Memory-Connections Matter

“When we examine memory, there’s the potential to understand our own individual experience more fully, to see who we are – and at the same time find points of connections with others. Memory only holds truth for us in a context.”

Patricia Moss-Vreeland explores memory as a meditation on who we are. Her paintings, drawings, prints, mixed media collages, and artist books evoke an awakening of feelings, experiences, and imagery embedded in our everyday memories, probing the unexplored territory where art and science meet. Incorporating close to two decades of research into the functioning of the human brain and the construction of memory, Moss-Vreeland’s work was hailed by the Baltimore Sun as “an invitation to think differently” about memory and the creative process.

In this exclusive interview she discusses the role of memory in her work .

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: All the Remembering Returns

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: All the Remembering Returns, archival pigment print

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: My mother was my first mentor, and inspired my passion, love and curiosity about art, from a very early age. This translated into a lifelong investigation having art as my main language. I think that art builds different kinds of languages and offers a whole array of creative possibilities to communicate and shape understanding from different perspectives.

My studio work is comprised of drawings, paintings, pigment prints and mixed media, sometimes intertwined with my poetry. I have been involved in many exhibitions and commissions internationally, with works in many permanent museum collections. After winning a national competition, I designed the Memorial Room for the Holocaust Museum in Houston, which earned four major awards. Then I received the Millennial Art-in-Science Commission, University City Science Center, Philadelphia, to create Memory-Connections Matter. That installation launched my exploration of the art and science of memory. This exhibition became the inspiration for my book, A Place for Memory:  Where Art and Science Meet, about the intersection of art and science through the lens of memory. I lead workshops and have created interactive public events across the country around the themes of memory, creativity, and metaphor.

Patricia Moss-Vreelan: Neuronal Information

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: Neuronal Information, archival pigment print

RB: Your work explores memory as “a meditation on who we are”.  What inspired this exploration and how does neuroscience connect with this?

PM-V: When we examine memory, there’s the potential to understand our own individual experience more fully, to see who we are – and at the same time find points of connections with others. Memory only holds truth for us in a context.

I had completed the commission to design the Memorial Room, Holocaust Museum Houston in 1996. Working on the subject of the Holocaust for three years revealed the historical importance of memory and the many reverberations of collective memory on a society.  I listened to memories from survivors and wondered, why did individuals remember and respond to the past and to life so differently? Each survivor contained a mountain of grief –some of them escalated to new heights, and others failed to make the climb.

The mystery of memory and the residual emotions of this stayed with me after the Holocaust Museum opened to the public, leaving a powerful imprint and altering my earlier ideas and artwork in my studio.

At the same time, I became aware that we were in the midst of a quiet revolution in the world of neuroscience. The nineties was tagged the “decade of the brain,” because of all of the discoveries about brain functioning. A major breakthrough in neuroscience was the recognition of the human’s brain’s plasticity. I was familiar with the word “plastic” from the arts, meaning something can be molded; and it was being used in neuroscience.

In 1998, soon after the Holocaust Memorial piece, a friend told me about an opportunity that held possibilities for me to learn more about memory and humanity from a different perspective, through neuroscience. I worked with a neuropsychologist for a year for the commission, Memory –Connections Matter and was surprised to discover that memory is a subjective process, placing it firmly in the arts domain. I learned that our memories are not fixed; each memory is a constantly shifting reconstruction of experience and emotion. How you feel when something occurs will become the context for how you remember that event.

I knew I had arrived at something important: the understanding that the memories we create are keys to who we are.

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: Memory-Connections Matter

Patricia Moss-Vreeland: Memory-Connections Matter, archival pigment print

RB: Can you say something about your exhibition Memory –Connections Matter? What were its aims?

PM-V: Memory-Connections Matter was about the role that memory plays in our lives. The primary objective was to stimulate creative thinking about art and science in contemporary culture. Experiential in approach and design, I designed it to have visitors perceive the process of memory making, to learn how our brains construct a memory, and to actively process this information through art.  The installation was designed to illuminate the relationship between memory, creativity, brain function and learning, and the multiple paths to take through art. My title came about after I found out how critical making connections are to the formation of memory.

I wrote a poem first in response to learning about the science of memory, which at that time was unusual for me. When I brought it to show my advisor, who was expecting some visual sketches, she felt it was a perfect definition of memory. I decided to make this poem the gateway to my installation. It became an example of visual and verbal metaphor, as I developed it digitally into a large-scale print. This created an opportunity for me to stretch as an artist and braid image and text together for the first time.

In the installation, interconnecting pathways led the viewer to four interactive stations representing Neurobiology; Memory and Emotion; Memory and Place; Memory and our Senses. The choices you made as a visitor would affect your interaction and memory, and reveal how memory changes over time and direction, another planned metaphor in the design of my installation. I wanted visitors to walk away understanding that the way in which we remember something involves creativity. Memory is our creation, and it changes daily.

I had also designed Memory-Connections Matter to be a teaching site. I met with students, faculty and gallery visitors, and depending on the age group and discipline, I walked them through different scenarios, describing some of the visual and verbal metaphors woven throughout, and the possible interpretations about art and science, languages, memory and creativity. Many visitors left memories, as text, quotes, and sketches. I made a book of these daily responses to share, and included poems that I collected on memory. I also organized an educational forum, inviting diverse professionals to moderate discussions that reflected upon memory and creativity.

A Place for Memory: Where Art and Science Meet (book cover)

RB: You describe your book, A Place for Memory: Where Art and Science Meet, as both an art book and a book designed to underscore our human potential for creativity. What inspired you to write this book and what do you hope it will give to its readers?

PM-V: I was inspired to write and design A Place for Memory: Where Art and Science Meet, published in 2013, as I felt the core content of Memory-Connections Matter grew in relevance as time went by, and had the potential to speak to a broader audience.

When I translated my artwork into a book format, I wanted to forge a new partnership with the reader, taking each person on a visual journey, unravelling how creativity guides the ways in which we remember. Through an assemblage of images, poetic and lyrical text, my works of art and poetry in this book are metaphors for memory and how it functions. Each section relates to different aspects of making memory. My hope is for each reader to find a place for ongoing reflection, and to uncover his or her creativity through the lens of memory.

The book presents the art and science of memory as intertwined spaces. Rather than presenting one linear narrative, each page becomes a pathway, a thread for making another pattern of thought and experience. You can begin the book any place, and the concept is that each page turned triggers memory, can change perception, and invites new connections.

RB: In your view, what is the relationship between memory and the creative process?

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