Text by James D. Campbell 2012
The Poetics of Mnemosyne:
The Art of Eve K. Tremblay
"The fact is we have forgotten what memory is and can mean; where once Mnemosyne was a venerated Goddess, we have turned our responsibility for remembering over to the cult of computers, which serve as our modern mnemonic idols".
-- Edward Casey, Remembering 
"Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of non-combustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change. Don't give them any slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy."
~ Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 
New-York based, Montreal-born photographic artist Eve K. Tremblay has been constructing a memory theatre for a while now. In videos and photographs, she dilates on memory and time in a poetic idiom uniquely her own. She remembers all that memory is and can mean.
In the epigraph above, the philosopher Edward Casey begins his seminal study of memory, Remembering: A Phenomenological Study with a lament for the forgetfulness of our culture. He argues that human memory has become self-externalized: projected outside the remembering subject into machines that cannot remember as humans do. What machines can do "is to record, store and retrieve information – which is only part of what humans do when they enter into a memorious state" 
Eve K. Tremblay’s works prove Casey right in one very superficial sense-- and wrong in a more profound one. Yes, the artist uses self-externalized media -- digital cameras and photographic paper -- to express all that is in mind to say. But she also evokes for us what it means to be in a memorious state. Her works remember in much the same way as the theatre itself may be said to remember. (Not incidentally, Tremblay has a certificate from the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, New York, which she attended in 1994-95.)
The video entitled Promenades au château de la mémoire et de l’oubli (In & Out the memory palace) shows the artist and her cousin in various staged and improvisatory situations at an old French chateau, in the library, in the garden and so on. The two women read aloud from books, alone and to each other, but at the same time appear to be possible versions of the same person. They could be their very own dopplegangers.
In that video and photographic works like Allunette (2011), Bibliothèque d'automne (2009), Dancing Books (Triumph Over the Fear of Collapse-of- Spine #5 ) (2010) and Sieste (2011), Tremblay contemplates the passage of time and the process of memory with a poet’s intuition and a playwright’s invention.
There is no doubt that she has looked closely at the classical art of memory, developed by and from the Greeks (and described so brilliantly by Frances Yates in her book The Art of Memory) but she has also looked at more contemporary sources of inspiration, such as Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. If the earlier art was a technique for remembering, which depended to great extent on the emplacing images in imaginary buildings or rooms in the memory and reading of these followed a particular order, Tremblay also engages the binary states of rupture and continuity that embody memorization. Memory is invoked by passageway and place, and the use of strange circuitous movements. Equally, it is ignited in the reading of books and the memorization of texts. 
In fact, her work marks out the parameters of a memory theatre all her own. The term "memory theater" derives from early modern memory tracts. The term is useful for our purposes here in that it delineates significant, even paradigmatic, methodological and conceptual fluidities. We witness a shift from memory tracts to the theatre (and this leap from page to playhouse is particularly telling), a shift from those self-same methods to those of performance art, and an associated shift in the value structures associated with different kinds of memory. She seems to place a premium on emplacing texts in long-term memory, and it is this process with all its haltering practice that specifically fascinates her. Tremblay demonstrates a moving and dramatic need to communicate ars memoriae, and thus interiority, across the full array of these varied seismic shifts.
In experiencing her work, we are invited as viewers to join the actors in a memory theatre that is played out nowhere else but inside our own heads. Certainly, the works exhibited here are an organic outgrowth of her ongoing series Becoming Fahrenheit 451. Aspects of this body of work have been presented in New York, Berlin, Oslo and Paris. The Bergen production (to continue with the theatrical metaphor) features some of the same actors (the artist herself, family and friends). Since 2007, these works, in varied forms of performance, video, photos, text pieces and installations are related to her continuing attempts to memorize Ray Bradbury’s aforementioned 1953 novel with a further cue taken from François Truffaut’s 1966 film adaptation.
Bradbury titled his book after the fact that paper ignites at a temperature of 451 degrees Fahrenheit. In the novel, he brilliantly evokes a dystopian future society in which citizens are force-fed a mind-numbing regimen of mass media feeds and literal chemical sedation under an authoritarian regime. The book is very much the product of a Cold War environment, but unlike so many other artefacts from that era, it is not so easily dismissed or sidelined for being such.
In Bradbury’s future state, all books have been declared illegal. The people who still read them are deemed seditious. Firehouses exist as regional centers for the tracking down and burning of books. Guy Montag is a fireman who fights the forced anomie and brainwashing of his society after watching an old woman refuse to leave her house when the firemen arrive to expose and burn her hidden library. The shot of the woman lighting the match herself and thus committing suicide is a great moment in world cinema. Montag then begins to question everything he's been taught and told. At the end, he finds sanctuary with the Book people who live in a forest on the city’s edge and preserve books by committing them to memory.
Tremblay seems to be suggesting that we all have imperfect memories and spend the better part of our lives putting the blinkers on as to what we retain rather than trying to remember accurately a past that morphs beyond our reach. She seems to be saying that memory is, at best, transient, and the continuing struggle to remember defines the condition of being in the world. She establishes dovetailing continuities between the utopian dream of Bradbury’s Book People and the ancient practitioners of the classical art of memory – and then she moves beyond both, carrying her viewers with her into the future.
The classical art of memory was an art of mental cartography, a networked symbolic space. Similarly, Tremblay’s video is set in a castle and the surrounding gardens. The characters are in the process of “becoming” books such as Fahrenheit 451 and Mishima’s The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and many others. The castle itself was “remembered” by Tremblay and then visited again (she first stayed there when she was nineteen). The sole permanent occupant of the castle is the 90-year-old Rosine (who resembles the aforementioned old woman in the Bradbury novel; she sets her own literary funeral pyre alight when the Firemen arrive and is now Tremblay’s cousin’s great aunt).
For Tremblay, memory seems to serve as a middle ground for the manifestation of the unconscious. But more than that, in terms of theatricality, it becomes a way of achieving personal reconciliation and freedom (and herein lies its link to psychoanalysis).
In "Narrative, Memory, and Slavery," W.J.T. Mitchell argued that memory is interesting not so much for what it reveals, but rather for what it conceals. He defines memory as a "medium", a towering scaffold for tiered meanings, "a technology for gaining freedom of movement in and mastery over the subjective temporality of consciousness and the objective temporality of discursive performance"  Mitchell touches on and articulates Tremblay’s core concerns as a visual artist who internalizes the process-function of memory in a therapeutic, utopian (if less overtly politicized) mode. Memory here is a process by which human beings may win their way through to triumph over the troubling scars of their own histories and thus empower themselves.
If the castle is, for Tremblay, a mnemonic instrument, a mind-map, as it were, even a memory trap, she wants viewers to step in as her own surrogate or fellow-traveller, it is executed so that we may trace out its loci alongside her. Here is no dystopia revisited, but a playful and theatrical take on memory as reparative as it is engaging, and as a way of reminding us all what it means to be alive. No outsized plasma TVs as visual narcotic here, as in the Bradbury novel (or in our own private worlds; Bradbury repeatedly saw through time), but a celebration of our existence as insouciant and irreverent as that of James Broughton’s experimental cinema.
If, in the videos and related photoworks exhibited here, Tremblay employs a spatial conceptualization of mnemonic processes while proposing what seems a carefree promenade in circular logic, she is really searching for an expansive space to harvest memories – both hers and ours -- and preserve them without the spectre of vitrification into the future. Perhaps she is trying to remind us what Frances Yates held – that we are moderns who have no memories at all. (6) On the other hand, in her own work she is moving beyond a mere private mnemotechnics to something more like its role in the ancient world when the trained memory was of crucial significance to life but without sacrificing any conceptual edge.
In a decidedly Proustian manner, Tremblay walks paths laid down in memory that we might share. From room to room and image to image, we are once again reminded of the ways past Swann’s home (the Méséglise way and the Guermantes way, both fraught with numinous beauty) in Proust’s great novel. Certainly, the formal clarity and seductive poiesis we have come to associate with her images hearkens back to a faculty of intense visual memorization we modernists have sadly forsaken. As a way of reclaiming the memory fabric of our lives, of what is vitally important to us all, but has long since been lost, this is a new art of memory that is purely emotional – and, not surprisingly, has its own latent measure of melancholy. Such is life -- and the litanies of Swann’s way, the visceral, tactual and altogether enticing remembrance of things past.
James D. Campbell
1. Edgar Casey, Remembering: A phenomenological inquiry. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1987, p. 2.
2. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. New York: Ballantine, 1953, preceded by the novella "The Fireman" (Galaxy Science Fiction, Vol. 1 No. 5, February 1951)
3. Casey, op.cit.
4. See Frances Yates: The Art of Memory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966).
5. See W.J.T. Mitchell "Narrative, Memory, and Slavery" in Cultural Artifacts and the Production of Meaning: The Page, the Image, and the Body., Edited by Margaret J. M. Ezell, Katherine O'Brien O'Keeffe. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 1994.
6. Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, op. cit., p. 4.