A revered classic of 1970s New York conceptualism, Bernadette Mayer’s Memory synthesizes writing and photography in this prescient “emotional science project”
In July 1971, Bernadette Mayer embarked on an experiment: for one month she shot a roll of 35mm film each day and kept a journal. The result was a conceptual work that investigates the nature of memory, its surfaces, textures and material. Memory is both monumental in scope (over 1,100 photographs, two hundred pages of text and six hours of audio recording) and a groundbreaking work by a poet who is widely regarded as one of the most innovative experimental writers of her generation. Presaging Mayer’s durational, constraint-based diaristic works of poetry, it also evinces her extraordinary—and often unheralded—contribution to conceptual art.
Mayer has called Memory “an emotional science project,” but it is far from confessional. This boldly experimental record follows the poet’s eye as she traverses early morning into night, as quotidian minutiae metamorphose into the lyrical, as her stream of consciousness becomes incantatory. In text and image, Mayer constructs the mercurial consciousness of the present moment from which memory is—as she says—“always there, to be entered, like the world of dreams or an ongoing TV show.”
This publication brings together the full sequence of images and text for the first time in book form, making space for a work that has been legendary but mostly invisible. Originally exhibited in 1972 by pioneering gallerist Holly Solomon, it was not shown again in its entirety until 2016 at the Poetry Foundation in Chicago and then again in 2017 in New York City at the CANADA Gallery. The text was published without the photographs in 1975 by North Atlantic Books in an edition that has long been out of print.
Bernadette Mayer (born 1945) is the author of over 30 books, including the acclaimed Midwinter Day (1982), a book-length poem written during a single day in Lenox, Massachusetts, The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994) and Work and Days (2016), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Associated with the New York School as well as the Language poets, Mayer has also been an influential teacher and editor. In the art world, she is best known for her collaboration with Vito Acconci as editors of the influential mimeographed magazine 0 TO 9.