‘(Im)memorabilia: Ephemerality, Resonance and the Collector’s Item’ curated by Harry Heuser at the School of Art, Aberystwyth University, 1st Dec 2014 – 6 Feb 2015
A celebration of the ephemeral rarely leaves a permanent memory, but this has been my experience of ‘(Im)memorabilia’ Is it because these disposable objects capture a specific moment in time, which then resonates with the viewer’s memory? Or is it because, seen together, this culturally rich display conjures up a time with which the viewer has links through reminiscence and personal history? Or could it be that the voice of the collector compels the viewer to consider the issues underlying the show as a whole?
Part of the fascination of the exhibition is that it ranges from experiences that are manifestly German, to the burgeoning phenomenon of 1950s American movies. A British voice is present, literally, in a wonderful audial collage of snippets from both British and American radio readings, and a 1951 copy of the Radio Times (price Twopence) assures the viewer that Britain also has a part to play in it.
Yet there is a very personal touch from the collector, who is not British, demonstrated in the explanatory notes that accompany each section, as he analyses the reasons behind making his collection. He admits to loving the idea of owning a little piece of history. The resonance with the viewer, however, is with what these beautifully presented items represent. It is this that gives the whole a poignant and powerful presence. We are invited to look into a very private world, a solitary world, where the collector struggles with alienation and rejection, with the pain of standing out as different, with the fear of where that might end. The notes point clearly to these issues: artefacts are described as ‘invested with meanings that lie well beyond their intended purpose’, and demonstrating ‘a desire to reach out, to come clean, to matter and belong.’
The collection of Hollywood movie posters, which takes up half the show, becomes at once a form of escapism, and an indication of the need to wear a mask. Yet the mask is not a permanent hiding place, but a way of achieving a measure of acceptance before the real self is slowly edged into the light.
I am challenged by this. Why is it that most of us spend so much time and energy hiding our real selves from others? And, more importantly perhaps, am I inadvertently contributing to the pressure that squeezes others into culturally ‘acceptable’ moulds? Is this the real question underlying the whole exhibition? The Nazis, referred to obliquely, took their rejection of others to horrifying conclusions. It is not surprising that those born into such a context should have a deep fear of being discovered to be different, and we rightly detest the appalling arrogance that places other human beings in such a position. Yet are we any better? Have we truly learnt to accept others, or even accept ourselves, as we should sixty years on? ‘(Im)memorabilia’ states a definite ‘no’.