Tomb space

I came across an idea in the Whitechapel Gallery reader about The Studio which is helping me make sense of the idea of recording and what to do with what I record: ‘tomb space’.

1004 Fundacion Cesar Manrique 09 cactus & skulls for web

It came originally from the writings of George Kubler in The Shape of Time (1962) where he talks about the kind of space a tomb might represent in ancient times and the role of grave goods as being both discarded and retained. He was writing about how one thing comes to be replaced by another, the sequence of invention/exploration and exploitation/discarding. But he notes that in ancient times when people had less ‘stuff’ and there was less disposable time and material, there was no concept of built-in obsolescence. Putting something in a grave, therefore, had multiple significance: you were putting the item beyond ordinary use – discarding – but you were also giving it value and preserving it – in some way you were retaining it.

This seems useful to me in thinking about the purpose of recording, especially in relation to making multiple images in many of my projects.

Briony Fer in The Infinite Line (2004) discusses the idea of tomb-space and suggests that ‘art can become a tomb-space because it is a place where things are retained, kept, collected.’ But places where things are endlessly retained can become just jumbles of stuff, the subject of TV programmes about hoarders, spaces where nothing can be located so everything is out of reach, in effect invisible or disappeared. What I have in mind is not just accumulation.

In conversation with Philip Courtenay, Academic Support tutor at UAL, he described archaeology as ‘revealing and revaluing’. Buchli and Lewis in Archaeologies of the Contemporary Past (2001) describe it as ‘alienation: making the familiar unfamiliar’. That is a kind of revaluation or re-evaluation, offering the viewer something more than they have already seen.

They also suggest that objects may carry the excess of ideas and images our minds can’t handle. In that case, the destruction of the object leads to forgetfulness.  Putting it in a tomb-space would then be a way of not losing the object or the ideas it carries for us. I have certainly had the experience of being unable to let go of something which embodies a person or experience. Although if objects have that function, it’s not hard to see that they could just accumulate endlessly, whereas if a memory can be internalised, the object isn’t needed any more, though it may still be wanted and valued.

I’ve just been to see The Museum of Innocence at Somerset House, a collection of vitrines assembled by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk to accompany his novel of the same title. They are imagined objects and scenes related to the characters and episodes in the novel. He talked about enjoying the opportunity to play with familiar objects and to put them to new use or give them new meaning. He asks:

Is it possible by looking at objects we might see our memories as if they were a film?

He suggests that ‘Museums are places where time is transformed into space.’ I wonder where my records of time could live.