Dealing with memory is a precarious task as it does not behave rationally, with the ability to conjure itself at whim and collapse even more easily. When meaning does falter the process of reconstruction relies on the cues of its association.
‘We move so fast that memory is something we can only try to grasp.’ Ai Weiwei
This lecture dealt with how material objects become conduits to memory. Most clearly an example is photographs, which confronts us with an immediate emotional reaction, whether good or bad. Even more personal is that of textiles and clothing, which Emmanuel explained has the intimate relationship with our bodies, but is taken for granted. Holding onto these physical objects expresses a desire to grab hold of the past and make it tangible. Cloth with the ability to be held, smelt and touched gives a sensorial connection to memory and in turn a sense of nostalgia. Stewart comments on this, ‘The double function of the souvenir is to authenticate a past or otherwise remote experience and, at the same time to discredit the present’ (Stewart, 1984)
There arises a problem once we considered what happens when the museum deals with memory through object. The very task of conservation is diminishing to memory as it’s efforts lie in try to render something untouched and unblemished. When object are needed a ground history, this therefore meddles with trying to sanitize history also. If narratives are recorded in this way, when whoever holds the memory is gone, loss is the only option. The effect here is that true meaning is lost, and without which the museum validates in our minds a constructed vision of the past: nostalgia.
When dealing with how museums display difficult issues of the past, the Foundling museum is a relevant example. Having visited the museum I saw how the curation does not look to render non-existent the struggle of the past. The Foundling hospital was an institution that took in children whose parents could no longer care for them, not through a lack of love but due to circumstances of extreme poverty. The system of the tokens is particularly poignant, as we had considered in the lecture an object’s ability to hold more than its physical worth. These tokens existed as identification for the reclaiming of a child, who would be rechristened and removed from their original identity. Thomas Coram opened the institution as a hope for these children however the history is not faultless. The introductory gallery of the museum illustrates the children’s ill treatment and hardships however this was their only hope. Some of the interviews from the foundling children revealed harrowing tales of struggle and the notion that they believed they were never loved by their parents. The problem here is that these parents gave the little that they had, often shreds of cloth from the garment on their body with the hopes they could be reunited. These objects, that were the only proof of their parents affections were concealed from them yet are now displayed on show for everyone except those children to see.
At the museum a group of us were ableto speak with a volunteer who explained how one of the opulently decorated rooms was designed with the intention of manipulating parents. Many of these women being prostitutes and with no other hope were made to tell of the circumstance and beg for their child to be accepted. All the while aristocrats watch on in spectacle. The room is also adorned in biblically referenced painting to convey the idea of lowly people having to give away their child, making a parent feel even worse for the situation. To imagine how the scenario would have played out is heart wrenching and were told has brought many to tears. However by presenting the history in such a way we are able to devise a more truthful image of the past. The museum seems to addresses the desire to better these children’s lives but does not give false nostalgia instead divulges its flaws.
Foundling Museum. (1759) Inscribed copper token.[Online image] Available at: <http://www.historyextra.com/tokens- image> [Accessed 18 Dec 2013]
Foundling tokens. [Online image] Available at: <http://www.culture24.org.uk//history-and-heritage/work-and-daily-life/art28219> [Accessed 17 Dec 2013]
Stewart,S. (1984) On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Giganitic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Duke University Press
Banks, N S. (2012) Memory Martathon at the Serpentine. [Internet]. Available from:<http://www.d-talks.com/2012/10/memory-marathon-at-the-serpentine/> [Accessed 17 December 2013]