Memory is a fascinating field to study and a largely elusive one — it’s hard, verging on impossible to find two scientists or even everyday people who agree on their concepts, terminology and general understanding of memory, what it is, how it’s formed and what it influences. There is an interesting saying claiming that when someone remembers an event they don’t actually recall the event itself but the last time they remembered it, thus fostering the possibility of creating, albeit not intentionally so, false memories. It becomes similar to Chinese whispers — when you conjure the last time you remembered something it is also associated with your state of mind and being at that particular time of remembering rather than at the time of the event being recalled. There are all sorts of reasons why the courts in many countries have moved away from witness testimonies being the gold standard for a conviction, although not entirely, to more “solid” science, i.e. forensics. We are all people, not machines, and although we think of our own memory as superior and infallible, it’s extremely unlikely that’s the case.
Darren O’Brien’s project takes this fragile idea of the nature of memory as its starting point. He accompanied his partner on her return to Singapore, where she spent six years as a child, eighteen years later. As he says, some events are remembered with crystal clarity whilst others are almost impossible to grasp. What determines the nature of our memories and how we compartmentalise them? How can two events that happened in the same day feel completely different in our brains, one being a blur, the other not? The body of work explores Singapore through faded memories and it attempts to create visual examples as metaphors for what goes on in our heads when we work with memory — it could be sharp and clear, blurred and distorted, or a mix of both. The black and white images are a fantastic tool to exemplify that no matter how “life-like” and “real” memory or a picture appears to be, it’s never the real thing — it’s only a recollection or a representation.
I recently found out that one of my earliest and, in my own mind, clearest memories, of my dad dropping me while holding my legs and playing cars with me when I was 5, resulting in banging my head on the radiator and a scar, is completely fabricated. He didn’t drop me because his phone rang in his pocket, as I was convinced - mobile phones hardly existed back then and he certainly didn’t have one. He shared his version of events with me recently, but once again this is his own memory — it could be more or less accurate than mine, but it’s almost certain that it’s not an exact recollection of what happened.
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