Field notes from the Museum of Random Memory, Iteration #2

Un-curatorial interpretation with Kristoffer and Chris

The up-front purpose is to playfully engage citizens to think about how they might like to better control how they contribute data… The behind-the-scenes purpose is to generate data and ideas about how municipalities, buildings, or institutions are currently collecting and archiving citizen data and how we can encourage citizen engagement in these discussions. We prompt citizens to think about everyday scraps of stuff they’d like to remember or forget to spark critical reflections about what is, or could be, relevant to the city… What future heritage might we create if we all paid closer attention to the traces of ourselves that might eventually become part of some larger pool of cultural memory?

– On the Museum of Random Memory, Annette Markham


The Museum of Random Memory invited people to contribute to an archive with a memory that they wanted to remember or forget, and functioned through different layers of interaction. A participant who approached the museum space was met by a contribution assistant, an archivist, who guided the participant through the process of uploading a photo of a memory they wished to contribute. The chosen photo would then appear on the museum’s website, and, choosing whether or not the memory was to be forgotten or remembered, the photo would be added to a grid of other memories and either fade out over time (a forgotten memory) or remain visible for all to see (a memory chosen for preservation). During this step, the archivist collected notes about the donated memory on a sheet, and engaged the participant with a brief conversation about the memory they chose. The participant could then choose to follow up their discussion with a one-on-one interpretation of their memory with another member of the museum. This interpretation session took place in a separate, darkened room, with desk lighting helping to transform the space into a quiet refuge from the bustle of the main area outside.

In the planning phases of the project, there was a continuing gravitation towards representations of the lived experience and the role of the artist as curator/anthropologist/archaeologist. In Dieter Roelstaete’s Field Notes, the rise of information economy is contrasted alongside contemporary art’s affinity for recovering, remembering, reconstructing, reenacting, and repeating the past. Roelstaete’s words run in tandem to Annette Markham’s quoting of Madeleine Grumet, stating that every telling is a partial prevarication, and in another sense: we cannot simply recreate the past. Despite all this, in the process of recycling collected memories, our historiographic impulses omit attention to the liberating experience of forgetting. In our group consisting of people from many different walks of life, were we anthropologists, archivists, artists, or something else?

Reconstruction/representation/recycling of memory; notes by Andrew Sempere

Qualitatively and in its simplest essence, the museum was an art project and an archive, joined through the data it collected in the form of memories to be forgotten, with those memories being repurposed through the construct of a digital archive of images. The method of excising a part of our lives (being asked to literally forget) through the donation of a memory to the archive and conversely reinforcing memorable experiences created or encouraged a cathartic experience, a freeing of one’s self from the memorial baggage that we would otherwise carry until the ravages of time stripped our memories away. The museum acted as the vehicle for this catharsis, engaging participants through each step of the process, from donating a memory to a subsequent “un-interpretation” of a memory through one-on-one conversation with the donor. The product of the digital archive – the collection of images, the reference tags, the digital tools for exploring the collection – remained secondary to the emotional experience of social engagement of our memories with others.

Curation, which invariably follows the archiving of content, remains a post-thought, a ritual that we perform for the satisfaction of seeing order in our work and outlining a process for ourselves and an uncertain future audience. In the framework of the museum, curation was the collating, interpreting, un-interpreting, recycling, re-telling, and re-configuring of the memories within our digital archive into stories and experiences that exposed our humanity and helped us find common threads of existence with each other. The warm and intimate conversations with people who had donated memories to the museum demonstrated and reinforced the notion that the way we share data in a digital world can have major implications in its usefulness to society as a whole. The success of the museum came not in a digital wall of random memories, but in the interpretation of its content through various hyper-realisms of conversation, shared emotions, and human understanding.

Our group of academics, practitioners, and students performed a wide range of roles, yet we all shared the implicit role of anthropologists tasked with understanding and interpreting the different cultural threads presented to us through the contributions of the museum’s donors. Now that the museum has concluded another iteration, what have we learned about these processes, and what will we carry on into the future?