Es Devlin’s Memory Palace in London maps evolution of thought over 75 millennia
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Es Devlin’s Memory Palace in London maps evolution of thought over 75 millennia

At London’s Pitzhanger Manor, artist Es Devlin creates a mammoth 3-dimensional atlas, tracing critical events from as early as first human imprints to the recent FridaysForFuture.

by Zohra Khan Sep 30, 2019

Inter-disciplinary artist and stage designer Es Devlin brings The Memory Palace, an immersive 18-metre wide topographic model, within the Pritzhanger Manor & Gallery in London. The installation traces significant memories and moments that triggered shifts in human perspective over a colossal period of 75 thousand years.  

The chronological landscape maps pivotal locations and moments that triggered shifts in human perspective over the last 75,000 years | Memory Palace by Es Devlin | Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, London | STIRworld
The chronological landscape maps pivotal locations and moments that triggered shifts in human perspective over the last 75,000 years Image Credit: Peter Mallet

Memory Palace has been named after the classical mnemonic (memory aiding) technique from ancient Greece, which catalogues memories within familiar locations. Devlin has plotted momentous events that left an indelible impression on mankind’s evolution of thought over an identifiable cityscape, creating a personal atlas.

Recalling what inspired her to ideate the work, Devlin says, “When I was a child, I lived next door to a 1:100 scale model of my town, which performed a ‘son et lumiere’ show. The windows of individual buildings would illuminate to locate stories told in voice-over. In a way it was a memory palace in action: ideas, words and sounds indexed within physical architecture. I never forgot any of those stories as each was indelibly etched into the buildings I passed daily.”

The curving topography of the installation depicts a globe-like setting | Memory Palace by Es Devlin | Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, London | STIRworld
The curving topography of the installation depicts a globe-like setting Image Credit: Peter Mallet

From as early as the caves in Southern Africa where homo sapiens first left their mark, to the recent one from the steps of the Riksdagshuset in Stockholm - where climate activist Greta Thunberg began FridaysforFuture, her school strike for climate, in 2018 – the locations and moments invoke our collective memory and provoke dialogue and debate.

The other events that demarcate the transcendental landscape include the tower in Frombork, Poland, from the Renaissance era where Nicholaus Copernicus drew the first heliocentric map of the universe in 1523; the rooms in Boston’s Clarendon Square where English writer Mary Wollstonecroft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792 - one of the earliest ground breaking works on feminist philosophy and human rights - to the street in Montgomery, Alabama, where civil right activist Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on the segregated bus in 1955.

The use of mirrors within the work multiply the dimensions of view and beautifully reference the colossal timeline | Memory Palace by Es Devlin | Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, London | STIRworld
The use of mirrors within the work multiply the dimensions of view and beautifully reference the colossal timeline Image Credit: Peter Mallet

The larger-than-life installation is cut in bamboo and involves meticulous 3-D printed models that wrap the gallery space and create a globe like appearance. Devlin has used curving mirror planes across walls and ceiling surfaces to multiply dimensions of view and to allow reimagining of time and space in a new perspective.

“Arguably the most profound and urgent shift in thinking is located at the far edge of the chronological atlas, in the present,” explains the artist. “It’s the shift we are now beginning to undertake as we re-evaluate all of our practices in the light of the climate crisis. It’s my hope that surrounded by the traces of our historical leaps of imagination, the viewer will feel a sense of possibility that our species can achieve another momentous collective shift of perspective.”

The visitors are surrounded by traces of our historical leaps of imagination, giving a way forward to realise another collective shift of perspective | Memory Palace by Es Devlin | Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery, London | STIRworld
The visitors are surrounded by traces of our historical leaps of imagination, giving a way forward to realise another collective shift of perspective Image Credit: Peter Mallet

Memory Palace is the second exhibition at the Pitzhanger Manor – the country home of influential British architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837) - since its reopening in March 2019. Devlin’s use of models resonates with Soane’s impeccable integration of models within his architectural practice as well as his eclectic collection of art and antiquities. The London-based artist, who is set to unveil the UK Pavilion at the World Expo 2020 in October, has transformed Soane’s library space at the Pitzhanger into a reading room filled with books that informed the work.

Memory Palace by Es Devlin is on view at the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery in Ealing, London, till January 12, 2020.

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About Author

Zohra Khan

Zohra Khan

A formal education in architecture combined with an avid interest in architecture journalism and design criticism led Khan to professionally venture into writing and research. She has worked in design communication for more than two years, generating content for mondo*arc india journal. When not writing, she kicks back by dabbling on social media for STIR.

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