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A reflective journal of my practice, process, and thoughts.

Posts in Research Paper
‘A Man Digging’ / Research Paper - Tutorial 1 (Gareth Polmeer - 01/08/19)

‘The Mutability of Memory as Identity in the Digital Present’

Working Abstract:
This paper intends to ask a series of questions relating to the utilisation of memory as the ‘medium of experience’ rather than a tool for exploring the past, as described by artist Jon Rafman in the film ‘A Man Digging’, in contemporary art-making. In the cacophony of the collective digital present, a time in which we might perceive the boundaries between reality and simulation to have begun collapsing in terms of our exposure to an overwhelming range of media and burgeoning virtual influence, does human memory still glow in the midst of our everyday experience in holding the narratives of our lives together? Key terms which will be considered here include neuroscientist Manfred Spitzer’s positing that ’Digital Dementia’ is a way in which to describe an overuse of digital technology resulting in the breakdown of memory pathways. If there is an aspect of digitality which seeks to protect loss (loss of information, data, loss of connection), in which ways does this pursuit of protection, and the virtual interlacing of our human experience affect memory in the rewriting of histories? Artists such as Rafman (‘where is the human being in all of this?’), and Mathilde Lavenne, investigate these interplays through the organisation of dislocated fragments, online and offline, through sequences utilising digital technologies (combinations of live action film, laser scanning, CGI and animation sequences), in order to ‘make perceptible the strata of memory’; to present new narratives commenting on relationships between personal and collective memory, the buried and the excavated, that will be examined through this paper’s investigation.

Key Words: Strata, Identity, Temporality, Archaeology, Consciousness, Reconstruction

A Man Digging, Jon Rafman. 2013.

Viewing Jon Rafman’s ‘A Man Digging’ was one of those moments for me when it feels genuinely exciting to have found something that resonates, and I knew that, after writing and re-writing a draft abstract and working to a clearing of the core interests of my research, this piece and Rafman’s practice would form part of my examination. I discussed this in my research paper tutorial with Gareth Polmeer, a conversation which was very constructive in beginning to build a skeleton framework for the paper. Gareth provided many suggestions which would help to convene a coherent structure, and provide a theoretical backdrop of approaches to memory within certain historical ontologies stretching from natural philosophy through modernism and futurism - a lineage of concerns and anxieties which must be carefully described and reviewed so as not to be exhaustive: this should take the form of around 1/3 of the essay and provide context for a case study of two chosen contemporary works. Subsequent to the tutorial, I discovered the work of Mathilde Lavenne, by way of the work ‘TROPICS’ and it’s ghostly sprawling network of suggested history which won the Prix Ars Electronica Golden Nica of Computer Animation 2018. Though the work is not available to view online other than short teaser clips, I have contacted the artist directly and Lavenne has been very generous in giving me access to a copy of the film to further inform my examination.

tutorial notes

framework: 1000 words - historical context + theoretical backdrop >> new materialism/ontologies - then move into case studies - Rafman / Lavenne - territories (the mind, the in/visible - perception (Lavenne), the digital (Rafman), the hidden)

reframing temporality re: memory and the ‘feed’ for example: contradiction in contemporary terms that on one hand we forget so much and on another we forget nothing.
chris marker - time travel // consciousness (oliver sacks - the river/the stream), recurrence, elusion and frailty


different ontologies - ‘the time of nature’, jane bennett ‘vibrant matter’ etc new materialism and objectivity, different conception of time which runs against some of the course of technological modernity

  • lineage/connection to romanticism, natural philosophy > C20th : going out into nature (to write, to ‘discover’) - blue flower in land of technology - connection to Rafman (‘digging’ for identity, pursuit to resolve absences)

  • early C20th writers, forgetting was becoming a profound problem (the ‘memory crisis’) / that technology might lead to a kind of ‘forgetting what it is to be human’ - link to AI, deepmind, mapping neural networks and extrapolating containers of/encoded experience as predictable patterns

walter benjamin, futurists - preservation technologies and digital avatar services - contrast

‘Human beings will turn cyberspace into a projection of the material world, which is a place of continuous conflict’ - john gray

Key Research Material (identified to date)

- When We Are No More, Abby Smith Rumsey, 2016. [Book]
- Searching For Memory: The Brain, the Mind, and the Past, Daniel L. Schacter, 1997. [Book]
- A Thousand Years of Non-Linear History, Manuel DeLanda, 2000. [Book]
- The River of Consciousness, Oliver Sacks, 2017. [Book]
- Stone: An Ecology of the Inhuman, Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, 2015. [Book]
- Memory Practices in the Sciences, Geoffrey C. Bowker, 2008. [Book]
- Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, Jane Bennett, 2010. [Book]
- Philosophy and Memory Traces: Descartes to Connectionism, John Sutton, 1998. [Book]
- You Are Here: Art After the Internet, Omar Kholeif, 2014. [Book]
- Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process, Jens Brockmeier, 2015. [Journal]
- Digital Memory and the Problem of Identity, Christopher N. Chapman, 2008. [Paper]
- Embodiments of Memory: Toward an Existential Approach to the Culture of Connectivity, Amanda Lagerkvist. [Paper]
- The Netlore of the Infinite: Death (and Beyond) in the Digital Memory Ecology, Amanda Lagerkvist, 2015. [Journal]
- A Saunter Down Memory Lane: Digital Reflection on Personal Mementos, Steve Whittaker. [Paper]
- Autobiographical Memory and the Art of Storytelling and Narrative Identity, Willow Mindich, 2017. [Journal]
- Immaterial Archives: New Media and the Memory of Representation, Timothy Murray, 2000. [Journal]
- Beyond Metaphor: Archaeology as a Social and Artistic Practice, Christopher Smith, 2016. [Journal]