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March 12, 2019

Portraying and Investigating Memory with Patricia Moss-Vreeland, an Interview

About the Author
Lily Horner

See the exhibition here


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InLiquid member Patricia Moss-Vreeland has been fascinated with memory for years. She never restricts her work to one medium; she has made mixed media collages, paintings, drawings, sculptures, video art, created a permanent installation at the Holocaust Museum Houston, and she even incorporates her own writing into some of her works. Once she became captivated by memory, Patricia decided to learn through neuroscience about the processes behind our formation and retention of memory, stepping out of her silo as solely an artist. Memory runs like a thread through all of these works, tying them together under Moss-Vreeland’s quest to explore how memory defines us, how we define our own memories, and how we can use them to connect ourselves with others.
Lily Horner: What drew you to memory in the first place and what inspired you to make art about memory?
Patricia Moss-Vreeland: Developing a proposal and design, and then winning the commission to create the Memorial Room, Holocaust Museum Houston, drew me to memory first. From 1993 – 1996, brought all sorts of ideas, the many reverberations of individual and collective memory on a society. After the museum opened, I had listened to memories from survivors and their responses, that left me wondering, why did individuals remember and respond to the past and to life so differently – there was a huge emotional staining. This changed the way I had been working prior to this commission. I went on to explore memory for different commissions and projects over the years. In my current solo exhibition at the Esther Klein Gallery, In Search of Meaning: Memory Becomes Us, involved a series of conversations with my science collaborator, Dr. Dasa Zeithamova. During our discussions she helped me realize that my deep involvement with memory began actually after my mother died when I was young, changing the meaning of memory, as I knew it. I made connections further, remembering questioning as a child about making memory and becoming a female artist. Not finding women written into history affected me emotionally. I knew that I had arrived at something important: the understanding that the memories we create are keys to who we are.
LH: How much of yourself and your memories do you inject into your art?
PMV: Twenty years ago, I took on making art that revealed research on the brain and how we make memory. I discovered that memory is subjective, is a creative process, and changes with new input and recollection. Each of us is engaged in this daily. In my current exhibition, In Search of Meaning: Memory Becomes Us, my work brings attention to this.
LH: Do you try and get into a specific mood when you create your art?
PMV: No, I always am in the process of thinking about ideas and making art. It is my daily meditation. So whatever mood I find myself in, dovetails with what I make or write. I have a growing fluid art practice, moving through a range of media, imagery and the written word – I love to experiment and I am very curious.
LH: When did you start merging art and science?
PMV: In 1999, when I received the commission to design Memory-Connections Matter, the Millennial Art-in Science XIV, Esther Klein Gallery, University City Science Center, I worked with a neuropsychologist, Dr. Barbara Malamut, for a year who helped mentor me in understanding the human brain and the making of memory. It was an amazing experience that opened up so many new ways to think about science and about art. I appreciated having this opportunity because I became closer to my investigations about humanity as an artist, now through two pathways of art and science.
LH: How has your art evolved with your knowledge of neuroscience?
PMV: Since 1998, I have been informed by research in neuroscience, consulting with professionals in the field. Initially I was surprised to learn about memory being subjective which lead to my discovery that memory is inherently a creative process. This guided me and certainly was the inspiration to write and design my book, A Place for Memory: Where Art and Science Meet. For my current show, In Search of Meaning: Memory Becomes Us, I found myself focusing on how our brain looks for meaning, making this is a central focus of my exhibition. This forms a foundation on which I work across media, with ideas about art, science, creativity, story, mystery, and memory. The use of metaphor, both visual and literary, has expanded in my work. My understanding of patterns in neuroscience and in art, mirror each other, allowing for many variables in my art, which I explore and make further connections.
LH: Can you elaborate about your writing process and how you incorporate it in your art?
PMV: I am still surprised that I have a writing practice. I made art since a very young age, completely fascinated with being visual and seeing the world through that lens. But I did start writing poetry along the way. My first poems were about losing my mother. I roamed around the emotions of that, somehow putting words on a page that formed poems, resonated with me. For the first art and science exhibition in 1999 Memory -Connections Matter, a poem was my initial response to learning about the human brain and memory. I expected to produce many sketches, but instead, a poem emerged, translating the science. I decided then to make some of my poetry public and wrote specific poems for that installation.
Since then, I have developed a similar attraction and desire to express myself in both forms, and enjoy moving fluidly between these two realms. For In Search of Meaning: Memory Becomes Us, some exist as text alone in printed letterpress, and others find a home in some of my visual works, prints and videos, where I like the sensory exchange. Writing poetry now is an integral part of my art practice. I also have written a book, and currently in the middle of my second book. That kind of writing is quite different, but I find it necessary to work like this at times, to disseminate some of my ideas in this way.
As touched on earlier, Patricia currently has an exhibition at the Esther Klein Gallery, In Search of Meaning: Memory Becomes Us. The show, running through March 30th, weaves science and art together to investigate memory’s role in our daily lives and identities.
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