In this section we will look at how our memories are transformed through speech and how they affect the process of remembering and forgetting. As an example I will use a very unique case, the work of Lindsay Seers, whose memory went through a very unusual process.
Once a child starts using its first words that is the moment when first memories start to be inscribed in the mind. And that is where forgetting starts its role too.
Lindsay Seers, grew up in Mauritius, and did not speak until the age of eight. Maybe as a consolation she was blessed with an eidetic memory, which is defined as having a photographic memory with the ability to recall past images, sounds, or objects in memory with extreme accuracy and in abundant volume. Seers had a memory so vivid that things were recalled through texture, taste, colour, and sensation but not through named objects, that is, not through language or as representations. A traumatic moment came when a friend of the family took a photograph of the then young Seers. When she saw the developed image, she spat out: “Is that me?”
After gaining voice/speech, she stopped having an eidetic memory. Her mind all of a sudden wasn’t chased by thousands of images. Her memory was transformed into speech and her body and mind let her forget, by naming things rather than having them inside her mind. Through shock she was urged to employ the spoken word. Where does the memory for language come from? Did she learn it through seeing signs, books, TV, other people talking? Was the text part of her eidetic memory by remembering it as images? How was the voice translated from pictures into sound?
What memories did she have afterwards? What would she be like if she never spoke and still had her eidetic memory? Do we remember through words or do we forget through words? To overcome this traumatic experience, she turns herself into a camera.
In Human Camera, Seers uses her mouth as an apparatus, to transform the visual images from her mind (those she used to experience) into the oral form of the language. She eats light and lets the mind and body meet metaphorically, through the positive image (see figures 7 and 8).
“As far as memory is concerned, Seers’ turn from ingestion to projection, and from intromission to ‘extramission’ suggests that images don’t simply record memories, like photosensitive paper, but are the creation of a dynamic time or duration in which past, present and future are not on a line from a ‘before’ through a punctual ‘now’ to an ‘afterwards’, but rather coexist. Seers installations are spaces where past, present and projection into the future interpenetrate.”
And then she turns herself into a projector (see figure 9).
Seers states that the projection takes the images in front of us into the future.
In this section I would like elaborate on the connection between projection and photography and memory.
All photographs are images transferred on to a surface and that is how they come into their physical existence. They become an object. The same occurs in the case of projection with one main difference: for the projection to exist it needs to hit a surface and if there is nothing in front of it, then it travels through the air and disperses into space. A projection has the nature of light. It has duration and presence.
In the case of Seers’ piece I saw the light, the images are coming out of her head-cum-projector and travelling through the light as the medium. They expose any surface in front of them. Seers offers us the transformation of her inner images into the outside world in the exact moment of her body and mind being co-present. She makes the existence of her memories/images present.
I remember the Sunday lunches at grandmas when we were still a full family. The memory of that moment is very different from the photograph I have of it. And I wanted to express this feeling of how photographs don’t necessarily correspond with our memories. How can a photograph ‘meet’ our memory?
I took this image and projected it onto a barn (see figure 10).
I projected it onto the façade of the building, onto the outside, onto a skin that would otherwise serve as a PROTECTION for the human family within.
All of a sudden the image tells us a new story. I place my existing experience of memory into this fragmented space, where part of the image travels inside the barn through the rough door. An abundance of textures and new experiences that are so real and so unfamiliar. The image strikes everything in its way: touching the brick walls, crawling across the dusty floor. The image finds its own way to exist. The light of the image is writing a new story - a new experience of my own family. The texture of the memory is expressed through the texture of the barn’s skin meeting the human one within the photograph.
French poet Ed Anon’s response to this piece:
“One framed family hanging out of the wall of the shed, outside the wall
one smiling family in the night the black sky and the sitting family
we must come in the shed to find the little one smiling like the others but
elsewhere, inside to come inside the shed to see more, be finally able to
the, the end of the family pressed on to the missing picture.”
To further investigate the texture of the memory, I take the same family image inside the gallery. I project it on to wooden bars of random sizes leaning against the wall and install them so that the projected image becomes fragmented. The picture doesn’t just hit the wooden surface, it connects with the texture of the wood and goes beyond. It gains materiality, it gains a new existence, new surfaces and new experience (see figures 11 and 12).
There seems to be such a strong desire for me to bring my family history into the present, for me to relive it in some way and for others to relive it with me. This echoes Hanak’s film and the way he demonstrated the continuing presence of the past with his film.