[abstract from a talk given at the University of Pennsylvania, 3/6/2002]
The events of September 11 involved the collapse of a building and, reminiscent of the ancient art of memory, mourners pinned notices about their loved ones on the buildings in the city, making the city itself a memory palace. So central to this contemporary art of memory is photography that we come to understand our experiences in terms of Kodak moments and flashbulb memories. The events of 9/11 produced not only photographs but also a wide variety of other artifactsmaterial and digital, enormous and minute, durable and ephemeral, unique and multipleand an overwhelming impulse on the part of ordinary people and professionals alike to document what happened and what followed.
But documentation, whether through photographs or some other medium, also raises difficult questions.Where is the line between the moral ambiguity of watching and the obligation to witness?
As the rush to history overtakes the present moment, when does the present end and history begin?
These documents are being exhibited almost as quickly as they are being created, but, in the institutional context of the museum or gallery, will documents exceed their evidentiary status to become living memorials in their own right?
Can these settings accommodate the spontaneous memorial practices of visitors?
Will the memory palace of the museum ever approximate the memory palace, the musee imaginaire, that the city itself has become?
© Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 2002