Remembering: Some thoughts on Memory

| May 29, 2017

This week I have been working on my show at Millitzer Gallery, Remembering, and working on a few site-specific pieces to accompany the set of ten silkscreen posters I made last summer and fall. I wrote this reflection for the exhibit:

What does a memory palace really look like? How does one enter? How clearly can one really see?

This show is about the act of remembering. We construct memory palaces–shrines to our past–to help us choose what memories to keep and what to forget. Memory is tricky: it dissembles. You can be absolutely sure that you remember something perfectly, but with the passage of time, memories become anything but accurate.

This show is in part about remembering my father, and the odd and beautiful ways that he and my mother chose to raise their daughters. But this show is as much about that act of remembering. It is startling how false and colored our memories really are, how manufactured, even as we aim for accuracy. They are as much a creation as anything I ever make in the studio.

My mother has dementia, and there is a poetry to what she remembers and what she forgets. She always knows which days my sisters are coming to visit her and will sometimes be waiting by the front door for us to arrive. She forgets what she doesn’t want to remember: the loss of her home, the fact that she can no longer drive or babysit, and which days my sisters are leaving. She doesn’t remember her pains or the depression that used to plague her. She lives in the filtered present, and what she forgets leaves her happy, contented.

But we all unwittingly choose and curate our memories. To prepare for this show, I made a trip back to my childhood home in search of inspiration for the show wallpaper. I was fascinated with the blue wallpaper that adorned the front hall of our family home. It was an odd formal pattern: I stared at it for hours as a child trying to discern if the shapes within were pansies, or maybe diamonds or eyes, or something else altogether. It defied definition. I recall seeing the paper there when I visited the house two years ago, right as my father’s health began to fail. But when I returned this week I found that the paper was gone, and that my memory of it two years ago was a figment of my imagination; the new owners in fact had never seen it. My memories of it were a story I had manufactured. Now, this wallpaper, like so many of the trappings of our childhood, exists only as an imperfect amalgam of our families’ collective memories. I asked each of my sisters to draw it from memory to make the paper that hangs in the show.

Category: Graphic Design, Printmaking, St. Louis

About the Author ()

Jen McKnight is an associate professor of art and art history at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Jennifer McKnight earned her BFA at Washington University in Printmaking and her Masters in Graphic Design at California Institute of Arts (CalArts). Her work is recognized in publications such as Print Magazine, :Output, and “Becoming a Graphic Designer: A guide to Careers in Design” by Steven Heller and Theresa Fernandes. Her design writing is published in the AIGA National Education Archives, Redaction Magazine, No Tasarim, as well as in Means by Which we Find our Way, edited by David Gardner and Andrea Wilkinson and Robin Landa’s Graphic Design Solutions 4th ed.

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