Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster

Esther Schipper

Do images register in our minds more readily than words? How do verbal and visual memories relate to each other? How can the expertise of a professional mnemonician help us to see and perceive? Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s work does not only approach such issues with respect to the viewing of art; her work directly embodies those operations. Entitled “The Mind of a Mnemonician,” this show attacked the usual modes of perception, such as the application of methods from other fields—psychoanalysis, philosophy, and sociology. The exhibition is a memory of memory experiments undertaken in the 1920s by A. R. Luria. A Soviet neuropsychologist, Luria studied the memory prodigy S. (S. V. Shereshevski), who earned his living by performing memory feats in public. Luria’s goal was to test the limits of memory and to establish a “theory” of memory.

Gonzalez-Foerster aimed at preventing the circle from Luria to the present from closing without the viewer (for everything that has been said could remain purely oral and written) and at lodging the memory more solidly in the viewer’s mind. To this end, the work’s installation challenged the viewer to participate. The story of Luria and S. is presented on wooden, plastic, and Plexiglas panels, and the viewer is tested with questions printed on transparent plastic. The goal of the test is to check what the viewer has just learned, to test his short-term memory, i.e. his perceptual ability. The viewer himself has to evaluate his own results. “The Mind of a Mnemonician” is part art exhibition, part popular-science test. Unfortunately, as a gallery show it preaches to the converted.

Jutta Koether

Translated from the German by Joachim Neugroschel.