The Entire History of You

The series Black Mirror is a dark commentary of technology and media and its pervasiveness in our lives.  Each episode is a stand alone story with a different cast, what links them is a bleak and pessimistic view that taps into the social and ethical unease that exists at the periphery of modern technology.

Episode two The Entire History of You (2011) was recommended to me because of my investigation into memory.  The premise of this story is that people have a tiny device inserted behind their ear called a ‘Grain’; this device is linked to the brain and collects and stores memory.  With a small hand held remote it is possible to scroll back through your own memory and replay the events of your past as though you are seeing them again.  In addition, you can also play your memory on a TV screen for other people to view.

The episode suggests that if people had access to all of their memories, they might be tempted to relive all their failures in horrifying detail, or become lost in what were once happy memories, that in the reliving only serve to underline what we no longer have.

Having a technological memory storage means that you cannot forget unless you actively delete a memory.  Crimes can be played back to authorities, and airplane security can check out your recent memory for anything untoward.  It also means that through assault your ‘Grain’ and thus your memory storage can be stolen for someone else to experience vicariously.

One interesting minor character has had her Grain stolen, and she explains that although it was an excruciatingly painful experience, her memory of the attack has almost disappeared.  Forgetting is a relief. Instead of replacing her Grain she decides to revert to ‘Organic memory’ and is much happier.  But the flip side is that she is no longer a reliable witness when she later tries to report a crime.

The main character employs the technology to scrutinise the minutia of his interactions and subsequently discovers a brief affair his wife has had.  Far from bringing any resolution or happiness, instead he tortures himself with all the details.

The episode rigorously critiques our desire to record the details of our everyday lives.    How tempting it would be to be able to have easy access to the full clarity of recorded memory. It is not a huge leap from obsessively updating social media with what we eat for breakfast or ‘selfles’ taken in the bathroom. Having a recordable memory would be invaluable to police for instance, it would make losing things virtually impossible, important information or knowledge could be revisited easily. But given human fallibilities how many would succumb to self-obessively living in the past?  The role of forgetting is vastly underrated.

Lines, Threads, Traces, Drawing and Writing.

ingold

During the course of my Masters study I have been interested in further exploring modes of drawing to include both writing and cutting, to this end the book Lines: A brief history (2007) by Tim Ingold has been invaluable to my research.  I’ve been a long time reading it, so it has almost seemed as though Ingold and I were journeying side by side, to the point where I made work and subsequently discovered perfect descriptions of it in his writings.

Ingold identifies two different kinds of lines as threads and traces: threads are three dimensional filaments, that could be suspended or tangled up (2007, p. 41) and traces are those marks left on surfaces that are enduring (p. 43). However even these cannot be said to be true dichotomies, as he concedes:

Threads can be transformed into traces, and traces into threads. It is through the transformation of threads into traces, I argue, that surfaces are brought into being.  And conversely, it is through the transformation of traces into threads that surfaces are dissolved (p. 52).

Which is as brilliant as it is dizzying. He is talking of course about things like knitting and embroidery which although they are threads (three dimensional in their own right) become traces when they are applied to or become surfaces.  A trace requires a surface in order to be a trace.  In theory once there is no surface, the trace must become a thread.

Traces too can be categorised, one of the early chapters featured the epiphany of ‘reductive’ and ‘additive’ marks (Ingold, 2007, p. 43).  Reductive traces include any mark that is made by incision such as carving, engraving, or cutting.  Additive traces are those that are added to a surface; pencil, pen, charcoal and so on.  These two forms of mark making either add to or take away from a surface, each leaving its own distinctive trace.

Later on Ingold explores the connection between writing and drawing.  He points out that though writing has been heralded as a technology of language, it is still very closely related to drawing.  Particularly our first forays into handwriting where we learn at first to draw the letters.  Ingold paraphrases Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky: “Only when he can read can he also be truly said to write” (p. 121).  Learning to write, is at first an exercise in copying, because until there is a proper understanding of the letters and words they create, that is, until you can read you cannot really write, only copy.

Understanding the words however, does not nullify the drawing “The hand that writes does not cease to draw” (Ingold, 2007, p. 124). Though we begin writing as only drawing letters, once we understand and can read what is written, writing becomes drawing and notation, rather than ceasing to be drawing.

Moreover, writing is another form of trace, representing not only the marks that are left on the page, but also the invisible gestures that caused them:

“the visible trace of a hand movement while the pen is on the paper and the invisible trace of the movements when the pen is not in contact with the paper.” (Sassoon as cited in Ingold, 2007, p. 93).

Handwriting is the evidence of a journey across the page, it is logical and linear, it contains a lexicon of meaning, and yet, like drawing, it describes movement on a surface.

Where the connection between writing and drawing becomes complicated is in the printed word.  Here, truly, writing is notational technology and much less like drawing.   Typed words are produced statically, letter by letter, and not in the continuous way of hand writing. Writing can be technological, but it doesn’t have to be, Ingold notes that “You can write with a pen but you cannot draw with a typewriter” (p. 128).  The relation then, lies in the commonality that drawing and writing (whether printed or handwritten) both operate as trace.

Douglas Gordon: 33 Degrees of Enlightenment

This work by Douglas Gordon is from the exhibition PREPASTPOSTCONTINOUS with Miroslaw Balka at Dvir Gallery in Israel.

I came upon an image of this work in the latest Flash Art International in an article which bizarrely talks about one of Balka’s works that is not pictured in the article, and says nothing at all about this Gordon work that is.

33degrees 1

Douglas Gordon, 2012, 33 degrees of enlightenment [pencil]

33 Degrees 2

(details)

33 Degrees 3

The sentences are repetitive, although the words shift and change.  I enjoy the way it is lyrical and rhythmic, and yet also nonsensical.  The more you read the less sure the meaning becomes.  I’m interested in the way that language, a communication tool, is used in a way that causes it to become meaningless.  Or, not meaningless so much as less able to be understood… which is not quite the same thing.

Also interesting is that the words are the places where the mark making is absent.  It is the ground that is inscribed, leaving the white as a ghost mark… the absence of mark is where the message lies.

Trapped words

I gradually came to understand that the marks on the pages were trapped words.  Anyone could learn to decipher the symbols and turn the trapped words loose again into speech. (Prince Modupe as cited in Shlain, 1998, p. 4).

Drawing Letters

Consider the classic picture from The House at Pooh Corner, drawn by Ernest H. Shepard for the book by A. A. Milne… Eeyore, the old grey donkey, has arranged three sticks on the ground.  Two of the sticks were almost touching at one end but splayed apart at the other, while the third was laid across them.  Up comes Piglet. ‘Do you know what that is?’, Eeyore asks Piglet. Piglet has no idea. ‘It’s an A’, intones Eeyore proudly. By recognising the figure as an A, however, would we be justified in crediting Eeyore with having produced an artefact of writing?  Surely not. All he has done is to copy a figure he has seen somewhere else.  He knows it is an A because that is what Christopher Robin calls it.  And he is convinced that to recognise an A when you see one is of the essence of Learning and Education.  But Christopher Robin, who is starting school, knows better.  He realises that A is a letter, and that as such it is just one of a set of letters, called the alphabet, each of which has a name, and that he has learned to recite in a given order. He is also learning to draw these letters.  But at what stage does he cease to draw letters and begin instead to write? (Ingold, 2007, p.121).

Colter Jacobsen

Holding my breath

Colter Jacobsen, 2013, Holding my breath [Graphite on found paper, 278 x 215mm].

Colter Jacobsen’s drawings are meticulous and combine found images with found paper, breathing new meaning into items of forgotten significance.

Indeed, through a process of depictive doubling, relying on a technique Jacobsen refers to as ‘memory drawing,’ the culturally occluded cast-off instead becomes, for the artist, a means to foreground intense personal reflection. (Akel, 2013, p. 120).

Jacobsen talks about how people are interested in comparing and talks about how copying is an attempt to retain memory (Peck, 2011).  Of course the implication is that a memory cannot be held perfect in time, and the charm in his work comes from creating something new, interesting, and present rather than past.

The drawing process adds a sense of dislocation to the imagery, where it is cut adrift from its origins, his drawings defy being pinned down to an existing narrative.

Mental Magic

Colter Jacobsen, 2010, Mental Magic [Graphite on found paper, 203 x 130mm].

Potential Furlough

Colter Jacobsen, 2008, Potential furlong [Graphite on found paper, 298 x 240mm].

Rip's revelation (...revolution)

Colter Jacobsen, 2013, Rip’s revelation (…revolution) [Graphite on found paper, 300 x 465mm].

Suddenly The Screens Were Turning On Their People (Stills From Abbot and Costello Meet The Invisible Man)

Colter Jacobsen, 2013, Suddenly the screens were turning on their people (Stills from Abbot and Costello meet the invisible man [Graphite on found paper, 248 x 325 mm].