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What is House of Memory?

A Conversation Between the Installation Creators

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Special thanks to all of those beings that contributed memories, experiences, and life to this installation. To learn more about all those that have contributed, please navigate through the installation. We extend great gratitude to the University of Michigan's ArtsEngine and Center for World Performance Studies for their support of our work.

My name is Anete Kruusmagi, and I am a writer, so writing is something I do as work and as a hobby and creative outlet. I’m just always writing. This is my favorite way to express myself. 

  

I am a dance theater artist and I'm also a doctoral student at the University of Michigan information. I think recently choreography has started to take new shapes for me that don't always necessarily involve my body moving but might be choreography of inanimate entities or a digital installation as a new type of choreography for me.    

 

I was thinking that maybe you can talk a little bit about our digital installation. What is House of Memory and how did it start?    

 

It started as part of a doctoral research project back in October. I was working on an experimental approach to understanding how movement scores and movement improvisation can invite ways of understanding and knowing things in data analysis and data collection that other methods in Information Science may not. As part of that project I posted on Facebook, would anybody like to participate? And you responded! This summer I also received two grants: one from ArtsEngine at the University of Michigan that encourages interdisciplinary work, and one from the Center for World Performance Studies at the University of Michigan. Both grants supported research to learn about what kinds of results presentation methods (like this installation) can support sharing the co-produced knowledge that we generated through movement improvisation and scores in October. So, I reached out to you again, and I said hey, do you want to do this thing, and you said yes! It was kind of neat because you're a writer and I'm a movement-based artist, but somehow the thing that we made didn't necessarily look like any of those things in a conventional sense. And that's then how this digital installation emerged as a reflection of our attempts to share our co-produced knowledge around objects/memory/time with others.  

  

I would like to ask you the same question!

 

For me it started at the point when you reached out to people to find somebody to make an improvisation session. I remember doing the assignments or tasks that you gave me and I was dancing around in my childhood room. That’s when I started to think more about the environment around me and what kind of significance the things around me have. The topic of memory and object has always been in my life somehow. When I was in university, I was always writing about memories and places, then I moved onto memories and objects and then you came along, and I got another chance to investigate this topic! It’s very interesting that you pointed out that I'm working with words and you do choreography and how with this project we explored some completely different ways to express ourselves. That was so much fun. What I enjoyed most of all was the playfulness. It's like you get the chance to be a child again and just see where things and thoughts and ideas will take you. It makes me feel there are no limits. 

 

Another thing that I really enjoyed about the project was working together with another artist -- that’s so important for me. I feel that doing things together is the theme of this year for me. Earlier this year I worked with a Russian artist Aleksandra Lanchenko. We were sitting in a bus terminal. I wrote stories and she drew pictures. I find a lot of joy in working together with people. Writing is a very solitary profession and it’s easy to feel lonely. I’m very happy for these kinds of collaborations.

 

Me too. I've been thinking a lot about how this project has felt. Like it's first and foremost about how you and I relate together. In some ways it feels like our relating has changed over the course of the last several months. We moved from sort of figuring out what the kernel of our co-produced knowledge is that we wanted to share, then playing and sorting out the format and context, and then starting to think about how different visitors of the digital installation will receive what we're sharing. At the same time, it feels like the way that we've related - I don't know, maybe you might feel differently - but, I've always felt sort of this edge of joy and playfulness and working from where we're at, and not where we want to be in a way. Like I've never thought like “Oh, I wish I would have been more like this today”.

  

I think as humans we are looking for ways to share experiences, we want to find out what connects us, find that common ground. It’s always so good to find out that there’s another person who has also thought about these things. To feel that you're connected on some level with someone -- that's fun. I also think that’s one reason why I make art -- to share my experience, to find the similarities instead of emphasizing the differences.

 

It feels like our relationship - maybe like any relationship - had a very particular thing or insight to share. I might not have that same kernel of knowledge through relating with my neighbor. These different connections all have something very particular that they have to offer the world, which is also really cool to think about. This is about you and I, but then it's also about sharing you and I and thinking about what it is that our particular relationship has to share with others.  

  

True. It's like a common experience but at the same time also unique in so many ways. It's just interesting to think how others will see it, and what they will take with them after experiencing the installation. I also wanted to ask you about memory because this topic has been important to me. What is your like relationship with memory? How important are past experiences for you?

   

Recently a student asked me if there is anything I regret and would have liked to have done differently from my early undergraduate experience. I noticed when the student asked me that question, that I didn't feel that I regretted anything. The less enjoyable moments, the sad moments, angry moments or uncomfortable moments, all of those things feel important to the being that I am now, and so are in a way the basis for who I am. I don't have any way to imagine what I would be like without that past.

 

I feel like I'm talking in circles which is maybe how I feel about time a little bit, but it's like this bookshelf. These are books I read as a child, and just sitting next to that feels very different than sitting in this room before the books were here, because it reminds me of aspects of myself that are difficult to access.

 

Another thing we've talked about is how different entities hold memories. How do those objects relate to the present and the future? My body also carries memory, the same way that these books do, but they also carry future because there are always ways to reimagine what this body means and what it might do, or what it might have done. Which then gets into dreams and imagination, which is the question that I have for you. I know that dreams and imagination have been interesting topics for you to explore through the project. Have you found that your relationship to these ideas has changed as we’ve worked on the installation?   

 

In the beginning dreams, imagination and memory were all different concepts. But at one point I felt how they all started to melt together and it felt scary but also interesting. I do a lot of daydreaming and have vivid dreams. So, often when something happens in real life I have a feeling I have already either imagined it or dreamt about it.  But recently I was reading something about dreams and imagination and how we perceive the world around us, and now I have again a different way of looking at these things. I think they should still all belong in their separate drawers: here are the memories, here's my imagination, and here are the dreams. I feel now that if I mix them too much together, I lose the ground under my feet and I feel that’s dangerous. I don’t want to lose my mind. Of course, it's fun to play with these things in poetry but I feel I cannot just completely let go. It's a bit scary. 

 

I think of memory as a deep well full of everything we have gone through: all the difficult things, all the beautiful things, all the things that we have learned. For me, imagination and dreams are not as deep. They exist more on the surface. I often borrow something from memory for my imagination to work. I like your idea of how our past is shaping us, and there is no way to imagine ourselves without these experiences. I feel the same way. Recently a friend of mine shared an idea on Facebook that I really liked. She wrote that even the difficult things and difficult people are part of our journey. So all we have been through is important in some ways to shape us to people we are right now. 

 

I’d like to ask you a question about physical things now. Do you collect something?

   

I just asked my students that in relation to programming concepts! I told them that I collected sugar packets when I was a child, and I collected the wrappers from chocolates. I remember that when we would get chocolates from our grandparents for a holiday or somebody would give me a chocolate, every time it just felt so special and the wrappers were always so intricate and beautiful. Each of those wrappers also carried the memory of the moment in which I ate chocolate. I was seven or eight and I flattened them very carefully and I put them in a little box. When I go back and I look at these chocolate wrappers I still remember eating them. And it was so delightful to me. I remember that being such a nice experience, and it still is. Recently I was visiting my family and saw that chocolate wrapper box and I could still remember eating each of those pieces of chocolate! It was pretty amazing. 

 

I just wanted to speak to something that you just shared about dreams and imagination feeling a little bit more on the surface, and I was just thinking I'm not sure. I'm not sure what I feel about that relationship because we were talking about memory as this thing that goes back really deep and far and it's sort of who we are, in many ways. Also, something that we talked about over the summer is reaching back beyond the things that we personally have lived, that maybe family members have lived and how those are also our memories. The things that we don't actually remember in our minds, but perhaps our body remembers. That got me thinking about how there's one aspect of installation in which I'm gardening and the physical action of gardening made me feel as though I was relating to experiences, the family members that I’ve never met or known in my life. Even though of course we have very, very different life experiences. But the physical action or physical engagement with the material objects of the soil or the water or the shovel, I think, is what made me feel some sort of relationship to memory.

 

I've had dreams, where I wake up and I still have the feeling with me and even months later, I can still remember that feeling as though it happened to me physically. It may happen in a dream, but it still is a memory in the way that I can access that knowledge, and how it shapes who I am and the choices that I'm making now. It feels pretty cool. Sometimes before I go to sleep I just hope that I'll have one of those dreams again because I feel like I learn so much about myself and life every time. 

 

What was this project about for you?   

 

I think, for me it was an opportunity to learn something about myself, about the moment where I am, who I am and how I relate to the world and how I process the information. I wanted to know how I move when I dream or imagine, so I recorded myself. That has just always been part of my life, but I have never investigated it more deeply or wondered what it is, or why it is like that. It has just been this silly thing I do when I’m alone. But during my exchange studies in West Virginia University I realised that moving helps me to think and imagine better and I realised that dreaming is not as useless as I thought. It’s actually essential for writers.

 

Basically, the project has helped me to learn about how I process information. And this is also the direction that our society is pushing us toward. How can I be more productive? How do I function the best in this life? How can we do things more efficiently, based on our own personality? But I think now, we realize more and more that we are all unique and we all work in our unique way. So there’s less pressure to compare yourself with others and more need to find our own way and create a system that works for each of us. 

 

So for me the project was to reflect my way of living and doing things and relating to things around me.

 

I wonder if I could ask a follow-up question. What do you hope visitors to the digital installation might receive from their visit?   

 

I hope that they get the feeling of being carried through the installation, that they can explore. I hope it will send them on an adventure where they can learn something about themselves or just relax and enjoy the ride. I hope they’ll gain some new knowledge or find a visual image that is appealing to them. 

 

Most of all I hope it will be an enjoyable experience. I wouldn’t like to create something that disturbs people or makes them unhappy. When I worked as a journalist full time I often felt that I upset people, I made them angry, one girl started to cry, because of my question, someone else felt really uncomfortable. That’s not what I want to do in life. So, I hope this digital installation brings more positive emotions and no hurt or pain. But, I don’t want to say that art has to always make us comfortable. Often we need pain to grow or to understand certain things.

 

Part of the installation is drawings of bones. I remember you said that you made them when you worked in a call center. How did it happen that you were drawing bones in the call center?

   

Several months prior I had been ill in such a way that the doctor said I couldn't move vigorously. At the time I was dancing vigorously, teaching dance, and working on choreography. I was also working for this company where I could work remotely from my computer, and I couldn't really hold up my head, so it was really difficult to work. I was effectively unemployed for two months. Then in January, I was able to begin teaching again, which was amazing, I was so excited. I was substitute teaching for one of my mentors and Peridance Capezio Center in New York City. It wasn't quite enough to pay the bills, and so I was also looking for other gigs on Craigslist. I found this job working for a call center. I was terrible at it. I’m not a great salesperson, but I got into really interesting conversations about civic engagement and what it means to be a part of a community. It was amazing, but every time my boss would come around and ask if I made any money today I would say: no but I had a great conversation (thankfully I was still paid hourly beyond commission)! Because only about 10% of callers pick up, I had so much time that I was just staring at this cubicle wall. I would start thinking about my students and different ways to support my own learning for their learning. So, I started drawing bones because drawing them physically helped me prepare explanations of anatomy and movement. There's something about the physicalization of a thing that helps me understand my relationship to that entity and which could support me and being a better educator to support the students and understand the relationship of their muscles to their bones to the expression of whichever emotion that they were working with. I would then bring in the bone drawings, to show my students to talk about this.

 

It's interesting how you need physicalization to understand things. I also wanted to ask, what did you learn during the making of this digital installation?  

 

I’ve been curious about my relationship to past experiences that I have not personally had, but feel that they're a part of me, specifically those of my family and those of plants. I have not lived as a plant and so I don't have memories of being a plant. But, somehow I feel a strong relationship to plants and experiences that my family has had that I haven’t. I wasn't really sure how to understand those relationships, and so I think over the course of our installation, each of the sections invited me to investigate those relationships. Like on the skeleton page there's a video that my dad had made with a skeleton with his high school colleagues. Including that video invited these conversations with my dad about who the people in the video are, why the skeleton featured, and just sort of laughing about those memories. Through those conversations and exploration of the skeleton, I started to feel my relationship to those memories that I didn’t have, growing. So, maybe my relationship to experiences I haven’t had is a feeling one? I feel joy and laughter when imagining the process of making that video my father did, which isn’t necessarily what my father felt while he was making it, but it’s my own relationship to that experience. 

 

Also, the groundnut page is my journey of trying to understand what my relationship is to the groundnut: why do I feel a relationship to this groundnut? Where does that feeling come from? In that journey, I found that the physicalization of engaging with the groundnut - gardening, almost a version of farming or gardening to produce food - was also important to understanding my relationship to it and my family’s experience. Many members of my family are/were farmers, so working with the groundnut felt like a really big learning experience for me to understand my relationship to those farming experiences of my family that I have not personally lived. 

 

Another type of learning that our installation has invited for me, is practicing a type of sharing that can abstract a little bit away from a literal narrative and make new relationships to those ideas, without over-exposing the desired privacy of myself or other people involved.   

 

Yeah, previously we were also asking this question, are there other people’s experiences, like other members of my family, that are also part of my being or my memory? I think they actually are, because we are not just living in a shell, we're always connected to people. I think many of us don't even have our own childhood memories, but the memories of what their parents have told them. And then we start to believe it - you start to think that this is your memory, but actually, you cannot know that for sure. And I think these stories of our parents or our relatives are also a big part of our memory and our being. It's cool that you have found these objects outside your own experience that still mean something to you, that are like little mysteries that you want to crack open and see like what they are and why they are important to you.   

 

You just said something that made me think that I don't know that it is necessarily just the physical entity or object, but also about my physical engagement with the object. For example, this book that my mom wrote in 1982 featured on the groundnut page, if it were just a book on a shelf, maybe I wouldn't relate to it in the same way that I do when I flip the pages and I actually physically engage with the book. I wonder if that's a reflection of how I learn about the world/relate to the world in general. Like if I'm sitting in a classroom, I really struggle to internalize what an educator is sharing with me unless I'm doing something with my body, whether that's taking notes by hand with a pen or just fidgeting with a hair tie or something. Whatever I have to do. If I'm not somehow physicalizing the knowledge that's being shared I really struggle to remember it.   

 

This is sort of a speculative question, but how are you hoping to relate to our installation, in a few months? 

  

I think it will - as I see all the pieces of art that I have made in the end - in my mind, they all become like objects. Not in a bad way, but in this way that they will be these kinds of boxes that you can open and all the stories and memories and experiences can fly out. For me, I think the installation will be somehow frozen in this kind of fluid time or flow of time. Something that we have preserved maybe, something we felt “back then”. I hope to remember our conversations and the summer that we were talking to each other so intensively. I also think it will be like a jumping-off-point for future projects. Looking back to old works or creations, I think it always inspires me. It's always fun, and I hope it will bring me some new ideas at some point, some new things to investigate. How about you?

 

Over the course of the next few months, I hope that some people will visit the installation, and I'm curious about how their visits change what the installation is. Especially because there's space for people to actually contribute to the installation themselves. I'm curious about how those additions shape and change the installation. You mentioned flows in time. While an aspect of me feels like the installation will encapsulate a moment in time, because it will continue to change, you and I will continue to change, and how I relate to it will change, I think maybe for me the analogy I might use to describe how I hope it will feel is more like sand dunes that are slowly shaped over time. I think, maybe that's how I hope to relate to the installation into the future, or however long we keep the domain name anyway!   

 

Yeah, it's still alive and it will stay alive, as long as somebody goes back there. I know I will for sure because I'm curious!   

 

It was a pleasure speaking with you.

 

Thank you.

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