Today I started work on my Dreamcatcher installation which will be installed in Modern Art Oxford in March 2008 as part of the Brookes Exhibition which runs for approximately nine days. Part of the installation comprises hundreds of drawings which I will wallpaper on the walls of a room, and in preparation for a trial version of the piece I created about 100 drawings this morning. And it was whilst making these drawings that I became aware of how, after a while, my hand seemed to be working quite independently of my mind. The lines of the drawing had come to form a pattern of sorts and my hand was simply going through the motions, churning out images not of the gate tower of Auschwitz-Birkenau per se, but rather drawings of drawings of the gate-tower of Auschwitz-Birkenau. My memory had become a pattern and although this did at first disconcert me, in the end I came to see it as something positive, insofar as my work on memory and memorials is concerned.
In his book ‘Present Pasts – Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory,’ Andreas Huyssen asks:
“Is it the fear of forgetting that triggers the desire to remember, or is it perhaps the other way around? Could it be that the surfeit of memory in this media-saturated culture creates such overload that the memory system itself is in constant danger of imploding, thus triggering fear of forgetting?”
I would take this further and suggest that the overload of the memory system does not necessarily trigger a fear of forgetting, but rather it triggers forgetting itself. I was also reminded of Frances A. Yates’ book ‘The Art of Memory’ in which she discusses Socrates’ story of the invention of writing by the God Theuth.
“In the Phaedrus; Socrates tells the story of the God Theuth who invented numbers and arithmetic, geometry and astronomy, draughts and dice, and most importantly of all, letters. The king of all Egypt was the God Thamus who told Theuth that the invention of writing was not, as suggested, an elixir of memory and wisdom, but of reminding; the invention will produce forgetfulness.”
If one equates my line drawings with text, one can see how the re-remembering of the memory of Auschwitz-Birkenau through drawing has resulted (at least whilst making the drawings) in that memory being forgotten. What I’m actually remembering is not my visit, but a memory of that visit. And as such these drawings are somehow equivalent to post-memories; memories we might have of the Holocaust which of course we never experienced.
So what does this mean for the Dreamcatcher work?
The work itself is in part about how we can visit places such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, safe in the knowledge that we can leave; just as we know we’ll always wake from our nightmares. Dreams and nightmares will eventually fade – they will be forgotten; they are unreal, much like our own post-memories of unwitnessed events.
So what is brought into question therefore is how best to remember atrocities such as Auschiwtz, the Holocaust and War in general?