Words on Space and Memory

Words on Space and Memory is an ongoing project intended to collect a wide range of different answers to the following question:

How would you personally describe the relationship between space/place and memory?

Donna Han

“For me place or space is the notion of a boundary within which we can reside. Memory allows us to make a mental and physical note of any navigational landmarks within that boundary. Landmarks being anything pre-exisiting or even of our own making – the sight of a red plum tree by the window, the steep angle of the wall to our right, the natural placement of our cup, paper or brush on the desk.

Our memories of such anchors within a specified space/place enable us to act with an amount of practice. You could say we have rehearsed. If we don’t know a place then we cannot act out of memory and therefore have to wait for signs and invitations. Being alert to new surroundings and thus awake to chance can be invigorating. Memory of a place may bring deadening associations, prejudice and assumptions.

But we can also speak about space and memory in another sense. It is simply the act of locating objects and our-self within a certain dynamic. In regards to ritual, repetitive engagement between our body and a specific set of spatial relations creates a physical and mental memory. What the body does becomes a pathway in the mind. Repeated engagement can become unconscious memory but it can also become an art.”

Aaron Williamson

“The memory is a distortion lens that adapts, twists and reimagines past places we have lived in or visited. For example, when I was 12 my family moved from my parents’ remote petrol station in the countryside to a small city-centre area of terraced houses forming a warren of short streets.
Us kids would roam under the streetlamps at night, pushing against the claustrophobia by forming territorial gangs and scratching our names on the walls with coins.

Recently, I revisited both places. The relative size, atmosphere and hues of each were now inverted as though, through distance, they had become unreal in scale. The petrol station seemed merely toy-sized, the ‘countryside’ reduced to a poky ploughed field. And later, by contrast, when I walked the city streets I grew up in they seemed spacious, deserted and open. On one street corner I paused to consider the still-readable graffiti and there, high overhead, was my name scratched into a brick. There was no lamppost nearby that I could have climbed or any footholds in the brickwork: apparently I had been taller at age 12 than now, as though I’d been trying to reach out of the place I was trapped inside.”

Alexandra Santos

In my art practice there is a concomitant relation to virtual spaces in which virtual characters inhabit, and by synchronicity my performative actions are the result of the relationship between my subconscious processes with the physical spaces in which I perform. These spaces have history, hence they are imbued with accumulated memories in which I can draw departure points of common interest.

By virtual spaces I mean the spaces of dreams and the memory of those oneiric events which, I defy to distinguish from what it is referred to as real events, not referring merely to interpretative aspects. This question may be more associated to matters of psychology, studies in consciousness and the human brain, as in the cases reported by Oliver Sacks, in which patients often report comical experiences due to brain dysfunction.

There is also the anthropological approach where the idea of space and accumulated cultural memories define the borders of land and race. This partitioning also applies to a subject I take great personal interest, that is, to distinctions between species, where “nature and I” seem to occupy different spaces.

Enacting and performing a series of gestures to encompass a condensed idea, brought forward by subconscious processes in any limited physical space brings forward the surreal experience, and it may feel particularly uncanny as it is placed outside the conscious realm of each individual observer.

Rather than a form of escapism the performative experience where one plays with space, place and memory is akin to the shaman that interweaves dreamscape with reality creating a valve of relief from suppressed communal tension.

Tim Le Vin

In our everyday relationship with the world and it’s inhabitants we utilise our senses to navigate and create mental links with the properties of the objects we encounter. These details are filed within our minds as entries called memories. They are sorted according to our previous experiences into categories ranging from real to imaginary; nevertheless anything and everything we come in contact with is stored indefinitely. Recalling this information is a different process and everyone has varying degrees of success attempting such procedure. When we physically enter a space, a reaction encompassing the conscious effort of remembering related information, and a subconscious dredging up of any data that can be useful in the current situation occurs. A sensual stimulus within the space can induce a memory long thought forgotten. This is a gross generalisation of what the relationship is, and I’ve not even touched upon the real vs imaginary topic.

Michael Halewood

Memory is linked to time; it draws the past into the present. In doing so, memories are not simply slotted into spaces or places in our brains. Time and space are interrelated. This is not a new thought. Plato knew it, so did Newton, Einstein put a new spin on an old problem. The past itself is spatial and timely so memories are spatial and have duration. But memories do not occupy the space or time that we think. Memory creates the space and time in which we think. This creation requires effort and this is why existing is tiring. As Alfred North Whitehead puts it: ‘fatigue is the expression of cumulation; it is physical memory’. All this applies not just to humans and their minds, but to bodies and things which also endure and enjoy the burdens of memory.

Alexis Thompson

There is a rift in my memory I can trace back to midway through my childhood. I moved back to England from the South of France at the age of nine, and as childhood legally ends at eighteen, by law, that is precisely midway. Beyond this technicality, the rift exists within my mind by the differing ways in which I remember the two halves. On one side, the side from which I currently sit, the memories flow in sober and cool-watered chronology. Events match up to the dates, and the testimonies of my family and friends match up with mine. Of course, the correlation between a maturing mind and an incipient clarity of thought has a hand to play in explaining this rift. But that other half, the half behind the membrane, is held back by more than just the transitional rush of pre-pubescence — more than by the passing years —  I measure the tangibility of those memories in line with units of physical distance.

Behind this rift, behind this opaque wall of glass, the memories pulse and whir in a nebulous, swarming fog. Through single lenses, I glance with one eye firmly shut and my teeth hanging stiff with concentration. A single snapshot plays out and disappears, like recalling, at dusk, the dreams you had at dawn. Idyllic, pastoral scenes that appear with such rose-tinted sickliness that cheap, Romantic poets would blush on my behalf. But that is in a way the nature of the rift. When describing to friends where I’m from, I have to bat away accusations of wealth and leisure; expats taking their children down to Monte Carlo or Cannes, whilst any nostalgia in the family will lead to arguments on the state of winter provisions. For me, neither is true and yet it’s this that forms the fog. The single, consistent thread that holds in my mind is of a bucolic privilege, lacking any of the drama that comes from riches or strife. Summer months filled with verdant splendour and clear-cut Southern skies, while winter snow, lay untouched as ancient stone, till we burst from the door like Arctic dogs.

I’d like to return, I’ve been meaning to for years. Yet I haven’t. I only think, were I to open the window, or break through the membrane, fog, or whatever it may be — what would I find?  I do not expect to find monsters beneath the beds or bodies beneath the tiles, but just disappointment in the experience. I would like to suture the two halves and close the rift. Allow those ethereal thoughts to hold some footing, by simply stepping back into that world. Yet, by returning reality to the dream and the dream back to reality, I fear I might lose both.

John Ishmael


Memory is a curious quality, which seeks an imperfect reconstruction of things that perhaps never were. It strikes me as a frantic weaving of the tiny threads of the ever passing present, threads which contain some tiny shiver of familiarity; a certain smell, a taste, a texture, in an attempt to create the potential of a tangible past which has somehow retained its meaning. This will always be a fallacy due to the fact that we only remember who we are now, making it impossible to step back into our previous states of being, thus configurations cannot be seen the same way. I think rather that All of these things are what makes memory miraculous; a mechanism for continuously creating new images, new invisible worlds. These in turn become the idea of progression, providing a solution of continuity, a bridge between the inner world of the imagined, and the outer world; an ethereal past, and an uncertain future.