What is a Memorial Device? he asked me. Are they like markers in the sand? They’re a group, you’re in them, I saw you play, I told him. Exactly, he said. Exactly. Then he just sat there. Is it like a pocket watch, he said after a while, a pocket watch that you have inherited? Is it like a gravestone? Or is it more like a Dictaphone, where you can record your memories? More like a Dictaphone, I would think, I said, though by this time I was feeling way out of my depth. Do your dolls have names? he asked me. Yes, they have our names, I told him; they’re us, in a way.
Keenan, David, 2017
I’m looping through an array, trying to take each token and insert into another string array (char**) and I’m getting invalid writes from valgrind as well as use of uninitialised value. How would I fix this?
Anonymous user on stackoverflow.com, 2013
Tokenisation is the process of transforming valuable and sensitive data into an unintelligible file, creating information that has no value or meaning unless one has the electronic equivalent of a key, to return the information to its original form. These modern cipher techniques are largely defused, present in online payments, for example, or social media storage and medical data protection. A recent noteworthy event is the European General Data Protection Regulation that came into effect in May 2018. The law expanded the necessity to understand the use of such technologies by the general public, who now have more control over their own data. Such control also increased public responsibility to understand how data is being kept and handled. These codes and techniques are the current state of art in matters of secrecy, security and data transmission, a new linguistic system that we cannot speak or penetrate.
In another time, another cipher mechanism was though to be unbreakable. The Enigma machines, invented in Germany after the end of World War I, were used for commercial and military reasons in order to transmit cyphertexts only intelligible through another Enigma machine sharing the same configuration. After recent disclosures of English classified files, the stories involving breaking Enigma’s code surfaced in a complex series of documentations later digested in cultural outlets such as books and movies. The 2015 film, The Imitation Game (directed by Morten Tyldum and written by Graham Moore), tells the story of Alan Turing. The movie presents an exploration of two system of secrets and codes: the Enigma and Turing himself. Whilst the former computer system is resolved and all its messages become understood by the UK military, Turing, as a living puzzle, is never fully resolved, and if anything, only becomes more complex up to his demise.
If one stares at an encrypted message, is it possible to extract any meaning from the coded state? If these systems are to be understood and decoded, is resolution only found once full decryption occurs? Alan Turin’s secret gay life and undisclosed involvement with Enigma became an amalgamation of codes, with intertwined consequences and solutions.
Among one of Turing’s final projects – left out of the movie plot – was a computer-based love-letter generator. Via an automated system of combining nouns and adjectives, the system writes short love letters to an unclassified recipient. In this emulation of found correspondence, a deeply felt human emotion – romantic love – is rendered artificial. The vocabulary of love is organised in a semi-random set and creates messages that depend utterly on our own perception and memory to be infused with meaning, Turing arguably created the first new media artwork. The computer responds to its commands, in a pseudo-random scheme, in order to create a message that can be everything but coded to anyone able to read its empty words, thus evoking the deepest and most enigmatic of human emotions from the most inhuman source.
Memory is the place where living creatures store and access information. Perhaps memories, like colours, can only be seen in relation to one another and if past events might not dictate future ones, they are at least ultimately part of a cognition process. With his love-letter generator Turing also highlights what art can do as a way to access reality through one’s own memories, even when the catalyst is an outsider, it can rapidly become too late to look away.
Religious imagery, in which groups of symbols can transmit stories and perpetuate systems of belief, or portraits where facial features carry memory in a pursuit to freeze time and, more recently, performance art works when watching, being present and remembering is crucial, all serve as examples of the intrinsic relation between memory and art, creation and consumption. So all art is about memory.
As an exhibition, Memorial Device asks old questions with new tools. If new technology is being created to improve safekeeping, handling and diffusion of data, how do these new technologies relate to us and to its own past and future? How do these developments influence human memory functions and its digital life? Is digital the new real in an environment where all can be simulated? How does this influence truth existence and perception?
By presenting an array of media spanning from metal to plastic, photography, video and light, the artworks, in their physicality, all seek new ways to convey memory and emotion. In this sense, the objects become tokens of memory themselves, embedded not only with what they depict, but what they are. Considering tokenisation processes, the artworks are physical examples of series of codes and visual representations that might, or might not, be connected to its true forms, or the true forms it can take as an art object. The exhibition is also a token of memory which, once it exists, lives on through future displays, social media profiles, photographic register and other forms of sharing and registering, a test to a collective, social and art memory.
Unlike with encrypted data, here there are no firewalls or protective measures to assure distance from these intrinsically encrypted objects. Artworks are the most complex and instigating of things, naturally ambiguous existences. Artists’ interests, memories, and inspirations mingle with the spectator’s and as a result, the latter becomes the owner of a personal and unique version of the art piece, generating a new version with a life of its own.
In this new existence, the artwork has been decoded and re-coded. Positioning itself in juxtaposition to computer-based processes of reading and rewriting sensitive data, it is impossible to truly find a final value or output from the art piece. Despite that, one still tries repeatedly to find a final solution to artworks, as if they had a binary value, a defined position.
The interplay of meanings evades common dichotomic positions: real and unreal, national and international, analogue and digital. By remixing resources, artists manipulate what we know to show us what we do not. A layer of readings and interpretation emerges through factual knowledge from artists and the audience, that might or might not be shared between those involved.
Memorial Device challenges art viewing through the unusual perspective of automated and impersonal processes to allow an atypical kind of proximity between viewer and artwork. Viewers’ memory and knowledge become a crucial component in this system of decoding and re-coding meaning from the art subject and object.
Words by Brunno Silva.