A Proposal For The 2019 Los Angeles Art Association Exchange Exhibition With Italy
The timeline of the arts from the past to the future that I envision for this exhibition is non-linear. Events in the past, present, and future are interchangeable. Modernity makes possible a new form of memory, which we shall call prosthetic memory, and emerges at the interface between a person and their narrative about the past. In days gone by, we held to the belief that an understanding of art and history is based on our direct experience with it. That is to say; a direct experience was considered an "authentic" experience. However, in the early 20th Century with the emergence of film, this moment of contact occurs where the viewer "stitches" themselves into a broader history. The resulting memory can shape that person's subjectivity, politics, and self.
The first time I employed this concept was in a series of artworks completed in the early 1990s and titled Wrecks, Accidents, & Collisions, which were postcards announcing upcoming exhibits that only existed as postcards. In the first example, Mary Boone Gallery (See Fig. 01), I used an image from an ad in Artforum Magazine. I digitized, erased, then inserted my work into the gallery essentially appropriating the space and demonstrating that the establishment, value, and validation of a work of art depends not only on context but more importantly, a pedigreed provenance. In the second example, I appropriated the iconic image of The Armory Exhibition (1913) (See Fig. 02), which predates the exhibition where Duchamp was to introduce the notion of the "readymade" with his urinal titled R Mutt. In this artwork, I inserted the same pieces from the previous example/show, thus creating my own altered (i.e., prosthetic) memory of that historical event and blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction.
Fast forward to the year 2016, where the internet and social media have been the dominant sources of our information and experience. We are continuously inundated with information, and it becomes increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction. But even before the internet, memory has been a tricky thing. Once a moment has passed, we begin the process of "remembering." Remembering is an ongoing activity. We are constantly remembering and re-remembering (i.e., reconstructing) past events. That remembering also applies to how we perceive our "self."
In my unique plastic figurines (See Fig. 03, 03a, 03b, 03c), there is no one "selfie" that can be identified as me. That which we call the self is a mental construct all of us create that tends to be all-encompassing. It comes from not only our immediate notion of what we perceive as our self, both physical and mental but also abstractions of everything we experience, which include both what I think of as myself and what I think of as other. In these figurines, I stitch memories. I construct relationships between myself and history, foreign cultures, popular culture, and my past, resulting in a series of prosthetic memories that begin to "define" me and my relationship to the world. In each memory, I bring the past to the present, the present to the past, and project what the future might be.
In the image Stitching Prosthetic Memories (Fig. 04), I use a Zuni Frog Pot as the conduit to connect to my grandmother. She immigrated to the United States from Ireland as a young girl to Gallup, New Mexico. When I was a child, she told me stories about her experiences on the Navajo and Zuni reservations in the early 1900s. I remember these stories most when I think of her. This beautifully crafted Zuni pot, which I still possess, is a connection to my grandmother, but it also serves as a memory to a Native American culture with which I have no direct experience. Construction of memories like these is something that is ongoing and undergoes constant change throughout our life. We believe that it designates something that is real and exists, but there is nothing that exists that corresponds to our notion of self; it is only an idea.
In Alison Landsberg's book Prosthetic Memory, she emphasizes that Memories are central to identity and our understanding of history. "In the movie Bladerunner, the characters understand themselves through a variety of alienated experiences and memories that they accept as their own and subsequently make their own through use… In a particularly powerful scene, Rachel sits down at the piano in Deckard's apartment, lets her hair down, and begins to play. Deckard joins her at the piano. "I remember lessons," she says. "I don't know if it's me or Tyrell's niece." …Deckard says, "You play beautifully." At this point, Deckard, in effect rejects the distinction between "real" and prosthetic memories. Rachel's memory of lessons allows her to play beautifully, so it matters little whether or not she lived through the lessons."1
Like Deckard, I no longer choose to differentiate between real and prosthetic memories. What matters most is what I do with these memories, so I make the artworks Wrecks, Accidents, & Collisions, the figurines in Ubuntu, and Stitching Prosthetic Memories. My artwork is non-linear, forever changing, and a work in progress.
1. Landsberg, p. 40-41.
Landsberg, Alison. Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.
Figure 01 - Wrecks, Accidents, & Collisions (Mary Boone Gallery)
Figure 02 - Wrecks, Accidents, & Collisions (Armory Exhibition 1913)
Figure 03 - Prosthetic Self
Figure 03a - Prosthetic Self (Detail / Duchamp's Urinal)
Figure 03b - Prosthetic Self (Detail / Greek Torso)
Figure 03c - Prosthetic Self (Detail / Sphinx)
Figure 04 - Stitching Prosthetic Memories (Zuni, Grandma, & Me)
A Note About Prosthetic Memories:
As far as I know, the first person to coin the term was Alison Landsberg in her book Prosthetic Memory: The Transformation of American Remembrance in the Age of Mass Culture, 2004. In the past, a prosthetic memory was considered like a prosthetic arm, artificial. It's a memory that could be acquired by an oral tradition of stories, but I would expand that to anything with which we don’t have direct experience, like the memories we acquire by looking at photographs of ourselves as infants. The experience was real but mitigated by time and the photograph itself.
However, with the development of technology, that notion of artificiality has been transmuted. The experiences we acquire in the age of mass culture are technically artificial, but it doesn’t matter anymore whether or not our experiences are real, like Rachel’s memories of where she learned to play the piano in Bladerunner. What matters is that she plays “beautifully,” and thus, continues to develop additional memories from her actual playing. Through these media: television, film, and the internet, etc. we gain access to memories of events through which we didn’t live but will take on as our own.