Roots, rhizomes and radicles: critical reflections on memories and the voyage of becoming
Maartens-Van Vuuren, Cecilia Hendrina
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A critical reflection on childhood memories and time unfolds into a labyrinthine journey involving fluctuating emotions, but also a voyage of creativity and new beginnings. In this M.A. Fine Arts project, comprising a dissertation, an exhibition of painting, embroidery and installation, and an exhibition catalogue, I endeavour to share my lived experiences on such a life journey. The objective is to raise awareness of the dynamics of inner life and the existence of the past in the present, which influence behaviour and future endeavours. Childhood memories of railroads and trains, motivated an exploration of the experience of the flow of time. In our planetary existence, we are consciously responding to a sensorium charged with impressions, the continuous passing of time and the irrevocability of the past. Not only a pressing awareness of the potential creative impact of one’s past experiences on current perceptions of life is raised, but also how humans impact each other and the environment. Henri Bergson’s philosophy of life, embodying the revitalising of past lived experience in the present through the process of duration (Fr. durée réelle), underpins the research. The past's actualising in the present as something new implies inner movement and change alongside invention, which is realised as a spiritual becoming – an outcome of the evolution of time, as conceived in Bergson's concept, vital impetus (Fr. élan vital). Hence, Bergsonian envitalised life as perpetual becoming serves as the determining conceptual frame in the discursive ordering of the dissertation, mainly because he emphasises the emergence of something new from the reconfiguration of past experiences through the method of intuition or inner perceiving. Bergson's evolutionary time, relative to contemporary thought, is explicated through the relationship between the plant-based metaphorical concepts of roots, rhizomes and radicles, to explore memory, time and the life journey. Throughout the project, the rhizome, due to its peculiar mode of growth, becomes a metaphor to express the relationship of memories, thoughts, feelings and lived experience. Temporality and life as a journey through time, is explored by analysing a selected group of artworks. Prevalent figures of time, exemplified by life as being predestined, the progressive life stages, the transience of life, and the decay of matter were revealed in the process. The impact of changing environments related to catastrophic events (wars and industrialisation), culminated in the epoch of the Anthropocene. With the élan vital concept at hand, the Anthropocene is reflected upon to compel human beings to confront and counteract the trajectory of earthly destruction. Conceptual metaphors of memory in the folds of time and place are analysed by means of historical and contemporary artworks, including some of my own, in order to grasp the nature and impact of memory and place in the flow of time. These metaphors are the engram, which is investigated as the imprint of experience, the palimpsest revealing fragments of layered memory and the rhizome by which the flow and connection of memories are interpreted, and how this relates to the actual physical brain. My reflection on memories is informed by Boym’s (2001: 41) rendering of reflective nostalgia as a way to characterise one’s relationship with the past and one’s own self-perception. My position is that of a reflective nostalgic who cherishes memories of the past, especially those of childhood, as a rich source of information that could serve as encouragement, better understanding of the self and of perceiving the present and the future within my own cultural existence. Therefore the act of looking back as conducive to the spectator's spiritual becoming is discussed, as well as the way in which intense emotions, thoughts and conceptualisations are expressed. Thus the complex reality of the labyrinthine life journey unrolls towards maturation, encompassing movement, change, creativity and invention. In the dissertation's coda, time's persistence in the present and future is reviewed by means of T. S. Elliot’s “The Dry Salvages” (1941). Elliot conceptualises the transference of tradition with Bergson’s evolutionary time conceived in durée réelle, as time unfolds in memory and place. What is eventually revealed is that the reconfiguration of past lived experiences potentially impact my present perceptions and behaviour, as well as views on the future. My belief in the significant impact of music and colours on emotional expression subconsciously conditioned my studio practice and selected artworks in this research.