In and out of memory:

exploring the tension when remembering a traumatic event.

Anna Walker



In and out of memory delves into the tension of remembering a traumatic event. ‘Memory’ within this context is perceived as crucial to understanding oneself socially, culturally, and personally, while ‘trauma’ is understood as an experience borne by the act of leaving wherein the mind’s coping mechanism is overwhelmed by shocking external events. The intensity of the experience makes it difficult to remember and impossible to forget, and any form of recollection seem inadequate.

Trauma from a modernist perspective points to an occurrence that demands representation and yet refuses to be represented (Roth 2012: 93). Traumatic memories are detached memories that, although fixed historically in a specific time and place, become unwieldy anchors for a body that is neither here (present) nor there (in the past). I am interested in this paradox from philosophical and psychoanalytical perspectives: the latent witnessing of traumatic events that defies the assimilation of the past into a narrative and the concept of dissociation, or of not fully inhabiting the experience of the event as it happens, where ‘the wound of the mind – the breach in the mind’s experience of time, self, and the world – is […] an event that […] is experienced too soon, too unexpectedly, to be fully known’ (Caruth 1996: 4).

Understanding involves naming and substantiating the absence that constitutes the states of dissociation associated with experiencing traumatic events. Francoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudilliere (2004: 47) have written of a dissociate truth, a ‘cut out consciousness’ or an un-thought known, in which the subject’s relationship to history was not so much censored as erased leaving only a trace in the field or the psyche to facilitate a link to the past – a foothold back into the story that has been reduced to ‘nothing’. This research becomes an excavation into the un-thought known, an unravelling of the traumatic memory in an effort to narrate the trauma body, the traumatic event and its trace, in which the exposition space has the potential to become the vehicle of holding or, alternatively, the transition space.


My research methodology balances the autoethnographic with the critical, utilising personal experiences to facilitate a greater understanding of trauma. Autoethnography in this instance is seen as a reformulation of ethnography or anthropology, an in-depth examination of context incorporating cross-disciplinary approaches or ‘methodological abundance’ (Hannula, Suoranta, and Vadén 2005: 40) to understand traumatic memory, placing an emphasis on self-reflection and subjective participation as both the artist and the owner of certain memories. The narrating self provides a temporary lodging to navigate the fragmentation of remembering rewriting the self into a larger context – as in the text for this exposition, exploring the notion of the self as dependent on the other and ‘the normative horizon within which the Other sees and listens and knows and recognizes’ (Butler 2001: 22).

This exposition continues with multiple sound tracks, please turn your sound ON to participate.

Giclée Print, Size: 594 x 841 mm, Toxic Clouds no 1, 2013

When aspects of life are lived as a narrated story, the story itself creates the potential for questions of identity, self, and consciousness to be conceptualised and communicated through the various methods of art production. Michael Schwab (2014: 99) addresses the ‘first gesture of writing in the context of exposition’ as a ‘design gesture and making of space’, which is an interesting proposition when writing about trauma. I am aware of this as I place the first markings upon the empty online exposition space, markings that have the potential to navigate a pathway through a traumatic event. Traumatic memory occupies neither the past nor the present but the place of near death that exists beyond the normal, in the realm of the non-ordinary, the mystical, where Bergson’s ‘pure duration’ and the supranormal exist alongside each other. Here, image, text, or word have the potential to rupture the exposition space and engender ‘a clutch of interconnected discontinuities in the milieu of what preceded it: a disruption of the previous space–time consensus […] an altered relation between agency and embodiment giving rise to new forms of action, communication and perception’ (Rotman 2008: 6), where the gesture of the traumatised body is followed by traumatised action and therefore has no choice but to leave a traumatised trace upon the empty space. Such a rupture marks the beginnings of a pathway for representation of the traumatic memory.


The starting point for this research, which began in 2012, was my memory of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on 11 September 2001, as explored through a journal written on the day of, and days following, the disaster – a journal that until a couple of years ago had remained closed and unread. This personal remembering or recollection is layered upon a well-established collective memory of the event and a vast array of literature, art, and theory written in response to that day. For this exposition I have addressed the different stages in navigating this pathway backwards to meet the traumatic memory. Rereading the journal, revealing its contents, and making work around it functioned on two levels: first, the exploring of trauma from the inside out, where my memories and my body existed as a site of trauma; second, the externalisation of trauma where I – my body and so my memory – became a vehicle for further understanding the collective memory. The gradual excavation of this traumatic memory, breaking it apart, becomes a way of determining its affective nature, reflecting on the implications of remembering when the cultural and global memory is already so historically fixed. Deconstruction from this premise led to questions that address how fragmented a memory and therefore an artwork or body of text can be and still engage, and therefore communicate, something of the affect, ‘the element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow and pierces me’ (Barthes 1981: 27, 53), and whether Schwab’s (2008) claim that deconstruction is capable of delivering a finding or being used as a substitute for such a finding is correct. Research is therefore ongoing and still open to shifting, to changing, and to discovery.


Giclée Print, Size: 594 x 841 mm, Toxic Clouds no 2, 2013