Friday, April 10, 2009

The Game of Memory

A man around 80 years old is asked what he looks like. He has dark brown hair. He is asked how old he is. Late 40s or early 50s, somewhere around there. He is asked about the Gulf War. It was a conflict having to do with Mexico and Cuba. These are not the responses of a man who has lost his memory due to old age or a recent accident; these are the responses of a man who has lived this way for most of his life.

Henry Gustav Molaison is the subject of Kerry Tribe’s new film installation, H.M., currently on view at 1301PE in Los Angeles. (It closes on April 25th.) H.M., the initials that represented him in innumerable scientific reports, was born in 1926. He acquired severe epilepsy in a bicycle accident at nine, and on September 1, 1953, at 27, underwent an experimental procedure in which his left and right medial temporal lobes were removed. His epilepsy was gone, but so was his capacity to retain any new information past the immediate memory mark of 20 seconds.

Tribe’s interpretation of H.M.’s story is conveyed with enough layers to confuse even those with all aspects of memory fully intact re-staged (I’m pretty sure, at least) interviews and tests; abstract visuals of crossword puzzles and floating stars; Tribe’s (or the person whose notes she’s reading? or a fictional character all together?) personal memories with and about H.M. The viewer is even put to the test just as he was, pictures of famous faces flashing onscreen in an effort to understand where the memory of important events begins and ends. Equally confounding is an accompanying 2-channel projection; the official description states that the same film is shown next to itself, with a 20 second delay between the adjacent projections, but even after watching it a number of times, I remember the two films as being slightly different.

For H.M., time was liquid, not linear or fixed as most people tend to understand it. He used clues from his immediate present and distant past to understand what was going on around him. Tribe’s installation is probably as close as any of us will get to experiencing what H.M. did, no temporal lobe removal required.

Kerry Tribe, “H.M.”, on view at 1301PE. 6150 Wilshire Blvd (in the back), Los Angeles. On view till April 25

(anthem magazine)