Architecture and Film - Memory Class

Last night I taught my first Memory themed Architecture and Film class at the Brookyn Brainery.  It seems as though there is always a technical malfunction in every class while I set up the equipment; this time, my computer completely refused to turn on (magically, it returned to normal this morning).  Thanks to Netflix, I was able to get by by showing clips on my iPad.

The content for the class was densely packed with material.  We started with a brief discussion on space-time theory as it related to the development of Modern art and architecture at the turn of the twentieth century.  This manifested itself in Cubism, Purism, Constructivism, de Stijl and Futurism, to name just a few of the "isms" that dotted the period.

We talked about mnemotechnics, and how the "art of memory" (the ancient technique of remembering through spacial indicators) represents a historical precedent for the relationship between architecture and memory.  This was a very important theme that manifested itself in both the films and the architecture we looked at in the class.

Then we looked at clips from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, (Michel Gondry, 2004) and how it "portrays a psychological space in which the art of memory is rendered impossible through the technology of erasure", and how "the shuffling of images and places, places and images, produces a distorted technologically mediated mnemotechnics that defies spatio-temporal consistency." (Quotes from Alan Cameron's Modular Narratives in Contemporary Cinema.)

This was followed by clips from Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000), and a discussion of non-linear, or modular, narratives.  Anachronic modular narratives (those that toggle between the future and the past in the telling of a story) "both reflect and respond to changes in our perspectives on time and space, and constitute a valuable tool for analyzing the role of narrative in contemporary culture." (Cameron, p.19)  We talked about how Memento takes place in "non-places", architecture of the most non-descript nature.  These "non-places" are visual cues to the amnesiatic condition that the main character, Leonard Shelby, suffers from.  He is constantly trying to anchor himself in space and time, and has a difficult time doing so, relying on Polaroid pictures and notes to constantly remind himself of where (and when) he is.  In addition, the "non-places" lead to a timelessness in the movie as well; though filmed in 2000, there is a lack of contemporary technological aids such as cell phones, recording devices and  digital cameras that might help Leonard with his inability to remember beyond 10 minutes in the past.  This gives the film a timeless as well as a "place-less" quality which correlates well to the plot and the structure of the film.

We then moved onto Peter Zumthor and how he relies on the memory of his personal architectural experiences to influence  his work.   After reading from his book of essays, Thinking Architecture, we looked at his Brother Klaus Field Chapel, located near Cologne, Germany, and how its unique method of construction lends itself to the idea of memory.  We also looked at his Shelters for Roman Ruins in Chur, Switzerland,  as well as his Steilneset Memorial to the Victims of the Finnmark Witchcraft Trials in Vardo, Norway.  The memorial is inspired by the fish drying racks that adorn the coastline on which the memorial is built.

The very notion of a memorial structure is evocative of the idea of memory. We discussed the distinction between the "personal" memory of Peter Zumthor and the idea of a "collective" memory that is inherent in public memorials such as the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington DC as well as the 9/11 memorial currently under construction here in New York City.

Much needs to be ironed out, clarified and expanded upon in this seminar, but I find this subject fascinating and an exciting topic to explore.