Robert Millis: Fragments of the Story
If it were in any way humanly possible for me to be at Jack Straw New Media Gallery tomorrow night, Friday, March 18, I would not miss Robert Millis’s artist talk for Fragments of the Story, Millis’s interactive installation that re-members (after an appropriate dismembering) The Mermaid Translation, a 2010 novel by Allen Frost. Through the use of audio snippets, antique 78rpm records, and a roomful of filing cabinets, Millis has created an idiosyncratic system for storing and recalling information gleaned from his reading of the novel that explores and celebrates the mediating effect of memory.
I would hazard that most of us do not simply remember things verbatim from start to finish, as a story. Rather there are fragments: snatches of dialog, sounds, interpretations, improvisations, smells, tastes, emotions, memories on top of memories, that our brains put together to form some sort of whole. This process can and often does go partially or fully awry.
Like a memory, a phonograph record is literally an impression cast from a specific moment for later recollection. A notable collector and curator of vintage 78s—the artist is, along with Climax Golden Twins bandmate Jeffrey Taylor, the co-author of Victrola Favorites, a deluxe 144-page audiovisual compilation documenting the pair’s collections—Millis likens the process of memories “going awry” to the process of creating phonograph records (with their inherent analog distortions) of live events and then casting them out into the world where they acquire surface noise, become lost and found, and are continually recontextualized as components of new experiences.
Like any good simulation of the inner workings of consciousness, Millis’s installation is far more valuable as a catalyzer of experience than a collection of static objects. Which is why attending the “artist talk”—essentially a listening party of old 78s, according to Millis on Facebook—is a great idea for anyone interested in getting the most out of the show.
The talk begins at 7pm on Friday, March 18 at Jack Straw New Media Gallery (4261 Roosevelt Way NE in the U-district). The installation was also the subject of a segment on the Seattle Channel’s Art Zone with Nancy Guppy, which may be streamed here for a limited time.