[-empyre-] November 2007 on -empyre- : Memory Errors in theTechnosphere: Art, Accident, Archive

norie neumark norie.neumark at uts.edu.au
Sun Nov 4 12:47:03 EST 2007

Hi Tim and Renate,
You raised the intriguing idea of:

>  the inscription of the cultural importance of memory and archive  
> in the inherent masochism of their fragility when art enters into  
> contact with archive and accident.
I wonder if you could say a bit more?

Meanwhile, I'm not sure if I'm on your wavelength here, but it did  
set me thinking about memory, body, and voice and I’ve been trying to  
think about how memory and voice work together in sound art works.  
The crucial and contested connecting term seems to be body – bodies  
that hold memories and bodies that emit voices. To bring up body in  
relation to voice is always tricky (accusations of essentialism etc)  
and in new media art, digital technologies and techniques have re- 
troubled the ‘authenticity’ and ‘embodiedness’ of the human voice --  
already long since undermined by analogue recording and broadcast  
technology.  Still, it seems to me interesting to explore sound works  
where, even though we don’t see the body of the speaker, in a way the  
voice with its paradoxical traces of materiality and the unconscious  
provokes and evokes ‘memory’ of the body -- which we may or may not  
actually have ever seen.

To be more concrete, this has always struck me in art that works with  
storytelling. Story is not or not just the retelling of the event,  
but it is where the senses speak; it re-sounds with the voice, the  
voice of the experience. As Walter Benjamin remarked: "It is not the  
object of the story to convey a happening per se, which is the  
purpose of information; rather, it embeds it in the life of the  
storyteller in order to pass it on as experience to those listening.  
It thus bears the mark of the storyteller much as the earthen vessel  
bears the marks of the potter’s hand." (Walter Benjamin, Charles  
Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet In The Era Of High Capitalism, transl.,  
Harry Zohn, Verso (London, 1983),113.

I'd like to hold onto this sense of bodily materiality in  
storytelling voice (without implying an aura or authenticity or  
essentialism) when thinking further about memory and the cultural  
imaginary.  It's particularly interesting where the storytelling  
voice of memory is disrupted by mediated memories -- ie, where  
memories of media inscribe themselves into one's own memory and one's  
own story. I'm always struck, for instance, by Janet Cardiff's  
wonderful sound walks , where she tells intensely and intimately  
engaging stories of her memory of a place (through her distnctive  
performance and recording of voice) and then cinematic memories  
suddenly intervene -- in one way constituting her memory and in  
another disrupting it (texturally). This intermixing of her archive  
of embodied memories, of being in a place, and a city's archive,  
including mediated as well as 'historical,' seems to me to be part of  
what makes her work so pleasurable and so endlelssly engaging and  


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