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. 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.
Even though it was conceived in the moment of Xerox and Selectrics – long before the distribution formats for which its style is optimized – Bernadette Mayer’s Memory highlights other aspects of our current mediascape: the compulsory documentation of quotidian banality; the accumulation of massive time-stamped archives of bite-sized data; monumentalized ephemerality; distracting multimedia juxtaposition; and the sparks and flashes that make it all worthwhile ... a sumptuous, sturdy, oblong artist’s book. The coincidence of word and image both restores the initial conception behind the gallery installation and also offers a new work in its own right by combining image and print (rather than audio) in book format (rather than gallery space). If the clean, two-column typesetting distances the text from the immediacy of its 1970s typewriter production, the photographs more than compensate, immersing the reader in the period with a palpable closeness ... Memory directly links a long legacy of experimental writing. It combines the permutational prose of Gertrude Stein with the casual coterie references of the New York School poets, along with the non- sequitur juxtapositions familiar to both.
...a treasure of a book ... What is so: this dreamy volume gathering the eleven hundred photographs and two hundred pages of rolling prose that Mayer produced in those thirty-one days. It is as much a conceptual exercise as a diaristic one, a Hydra dancing at the intersections of language and image, calling forth what time and a voracious mind can create there ... Mayer’s sentences simulate life’s whoosh—its uneven rhythms, the crashing half thoughts ... Her seductively offhand snapshots make modest monuments of daily nonevents: a slack clothesline strung from a window; a tidy white curtain blown by a breeze; a ceiling light glowing at night; a friend, her hair pulled back, sitting in the front seat of a convertible; a lover, nude, reclining in the bath. To a reader leafing through Memory now, Mayer’s feral run-ons may elicit a wistfulness for an era that appears so much freer than our own, and her photos’ rich cinematic hues might prompt a person to wonder how our age, so manically documented, seems far less vivid in comparison. And while prescience is always a dicey claim, Mayer’s self-portraits, often taken while staring into the lens, somehow appear like eerie proof that she was seeing us long before we would see her.
In Siglio’s reprint, which joins the images and text in book form for the first time, I find a new book entirely ... Of the more than a thousand snapshots included, my favorites are a pair depicting an open, yellow cardboard carton of white eggs sitting in the sun, a visual synecdoche for the grocery shopping and scrambling and coddling and budgeting that, in Mayer’s work, receive the attention other poets reserve for an ex-lover or a Grecian urn ... Mayer wrote that 'a month gives you enough time to feel free to skip a day, but not so much time that you wind up fucking off completely.' This hardback edition does not fuck off at all, materially elevating Mayer’s 'emotional science project' to something final, even if her messy mnemotechnics defy its glossiness.