the mirror as memory

Modernism in industrial capitalism was born with a strong sense of repudiating the past as an anachronism that needed to be dumped into  the trash to make way for the progressive new art. If the trash became the archive of the past in an era of increasing instability and rapid social change, then the camera became a device to  represent and preserve the fragments of the past. It could back the tide of oblivion.

What is  new in the economy is continuously replaced by evacuations, demolitions, removals, temporarily vacant lots and  new buildings. Since the early 1960s, in the metropolitan centres of Australia , city fabrics largely inherited from the nineteenth century are  being overlaid by the twin development of the freestanding high-rise and the serpentine freeway.

The  everchanging shops  result in the old being so completely displaced, that  the old appears as if it never existed at all. So the past is dislocated from the present, and with the cultural forgetting,   our history  becomes a series of fragmentary memories. Forgetting is built into the very capitalist process of the modern production of urban spaces and the repeated destruction of the built environment. 

Memories counter the sense of historical loss and cultural amnesia associated with forgetting. As our capital cities are made and remade, memory  of place becomes  ever more important. It is a memory of life based on shared memories in a history of  place: a house,  city street, suburb, or a bio-region such as the river country around the mouth of the River Murray. These are memories of the spatial layout,  habitial memories associated with bodily preformances of say riding a bike,  and  personal memories.

If the camera promised to be perfect memory machine for preserving the past,  it also corrupted or destablized the positivist objectivity of vision by exposing the partiality and mutability of its own supposed clear and distinct  representations.

We are left with memory traces---eg., Kodak's golden memories--- that enable our identity. These traces  are important  for to be without memory  is to risk being without identity.

Our built environments change and we are left with our memories of what once was.