75x108.8cm sinem a as Smart Object

Anamnesis by Wendy Meryem, Kural Shaw

How can we remember history? Setting the personal against the communal, the lived against the written, experience against heresay… nonetheless, memory seems more fragile, less enshrined. But does its shrine render history more solid? Is it the words in the history book that we remember, or the sense of pride they were designed to give as we read them, or the boy sitting next to us at school reading the words aloud who teased you at recess? Is history the monument itself, or the snapshot of ourselves in the act of viewing that shell of history, a place where the breath of memories has given way to the fixity of records? History is not the moment when the sultan stood in his palace, when the banker stood on Wall Street, or when the dead man was lowered into his grave, to be remembered only by the date that placed him there. Instead, history comes into being in the moment when we forget that we are reading a book and instead envision the ramparts; when we stand in the place of the sultan; when we walk in the shoes of the banker, when we pause in the graveyard and remember: history is the final resting place of memory. Or perhaps memory is the actual shrine of history, where the gap between the modern and the ancient dissolves into a stream of our own presence, denuded.

In these photographs, the neutral figure –dressed juxtaposed with undressed, disabling the identity of either – stands against a place that has also lost its connection with presence, a place taken out of its context and its history. The figure replaces context, shifting the site from one of communal history to one of personal memory. Both figure and location lose their identities. The figure poses not as in the snapshot – smiling, saying I am here, looking at the viewer, demanding remembrance – but as in the memory itself, floating past place – in essence, always elsewhere, already a memory. The location appears without a caption, without a story, simply as a silent setting containing its own construction, destruction, and resurrection. We can only write its identity through our own memory: Istanbul as historic sites, fallen apart and reconstructed like the city walls or Topkapı Palace; New York as a forest of shiny buildings, a trap of mirrors or cold walls like river banks for the flow of time; Istanbul as an urban cacophony silenced in an impossible moment without traffic; New York with its silent heart beating inside its public library. Photographs cannot represent a history that our memory fails to write.

Through this loss of identity, the image insinuates itself into the mind of the viewer; it becomes as if I had been there. That woman/man standing there: that might as well be me, self-conscious of my own visibility. My personal experience becomes a figure for that of humanity, and that of humanity becomes my personal experience. The photographic image has always already become my past: the photograph becomes a virus. Replacing the machinations of history with its own, it infiltrates memory and makes it possible to live in Istanbul and New York as though they were one, as though they shared a single history. After all, they do. In each of us who live between such disparate places, history becomes a series of fixed but fictional markers through which our realities travel.

History seems like something solid, independent of experience. It fools us into believing that it is a body in which we incidentally live as parasites: dependent, but not needed. But can history emerge without moments informed by memory, both of its actors and of us, who remember it? Is not history the precise location where the memories of those who went before merge with the memories of those who live on? And then there is memory, seeming personal, private, invisible, incommunicable. It fools us into believing that it is not a virus: not replicable, residing in a place of expression that relies not on reproduction but on empathy. But can memory really ever belong to any one of us? Is not memory the precise location where our frames intersect, blur, and reconfigure themselves? Is it possible to imagine history without this introjection of memory? Memory may be one of the few things one can steal with infinite abandon, for it takes nothing from its owner and leaves all the more for other thieves. The artist recreates her own memories; the magic trick is that in looking through her eyes, her pictures become disembodied, not hers, not others; not present, not past; but ours.

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