James Simcock

ANAMORPHIC THREE SMITHS STATUE | Helsinki, Finland | Unit 21 | 2015

INVENTING MEMORY | Helsinki, Finland | Unit 21 | 2015

Awarded Distinction for Thesis & Merit for Design

Click to see Thesis 

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Anamorphic Three Smiths Statue: Deconstruction of a War Memorial

 

The twentieth century has shown an unprecedented confidence in the building of war memorials to resist the decay of memory, and yet their record of success to resist the fragility of human memory within their observers is questionable. Similar to war memorials the emerging field of forensic architecture also negotiates terrains of war. However, unlike war memorials, forensic architecture is not focused on prolonging memory of a historical event, but on allowing members of a court of law to narrate a historical event by forensically examining the built environment to extract evidence that can bear witness to the events that traversed it, which can then be used to bypass human testimony which is often complicated by trauma.

 

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I believe it is this process of translating a historical event using forensic analysis to a narrative that could solve the problem currently posed by war memorials. Rather than using a narrative of a historical event as evidence in a court of law, the historical event could provide evidence which itself becomes the war memorial: no more would observers of war memorials suffer the fragility of remembering, but upon visiting would instantly invent memory.

 

Inventing Memory: Museum of Forensic Architecture

 

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The project began by analysing how designers of war memorials use specific mnemonic techniques to prolong memory, control how memory is invented, and imbue a sense of meaning within the viewer; and the roles the media, political leaders and trauma play in distorting memory. Exploring the emerging field of forensic architecture, I used specific forensic techniques such as coaxial lighting and the Gods Eye View to extract hidden evidence from five Finnish Wartime Photography Archive photos and a historical bomb plot map of central Helsinki. The mnemonic techniques were then used to spatially translate the objective forensic evidence into a series of architectural mnemonic devices that became a museum memorialising the Finnish victims of the great Russian bombing raids during World War II. Thus the museum allows observers to objectively narrate the conflict events with an impersonal neutrality, enabling visitors to form a neutral narrative that does not originate from the distorting forces of the media, political leaders or trauma, allowing them to truly invent their own memories and resist the fragility of remembering.

 

 

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Below is an example of the mnemonic processes that a visitor to the museum may experience when viewing one of the exhibits:

 

“I imagined I was walking through those debris littered streets, searching for some kind of meaning to justify the chaos in front of me. I start walking through the exhibit, feeling the crunching aggregate breaking under my feet, sliding my hand along the extruded exploded objects; they are cold and glisten from the wet damp air. I catch a glimpse of myself in a reflection; how would I feel if I was one of the dead in the scene? I feel a crushing sensation of sadness in the pit of my stomach, for I am reminded of how I felt when grandma passed away. I feel conflicted, trapped in a place where I know I need to let go of the past but feel such a yearning to stay here, in the silence, consumed by darkness, just myself with my thoughts. Pitta patta pitta patta, a light drizzle begins to dance off the glass ceiling above, and the cool breeze of the Helsinki wind awakens me from my moment of reverie. I realise that I am not dead, for this is impossible, that we cannot change what happened in the past, but we can control how we behave in the present, and if any positive memory can be gleaned from this, it is that we should be thankful for their sacrifice.”

 

By questioning how we allow other narratives to shape our own memories, we learn to control how we form memories, which can then be applied to other areas of life such as bereavement. If there is a positive meaning to be found from this project, it is that we cannot change what happened in the past, but by questioning how we form our own memories we can control how we choose to remember in the present.

 

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