“The Memory Differential” is an online exhibition presenting a selection of video work that highlights the differentials between how particular technologies capture, record, and transcribe ‘memory’ and the realities that this multiplicity of memory forms in turn creates. As a culture whose collective memory is newly defined in terms of storage (measured by bytes, folders, and containers, etc), preservation, and classification, the social archive today is no longer materially fixed, but transmutable and transformed by a constant process of updating and transfer functions.
Video as a memory technology is but one in a long line of technologies used to document, historicize, record, and transcribe memory, preceded by other forms and media such as film, photography, painting, writing, even language, and so on. In McLuhanian fashion, the tools used for archiving become part of the memory form itself. As media historian Ina Blom describes, the technicity of memory encapsulates the technical conditions under which the past is conserved in the present; with the rapid proliferation of new technologies and recording forms and formats in the 21st Century, with near constant material updates and upgrades, we risk the sense that time and events, and our cultural memory (and thus our collective social portrait) is but a self-reflective matter of technical production.
This exhibition intends to focus not on the examination of the contents of archival documents (which is conceptually framed as the subject in each of the seven narratives), and instead on the artists’ processes of documenting the archive, and in doing so, the emergence of its new meanings and social ontologies. Whether focusing on themselves and their families, strangers, or iconic historical figures, each artist exposes the personal and collective attempt to archive a social or personal portrait, with particular emphasis on the transmutation of physical form and measurements of time used to do so. Precisely as articulated by Blom, the term “video” —the first-person present-tense conjugation of the Latin verb videre— literally means “I see,” rather than “you see” or “we see”. Following this line of thought, if we assert that digital video is itself composed of stored data, or “memory,” —a construct that is commonly associated with biological life and consciousness— the artist is placed in a position of authority to interpret was is “real” in the face of digital technologies.
The exhibition starts with Monica Czyzyk's "I sent him a rabbit" (2015), a meta-documentary that recounts a personal episode in the artist's life where she lost her hard drive containing her entire video archive. As a filmmaker, this devastating event turned into a new opportunity by happenstance: while returning to the original place where she was filming, she found a substantial archive of mini DV tapes left behind by another filmmaker. Czyzyk proceeds to use the material in this found tape to weave a new fiction that intertwines her personal past and present with this distant, but real, figure, who wittingly consents to her appropriation of the material. What remains is an artist's interpretation of another artist's archive.
In Talia Chetrit's "Parents" (2014), the artist reflects on the complex relationship between reality and representation, challenging notions of authenticity in the photographic medium. Here, she turns the video lens towards her unsuspecting parents, who believe they are lending their image towards still portrait photography. In real time however, the video camera captures the interstitial situations between poses —bits of conversations, play, and posturing: the subjects’ intimacy is made public. The video exposes what happens behind the artifice of posing for an archive, exposing moments that lead to an image but are normally left out of the final document.
"The Recarcassing Ceremony" (2016) is a film by Nina Katchadourian that tells the story of an elaborate game the artist and her brother played as children, invoking an elaborate community of characters embodied in Playmobil figurines. During their childhood, both Katchadourian and her parents documented their childhood fantasy worlds through photographs and audio recordings, which are resurrected here, thirty-five years later, as the artist attempts to reenact a ceremony that was developed as childhood fantasy: an attempt to grasp onto something so fleeting, such as memory itself.
"Variations of Max" (2010) by Helene Sommer is is an auto-fictional video montage narrating and intertwining the artist’s family history with the universal history book “Syncronoptische Weltgeschichte” (Syncronoptical World history) and the biography of its author Arno Peters (the main idea of the book was to create equal spatial representation of universal history, motivated by the distortion of time and space in conventional Eurocentric history). Through archives, books, movies, news footage, memories, and pure speculations, the two stories are woven together.
In Andrea Bowers’ video "An Eloquent Woman" (2009),, the lens is focused on a series of passionate love letters written by (the feminist and anarchist revolutionary) Emma Goldman to her lover between the years of 1908 to 1917. The letters had —by an extraordinary instance of chance— been found by Candace Falk, who narrates the video, analyzing her own complicated relationship and desires towards this intimate archive, as she discovers Goldman's own pain and struggles in trying to live out one’s political ideals in one’s personal life.
The two final videos in the exhibition, “Carousel” and “Imperial Panorama”, by Aura Rosenberg and Frances Scholz, examine the private histories embedded in world history. The videos are part of a larger series of forty-two works in which the artists interpret fragments from Walter Benjamin’s seminal writings, Berlin Childhood around 1900, a retrospective look into the origins of modernity through the lens of contemporary Berlin. Adding an additional layer of complexity to the interpretation of the archive, the films feature Chantal Benjamin, the granddaughter of Walter Benjamin, and her daughter Lais.
Image: Installation view (with Michael Mahalchick, Brook Hsu, Sarah Kurten, Sofi Brazzeal, Michel Auder, Nicolas Guagnini, and Dawn Kasper) of The Split, GRIN, Providence, RI, 2017