By: Kaitlin Wright
Margo Machida’s discussion on “Trauma, Social Memory and Art” in chapter three of her book, Unsettled Visions is an in-depth look at the way memory influences history. She mentions that memory is constantly revised saying that artists, specifically the artists discussed in this chapter, are “motivated to clarify the trajectories of their own lives, challenge accepted truths, and to help in fostering communal healing” (Machida 120). I think that as new information and new minds sift through the existing knowledge, there will continually be a a flow of new interpretation.
Artist Yong Soo Min in her piece DMZ XING presented a work about the experience of Southeast Asian refugees in their mass migration and forced separation. Part of her design spoke to the notion that peoples’ memories are “elusive, fragmentary, and evanescent” (Machida 164). She used mirrors and materials with reflective qualities to show that “facts” aren’t always what they seem. I think of it like a mirror whose image changes depending on who steps in front of the glass; the truth about an event changes depending on whose mind the information is filtered through. The artist, Min, also used the mirror to highlight that the viewer can see a piece of his or herself as connected to the history.
That being said, I think that it is important to acknowledge that the art, like memory, “doesn’t register what actually took place, but rather what we preconceive (or wish) to have happened” (Machida 124). We cannot accurately duplicate an experience to be preserved for history. How someone felt at a particular time in history is housed only within the consciousness of the person or persons who experienced the event; the ineffable nature of memory is seemingly impossible to reiterate. This is where art comes in. The implementation of art proves to be an effective way to communicate otherwise incommunicable thoughts. It gives the artist a tool to perceive something about his or herself, as well as inspires onlookers to learn something about the social history represented by the art.
This leads me to discuss another point mentioned by Machida: shared traumatic events. Artist Kristine Aono has created pieces that reflect her family’s past experience in the Japanese internment camps after WWII. In her art, she built a history from an experience she did not have. However, through her art, we are able to understand the sensations and use the knowledge we acquire to rediscover what is real and ultimately understand the trueness of the past. Art is creation, but not just making things up, rather it is putting thoughts together and forming connections. Aono does this in her art. In her project Relics From Camp, she asked local internees to bring in items that represented their time in the camps. I admire Aono’s idea to give these internees the chance to contribute to the interpretation of an event and hopefully communicate a greater truth through their piece of experience. The pieces together form a larger, more complete, “collected memory.” Machida asserts the importance of, “the role of personal memory, the presence of the author/artist ‘at the scene of memory’ and the creative contributions of individuals in actively articulating and transmitting the ‘forms of memory’ into the public sphere” (Machida 129-30). To me, it seems that small pieces of memory contribute to a more complete picture, closest to the truth of an experience as possible.