Memory Hole

If you were to turn an audible story into a physical object, hang it in a window, and watch it twirl, could it throw ever-changing patterns of light on the wall?

With this question sound artist Ariana Martinez invites a multi-sensory thinking: sound becomes a visual ornament, has shape. The pattern it splashes on the wall (or the silences we strain to listen to) compares to collected gaps and cracks in the historical record.

It is said that a negative archive contains all that is omitted, deliberately or unknowingly. It’s filled by potential, by flaws magnified so greatly they don’t acquire a retainable shape.

the unarchive contains the exceptions

Three sonic approaches—escaping definition; stylistically different from each other—weigh the heft of corrected memory and history. What takes form then is mysterious. These artists practice broad swaths and dig into the granular scope of race and gender; class and geography and mourning; the politics of radio art archives; the irony of sampling the sample. In each is an imagined future, a reshaping.

Those ever-changing patterns illuminate a further question for Martinez:

What parts of the human condition are you making work for?

Each artist pokes at their own creative process. Their works speak to an urgency, quiet and booming. These distinctions invite synergy and discordance to a collection of omissions and fissures.

Always within arm’s reach was a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating …

Guiding this curation is Orwell’s nearly 75-year-old politically prescient novel and the eponymous film (made decades later in 1984). Those convenient memory holes allowed history to become a palimpsest, re-inscribed exactly as often as was necessary.

When one knew that any document was due for destruction, or even when one saw a scrap of waste paper lying about it was an automatic action to lift the flap of the nearest memory hole and drop it in …

In the film version, these chutes are quite dramatic—a whirl of fire rages behind the teeth-like grille, grimacing; whatever is dispatched disappears into dust and ash. To read this novel today is to bring it forward towards obstinate crises; we barely have time to catch a breath. Such ease these memory holes would provide us now, whirling away our cares on a current of warm air.

palimpsest, scraped clean

The contemporary industry of memorializing offers another steerage in writer Christina Sharpe’s asterisk holding the place open for thinking. (And along with Saidiya Hartman and Dionne Brand, together in Sharpe’s writing, a trio of Black women climb up and over the archives.)

Cornelia Parker, Hanging Fire (Suspected Arson), 1999 – cover design, In the Wake

A mere gap roars. Autobiography meets Trans*Atlantic slave shipping. These swirl the traces of violence deposited in the archive. It’s more fluid than the permanence of Orwell’s ash heap.

We’re here, we degrade to fine powder, leaving a hint, a trace.

Drink those visitors in like violet tea and lemon air (the holding, shipping, the water, the weather — scraps of the archive).

Do we knock down all the statues or leave them and add a sign that says: this happened, please don’t forget.

Can we listen as well?

“ … a kind of crystalline structure … ”

If you listen to Ariana Martinez’s Perfect Love in a loop, you hear the repeated nests of phrases within a story about memory and grief and a virtual trip to honor one’s ancestors.

Taehee Whang repeats: how do I access your archive? How do I sound my loss?

A grandfather’s burial mound is not only infinitely far when the mourner stares into the Google screen towards South Korea. There are gender restrictions laid upon a body that desires less divisions, more comfort in multipled cultures.

Poetic articulations lace a braid of remembrance. It’s a collection of sonic fragments that knit a whole. Martinez makes material in sound what Whang attempts to manifest (both in life and visual artistry): it’s a kind of correction, a navigation, explains Martinez, that a grandchild in one culture needs to traverse towards another—a crack, an opening in which to get lost.

In order to recall you, a grave has to be gendered, so even when I step on the mound where you’re buried, my body will be forever alien.

As Martinez notes, “The more I think about my own practice, the more it feels like I’m trying less to make stories that appeal to a verbal, narrative sense, and more that I’m trying to make stories for our nervous systems, our bodies at a cellular level.”

“ … influenced by maps, kites and scopes … ”

As a voice in Ricardo iamuuri Robinson’s Blackbody, White Noise suggests, we need cracks and openings; we need to get lost.

Robinson’s artistry is a mystical study of sonic fossils he calls sonarcheology. He offers a collection—an archive—to awaken the listener’s position of authority. He’s also constructing a solar narrative, literally drawing upon the sun’s energy.

For an entire week, I collected sounds using two vacant cast iron cubes and sound reproduction technology. Each structure bore a single hole (a Blackbody) allowing sunlight to penetrate and radiate throughout the interior space. I recorded thermal conduction, movement and ambience. I manipulated the collected data. This project set out to reveal and translate a relationship between the light of the Sun and the struggle against forces determined to control it. The resulting meditation articulates a historical conflict, thereby leaving the listener to reimagine a new future inspired by a new solar narrative.

The very last line of Robinson’s multi-vocal work leaves us remembering: history won’t always be seen from one side.

We need to create oneself from scratch in environments where one is not supposed to exist.

“ … radio ruins are an evocative gap …”

American radio artist Karen Werner arrived in Bergen to a discovery: Norway is the first country in the world to officially shift its national radio system entirely to digital audio.

“FM is now a space of the ruins,” says Werner.

At the same time, Werner was listening to radio plays—hörspiel—and to many kinds of radio art to build an archive at Wave Farm. Tasked with solidifying, Werner says she was suspicious, particularly around the silences of archiving—the gaps—a skew towards the white European and North American producer (Robinson’s work is also now part of the Radio Art Archive, an ever-growing collection to be explored with each year’s additions; and to ask about what’s omitted, knowingly or not).

Drenched in lost signals, Werner wonders: How does an archive represent a past accurately without repeating or perpetuating that history? How can an archive be part of animating other present futures?

Werner and her cohorts playfully imagine an atrium where the abandoned Norwegian radio waves roam free, tended with care, their signals kept alive. “An attentive listener helps,” her hörspiel character suggests.

Steeped in the lab-like space, it’s plausible to imagine the physicality of these ephemeral radio signals as they are plied free. The glitches open a space of possibility.

—Joan Schuman, Earlid, summer 2022

‘Archive’ of inspiration:

Loophole of Retreat

BJ WIlson
Elegy in Water

Black Quantum Futurism – Waiting Time

dream hampton

George Orwell
Nineteen EightyFour
Andrei Codrescu
Christina Sharpe
In the Wake: On Blackness & Being
John Edgar Wideman
Writing to save a life: The Louis Till File