A short history of Bernadette Mayer’s Memory

Affinities, Book Excerpts, Library, Women Artists & Hybrid Forms

December 25th, 2019
2017 Installation of Memory at Canada Gallery, New York. Photo by Joe DeNardo.

Reprinted from Memory by Bernadette Mayer (Siglio, 2020). All rights reserved.

In July 1971, Bernadette Mayer embarked on an experiment: for one month she exposed a roll of 35mm slide film each day and kept a journal. Later, once she had the film developed, she projected the slides in order to revise and refine her textual record.

The project was funded by Holly Solomon for exhibition at her first art space, 98 Greene Street. For the exhibition, Mayer had snapshots made from the slides, which she mounted on boards in the sequence in which they were shot, using handwritten cards to denote each day’s sequence. The installation of over 1100 snapshots measured fifty-two inches high and thirty-six feet long. A six-hour audio recording in her voice of the entire text also played in the gallery. Reviewing the exhibition in The Village Voice, critic A.D. Coleman wrote that Memory was an “enormous accumulation of data” that “explores photography not as an art but as a tool which has extended our vision in ways we have yet to comprehend.”

Memory was shown later in 1972, in an abbreviated form (and by appointment), in Mayer’s home, a loft on Grand Street. Mayer reworked the text for publication in 1975 by North Atlantic Books in an edition that has long been out of print. More than forty years later, the project was exhibited again at The Poetry Foundation in Chicago in 2016 (with new prints made from scans of the original slides) and at CANADA Gallery in New York City in 2017 which featured the original 1972 grid of photographs.

This publication was made from scans of the original slides that are housed at the Bernadette Mayer Papers, Special Collections & Archives, at the University of California, San Diego. This sequence of 1153 images varies slightly from the original installation as a few slides were lost in the intervening years, and other images are included that, due to over or under exposure, were not shown in 1972 or the subsequent 2017 exhibition.

The audio is available to listen to at the Bernadette Mayer Papers, Special Collections & Archives, at the University of California, San Diego.