Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Being a VIP at the Memory Palace

After the wonderful panel about fashion and BMI, I was even more inclined to go to any events that were being hosted at the V&A. Hilariously I've still never been there for the actual museum during normal hours. I'm wondering how long it's going to take me to get there as a normal person. I guess we'll see.

In any case when the opportunity to go to a private viewing of an exhibit before it opened to the public came up at work, I definitely jumped on it like an overexcited schoolgirl. A chance to be a VIP to something the public won't be able to see until the next day or the day after? Hells yeah!

Plus this exhibit sounded really fascinating. And apparently only me and one other woman at work thought so, since we were the only two who responded to the email and there were two tickets. Perfect.

Except that on the day we were supposed to go her mate was planning to come into town and didn't want to go with her, so she ended up backing out. I asked The Ginger and Hapa, the two contractors who sit next to me at work, if either one of them wanted to come with me, since I had less than two hours notice before it was going to start that I'd be going stag, but alas, neither of them were interested in shmoozing with art folks. So, I guess I was going it alone. Wouldn't be the first time anyway. I can go to events pretty solidly solo and not feel too much. Guess it just comes with the territory of living alone and well...being alone.

So I did.

Though it would have been better with company, it was still a completely worthwhile event to go to. The exhibit was incredible. Let me describe.

It was called Memory Palace. Here is a summary.

The story is set in a future London, hundreds of years after the world's information infrastructure was wiped out by an immense magnetic storm. Technology and knowledge have been lost, and a dark age prevails. Nature has taken over the ruins of the old city, and power has been seized by a group who enforce a life of extreme simplicity on all citizens. Recording, writing, collecting, and art are outlawed.

The narrator of the story is in prison. He is accused of being a member of a banned sect, who have revived the ancient 'art of memory.' They try to remember as much as they can of the past in a future where forgetting has been official policy for generations. The narrator uses his prison cell as his 'memory palace,' the location for the things he has remembered: corrupted fragments and misunderstood details of things we may recognize from our time. He clings to his belief that without memory, civilization is doomed.

The exhibit was written by Hari Kunzru and with the help of 20 specially commissioned installations by graphic designers, illustrators, and typographers...his story was put into being. It was incredible. That's the only word I can use to describe it. It was beautiful and incredibly thought-provoking. I have never been so close to thinking about my life again in a museum in a long time. That's saying something, since I've been in a lot of museums.

The end of the show had the narrator dying in his cell being given the chance to 'download' one memory that would survive past him. The question that is presented to the viewer is: 'If you could keep only one memory, what would it be?'

Hugely philosophical and beautiful. The narrator chooses one that you would expect in a story like this: him and his lover, holding hands, outside and the simple sensations that come with it.

Here is the link to the gallery's illustrations and a summary of what the exhibit is about. It's running until the end of October. It's possible I may go back and see it with fresh eyes if I am there again for something else (which seems altogether likely given the number of times I've already been there since I've moved here - three times and counting...in less than four months).

I bought the book from the show as soon as I found out the store was open. 10pounds was more than worth the hardback that contained the entire narrator's story as well as the illustrations from the show. Gorgeously bound and now preserved in my own memory.

The experience was breathtaking. Not only was I a VIP again (though alone this time instead of with someone that was wonderfully keeping me company), I was thrown into something worthwhile and wonderful. I hope the V&A keeps pushing for exhibits like this.

Here are some random shots I took of the soiree.


  1. This sounds super cool. Have you read Moonwalking with Einstein? That's the first time I heard about the Memory Palace. It's a non-fiction book about memory - I really enjoyed it. :)

    1. Oohh no, I haven't! I'll add it to the wish list though; already have quite a queue I'd love to get to, but I need to get through my current "owned but unread" pile first! ;)

    2. Yes, I'm painfully aware of the giant pile myself. :) But, as always, I figured I'd throw it out there. Feel free to do the same to me. The pile is always growing.