Welcome to the Memory Palace, Pleasure Dome, Toronto | esse arts + opinions

Welcome to the Memory Palace, Pleasure Dome, Toronto

Pleasure Dome
  • Sharlene Bamboat, The Wind Sleeps Standing Up, 2016. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Madeleine Aimée, Enfant Effrayé, 2020. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Hesam Rahmani, Faces Without Visage, 2019. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Jennifer Dysart, Caribou in the Archive, 2019. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Sara Angelucci, Cirkut / Canadettes, 2019. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Andrew Lima, Terra Velha, 2019. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • Anna Spence, SDtoHDuprezMaxV2_009.mp4, 2018. Photo : courtesy of Pleasure Dome, Toronto
  • John Akomfrah, Memory Room 451, 1997. Photo : courtesy of the artist and LUX, London

[En anglais]

Welcome to the Memory Palace
Pleasure Dome, Toronto (and online)
February 17–24, 2021

Memory can refer to the faculty of the mind that stores past thoughts and images, or to the commemoration of someone or some place through the act of recalling. Through a series of short films, Welcome to the Memory Palace, curated by Pleasure Dome’s Clare Samuel, presents the architectures of memory, both personal and institutional, as fallible—at times even suspicious. Using archival footage as their primary material, each film engages a form of memory keeping that asks its viewer to watch slightly askance. From Sharlene Bamboat’s unreliable narration, to Madeleine Aimée’s childhood recollections, the gaze of Hesam Rahmani’s dementia patient father, Andrew Lima’s exploration of geological and ancestral memory, John Akomfrah’s future memories, Anna Spence’s existential AI, Jennifer Dysart’s recuperation of cultural erasure, and Sara Angelucci’s photographic lie, each of the films plays etymologically with the dual meaning of memory. They honour a subject or place while attempting to piece together a recollection of something that can never truly be whole.

While some of the artists in this series enlist national archives in their work, most use a personal archive as a point of departure. Bamboat begins the program by introducing the “cast” of her video, The Wind Sleeps Standing Up (2016) as “Unreliable Narrator, Protagonist, Second Narrator,” suggesting the constant negotiation that happens in recalling the past and filling in the gaps. The archive is often held up against personal recollections as an arbiter of truth, but like human memory, archives are mutable and selective. They contain lapses. The archival impetus is a desire towards completion that will never come. As such, the archive thrives on partialness—and in these holes we infer or project our own realities, perceptions, or fears. In Enfant Effrayé (2020) Aimée visibilizes her nightmares from what appears to be home movies of a joyful childhood. Rahmani uses sepia-toned photographs of his parents in Faces Without Visage (2019) to project the story of an unhappy marriage ending ambiguously through dementia. In other cases, official national archives portray completeness through neatly packaged stereotypes. Dysart breaks this apart in Caribou in the Archive (2019), contrasting footage inherited from her family—a woman named Violet on her first caribou hunt—with clips of a National Film Board documentary on the Cree People. Similarly, Angelucci’s Cirkut / Canadettes (2019) traces the stories of Toronto’s 1950s multicultural dance troupe through a single panoramic image that uses a specialized camera and careful staging to produce a literal levelling of all the women.

Spectres from other times and places also seem to emanate from these gaps. Lima’s Terra Velha (2019) visualizes deep time in the mantle of the Azores, layering the ghosts of his ancestors with the stillness of mountains and the ocean. In Akomfrah’s Memory Room 451 (1997) the archive, the memory, and the dream collapse into each other. Akomfrah enlists the documentary form in his fiction of time travellers passing through real or dreamt water to harvest the memories of “ghosts.” In particular, these commodities are deeply personal accounts of the politics and poetics of Black hair, sent back to the future as pay-per-view entertainment to a bald, perishing world. Equally surreal is Spence’s SDtoHDuprezMaxV2_009.mp4 (2018), which summons AI television host Max Headroom as he appears to be grappling with his obsolescence, glitching in and out of consciousness. There’s a fractured otherworldliness to both of these works, as Akomfrah’s time travellers and Max Headroom seem to return to their purgatories after the brief séance the artists have conjured. Each of these works, in their partialness, subvert the notion of the grand narrative. They do not feign wholeness or objectivity. After all they are only memories. And no memory, however well recorded or expertly archived, is safe from the passage of time.

Published online on March 30, 2021.

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