metre and a half wide. Using live maps in Appfurnace should solve this.
So, things to do for the next iterations: concentrate on specific places more, or specific themes to create micro-narratives of place, and join them together. Use more programming to improve functionality. Keeping it simple made sense, as it’s not about the technology, but the topography of place necessitates more careful thinking. Consider using narrative; the rhizomatic wandering can be retained, but perhaps reassure and guide without actually making a linear walk. Make some more recordings. Extend the stories, or at least identify them – possibly QR codes, possibly using good old paper, or possibly just a tumblr or similar. I still don’t want to interrupt the experience with material other than sound and place, as this disrupts the intertextual of the feeling of being both outside of the everyday and present in place.
The St. Ives Archive is housed [housed; where the memory lives; the dwelling place for the memories; where memory sleeps until it is disturbed and rearranged to become history] in the Upper Chapel Room, St. Andrew’s Street. If you walk along the seafront towards the train station, you’ll find the St. Ives Society of Artists clinging to the very edge between land and sea. If you walk the other way, past the cafes and shops, weaving in and out between the holiday-makers in the summer, or trying to escape the penetrating winds in the winter, you’ll find the 15th Century church, and the harbour, and beyond that, Porthmeor beach and Tate St. Ives.
The building itself is constructed in granite, its walls almost half a metre thick. The Upper Chapel Room is found by going through a small set of blue double doors at the side, ascending the steep carpeted staircase and at the top, turn right and go through the glazed wooden door off the small landing. The space itself reveals its construction, white-painted beams hold-up the Methodist‘s architectural simplicity, the attic-like space filled with light by the large windows at each end [three per wall, two small with four sections, two with eight panes, two with six, and a larger window in the between, three instead of two wide, and an extra row of two-by-six windows on top].
It’s not an very big space, neither is it small. The room is the whole of the floor, save for a small landing with a toilet and a cupboard, and at the far corner, a latch door leads to a little kitchen with its assortment of mugs, tea-bags and tea-towels, and a kettle that seems slow to boil [though not as slow as the one in the kitchen in the house in which I live].
At the kitchen end, is a computer that stores the oral history archive and slide-shows of photos, and next to it is the microfiche machine. Microfiche is still an esoteric thing of great mystery to me. I only partly understand it. We need to become better acquainted, the microfiche and I. Working clockwise around the room from the microfiche on the back wall next to the kitchen, there is the Family History Corner. This is for actual genealogy, rather than the genealogy of ideas or knowledge. Along the long wall that faces the door, are cupboard-topped shelves that reach from floor to ceiling, except because the roof is sloped, there is a gap. I’ve often thought it might be a good place to sleep [sleep with sleeping memories], rather than just daydreaming.
On the shelves are a rainbow of ring-binders, filed not quite according to their position on the spectrum. They are filed according to subject, and to each subject a colour is assigned. It starts with blue for Family History at the far end, then red for Buildings, purple for History, green for Maritime, and yellow, for sun, sand and Tourism. Black ringbinders are for the serious matter of the arts. Grey archive boxes contain monochrome memories in black and white photos. See-through plastic boxes hold precious glass plates and photographic negatives; look through to see.
Turning to face in the opposite direction is the other wall with the big windows which face the sea, with St. Eia’s Church to the left and the Society of Artists to the right. You can just see the see in the middle, between the rooftops opposite. You can also see Godrevy, dunes, sand, but no lighthouse. Along this wall are computers. These are necessary for lots of reasons, yet the data stored in the memory of the volunteers is far easier to access, and can be retrieved using simple voice activated commands. This is much more user friendly, and needs no special training to use. The search results are filtered, and come with intelligent metadata, and recommendations for further searches. Apparently, this is also how the Semantic web, or Web 3.0 will work. There are no accession numbers, or filing systems required. However, the system of memories is unique, sophisticated and individualised.
Turning again to the other long wall, there is a fireplace, not in use for fireside tales, with a sign above that says ‘THIS IS A DISUSED MINESHAFT it has been fenced for your protection PLEASE HELP TO KEEP IT SAFE’. Next to this there are three filing cabinets, two brownish beige and one royal blue. From left to right, they respectively contain administrative things, Artists and Sculptors and General Art (A-Z), and Volunteers and Displays and Writers and Poets. Next to filing cabinets is a dividing wall of desks and photocopier at ninety degrees to the wall, ending in a display table with local history books and postcards of local views for sale. The door to the stairs is on the other side of this half-wall. This divides the volunteer’s working area from the public’s working area. This separation is further defined by the difference between the assorted proper desks on the one side, and smaller tables, each with two assorted chairs, on the other. The visitors’ side tables, three of them, are an interwar shade of lemon syllabub. Modern red and black chairs sit in pairs with the lemony tables. The half-glazed door leads out on to the landing again, and on the landing is the cupboard where books are stored, and not unlike in Borges’ Library of Babel, the toilet.
But as Bachelard said, one never goes downstairs from the attic.
The past is not simply there in memory, but must be articulated to become memory. The fissure that opens up between experiencing an event and remembering it in representation is unavoidable. Rather than lamenting or ignoring it, this split should be understood as a powerful stimulant for cultural and artistic creativity. The temporal status of any act of memory is always the present and not, as some naïve epistemology would have it, the past itself, even tho all memory in some ineradicable sense is dependent on some past event or experience. It is this tenuous fissure between past and present that constitutes memory, making it powerfully alive and distinct from the archive or any other mere system of storage and retrieval.