The Memory of Things installation by Katrīna Neiburga features a reconstruction of an authentic home interior and refers to a family ritual habitually observed in these walls: cosmetician Alexandra vis- its the at to give pedicures to the three women of the Neiburgs family, each one belonging to a different generation – Katrīna, her mother and her grandmother. The artist has recorded separate episodes of the ritual in a video projected onto various spots all over the installation. Embedded in the physical environment, and visually creating the effect of being imprinted on it, the scenes flicker here and there like visualised memory ashes, like some sort of wondrous apparitions – but sometimes, almost like sinister ghosts from the past. The memory of things and the memories of people are intertwined here in a single ornamental constellation.
This effect of objectifying personal memories is a particular model of historical time. Memory stops presenting itself as a linear chain of events that we can trace back to a certain point of departure. In Memory of Things, the past appears in front of us – dismantled into separate fragments, present and even tangible. Therefore, the narrative of the biography takes on the shape of manipulation with various objects which the narrator, like an antiques dealer, extracts one by one from different corners of his or her antiques shop. Extracted and, consequently, prised out of a certain whole of things past, these mnemonic objects form something like allegorical constellations and are presented as the remains of a non-renewable, and therefore incomplete, experience – remains that permit an in infinite number of potential configurations.
This awareness of the non-renewable character of experience jolts us out of the deceptive sense of being embedded in a progressive stream of life, creating a dual effect. On the one hand, we are discovering a touching, profound link with objects which previously, due to their familiarity, seemed to exist outside the range of visibility. And yet on the other hand, the disintegration of a steady biographical narrative and the objectification of memory result in us starting to view our past, a past which has been reduced to a set of tangible objects displayed in front of us in a sort of detached manner. It is exactly by virtue of this new distance that we now have this possibility to discover for ourselves these things and our own intimate connection with them, and yet, at the same time, we are also alienating them from ourselves. A detail mentioned by Katrīna in her text dedicated to the work is quite symbolic. She speaks about the tiny fragments of skin cut off by Alexandra in the process of the meticulous job that she performs at the home of the Neiburgs family. Detached from the body, these skin fragments transform into alien and functionless objects, and for this reason they end up simply discarded with the rest of the household waste. Memory of Things deals not so much with a certain personal past experienced by the artist, but rather with the resulting inability to reconnect with this past. Or, to put it in other words, what this work presents is not so much an assortment of things that capture the artist's personal experience, but rather her gaze, as directed at familiar objects which now have become incapable of eliciting an emotional response from her.