© 2010 Lulin Ding
How close is the body to the memory? When I talk of the body, I refer to the evidence of change. Memory is what remains after an experience, whilst the experience becomes distorted through memory over time. It is something that can decay and be rewritten. What I have tried to do is to find the discrepancy between a memory and the actual events, then use the result as inspiration for my creative expression, which becomes the evidence of my research. My question is: How do we express the discrepancy between past events and our distorted memory of them?
I started my research with the context of hands, memory and error. I focused on how these words are relevant to me, questioning what it is that interested me in particular about these words and what it is that I wanted to explore.
I set up an experiment with a person drawing an image after only seeing it for three seconds, and played with the variables to see if there were any changes to the outcome of the images drawn. Through these experiments, my research question was formed.
How close is the hand or the body to our memory? In these initial experiments the body was still a physical body but was also providing evidence of a distorted memory. What I found was that some people tended to make everything more geometric; their drawings lost some of the curves that existed initially. Some participants even began to add details that did not exist in the original drawing. By thinking of the context rather than what was in the image they were overwriting their memory, distorting the facts.
In the second stage, I sought to broaden my research by further engaging the senses and the idea of tracing the physical memory. Through testing my participant’s senses of touch, smell and taste, I was able to use their experience and link it to their past memories through colour. What I found was that colours that could be a favourite colour are usually associated to personal experience with that colour, but colours such as black, white and green are universal and therefore not individualised. I further explored tracing physical memory by placing a participant in a white room, wearing a white t-shirt while their hands were covered in red paint. While the participant was having a conversation with me, they were being filmed. By the end of 10 minutes her body was semi covered in red paint, tracing her natural gestures where she habitually touched herself.
To give my research a more systematic approach, ground theory was introduced so that I could test the discrepancy between my words ‘past and future’ on one axis and ‘clarity and decay’ in another. The graph plotted all my experiments into its appropriate quarters, but in all experiments revealed a lack of any exploration in the future/clarity and future/decay categories. To achieve this I would need to control the memory in some way - anticipate the outcome without truly knowing what will happen. I have chosen to experiment with the makerbot and laser cutter as outputs. The inputs that I chose were variables that could change as my experiments progressed. What I concluded from these experiments was that memory is always changing for both the human and the machine. It has its moments of clarity, and moments of decay. The only difference is the machine has more control which provides a literal comparison to show the decay in memory while human memory is much more malleable.
In the final stage of my experiments, I chose to express the idea of the changing memory through literally mind mapping my reflections through the day, starting with the broad topic of ‘life’. These reflections are linked through nylon thread to track the progress of my memories with a note underneath each point. During the exhibition of my installation, people can interact with my memory by following the nylon strings which are hung at my head height, hence the title ‘head in the clouds’. This installation changed as I gradually released the pinned memories from the wall to let them hang from the cloud. Eventually all the strings hung in the centre of the corridor creating a transparent wall that divided the passage in two, and was then gathered to the centre of the room and let down to be packed away in a box. This is my physical representation of memory - how it can distort over time through decay, yet retain its personal relevance to us.
My research has been almost entirely interactive. The knowledge that I have gained through these experiments could be applied to behavioral therapy, using my research as guidelines for methods of helping people overcome their learning difficulties and improving their memory. An observation from my initial experiments of testing people’s memory through drawing was that some of my participants had a tendency to draw from context rather than the actual picture. Even though the image was not entirely accurate, they succeeded in remembering a lot of details from the picture by associating them with memories they already had. By using this method, they were able to hang new knowledge from previous memories to improve their overall capacity to memorize. Each of my experiments has in some way revealed different functions and processes of memory, each providing an opportunity for improving one’s memory ability.