Category Archives: Memory

Brian Thompson, various sculptures 2012


Brian Thompson has described his work as being “topographical in nature” – concerned with how places become known, understood, named and described. He is interested in the different ways in which we measure, describe and figure the land, and how his experience of walking through a landscape can be re-imagined through sculpture.

He uses a mixture of traditional craft skills allied to new technologies. His works ask us to imagine the formation of landscapes over a long timescale and explores the two- and three-dimensional forms and shapes associated with (amongst other things) walking through a site in order to map it and to unearth its history.

Thompson’s walks, recorded through GPS tracking or tracings from maps and aerial photographs, become the ‘line’ of the walks and the starting point of the sculptures and prints. These ‘lines’ are cut usually by hand and often in wood, with each layer becoming the template for the succeeding layer. Through small increments of size the sculptures evolve, tapering downward from top to base, incorporating errors and corrections; marking layer upon layer, in geological fashion, the history of their making. Sometimes these become ‘patterns’ for fabrication in materials and colors directly relevant to the location or simply have ‘come to mind’ when he makes the walks.

The work seen here combines forms alluding to archaeological and geological understandings of place, and to the imagined objectivity provided by Ordnance Survey mapping. Thompson notes of his three-dimensional works that “the sculptures serve as diaries, records, memories, souvenirs or trophies – celebrations of experiences of particular places”.”

[murmur] (2002-2013)

person with a cellphone on the street



[murmur] is a documentary oral history project that records stories and memories told about specific geographic locations. In each of these locations there is a [murmur] sign with a phone number on it that anyone can call to listen to a story while experiencing being right where the story takes place.

The stories are as personal as the relationship people have with the spaces they inhabit. Secret histories are unearthed, private truths unveiled, and tales as diverse as the city itself are discovered and shared.

Whose voices are not part of the official story of your neighbourhood?

[murmur] is a Toronto-based collective, collaborating on an archival audio project of first person stories related to particular urban locations, as told by people with a personal connection to the story material. A distinctive green ear-shaped street sign is mounted at each storied spot, displaying a phone number passersby can call on their mobile phones to access that location’s stories, or to leave their own. Stories are also made available along with other information (maps, photos, etc.) on the [murmur] website, and story map postcards are distributed throughout the city.

[murmur]’s Mission

At its core, [murmur]’s mission is to allow more voices to be woven into the “official” narrative of a place or city, democratizing the ability to shape people’s perspectives of place, and making cities, neighbourhoods and ordinary places come alive in new ways for listeners. [murmur]’s stories, though personal or even purely anecdotal, inevitably reveal elements of the wider social, civic and political history of a given spot, its surrounding location, and the communities and individuals connected to it.

By engaging with [murmur], people develop a new intimacy with their surroundings and “history” acquires a multitude of new voices, while the physical experience of hearing a story in its actual setting – of hearing the walls talk – brings uncommon knowledge to common space, bringing people closer to the real histories that make up their world, and to one another.

Transforming Places

[murmur] also allows participant storytellers to become community artists themselves – participants in the act of transforming place, and creating and linking communities, through story and public art. The physical marking of the story access spots, by pole-mounted metal signs at street level, also lets these stories become part of the physical urban landscape, giving tellers the opportunity to leave a lasting mark on the communities that inspired their stories, and mapping their experiences onto space together with others who have shared, or continue to share, that space. Community members and visitors can dip in and out of the collections as they go about their daily lives, and once they have, the hope is the storied spots will continue to resonate with new levels of meaning and historical association, far beyond the occasion of first listening.

[murmur] Abroad

The [murmur] project was developed at the Canadian Film Centre New Media Lab in 2002 and first launched in the summer of 2003 in Toronto’s Kensington Market. Since that time, installations have been launched in several neighbourhoods across Toronto as well as in Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, Sao Paulo, Edinburgh, Dublin and Galway, Ireland. [murmur] in the Grange neighbourhood of Toronto, a collaboration with the AGO’s ArtsAccess programme, launched in 2009.

More [murmur]

All members of a community are encouraged to contribute to this project, so that the “voice” of [murmur] reflects the diverse voices of the neighbourhood. These are the stories that make up the city’s identity, but they’ve been kept by the people who live here. [murmur] brings that important archive out onto the streets, for all to hear and experience, and is always looking for new stories to add to it’s existing locations.

To find all the story locations, visit the [murmur] web site. After calling the number at any given location and listening to the story, you will have the chance to tell your own tale, giving voice to your own experiences and sharing your version of history with the rest of us.

Carrie Schneider, “Hear Our Houston” (2012-2015)

“Hear Our Houston is a hub of public generated audio walking tours around our city.

All sorts of folks from all around town take a walk, record their thoughts, observations, stories, memories, and knowledge along the way. They then upload the tour to where anyone can download it for free and retrace the tour maker’s steps, layering meaning into geography, and trying on another person’s perspective.

Some tours rely on an expert eye view. Other tours share intimate glimpse of the neighborhoods they call home. Some tours are an unexpected pairing of a fresh pair of eyes on a well trodden path. Some tours are really about getting to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, paths that we may be curious about but don’t always have the chance to understand.

All of these tours give us a window into another part of our world.
All of these tours celebrate the journey.

They are not a list of easily consumable hotspots. From point a to point b, you walk, you discover meaning in details you never noticed, in in-between spaces you wouldn’t have sought to arrive at, and see even the familiar in a new light.

Houston is a city of great but hidden richness only truly discovered by experience and word of mouth. In a place where walking is a radical act, Hear Our Houston  is preserving our hidden gems, voicing meaning within geography, and celebrating our common sense of space.” (credit)

Screen Shot of Hear our Houston website

Screen Shot of Hear our Houston website

Stanley Brouwn, “This Way Brouwn” (1960-64)

A compilation of maps drawn by passersby of directions to a particular location. The artist stamped them all with “This Way Brouwn”.

CURATOR, CHRISTOPHE CHERIX: What’s fascinating here is an artist making a work through his interaction with people. He’s basically delegating the making of his work, not to someone that he chose, but to anyone. And the artist basically gives you here only a starting point and stops right when the work begins.

What he did was to ask someone, “How can I get from here to another point of the city?” And he would hand them a sheet of paper, with a pen or a pencil. And, the passerby was asked to make the drawing. And what Stanley Brouwn did was to ask similar directions to different people. So on one side, you see someone who is telling him with very geometrical line how to cross the city, and someone has a much more smooth, fluid way of crossing the city.” (credit)

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin 1928

Walter Benjamin 1928

General info

“Walter Benjamin’s [1892-1940] importance as a philosopher and critical theorist can be gauged by the diversity of his intellectual influence and the continuing productivity of his thought. Primarily regarded as a literary critic and essayist, the philosophical basis of Benjamin’s writings is increasingly acknowledged. They were a decisive influence upon Theodor W. Adorno’s conception of philosophy’s actuality or adequacy to the present (Adorno 1931). In the 1930s, Benjamin’s efforts to develop a politically oriented, materialist aesthetic theory proved an important stimulus for both the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory and the Marxist poet and dramatist Bertolt Brecht.” (credit – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Flânerie-specific info

“In the twentieth-century Walter Benjamin returned to the concept of the flâneur in his seminal work, The Arcades Project.  This weighty, but uncompleted, study used Baudelaire’s flâneur as a starting point for an exploration of the impact of modern city life upon the human psyche.” …

“In The Arcades Project, Benjamin puts forward two complementary concepts to explain our human response to modern city life.  Erlebnis can be characterised as the shock-induced anaesthesia brought about by the overwhelming sensory bombardment of life in a modern city, somewhat akin to the alienated subjectivity experienced by a worker bound to his regime of labour.  Erfahrung is a more positive response and refers to the mobility, wandering or cruising of the flâneur; the unmediated experience of the wealth of sights, sounds and smells the city has to offer.  Benjamin was interested in the dialectic between these two concepts and cited Baudelaure’s poetry as a successful medium for turning erlebnis into erfahrung.  As Benjamin wrote in his section of Illuminations entitled On Some Motifs in Baudelaire:

The greater the share of the shock factor in particular impressions, the more constantly consciousness has to be alert as a screen against stimuli; the more efficiently it does so, the less do these impressions enter experience (Erfahrung), tending to remain in the sphere of a certain hour in one’s life (Erlebnis).

Walter Benjamin, ‘Illuminations’

For Benjamin, the environment of the city, in particular the arcades of Paris, provided the means to provoke lost memories of times past:

it is the material culture of the city, rather than the psyche, that provides the shared collective spaces where consciousness and the unconscious, past and present, meet.

Susan Buck-Morss, ‘The Flâneur, the Sandwichman and the Whore: The Politics of Loitering’

“What we can be clear about is that Benjamin does not just write about the flâneur but, in The Arcades Project, he writes as a flâneur.  As noted earlier, he metaphorises his textual practice into ragpicking, unearthing ‘the rags, the refuse’ from his extensive reading, his cutting and pasting from all manner of sources, into the text of this, his best known work.  The origins of The Arcades Project are in the textual detritus of Benjamin’s research; a method that echoes Baudelaire’s ragpicker and which he refers to when he writes that:

poets find the refuse of society on their street and derive their heroic subject from this very refuse. This means that a common type is, as it were, superimposed upon their illustrious type. … Ragpicker or poet — the refuse concerns both.

Walter Benjamin, ‘Charles Baudelaire: A Lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism’

The ragpicker is recurring motif in Benjamin’s writing and offers a useful metaphor for his textual methodology.  Benjamin focuses on the margins of the modern city, scavenging amongst the texts and oral histories that have been omitted or neglected. Literary ragpicking resurrects discarded texts, forming them into new texts.  Benjamin was interested not just in what is, but in what was and what might be.  He is looking for where the imagined city meets the material one.”


Millie Chen, Tour (2014)


a video showing on the wall of a dark room

Millie Chen, Tour (2014)

Walking across these sites, Chen actively and physically engages with the land to process difficult events. The audio includes lullabies from the countries represented in the work.

Tour, 2014, an audio-video installation that contemplates arguably “healed” genocide sites, provokes the question: How can we sustain the memory of that which has become invisible? How can we possibly represent such horrific history and maintain the critical specificity of the local within a narrative about the global? Events that occurred over the last century retain heat as some victims and perpetrators are still alive, and justice, truth, and reconciliation processes are still underway. Yet, with the passage of this amount of time, these genocidal events are already archived as history—we have gained some distance from them, and have even started forgetting: Murambi, Rwanda (April 16–22, 1994); Choeung Ek, Cambodia (April 17, 1975–January 7, 1979); Treblinka, Poland (July 23, 1942–October 19, 1943); Wounded Knee, United States (December 29, 1890).

A history of human atrocities can become easily absorbed, literally, back into the land. Despite the fact that the violent impact of humans scars the earth, nature can readily absorb these acts of horror, often ironically becoming more verdant as a result. But the brutal facts remain. It is only through the persistence of individuals retelling past events that we can keep alive the history, even as acts of atrocity continue to be perpetrated in the present.

The installations and videos of Millie Chen (Canadian, born Taiwan, 1962) function as sensory experiences that question the perceptual and ideological assumptions of the audience. With her focus on sociopolitical inquiry, Chen explores how art can address the human condition through surrogate cues. About her working practice, Chen states, “Essential to my practice is the role of sensory modes of perception in the generation of knowledge. I have experimented with materiality and with immaterial, non-visual elements like sound and scent within specific contexts in order to interrupt habits of viewing. Within my visual art practice, the act of looking is interrogated.””

Roberley Bell, Still Visible After Gezi (2015)


“In 2010, I began photographing the “Istanbul” trees on my daily meanderings through the city streets. These trees were not iconic symbols of the beauty of nature, but rather trees that had negotiated a precarious position within the urban landscape. I returned in 2105, after the Gezi demonstrations to check up on and again photograph my “Istanbul” trees. I returned to try to find the trees, they had become important to me and I knew seeking them out would reveal something –I just wasn’t sure what that would become. I wanted to go back and see, if working from memory, I could relocate these trees. What emerged was a story, theirs and mine, as I moved through the city retracing my footsteps from memory. For me, the trees of Istanbul are a powerful metaphor and stoic symbol of survival speaking to the humanity of the ever-expanding city. The installation Still Visible After Gezi expresses that set of experiences.

For the installation, I conceived each tree as its own story, creating a turquoise frame. Within the frame the tree as I originally photographed it in 2010, smaller images of landmarks that guided me back to the tree in 2015 then finally an image of the tree as I found it five years later or a void. The empty space representing that the tree was no longer there or perhaps I had remembered the location wrong. Still Visible After Gezi includes 16 tree stories.”

Link to Bell’s Site

Mary Mattingly, House and Universe (2013)


woman pulling ball of objects

Mary Mattingly, Pull, 2013

“Based on philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s book Poetics of Space with a chapter by the same name, House and Universe describes duality and interdependency within local and nonlocal space. House and Universe is an allegorical series of photographs that combined living systems like floating geodesic capsules with bundles of personal objects I had collected and carried with me. When I was making this work in 2013, I had bundled almost everything in my possession into seven large boulder-like forms that could be rolled or pushed.

One photograph shows a place I lived in between a series of storms when the houses were covered in whatever scrap was available. A bundle sculpture is in front of the homes, symbolically connecting climate disasters with consumption.

That title alludes to the story of Sisyphus (the trickster who was tricked in the end) which stuck with me throughout the series, as I dragged these bundles from one place to another, across towns where I was invited to recreate performances, and back into and out of exhibitions and studio spaces.

Another image shows a naked body of a person in my life from behind, with a large boulder of things provocatively titled Life of Objects.

Own was made at the same time: an online library that catalogs the things I bundled and illustrates the pathways of these objects, and how they came into my life. I’ve spent considerable time living in and within ecosystems or shelters I’ve co-built, some pictured in House and Universe, those experiences have asked me to reconsider my surroundings, to vision how collections can function as monuments to consumption, and how, as an inhabitant of NYC, I help make the collective monument called a landfill.

In absurd performances, I would pull the bundles through NYC, Really to emphasize the weight of these objects.

The sculptures’ wrappings are inextricably intertwined like cycles of production – through a chain of formal and informal exchanges, an object is mined, made, distributed, bought, exchanged, eventually thrown away, where it becomes something else. The photographs of these things echo the cobbled together things themselves: pieced together with images of disparate place, time, and space.  Like time capsules, they function as obstructions and proposals. They block, interfere, and frame an encounter.”

Janine Antoni, “Touch” (2002)


a woman walking on a tight rope aligned with the horizon

Janine Antoni, Touch

“The idea of Touch derives from Moor (2001), a work in which the artist created a rope out of her and her friends’ belongings; the artist has said that while she intends to walk it, she also questions the impulse. Touch depicts a literal balancing act in order to suggest the state of perfection that many people strive for, including herself. Antoni has said, “Touch is about that moment or that desire to walk on the horizon,” a location that represents hope and the future. She explained that she wants to walk in “this impossible place, a place that cannot be pinpointed … on the line of my vision, or along the edge of my imagination.” Since the viewer’s involvement is a crucial element in her work, Antoni asks us to imagine ourselves in her situation and contemplate the meaning of the horizon when she is absent from the scene. As the artist teeters but never falls, she accepts and almost embraces a state of imbalance.”

Maya Lin, “Vietnam Veterans Memorial” (1982)


Vietnam memorial ariel shot

Maya Lin, Vietnam Memorial

“Lin’s design called for the names of nearly 58,000 American servicemen, listed in chronological order of their loss, to be etched in a V-shaped wall of polished black granite sunken into the ground. … When Lin first visited the proposed location for the memorial, she wrote, “I imagined taking a knife and cutting into the earth, opening it up, an initial violence and pain that in time would heal.” Her memorial proved to be a pilgrimage site for those who served in the war and those who had loved ones who fought in Vietnam. It became a sacred place of healing and reverence as she intended.”