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Memory and digital culture
Imagining the past

The current willingness to recover old traditions is demonstrated by the way in which the Art of Memory is applied to digital culture. In mixed media installations that explore the relationship between science and art, content may be correlated with schematic spatial representations, through the use of structured mental models.

By Leno Veras

The current willingness to recover old traditions is demonstrated by the way in which the Art of Memory is applied to digital culture. In mixed media installations that explore the relationship between science and art, content may be correlated with schematic spatial representations, through the use of structured mental models.

The Greek devices for the practice of rhetoric - outlined by Aristotle in his treatise De Memoria et Reminiscientia - can be considered precursors of archival logic, so that the western mnemonic tradition has an ancestry analogous to the storage spatialization that is posited today as an alternative to oblivion.

The system that makes it possible to read digital memory relies upon the practices of conservation of the past (mnéme) and activation of this past (anámnesis) as devices capable of making stored data discoverable.

When combinatorial logic presents itself as Ariadne's thread in the middle of the system of symbols, place (subjectum) and image (adjectum) merge in a memory that begins to be seen as the essence of the world, within which remembering becomes synonymous with knowing. This is like the visual mapping of the labyrinthine galleries of Paris, mapped by Walter Benjamin, revealing an individual memorial scheme, alien to the traditional urban mapping.

In this coincidence between locus and imago, memorial knowledge is constituted that interprets the world as a reflex-system, for which a form-knowledge is developed, a bridge between mnemotechnical evolution and the expansion of mass memories, mirroring the configuration of the world under a structure of codes which is not metaphorical, but metonymic.

Taking the first occurrences of artifact collecting in post-feudal Europe turned into collections typologically associated with historical museums as an example, we can observe that the act of preserving symbolic collections extends back to antiquity, with evidence of collectors of objects since the pre-written era. Archaeology places itself, in this spectrum, as reading and writing history.

The idea of ​​creating a general archive belongs to modernity, suggesting an infinite accumulation of time in a place where nothing would change: the museum, as well as the archive and the library, are heterotopias, a concept linked to the accumulation of time (Foucault, 2006).

Remembering the future

In this scenario of negotiation between memories and imagination, the operation of superimposing different ways of apprehending time, such as ‘past time’ and ‘future time’, through the mechanism of linear articulation of temporalities, presents itself as an elaborate discursive strategy that tensions the historiographic discourse.

When thinking about mnemonic systems - specifically museums, archives and libraries - and the evolving ways of experiencing them due to the digital transformation that intensified from the middle of the last century, we realise the need to analyse the interrelationship between the emergence of information and communication technologies, which irreversibly altered the notions of time and space, and the configuration of new ways of practising social memory.

The fraying of the geographical limits of access to symbolic goods constitutes, therefore, an expansion of the possibilities of the collections, which operate beyond the spaces in which they are preserved and, also, the temporalities they bear. Thus, it is configured an expanded presence that crosses, through an axial understanding of history, regimes and regiments, which is, at the same time, a challenge and power for the field, built around continence as a method of safeguarding.

Considering the cuts that usually apply to the historiographic organisation of collections, such as ordering established by chronologies, territorialities or cultural matrices, as well as divisions based on techniques, styles or schools, we propose to expand the understanding of archival platforms as aesthetic-political networks which are able to provide viewers an experiment through the establishment of a space-time in which authorship acts as a force that promotes interrelationships, composing different ways of giving meaning to objects, and, therefore, ourselves, as subjects; showing the intrinsic power of the story told against the grain.

The geographical expansion of access to symbolic goods represents an expansion of the possibilities of the collections, which become accessible beyond the spaces in which they are preserved we well as the times they represent - the museum as ‘machines that inscribe time in space’, mechanisms that encapsulate time, using its analytical categories to segment it and its technical possibilities to represent it, as conceived by Crang (1994).

Thinking the contemporary

When thinking about memory devices - specifically museums, archives and libraries - and the new ways of experiencing them brought about by processes of digitalisation of culture that intensified from the middle of the last century, we realise the need to analyse the interrelationship between the emergence of digitalisation technologies and the configuration of new ways of practising social memory.

In the light of what Kosselleck proposes as a methodology for understanding history, a stratigraphy of time, our focus should be on the reconstruction of past time through the digital channels available today, generating virtual presences never before imagined and temporary interventions that give new meanings to material heritage through its immateriality.

In today’s search for the infinite availability of the past, we observe a metamorphosis in the memorial paradigm from the expansion of the possibility of interaction with the world’s historical and artistic heritage through technical devices and digital reproduction: ‘In the current electronic present, there is nothing “from the past” that we have to leave behind, nor anything “from the future” that cannot be made present by simulated anticipation’ (Gumbrecht, 2015).

Bibliography

CRANG, Mike. “Spacing times, telling times and narrating the past. Time & Society”, p. 29-45. London: SAGE Journals, 1994.

FOUCAULT, Michel. “Des espaces autres” in Dits et écrits, vol IV. Paris: Gallimard, 1994.

GUMBRECHT, Hans Ulrich. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2003.

KOSELLECK, Reinhardt. Futures Past - On the Semantics of Historical Time. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

YATES, Frances. The Art of Memory. New York: Random House, 2011.

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