Interdisciplinary artist Es Devlin has created a new immersive installation for Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, the former home of Sir John Soane. Inspired by world-changing shifts in human perspective, the installation comprises of a chronological landscape depicting important moments in human history, from the first cave paintings in southern Africa to the creation of the internet at CERN in Switzerland. It opens tomorrow (26 September) and runs until 12 January 2020.
The 18m-wide Memory Palace installation fills the entire gallery space, and is named after a mnemonic technique where you embed memories or information within familiar locations. Devlin has created a cityscape filled with fragments of buildings that relate to key moments in history – a “personal atlas of the evolution of thought.” It was inspired by the architectural models created by architect Sir John Soane, as well as a model important to Devlin’s childhood.
“When I was a child I lived next door to a 1:100 scale model of my town which performed a ‘son et lumiere’ show,” Devlin says in a statement about the inspiration behind the new installation. “The windows of individual buildings would illuminate to locate stories told in voiceover. In a way it was a memory palace in action: ideas, words and sounds indexed within physical architecture: I never forgot any of those stories as each was indelibly etched into the buildings I passed daily.”
The buildings featured in Memory Palace include the room where Confucius wrote the Golden Rule of Reciprocity, the Polish tower where Copernicus drew the first heliocentric map of the universe in 1543, the house where Mary Wollstonecroft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, the Alabama street where Rosa Parks took her seat on the segregated bus in 1955, and the steps of the Riksdaghuset in Stockholm where Greta Thunberg began her School Strike for Climate in 2018. Each are moments Devlin has deemed key to the evolution of the human mind.
Devlin says, “Arguably the most profound and urgent shift in thinking is located at the far edge of the chronological atlas, in the present: it’s the shift we are now beginning to undertake as we re-evaluate all of our practices in the light of the climate crisis. It’s my hope that, surrounded by the traces of our historical leaps of imagination, the viewer will feel a sense of possibility that our species can achieve another momentous collective shift of perspective.”
Pitzhanger Manor reopened in spring 2019 following a £12million restoration project to return the site of Soane’s original vision. Memory Palace is the second exhibition at the house, following a show by artists Anish Kapoor.