Human thinking exists by grace of the fact that memory establishes, preserves, orders, maintains thought, and - provided it's good -can recall it again. In a figurative sense
you could picture memory as being a gigantic system of halls, rooms corridors,cupboards, drawers, folders, indexes, lists and so on and so forth. An imaginary structure with spaces full of industriousness and activity where the mind's clerks hurry to and fro, and with silent, forgotten places that haven't been entered for ages.
If you imagine the mind in such a concrete way the association with the institution of the museum becomes obvious. The museum is also a place for collecting, classifying and conserving. This typical mixture of the strictly personal (thoughts, experiences, recollections and emotions) with the collective (culture in general, behavioural norms) is stored up practically inextricably in each person's memory, you also find it in museums - albeit in another form. After all, the art objects that museums collect are the individual expressions of artists and craftspeople that acquire a significance and value within a culture that is beyond the individual ( = general). By means of its mediating function, the museum erects a bridge between the individual and the rest, between I and they, but also between then and now. The collective and the subjective, past and present merge imperceptibly with each other in the function of both museum and memory.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the cycle of video installations entitled ... From the Museum of Memory by ELSA STANSFIELD and MADELON HOOYKAAS is that it thematisizes this interweaving of the personal (present) and the general (past) so clearly and at the same time so elusively. On the one hand, the installations' video images, sound and carefully designed arrangements appeal extremely directly to generally acceptable notions and feelings and contain recognizable elements of cultural baggage. But on the other hand, they bear the unmistakable traces of the personal, of the two artists' individual taste and sensitivity in their internal successions, relations and combinations, and in the specific modifications which sound and image have undergone. Their Museum of Memory is built on the cutting edge between collective and individual memory, between the. memory of the past and life at present, in the murky area between the subjective dream and the objective reality with offshoots on both sides. The central point of their building plan is the idea of creating a museum that exists in your own head. That is different for everyone, because everyone has individual memories.
ELSA STANSFIELD (1945) and MADELON HOOYKAAS (1942) began their artistic collaboration in 1972. Both had a background in the media. STANSFIELD's studies had included film at the SLADE SCHOOL OF FINE ART in London; HOOYKAAS had worked for a long time as the student of various photographers and film-makers. At first the collaboration remained incidental and they both continued to make individual work alongside their joint projects. Now all the work comes out of profound co-operation, although for them this is not an ideological choice per se.
From 1975, they have made a large number of video installations, frequently in combination with photography, objects (sculpture) and sound. Connected roughly with what was happening elsewhere in art, the exploration of the specific character of the video medium played an important role in the first years of their collaboration. A structuralist approach in which elements specific to the media such as time and movement, the electronic construction of the video image, the framing of the screen and the monitor's physical object-like character were explored for their qualities and placed in relation to the environment. During this period there were strong conceptualist undercurrents in their work, which did not hinder the individual works' extremely sensual and physical aura.
STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS have made no less than 40 tapes and installations since 1975 often in combination with photography, objects (sculpture) and sound. What is characteristic of their video-work is that they (almost) always start out from a point of reality; their surroundings (which can mean nature or sources such as their working material) are recorded, made visible and analyzed by means of the work. There is no cold-blooded, scientific or intellectual concept at the root of this analysis, rather a loving attention for and interest in nature, the elements, the environment and the medium of video. It is a sensual investigation by the senses, conducted intuitively, that acquires a lasting form and emotional transference in the works.
Travel is a particularly fertile source of inspiration for STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS. Some of the countries they have visited over the last few years include Norway, the Shetland Isles, Japan and more recently, Burma and Nepal. The videotapes and installations that in time result from visual and sound material recorded on these journeys seek to capture and make understandable essential experiences such as that of landscape, sense of direction, orientation and distance, and cultural characteristics. Not in literal or documentary terms but in a poetic, evocative sense. Ultimately, these impressions and particularly the subsequent mental processing determine the result to a great extent.
STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS' working method consists mainly of making a large number of recordings during their travels which are later edited into a significant relation after a sort of incubation period. So it's not surprising that HOOYKAAS and STANSFIELD opted for the subject of memory, recollection in ... From the Museum of Memory. Recollections of particular journeys, places, situations and events have actually determined an important part of their work: after all, the concept for the tapes, the content is often only established subsequently, after the experiences have been filtered by the process of memory. Once that distance is taken, the experiences become memories. This aspect is often assimilated in a subtle way into the video images and sound. Because although the recordings they use as a basic material are made on location, the artists add a dimension to this by means of a number of techniques that withdraw the images from recognizable reality and guide them into the domain of mind and memory. The soft, almost misty colors which lend the image something of the character of faded photos. The extreme close-ups of elements such as those of landscape that at first seem to be completely abstract and only later betray their true nature in the shifting transition between the unrecognizable and the recognizable. The camera's slow, rather jerky movements, sometimes in slow-motion.
The subtle tension between image and sound that in a number of cases also has direct physical origins (e.g. heartbeat, breathing) and thereby achieve a kind of internalization in the viewer. All these aspects give the tapes, an extremely intimate, strong character, as if you have withdrawn deep within yourself with your own images of memory or dream. A meditative state. Another analogy between the way in which STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS achieve their work and the way in which memory or recollection function exists in the repeated use of the same recorded material. Their oeuvre is a solid, tightly-knit whole in which particular themes, subjects and images are placed over and over again in different situations and environments, in a complex system of mutual references that keeps growing in an almost organic way. Particular images resurface again in different contexts and so each time acquire other meanings, new charges while still referring to the source from which they came.
Recordings for one work often form the point of departure for the next: details of a monitor image return enlarged on another monitor; stills from previous tapes complete new installations, etc. Similar interwoven processes of memory and influences take place in the brain: old memories are (re)colored by the new events, thoughts clot together and influence and transform each other, divide and join together again in new arrangements. A continuous movement and metamorphosis of thoughts and recollections, of meanings, of which the inner logic remains a mystery to which we have little or no access.
The series ... From the Museum of Memory on the one hand carries on with memory as a basis whilst on the other hand (particularly in the first two installations) there is also an almost political dimension that was already apparent in the tape Vi Deo Volente (1985). Some of the recordings incorporated into this work include us ARMY information films from 1945: trees bent right over that sway slowly back again like dancers in a macabre ballet. These kind of original recordings are combined along with weather maps, diagrams, whirlpools, slowly undulating crowds and references to the history of video art in what is for them a rather effervescent, baroque sequence of images (they call this work their scratch tape)
... From the Museum of Memory
The source of inspiration for the first part (also called ... From the Museum of Memory) comes from STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS' recollections of a 1983 sojourn in Japan when they visited Hiroshima's Peace Park which is dedicated to the memory of the war and the atom bomb. Photos of victims and remains of the completely flattened city are on show in a building in the park: fused objects, scraps of clothing, charred stones and the suchlike. The few distorted remains of what once was a mighty city, made a deep impression on the artists. They took photos in the museum and one of these later became the central point of ... From the Museum of Memory I. This rather dim photo is of Buddha that has had its front torn off or melted away in the inferno of the atomic bomb. There is a patch of white light in the middle of the Buddha which - certainly in the Hiroshima context - seems to be a reference to the scorching flash of the disaster (it's the reflection of the camera's flashlight). Reasoning from the other side, you could say both literally and figuratively that light is streaming out from within the Buddha, as a liberating and healing solace after the destruction. As mentioned before, the visit to the museum left such a deep impression on the artists that a year later (1984) they returned to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to make video recordings. These recordings are used both in ... From the Museum of Memory and in Shadowpictures (parts one and two of the cycle).
In ... From the Museum of Memory I a number of close-up shots of the smashed Buddha were shown on a monitor. Now and then we saw the shadowy reflection of a passer-by moving in the glass of the display case. The atmosphere was meditative, the video image moved slowly up and down. A recording of an intact Buddha was mixed briefly with the broken one, to augment familiarity. The date of the disaster flashed on screen, followed immediately by a vibrating line, generated by an oscilloscope. Then came brief x-ray recordings of the body's organs with something (food, fluid?) flowing hrough them. And then the Buddha reappeared again.
This tape was played on a monitor with its casing removed so that it was as if its entrails were being exposed. Apart from being a reference to the portrayal of the organs, it also clearly referred to the eviscerated Buddha while - in reverse - the light that streamed from the Buddha could also refer to the monitor. The monitor was placed in a simple closed display-case made of glass and metal: a relic of the technology responsible for the A-bomb. (A curious detail is the fact that television and the atom bomb were both developed in the same year). Elsewhere in the space is another display case which was a bit higher and contained the photo of the Buddha stuck on a semicircular plate that acted as a screen around a single loudspeaker. The speaker had its cone facing upwards on the bottom of the display-case, like a sacred dish. The speaker emitted pure tones (produced by a sound generator) mixed with the deep, pulsating sound that is caused by the movement of an electrical charge. It was the sort of unidentified sound that you can listen to for hours and was reminiscent of the sound of a mantra. The low bass tones made the glass of the display-case vibrate ominously. In addition, there were two more photos on the walls of shadows on a stone base full of fissures and splits. One of the shadows was of a human figure, the other showed a detail: a hand. And there again was the photo of the eviscerated Buddha.
Basic elements such as light and time play an important role in various forms. Light as destroyer, as the source of life, as scientific aid, as invisible, dangerous radiation, as the means of creating and reproducing images; but also light as a healing, hopeful power. The element of time exists in the references to the split-second flash of nuclear fusion with its lasting effects, in the timelessness of the seated Buddha, the museum's set-up, the slow rhythm of the images.
... From the Museum of Memory II
The Shadowpictures //... From the Museum of Memory II** installation which STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS presented in TIME BASED ARTS in Amsterdam, the KIJKHUIS in The Hague and in Bologna developed out of the photos they saw in Hiroshima and Nagasaki during their second visit. These are fascinating yet abhorrent photos of the silhouettes of people and objects which were vaporized and pulverized by the gigantic conflagration and burnt into the ground and stones like shadows. This unnatural form of painting also occurred in reverse: the silhouette of a body that was standing in front of a wall is left blank in white and surrounded by a black scorched background. Here, the body obstructed the burning light like a kind of a stencil. In a morbid way, the people and the objects have been immortalized.
HOOYKAAS: You think a stone's a stone. But the properties of matter appear to change when that sort of bomb falls. A stone can become as sensitive ,as photo paper. Clearly logic can turn through 180 degrees in the A-bomb inferno. These positive and negative shadows are contemporary icons full of drama and tragedy which establish a direct connection with the primitive feelings of fear that lie under thin veneer of culture. They are also images with an inconceivable meaning and can, therefore, actually only work on an associative and intuitive level. Shadowpictures exudes the same atmosphere as ... From the Museum of Memory. One of the two monitors showed a series of images of shadows of bamboo stalks and a ladder burnt into wood and then moved onto a lengthy shot of a small white wall with the moving shadows of offscreen tree branches and leaves. Now and then positive images were alternated with negative ones, as if in a flash the world had assumed its opposite dimension, its antithesis. The second monitor showed x-rays of a heart beating in a steady rhythm without forming any consequences from the images on the first monitor. The heart symbolizes continuity and life force but at the same time its x-ray also refers to sickness, operations and death. (In English, x-rays are also known as shadow pictures.) This second monitor was placed near to the ground and was almost entirely wrapped up with lead. You had to bend over - rather like a voyeur - so as to be able to look at the video images through a split in the lead. As if you were looking right into the body of an unknown person. In ... From the Museum of Memory I the artists released the dangerous radiation (radio-activity) which the monitor emits by stripping the box, here in Museum of Memory II the radiation is actually checked by the lead that is stretched around the heart like a skin. However, the question of whether the lead protects the heart from outside radiation or if it's actually the radiation from the tube outwards that must be blocked remains open. Often no logical explanations are given for these sorts of acts and visual motifs in STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS' work. They function on an instinctive level and can have different meanings for each individual.
As in ... From the Museum of Memory, the auditive element consisted of a mix of sounds of electronic charges and pure tones produced by a generator, rhythmically punctured by soft taps that sounded like falling drops of water. The other monitor emitted a sound reminiscent of a howling wind that alternated with sounds from the museum in Hiroshima. A shadow had been printed photographically on a slate eroded by wind and weather: shadows on rocks. As well as being a reference to the shadows in Hiroshima, that image brings the timelessndimension of omnipresent nature and landscape into opposition with the transience of human presence. This theme of the transitory and timelessness saturates STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS' work. Finally, on the wall there was a large misty blue still from ... From the Museum of Memory showing two figures. The stills often function in the work as references to earlier works, as memories rolled into single images (in reality it often seems as if the memory of an event consists of a single condensed image, a single movement or gesture which in particular situations can act as the trigger to recall the whole event again).
... From the Museum of Memory and Shadowpictures are not exactly lighthearted installations. The atmosphere is definitely grey. There is little of the dreamy mood of the wild rocky landscapes of the earlier work. Rather the work fits into the claustrophobic tenor of Video Void: the sensation of a nightmare you just can't break loose of. The memory of a completely dismantled world. It's filmed close to the skin and the tapes look like intuitive anatomy lessons that mercilessly expose the individual and collective emotions concerning one of the greatest mass murders in history but without pointing the finger of blame. In terms of meaning, many of the images cannot be defined in detail and demand an individual interpretation, meaning and viewpoint from the viewer. The work is full of points of contact onto which contemporary angst and turmoil can be projected.
Point of Orientation
...From the Museum of Memory III
In the third part of the cycle, STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS revert back to the theme of direction and to the subject of the journey and movement or rather: the subject of the memory of the journey and movement. The installation is called Point of Orientation. A video beam in a ground floor space of Amsterdam's STEDELIJK MUSEUM showed images of landscapes flowing smoothly over each other, swaying reeds that were superimposed in mirror image and formed an abstract pattern, a woman behind the steering wheel of a car, a hand tracing the geographical lines of maps in an atlas, or thumbing through a book. Flowing water. A meditative sequence of images into which various levels of experience and reality were woven. Rapid stroboscopic recordings of a flying bird (made with a zoetrope) now and then interrupted the sequence of images like visual punctuation. There was a small monitor on one side of the space with a continuous loop of water streaming over rocky ground; an extremely tangible image that by its constantly continuing presence contrasted strongly with the more mysterious dream images of the video beam. In addition there were four infra-red sensors in the darkened room which detected the viewers' movements and transformed the sound. By moving through the space, the viewer could change the balance of the various sound tapes without noticing it consciously. The sound consisted of environmental sounds which belonged to the video images, and of sharp, high sounds (caused by metal on metal) and the flapping of wings. The spatial movement of sound as a metaphor for a compass needle's sense of direction wrote DORINE MIG NOT for Point of Orientation. (Magnetic north played an important role in a series of older works and both compass and magnets are frequent attributes in the tapes and installations).
...From the Museum of Memory IV
The book that was being leafed through at the end of Point of Orientation was also presented in a closed display-case along with a paint-spatter screen in ... From the Museum of Memory IV which was produced for the Contour exhibition in the PRINSENHOF (1987), Delft. The paint spats created a diffused image on the imageless monitor, the shadow of an image. The book turned out to be The Art of Memory, a text published in 1966 about the history of the subject. The Art of Memory is important because it contains a number of keys to ... From the Museum of Memory. The seven installations they originally planned (they've since thought of an eighth) are, for instance, derived from The Memory Theatre by CAMILLO, the 16th century Renaissance scholar, which is analyzed in The Art of Memory. However, the most important aspect described in this book is how in classical times (i.e. before writing and writing utensils became public property) orators and story-tellers remembered their stories by picturing an elaborate imaginary architecture in which key symbols for the scenes and characters could be placed (imagined). Stage scenes, signs of the zodiac, objects and so forth could be employed for these kind of symbols. Hence, an orator did not have to remember a whole speech but simply a condensed version with symbolic scenes and objects. The narrative line would, as it were, unfold again by itself when, during telling the story, the speaker would move through the building in his imagination and come across the keys at precisely the right moment. The tradition worked so well for some people that they could tell their tales from back to front by tracing the route through their building the opposite way round.
You can view ... From the Museum of Memory as a concrete result of the imaginary building of memory: a visual structure in which condensed hints must spark off series of associations and recollections. The artists consider that the media are the modern version of the art of memory. However, their installations are only the foundations on which viewers must build their own stories, in contrast to the memory architecture of that time which helped in the remembering of existing stories.
In Delft, hands leafing through the book were shown on the monitors facing each other. The tempo and rhythm evoked the suggestion that the book was not being read but calmly leafed through looking for a particular passage, for the source of a memory. One of the monitors showed a total shot of the hands and book, alternating between positive and negative, and turning from orange to blue: the other monitor showed blue, almost abstract details of those images, recorded directly from the first monitor. The second tape worked as a visual echo, as a memory of the first image, in the way you sometimes remember only a small fragment of something much bigger or a single gesture from a long movement. The two sound tapes also displayed this kind of process-like relation: one consisted of clear, high tones (inspired by a carillon that was within earshot of the exhibition), the other contained the same sounds but slowed down so much that the tones had become very low and unrecognizable. Just like the images of the tapes, the sounds on the second audiotape were derived from the first. A still on the wall showed a fragment of a crowd of people that had been recorded from television: a reference to the tape Vi Deo Volente.
...From the Museum of Memory V
This still forms the link between the fourth and the fifth part which is called Phosphor ... From the Museum of Memory. The work was realized in Amsterdam's GALERIE D'THEEBOOM (1987). There was a large frame with elongated fragments of the video-still of the crowd. Through a telescope on the other side of the long space one could see a fragment of the fragments. The telescope was a reference to the telelenses with which crowds are filmed from a distance (and which they had also used) but looking through the telescope created a feeling of distance in a mental sense as well. You could describe it thus: a distant memory, sunk to the depths of the mind, and if you try to grab it, it sinks still further away. The ghost (shadow) of a memory. A monitor showed animation-like images of a large crowd of people. In display-cases were a dismantled speaker and TV screen in the middle of a heap of phosphorous pigment, a reference to the phosphor in a cathode ray tube (and, of course, to art). Here, the dangerous, inflammable matter of light that can make images appear on the screen, was left open and exposed. The phosphor was a clear reference to the transitory but - as an extension of this - should also be interpreted as an image of resurrection and hope. The ash from which the Phoenix arises every thousand years.
...From the Museum of Memory VI
Boat Piece, produced last year for Kunst over de Vloer (Art over the Floor, 1987) festival in Amsterdam, is for the time being the last work to be included in ... From the Museum of Memory. Boat Piece was the memory of a journey or a trip across the water. The installation was also partly inspired by a Viking ship built in stone that STANSFIELD and HOOYKAAS had seen in Norway and is a gravestone to the memory of a Viking noble. Many peoples have built boats to convey the spirit of the deceased to an unknown destination. This imaginary journey is the point of departure for this installation, they wrote in a statement beforehand.
The installation consisted of two monitors that marked the bow and the stern of an imaginary ship. Viewers could enter the boat to make a journey in their thoughts as the artists have done. A lead strip on the floor formed the keel, and the sides were created by eight speakers hanging from the ceiling. The speakers emitted very soft generator tones and the sound of lapping water that imperceptibly shifted from the front to the back of the space, so that the image began to move very sensually and subtly. The monitors showed recordings of an oar being pulled through the water, of flowing and lapping water with superimposed recordings mixed in, of a compass that turned first fast then slowly (a reference to a previous work). A projection of a horizon (a still from Point of Orientation) crawled across the walls around the imaginary boat which made it seem as if the boat was spinning on its axis, like a compass. Both sound and vision had their independent and in a certain sense contrasting directions. The first was linear, the second circular. This created a disturbing sense of direction.
The atmosphere of the space with its blue perspex panelling was sacred rather than museum-like. The display cases with their opened-up monitors and speakers were conspicuous by their absence. The installation had more of the character of an experiential environment than the other parts of ... From the Museum of Memory (with the exception of Point of Orientation which has an extremely strong relation). Because of their display cases arrangements the others were more closed and distant but none the less moving. Boat Piece was thus excluded being predictable and, without there being any question of a change of style, it gave an unexpected twist to the cycle as a whole.
The Museum of Memory by ELSA STANSFIELD and MADELON HOOYKAAS is an impressive structure as it now stands. It is not simply rewarding from the outside. The viewer must enter with an open mind. There he should wander at will through the many halls, rooms, corridors and interconnections from which the artists have constructed their museum. Partly he can rely on their guiding light but in addition he should add rooms, halls and studies of his own ... After all, ... From the Museum of Memory comes out of the idea of creating a museum that exists in your own head. That is different for everyone, because everyone has individual memories.