- Tate Liverpool
- North West England
What is the difference between collecting memory of time or place with our eyes and collecting memory with a camera? They are both visual aids, we reflect on what is produced from both of them, wether a photograph or fragments of the mind. We would hope our eyes capture the moments we experience when we encounter time within a place allowing the mechanical shutter of the blink to create an image to be the main particle of a memory, allowing our other senses to be awakened to communicate with the memories true identity. The camera we manipulate, we hold in place, focus and select the parts we want to see through its man made eye.
Escaping the Liverpool rain I travel through the lives of work presented before me in ‘Thresholds’ the Liverpool Tates component to the Liverpool Biennial. Exploring in and out of worlds of tourism, identity, globalisation, boundaries of the geographical, political and personal, I stumble upon a room guarded by two Tate invigilators. I cautiously approach the space the guarded room is inhabiting unsure of what my fate will be. I am handed a camera, this is my tool. Although the camera is of such familiarity to me, I look at the object as if it is foreign. I am given my mission, to explore the room with only the means of the flash of the camera. Entering I battle my way through the mass of blackout curtain, the confusion in my mind already over reacting, unsure of wether I am nervous, confused or eager to see what awaits. Darkness, I stumble into black. I am in the darkroom of Pak Sheung Chuens ‘A Travel without Visual Experience’ (2008). He invites us to share his experience of a 5 day group trip he took discovering Malaysia, but instead of seeing his travel visually, he covered his eyes and allowed the camera to replace them allowing the photos gathered by his companions in the group to be his only visual encounter. Nervously I wait to see if I am sharing this experience with anyone else before I see what my camera captures and stores for memory. Flash. I awake the camera, at first it is hard to see what is before me, but I realise my camera has stored this for me to reflect. I see blue wallpaper and vague photos on walls. I search on more, nervously reaching out for guidance but realising the camera is my only aid here. Investigating further I find photos in frames embed onto the blue floral wallpaper. Faces and places stare at me through the darkness, only awakened and alive when I present light. These photos are not known to me but yet they resemble holiday photographs you would collect to take back with you, to show others the time you experienced, to add as an element of your minds stock to search back to and try to remember a place or time. The camera flash guiding me to the exit I crawl my way out of the curtains back into reality. I feel as if I have come out my own memory, the room acting as my mind searching through the images I have stored over time. My eyes burn as I am brought back into the main space of the gallery.
But what is my role within the room? Am I his mind wondering what his visual encounter would be? The darkroom a metaphor for his covered eyes, the flash of light his other senses connecting with the place. Am I the spectator, one of his companions in the group taking pictures for him, trying to capture the things I want him to see? I reflect on how I meet place or time with my camera realising that what is produced from it is a physical reminder, an image embedded within paper that awakens my senses allowing my mind to travel back in time. The connection between me and my camera is personal, time shared between me and the object, we store memory. I know of this experience, I have seen place, and I have shared place with my camera. Pak Sheung Chuen relies on his other senses for experience. Although he is present in the place, is his mind visually there? Although he has encountered can he remember the things that the place presented to him? I wonder do these photographs he has gathered take him back to a moment on the trip that his senses experienced and do these other senses see a far greater experience of the travel then his sight would ever see?
The work is to make a comment on tourism and I begin to think about my own encounter with travel and how I experience it with sense and visuality in conjunction with the photos displayed in the darkroom. When we explore a place are we really seeing what is in front of us? We rarely think about the other experience our senses get from exploration. Often we take photographs in the hope of remembrance or for the sake of showing that you had been there, the camera becoming a part of us. But our sense of smell, touch, taste and hearing play a part in this remembrance. In the darkroom you become alive, your sight taken away, you have to rely on everything else to guide our way, the flash of the camera only allowing you a slight moment of sight.
It is important to think about the idea of what we see when we travel and what we want to see. It is our other senses which often really connect with the time or place, our nose breathing in smell meeting the unknown world of air around us, our mouth recording taste, our hearing recording the soundtrack of place. The touch of our skin on place acting as blank journal pages recording time, the touch of our fingers on the cameras shutter release, capturing an image for our memory bank.