Memories Are Never Gone

erasing memory

My 9th of 9 solo biennials of interactive installation MEMORY opened last Saturday afternoon to a steady trickle of by my count, of course I count, at least 253 participants. 

And just as with every opening day, not everyone participates, especially spouses along for the ride, and friends who’ve been roped into coming, and people within groups who decide there’s no point in everyone doing this task (“we’ll all just watch you do it”). 

And, this is ok by me. I wouldn’t want them completing my work, touching my work, unless they really want to. Intention only please. 

Anyhoo.

For undoing II, I had stenciled 4,410 letters on a 54-foot pedestal, forty-nine 90-character arrays, each a traumatic memory whose 90 letters had been randomized. 

During my opening hours, participants each began erasing 9 letters of his or her choice. And, if by chance before the end of my exhibit, all letters appeared to’ve been erased, I asked participants to put more efforts into undoing what had been undone.

erasing memory
There were 9 erasers participants could use to erase my memories. Someone accidentally took home or put somewhere else in the space one of the erasers (I hope it was an accident and not something someone did intentionally; I also hope it is returned).

No matter how hard you erase these memories are never gone.

In order to stencil these letters efficiently in the mill, I spent a year building a stencil guide, a 54-foot object covering the top of my structure, with a space for each stencil—in such a way all the letters’ centers would be equally-spaced—and an indication of which random letter went where.

If I had done all this figuring in the mill, I’d be stenciling until the exhibit ended.

erasing memory

Upon stenciling my 4,410 letters, as I removed the stencil guide, it was like removing the last bit of protection of my words.

None of the cones or keep-out tape I’d used to keep volunteers and security guards away from the piece seemed to matter any more. There was nothing more these protective objects could do. So, I took these away too. 

Each letter was vulnerable in space, exposed, as if each character a wind-worn house centered in a huge open overgrown field with no trees to hold it within their shadows.

And, as I looked down at the letters—each a simple graphite, rounded outline—as I walked along their years, I noticed my name. Once, again, then again. 

Amy

Amy

Amy

I started at the beginning of the long-drawn pedestal to see if I could find any other name. And, on this particular scan, I couldn’t find a single one. Not a “BOB” nor a “SAM” nor a “TIM.” Only “AMY,” “AMY,” “AMY.” 

It was as if these traumatic memories could only be mine.

At the opening, people erased my memories as hard as they could, especially my closest friends who wanted to keep erasing, to erase until all was gone. 

I watched the erasing of this 1 of 9 installations, only from a far distance, only for a few seconds at a time.

Approaching its surface occasionally to gather the erasure matter, collecting it with a white-painted crumb sweeper, I never looked up to watch the participants even closest to me, most erasing so rigorously they seemed to rock the pedestal from side to side.

They wanted my memories and their memories undone.

erasing memory