memory + mapmaking

I was quite interested in this week’s discussion on the relationship between personal and collective memory, and the role art plays in contesting both because of the dialogic way memory works. Machida emphasizes the way in which memory is not “stored” but rather constituted through sociability, “Remembering, therefore, is necessarily dialogic, as it involves a continual intersubjective striving on the part of each individual to accommodate the tensions between the inner province of emotion and the external world of social relations in which memory and history are embedded.” By connecting memory with “a continual intersubjective striving,” the boundaries between personal and collective become blurred as the very notion of an “I” that remembers is undermined by pointing out how that “I” would not even “remember” if it were not for the Other. In other words, memory becomes a public space where the coming together of different narratives contests each other for the shaping of what gets recognized as “public memory.”  It is in the process of contestation that art comes into play.  The author points out that the contemporary need “to make the dreadful social consequences of the injuries inflicted by one group upon another subject a subject of art can be understood as… providing the individual with the social means to re-externalize their extreme experience.” Art provides the space where the narrative can become memory, where a selective national memory can become contested through the externalization and presentation of that which is suppressed.

I thus got really interested when the following chapter discussed Zarina’s artwork and her use of maps. The chapter frames the work of Zarina and others as stressing the “cultural and physical plasticity that are primary engines of change.” That plasticity is what allows the molding of collective memory. If geography and maps are a representation of a specific iteration of collective memory, Zarina’s work is one that contests it. She opens up the intersubjective constitution of memory through an imposition of her own meaning onto the categories the map upholds without questioning.

I think the reading is crucial in helping me think about my approach and implications of using maps to tell art history, especially in relation to artists who might not quite “fit” in the art world and their societies. In creating our maps, we are also engaging in processes of memory constitution, and I wonder how exactly we should approach that. What does it mean to contest memory with these artists that we have chosen? How do we avoid recreating the historical erasures embedded in the map? How can we undo from within the geography of these historical categories? How can we bring attention to the plasticity of physical and cultural spaces while turning it into a visual discourse?

Such questions make me gravitate towards the idea of psycho-geography and the work of the Situationists and Guy Debord that we briefly mentioned last class. My problem with situationism is a championing of the individual that overlooks the inter-subjective constitution of time and space that was mentioned by Machida. For example, in the map below called Naked City, the objective was to encourage pedestrians to sway from their trajectory, to use the map in order to become more aware of overlooked urban surroundings and see new possibilities of experiencing everyday life. The map is a plan of Paris cut up and divided into 19 sections that are randomly placed back together. The users of the map choose their own route through the city by using a series of arrows that link parts of the city together. How can play with form be a way through which to create new possibilities of experiencing space and time through the unique memories the artist we chose are highlighting? How can we adapt the approach to cartography in a way that is more community-oriented? How can we make the contestation move from individual to collective terms in a way that the “community” is allowed to exist in heterogeneity?