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Mirrors of Memory

by Petra Kubisova about a year ago in art

Her Voice, which I know so well


This photographic installation uses the image of my mother and sister. The inspiration for the title came from Roland Barthes’ Mourning Diary, 1977, where he mourns his dead mother and approaches the question of ethical forgetting which he metaphorically terms ‘a localized deafness’.

“How strange: her voice, which I knew so well,

and which is said to be the very texture of memory

(‘the dear inflection’),

I no longer hear.

Like a localized deafness…”

This piece fragments the image; it divides it into four layers, each of which is printed on to a life-size transparent sheet (see figures 2.1-2.4 and 2.5). Each sheet is installed as a fragment, hanging from the ceiling and three feet away from those either side of it/before and after. The entire work floats in the space it is installed in, and it allows the viewer to see it as four different fragments and/or as a coherent whole.

The decision to use transparency is not contingent on the space. Transparency is a necessary connection between the physical characteristics of the translucent material and memory. The transparent sheet is a tissue, a material, within which invisible information is caught/carried. We can see everything through the transparency but we hardly see the transparent object. To rephrase – everything around the material becomes part of the transparent object/material as it (dis)appears or merges into the environment. It creates an illusion. The sheet of transparent paper materializes this illusion into a polymorphous shape. For me, this material expresses the physicality of memory. It represents the bridge between the past and present, the blurring of remembering and forgetting. We are looking through the truth without being able to see it.

A very important element in this is light. Light is not only the tool for writing photography, it also reflects from every object and influences the perception of space. Transparency allows light to pass through it, and therefore our perception is manipulated or distorted. There is also information inscribed on these transparencies visible under specific light conditions. This reminds me of Sigmund Freud’s description of the layering of memory in his essay A Note upon the Mystic Writing Pad. According to Freud, our memory has three layers: Consciousness, Pre-consciousness and Un-consciousness. He compares the three layers to a writing pad, which consists of a wax slab and two transparent sheets (one celluloid, the other thin wax paper). The writing is visible on the surface of the celluloid; if one wishes to erase what one has written, however, it is necessary only to raise the double covering sheet from the wax slab and the pad is once again clear of writing. Freud says that the thin wax paper would be destroyed by the stylus so the celluloid layer works as a protective sheath to it. The underlying wax slab retains a ‘permanent trace’ of what was written, even after the contact with the paper has been brought to an end, and it is clearly ‘legible in suitable lights’.

The conscious layer represents the protective layer. The external world is conceived as overwhelming and threatening without this protective shield. The organism would be ‘killed by the stimulation’; consciousness acts as ‘a special envelope or membrane’, allowing the energies to pass into the system of pre-consciousness ‘with only a fragment of their original intensity’. Freud conceived of the un-consciousness as timeless, immutable and unchangeable, not open to influence or revision from outside.

Petra Kubisova
Petra Kubisova
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Petra Kubisova
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