On memory or how to disappear of one’s own free will

By EDUARDA NEVES, Professor of Contemporary Art, Art Theory and Critical Studies, researcher, writer, art curator, and, since 2015, director of the Escola Superior Artística do Porto.

Paula Diogo imagined the cycle ABOUT REMEMBERING AND FORGETTING to talk about the way memory operates in our lives. This cycle, a trilogy, which was completed with the show A Estação de Outono (2021), and which includes the shows Sobre Memória e Esquecer (2018) and Landscape (2021), brought together the collaboration of several artists, creators and other associated partners. In order to also bring us an external look at this project, we proposed to Eduarda Neves the writing a reflection based on these three shows, to whom we would like to thank for her availability and interest in accepting our invitation.
With great pleasure, and acknowledging all the creators involved in this trilogy, we share this reflection.

On memory or how to disappear of one’s own free will

Eduarda Neves

Four women. One house. Many stories. Those of each one and those of all of us. Between tragedy, love and event, the utterances come together in different languages in a kind of common stock. Between the others and us only an instant and three thousand years of history. About Remembering and Forgetting1 offers us memory as a promise of time’s impossible return on itself. The past that becomes echo in the present – a rhizome without beginning or end. A notebook, the word and writing. Against oblivion: Hiroshima, Sarajevo, Bosnia, the body and the matter, Corsica and the family, childhood and affection. The garden and life. The sea and the mother. The narrator and the narrated in a single voice. An island. 

Integrated into the show’s order, the scenographic structures present themselves as forms of a mnemonic art in which day and night, light and shadow, memory and oblivion appear as figures of duration and ruin – the time of history, of memory and of the house. There is no fiction, only the dance of thought. Multiple representations that declare abandonment, loss and dismemberment, just as they restore the matter of the world. An iconography of the passage. 

It is not a question of discovering true time, but one of real plurality. If philosophical questions about time are different from scientific ones, we also know that it is impossible to pose the question of time in a timeless way. Physical time and the subjective time of consciousness, although they establish ties with each other, are not reducible to one another, Étienne Klein tells us. If the former is not subject to each of us, the latter depends on who experiences it and, unlike physical time, is not uniform. We only exist in time and within it we think about the world. The past is no longer past when we interrupt the first formulation of time: movement. Obscure description for a paradoxical ontology that makes absence real. We move in space and change direction. Impossible displacement in time:

Space is thus the place of our freedom, and time the metaphor of imprisonment. 2

They never forget to come back, birds. They never forget space, birds. They don’t need to write it down. I don’t know if I know about space, if it presents itself me with cracks, with gaps, in which I can’t inscribe matter. I forget. On the other hand: “Elephants never forget that they are awesome.”. “Zou wa karera-ga sugoi koto keshite wasurenai.” 3

Consciousness organises time and develops through memory. It assesses the passage between what has already passed and what isn’t yet: “May 10, 2015. Today is Sunday. The weather is fine. What has passed, is past. The weather is fine.”4 Derived memory that ventures in the mutability of time and space. Not reduced to a simple experience of duration, time appears as otherness, and it undoes itself before the identical. It is no longer about the relation essence-appearance, model-copy, I-other. Neither the model of the Other, nor the search for the origin:

If I lost my memory, if it became like a sieve, (…) it wouldn’t matter if I knew or chose a gender, and if they asked me, I think I would present myself as a genderless person, or perhaps not so much a person and more an animal or some vegetable matter. It wouldn’t matter if I knew my name but I could have any name I wanted, whenever I wanted, such as, for example: chair, elastic, mathematics, deer’s foot, compassion, changing according to the time, the light, the feeling. 5

It is also in building experience that memory isn’t limited to evoking a mere imitative and passive record of events: “this terrible memory parked inside my chest, repeating in a loop, taking up space inside, like an aeroplane in a hangar”, says Vânia in Paisagem6 – she seeks the lightness of a white coat, like the colour of certain moths, or the possibility of being an oceanographer, “to be able to dive into such deep gulfs” in which “each one of us is an abyss and we get vertigo if we look down at the bottom”. 7

Vânia and Octávio travel the road. No beginning or end in sight. The stage space made vital, a path drawn in black and white that gradually spreads in a network of sounds and lights that accompany the dramatic structure. Seated at the table – tape recorders, cassettes, microphone, like a Theatre of memory in the manner of Tadeusz Kantor or Krapp in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape

It is also as reminiscence, as a return of what we have forgotten, that memory operates as a factor of experience and gives meaning to the present. Thus an order is founded, one that is contrary to the principle of causality – according to the classical definition. Although time travelling (to that time) is impossible from the physical point of view, it becomes possible through the subjective time of consciousness, when we circumscribe and suspend that instant of physical time: “if I have lived and seen, do I remember? And if I haven’t lived and seen, do I see? If I’ve never seen, do I remember? And do I remember everything I see? What?”8 Characters who take back history and transform the road into a once sunny summer. The experience of otherness in the form of red nail polish. Bodies that unlearn. Bodies that cannot forget:

I couldn’t ask. 
And I couldn’t ask you to leave me alone once in a while.
That was over fifty years ago, Vânia. We were young.
I can’t forget, some sorrows remain. What should I do?9

Subjected to time. Repeating and displacing life: “how did you get to me?” asks Vânia; “I didn’t, you were already here”, answers Octávio. Such is the story. Or yet and always, the house. The place of return and the subject that moves around themselves. An epicentre:

But what is the opposite of time? Not death, simple reverse of life (…). It had to become impossible to count time, to measure it, not because it passes quickly (…), but on the contrary because it no longer moves, like those immobile summer skies, blue, of that blue we say is the colour of time. Yes, when time is immobile and blue (…), that great beautiful time, that eternal noon, then we can stretch ourselves in it, go down and forget about it like the air we breathe, in the excess of its shimmering presence. Because the opposite of time is eternity.10

Memory as a crystal-image, to summon Deleuze. Through it, an unfolding of time. An Autumn Season at every instant transfigured into present and past. Different by their own nature. One makes the present pass and the other preserves the past. It is this split that amounts to time. It is, therefore, time itself. Like that town which is “behind us”. However, “we’re not looking back. We’re looking out to sea.”11 Space-time: the pier, the train station, the petrol station. The autumn station. The gallery or the highway. The sea and the sky. The waste ground and the factory. Before and after. Possible signs and spaces that intersect in order to solve a disappearance. Smoke and sounds from the outside embrace the stage space, bodies take refuge in mattresses and foam sets, enhancing the dramaturgical syntax and functionality. Cleaning the underground like someone resisting war. João and Fúcsia or “the first man [that became] the second (…). This smaller João in a summer dress she’s taking a risk wearing, this late in the year”.12

The work of memory – the third person: “It was all there. The notebook. The photograph. The places we’ve met.”13 Perhaps the photographic image doesn’t help to remember but rather to forget, said Marguerite Duras. Memories and forgetfulness that sometimes shipwreck in mysterious depths, sometimes slide in the contemplation of the surface:

do not think that the present, when it passes, becomes the closest of our memories. Its metamorphosis can make it drop to the bottom of our memory, and it can also leave it on the surface; only its density and the dramatic significance of our life will decide its level.14

As if time belonged to us. Words. Always them. Marks scattered in mazes. So we can lose time. Lose ourselves. Psychoanalysis taught us that we are sick from repetition and that by it we would be cured, Deleuze wrote. Repeating what it can no longer replace, the time of delay, it is the memory that survives the lived presence. Times and spaces that announce themselves before we get there. Before we expect them. All variables can be considered in this infinite equation. It is always possible to start over. As in Autumn Season, there are those who disappear of their own free will.  

No more writing today. End of writing.
It’s autumn. Next comes winter…15

1 The cycle About Remembering and Forgetting, conceived by Paula Diogo, comprises three shows: the first, with the same title as the cycle, premiered at Teatro Municipal Maria Matos, in Lisbon, on 3 April 2018; a second entitled Landscape – About Remembering and Forgetting II, which premiered online at Teatro Municipal do Porto, on 26 March 2021; and a third and final show entitled Autumn Station – About Remembering and Forgetting III, which premiered at CCB within the Festival Temps d’Images, on 28 October 2021. Actress Paula Diogo’s grandmother would take daily notes in the notebook, and those notes are the starting point for this cycle. On the verge of losing her memory, her grandmother would record her everyday life in her notebook.

2 Étienne Klein, “La question du temps”, in Sciences. Centre Georges Pompidou, Belgium, January 2000, p. 4.ca, Janeiro 2000, p. 4.

3 On Remembering and Forgetting. With Estelle Franco, Masako Hattori, Paula Diogo and Sónia Baptista. The show was created by Paula Diogo, Sónia Baptista, Mariana Ricardo, Estelle Franco and Masako Hattori.

4 Daily notes from actress Paula Diogo’s grandmother’s notebook.

5 On Remembering and Forgetting – Id., ibid. As Gilles Deleuze said, “a single voice for every multiple of a thousand ways, a single Ocean for all drops, a single cry of the Being for all creatures”, in Diferença e Repetição. São Paulo: Ed. Graal, 1988, p. 476.

6 Landscape – text by Renato Linhares for the show with Paula Diogo and Tónan Quito. A collaboration with the Foguetes Maravilha collective.

7 Landscape – id., ibidem.

8 Landscape – id., ibidem

9 Landscape – id., ibidem

10 Camille Laurens – “Attente/Temps”, in Le temps, VITeFiction, Show Le temps vite, Centre Georges Pompidou, Belgium, January 2000, s/p.

11 Autumn Station: text by Chris Thorpe and Alexander Kelly for the show with Cláudia Gaiolas and Paula Diogo.

12 Autumn Stationo – id., ibid.

13  Autumn Station – id., ibid.

14 Jean-Paul Sartre – Situações I. Lisbon:  Publicações Europa-América, 1968, p. 66.

15 Notes from Paula Diogo’s grandmother’s notebook.