Object Memory

Last week’s discussion of Daniel Frampton’s book Filmosophy, as well as the brief mention of object ontology, had me thinking about artists outside the medium of film using metaphors of the mind. In his book, Frampton traces a rich history of writers considering film as analogous to the operations of the mind, be it as a record and reproduction of perception or as a representation of mental states. The most difficult proposal to swallow in Frampton’s text is his insistence of film’s autonomy. He writes, “for a ‘film-being’, filmosophy wishes to place the origin of film-thinking ‘in’ the film itself. There is no ‘external’ force, no mystical being or invisible other. It is the film that is steering its own (dis)course” (Frampton 73).

This kind of mental leap, that’s conceptually interesting but hard to take literally, reminded me of the work of Fred Wilson and his description of the “memory” of objects. He is most well known for working with existing museum collections, re-contextualizing their collection to expose gaps, injustices, and buried meanings through the form of exhibition display itself. In his first major museum intervention, Mining the Museum (1992), Wilson was given access to the Maryland Historical Society’s entire collection. Pulling objects associated with African American histories and slavery, Wilson created tableaus pointing to complexities the previous displays had ignored and how meaning is created through museum display.

Fred Wilson, Untitled (Pride & Prejudice), 1993, concrete sculptures, lobby of 2 W. 13th St. Parsons

Explaining his interpretation of objects, Wilson has said, “Objects have histories of their making, of their purpose, and their use. This is what I mean by ‘memory.’ Objects have multiple layers of meaning over time and as the object moves from place to place” (Wilson and Graham 213). Frampton and Deleuze describe film as being particularly interesting in that it’s a physical record of perception (by light) and time. I think Wilson’s interpretation of objects is similar in this regard. Objects’ “memories” are formed over time in their physical use and interpretation. By juxtaposing objects in new and surprising ways, Wilson seeks to expose forgotten meanings while actively creating new ones. We discussed Frampton’s emphasis on solely the audience/film experience devoid of filmmaker context as being detrimental to his argument. What I find interesting about Wilson’s work is that the scenarios he manufactures operate at a nexus between artist, object, and viewer. Each piece benefits from a greater understanding of Wilson’s practice but relies on the embedded memories of both the object and a varied audience.

To me, the “memories” of objects can be seen as the virtual in Deleuze. They lay latent in the object until made actual by audiences, and because there are multiple meanings, they can be in varying degrees of becoming. Wilson writes, “Meanings, like memories, don’t go away. They can be suppressed, but they remain within, waiting for someone to reveal them.”(Wilson and Graham 214). The meanings of objects are imbedded in an immanent plain of existence and shift between virtual and actual as revealed by Wilson and his varying audiences. Wilson uses the metaphor of memory to evoke a meaning without implying an autonomy of objects that imbues them with the sort of cognitive power Frampton gives film.


Frampton, Daniel. Filmosophy. London: Wallflower, 2006. Print.

Wilson, Fred and Graham, Mark. “An Interview with Artist Fred Wilson.” The Journal of Museum Education, Vol. 32, No. 3. 2007. 211-219. Print.


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