Living Memory

Living Memory is a project investigating the structures of memory in Chalkwell Park by looking into the donated benches, trees and war memorials. It invites visitors of Chalkwell Park to cherish a living memory of a loved one, a relative, a good friend or neighbor by winding a thread around this tree: together changing the tree into a living collective commemoration. In this event memories of ones who’ve passed away and living memories are brought together in a soundscape consisting of whispered recitations of the plaques from the donated benches and trees in the park. In collaboration with Angela (Liu) Wang and Alexandra Jönsson.

Southend-on-Sea (UK), 2010

Indian princess Savitri was a woman of great beauty, who chose to marry Satyawan, prince in exile who was living in the forest. The court astrologers tried to stop her when the prince’s lifeline showed that he would die within a year. Savitri however would not step back: she married him and went to the forest to live with. After a day of collecting wood in the forest, Satyawan rested under a tree. At this moment Yama, the god of death came to snatch away his life. Savitri, seeing Yama taking away her husband’s breath, followed them until the door of heaven, begging to return her husband’s life. With sheer determination, intelligence and devotion she won back the life of her husband and his kingdom.

Our research of memory structures in Chalkwell park showed that 89% of these memorials are for dead people with the war memorials not taken into account. These facts puzzled us as we understood memory-making as a practice of the living impregnated with both the ones that have passed away but also as a cherishing of living relationships. Memories are created throughout life as an ongoing process of making memories of your loved ones.

Thus we would like to introduce an opportunity for living memory-making in Chalkwell Park by inviting people to participate in an event of living commemoration or a commemoration of the living. This is inspired by the tradition of Vat Savitri Puja, in which women tie threads around a banyan tree, whilst preying for their husbands’ long life and an enduring relationship that will last beyond this life and into the next. The thread represents the fragile nature of life, love, trust and faith that must be cherished in the relationships with our loved ones.  A single thread may be weak, but, when it is wound endless times around the trunk, it becomes strong and unbreakable.

LIVING MEMORY is a project investigating the structures of memory in Chalkwell Park by looking into the donated benches, trees and war memorials. The current donation system offers people the opportunity to purchase the right to display a personal memory in Chalkwell park at a very high price. The plaques on benches and by trees are acting as boundaries between the space of  the living and the space of the dead and they also act as markers of collective and individual commemoration.

LIVING MEMORY invites visitors of Chalkwell Park to cherish a living memory of a loved one, a relative, a good friend or neighbor by winding a thread around this tree: together changing the tree into a living collective commemoration. In this event memories of ones who’ve passed away and living memories are brought together by a soundscape consisting of whispered recitations of the plaques from the donated benches and trees in the park.


Research structure

Action research:
Walking aimlessly in park
Understanding the ecology of the park by investigating donation system(tree, bench, shrubs, rose), groups of park-users, accessibility,

public spaces
structures of memory
women and parks
fluxus interventions
environmental racism


Living memory making and the sonic re-enacting of dead memories:
This is a research-based intervention dealing with memory making. The structure of the collective memory making is informed by calculations withdrawn from the constructed conceptual database over the current memory structures in the park. The research showed us that 83% of the memories were referring to dead people, thus we wished to counter this with an real life memory making informed by the Indian tradition Vat Savitri Puja that we gratefully learned about from Manali. Vat Savitri Puja is a sort of practice of future memory making, where women are praying for longevity and good health for their husbands in this life and any coming lives.

Territorial memories and collective embodied memory-making:
The (western) territorial tradition for privatising memorials in public spaces by marking each memory with a name-tag is in Living memory brought to encounter a certain Indian tradition performing collective embodied memory. The bodies of the thread-winders are markers and creator of the making of living memory as the negotiation between the subjective memories and the simultaneous binding and freeing memories  into the collective sphere of memories in a public space.

A subtle injection of femininity in Chalkwell park
Database results informed us about the underrepresentation of women in the individual donations. This led us to understanding privatizing and territorialisation of public space by means of ‘private memory’ plaques. This way ownership-structures can be seen as belonging to a certain notion of masculinity. Moreover, the memory structures in Chalkwell park are heavily marked by the collective war memorials mainly referring to the loss of men and a masculine tradition of the war hero. We thus felt obliged to deal with the entanglement of public memory and gender-structures, however we struggled with giving form to this entanglement.

How to gender memory-making?
Genders entanglement with public memory in Chalkwell park caused crucial discussions in group. This however, allowed us to see personal motivations, hidden political desires, layers of resistance towards methods of visibility and blindspots at work in the group members arguments. Basically we ended up with two seemingly opposing solutions to the problematic:

women only can participate in the memory making: physical exclusion
open to everyone: accepting the structures of gender in our participants

Alan suggested we shouldn’t understand our arguments as opposing – but rather as complementary. Thus we engaged with these more subtle forms of femininity already inherent in the Indian tradition that operate with the materiality of threat, continuity, collective sisterhood and praying. We worked on the intervention’s physical form to nurture this femininity by returning to the database calculations. We interpreted the calculations in order to bring a presence anew to the women memorized in the current memorials. Thus the dedications came to constitute a soundscape performed by the three members of the group (all women with English as a second language) and installed around the three being thread-binded.

Sound-scape of female memorials
To escape the lingual and territorial structures of the name plagues and point to the living materiality behind these signs, we decided to negotiate the messages of the plagues into a sound in order to support continous and living nature of memory. Furthermore the sound were installed around the tree on which the re-enactment of Vat Savitri Puja took place to enable a physical encounter between the living memory making   and the lingual territorial memorials.
Initially we turned the messages from the plagues into a recital but discovered that the representational characters of that specific form were to dominating. The auditive interpretations of the messages urgently needed their own materiality and mode of being.
Trying to develop a character for the soundscape in a short period of time – we ended up combining two recorded tracks: a recital and a whisper recital. Together they constituted the soundscape played  erratic on four speakers installed around the tree.

Developing the encounter between the embodied memory-making and the sound-files:
develop following:
the interpretation of the messages on the plagues, the materiality of the plagues etc-
the auditive form: voice, noise, sound etc.
interactive modes between thread-winders and soundscape – creating a singular relation in time between the two modes of memory.



Idea 1: Structures of ownership in Chalkwell park:
address the material signs for ownership directly: deal only with benches and trees. (or more things that can be bought?)
What do we do with the stories? Should we give away the trees+benches that are already donated?
Ownership married to storytelling/public memory:
the notion of ownership is directly linked to the benches and trees as they are memorial objects.
Challenge the rights to public memorials without having to pay.
Challenge the right to have a public history in a ‘white’ space when you are an immigrant.
Challenge the notion of memories and past as something constantly produced in the present.
Implementation of personal memories to the park.
Collect written memories/recorded audio from people beforehand and invite them to see the actual event on the jamming day.
Carve in the donated trees/bences/ produce stickers with peoples memories on and stick them on to the donated trees/benches

Target groups:
specific environment/social group: immigrants, women, workers, bed-sit-renters, unemployed.
How do we make them come?
how do we connect the ownership-challenge with attractive concept for people to participate? Give us your story – we will give you a bench for free?
do an activity that attracts children, skaters, dog-owners, baby-mothers, fathers + footie-kids.
Critique & suggestions: Meeting with Graham
– change the profile of the project to a more material and permanent intervention (eg. planting things)
– make the concept more accessible  how do we catch peoples attention/make them want to come. Ownership does not work – but exchange might do!
– concept more uniform: focus on one thing only (plants, benches etc???)
– plan B for target group if they don’t show up
– piss of the nationalist/conservative people in the area by giving the park to immigrant group(s).

– how to negotiate between a material intervention (planting things) and social intervention (the experience in the social event on the jamming-day)
– how to marry story-telling and the ownership-structures in the park?

– target group makes it more complicated
– target group brought in from a different environment will challenge the normative structures of the park.
– are we forcing it?
Research material: KEY CONCEPTS from research literature

Chalkwell Park: media ecology

  • understand the media ecology:
  • nature
  • the organisation of nature (rose-gardens, paths, sports-areas etc.)
  • organisation of signs/restrictions in the park
  • the sound-system
  • the intelligible ecologies bound to the park
  • surrounding buildings.

Ideas of transference:

  • “According to The Source published in June 2001, “During transference, people turn into a ‘biological time machine.'” A nerve is struck when someone says or does something that reminds you of your past. This creates an “emotional time warp” that transfers your emotional past and your psychological needs into the present.” (wikipedia, 2009)
  • Transference  the colliding of (or construction of an encounter between) two different environments separated by: time, visibility, geographical distance, socio-economic conditions or by cultural/and /or gendered norms.
  • The construction of a material encounter between the park and another environment or ecology is not unproblematic – the history and structures of the park meet a non-familiar environment with a different history and structures.
  • Environmental racism: // the concept of the park as a western/white/man phenomena:
  • Environmental racism is a useful notion in connection with environmental politics, climate politics, land-conservation politics, national parks, urban town planning, organisation of public spaces, notion of nature and mans interaction with it.
  • Environmental racism refers to intentional or unintentional racial discrimination in the enforcement of environmental rules and regulations, the intentional or unintentional targeting of minority communities[1] for the siting of polluting industries, or the exclusion of minority groups from public and private boards, commissions, and regulatory bodies. (wikipedia 2009)
  • Waste-disposal, organisation of space, soil pollution, air pollution can be expressions/material forms of racism.
  • Article: Taking it by  Lisa C. Salazar
  • The environment: is everywhere  impossible to separate the physical environment and the cultural environment, they participate in each other and maintain each other are thus entangled. Environment is NOT just a green spot!
  • Social injustice – people of colour are to a large degree left out of the environmental discourse. (because it is one created by the white/western man: nature=primitive and wild forces, coloured person+woman is also in that category).
  • Western land conservation and discrimination have a history that takes us back to pre-colonialism. European epistemologies of words like: nature, park, protected area  – have been exported largely and thus normalised/naturalised as unproblematic notions, which retrain us to recognise the words inherent racism.
  • Exclusion/discrimination of lower class in UK park history:
  • The first parks in the UK were private hunting grounds exclusively for the king and the upper aristocracy.
  • Later: public parks as urban recreational spaces.
  • Telephone polls (?) white persons are much more likely to engage in park than people of colour.
  • Separation of nature and culture is a strictly western concept but it affects the ways in which we are socialised to interact with nature (it being something different that culture).
  • Nature: elitist western construction/narrative – thus nature has been molded into a hobby, separated from culture.
  • Constructing a social encounter in chalkwell park challenging the social norms it relies on:
  • build a space that can be the physical encounter between a intelligible media-ecology and a cultural group: the bringing together of a physical and a cultural environment.
  • Connect the space to the environment of the participants  to bring ‘their homes/familiarity’ into the park. (sound, signals, signals from their home country?)
  • By bringing in a ‘non-familiar’/non-invisible environment through signal/sound/???/ – we display the hidden (maybe racist/and/or sexist) structures of the park.
  • Use: data, graphs, statistics, personal memories, geographical maps, personal performative maps.
  • General Questions that came to my mind:
  • how do we respond to the fact that Chalkwell park is placed in nice, residential middleclass area?
  • What sort of other historical sites (like parks) can we think about to understand the historicity of the park-concept better?
  • What role does the history of parks play in today’s parks? Are there hidden structures through which the park operates?
  • FLUXUS research: See post Datajam Research II

Notes regarding target groups: Women and public space:

Women and public space, key-concepts from research material:

Sept. 17: Early Attempts to Conceptualize Women in Public
Mary Ryan, Women in Public, full text.
Linda Kerber, “Separate Spheres,” Journal of American History 75 (1988): 9-39. *JSTOR*

Aiyana Berne :
“In Western culture, women have not long been full citizens, and in that respect it is no surprise that they have been historically excluded from public space. The world outside the home was once considered unsafe for the “fair” sex; women who did venture into that world without a male chaperone were thought to be of the worst kind, and asking for
trouble. With the advent of the mall, women were for the first time allowed out of the house alone, but the rest of the public domain, including streets, restaurants, bars, coffee houses, and all other areas where anything exciting or political ever happens, remained iabel text:n the hands of men.”

Journal article by Melissa Mcfarland Pennell; Biography, Vol. 26, 2003
“These questions govern the chapters that follow, as Norkunas divides her study into
sections labeled “Inside the Memory of Class and Ethnicity,” “The Gender of Memory,”
“Relocating the Memory of the Dead,” and “The Changing Relationship of Memory and
Place.” In each, Norkunas interpolates family stories and personal recollections with the
more objective study of public monuments and spaces. Her cataloguing of monuments
and memorials confirms Norkunas’s sense that women were seldom remembered in
public spaces, despite their importance to the city’s history, development, and public
life. She uses stories from her own family to compensate as a “gendered form of
memorializing women,” suggesting that the family stories “are an alternative kind of
monument” (10). By presenting these stories and analyzing their implications, Norkunas
attempts to bridge the division created by the gendered public-private dichotomy that
existed in Lowell well into the twentieth century, one that reflected the continuing
influence of a separate-spheres ideology that informed personal as well as public

History, Memory, and Monuments:  An Overview of the Scholarly Literature on Commemoration
Kirk Savage, University of Pittsburgh
(Page 1 of 13)

“The first key question might be, what is commemoration?  Dictionary definitions tell us that to commemorate is to “call to remembrance,” to mark an event or a person or a group by a ceremony or an observance or a monument of some kind.  Commemorations might be ephemeral or permanent;  the key point is that they prod collective memory in some conspicuous way.
French sociologist Maurice Halbwachs ushered in the modern academic study of collective memory with his book The Social Frameworks of Memory (1925) in which he argued that all memory – even personal memory – is a social process, shaped by the various groups (family, religious, geographical, etc.)  to which individuals belong.  In an even more influential posthumous essay,
26/11/2009 22:00
History, Memory, and Monuments: An Overview of the Scholarly Literature on Commemoration geographical, etc.)  to which individuals belong.  Thus our view of the past does not come primarily from professional historical scholarship but from a much more complicated and interwoven set of relationships to mass media, tourist sites, family tradition, and the spaces of our upbringing with all their regional, ethnic, and class diversity – to name just a few factors.  Just as personal memory is now understood to be a highly selective, adaptive process of reconstructing the past, shaped by present needs and contexts, so collective memory is a product of social groups and their ever evolving character and interests.  Hence the now commonplace notion that collective memory is “constructed,” amidst a perpetual political battleground.  Almost everyone now agrees with American historian Michael Kammen’s assertion, made in his magisterial volume Mystic Chords of Memory (1991) that “societies in fact reconstruct their pasts rather than faithfully record them, and that they do so with the needs of contemporary culture clearly in mind – manipulating the past in order to mold the present.” (p.1-2)

Reflective questions:
What venues and mechanisms facilitated  women’s participation in the shaping of public culture? In what ways do their activities help to alter longstanding conventional notions of public space? Of modernity? Of femininity? Of masculinity? From a historiographic standpoint, what is the continued lure?

Vat Savitri Puja: the social intervention of binding memory into the park
Vat Savitri is a celebration observed by women in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Orissa. and Maharashtra. In this festival married women pray and fast for their husbands’ long life by tying threads around a banyan tree. It honours Savitri, the legendary wife who conquered death for her husband’s life. In south India this fast is known as Karadaiyan Nonbu.
The Story
Savitri was the beautiful daughter of King Ashwapati of Madra Desa. A lustrous woman of great beauty, she was sent to the forest ashrams of sages to look for a suitable bridegroom for herself. She choose to marry Satyawan, prince in exile who was living in the forest with his blind father Dyumatsen. When she revealed her determination to marry Satyawan to her parents, the court astrologers tried to stop her as they figured that the prince’s lifeline showed that he would die within a year. Savitri had however, accepted him as her husband and would not step back from her resolution. She married him and went to the forest ashram to live with him and his parents.
One day the couple went into the deep forest to collect wood. After a tedious work Satyawan rested under a Vat tree. At this moment Yama, the god of death came to snatch away his life. Savitri, seeing Yama, take away her husband’s breath, followed, pleading with him to return her husband’s life till the door of heaven. With sheer determination, intelligence and devotion she won back her in- laws lost sight, lost kingdom and the life of her husband.

The ritual: a married woman walks 108 times around a Pipal tree (the sacred fig tree – no ordinary tree will do !), tying an unbroken length of cotton thread around its trunk.  The women recite prayers as they walk around the tree.
The papal tree represents the tree of life.  For millenniums, it has supported life of all sorts and for this reason, it is considered to be sacred and must not be cut or harmed in any way.
The cotton thread represents the fragile nature of life, love, trust, faith – and all things that go on to make up a relationship.  A single thread may be weak, but, when it is wound 108 times around the trunk, it becomes strong.  It is no longer so fragile and no longer easy to break.
By walking around the tree 108 times, the wife contemplates on these matters.  Love can only be strengthened by trust, faith and desire to make it work !  With each step, the woman strenghtens her relationship with her husband.  She prays not just for her husband’s long life, but an enduring relationship that will last beyond this life and into the next.

Production plan

Saturday 28.11.2009

produce test-run label, print them, email them: angela
label text:  In dear memory of xxx – initiated by the: Open memory project, free memory project, woman’s right to public memory project, female memory project, equal memory project, our public memory project,  forget me not project, for those forgotten in history project

Normative Q:
name, gender, year, hometown, working/non-wokring, nationality, place of birth, martial status, etnichity, parenthood, park-use, family size,

sensory Q:
favorite flower, tree, nature, weather, smell, season, best developed sense

Emotional Q:
feeling of safety in the park, be an animal, feeling of empowerment as a woman, strongest feeling,

Short description of project to communicate to target group.

Sunday: Test-run Chalkwell park
1.collect all memorial names+year+other

2 cameras w/video: Loes
1 camera w/video, audio recorder: Angela
pen and paper

Video, photo, audio

Monday 30.11.2009
Project status quo:
1. production: The intervention in the park: hoping for permanence for the cost-free donations in  a part of the park – sort of a free-public memory space.

2. production: database
– management of collected data from the signs belonging to the memorials.
– use database data to generate data-visualisation of the memory structures in the park.

– organize pictures
– sketch out database
– contact metal: email
– data transcription

Tuesday 01.12.2009
decide day of intervention (dep. on permanence or not)
production plan for the signs: materials, design, productions place
production plan for database: mysql / spredsheet

Art Projects, Defamiliarization, Projects, urban