Loss, in translation, 2016

Sewn, shaped books

This work contemplates loss:  loss of books, of knowledge and of memory – and the accompanying grief. Each of the five books forming Loss, in translation, represents one of the five stages of grief.

The text in each book is a word or phrase associated with that stage, translated into binary code – a ‘language’ only easily read by digital means. The colour of each book was decided by Googling, ‘what colour is each stage of grief?’ and following the first random, unreviewed link I found – in itself a demonstration of the erosion of knowledge.

While the digital age has provided us with countless improvements to our lives, particularly in our access to information, it cannot provide the experience had and memories formed when one reads a physical book.

Some books are now merely memories. Books we lost years ago can no longer be replaced – they are out of print or hard to find. But we will, no doubt, find an image of our book on the internet. However, a digital image of a book cannot replace the sensory power of the original, or evoke similar memories – where we sat when we first read the book, the physical weight of the book or the sound of its pages turning. We grieve these books, just as we grieve the knowledge contained within.

But, in a digital world, is it only objects provide comfort? Perhaps concepts are also comforting. Only now, when so much of what is known and was once written has been archived – invisible – in a hard drive, may we realise the comfort we once received from knowledge, and from our understanding that that knowledge was at our fingertips.

In the same way that we may grieve the loss of this knowledge, we may grieve the loss of memory. What is memory, now? We live in a world where many people feel compelled to participate purely to photograph the process and upload it to the internet as proof of participation. A photo from childhood, welded to the sticky page of a photo album – this evokes memories.

But several hundred photos of an event taken by hundreds of strangers, posted to social media to meld with our own in a congealed mass of societal memory – is trawling through these photos as evocative? Memory itself may now be a transitional concept. What one generation remembers, and what they know memory to mean, may be very different to the understanding of later generations.

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