Stage 3. Remembering (2014–15) (digital moving imagery eighteen minutes long of which five minutes is exhibited here) returns again to the idea of full memory and functions both as an installation within the gallery space and as a ‘thing’ that exists outside the gallery to be shown on a screen (whether computer, TV, or iPad). The work continues to explore Derrida’s notion of the presence of absence and the concept of the ghost as a figure associated with mourning, which raises questions: (1) How does one attend to the ghostly presence of the event, or the mourning of an event that has yet to be experienced? (2) How does one bring closure to a past that exists in the future?
For this artwork I revisited the 9/11 imagery on YouTube and stood in front of a microphone, alone in a soundproofed room, remembering as much as possible now thirteen years on. Despite the passage of time, and the brief exchanges of recognition that came from ‘yes I was there!’, this was the first time that I remembered out loud, that I travelled backward without rehearsal or the prop of a journal. This point of arrival and departure functioned toward the laying down of new pathways through memory – permission for a different kind of remembering and listening. It is a pathway born out of the total excavation of speech and text as in the final piece of Fragments; nevertheless, flexibility is still required while traversing the past thirteen years. It feels as if I am no longer carrying the text forward from the past as in Stage 1 and Stage 2, but that I am geographically and corporeally travelling backward to a fixed site. It is an effort to reclaim the ghosts from the past, or perhaps, as Derrida has suggested, a leaning toward a certain form of closure that involves a process of exorcism.
Remembering furthers the meshing of the personal with the collective. The imagery comprises footage shot on that day (11 September 2001) and the days thereafter, and moves from the planes flying into the Twin Towers to the clearing up of Ground Zero and the final raising to the ground and removal of the mounds of rubble and building remnants left over after the falling of the towers. The footage is once again shot with a macro lens: a close up, distorted, and abstracted perspective of that time, which unfolds silently alongside the simplicity of the speaking voice – my voice. The voice was initially recorded in one twenty-eight-minute take, but because of external noises – the room was not entirely soundproofed – I was forced to re-record the voice and had planned to edit the two together. Rather, I chose to go with the second rendition, which was shorter and, as in Stage 1 of the research, less emotional. To date (30 March 2015) I have edited the footage three times, each version becoming tighter and shorter in an effort to reduce and contain the memory.
The voice of Remembering is at times laboured and slow; the use of repetition in words and phrases functions to slow down the remembering. Pauses seem thoughtful and searching rather than spacious and like the tightness of a held breath there is a reaching for the fragments of the memory in an effort to make sense of the past. Building on the slippages from Stages 1 and 2, the voice seems at times out of sync with the imagery, creating dissonance and a slightly detached feeling for the listener. Shot in black and white the footage encompasses the depth of the shadows of Derrida’s ghosts; they are faceless moving bodies, textured with dense blacks and milky whites. The footage is pixelated and broken as if transported over the passage of time, retaining remnants of the original trauma. As in Stage 1 and the installation at Plymouth Arts Centre (Space 2) there is nowhere to go but to the voice and so to the memory, only this time it is not from being shut into a darkened room with the artwork but because there exists only the black-and-white moving imagery and clearly spoken words. This has the effect of laying the past bare for consideration. The footage with the colour drained out of it, the voice with all external sounds and noise stripped away, is the closest or clearest depiction of my memory from that time. It is here that the distortion of suspended time, the cut out consciousness, and the ghostly echoes can simultaneously exist alongside one another.
It is an impossible work of mourning, at times frozen and stilted, that searches for the ghostly echoes of the past. As trauma continues to perpetuate body and site, traumatised spaces are haunted spaces in which memories reverberate backward and forward, trapped in a place of unassimilated narrative. I see this work as a response not of melancholy but a return to the theme of loss through presence and absence, opening up the possibility of a reordering of the past. Experiencing trauma demands a constant return to complete the cycle of memory but I am still left with the question, what form does this completed cycle of memory take? My work here in this exposition addresses the fragility of witnessing the past, the fragmentation of accounts and the searching for a narrative however abstract. Though the research is far from complete, questions arise at this stage as to how necessary it is to construct something coherent and therefore perhaps ‘resolvable’ through the excavation of such a traumatic memory, or indeed if coherence is even necessary. Carrying the memory forwards as in Stages 1 and 2 of the research, or travelling backward to the memory as in Stage 3, does not, as initially thought, lay the traumatic memory to rest; however, it does change the remembering. It reclaims the memory from a larger cultural archive and in its transformed state replaces it back into an archive, there to remain (at this stage) as a ghostly echo excluding temporality, bridging the past with the present and in its now digitally indelible transformation continuing to exist into the future.
Though the research is still going through a process of mourning, I seem to have arrived, perhaps precipitately, at questions about memorialisation, where this exposition site could be said to function as a form of memorial site. As complicated as the mourning of trauma is, memorialising it is even more complicated. This was never more evident than in the extensive debate surrounding the appropriate response to 9/11 and the cost and the length of time that it has taken to build and finally complete the 9/11 memorials. One cannot escape the nationalism that echoes throughout the official commemoration of the attacks, from the National September 11 Memorial and Museum and Flight 93 National Memorial to Bush’s official designation of 11 September as Patriot Day. Despite the politicisation of remembering certain events, there remains the need for the memorial to bear witness and to translate trauma. The aim of the 9/11 Memorial Museum (as written on its website) is to serve ‘as the country’s principal institution for examining the implications of the events of 9/11, documenting the impact of those events and exploring the continuing significance of September 11, 2001.’ Yet I failed to find mention of the many thousands of innocent people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq in response to 9/11, which as of 2011 is estimated as over eighty thousand dead Iraqi non-combatants (DeLappe 2011).
The 9/11 Memorial features two enormous waterfalls and reflecting pools, each about an acre in size, set within the excavated remnants of the original Twin Towers. The 9/11 Memorial Museum evokes the ruins of the Twin Towers in a deconstructed form while the bombproof concrete podium attests to a post-9/11 world of paranoia and fear, which seems to support the lingering promise of future disasters and therefore traumas, of future unresolved and irreconcilable narratives – indeed the notion that the worst is yet to come, a state Brian Massumi (2010: 54) has described as an ‘anticipatory reality in the present of a threatening future. It is the felt reality of the nonexistent, loomingly present as the affective fact of the matter.’ Exploring the transition from mourning to memorial I am aware of a huge sense of loss at the separation from a place that I had considered home for so many years, for having lived in New York for over twenty years I have not returned since 2006. So this work functions as both memorial to 9/11 and to the many years I resided in New York, to the many memories I formed and the trajectories travelled to arrive here at this place in time and space. It is a critical engagement with the past, a past that now arrested and recognised is as such disrupted and disturbed.
The breaking apart of the memory, its deconstruction and the eventual reforming of it into new forms of representation (through the discovery of the explosive sound and the birth thereafter of a new perception), leaves me searching for new forms of philosophical discovery and theorisation. Schwab asked, ‘Is it enough to expose supplemental structures in existing discourses, or does something “other” than discourse need comparable attention?’ He went on to write (Schwab 2008) that at the borders of deconstruction there lives the opportunity for a philosophy of art in which, for me, significance or meaning is derived as much from the space between the methods as the work itself, where the potential for discovery also lies in the mistakes and the mishaps. As Derrida has noted:
there is a point where the authority of final jurisdiction is neither rhetorical nor linguistic, nor even discursive. The notion of trace or of text is introduced to mark the limits of the linguistic turn. […] the mark is not anthropological; it is prelinguistic; it is the possibility of language, and it is everywhere there is relation to another thing or relation to another. For such relations, the mark has no need of language. (Derrida and Ferraris 2001: 76)