I am forever fretting about the value of my memories. What will I end up with and have I got enough of them to fill my old age days and nights? Will I look back and smile at some, maybe even cry at all of them? Will they be worth digging up maybe even sharing and can some life be changed by them?
It seems that I'm not the only one worrying about such matters. However, unlike yours truly who is merely a worrier without a solution to the crisis (well, not solutions worth printing anyway) others have come up with a fantastic idea. The memory box.
In the Autumn of 2004, over one hundred elders in seven European countries began to create from their individual memories and experiences, life portrait boxes. With the help of local artists, they arranged significant objects, photos and documents in redundant ammunition cases. They transformed their personal stories into small artworks which would communicate with others in far away countries. That is the solution that Pam Schweitzer and Angelika Trilling came up with and with these words they open the catalogue of the Europe wide project.
I took a trip down to see the exhibit at Greenwich University. And what a trip down memory lane that was. You see, memories are strange things really. They connect not only people together but can create a sort of shared identity, common ground and an unspoken understanding, maybe even apathy, to other people's lives. Throughout the gallery you get a sense of what it means to be born in one place yet manage to create roots elsewhere. You get a feeling of what it was like in all countries post wars and how everyone managed to get through the hardship by clinging on to happy childhood memories.
With their memories we are offered a glimpse to a time forgotten, to joys long lost on our youth of today, and to pains many of today's immigrants go through, the pain of uprooting or forcefully being uprooted. They are memories that although often mixed with pain and loss have become even more meaningful in their context, more precious and surely more inspiring.
The boxes at the gallery entitled "Making Memories Matter: A European Reminiscence Network Project" particularly indicate the journeys made by many from former British colonies to London in the late 1940s and 1950s. Throughout the exhibit although you do feel the link between the boxes that I indicated to before however you also realise how personal and individual memories are. We all assign different values to things and so we do to our experiences. We hold some in the highest regard and chew on them day in and day out whereas some just seem to slip away into insignificance never to return. This diversity of experiences is what makes this gallery so wonderful and inspiring.
We seldom reflect on memories as legacies. Yet they are. We keep diaries, we make idle notes on calendars, we mark the back of photos and keep shoe boxes with bits and doodles like our son's first lock of hair, his first picture. We keep photo after photo and album after album to try to preserve who we are because what we end up with defines who we are and where we've been. I read once that you can never be truly whole until you know where you've come from and where you're going. Wherever we go, we leave a memory footprint if you will and it's making those footprints matter that mostly irk someone like myself. So, how will I make my memories matter? I don't know but I could start with an empty shoe box!
Making Memories Matter runs until December 7, 2007 at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, Queen Anne Court, University of Greenwich, Old Royal Naval College, Park Row, London SE 10 9LS. Copies of the catalogue Making Memories Matter is available at the gallery throughout the exhibition (£10). The gallery provides access for those with disabilities.