Throughout History human beings have been looking for ways to enhance their cognitive abilities by relying on mechanisms and external devices, such as writing and picture-making. Today, we have access to almost all the information of the world in our pockets which leads us to trust too much on technology to store our memories. The access to all that information is changing how we form, store and reconstruct memories.
When we remember certain moments, experiences and people we tend to form a mental representation combining past memories and simulations of the future, and this association makes our memories neither fixed or static.
This installation explores processes of memory reconstruction and association. The projection arranged in the center of the room displays visual fragments in constant evolution and transformation, leading the viewer on a journey through the dynamic condition of the human memory.
Evoking a Simulated Past was created within the scope of my master’s dissertation Memory in the 21st century: technology and manipulation of human memory.
For centuries, humans have been looking for ways to enhance their cognitive abilities, especially memory. When we were kids we wished we could remember the dynasties well before an History test, and when we are older, occasionally we wish we could remember well where we put our glasses or the car keys. Sometimes we feel frustrated when a friend is talking about a specific day spent together and we cannot recall any part of it. But, some centuries ago, or even millennia, when we were living in caves, it was really important to remember which plants weren’t poisonous so we could eat, and how to build tools to hunt. We were focused on surviving. When fire was discovered we started to have free time, and time began to be used for other things, such as making music and art (Houzel 2020).
Memory is one of the most important skills we have. It played a part in the development of language and writing, on passing on knowledge and culture through generations, and on getting to where we are today, surrounded by small devices that keep on remembering us and for us. If you own an iPhone you know that from time to time it will automatically create a “memory” with your stored photos. With contemporary technologies we are more likely to remember than to forget (Mayer-Schonberger 2011). Even when we die we leave a digital trail that can turn into a chatbot and speak with our friends and relatives (Collins 2021).
In the past 8 years research was published of false memories implanted in mice and snails (Ramirez et al. 2013) and on brain implants that boost our memory (Ezzyat et. al 2018). Will this lead to the creation of humans with a super memory? Will we be able to store more memories than we now do? If so, will they be happy and sad memories? Or will they be just happy memories? There are a lot of questions to be answered. Sad memories are as important as happy memories, so we don’t make the same mistakes twice and to avoid dangerous situations. On the one hand, remembering everything can make our lives unbearable (Roberts 2016).
Forgetting is as important as remembering. On the other hand, 21st century technologies have made us remember more. On average, we spend two hours per day scrolling down on our Facebook and Instagram feeds (Consciously-Digital n.d.), watching everyone’s memories passively. There has been an increase on the information available about the effects of screens in our health. For example, we know that small screens are bad for our vision and that if we spend time on our smartphones before falling asleep it will affect our sleep. We still don’t know what are the long-term effects of it in our memory. Since smartphones, tablets and smartwatches are quite recent in our lives, it is hard to predict their impact, but we are starting to see studies (Sparrow et al. 2011) on these matters. It is estimated that children who spend more than two hours per day in front of a screen are seven times more likely to develop Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms (Consciously-Digital n.d.). With almost all of the information of the world available to us in our pockets we are becoming more distracted and therefore impairing the formation of new memories in our brains.
At the same time we use technology as an extension of our memory with written notes, photographs, etc., it is responsible for making us more forgetful.
So, to which extent technology enhances or impairs our memory?
This project does not intend to answer these questions but instead it starts a dialogue between each individual with its own memories: their existence, the apparent connections and associations, how they came to mind and why they were stored.
Evoking a Simulated Past invites the audience to revisit their own memories and to come across with what is more intimate in them. Technology appears as a means to reach a state of immersion. By using technology we realize its existence. Recording devices (video cameras and sound recorders), editing softwares and display devices (computer, video projector and speakers) allowed to materialize the ideas presented above and to create a relation between them and the audience.
Impressions and representations of one’s memories take the audience to think about their memories, stored somewhere on the boundaries of the mind and that emerge now. The remote sound, the muffled music by the apparent distance of a closed door, and the present sound of birds expands the perception, as a trigger to our own past. Suddenly, we gain consciousness and retreat from the sensorial world to encounter our interior. The images, sometimes blurred and distorted, are representations of the world we live in. The cold architecture fills the screen with grey areas and strong lines that refer to an impersonal space, almost to an urban dystopia. Right after we are confronted with a colourful Nature that takes us to our childhood memories, the feel of our feet on wet grass, the smell of the ocean or the heat of the sun entering our skin. The characters that inhabit the video bring a sense of anonymity but at the same time bring a sense of familiarity as we identify with them.
In this introspection and immersion in our thoughts, we find ourselves recognizing our lives through the presented images. The revival of our childhood, our vacations leads us to familiarize ourselves with the artwork.
Usually, around June/July, before we arrive, the plants are dry but after my mother spends 2 weeks here everything is green again. She spends most of the days taking care of the garden.
How many memories I bring with me from this place… the light and colors so unique, the smell of the ocean, green wood, sunscreen, the feeling of salt on the skin, sand on the feet, and the uninterrupted sound of the ocean at distance.
This apple tree must be a little younger than me, every year it only grows one or two apples, but they are so tiny I haven’t tasted them yet.
This flower has always intrigued me, it looks like a bird’s head.
On sunny days this place may seem more appealing to many, but the truth is that is more beautiful on cloudy days. When I walk between the beach and the pine forest I look at things with different eyes, I notice the beauty of this place and think that if I took a picture of what I’m seeing it could be a frame from one of Tarkovsky’s films, so grey but yet so introspective and nostalgic.
Every weekend I see this lady changing her terrace at home, sometimes she paints the floor, sometimes she puts decorations of lights and colorful strips. Last weekend she built a swimming pool, and she does everything with popular music playing in the background. I’m always curious to see what comes next.