I recently cleaned out my junk box of technology leftovers. I'm sure you have a similar one: a box or drawer filled with dead batteries and things that need batteries and anonymous tangled chargers that don't fit anything in your house. This is when I rediscovered that old camera and out of curiosity pulled out the memory card to see what it contained. Even though it's only been a handful of years, it felt like opening a time capsule from myself that I have no recollection of ever making.
Seeing these strange forgotten self portraits again got me thinking about how we store and carry our memories, art and culture. What is the legacy of our digital media and web-based selves? Will our granchildren unearth our Instagram accounts in lieu of a dusty photo album? Historically, literate traditions carried much of their cultural inheritance in physical objects: books, maps, recipe boxes, memorials, museums, photo albums. A faded photograph of a beloved family member is precious because of what it signifies and for the memories is preserves rather than the value of the object itself. But sentimentality aside, doesn't a digital picture on a screen serve the same function?
The point of this exercise, our classmate explained to us, was to experience just how much we value objects, specifically paper ones. By choosing to destroy that photograph we were recommitting the memory of our loved one in our selves. It was a way to shift the memory and feelings the photograph gave us to an intimate and active place in our hearts and minds. It was incredibly revealing to feel how much power and importance physical objects can be and how closely they can be associated with "the real thing."
So my classmate was talking about the power and significance of paper-based photographs, documents, and memorabilia and I'm talking about digital media. But both are still culturally relevant. I keep all my pictures backed up on my computer and an external hard drive and some are on CDs and the cloud. I also order prints of my favorite pictures and store them in heavy photo albums and in frames on the wall. I'm an object-oriented person. I work with my hands and when I look at art, I'm keenly interested in form and craftsmanship. But what moves me in a work of art is always its content. What a work of art teaches me or says to me is what counts, while its quality, intricacy, beauty, etc is secondary.
What I found interesting about my accidental time capsule, was the encounter I had with these images. Because they were hiding on an old memory card, it was as if they appeared out of thin air. Had they been Polaroids, I would have at least known they existed; they'd be hanging out in a shoe box and I probably would have stumbled across them in a matter of months rather than years. The moment I saw these pictures on my computer screen, I was transported back to that day that otherwise I would probably never have recalled again. I could remember in great detail the apartment I spent a year in, how uncharacteristically quiet my building was that day, and what the snow covered street looked like from my 3rd story window.
Stumbling on these old photos makes me wonder in what other ways our digital selves might jump out at us unexpectedly? Since they aren't physical objects anymore they can go out into the world and replicate and transform and change hands and we'll probably never know. Appropriation and Found Art goes back to Dada and Duchamp's Readymades, but there is now such a wealth of intimate pictures and online personalities blurring the lines between private and public. When I publish this blog post, I will have no idea what future lives my digital portraits will take or how many people might view them in one form or another. And that's really just like keeping a blog, you write about your life, thoughts, fears, hobbies, pets, family, clothes, anything and everything to total strangers but never really know who's on the other side. No matter, whoever you are, I'm glad you're here.
So all this is making me think again about my online self with Arcadian Mermaid. I've been away from my little blog corner lately, and now I'm wondering what to do with it. I'd like to post more, I just need to keep a camera handy while I'm crafting and cooking! I think I'll have a bit more time this Spring, so I hope to talk to you again soon. And if not, then I guess my blog contents will still haunt the internet for years (lifetimes?) to come...
(but seriously, I'm not planning on abandoning it just yet)