Lares Feliciano collects memorabilia for Memory Mirror at Denver Art Museum
“What is a memory that is close to your heart? ” She wonders. “What is a memory that makes you smile?” What is a memory that you share with someone else but remember differently? What is your first memory? What is a memory that you associate with your identity? ”
Feliciano plans to incorporate your answers to these questions – and possibly objects in your life – into the show, which opens in July. To learn more, Westword met the artist to talk about the installation, her obsession with memory and what she expects from you.
Word from the West: I think the last time we spoke was when “a prayer” was screened at the Clyfford Still Museum. What have you done and how are you managing this year?
Lares Feliciano: Like many, I have struggled this past year, juggling the anxiety of the pandemic and all that comes with it. I’m still busy despite all the changes that have happened, with several exciting projects going on. But the busy energy I had in the days before has totally changed. I keep making and creating, but if I’m honest it’s harder than ever to stay energized and motivated. Zoom fatigue is real, and living almost entirely online is hard on body and mind. Additionally, this pandemic has brought to light a lot of heartache and trauma that I realize I have carried for most of my life. The pandemic has really forced me to face and work through a lot of these things. I am so grateful to the art and therapy for helping me overcome all of this!
Talk about Memory mirror: Give us a preview! What is that? What are your plans?
I am so excited about this project! Memory mirror is an immersive installation that invites visitors to explore their relationship to memory through animation, dioramas and interactive storytelling. Opening in July, Memory mirror will transform the Denver Art Museum‘s Precourt Family Discovery Hall into a surreal domestic haunt of community donated memorabilia.
I ask members of the community to donate their memories as well as the objects and images associated with these memories. It could be a toy figure from childhood, a holiday souvenir, or part of an old pocket watch. Or maybe it’s your grandma’s yearbook photo, an old ticket stub, or your school’s play program. Or maybe it’s just an audio recording telling you the story from your memory. Through in-person events and a virtual submission process, I will collect all of these and include them in the completed installation. Everything from wallpaper to dioramas, animation and soundscape will be imbued with the collective memories of the community. Hope the completed installation itself feels like a memory.
What is your interest in memory? What is your relationship with her?
I have always been fascinated by memory and the way it influences our experience of the world. Archives, directories, family ephemera and ancient encyclopedias – I am drawn to materials that act as shadows of the past around which I can build new worlds. Suddenly, my work often evokes a dreamlike nostalgia where decades overlap and where all time exists at the same time.
Memory helps us to demarcate time, communicate, build relationships and create meaning. But as much as we rely on memory to build our sense of self, it’s a notoriously flawed processor. Memory is not so much a recording as a reflection, impacted by emotion, experience, time and prejudices. Our memories shape us, and we in turn shape our memories.
This last pandemic year shows how time and memory interact. Normally we use memory to delimit time. Your coworker may say, “Oh, yes, I sent you this document just around the April fundraiser”. But this year’s April fundraiser didn’t go as usual, and neither did the summer barbecue, graduation party, or Thanksgiving family reunion. Without these memories to help us mark the time, we find ourselves swimming in a sea of days and months that intermingle. It’s no wonder that during this pandemic a common question is, “What day is it?” ”
Memory also helps deal with trauma and grief, two experiences we are seeing more and more as the pandemic continues. But our ability to overcome these feelings is hampered by our isolation. Memories with others that help us make sense of our experiences are scarce, making our collective experience of grieving even more confusing. I hope that sharing our individual memories in this collective way will help us feel a certain connection in such a disconnected time.
Finally, my interest in memory is also linked to my own experience of grief and loss. When I was eight, my father was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a brain disease that affects memory. He was ill for eight years and died when I was sixteen. I saw memory loss change who my father was. As a result, I have come to appreciate the value of memory and the connectivity it brings. Memory is precious and must be celebrated and savored.
Domestic spaces have been a recurring theme in your recent work. Can you explain why and what fairs mean to you, especially as places of politics and remembrance?
I love this question! Growing up, I think I idealized the living room as the backdrop for the perfect American family. I was raised on Full house, Family affairs and the entire TGIF range. My family felt far from perfect, and the sitcoms staged around this immaculate floral lounge gave me a romantic getaway.
While I think we can agree that sitcoms are far from realistic, I would say that one thing they do achieve is the importance of the living room. There is so much going on in our living rooms. The living room is where potlucks spill over, where apologies are offered, and where kids talk to their parents. It is a place of joy, pain, celebration and sorrow. In my family, the living room was the place for family reunions, impromptu performances and difficult conversations. Historically, the fair has also been a place of community building and resistance, expanding definitions of family and kinship. I see the living room as a space of possibility and love.
And then, of course, there’s the pandemic salon experience. Last year, our living rooms also became our offices, classrooms, art studios and gymnasiums. The living room has become the center of our universes and is the perfect setting for our collective memories.
The public can get involved. How can we participate, and what exactly do you expect from people?
Yes – I am looking for community memory donations. This spring, I will be hosting two special walk-in events at the Denver Art Museum, inviting visitors and members of the community to contribute stories, images and artifacts that represent their own memories. These souvenir collection events will take place on March 27 and April 25. Both are free days at DAM, and a ticket reservation is required. Museum visitors can drop by the Hamilton Studio anytime from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to contribute.
Visitors can bring an object the size of their palm or smaller, a physical photo or an ephemeral piece (a ticket stub, a theater program, a handwritten letter, etc.) or just their memorabilia. I will be there to record the guests as they tell the story from their memory. I have a set of prompts to help spin the wheels of memory and encourage people to think about memory they might want to contribute.
Items brought in will be donated permanently. Physical and ephemeral photos will be photographed in high resolution and returned immediately. I recommend to check the FAQ on the DAM website for details on submissions of objects and images. Plus, a digital submission process is underway, so stay tuned! And thank you in advance for sharing your memories with me!
For more information on Memory mirror, go to the DAM website.