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

Posts in Tutorials
‘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]

Tutorial 3 - 21/06/19 + Process May-July

In my recent tutorial with Jonathan I shared some of the practical experiments I’ve undertaken in the past couple of months which had not been published here - for that reason I have developed a short video to summarise my activity. I find documenting my process in this way to be advantageous in that it demands reflection in even the piecing together of the bare material (scans, screenshots, photographs), clarifying progress made and action to be taken. Through questioning the ways in which I see the project developing in relation to the lenses I am applying to my research and building a vocabulary through which to communicate, our discussion helped clarify the skeleton of my intention as to form methods of communicating a narrative rooted in identity and personal experience utilising multiple languages (written, material, digital); informed but essentially speculative rather than didactic. This is a continuous exploration through metaphor and poetic association between specific fields (neurology, geology, technology) that pivot around the ‘fixed’ point of home, represented by the ‘shed’ (a basic symbolic reference to Aristotle’s storehouse theory) a place which all of these explorations which are represented in different forms (text, manipulations of text as visual form, rendering, contact prints, video, 360° AR/VR) return to and fold into. I am taking the opportunity this week at the beginning of my summer break from work to consolidate and reflect, to update my project proposal, and to identify key action points for development moving forward.

Tutorial 2 - 18/01/19, Jonathan Kearney

This past couple of weeks I have been working on consolidating what I already have in terms of research, and paying attention to the fragments of ideas or connections I’ve jotted down on a hundred scraps of paper or notes on my phone. I really wanted to do this at this point, to start the new year with a clear focus, and my project proposal has helped me with this immensely. Most of my conversation with Jonathan last week was centred around this - moving forward into making and experimentation now that a broad framework is beginning to emerge. We discussed this idea of the framework, specifically in terms of time-based arrangements, sequencing bodies of work and subjects into acts, or something less linear. The time-based aspect I am considering more and more in terms of the work itself not having a fixed form or shape which is sympathetic maybe to the neurological process, or a kind of amnesia. It has become apparent to me that so many of the areas I have been interested in over the past couple of years converge in so many different ways, from the politics of rising sea levels and retreating landmass to memory loss and cultures of collecting, and Jonathan suggested that these areas being rooted in the same concern could be thought of as something circular with several acts which are all traversing a core principal.

With this in mind I tried to map all of those areas of consideration in that form, and the result was something which instantly clarified and furthered the connections between all of those areas in a really meaningful way. The map itself ended up resembling a kind of globe, which makes a sort of accidental sense in being viewed as such in relation to thinking of internal and external worlds; the neurologic and the geologic. I then tried converting that globe into a kind of timeline, and the word ‘retreat’ suddenly became much more meaningful; what resulted was a kind of envisioning of the retreat from the ice age (glacial deposits and land mass retreating, the North Sea and the submergence of Doggerland - more on this soon - leaving erratics in the cliffs and petrified checkpoints on the shore, retrieved to be examined as metaphors to memory, to the individual past from the collective and the physical to the mental…) to now - or more precisely a point between ‘now’ and what might be called ‘home’/a point of origin and the beginning of memory… the shed in the empty field in the photograph.

post9 - wallmap.jpg
Tutorial 1 - 29/10/18, Jonathan Kearney

My first tutorial with Jonathan has really helped me start to consider reframing the emotive experiences at the roots of my exploration and questioning the potential of experiences which might be initially considered traumatic or generally negative, as actually opening up spaces for reflection on the nature of change. We each discussed some our own personal experiences of witnessing changes in the health and wellbeing of loved ones, such as processes of neurological disease, a discussion which I am very appreciative of and has helped me to begin thinking about our (to some extent) default reactions to ecological loss; human, physical or mental (memory, language), and environmental (resources, wilderness): Jane Bennett in Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things, discusses how our “modern selves are feeling increasingly entangled, cosmically, biotechnically, medially, virally, pharmacologically, with nonhuman nature. Nature has always mixed it up with self and society, but lately this comingling has intensified and become harder to ignore”.

We spoke about our understandings of transformation, and how we might reposition our perspectives on experiences which we might be almost programmed to ‘view’ and process as being either positive or negative, as instead being transformative, with the power of this as a kind of lens being to re-evaluate our relationships with the present: how do we respond to environmental degradation if we lose sight of the hope in acting on change? What is being done today in the pursuit of re-aligning negative effects and trends in human ecology, with helpful concepts and strategies? This is a question which I am interested in pursuing in terms of my communications with both neurologists and geologists. I am also spending some time concentrating on the aspect of personal narrative within my project which is a thread we discussed in my tutorial but has also come up in our symposiums, in relation actually to several of our practices including Friederike’s work, particularly in relation to types of mythologised experience; I am drawn back to Joseph Beuys in this regard as I begin to work with materials in new ways.

^ Hiroshi Sugimoto: ‘Pre-Photography Time Recording Device 040’ (left), ‘PPTRD 028’ (right), ‘South Bay Drive-In', 1993’ (centre)

  • Transformative experiences. Question of ‘negative’ experiences such as witnessing disease progress and take hold over the lives of loved ones as being powerful in opening up unique spaces for reflection, and re-evaluating our experience of the present.

  • These situations and changes make us shift our perceptions, pushing us to explore a sense and space of time pausing. A release. Associations between relative space and geo-biological foundations.

  • Natural change versus our feelings about how natural change should behave.