When a place is abandoned it is at the same time an end and a beginning.
Whilst on the one hand the place retreats into the memories of those who have left, on the other it begins a new existence as a tangible but equally fragile assemblage of material memories. Buildings decay, are vandalized, are temporarily inhabited by peripatetic humans and animals, are quarried for building materials and scrap, accumulate human discards and are buried beneath vegetation. While they are still alive the place acts as a catalyst for the memories of those who lived there, but it also inspires new thought, as a unsightly or romantic ruin, depending on your viewpoint, a place of melancholy or aesthetic inspiration, an eyesore or a tourist hotspot.
The material remains of the recent past, and the memories attached to them, are often undervalued. My project is going to look at the material memories of places no longer lived in, no longer dwellings or workplaces, and yet which are still “alive.” They are demonstrating their agency, if by nothing else, by creating my memories!
I’ll be recording and sharing what I find in order both to connect with those who once lived there, but also to demonstrate the wealth of interest a seemingly “dead” place can have in the present and future.
This blog is about a combination of things we can see – objects – and things we cannot see but nevertheless experience – memories.
Of course as well as seeing objects we can touch, taste, smell and hear them. We can feel whether they are hot or cold. Heavy or light. Memories on the other hand are usually regarded as intangible, invisible mental processes. Yet the irony is that we perceive objects via our various senses, which only function because of intangible, invisible mental processes. So objects and memories aren’t all that far apart.
As Proust demonstrated at length, objects can prompt and liberate memories. My research is based on the suggestion that objects are memories. The exciting thing about objects-as-memories – “material memories” – is that they are visible to anyone who takes the trouble to look for them, unlike the memories in people’s minds. Sadly, those memories, unless they have been fossilised somehow, don’t survive our deaths, and most memories simply vanish, unlike many material memories, which might be buried or eroded or battered or damaged but nevertheless often still survive.
At first we might not be able to make sense (whatever that means) of object memories, but that doesn’t lessen their value. They still exist. And by studying them we might get to understand them a little more, and share them.
I’m going to Portugal in a few weeks’ time to probe the material memories of an inland village that has lost over half its population. I’m also going to be looking at what remains of a Staffordshire WWII army camp that was subsequently used to house displaced Polish families. And I’ll be digging memories out of a 200-year-old Welsh canal. This blog will record those adventures.