Gathering time

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A Christmas present I got was an album of “Tiles” ( Under this name were gathered traditional houses from one part of the country, that are covered with roof tiles. In fact, the album turned out to have very few pictures of tiles; instead, just taking them as a relevant architectural and stylistic pretext, it has pictures of all the various constituent parts of a household: windows, doors, courtyards, interiors, porches, even hills, grass, and the sky. So, by starting from this particular object, that can link various case studies, the story of an entire lifestyle and tradition is captured, dissected and displayed throughout.

When I see an object from the past, that has survived today due to its durable material, value or mere chance, I see more or less a tile: a pretext (as in a symbol of) to remember some forgotten gaze, life style, a way of being in the world.  As I was recently watching Doctor Zhivago, the long debated problem of the role of history (archaeology) and museums in remembering sprang to my mind:

One day she went away and didn’t come back. She died or vanished somewhere, in one of the Labour Camps. A nameless number on a list that was afterwards mislaid. That was quite common in those days.” (This is how one of the main characters of the story, Lara, meets her end).

There are and always will be material fragments of the past. Some of these have emotional ties attached to them- the things that have been passed down or remind us of our grandparents, relatives, loved ones. Beyond these however, there we have the traces that have no one left to tell their personal story, the story of the people whose names have vanished. A doll, a barbed-wired small cross (found in a labour camp), or a spoon, from the everyday objects found abandoned or buried to buildings, books, laws. What should we do about them? It is a challenge how one can transform the “time into space”, as Orhan Pamuk said, to give a form to traces of memory. A friend was suggesting that one might try and re-imagine the gestures, bodily habits, postures and customs, made possible/constrained by such objects. Regardless of the method one chooses, in the end it is all about bringing meaning to our own existence, one point in the flow of the past. By not forgetting, we can avoid being taken at the flood, and understand.

After all, as a character from Les Misérables says. “What we have we have to share”, including memory and the story of others.


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