Andrea Wolf: Every Time We Remember, We Tell A New Story
For this artist, memory is a fickle thing.
Still from Weather has been nice (2013/2014). Courtesy the artist.
To what extent can we trust our memories to be accurate records of the past? The way artist Andrea Wolf sees it, the act of remembering has more to do with what we desire than it does with recalling the truth.
Questions of memory form the central focus of the New York-based, Chilean artist's work, which has manifested in site-specific, large-scale multimedia installations like "Weather has been nice," to smaller, more disseminated forms like the Future Past News augmented reality app (on which she collaborated with fellow NEW INC artist Karolina Ziulkoski).
Wolf's investigations in the formation of collective memories have led her to startling discoveries, substantiating the age-old notion that history tends to repeat itself.
"I believe that memory is a narrative construction," Wolf told NEW INC in an email. "[E]very time we remember, we tell a new story. Every memory is a new memory."
From her thoughts on the amorphous quality of memory, to what she has planned on the horizon, read on to learn more about the artist in our interview below.
Still from Weather has been nice (2016). Courtesy the artist.
1. Your work grapples with memory, documentation, and manipulating moments in history. How did you arrive at this practice?
My interest in memory and documentation began in a not-so-conscious way when I was pretty young. My father died in a car accident when I was five years old, and as I grew up, I began to realize that my memories of him resembled those of the photos I had of him, [or were informed by] stories told to me. My dad used to film us, but after he passed away, no one else continued doing it, and all those tapes were stored away.
Years later, while I was doing an MFA in documentary film-making in Barcelona, I found those tapes and started working with them. I began to see a connection between personal memory and cultural practices of remembering, and between memory and image, and how images can become our memories.
Installation view of Usolicited Memories (2013-Present). Courtesy the artist.
So, I am interested in memory objects we produce such as photographs, home movies, and postcards. But I didn’t like the idea of working only with my material. Even though I use some autobiographical elements, it is not the main thing.
With the project "memoryFrames" I started collecting memories of other people: super8 and 8mm films, family albums, and postcards, creating my own archive of home movies and found footage. Working with this archive of anonymous stories, I leave an open space to be filled by the meaning that each of us brings to the work through our personal experience. And if other people’s memories can evoke our own, could we think that our memories, or at least our memory objects, are interchangeable?
In my work I try to create an experience in which memory becomes an action that is constantly actualized in the present, while recognizing a system in which the function of the past is not that of truth but of desire. And driven by desire, memory allows for both preservation and erasure, and media objects can be manipulated to facilitate new versions of the past.
2. Your most recent project, FuturePastNews, was a collaboration with artist Karolina Ziulkoski. Can you describe the work, and tell us what the reception has been like (namely after the elections)?
I found a newsreel from 1937 at a flea market in Mexico City a couple of years ago. Knowing what followed the turmoils of that prewar time, this old reel sparked a deep feeling of despair and an ominous sense of déjà vu. We all know what happened, but watching this newsreel allowed us to put ourselves in the mindset of people back then, who didn't know what was coming, and who were even hopeful as the ending of the newsreel shows. It gives you a different perspective, and an eerie feeling.
Future Past News invites you to look at the images of the past through an augmented reality app that switches the content with news from the present. We first presented the installation at NEW INC’s Showcase and later made an online version.
We thought AR was an excellent way of showing these parallels in history and how it repeats itself, because it allows you to juxtapose both moments at the same time. You have to be able to see them together to understand the obviousness of repetition. AR adds another layer of information, enabling us to question the meaning of that first image, that first layer...We hope that 'Future Past News' helps to raise awareness about our socio-political decisions and actions.
The reception to FPN has been as binary as the bipartisan system: People with a similar view to ours really like it and are struck by the footage, the juxtaposition, and the similarities. On the other hand, we’ve received some very hateful comments on social media from Trump supporters. They’re really good at trolling. I don’t think they even experienced the work, but just saw the images of it and reacted. Granted, some images can be controversial, but we were just trying to put things in context by highlighting the similarities with the prewar time, but we were not doing a one-on-one comparison. If you see it like that, then yes, it can seem problematic and narrow in the conversation.
Defrost, REVERSE Benefit. Courtesy Andrea Wolf.
3. In addition to your work as an artist, you run a nonprofit called REVERSE. Tell us more about this, and what led you to create the space.
I used to think [about] how great it would be to have an art space with studios, a gallery, and a community around it, but I wasn’t actively looking to to make it happen. By serendipity, I found a space. It was amazing and I couldn’t resist it. A lot of things just came together. I had very good friends who supported me. It sounded like a great idea to live there and have the gallery in the first floor. I already knew enough curators and artists. I had been showing as an artist. I had the community from ITP. I knew that I could put the word out and invite curators to guest-curate to get it started. And my business plan was to build studios to rent out to artists, which would help sustain part of the space.
I didn’t anticipate the amount of work involved in not only building it, but also managing it. I just jumped in and went for it, and it grew exponentially over the years. [I]f I had thought it through more, I might not have done it. But I’m glad I did. I had a vision of the place where I would like to work as an artist, an interdisciplinary space where you could interact with other creative people, collaborate, and exchange knowledge. Because of my art practice, my network, and my understanding of new media art, the focus for REVERSE became the intersection of art, science, and technology in a very organic way. But that doesn't mean that every artwork we show has to be technological. We are more interested in a conversation about those subjects and how technology affects us as a society culturally, and also how it affects the art-making process.
Installation view, Weather has been nice (2015). Courtesy the artist.
4. What’s next?
I’m working on a project in collaboration with Material for the Arts and the MET Media Lab using slides of the documentation archive of the museum that will be shown this spring. I’m also working on new video pieces and prints of Weather has been nice for an upcoming exhibition in Chile. There are some possibilities of showing Future Past News in the coming months, but we are still in conversation.
Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Editor: Rain Embuscado