Arts·Art Apart

Take a trip down (someone else's) memory lane

Listen to the Memory Palace Project. These audio and video "meditations" were created for Art Apart.

Listen to the Memory Palace Project. These audio and video 'meditations' were created for Art Apart

Installation view of the Memory Palace at the 2018 Toronto Fringe. (Brendan Albert)

The new class of Canadian theatre-makers might be stuck at home like the rest of us, but the COVID-19 crisis won't stop them from doing what they love. So when the pandemic struck, the National Theatre School launched Art Apart. Its mission: support projects by emerging artists. Some 100 applicants from across the country have already received a $750 grant from Art Apart. And now, their shows are ready for an audience. Every week, CBC Arts will put the spotlight on one of these original works.

Name: Victoria Wang

Homebase: Toronto

Project: Memory Palace Project

In 2015, stage manager Victoria Wang began asking for people's stories — their memories, really. And sometimes, if the stranger was especially generous, they'd donate a souvenir, too — maybe an old T-shirt or a scarf, or a handwritten note in pink ink.

All those random thoughts and doo-dads have built the Memory Palace Project, something Wang's previously presented as an art installation for local events (Toronto Fringe, Long Winter). But now, with the support of Art Apart, she's adapted the idea for a stay-at-home audience. 

For this new chapter, Wang's inviting people to look inward. With the help of three more Toronto-based artists (Morgan St. Onge, Rose Tuong and Fan Wu), she's produced four "meditations" — video and audio pieces based on select items from the Memory Palace archive.

"It's so interesting to see the parallels and similarities between total strangers' memories," says Wang, and to her, the Memory Palace is all about connecting people. Maybe a sound or scene will trigger a flashback of your own. Whatever happens, the project strives to reveal the things we have in common.

She told us more about it.

The Memory Palace's Rose Tuong (right) interacts with a visitor. (Shane Parent)

If we weren't living through a global pandemic, what would you be up to right now?

It's so funny. Just looking at my schedule, everything is crossed out. Right now, I think I would have just finished assistant stage managing a show with Native Earth Performing Arts called Sir John A. And I think I would maybe just be starting to ASM another show, an outdoor show at the Bentway, Henry G20. It's an adaptation of Henry V set during the G20 protests in Toronto. I think it's still going ahead next year with Luminato. We did have a couple readings that were just to hear the script, so it is kind of being kept alive that way. And this summer I was supposed to go to Edinburgh Fringe with another show, too, The Runner. That's maybe the one that I'm most bummed about.

How do you balance your stage-managing work with Memory Palace? You've been working on this project for years now.

Yeah, I started when I graduated from the National Theatre School, and the way it started was digital. The idea was that people could just submit their memories and personal objects through the website. That way, the platform could always be running continuously.

Do you think of it as theatre? What's it about to you?

I see it as something outside of theatre. It's like a community art project. For me, it came out of a desire to have a creative outlet. I'm not a writer, not a director. I'm not a performer. So in terms of how I like to express creativity, or think about creative concepts, I try to think in terms of how the public can participate. This concept is about sharing each other's stories, or sharing memories, as an entry point to connecting with other people.

I find memory, as a subject matter, really fascinating. It's so malleable. It's not a fixed thing. And every time you remember something, or remember an event, you've got to relive it in a way. But then, reliving a memory also changes it. It's constantly shifting. It's something that's alive.

When you talk about it that way, it sounds like live theatre! 

Yeah, maybe (laughs). The presentation is not theatrical. It's not so much about telling someone a story. But I think on the level of having people connect to each other, I think that's what theatre does, too.

How is this Art Apart version of Memory Palace unique from what you've tried in the past?

This one is quite different. I guess you could call it the most performative version because we basically created four different pieces. It's a lot more content-based. 

We took raw material from the [Memory Palace] archive and tried to produce something — an interpretation of it — for people to experience, just given the constraints of not being able to have them actively participate in person. The two audio pieces still have that element of participation, I would say. There's instructions; there's a sort of meditation activity involved.

One of the new Memory Palace pieces created for Art Apart was based on this note from the archives. (Memory Palace Project)

Beyond the fact you made something for a remote audience, did current events wind up shaping the project in any way?

When I was reading through the collected memories, a lot of the ones that were jumping out were to do with nature and summer — very quotidian things, really, but they took on this added emotional quality given the current circumstances.

I think there was this added intention of trying to see if we could maybe immerse someone in a different zone for a while — in someone else's memory about the outside world or about the past. 

With the two audio pieces, we wanted to make something that took the listener into their own body, because there's a lot of screen time going on now as well. So I was quite conscious of that and how that can feel overwhelming, even though there is a lot of exciting stuff taking place, like how people are doing digital pieces and streaming. 

It's this idea of having a sort of meditative experience with yourself and with your own memories.

Check out these new memories from the Memory Palace Project.


 

 

 

 

This conversation has been edited and condensed.

Follow the Memory Palace Project on Facebook, Instagram and at www.memorypalaceproject.com.

CBC Arts understands that this is an incredibly difficult time for artists and arts organizations across this country. We will do our best to provide valuable information, share inspiring stories of communities rising up and make us all feel as (virtually) connected as possible as we get through this together. If there's something you think we should be talking about, let us know by emailing us at cbcarts@cbc.ca. See more of our COVID-related coverage here.

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