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"Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" or "Do Humans Dream in Negative Strips?" these and other questions have been preying on the mind of artist/curator Greg Deftereos, and were given a multi-dimensional probing in the recent group exhibition entitled, Mnemosyne, or Do Humans Dream in Negative Strips?1 Inspired by Philip K. Dick's novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (and Ridley Scott's film adaptation Blade Runner) the curatorial theme of the show investigates our reliance on technology to construct/reconstruct memory.2 As described by Deftereos, Mnemosyne is about the relationship between memory as a variable construct, tempered by the power of recall, emotional state, and desire, and the 'fixed' evidence of memory (i .e. the photographic image).3
The subject is inevitably personal and in most cases the artists' responses were self-referential or auto-biographical. For example, Stephen O'Connell's 'then' and 'now' images of home, in his Anamnesia Archipelago relate to his early childhood spent in Vanuatu.
On entering the gallery, one was 'greeted' by Rosalind Drummond's video which haunted the space with a disconcerting squeal of children's playground antics, fading in and out of audibility. With remembrances of carefree, unaware play, the work took on a documentary element. Also recalling schooldays, Kenneth Pleban's photograph of an open empty schoolroom, acted as a generic trigger. By de-populating this space of memory, Pleban 'set the scene' which was purposefully vague and prompted cognition by asking the viewer to place or re-construct his or her own school day memories.
Inverting the subject, Moira Corby and Andrew Sully's installation, Cuckoo, invited the viewer to climb a rickety ladder propped against the wall. A small birdhouse was perched above and through its 'peep hole' a hidden camera was revealed. This was at first disorienting, in that the subject was not a mirror reflection but a profile view and its relay was not exactly instantaneous - there was a fractional time delay. Corby set up a performative encounter within the moment from curiosity to recognition and the identification - 'it's me!'.
Literally zooming-in on memories, working from tiny details found in snapshots, Jacqueline McDonald presented a grid of monochrome inkjet prints each in an ocular format. The images were fuzzy magnifications which when enlarged appeared as ghostlike shadows. In this case, technology was employed to amplify the 'evidence' beyond regular human perception, tampering with a natural process of recollection by editing, selecting and changing the subject. The installation Phantom Limb (God Bless Our Family) by Tony Garifalakis explored the focal point of the 'home', the domestic archive or 'shrine' (for western cultures) by way of a set-like construction of a mantelpiece, complete with wallpaper backdrop and plastic lace doilies. Where normally the over-mantle photographs might honour previous generations and moments of family ritual: weddings, the first born, the deceased, the war hero, these images challenged the idea of the cherished subject and did not permit the expected personal/family narrative. These photographs were magnifications of skin, a forensic-like documentation of flesh presenting an alternative narrative, a catalogue of distinguishing features: scar tissue, hair, moles. Intimate, and a little grotesque, the images were not in such extreme close-up that they denied recognition. Further adding to the construction, the selection of frames (silver, gold-plate, plastic, chrome, heart-shapes, $2 shop frames) had the effect of elevating imperfections, and domesticating the scientific aspect of this home-made archive.
In the exhibition catalogue, Scott McQuire wrote of "a malady of memory" as a latter 20th Century condition in an age of "archive fever" when there is a desire to capture, retain, catalogue every aspect of life.4 A malady indeed: having lost an oral tradition and become dependent on fast changing images and information systems, on the "fixed" (photographic) evidence of past experience, perhaps we are becoming like Blade Runner's replicants - our own memories a collage of fabrications.
1. This exhibition was one of the many events of Melbourne's Next Wave Festival.
2. The Androids/replicants central to the story of Blade Runner have been given generic memory implants supplemented with photographs, consequently the replicants "rely on photographs as tangible, objective evidence of their being". See Greg Deftereos. exhibition catalogue essay: "Do Humans dream in negative strips?" CCP, 1998.
3. Taking the 'fixed' image of a photograph, video, 'home movie' as the 'mnemonic' or the device which both is and facilitates a memory or a response.
4. Scott McQuire, "Bum everything, save nothing: the laws of memory, the riddles of forgetting", CCP, pp. 14-16.
Artists in Mnemosyne include: Kathy Bossinakis, Moira Corby, Greg Deftereos, Mimi Dennet, Rosalind Drummond, Tony Garifalakis, Jacqueline McDonald, Stephen O'Connell, Kenneth Pleban, Daniel van Stürmer, Andrew Sully, Andy Thomson, Brett Valiance and Elke Varga.