While the most beautiful world in the world may be that which is in your own mind, what happens when your mind fails you? Not just a matter of truth vs fiction, but a fundamental physiological failure that causes your mind to lose the ability to register, and remember, that which is around you – That reality is far from beautiful.
I recall studying the case of anterograde amnesiac H.M. in my psychology and neurology classes – he was a test subject, not given any more attention than the rats whose grey matter we poked and prodded. An object of scientific inquiry whose unfortunate situation was hardly given a second thought and its contribution to the understanding of memory celebrated. Kerry Tribe’s video installation H.M. re-constructs the tale of the infamous case of the man who lost the ability to form new memories after a radical surgery to treat his severe epilepsy in 1953 removed parts of his brain. Re-instilling subjectivity, we meet H.M. (or an actor playing the role) who tells the story in his own recollections, rather than through scientific channels and empirical language.
In this bilateral video, on show as part of Tribe’s solo exhibition entitled Dead Star Light at the Camden Arts Centre, we become test subjects as our own short-term memory is prodded. Two screens, side by side, play the same film one 20 seconds after the other – the time equal to the period of H.M.’s working memory. Everything on the right has already been shown to us on the left, but often we can’t recall seeing it before, and inevitably begin to question our own capacity for memory.
Tribe’s exploration of the phenomenology of memory continues in the new works she has created for the exhibition – the most engaging of which is the installation Milton Torres Sees a Ghost. The backstory of this work involves American fighter pilot, a UFO and a classified mission. The result is government manipulation, the redaction of documents and one man’s attempt to reconcile his memories with the official story.
In the corner of the gallery sits a reel-to-reel player through which we hear Torres recount his memories of the night in which he encountered an unidentified flying object over British airspace, and an oscilloscope visualising the aural waves, mimicking the appearance of the radar screens of an aircraft. As the tape leaves the player it is impressively (seemingly denying all laws of physics) strung along the walls of the gallery entering another player in the room adjacent. In this player, the voice of Torres has been erased and the oscilloscope is inactive – flatlined and silenced with only background static noise audible. Story, memory, voice expunged by the controlling governmental and institutional powers above, as Torres questions his own recollections of the event.
Throughout her work, Kerry Tribe explores personal and historical tales, translating the nebulous structures of memory into experiential installations that reflect the tenuous qualities of the phenomenology of memory. Similar to H.M and Milton Torres, Tribe makes us aware that we cannot trust our own memories and that often, the physiological and psychological structures governing our own ‘truths’ are able to, quite easily, fail us.