Memory Box
installation et texte

Memory Box

I am at the studio. I am waiting for this woman who found me, I don’t know how. The day before, on the phone:

– I’d like to come and see your work, would it be possible?
– Yes, it is possible…
– Tomorrow for instance?
– Tomorrow

What a pain. Another upper middle class housewife who loves curiosity cabinets, sent by her interior decorator. When I tell them what it is all about, they usually dash out. The bell rings, here she is. In her fifties, well kept. I offer her a glass of water, I have a cup of coffee. She walks around as I stand in the middle of the room:

– So, those are your curiosity cabinets…
– More walls than cabinets really… and more debris than curiosities. Debris, traces. Nobody wanted them but me. Chance took them here. Chance will take them away someday.

She stops before some shelves and asks me:

– This rack, for instance, tell me what’s in it…
– Here, a 350 million year old ammonite. There, a 1902 dance card, it tells you who danced the quadrille with Angèle. Ex-votos; pre world war one pictures of female comedians, unknown for most, their name written on the back; a picture of Algiers in the twenties; a labradorite from Madagascar. A badger’s skull found decaying near a lake in 2003. I cleaned off the meat with detergent,
glued the teeth back on. Time is in a mess on this wall.
– And this picture?
– A small boy

Sam when he was three. I didn’t write his name. One day, soon, nobody will recognize his smile, his black eyes. Meteorite memories. I scatter them. Those of others. Mine. What does it matter. She is quiet, looks around again.

– What about this?

She points at black cubes piled up on the floor.

– Cameras, the type they used to call box cameras… they were all made at the same period, then people moved on to something else.
– What period?
– From the thirties to right after World War II.

She moves closer to me. The air around her body swirls, diverting the upward course of the smoke of my cigarette.

– Go on, this is what I came here for.
– I’ve been collecting them for a few months. At the beginning, just a few. For the trace walls. I liked their rectangular shape. When lined up, they looked like steles. I didn’t know from when they dated. With the tenth one, I asked.

She looks at me, waiting for me to carry on.

– When you open them, they are empty, no film, ever. Nobody knows who owned them, nor what they saw, a wedding, Birkenau or a sand seaside holiday. They come from all over Europe, from America too. To each one, its point of view. Together they form a mute map of destinies. If I put five hundred or a thoutogether, they start turning into a statistic.
– Eichmann, isn’t it? A hundred deaths is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.
– Yes.
– What are you going to do with them?
– Stick them to the wall.

She smiles.

– Do it at my place.
– It can take up some space…
– That’s not an issue. You’ll come and see for yourself.
– Which neighborhood do you live in?
– I live in Berlin.

Thibaut Bertrand –