The Geology of Memory
I imagine some people think of their memory as a straight line: They just remember back, back, and further back. Some think it is like a tapestry: Everything is connected, tied to everything else. Want to remember something? Find the thread... pull.
For a long time memory was a palace to me. My mind had constructed an internal world to house my experience of the world outside, documenting every sensation and response. Then my ‘house’ began to collapse... no straight lines, broken connections, dereliction.
Now memory is Geology. Increasingly I have to dig or search to retrieve something, and things keep getting in the way. I have to go around memories that are buried deep, or that are to be avoided, or simply impenetrable. Also the layers of memory can’t be trusted either, they move over time, fold and churn. Nothing is found where it should be, nothing stays where it should. Finally, my memories aren’t what they used to be; buried for so long, they are compressed and worn, sometimes polished...
Experiences from childhood now peek out unexpectedly at the surface of my mind. Whereas the the name of a work colleague known for years, just goes deep. The connections are arbitrary; a nativity scene reminds me of a bicycle accident, a kitchen table reminds me of an experience of Deja Vu. Memories can no longer be trusted; stories excavated and retold so often... have only the bare bones of authenticity.
Yet as an artist, this chaos is productive, memory is geology because it holds resource and treasure. Memory plays a large part in my work, as I like to look at a subject through past experience, and look at how experience accumulates and interacts with what we know, and what we imagine.
When I was considering The Buried Moon for Lakes Ignite, I started by trying to remember everything I could about the Lake District and Geology, everything that might feed into the project:
I remember that as a child had a fossilised ammonite. It was an object of great mystery and value. As a result I would go fossil hunting in the most unlikely of places, the drive-way of our house, dirt tracks, underneath motorway overpasses, anywhere there were rocks.
I watched journey to the centre of the earth starring James mason, many many times. I was fascinated by the strangeness of the landscape, and in awe of its scale. As a result at primary school in my notebooks I would draw a bottomless pit, and then fill it with everything that fell in. I imagined and drew a world within the world, built on the inside of the crust of the earth. I populated the interior of the earth with drawings of imaginary creatures.
Then there was a residential primary school trip to the Lake District. I think they wanted us to concentrate on Wordsworth and farming, but no offence, for a 12 year old me it was the views and the skies that captured me. Astonishing as an adult, they were mind bending to a small boy. While what I can visually remember from that time is slim, the sensation of freedom and wilderness remains.
Then only a few years ago in 2015 I visited Chesil Beach and the island of Portland, and was given a tour by Alan, a local Geologist. We covered almost the entire island, from petrified trees, to sliding cliffs, working quarries and driving beaches. I gratefully a generous education in the transitory nature of landscape.
Then, the real reason for this post, just a few weeks back my parents found one of my primary school notebooks in the loft, and passed it to me. There were the pictures of the earth within the earth, and the monsters I imagined there. I got to go back some 35 years or so and see the product of my young imagination. This is treasure of a personal kind, something to be preserved.
Across those decades the ground has moved slowly, imperceptibly. It erodes, cracks, and collapses. On returning to the Lake District recently I felt that pang of memory, that I knew I had been to some of these places before, but couldn’t see the memory. The Lake District had changed and remained constant, just as I had. The Lake District itself is memory, it contains the multitudes of experiences and impressions of who we are marked on its landscape, buried beneath the surface. Pathways maintained over centuries, working mines built next to exhausted ones. We heard rumours of an entire steam train buried in a mine... a memory buried in a memory... That sounds like treasure to me, we shall seek it out.
The imagined inside of the earth.