Memory Matrix. MIT
The Memory Matrix is a monument in the making that explores the possibilities for future heritage creation, employing new fabrication techniques and trans-cultural workshops. The Matrix is made of border fences carrying over 20,000 small fluorescent Plexiglas elements or “pixels.” These elements are laser cut with holes outlining vanished and threatened heritage from different parts of the world. The larger matrix of pixels reveals an image of the recently destroyed Arch of Triumph from the ancient Semitic city of Palmyra, which is now only visible through movement of light and wind. Palmyra is one of the most important cultural centers of the ancient world and was listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site. This great city developed at the crossroads of several civilizations in the Syrian desert and its monuments embodied the world’s trans-cultural heritage. Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph was built in the 3rd century during the reign of emperor Septimius Severus and was destroyed by ISIL in October 2015, but some remains still survive.
The project aims to advance and promote the peaceful co-existence by enhancing an understanding of world’s cultural heritage through contemporary art, trans-cultural and educational workshops – in particular, through collaborations between students, artists, scientists and innovators across contested cultural territories. The collaborative making process that involves students across the campus references the MIT founder William Barton Roger’s vision that connecting campus buildings would promote hands on collaboration. The Memory Matrix highlights the continuous evolution of the campus architecture through its location at the Wiesner Building E15, built by the Pritzker Prize winning architect I.M. Pei in 1985. The piece is inspired by the ethos of MIT scientists and researchers – and the very work of MIT’s 13th President Jeremy Wiesner, after whom the building E15 is named.
Following the exhibition at MIT, the project is meant to travel to different locations, where it will be exhibited at different artistic and cultural venues, in conjunction with workshops that would engage local audiences in various sites.
The project involves the following conceptual dimensions:
Ghosts of global heritage: The holes in pixels represent the physical absence of various monuments and artifacts that were recently destroyed and looted in Syria and Iraq, to religious architecture targeted during the WWII, Egyptian pyramids whose stones are now sold to tourists, to examples of intangible heritage, such as traditions and knowledge of indigenous communities disappearing with the forests of the Amazon. The Memory Matrix asks us to think about the way our current actions as heritage of future generations.
Animated Image: Arranged into spatially distributed panels, the individual pixels form a larger image, that of the Palmyra’s Arch of Triumph. This image is anamorphic and is animated through the movement of wind and light, as well as the movement of the viewer. The fragmented image of the arch can only be fully comprehended from one point of view: standing at the corner of the building 66 and looking towards the building E23.
Monument, in the making: The scaffolding used to carry the installation is both structural and symbolic, indicating the continuous process of constructing, destructing and repairing as a form of writing and rewriting history. Cultural heritage is a record of our history and of our existence and co-existence.
Digital effect with physical materials: The fluorescent green acrylic used for the pixels is meant to create a digital effect through a physical material, referring to the fact that most of the vanished and threatened heritage now only exists in a digital form.
Border becomes a gate: The chain link fence references fences used at borders to prevent refugees of entering different countries. The layering and spatial arrangement of the fences transforms the concept of a border fence into a gate.
Cryptographic heritage: The individual pixels are connected to unique entries in the globally distributed Bitcoin blockchain serving as cryptographically encoded and virtually indestructible evidence of a community’s history and heritage. As a research project, the Memory Matrix explores ways how communities threatened by war can document their material and immaterial heritage as indestructible evidence. This dimension of the project was conceived and developed by Dietmar Offenhuber.
Trans-cultural exchanges: Beyond its monumental form and archival function, there is also a strong educational and trans-cultural solidarity component to the project. The data and design of each pixel was made possible by the participants in the Memory Matrix workshops held at MIT and at the Cairo Maker Faire, and the upcoming workshops. This collaborative making process is a seed for a longer-term mission of the project – to benefit the education of Syrian refugees.
Azra Akšamija, Memory Matrix, 2016 (ongoing)
Mixed media: chain-link fencing, scaffolding, 20,000 neon-green acrylic elements.
Concept and Artistic Director: Azra Aksamija, Associate Professor in MIT Program in Art, Culture, and Technology
Project Development and Production Team: Team Leader: Lillian P.H. Kology, artist and lecturer at Montserrat College; James Robert Addison, MIT graduate student in Architecture Department (MArch); Seth Cimarron Avecilla, ACT Fabrication Associate; Kristina Eva Eldrenkamp, MIT graduate student in Architecture Department (MArch); Dina El-Zanfaly, MIT graduate student in Architecture Department (PhD in Computation); Maria Roldan, MIT undergraduate student in Architecture Department (UROP).
Cryptographic Heritage Component: Dietmar Offenhuber, Assistant Professor at Northeastern University, MIT alumnus (MAS in Media Lab and PhD in DUSP)
Project Manager: Allison James, ACT Producer in Residence, MIT Alumna (HTC/AKPIA)
Pixel Designers: MIT Undergraduate Students from the Department of Architecture / Participants of the ACT class 4.302 Foundations in Art, Design and Spatial Practices: Abigail Anderson, Katherine Weishaar, Johanna Greenspan-Johnston, Szabolcs Kiss, Sofie Belanger, Baily Zuniga, and Kristen Wu. Co-instructor CI component: Cherie Miot Abbanat, Lecturer in DUSP. Team Leaders / Teaching Assistants: Caner Oktem, MIT graduate student in Architecture Department (SMArchS) and Martin Joshua Elliott, MIT graduate student in Architecture Department (MArch).
Project Logo: Maria Roldan, MIT undergraduate student in Architecture Department (UROP).
Website and Digital Matrix Team: Web design: Jegan Vincent De Paul, MIT alumnus (ACT)
Installation Fabricators: Seth Avecilla, Zachary Herrmann, Kalamu Kieta, Lillian Kology, Dave Olsen, Joseph Wight
Pixel Fabrication Team: Nasreen Al-Qadi, Wellesley undergraduate student (UROP); Ashley Kim, Wellesley undergraduate student (UROP); Goldy Landau, Wellesley undergraduate student (UROP); Cynthia Fang, MIT undergraduate student (UROP); Kristen Wu, MIT undergraduate student (UROP).
Pixel Hanging Team: MIT students: Yvette Abadi, Rainar Aasrand, Dina El-Zanfaly, Momchil Molnar, Dimitrios Pagonakis, Veronica Salazar, Erica Santana. Montserrat College students: Tiffany Binger, Paige Hall, Christopher Giglio, Kurtis Lyons, Kenneth Sawyer, Maegan Shilkey, Joshua Viana. Other helpers and ACT community members: Azra Aksamija, Nadja Aksamija, Jessica Anderson, Hiroharu Mori.
Documentation: Madeleine Gallagher, ACT Media Associate; David Kinchen, David Kinchen Photography Boston; John Eric Steiner, ACT Media Assistant;
Project Funders and Supporters: Office of the Dean from the School of Architecture and Planning, Office of the Dean from the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT), Center for International Studies, Arts Initiatives of SA+P, Center for Advanced Urbanism, Council for the Arts at MIT, MIT Libraries, Aga Khan Program (AKPIA), Global Studies and Languages, Comparative Media Studies / Writing, Literature Section, Office of the Dean for Student Life, Program in Science, Technology, and Society, Women’s and Gender Studies at MIT, MIT Crowdfunding –> students, faculty, alumni, family and friends who co-funded the project via MIT Crowdfunding campaign.
Construction Sponsorship: LeMessurier, D.C. Beane and Associates Construction Company
Other Forms of Support: Department of Architecture at MIT, Aga Khan Documentation Center at MIT, MISTI, MIT Alumni Association.
Special Thanks to: Philip S. Khoury, Ford International Professor of History and Associate Provost at MIT, Cynthia Reed and Martin Rosen for their generous support; Angel Chen, Caitlin Mueller, William O’Brien, Floor van de Velde, and Sarah Williams for advising on the project. Big thanks to the ACT faculty, staff and students for their teamwork and support!