Grandmother/Heirloom, 2015

Grandmother/Heirloom, 2015

Single-channel video 00:06:39, 3D-printed porcelain, and digital prints on wallpaper

Our memories are anything but reliable. According to Prof. Aleida Assman, “memories are not an exact reflection of past events, but are always distorted by the limitation of our perspective, our perceptions, our needs and our emotions”. This project is about my grandmother, an attempt to store her memory and create an heirloom. Using a portable 8-channel EEG-reader, I captured different aspects of her brain activity. I then 3D modelled the recorded EEG-data into a cylindrical object and printed it in 3D with porcelain. The beginning of the recording starts at the base of the porcelain, moving upwards twenty-five centimeters to cover a period of one minute.

I take my inspirations from archaeoacoustics, where acoustic phenomena are encoded in ancient artifacts. For example, a pot or vase could be read like a gramophone record or phonograph cylinder for messages from the past, as sounds are encoded into the turning clay as the pot was thrown. As memories resemble artifacts of the past, I want to create porcelains that physically embody one’s memories by reconstructing pre-recorded brain EEG-data. This not only ascribes a physicality to memories, but also allows to create an archive of the past for the future. The reconstruction of visual experiences from brain activity has already been done. In 2011’s study conducted by Shinji Nishimoto shows that results from the visual translation of brain activation recordings during the demonstration of images are quite close to the original.

My grandmother’s name is Ock Im Lee (이옥임/李玉姙). Born in what was then Japanese occupied Korea, and today’s North Korea, my grandmother was the fourth daughter of eight siblings. As a result of this occupation, every Korean citizen was forced to adopt a Japanese name. She became Niara Kyokuni and the only one in our family who can speak Japanese. When she turned 19, my grandmother was sent to today’s South Korea to marry my grandfather. This was an arranged marriage for two reasons: firstly, single Korean women were deported to Japan to be used as sex slaves for the Japanese troops (also often referred to as “comfort women”; married women were exempt from this enslavement); secondly, my grandmother’s parents chose my grandfather because he came from a noble family. However, as a result of the Japanese occupation, much of my grandfather’s family’s wealth was stolen or taken away from them. Korea was liberated from the Japanese forces on August 15th, 1945, a day now celebrated in both Koreas as “Restoration of Light Day”. Five years later, the Korean Civil War broke out. My grandmother’s father, a landowner in what is now North Korea, was executed by the Korean People’s Army. For three years during this period, my grandfather was selected to fight for the South Korean Army. As a result of this war, Korea was split in two: North and South Korea. During the War, my grandmother became the only caretaker and sole provider for her family. Soon after my grandfather’s return, he was again sent away to serve in the South Korean Army for another five years. After his final return, my grandparents were imprisoned because they were said to have maintained relations with the remaining family members in the North. They were both sentenced to life in prison, my grandmother, however, was released four years later in order to take care of her children. My mother later married my father and wrote a petition to the Korean government pleading for the release of my grandfather. It was only in 1987, after 17 years of incarceration, that my grandfather was released and permitted to return to his family. Although married for 57 years, my grandparents had spent less than 32 years of their marriage together. My grandfather passed away in 2005.

This narrative of my grandmother’s life did not come directly from my grandmother herself, as she was not keen on telling her story; rather, I was only able to piece together a narrative through stories told from other family members. One cannot be sure of how much the aforementioned narrative was factual or fictitious, nor how the same events are remembered by my grandmother. Rather, the narration of her life is a mere memory of the past. While making the EEG-recordings, I told my grandmother that she would not need to speak about anything, but instead to think of what she would like to share with me, or think of something she would like to store away and forget.

Memories are fragments of a living person’s soul, and this porcelain captures the brain waves that her memories had produced. It could be passed along to coming generations as an heirloom, and used in the future to reinterpret her brain waves when the technologies have become advanced enough to recreate her moments and emotional experiences.

Password: kahigrandma