Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Art of Memory


The Art of Memory, explored in a famous book of that name by Frances Yates and later studied more systematically by Mary Carruthers and Anselm Haverkamp, intriguingly binds the verbal and the visual as the mind is able to retain huge troves of archival information by picturing them, associating them with a tangible, visual icon. To extend this parallel into movement and into three dimensions seems both challenging and the next logical step, and this is just what Company SoNoGo's Art of Memory , which I saw last Saturday at 3LD  in Tribeca, accomplished. From the lighting by ‘book-lights’ which filtered light through prisms resembling book covers, to the ‘glass musician’ to the left of the performance space who meticulously and hauntingly sounded out clinks and clanks on an intricately wrought glass instrument, to the set full of old books, this performance called up what it is like to remember the past to have a past, to be burdened by a past. There is a sense of the aura, the aroma; the weight, the gripping presence of memory. In an age so full of transitions and transformations, this was heartening; at a time when so much performance wants to allude to historical or political issues but has trouble meaningfully incarnating that desire on stage, the piece’s genuine achievement of a sense of the archival in a live performance is worth noting. Yet the Art of Memory does not idealize memory; the piece understands Walter Benjamin’s aphorism that every act of civilization is also an act of barbarism, and that memory, with all its nostalgic, redemptive allure, can thus be a double-edged sword. One of the four performers declares in the middle of the 50-minute piece that her shoes were taken by a malevolent princess; this both elicits the trauma of memory—that we can remember bad things, painful things—and also implies that memory, in its privileging of certain objects and associations over others, can be hierarchical, can led to subordination. Neither this nor any other conclusion is so definite; the piece allows room for the viewer to fill in their own dreams or nightmares, making the space around us also include personal and collective pasts. The Art of Memory is running for a few more days—go see it. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post, Nicholas.