Culture: Visual Arts

Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace

memory palace

“Memories, may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget,” crooned Gladys Knight in her song The Way We Were/Try to Remember.

How right she is, as memory is but a fleeting thing. In fact, scientists believe that you can hold around seven items in short-term memory for about 30 seconds.

This is what makes the Memory Palace exhibition at the V&A so fascinating. Basically, memory is what you make it, and if you ever ask any of your siblings about your childhood, they will no doubt come back with a memory totally different from yours.

The way Memory Palace deals with the subject of memory is to bring an original work of fiction, by Hari Kunzru, to life. A team of 20 graphic designers, typographers and illustrators were commissioned to interpret a different passage of Kunzru’s text and they’ve spun tales of fantastical illusion.

Kunzru’s book is a tale of a dystopian vision of the future, set in London several hundred years after the global information infrastructure has been wiped out by a huge magnetic storm.

The exhibition is well laid-out, and each of the artists have very different styles – from multi-coloured, Mexican-inspired installations – to stark, nightmarish depictions of Kafkaesque dystopia.

One of the most eye-catching is the museum item by Henning Wagenbreth. His installation brings to life a prisoner’s definition of a museum. It’s made up of painted wooden blocks to create a tower featuring words and images.

Wagenbreth uses a variety of techniques such as linocut, vector drawings, pen and ink, geometric shapes and distorted perspectives to make his images abstract yet imparts a message about culture and how we use language, making puns and plays on words such as describing the museums as being filled “with treasures kept for musing on or amusement”.

The show opens up your imagination, and I found myself thinking about the past and how I’ve either embellished it or chosen to completely ignore it.

Lest we forget, the last section of the show invites us to record our memories. Memory Bank – part of the Memory Palace exhibition – will allow visitors to record their favourite memory, either drawn or written.

Each week, graphic designer Johnny Kelly will turn the latest collection of memories into a poster, and this will be uploaded on to a Memory Bank website.

I wrote down my happiest memory and anxiously awaited an email that told me my recollection was now added to the thousands of others. A lovely way of using technology to access our emotions.

Memory Palace at the V&A is on until 20 October 2013.

Words: Fiona Keating


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