Artforum interviews Bernadette Mayer about Memory: “I should have become a thief”

Interviews, News Section, Reviews

June 24th, 2020

(Interview) Memory by Bernadette Mayer


Bernadette Mayer Remembers Memory


Originally published May 25, 2020

“I should have become a thief,” Bernadette Mayer tells me. “I would’ve made more money, maybe.” For Mayer, thievery and poetry are not so different, property itself being theft, which is also true of poetry, because who do words belong to? It’s this periphrastic logic that runs through Memory, the durational experiment Mayer performed in July 1971, shooting one roll of 35-mm slide film a day and keeping a rigorous diary. First presented as an installation of 1,116 photographs accompanied by handwritten notes and a six-hour audio recording of the entire text at Holly Solomon’s 98 Greene Street loft in February 1972, the project combined the taxonomic system of conceptual art with the emotive mystery of daily life: steel buildings catching the sun, a lover’s hands on a steering wheel, the incidental self-portraiture of a grocery list. Everything remains vivid until you “remember the past backwards and forget.” Memory has now been reproduced as a publication from Siglio Press. 

EVERYBODY IN MY FAMILY DIED by the time I was sixteen. My relatives were afraid that if they adopted me, they would die too. My father died of a hereditary condition at age forty-nine, so I thought I had to hurry up and do everything I wanted to do before age forty-nine. My older sister, Rosemary, got married after my mother died. I felt abandoned. I had to move in with my grandfather and my uncle, who were both doddering idiots. I immediately tried to go to college, but my uncle said I had to go to a Catholic college. I said, “Oh shit!”

It was good to get out of the house, but Catholic college was a really bad place to be. They told me they would throw me out for wearing sandals and reading Freud. I went to the New School and got the rest of my credits. I took a poetry course with Bill Berkson and that’s how I got to know Kenneth Koch, James Schuyler, John Ashbery, Barbara Guest, and Frank O’Hara.

I was twenty-six years old when I started Memory. I look like such a kid in the photos . . . I can see myself growing up through the course of the month. I got the idea from Godard, who said that image and sound make a film. Then again, he also said all you needed to make a film was a girl and a gun.

Continue reading at including Bernadette Mayer’s reading of July 4 with a video slide show of the complete July 4 images.