Alexis Milligan

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A Blog Post

The Art of Remembering

I was at the library with my children and I happened upon a book containing stories of Greek Gods and Demi-Gods. As I began to read the introduction I came across a story about Zeus and Mnem-oh-syn-e. She is the Muse of Memory and became the mother to the Nine Muses: Calliope (Epic Poerty), Clio (History), Erato (lyric poetry), Euterpe (music), Melpomeni (tragedy), Terpsichore (dancing), Thalia (Comedy), Polyhymnia (sacred song), and Urania (astronomy).  It was upon reading these names and origins of the muse that it struck me, Muse is in fact the begin place of Museum.  The act of stepping into the past, of remembering is in fact an art.

In the information age, we are bombarded with excess. Every bit of research is followed by a counter argument and it becomes increasingly challenging to sift through it all, so how can we think and feel our way through history, is it possible for elements of the past to exist in the present? Can we, in building our own associations, begin to live inside the information, and make a completely unique and compelling experience for ourselves?

A great many researchers and scientists, in medicine and other fields, are beginning to develop this concept. They are discovering just how profound an impact narrative can have on the conclusions they reach and more importantly, the effects they achieve in communicating them – hence the ever-growing popularity of the Ted Talk. The imaginative work of narrative binds the teller to the listener, us to each other.

This concept has also started to come into focus for historical societies and museums, many of which are in great need of reimagining, and have the dust swept off.

Artefacts provide us with the foundations on which we can base hypothesis. They are the tangible evidence. We see something, it is there in front of us, but what is it that carries us over to sensing how the object might move and if it could move, what story would it tell? The art of memory is that in seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting smelling, our imagination begins to fill in a narrative. We respond by building associations, we crave to feel something in response to what we are experiencing. We want to attach ourselves to the story and make it our own.

Draw our own conclusions….

Is it a walk through a historical village, where actors immerse themselves into characters of history, as we walk by what feels like a real French Soldier or British Garrison? Is it sitting in a replica of a chair from the Titanic? Or visiting a grave site? Is it standing in front of a Viking Ship?

The simple act of going to a museum is not only about exhibits and tidbits of information laid out along a path of hallways.  Going to a museum is in fact a creative act: we reclaim the past by imagining ourselves in it. How we think, feel and apply the different parts of our imagination to what we see: the artefacts beyond the glass, the interviews, the first hand tellings, the films, the pictures, the stories woven through generations – all these make museums the dwelling place of Memory. To be thus inspired by her, and her nine daughters, is in fact a profound gift.

Now here is where we come in: The craft of the artist is to delve inside narrative, and to do this we work hard to gain a deep understanding of how to move our audience.  We are masters of play, like my son is with his lego. He plays for hours. Play is a fundamental part of how we interpret the world around us. The work of the artist is in fact to make demands of the individual to listen, to think, to feel, and to question. We hold true to our sacred vocation, which is not to simply entertain (which is of course an added bonus), but to provide the imagination with the food it needs, to exercise itself, and to go on its own journeys; to experience its own narrative.

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