“We do not remember, we rewrite memory as much as history is rewritten.”
(Chris Marker, Sans Soleil, 1982)
Amnesialand by Stefanos Tsivopoulos
Are archives places of remembering or rather of forgetting? Does their content tell the truth or just one’s story? Whose story? Is the so-called collective memory dependent on visual imagery, and in which direction do these images reflect our memory – forwards or backwards? In Amnesialand (2010), his latest work originally conceived for Manifesta 8 in the region of Murcia in southeast Spain, Stefanos Tsivopoulos takes a photographic collection found in the public archives of the port city Cartagena as starting point for a poetic investigation on the questions of memory and forgetting, on the role that images play in the construction of history, and their relation to reality and historic truth.
The film Amnesialand is composed of archival material from different resources and Tsivopoulos' own video footage shot in the region. It is accompanied by a script combining fictional and factual information in form of a dialogue between a female and a male character that speculate about a mysterious event that is said to have caused a state of collective amnesia.
Rich of minerals and close to the shores of North Africa, Cartagena was once the region's main resource and trade port. As a consequence of the long-lasting mining activities, the mountainous landscapes in the region known as La Unión are strongly transformed: numerous spoil piles and pits extend for many kilometres, leaving a deserted and almost forgotten cratered landscape full of toxic mining waste – an archaeology of mines, and a living memorial to the natural catastrophe that took place here.
The cryptic dialogue unwinds while Tsivopoulos' camera slowly scans the corrugated landscapes with its toxic lakes contaminated by heavy metals and abandoned post-industrial ruins. Though these images depict destruction and decay, they are nonetheless of haunting beauty.
Dust of the very mines, turned upon itself. "Born in the hour of the Workers' Light, upon their far flung upward way". That light, we now know, is not passing backwards through time to redeem us. It is the metals themselves, blowing backwards by our Amnesia, gridding the dimensions of the Event by the labour of our hands and minds, which we mistook for the future. The metals control us, even now.
Amnesialand stands in as a case study for the current social, political, economical and environmental phenomena around the world. La Unión and the mining history of Cartagena serve as metaphor – a scaled reflection of the condition of the world we live in now.
Eva Scharer is a freelance writer and assistant curator at Documenta (13)