This essaywill investigate and consider the ways in which memory and dreams have beenprogressively explored across the eras in a multitude of forms. The ways inwhich artists express both distant and present memories within their works, andthe ways in which it can be expressed are variant and interminable and istherefore a topic in which I would like to deeply explore.
The way in which weexpress our emotions is limited and repetitious however art is a universallyrecognised method of expression within the sensual world we live in and canhave numerous interpretations. Antonymy and the human brain has been the focusof scientific curiosity since ancient Egypt, however dissections of the braindidn’t become regular until the renaissance period, a time in which majordiscoveries involving the brain were made. Artists such as Leonardo Da Vincibecame increasingly more interested in the functions of the brain andkickstarted the exploration of this theme in the art world and even performeddissections himself in the early fifteenth century. Artists, to this day, findthe theme of the brain, memory and nostalgia an intricate topic in which isstimulating to study.
Recalling the past is an ever-present occurrence in mostof our lives, and the way our memories can become distorted over time as we areoverloaded with new information is an area in which I find fascinating. Ourexperiences through life are constantly readjusting the way in which we see theworld, and does this therefore impact upon the way we recall old memories? Tofurther explore this topic, I will also be considering the enigma of dreams andour ability to regurgitate details from them upon awakening. I will also considerthe philosophy of dreams, considering philosophers such as Sigmund Freud and artistssuch as Jane Gifford.Do Ho Suh,a Korean artist considered his memory of two significant staircases in his instillationin the Tate Modern, titled; Staircase-III. (1) The instillation is a visualrepresentation of the staircase from his parents’ house in Seoul, Korea,combined with the staircase that connects his own apartment to his landlords inNew York. Do Ho Suh’s installations often feature transitional spaces,including bridges, doorways and archways, made from Nylon stretched over wireframes to create intense, almost ethereal sculptures, that take up entirerooms.
He finds these transitional spaces interesting due to how they bothconnect and separate two spaces. This connects with his childhood growing up inKorea and the sudden change of moving to New York, where he felt a strong senseof cultural displacement. He views his life as a peripatetic journey, and hisuse of categorized spaces in his works represents his different stages in life.Memory ina Global Age (discourses, Practices and trajectories) by Aleida Assmann, andSebastian Conrad touches upon the cultural displacement Ho Suh feels here. Itclaims we all possess our own individual identities based on our upbringing ofbelief systems, political systems and families, and there for the communitiveand cultural memories we uphold are equally diverse.
(2) Assmann and Conrad claimmemory is an open system but despite this, there are always fragments ofmemories that relate too identity on an individual, generational and culturallevel. Therefore, Globalization and memory work opposing to one another, wherememory brings a sense of identity and individuality, separating us from oneanother, globalisation works to blur all the lines together. Do Ho Suh Submergedhimself in an entirely new culture and had to work under the pressure that hiswork could not have been as well received in England, when he exhibited in the Tate,as it was in Korea or New York, where he was familiar with his surroundings andbelief systems. Regardless of this, Staircase-III seemed to be a success, andhis feelings of cultural displacement appear absent in this piece.Staircase-IIIfolds down from the ceiling, hanging upside down, with the skylights above thepiece shining through the red translucent material to make it appear, to me,like a hologram being projected into the space. Its inverted nature makes mefeel uneasy in the sense that it’s an unusual way to portray a mundane object,however I feel he purposefully done this for effect.
Due to the skylights, theatmosphere of the piece will change throughout the day, with daytime it being abright, inviting piece, and by dusk it perhaps shifting to more haunting anddistant. The bold red colour of his entire piece is an interesting selection tome as it often relates to emotions such as anger and deceit. Perhaps Ho Suh’schoice of red relates more to memories of love, and a positive relationshipwith his parents.
The choice of nylon enables Ho Suh to physically transportthe instillation in the same way you can transport intangible thoughts andmemories throughout your life. The title of the piece; Staircase-III couldperhaps be due to it being the combination of the two staircases that were mostsignificant within his memories. An artistwho also actively relives her memories within her artworks is Jane Gifford,however her works are not of genuine happenings, but of dreams. Jane Giffordhas filled gallery spaces with her dreams including her recent exhibitiontitled: Dream Diary, which she describes as; “A complete visual record of mydreams over a year, including every person, object and place; in fragments,close ups or long shots; drawn in Black and White except for images rememberedin colour; and shown in consecutive order.” (3) This concept immediatelysparked my interest due to her ability to recall every dream she has had.
Thelack of detail in her pieces is honest, as she’s being true to her memory, andnot falsely visualising something that was not there. The choice to paint herpieces, over sketching or drawing, seems to me, the natural choice. Whenpainting freehand, you are less likely to insert misinformed details. Her Piecetitled; Sex – a black and white painting of what appears to be two peopleengaging in intercourse was perhaps the most prominent to myself. The woman, isthe only subject matter painted in colour within this piece, as if all thefocus lies solely on her, making the scene engaging and intense. Her paintingsare mostly monochrome, however can sometimes feature a singular woman paintedin colour, which I assume could be representing herself.
Jane Gifford’s spin onthe ability of the human brain to recall memories which she didn’t experiencein the physical world is interesting. Can dreams interfere with our memories?How often do you question if your memory of a certain event happened, or if wassomething fabricated within your dreams? Gifford often questions the “creativerichness and unpredictability of dreams, those which are mundane as well asthose more personally significant.” (4)Sigmund Freudwas an Austrian neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, who was alsofascinated in the assembly of dreams. In Prehistoric times, people oftenbelieved dreams had connotations to higher beings, that our dreams somehowshowed revelations from God’s and daemons and were furthermore, a tell-tale ofwhat the future had to hold. (5) I question whether Jane Gifford’s Painting –Sex, is an indication of the past, or perhaps her longing for a future event.
Dreams often take unexpected turns due to our lack of control over them, buthow influenced are our dreams by daily occurrences and thoughts in our lives? Freud quotes Burdach, a physiologist in hisbook, in which Burdach claims our dreams do not confine us to the common dailylabours of life, but instead, free us from it. He believes no matter our mentalcapacity to digest information, or how vigorous our emotions, dreams will do nomore than enter our pre-existing mood and represent reality in symbolsthroughout our dreams. If we can then remember and process these symbols,perhaps we can then gain a deeper understanding of our thoughts and emotions.In some ways I feel Gifford is perhaps attempting to achieve this with herproject. She has documented her dreams since she started to become anestablished artist, in the beginning, with simple sentences and phrases, andover time it became with symbols and pictures. Its oftenhard for the audience to gage the significance of her dreams, and many of thesymbols will hold a deeper implication to herself.
This leads to an imminentbarrier between her audience and her works, perhaps the ambiguity of her piecesis what leads to the fascination in her audiences, however I would perhaps findher pieces more engaging with more background information. Her early works Ifind easier to engage with, as her descriptive pieces are poetic and gracefuland sum up the general essence of her dreams, and I feel speak louder than thescenes she paints which are only small snippets. Two opposing arguments arethat our dreams develop upon ideas in our consciousness shortly before fallingasleep, against the idea that the man who dreams has no connection to hisconscious thoughts and is cut off from ordinary behaviour of waking life. Itwould be interesting to know in which way Gifford’s dreams drift, and ifanything from her dreams connects to her conscious self.InConclusion, drawing upon your memories to produce artworks can work successfullyif worked upon in a considered manner.
Do Ho Suh fought against his culturaldisplacement and modern day globalisation to create an accomplished and wellconsidered piece. Despite a multitude of barriers separating us, religion and politicaldiversity and ethnic groups, we all have a same common value on cherishing memoriesthat are dear to us. Our memories and dreams seem to influence us inmultifarious ways. Our daily thoughts, actions and emotions can have a stronghold over the dreams we experience at night, and can appear in discrete symbolsand images, to reflect upon these symbols I feel is an insightful way to learnmore about yourself and perhaps what your subconscious may be trying to tellyou.