Memory layers

Mika Karhu 2009

An integral part of the western Weltanschauung has been the elimination of history in favour of the superiority of the eternal. The idea is transmitted to the distinction between the practice and the spiritual world. The distinction between invariable truths and practice is a characteristic feature of the Western culture. This distinction has been visible in the canon of modern art, which has included a binding of the form and substance of art to “spiritual” dimensions. These dimensions have been regarded as opposite to the world of everyday experience. Respectively, the modern world has created an institutional structure for understanding and evaluating art as an independent realm with its own laws, its content being merged into the metaphysical tradition.

This tradition emphasizes the certainty, achieved through reflection, about the relation of invariable or “spiritual” principles to the practice, everyday world of experience and the society in general. Art has been considered to represent the realm of higher spiritual dimensions, connected to the intangible, immaterial world. This is the world of stability and invariable structures.

Abstract art was an attempt to eradicate man’s perceptual world, the mimetic experience as the basis of art. Paradoxically, it forgot the presence of body. Everything that is perceived and experienced is experience of the body, no matter how abstractly constructed.

The idea of the possibility of pure memory, the objective reality where images stored in memory are reproduced exactly as they were perceived in the first place, is connected with the concept of the relationship of reality and reflection to the world and of their absolute correspondence. Art was formed in the Modern into purely intrinsic, inherent activity of the mind only. In the pursuit of purity one seeks for peace, a state with no risks and no fear brought about by action. Action always leads towards uncertainty and a threatening danger that cannot be anticipated. Consequently, pure reflection and art evolved into an action symbolizing certainty and security.

Memory is a social experience

The layers of memory, memory imprints are the social experience material of art. The experiences always originate in social activity, in relation with the environment. Art is made by humans, and consequently art is the product of the social world of experience of humans.

Memory layers are habits and practices related to action. Emotional ways of action indicate the presence of complex cultural aggregates in our daily life. Reactions of the body in our ordinary social connections indicate, if we have the courage to meet them and listen to them, the presence of past acts of experience in the flow of everyday experiences. Thinking in social action is the collective memory – only the ways of action and memories significant to the group remain.

Social meanings are products of communal activity. Due to the abstract nature of social relations the understanding of experiences requires envisioning of complex social networks. There is the experience as long as the human evolution present in the social world. It is impossible to point at or touch the social relations, although they are real and have influence on our everyday life.

The artist works by processing the meanings of social experience. When elaborating his works the artist experiences the work moment by moment, solves problems and compares his own experience to the rhythm of the generation of the work. In other words, the artist is the first one to experience the work, and the counterpart produced by that experience, resonation between the work and the experience expresses the tension between the origination mechanism and the completion of the work. The indicator of this event is the artist’s own experiential basis, his life’s knowledge, which does not narrow down to words or a conscious event in the moment of the completion of the work, but it is experienced. The experiential background creates a new experience.

Art is a network of social experiences, a tool of memory and recollection. The bodily experience, in relation to art, must be understood as a multidimensional life experience. The experiences become a conscious and perceived thing only when it is combined with meanings attached and derived from earlier experiences. The basis of interaction contains the idea that meanings are formed only when, through imagination, meanings are combined as a conscious association of old and new. Thus the past experience becomes human and conscious, when immediate, here and now, meanings and values are derived from what is actually absent and present only in imagination. One of the most central ideas of the Memory traces exhibition has been the envisioning of this neural network of social recollection. The participating artists have explored in their production the memory of experience, the issues of recollection.