eternal sunshine

In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) we are faced with a reality where it is possible to forget on request. A machine exists that is able to erase from memory all the images and recollections linked to a single person, in that specific case a beloved person who we want to forget.

If in many situations we feel the necessity and the desire to recall memories of the past, it also happens that we need to omit bad or hurtful presences linked to a time that we want to forget. The process of avoiding the past functions as a destruction of a status quo, which prevents progress, holding the individual in the impossibility of being in the present. Thus, the past is suffered as an obstacle impeding forward movement.

In previous chapters of our investigation on ruins, referring to studies of Marc Augé we spoke of non-places as characteristic spaces in which we spend the majority of our time, both physically and virtually. In our discussion with Matilde Cassani on the relationship between non-places and sacred spaces, we noted two fundamental questions, among others, as defining our collective relation to the present: community and memory. These two coexisting notions play an important role at the basis of our current need to position ourselves in time and space. Following this conversation, in which we noticed the bare and neutral physical presence of non-spaces or of re-appropriated spaces for religious means, we have been naturally led to think of them as places in which we (also) forget.

The notion of collective memory, which started to appear in the second half of the nineteenth century, identifies a shared group of information conserved in the memory of two or more members of the same community. Philosopher and sociologist Maurice Halbwachs has been widely recognized for his work on this social process, which generates identity in individuals and sentiment of belonging in groups. Moreover, as Max Pensky mentions in the text Three Kinds of Ruin: Heidegger, Benjamin, Sebald “Halbwachs believed that a group’s extension in physical space – where and how the group situated itself, in a non-supervening manner from its various members – played a constitutive role in how its individual members would re-member. This extension is not simply a matter of physically occupying a given space or series of spaces but of transforming and creating space through organized activity: building”. [1] The suggestive overview here depicted by Halbwachs refers to a reality of mutual exchange and transformation between communities and spaces, thus inviting us to consider architectural urban textures as mirroring the physical process of collectively remembering.

As we have previously discussed in the introductive chapter on ruins, nature and history relate to a dialectic process in which pure time resists to history, opposing the built landscape to the materiality of nature.

In a time when evolved flaneurs have become commuters moving trough non-spaces (highways, trains, airplanes, waiting room etc.)we are invited to think that the relationship between memory and space may have changed as well. Non-spaces seem in fact to embody a sort of inversion of relationship compared to spaces or buildings as considered by Halbwachs. In the age of global exchange and communication, groups move very often, out of necessity or desire, from one space to another; consequently, as social media also suggest, forms and places communities use to define their identities have also changed, relocating to more easily movable dimensions. Moving carries with it the necessity of leaving something behind, selecting what can be brought for the (long or short term) journey, taking with himself the thinnest “suitcase” of memories. As we noticed with Matilde Cassani talking about sacred spaces in private (profane) buildings, communities manifest the need to find an almost brand-new-not historicised space, where they can create their shared cultural basis from which starting to build a new, collective memory – according to a new sense of community.

Moving back to the relationship between buildings and collective memory- as proof of an inversion of tendency, in the text Monumento e antimonumento.
Emergenza e immergenza della memoria materiale [2], Andrea Pinotti enumerates a series of examples of contemporary anti-monumentality, four different ways through which the monument acted against its traditional connotation: in Gordon Matta-Clark as the destruction of what is destined to be demolished thus saved from documentary memory; in Christo and Jeanne-Claude as the concealing of a visibility promising a new visuality; in Gerz and Hoheisel as the inversion of verticality; in Serra as the affirmation of verticality. All these variations lead, according to Pinotti, to an experience of memory in the understanding of the nature of its forgetting.

Milena Dragićević Sešić in Memory Policies and Monument Building in Southeastern Europe written for the Memory in the City exhibition held in Belgrade in 2011, tries to prove the “misuse of memories and historical representations as a form of hate speech, and to deconstruct the manipulation of memories used to create a new “national”, ethnic memory employing monuments as a strategic tool, by exploring the re-construction of memories through official and populist monument projects, from Kosovo Polje in 1989 to the Alexander the Great monument in Skopje in 2010″. She draws also attention to artists’ reactions to official policies of “monumentalization” of historical memories by creating their own monument projects, as stated “monuments as artistic projects, permanent or ephemeral, are part of the culture of dissent, but also platforms for debating and presenting major cultural policy issues.”

Ruins (or ruins of monuments) therefore exist to show, to attest, that something had to be destroyed in order to move on. Today, it seems that a counter-movement is acting in the (de)construction of our memory, as if the more we build the more we needed to leave behind, to forget, in order to establish new identities, a collective memory. There is a time to stop accumulating and start selecting the stories we want to remember, the memories on which we want to build our new communities, monuments, spaces etc. Global dispersion and dislocation, non-spaces, may bring with them the possibility of a blank space, a degree zero, from where to build anew. As Raqs Media Collective stated “Forgetting: the true vanity of contemporaneity.” [3]

[1] Max Pensky, Three Kinds of Ruin: Heidegger, Benjamin, Sebald, State University of New York, Binhghamton, 2011
[2] Andrea Pinotti, Monumento e antimonumento.
Emergenza e immergenza della memoria materiale, Mondadori, Milano 2009.
[3] Raqs Media Collective, Now and Elsewhere, e-flux journal #12 – January 2010.

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