Another Past in the Making

From the Badlands to the Belly of the Beast.

It is the 21st of August 2015. Location: The Barbican Centre, London EC2 – in the Belly of the Beast. And: Fish Island Labs, London E3 – the Badlands of Hackney Wick. It is early evening and the latest Mnemonic City exhibition opens simultaneously in both venues.

Spatial Creativity Incarnates

The project is now in its 6th edition, and as with previous incarnations, it is the result of an artistic exploration and investigation of a particular city or area, by way of individual artists’ creative works. This time the area in question was defined, in principle, by connecting the two exhibition locations: spatially, artistically, economically, socially, politically or indeed through any other creative concept.

Collective versus Personal

Exploring the area collectively as well as individually meant that the different artworks are the result of a shared experience, while also presenting a unique personal perspective and interpretation of this experience. In addition, the involvement of Something Human resulted in a number of performances and public interventions taking place, most notably a mock funeral procession from Hackney Wick to the Barbican Centre. Together, the artworks and performances present an entity – connected and fragmented alike –  in the form of a ‘City of Memories‘.

Mnemonic Rewind

But we need to go back in time for a moment here…to a moment of the past: it is now the 10th of March 2015. Mnemonic City is launching an experiment across a number of social media platforms, with the intention to create a network of virtual memories around the hashtag #MnemonicCity. Starting at precisely 00:00:00hrs – the zero hour of this experiment – a trail of images and texts is released, via the already existing website and facebook page, as well as dedicated Mnemonic City Twitter and Instagram accounts, which have been specifically set up for this experiment.

Game of Memories

The aim of the first phase is to research a possible methodology, while generating a basic audience of followers. In the subsequent phase – starting at the beginning of April – the rules of the experiment will be defined. The ultimate aim is to encourage audience participation in a playful creation of a virtual ‘City of Memories‘, as the experiment intensifies towards the date of the exhibition opening.


Mnemonic City is an arts project which aims to creatively re-frame experiences of geography and memory. The project has to date been staged in various locations in London, Madrid and Florence. Mnemonic City No 6 will take place from the 21st to 23rd of August 2015 at the Barbican Art Centre and at Fish Island Labs. Partners in this project are Lab Film Projects, Something Human and Open Vizor. In September 2015, Mnemonic City will then travel to Lisbon, Portugal, to host a series of Mnemonic Interventions and a big exhibition at the end of that month.

Mnemonic City is a project managed by Magma Collective.

© by Mnemonic City, all rights reserved

From Whitechapel Gallery to Bow Church

First walk of 2015, first walk after the Christmas break, the machine is back on track, fighting against the cold and the early darkness Our meeting point: Whitechapel Gallery. Itinerary: straight line until Bow. The straight line that is Whitechapel Road, Mile End road and Bow road has its few architectural and historical highlights although they now seem a bit lost in a somehow neglected décor severed by an unattractive A11 leading to the City of London. Firstly, The Royal London Hospital. Now empty, the original building from 1757 hosted John Merrick, ‘the Elephant Man’ the last years of his life. If you walk behind the hospital, a bit hidden there is the museum of the hospital hosting a copy of the John Merrick skeleton and his famous hat mask featured in David Lynch’s film. Unfortunately the museum was closed when we passed by but it’s worth the visit next time you’re in the neighborhood.

Next, The Wickham department store meant to become the ‘Harrods of the East End’, however it never opened due to the unexpected tenacity of a shopkeeper refusing to sell. The little shop is still there empty and abandoned, sandwiched in the middle of the classical architecture. A short stop in the Guardian Angel Church by Mile End station before heading towards Tower Hamlet Cemetery, a place where nature untamed is recovering its rights over humans. There is here a beautiful feeling of decadence calling for ritualistic interventions. I am sure that if you go there on the summer solstice you can see ‘modern’ witches celebrating the Sabbath, dancing around the flames. Leaving a trace again, Jaime draws his vision of the group around the fire with chalk on the brick wall of the alleyway that separates the cemetery from St Clements hospital.

Finally we reach Bow Church, this little church that looks like an architectural collage just on her own with her brick rebuilt top after the damages of World war II, she stands there as she has done for the last seven centuries, like a mirage lost in the middle of the aggressive traffic.

© by Mnemonic City, all rights reserved

Walking the distance

The last walk of 2014. We decide to cover the whole distance between Fish Island and the Barbican. So from A to B. It is more about feeling the distance rather than exploring the streets and their stories.

Although Pascal brought with him some objects he planned to leave behind.

Burying the key of illusion. Throwing away the star of authority.

Leaving something behind, applying William Blake theory to our walks, we let the city remember us while we try to forget the hard times She has imposed on us.

© by Mnemonic City, all rights reserved

And more stories…

The people in the group, some being born here some having lived here for over a decade, some who have just arrived, we each have our own impression or anecdotes worth sharing with the rest of the group. We leave the Children’s Hospital on Hackney Road now being turned into luxury flats for the first halt of the journey.

Sebastiano takes us J. Hoyle & Son Foundry from where he hopes he could find some material to use as pigment for his paintings. Next, Jaime remembers walking on the tracks years ago and seeing this incredible noisy monster he identified as a railgrinder, not quite aware these existed. After that, it is time for Yasmine to share a special memory in Vyner street. She was fortunate enough to hold a solo exhibition only a month after moving to London. Which shows us how sometimes harsh London spoils us with good luck. At the corner of Cambridge Heath road and Hackney Road, Bill tells the strange energy this place seems to hold for him, like that time he and his housemate were moving houses and pushing a couch filled with boxes in the streets and the wheels of the couch broke down just here forcing them to carry it over a mile to his new house.

We are now looking at a wooden door. There is seemingly nothing special about it. We soon understand that Rupert’s intention in this random choice of location is about creating memory together as part of the process not only relating to the past but the present. This spot has now acquired meaning for all of us just by pointing at it.
We are now learning from Anna about the rather dark episode of this part of London’s history that is the hanging of two men in front of the Salmon and Ball Public House, in 1769 when these men were accused of cutting the silk on the looms during the Spitalfield riots. Today’s walk comes to a close on another tragic story that occurred two centuries later just across the road.
An incident kept silent for years and recently brought to light with the building of a new memorial by Bethnal Green tube station. Ines, who met a woman, a baby at the time and who miraculously survived, tells us about that terrible accident that killed 173 people in 1943 as people were rushing down the stairs to take shelter from an air-raid.We are perpetuating History by telling stories read or heard… So many layers of history can be seen in London’s landscape, decades after decades, centuries after centuries, we are with Mnemonic City modestly adding our own layer to the collective memory.

Cards and dice

We are now bringing the game to a more elaborate level than the last time as the members of the group have prepared accessories like dices and cards to liven up the process.

Each crossing brings a new dilemma. The cards encourage us to look in the landscape the answer to the question where do we go next. The playfulness with random passersby and interaction with the environment force us to look at the city from a different perspective.

We forget the purpose, logic or even our instinct and give ourselves away to chance. Guided by randomness we invite the absurd in the process.

Meanwhile David is following the line that represents the way from Fish Island to Barbican.

We end up in St Paul station and the cold has finally gotten hold of us; it is time to warm up with a hot cup of tea before separating until the next game.

© by Mnemonic City, all rights reserved