Associative Memory

Associative memory is a useful psychological tool for artists because it allows one to say more while showing less. It relies on our  brain’s ability to recall events and concepts triggered by an image or color. It is described as “an objective reflection of a system of relationships and associations that are reliably consistent”.  This is unlike experimental assumptions which are  usually personal and inconsistent between individuals and groups. 

I bring this up because I am frequently asked how/why I select specific objects for my installations. In most instances the selection is based upon news photographs that so vividly encapsulate tragic events that the image becomes iconic as the “story” goes viral . These are repeated so often that decades later they have become symbolic of specific events in time. 

For my “Collateral Damage“ series I have chosen three primary source photographs of events which define the effects of global turmoil on children: the small girl looking up as her mother is handcuffed at the US/Mexican border, the tearful, battered boy who, rescued after an airstrike sits by himself in a chair and, not least, the little Syrian  boy washed  up on a Turkish beach. In the metaphoric background are the innumerable photographs of refugees in red lifejackets, struggling to find sanctuary.

Photograph: Still image taken from a video shot by the Aleppo Media Center
Photograph: Reuters / The Guardian

In each of the above news photographs the editors have purposefully searched for that one image whose composition, colors and content will immediately resonate with viewers. Note that the focus object is often red: a life preserver or an item of apparel, jacket, shoes, t-shirt. By using similar items in my installations I give the viewer a picture without showing the victim. When I narrow the focus the potential readings are expanded and hopefully invite both introspection and conversations.. 

Below are details from three different versions of “Collateral Damage” installations in which the color of the focus object triggers an Associative Memory and an opportunity for your mind’s eye  to tell the story.

Thanks to all the friends, family and colleagues who so generously have donated to Collateral Damage.

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