Drawing Memory (Part 1)

memory drawings in my studio
29 of 99 memory drawings in my studio

To support my 9th and final solo biennial of interactive installation, MEMORY (2016), I wrote down 99 memories in my life from earliest to most recent, with the intention of drawing them.

I set out to write and draw 50 benign memories (not-that-bad to good), and 49 bad memories. All of the memories pictured in this post are “benign.”

Before I did this exercise, only my bad (traumatic) memories and my “best” memories (for example, my first date with Bill, our wedding day) had prominence in my mind. My traumatic experiences no longer overwhelm me, but they make as much of an impression in my mind as my most wonderful memories, still sitting behind my eyelids as if on a rolodex, always there to pull from.

By pulling benign memories forward in my mind, adding them to the wonderful memories I have, and drawing them, I am adding them to my rolodex, giving them just as much prominence as the bad memories already there.

Why not try to write and draw 99 benign memories? Why write any bad memories at all? Because these bad memories are part of me. Therefore, I feel they should be part of this work.

When I sat to write my 99 memories, I wrote my 49 bad memories first to get them out of the way, to make space for the good memories to come forward. I wrote down my earliest bad memory, and worked my way forward in time until I had 49.

The only way I could bring to the front 50 benign memories, was to imagine myself in various places and spaces I’ve lived and been in since birth. Once I pictured myself outside and inside these past rooms, I started to remember various things that happened.

It took a morning to write my bad memories and 2 months to write the not-that-bad-to-good memories I came to.

drawing of table

Finding these benign memories was much like an excavation, digging first into a time, then into a place, then into a room, then deeper still, concentrating on specific objects, furniture, wallpaper…

If I was having trouble with the dig, I spent time preparing for drawing the memories I had so far. For each memory, I determined a sans-punctuation, 90-character array, switching out words, rephrasing, so the text would still comprise a complete sentence or sentences.

memory

I was going to print, rather than draw, each determined array using a letterpress, 1 print per memory, all 90 letters imprinted on the paper simultaneously. When this didn’t work out, I began to complete these memory works by hand using the individual letterpress characters, each memory’s 90 letters imprinted one at a time.

Each impression with an inked letter becomes a mark, 90 marks (letters) per memory. I press each letter with my finger and thumb, one after the other, into ink then onto the paper.

letterpress characters
My letterpress characters are resting on a separate piece of paper so I can grab them as needed.

To make more of an “impression,” and to fill in places where I don’t make full contact with the ink, I trace over the ink once it dries with graphite. I like that these works are now more like drawings, rather than the prints they would have been, had I used a letterpress as planned.

The act of editing each benign memory, then marking it on the paper, one letter at a time, has been pressing the memory more firmly into the forefront of my brain, stamping it to its spot in my rolodex.

(I have also been drawing objects and shapes from these memories and others, from earliest to most recent.)

bed drawing

fever

My intention with my bad memories, once I determined their 90 characters, was to randomize the letters before I drew them. I would literally scramble the 90 letters making up the array before committing them to ink. I didn’t feel comfortable presenting my traumatic memories in a way people could plainly read; and, I wanted to protect my audience.

However, as I edited each bad memory into the arrays, each becoming more focused upon my rolodex as I concentrated on it, I realized I didn’t want to impress them into paper, at all.

Even though these bad memory’s letters would be random, making them impossible to read (unless one took time to unscramble), I didn’t want people purchasing these 49 bad memories and taking them into their homes. I wanted to do something more akin to letting the bad memories go, or something that could begin to remove them from behind my eyes, or something that would even undo them.

And as I thought these words, I knew what I would do, and then have people undo.

Some of you participated with an installation entitled undoing at my 6th solo biennial (TIME, 2010). I crocheted an hour every day for a year, in the end generating a form 9-feet-wide-by-72-feet-long, with 86,617 feet of yarn. Participants “undid” the installation by pulling yarn from the form (un-crocheting), and placing their undone yarn in a large plexi-glas box. Once the yarn was undone, the installation would be complete.

SPOILER ALERT: Skip the paragraph below if you don’t want to know any of MEMORY’s installations before the biennial.

Rather than draw my 49 bad memories on paper, I will draw these memories side-by-side on a long white pedestal, each memory’s 90 characters still randomized as planned. Instead of stamping, I will stencil all 4,410 letters, a 9-by-490-character array. Each participant will erase 9 letters of his or her choice. Once all the letters are erased–my memories undone–the installation will be complete.

barn

barn

7 Comments

  1. i am breathless again Amy
    so profoundly excited with the process
    (of this life’s chapter)
    and the form of the expression of the process
    (stunning…really stunning drawings/letters)
    wow
    xoxoxoxoxox kris….smiling ear to ear for you!

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