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'Memory from Memory'
John Billan, video installation, 2002


Catalogue essay from artist John Billan's video installation at West Space Gallery in Melbourne in 2002 (soundtrack by artist Jennifer Sochackyj). The exhibition addressed issues of space, time, memory, and identity within the environment of The Latrobe Valley, a valley with many industrial features such as power stations, approximately one hours drive from Melbourne, Victoria.




Untitled John Billan
Untitled John Billan


Photographic stills from the video 'Memory from Memory'

John Billan


Physically, I have no photographs of myself before I was seventeen, no printed history if you like. Only my memories. Recently my mother sent me an old photograph of two small boys, dressed in cowboy suits standing in front of a Christmas tree. Looking at this photograph I try to reconstruct a memory of this time and place, this space of engagement. When was this in my life. How did I feel. I cannot remember. The landscape is alien to me - I cannot bring the visual traces of this photograph back into the consciousness of my mind. Through memory I am brought back to consciousness by the mind : privileging, fragmentary, illusory, timeless, truthful. I remember. My memory re-materialises and recalls sensations, thoughts, knowledges through the re-territorialisation of past times, past events, past spaces.
But what of a memory from a memory? Is it a re/remembering, a double remembrance of things past, an illusive
memory from a half forgotten memory? How would you visualise such a memory emerging from a memory?

In his exhibition 'Memory from Memory' John Billan attempts such a visual projection, not as static narrativisation but through the use of nomadic imagery; fluid, shifting, ephemeral perspectives brought back to consciousness in the imagination of the viewer. Through the engrammatic 'reading' into meaning of still and aerial photographs and video images taken from different eras in the Latrobe Valley, Billan attempts to bring to consciousness these double memories, perhaps the nascent memory of collective memories that form our universal attachment to the world.

In essence his project is transformative. His images speak of the embodiment of place, of human marking, of the mapping of environment through representations that mediate between absence and presence; in other words his project causes tensions in our memory, do we remember this, from what perspective, as the visual and audible negotiates spatial and temporal transformations. His video projects, his still photographs are scanned, the sound track (of artist Jenny Sochackyj) phases in and out as Billan seeks to blend a world-space (the presences of the photographs) with spaces of intimacy, that of our memories from memories.



Untitled John Billan



In one sequence the abstractness and ground-less-ness of Rothko-like reflections on water blends into the animated rotation of an aerial photograph of the site of a Latrobe Valley power station before the station was built. The boundaries of the print are disrupted as the viewer struggles to name the codes of perspective that makes the photograph readable. The topography of the land is reduced to the abstract flattened space of the plan.1 The sound track oscillates between the winding up of turbines used in the power stations, the rushing of air and other bleak industrial sounds contrasting with the surreality and lushness of some of his imagery. Here it is the shifting planes of the work that become, "a metaphor for repeated intrusions of the contingent into strategies of interpretation,"2 through the process of association between memory and the photograph, "for a photograph can function as an accessory to memory but never be memory itself."3

In the end Billan's project does not offer an appeal to nostalgia but proposes an insight into the history of the memory of the living, a nomadic sensibility4 that rejects the notion of a singular 'truth' in favour of many thruths, of the half-scene, the story partly re/remembered and imperfectly told, but nonetheless the naming into being of a narrative visualisation of powerful beauty and poesis.



1 @
See Shields, Rob. Lefebvre, Love and Struggle. London: Routledge, 1999, pp. 79-80.

2 @
Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media and The Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, p. 64.

3 @

4 @
"Teshome Gabriel summarises these contradictions in a piece entitled "Ruin and The Other: Toward a Language of Memory." He talks about memory as a ruin, as a place in which our thoughts about the past are nomadic

"Here, nomadism refers to a state of mind with reference to a style of thinking and of signification. Moving through time and space along a varying path, this formof discourse rejects fixed positions. It is a form of discourse that does not accept the notion that there is only one narrative or one truth. The nomadic sensibility, as a form of discursive strategy, thus acknowledges and accepts undifferentiated histories and narratives" ...

Gabriel is talking about opening up as many doors as possible while at the same time never finding the center. The margins become a metaphor for repeated intrusions of the contingent into strategies of interpretation. Memories are the medium for this, for a recognition of the imaginary as the river within which consciousness of self swims."

Gabriel, Teshome. "Ruin and The Other: Towards a Language of Memory," 1993, p. 217, quoted in Burnett, Ron. Cultures of Vision: Images, Media and The Imaginary. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995, pp. 63-64.