Maarten Vanden Eynde

Ars Memoriae, The Art to Remember 

University of Bergen, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, The Art Academy - Department of Contemporary Art

My PhD research Ars Memoriae, The Art to Remember analyses the role of art within the larger history and evolution of external memory devices. It looks at material traces of remembering and the invention of an ever changing body of language expressions, like signs and symbols, to enhance communication capabilities. I follow the process of externalising emotions, knowledge and information, starting in the Palaeolithic Stone Age about 100.000 years ago, until, in a speculative future, it will be internalised again using artificial wetware, neuro-computers and DNA coding.

Maarten Vanden Eynde is a visual artist and co-founder of the artist initiative Enough Room for Space. He graduated in 2000 from the free media department at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam (NL), participated in 2006 in the experimental MSA^ Mountain School of Arts in Los Angeles (US) and finished a post graduate course in 2009 at HISK Higher Institute for Fine Arts in Ghent (BE) where he is a regular guest tutor. Since 2020 he is a PhD candidate at the UiB / University of Bergen in Norway. In 2017 he was nominated for the first Belgian Art Prize and won the Public Prize. His practice is embedded in long term research projects that focus on numerous subjects of social and political relevance such as post-industrialism, capitalism and ecology. His work is situated exactly on the borderline between the past and the future; sometimes looking forward to the future of yesterday, sometimes looking back to the history of tomorrow. Recent exhibitions include:   The Stuff of Life / The Life of Stuff, Sainsbury Centre, Norwich, UK (2023); Elefsina Mon Amour: Towards a Third Paradise. 2023 Eleusis European Capital of Culture, Elefsina, GR (2023); Grondtonen, Ijsselbiennial, NL (2023); Shifting Sceneries / 1st GIST Triennale, BE (2023); ON-TRADE-OFF: Charging Myths, Framer Framed, Amsterdam, NL (2023); Compulsive Desires: On Lithium Extraction and Rebellious Mountains, The Galeria Municipal do Porto, PT (2023); Seeds of Memory, Fries Museum, Leeuwarden, NL (2023); Gravend near de Toekomst, Museum Eicas, Deventer, NL (2023); Exhumer le futur, La Kunsthalle Mulhouse, FR (2022); Digging up the Future, Mu.Zee, Ostend, BE (2021); Beaufort 21 Triennial, BE (2021).



Artistic Research Forum

The final reflection is built up as a ‘chaine opératoire’, paraphrasing French archaeologist Leroi-Gourhan when he introduced the concept of technology as the science of human activities. It is an interdisciplinary subjective approach to artefact analysis, neither linear persé nor chronological, to come to a multidimensional understanding of the artists who made the memory devices and the society of which they are a part. Since the concept of ‘chaine opératoire’ is based upon the analyst's personal experience and intuition, which is also one of the main criticisms, it is exceptionally useful in the context of this artistic research project because of the parallel with the equally embedded phenomenological ontology of art, both in the process of conceiving, making and interpreting. The visual connections that are made by confronting different memory devices with each other, crossing and negating both (chronological) time and (geographical) space, offer a meta perspective on different technological inventions that make use of symbolism and abstraction, but implement similar enduring strategies and methodologies to achieve the same result, i.e. enhanced memory skills.  


Towards the end of the reflection, I focus on the contemporary re-internalisation process of memory extension. I propose that after roughly 100.000 years of externalisation, humans will be internalising memory enhancement devices for the first time ever. Current DNA coding and storing technology will make our smartphone use look like hunter gathers making a fire by hitting two stones together seen from the perspective of people who have a lighter. This shift will be so significant and influential that it might instigate the very end of the genus Homo sapiens sapiens altogether. The difference with biological humans will eventually become too big to be able to speak of the same species anymore. This trans-humanist perspective includes the inter-cranial augmentation of memory processes of the brain by implanting wetware computer technology. It begs not only the question of how we will be remembered, as a species, but also how our conventional or traditional (dare we say ‘old-fashioned’?) way of remembering will be remembered. How will the story of the rise and decline of external memory devices be told in the future? And will it be told by the last representatives of our species, in an act of memento mori? Or will it be told by the new trans-human entities, after humans finally followed philosopher Lisa Doeland’s advice that we not only need to learn to die, but more importantly to die out? If so, what will these new entities think (if it is still called thinking) or say (if speech is still a thing) about our enduring attempt to alter our limited brains by inventing external memory devices?

Artistic Research Forum

In the first instance I focused on the biological brain and its capacity, but more importantly its limitation to remember, illustrating the need to invent memory systems and techniques to boost information storage and retrieval functionality. Although I briefly touched upon the process of externalising memory through intangible bodily expressions like mimicry, gesture, dance, rhythmic movement, sound and speech, the main focus of my research project and the subsequent reflection, is on tangible memory aids making use of material carriers that function outside and beyond the human body. Rather than calling them ‘external memory systems’, as proposed by Italian archaeologist Francesco d’Errico when introducing the concept of disembodied memory, I used the term ‘external memory devices’, grounding them in material epistemology. I looked at the earliest examples of the cognitive externalisation process, or ‘thinking at a distance’, and introduced the first examples of symbolic thinking and abstract representation.   


In the second and third year I introduced art and artistic gestures as the main driving force behind the evolution of external memory devices. Art is being understood here, coinciding with the earliest faze of externalising memory, as a particular skill, a specific human gesture relating to the making of artefacts (from Latin arte “by skill”, ablative of ars “art;” + factum “thing made”, from facere “to make, do”). Later on I also discuss more in detail the contemporary ontology of art, starting in the 1950s’ and coinciding with the shift from Holocene to Anthropocene, and from the new archaeological time scale BP (Before Present, with the 1st of January 1950 as the baseline or year 1), to the fictional AP (After Present, representing everything that happened after that date). I introduce examples of contemporary artworks that deal with memory or function as contemporary memory devices, including my own. This shift, focussing on the role of art, grounded my research within a contemporary art context focussed on making, and allowed me to zoom in more on artistic gestures, in stead of scientific and theoretical discourse.