The MEmorial is not primarily a tools-based assignment; instead, it is an assignment and genre that starts with a problem or disaster in need of monitoring, and evolves into a project that does need to be represented through the software and hardware that constitutes what Ulmer calls the “electrate apparatus.”
MEmorials are about monitoring disasters in progress, or MEmorializing what Ulmer calls the “sore spots” of a community. MEmorials are not genres of memory so much as they are reminders to pay attention to the values and sacrifices in our society.
My first instinct, when given the task of developing an online testimonial to collective self-knowledge and monitoring a disaster in progress was climate change. It’s the disaster to end all disasters, that’s for sure. It’s also what I know, and the field that (indirectly) I’ve been working in for over twenty years. But when I sat down and wrote a script to underlie the piece it was too much. It was too big to fit into the space, I couldn’t get my head or my soul around it – it’s impossible to conceptualise it, really. Billions of lives. I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.
So then I decided to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and take the small. The tiny, really. The very building block of our lives, the moments wherein we all live. Where we live at the most specific and the most real. The moments that come with each breath, each thought, each engagement with ourselves or the outside world. We have over 60,000 thoughts in a single day, and what good do they do us? We think of them as real, as who we are, when they are anything but. This is the real collective self-knowledge that Ulmer talked about. It’s also about giving evidence, testifying to the ethical experience.
And when I began to write about it and think about it (and I have been thinking about it for a while now), it did make sense. The problem (the disaster in progress, if you will) is that, so often, we don’t live our lives in the now. We are living in the past, dwelling on what’s done; or in the future, in something that doesn’t exist at all, worrying about what may be. And not enough in this breath, in being, in this moment.
And by doing this, we are not turning up for our own lives, and we are condemning ourselves to unfulfillment and disease. And we are sending our society down the wrong track, where people are blindly walking around or chasing their tails, forever in circles. Self judging, self harming, living in a daze, in aspirations of… what? We race around oblivious to what’s right there, instead of moving slowly forward into the light and seeing – really seeing.
Proust is quoted as saying: ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking out new landscapes but in having new eyes.’ Everything we need is right there, right there, if we just look and take the time to see it. If we just pay attention.
So that’s what I’ve tried to do in this monument. To MEmorialise just that: paying attention to the moment. It’s a public issue, in that unhappiness, unfulfilment, cynicism, fear, hatred, anger, self-harm, despair, stress and anxiety are widespread crippling problems for many people all over the world – people who are living in endless cycles of misery and meaninglessness. It’s a personal issue in that I’ve tried to take some of the moments that matter to me, that I can be grateful for, that I can grant to myself with grace and kindness and put them into the piece.
And so I tried to create something that would endow some kind of meaning to these small moments, to show that they are not mundane, but magical, if we can only change our eyes as Proust suggests, and see them, really see them, for what they are.
Such as the simple gift of birdsong on a winter’s morning.