Friday, April 30, 2010

Change Blindness

The end of the semester draws near and I feel like posting blogs has become somewhat of a salmon run, so I'll write something short. Today I went to the Whitney Biennial. Of the many fantastic and not so interesting works I became interested in Kerry Tribe's Making Memories, which is a short docu-bio about the patient H.M. who is put on screen, interrogated, interviewed and commented on by doctors and neuroscientists. Patients who are referred to by their initials do so in order to remain anonymous. It is incongruous then that we are given some very intimate images of H.M. that reveal a very private space. The film which consists of two projections side by side (analogous to the relationship between right and left hemispheres) is the study of H.M.'s post mortem hippocampal memory. Perhaps then it is significant that his name remains unknown to us, that he remains a patient. What we observe is a becoming memory, and not simply a portrait of an individual, who in any case, because he has lost the ability to record new long-term memories, is not entirely sure of his own identity. We know more about H.M. in fact than he does, and in a way adopt his identity by inferring certain things about his life. The two screens cause our attention to jump, lose record of one image in exchange for the next, simulating a kind of short-term amnesia. The two screens create a gap, which is the space of the not-remembered or the forgotten. In normal healthy subjects change blindness is part of our everyday world. When momentarily distracted we may miss entire details of a person's face or even happenings in the world. One famous test is that of switching agents or objects in front of a subject during a moment of distraction. The subject may or may not be conscious of the fact that there has been a switch and continue interacting with what they perceive to be the same object or person. I feel that Kerry Tribe does a good job in bringing out our own vulnerability when it comes to making memory and recalling our identity, while also remaining true to her subject.

- Caldwell

1 comment:

  1. Excellent commentary, Caldwell. The Tribe piece was definitely one of the highlights of the Biennial (if not the single best work I saw). (I'm mystified why none of the reviews of the show I've read don't even mention it.) What was powerful about the piece too was the way you could enter into it at any point and feel yourself caught up (and lost) in its continuous loop of memory and forgetting. Make sure to check out the Wiki page for the artist on the Whitney website. It includes research materials for the project, as well as production information and stills. The work combines archival footage, HD material and Bolex 16mm film.