Nick Hackworth

The future from memory/Emma Kay, No thanks for the memories

Essays & Reviews Evening Standard

If, as someone once observed, “Life without memory is no life at all”, then someone ought to check Emma Kay for vital signs as a matter of urgency. Her current oeuvre consists entirely of work that deliberately exposes the leakiness of her memory. Kay’s now standard modus operandi is to take a canonical body of knowledge and reconstruct it entirely from her own memory with predictably faulty results. So far she has produced: The Bible from Memory, a 7,000-word long piece of wall-text; Shakespeare from Memory, 26 garbled, inkjet-printed synopses hung in white frames; The World from Memory I — III, a series of inaccurate world maps and Worldview, an 80,000 word “description” of the history of the world in book format.

The pieces bash us over the head, none too subtly, with the basic observation of how imperfect and subjective our individual reservoirs of knowledge really are. The latest addition to this litany of mnemonically challenged work is The Future from Memory, which attempts to describe the future of the world. The piece takes the form of a long, narrative loop of digitally animated text projected onto a wall. The sentences appear at the bottom of the projected screen. Initially they loom large but become smaller and smaller as the text recedes jerkily and gracelessly into some miniscule point of infinity. The work ends up looking like a low-budget version of the start of Star Wars — “In a galaxy far, far away ... ” but sadly without the saving grace of a bombastic sound track.

Unfortunately the content is no better than the presentation. The future that Kay predicts is far too plausible to be of particular interest. In 2139, Kay predicts, a massive flood will devastate the world. By 2169 “ancient” celluloid media will have disintegrated. Virtual interaction will replace physical inter- action. Media conglomerates will market commodified cultural experiences. And so the mundane predictions roll on, leaving one with little intellectual or aesthetic stimulation.

But perhaps the work does serve a purpose. Kay has clearly found her niche — the exploration of the fragmentary and subjective nature of knowledge — and seems intent on preserving the topic for herself through the simple but effective strategy of flogging it to death.

Until 1 April. Chisenhale Gallery, 64 Chisenhale Road, London, E3 (020 8981 4518)