RA Forum: Future Memory
Memory acts to mediate. All our experiences are continually refracted through the prism of memory. Yet memory itself is mutable: it can be moulded, augmented, conditioned, repressed or lost; it is constantly in flux. We understand the notion of memory dialectically. It oscillates between polarities: the long and the short-term, the individual and the collective, the fixed and the contested. Therefore how can we take account of memory, which is in its very nature ephemeral and transient, when dealing with works of art and architecture that operate in the physical realm?
Lying between art and architecture, monuments pose an interesting case in this phenomenon, acting as lightning rods for memory, conducting and inscribing in space memories of an event, person or idea for posterity. Yet in usually focusing on one strand of memory, they can inevitably propagate a selective memory. In the first RA Forum event, we examine the function and political implications of monuments, conceived both as object-based strategies and spatial practices of procession and ritual. We consider how tactical replications or new stagings, like Rod Dickinson’s re-working of presidential-style press briefings, pose new perspectives on the political role of monuments and remembering.
The second event examines the concern for preservation through the eyes of Rem Koolhaas’ OMA, whose installation Cronocaos at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale examined preservation and destruction in the context of the increasingly ideological imperatives behind them. Like the enthusiasm for monuments, preservation reveals a remarkable confidence in the power of physical objects to embody or act as a trigger for memory.
The motives driving what, how and why we preserve are noticeably fluid and often little understood. OMA’s installation showed how vast swathes of the world deemed ‘historic’ or ‘significant’ are being preserved, while other components of the built environment, especially post-war public architecture, have been vilified and are thus increasingly destroyed. They argue, ‘The current moment has almost no idea how to negotiate the co-existence of radical change and radical stasis that is our future.’
While the urge to preserve stems from anxieties about forgetting, it can be questioned whether through preserving our physical environment we actually negate the need for memory. Could it actually be through the destruction of our physical reality that we remember? How do we in the present, construct memory for the future?
Owen Hopkins (lead curator of the RA Forum: Future Memory series in London)