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The Final days of my MA

Yesterday I had my final assessment. This consisted of a Presentation and submission of a Report and Active Documentation (this BLOG)

The dissolution of now, wilting into then


This practice-led research draws upon photography as its fundamental discipline alongside printmaking to produce the outcomes for an installation. Sustained and creative exploration of the contextualisation of the dialogue between memory and photography has enabled creative outcomes from which evocations or allusions to memory emerge. Contemplation and research of the complex subject of remembrance determined a narrow line of rigorous enquiry in the context of how events are stored in the mind. Though the original proposal referenced nostalgia, a divergence was made from this line of enquiry in order to not detract from the context of the fading of an experience as it is consigned to memory.

A moment in time is observed, captured by the camera and stored in the brain. In the case of the camera, the resulting image, whether a photographic print, digital image or slide, can be viewed days, months, years after the occurrence and every detail will be there, unchanged. The image stored in the brain becomes a memory that, unlike the photograph, is vulnerable to other influences that affect its stability.

The French Historian Pierre Nora wrote of memory “It remains in permanent evolution, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successive deformations, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived.” [1]

Writing in Narrative, Memory, and Slavery, W.J.T. Mitchell challenges the suggestion that memory is a true portrayal of the past, observing that it not only gives us access to past events but also hides things, he even refers to memory as a medium, implying an agency of manipulation and falsification. [2]

The development of concepts through the exploration of media practice and display has of necessity, included a basic examination of scientific analysis of how memory distorts the original experience, which Mitchell describes as obstructing, fragmenting and negating our knowledge of what actually occurred.

One explanation of how memories alter is in Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter;

‘Until memories are fully encoded in the cortex they are still fragile and may quite easily be wiped out. And even when they are established they are not fixed. A memory is not, in fact, a recollection of an experience but the recollection of the last time you recalled the experience. Hence our memories are constantly changing and redeveloping.’[3]

This exploration of the fragility of memory is based upon three ‘found’ photographic images, which share some similarities in the subject matter such as boats, water and people. They were all created over forty years ago in the era of analogue photography and are in the form of 35mm slides. These three images each represent an original event, the now at the moment that it occurred, before it was stored away in the cortex of the brain.

Experiences might become confused in memory and several experiences might be remembered as the same event – especially if there is a common theme, such as the water, people and boats in the exhibited pictures, where the sharing of a narrative could combine them into one.

This exhibition space offers the viewer the experience of being within the mind and to this end, the colour and texture of the space are important. There is, of course, no definitive colour signifying the mind which is cognitive, visceral and cerebral. The living brain however, is made of membranes, fat and blood vessels – so in terms of colour it appears to be mostly red, a concept that should be appreciated by most viewers.

Prints of the three chosen photographs have been placed in the deepest recess of the exhibition space, in the same way that episodic memories might be stored in the brain.

Events stored in the mind can be remembered time and time again, but it is important to note that each time it is recalled, the memory is changed a little because it becomes combined and confused with things that are happening in the present. As Jonathan Foster explains in New Scientist, ‘…our brains do not faithfully replay our previous experiences as they happened. Certain pieces of information and events stick in the mind but others disappear or become distorted, and sometimes we even seem to remember things that never happened.’ [4] Thus, unlike the photograph, memories are not ‘pure’ recordings of what actually occurred, only a small proportion of the elements of the event being maintained and a small fraction of these fixed in the long term memory. Each time a memory is recalled it is embellished, bits are added, parts are forgotten and some elements have completely faded away. This recollection becomes a new version of the event and can become indistinguishable from the original remembrance. Reconsolidation is a process by which this slightly altered memory effectively replaces the previous one.

In this installation the concept of dissolution of now is demonstrated by indistinctly printed fragments of the pictures on flimsy tissue as the photographic image fades and becomes part of unstable, wilting, reconsolidated memories. These pieces of tissue, created through printmaking, are ambiguous, fraying at the edges and jumbled together. They are different shapes and sizes in the same way that memories might differ in their level of importance and clarity.

The tissue prints hang in obvious layers to signify the layers continually being added to existing memories; influencing and perhaps concealing them. Some are printed so faintly that they appear to be blank like memories that are almost faded out of existence. Gaps are also present where memories may once have been. As metaphors of what happens in the mind the tissue images cover the photographic prints, leaving only little glimpses visible, like a pentimento, the completeness of the photographs is no longer visible as they are consigned from now to then.

Entering this exhibit through a red curtain, the viewer is in darkness with the printed tissues coming down towards them, emphasising the depth of the brain where layer upon layer of memories are stored.

A digital projector at the rear of the space sends beams of light onto the tissues, illuminating the faint, unclear images, as if in the act of trying to recall. Using today’s technology and controlled by an iPad, this projector examines the photographs that were taken long ago, urging the viewer to try and make out the images on the tissues. An electric fan sends a breeze that disturbs the tissues, symbolising their vulnerability and constant fluctuation.

Prominent in the space is a 35mm slide projector, the sounds it makes harking back to the pre-digital age. The original slides sit in the projector as clear as the moment that events were captured all those years ago, yet when it is projected it is fragmented and distorted by the rows of tissues which obstruct the purity of the image.

As an acknowledgement of the passage of time between the original event and the act of remembering, the installation features two projectors from different technological eras.

This exhibit sits in a space that is softened by fabric, a signifier of the soft tissue of the brain. The barely perceivable soft red glow is reminiscent of the dark-room safe light which was used in the era when these photographs were processed.

1,098 words Mimi Tobot September 2015

Active Documentation on BLOG



Adorno, T. (1984), The Idea of Natural -History, trans Hullot-Kentor, Telos, no 60, p 117

Atkinson R. C. and Shiffrin R.M. (1971) The Control Processes of Short-term Memory, Technical report 173, Stanford

BBC Radio 4 – The Memory Experience, Broadcast 22nd July 2006

Benjamin, W. (1999), The Arcades Project, Cambridge and London, Belknap Press

Carter, R. (2010), Mapping the Mind, paperback edition, London, Phoenix

Casey, E. (1987) The World of Nostalgia, Man and his World, no. 20

Foster, J. (2011) Memory, ‘New Scientist’, Vol.212, Issue 2841 pp 24 – 29

Frampton, H. (1973) An evening with Hollis Frampton, interviewed at MOMA, 8 March 1973

Hollings, Ken (2015) Cutting Up the Cut- Up, BBC Radio 4, 24th June, 11.30am

Marder, M. History, Memory, and Forgetting in Nietzsche and Derrida © 2004. Epoché, Volume 9, Issue 1 (2004).. pp. 137–157

Moore, R. (2006) Hollis Frampton (nostalgia), Afterall, London

Nora, P. (1989) Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire. Representations Vol 26 pp 7 -24

Schlüpmann, H. (1987), Kracauer’s Phnomenology of Film, trans Levin, T. New German Critique, no 40,

Wise, L. (2015) The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World. Artforum. (Issue 201503), p 276

[1] Nora, P. Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire, p.8

[2] Lara Kelland Winter 2002

[3] Carter, R.(2010), Mapping the Mind, paperback edition, London, Phoenix p.271

[4] Foster, J. (2011) Memory, ‘New Scientist’, Vol.212, Issue 2841 pp 24 – 29


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