Monday, 24 March 2014

Another Floating Memory

This video shows the installation "Floating Memory" by French artist Mathilde Roussel-Giraudy. In a way the handkerchiefs of her grandmother remind me of sails floating in the wind and thus deserved a post not only due to the strikingly similar name of the work.

BBC documentary "The Invasion of Lampedusa" (2011)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

The sit-in – reflections from the day after

Yesterday I made my way to the South Dock Lock Office again, this time with a small group from Goldsmiths, to meet Lucy Wood and TO6411 for a second time.
The two had changed places and the boat was now tied up at the rear end of the marina, offering a strong image when entering the marina from the direction of Surrey Quays Station. The contrast of the boat in front of the Canary Wharf Skyline was impressive and reminded one visitor of an image from the recent film “Captain Phillips” (2014) by Paul Greengrass, where a massive American container ship is hijacked by Somali Pirates but is in the end freed by the support of the U.S. Navy – making it ever so clear that as an American you will be protected by your country wherever you are... In an odd way the scene in the South Dock London resembled, as TO6411 strangely feels out of place – there too. Neighbours overlooking the dock were wondering what the attraction of the tiny boat with Arabic writing on it was about, but only a few dared to ask.

This time Lucy Wood had opened the hatches so that we could get a glimpse of the claustrophobic interior of the boat, where some of the 36 migrants had stayed on their journey from Libya to Lampedusa. The smell of the engine, which dates back to 1968 and which would under regular conditions not be in use anymore, is very intense and only with a flash from a camera can one make out the dimensions of the raft as it is very dark down there. How long did they travel? Approximately 2-3 days answers Lucy Wood. What about a toilet break? Silence. The boat is very instable, which one can experience even more when there are several people on it. The only chance of it not tipping over is by holding still and possibly not moving. Even in the safety of the harbour and the more or less still water there we could sense how TO6411 reacted towards our movement.

On deck Lucy had prepared some of the objects she had found on the boat, when she received it from the Italian authorities. Shoes, cassettes, keys, a lighter, cans and other items were assembled and gave a hint towards those who had embarked on the dangerous journey to Lampedusa under the dire conditions of the Libyan uprising in 2011. Lucy Wood was not able to get in contact with the migrants on TO6411 as it is very hard to track them down once they have entered the centre on Lampedusa and also no one is very much interested in such interferences to begin with.
The BBC documentary “The invasion of Lampedusa” (2011) gives a very good impression of the tensions on the Island caused by the “invasion” of thousands of migrants from North Africa, among which some think they arrive on mainland Italy while they are trapped on an island, which does not provide the necessary facilities needed for the masses entering it. Also the tensions that Lucy Wood experienced while she was there become very clear in the documentary where parties with different interests fight against the backdrop of those in need.

Our conversation went on in a Café near by where we learned about the bureaucratic hazards that Lucy had to face when she had eventually arrived in London in October 2013. The organisation of a trip up to Westminster with local politicians and church representatives turned out to be a major problem. Depending on the “cargo” safety regulations suddenly become an issue, as she found out the hard way. This information underlines the absurdity of Wood’s undertaking once more. Who cares for safety regulations when a migrant enters a boat? The tests that were held on TO6411 in order for London MPs to have a safe trip to Westminster led to interesting results. According to there findings a group of seven people would be allowed on the vessel. Compared to 36 who “safely” made their way to Lampedusa, this number seems like a joke. 

When Lucy Wood shared those findings with the local harbour staff in Lampedusa she was being laughed at. Hopefully this laughter can have a reach in the sense that Henri Bergson had in mind when he wrote his essay “Laughter – An essay on the meaning of the comic” (1911; pp. 5,6):
“Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo, listen to it carefully: it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumbling, like thunder in a mountain.” 
Let’s hope for an echo that can possibly change something for those who still enter boats like TO6411 each day. Thank you to Lucy Wood for making this sit-in possible and for sharing your stories and experiences with us and thank you to those who made their way to meet the two memory agents.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Sit-in on TO6411 on Saturday the 22nd of March with Lucy Wood

The sit-in on TO6411 will finally take place this Saturday at 11AM. The map above indicates
the South Dock Marina Office, where we will meet. The nearest overgroundstation is Surrey Quays and from there it is a 15 minute walk.
I am very glad that Lucy Wood takes the time to host us, the course members of transcultural memory, the MA course led by Astrid Schmetterling and the catalyser of this project, and everyone who is interested in a dialogue with the artist and TO6411. During their trip last year from June to October the refugee boat attracted many curious onlookers. 
I hope that there will be a lively discussion on the boat and afterwards in a café nearby. Looking forward to see many familiar faces. For those who cannot make it the sit-in will be documented here.

Monday, 3 March 2014

Constructive Metaphors / Visualizing Memory

The Waters of Lethe, Thomas Benjamin Kennington. Source:

Whether we speak of “sites of memory” or “travelling memory”, most attempts to grasp memory inevitably employ metaphors. Citing Harald Weinrich, Astrid Erll claims that “’[w]e cannot conceive of an object such as memory without metaphors. […] (They) are valuable as (hypothetical) cognitive models’”[1] The resulting openness of concepts of memory is both a blessing and a curse.

Metaphors of memory in relation to water appear ubiquitously in the literature concerned with the topic. In “Contemporary Art and Memory” (2007) Joan Gibbons writes: “The idea of ‘places’ in which memory is harboured is central to the work of contemporary French theorist Pierre Nora.” (p. 6) Using the metaphor of the harbour Gibbons doubles the stabilizing effect of the site for memory that Nora stresses. Liedeke Plate even pitched the term of “liquid memories” with regard to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s concepts of “liquid times.”[2]

This blog, too, uses a metaphor from the realm of water and sea to bring to light some truth about memory, diasporic memory in particular. The water metaphor indeed goes back to ancient Greece. In the Greek mythology there exist two springs, Lethe on the left (Forgetting) and Mnemosyne (Remembering) on the right.[3] To drink from river Lethe (depicted above in a drawing by T. B. Kennington) means to plunge into the floods of forgetfulness. Unforgetfullness = A-Letheia on the other hand means truth, and is as Heidegger claims the counterpart of forgetting. This is why for me the metaphor of floating memory is so powerful. It implicates both forgetting and remembrance, as both springs from the Greek mythology are evoked and as the truth stems from the river Lethe in the way that Heidegger paves out. 

As highlighted above, the water metaphor also resonates in many academic texts on memory. Again and again one can read about the harbouring of memories and so on and so forth. In this respect, too, is the metaphor a useful visualization for the floating concept of memory. However, as Erll admits, “as a […] ‘whole’ cultural memory is elusive.”[4] Which is why “[r]esearchers can only study discrete acts, or performances of memory.”[5] And this is where (contemporary) art enters the scene.

[1] Harald Weinrich after Astrid Erll. Astrid Erll, Memory in Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011: 96.

[2] Liedeke Plate, Liquid Memories: Women’s Rewriting in the Present, in: Liedeke Plate, Anneke Smelik (Eds.), technologies of memory in the arts, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009: 101.

[3] Francesca Rigotti, Schleier und Fluss – Metaphern des Vergessens (veil and river – metaphors of forgetting [translation MLN]), in: Michael B. Buchholz (Ed.), Metaphernanalyse, Vandenhoek&Ruprecht, 1993: pp. 229-252.

[4] Astrid Erll, Memory in Culture, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011: 104.

[5] Ibid..