In the 16th century, Italian philosopher Giulio Camillo (1480-1544) dictated a proposal titled L’Idea del Theatro (The Idea of the Theatre). This proposal outlined his dream for ‘The Theatre of Memory’, a wooden amphitheater that would function as a physical vessel for all the knowledge in the world (or, in other words, a collection of memories). The semicircular auditorium would be divided into seven sections, each section would be decorated with an assigned planet (or star) known during that time, including related Kabbalistic and mythological figures. The seven sections would each hold numerous doored compartments of scrolls and cards, categorized by subject matter. Camillo would never live to see his vision ever manifest. In 1966, British historian Frances Yates chronicled ‘The Theatre of Memory’ in her book on Classical and Renaissance-era mnemonic systems titled The Art of Memory, which helped resurrect Camillo’s concept for the masses.
From the white whale in Moby Dick to the story of Jonah in the belly of the whale in the Old Testament, whales have had a variety of symbolic interpretations in literature – the mother’s womb, the unconscious mind, human fear, purity, and the unattainable. The colossal mass of a whale can also evoke an allegory of a vessel or an abode – a body of flesh holding answers.
‘The Mnemonic Whale’ is a deviation from ‘The Theatre of Memory’ in size, shape and functional design (although the inside of each door has a painted celestial body from Camillo’s proposal). Instead of attempting to hold all the knowledge in the world, the seven divisions are based off of simplified, selected categories from the Library of Congress (LOC) – B (Psychology/Philosophy), M (Music), N (Fine Arts), P (Literature/Fiction), Q (Science), R (Medicine) and Z (Bibliography/Library).
The Mnemonic Whale
Wood, plastic, mylar, glass, plaster, screws, glue, acrylic paint, porcelain, paper, ink, petals & found objects
roughly 4 x 2 ft
Temporary installation at the Working Library
As a miniature lending/exchange library, you are encouraged to both take and contribute books, zines, music, or any objects that you personally believe could fit into either of these seven subject-categories. In the end, we are working to achieve a future archive of a collective memory of the community.
Shown from May to July 2017.
Temporary installation at Backstory Books
Books selected from Backstory are available for purchase behind each Library of Congress subject door.
Shown from March to April 2018.