Damnatio Memoriae

Damnatio Memoriae

installation, slide projection, audio, archival material, 2010

DAMNATIO MEMORIAE (the damnation of memory), refers to a punishment issued by the Roman Senate following a person’s death in an attempt to remove the person in question from cultural memory. Items such as coins, statues, paintings and documents were thought to be destroyed, names erased and property seized. Shown at Arthur Boskamp-Stiftung in Hohenlockstedt, Germany, Damnatio Memoriae was made up of a series of interconnected installations, mapping relations between seemingly disparate historic events.

A crop of Russian-Siberian heritage tomatoes, named after American actor and singer Paul Robeson (1898—1976), made up the installation, Them that plants them is soon forgotten. As the tomatoes ripened they were incorporated into the café menu at the Arthur Boskamp Foundation. Included in the installation was archive material relating to Robeson’s political activism and surveillance by both US and UK governments.

A slideshow with narration, The Brank, functioned as a loop of connecting information and backdrop to the works, making links between a scold’s bridle, damnatio memoriae, a missing sculpture of Paul Robeson by artist Antonio Salemme, MK ULTRA, Paul Robeson’s activism, anarchism, Ralph Chaplin, black cats, the European witch-hunts and an obsolete law of England and Wales known as the Common Scold Act.

Other works in the exhibition included a collection of inner record sleeves from Paul Robeson albums, The New Idealism, a giant witch’s hat, a collection of overturned images of witches and Black Cat Cross my Path, I Think Every Day’s Gonna Be My Last, where a local black cat was befriended and fed by gallery staff.