The Politics of Memories investigates the emotional and spatial landscape of home in the context of cultural heritage, memory, and loss. It takes references from contemporary archaeology and explores innovative methods of recollection, such as photogrammetry. The project considers a variety of issues, including housing, migration, gentrification, collectivity, and identity. Dealing with geographical and cultural specificity, the project intends to address the following question: How can we voice our identity when its physical form is at stake and its conceptual form appears more temporary than ever?
The Politics of Memories scrutinizes the juxtaposition between 'forward-thinking' urban planning and people's emotional attachment to what represents their cultural heritage and identity. Currently, the topic is manifested through two distinctive subjects: Hackney Wick in East London and The Mansion of Hidden Books in Shanghai. The artists used to live in Shanghai and London for years and have developed intimate relationships with these places. Having experienced immensely rapid gentrification in both cities, the artists began to 3D-scan urban structures demonstrating distinguished cultural values for its inhabitants and users. This ongoing process does not only capture meaningful existence that has been swiftly razed to the ground–graffiti art, historic buildings, and places where people used to call homes, but also preserves, in the digital realm, valuable and vulnerable artifacts revealing unique cultural identity and craftsmanship, such as ancient brick and wood carving, traditional building decoration, and unique architectural details.
The project strives to speak of our cultural homes as somewhere intrinsically bound up with our personal identity. For example, The Mansion of Hidden Books in Shanghai has a legendary history dating back to 1763. It contains some of the rarest original brick and wood carvings in contemporary China. In the past three years, we have visited and interviewed Guo Yuwen, the last resident and co-owner of The Mansion, to study her unique situation. Having survived political punishment during the Cultural Revolution, she is now trapped in this decaying home and has become a refugee of time. We used photogrammetry to preserve and present artifacts in the Mansion, which are meant to stimulate and refract viewers’ feelings and thoughts. While staying true to its current decaying form, we are more interested in presenting them as fragmented reflections of reality, rather than preserving them merely for the archeological purpose. In doing so, the work puts the idea of collective memory at its heart.
© 2020 Xiaowen Zhu & Matthias Winckelmann
The Politics of Memories, 3-D scanned architectural fragments, 2020