Digital Memories: The McCoy’s Electronic Sculptures – Wendy Haslem

Abstract: This article investigates the connections between history and new forms of memory that are produced, configured and mapped with the tools of digital media. Digital memories are contained within, and inspired by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s electronic sculptures. The article explores the potential for new media technologies to re-imagine the intersection between history and memory as digital ‘lieu de mémoire’, a version of Pierre Nora’s memory sites that block the possibility of forgetting by remembering for us.

The Eternal Return – The McCoys (2003)

The explosion and expansion of digital tools and communication transforms definitions of memory and refines the intersection of memory and history. Digital natives and digitally literate adopters have tools at hand to practice as cartographers, genealogists, archivists, and chroniclers, even historians. This results in the creation of new connections and communities, archives that become virtual as well as material, histories that might be both real and imagined. Image and text based sites like You Tube, Vimeo, Flickr, Wikipedia, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and the range of pervasive blogging sites across the Internet provide new ways to produce and disseminate digitally configured histories and memories. The influence of the virtual on material sites of exhibition, particularly galleries, museums, cinematheques and public sites is evidenced by an increased reliance on digital tools, particularly digital screens, to reconfigure memory and history. Digital technologies enable myriad approaches to history, expanding definitions beyond the dominance of the empirical or sequential, bringing memory into contact with history. The obsession with the present in status updates, uploads, new blog posts and the seemingly immediate availability of content brings memory into the present. Exceeding the acceleration of history characteristic of Fredric Jameson’s definition of postmodern culture (1991), the present is rapidly superseded by an immediate future/past or the past eternally returning. Concurrently, definitions of memory produced, distributed and exhibited by digital technologies result in the proliferation of innovative forms of remembering and new ways to imagine histories by prioritizing memory. The electronic sculptures produced by Jennifer and Kevin McCoy that reveals how digital technologies can be used to reflect processes of memory and to map new connections. Installations produced by the McCoys frame and direct memories, they don’t remember for us, but instead, they reveal how memories are indebted to, provoked by and shaped by aspects drawn from the archive of visual cultures. But this interrelationship between memory and history, mapped and imagined through digital technologies was not always perceived as entwined, let alone contingent.

The historian Pierre Nora argues that history and memory exist in violent opposition (1989, p. 8). He describes history as a static, incomplete attempt to reconstruct a past that no longer exists, whilst memory is more fluid, involved in a process of rediscovery that “remains in permanent evolution” (Nora 1989, p. 8). In Nora’s words, “history is perpetually suspicious of memory, and its true mission is to suppress and destroy it” (1989, p. 9). This dynamic collision between history and memory is the result of the acceleration of history at a time that Nora defines as: “a turning point where consciousness of a break with the past is bound up with the sense that memory has been torn-but torn in such a way as to pose the problem of the embodiment of memory in certain sites where a sense of historical continuity persists” (1989, p. 7). The notion of memory as ‘torn’, no longer complete, singular, trusted, no longer emanating from a defined date, moment or time, provides impetus for memory as imagined, embodied and defined in sites beyond the scope of the traditional archive. Nora identifies memory as fluid and transformed by its passage through history. “Memory remains in permanent evolution open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successive deformations, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived” (Nora, 1989, p. 8).  In Nora’s words, memory’s vocation is to record and whilst delegating to the archive the responsibility of remembering, “it sheds its signs upon depositing them there, as a snake sheds its skin” (13). Nora perceives modern memory as above all, archival, relying on the materiality of the trace, the immediacy of the recording, the visibility of the image (1989, p. 13). Whilst Nora’s argument focuses predominantly on French national identity and politics, his discussion of the transformation of history and memory offers a particularly pertinent approach for an investigation of the impact of digital media on remembering. New forms of communications media provide increased access to memory, creating very specific structures for sites of remembering and producing an illusion of memory as immediate, reflexive and interconnected. The digital reshapes the production, distribution, dissemination and exhibition of memory producing innovative approaches to mapping, interacting with memory, and new sites of remembrance. Once captured, memory may contribute another strand of history.

For Nora, lieux de mémoire are sites where “memory crystallizes and secretes itself”, memory sites that block the possibility of forgetting and act to remember for us (1989, p. 7). Nora writes that the “most fundamental purpose of the lieu de mémoire is to stop time, to block the work of forgetting… all of this in order to capture a maximum of meaning in the fewest of signs” (1989, p. 19). In these sites history besieges memory as, “moments of history torn away from the movement of history, then returned” (Nora 1989, p. 12). Memory sites can be actual spatial forms like archives, exhibitions, personal shrines, and they can be tangible objects: collections of photographs, objects, diary entries, notes, tickets and souvenirs. They can also be more ephemeral, taking the form of thoughts, reminiscences and spoken word stories. Lieux de mémoire originate with the sense that “there is no spontaneous memory, that we must deliberately create archives, maintain anniversaries, organize celebrations, pronounce eulogies, and notarize bills because such activities no longer occur naturally” (Nora 1989, p. 12). Nora’s conception of lieux de mémoire arises from the acceleration of history. He writes that: “if history did not besiege memory, deforming and transforming it, penetrating and petrifying it there would be no lieux de mémoire” (Nora, 1989, p. 12).

Extending Nora’s lieu de mémoire into the realm of the visual historical archive, these sites can be reimagined as electronic databases, multimedia projections, or interactive exhibits, sites that preserve, but also revise, reshape, and inspire new memories. Electronic lieux de mémoire are used to construct and deconstruct memory in the multimedia artworks produced by the American artists Jennifer and Kevin McCoy. Across their oeuvre, the artworks build on and complicate definitions of memory, situating it in relation to an archive of recent popular cultural history. Laura U. Marks describes the McCoy’s web based work (1999) as noophagic – sucking in, eating information from other sites, reprocessing images and text and emerging with the advertising, branding and even the special offers of a new, artificial, corporation mined from corporate language on the web (2002, p. 189). is a web-based artwork that trawls commercial sites and creates networks of text, jargon, still images and footage from security cameras in the workplace. Lev Manovich defined Jennifer and Kevin McCoy as postmodern media artists who “accept the impossibility of an original, unmediated vision of reality; their subject matter is not reality itself, but a representation of reality by media, and the world of media itself” (2002a, np). Manovich develops the notion of soft cinema as database art, a specific type of new media art that is indebted to the archive, but reverses the opposition traditionally associated with the syntagmatic and the paradigmatic (2002b, pp. 230-231). For Manovich, database art values the paradigmatic, the tangible range of possible choices, options or possibilities over the syntagmatic, the virtual flow of words and images. Producing art that prioritizes memory, but refuses to narrativize it in classical form, the early installations can be understood as offering a matrix of impressionistic sequences, reflecting the illogical, sensuous workings of memory. In their database art installations, the McCoy’s work opposes rigidity and linearity, even when it is derived from the delay-filled, repetitious parallelisms characteristic of serial narrative form. Instead, the installations offer multiple possibilities and perspectives, splitting and fracturing spectatorship, creating new ways to map memories and a diverse range of possible narrative forms. The ‘electronic sculptures’ created by the McCoys rely on paradigmatic contingency to complicate the notion of memory as personal and individual by reworking and interweaving popular visual histories into their artwork. The resulting new media art reinvent Nora’s lieux de mémoire using miniaturized cinematic technologies, database narration and electronic sculptural dioramas.

The expansion of cinema towards the digital and into the art gallery, produces new ways of mapping, engaging and exhibiting memory. Anne Friedberg identifies the transition towards the digital resulting in an increasingly mobilized, virtual experience of visual cultures (2006). Jennifer and Kevin McCoy’s collaboration creates art that juxtaposes personal with collective memories, offering viewers an interactive experience in encouraging an intervention by the deconstruction and reconstruction of popular narrative. Their art creates a matrix of reference points drawn from some very recognizable popular iconography to exhibit an inextricable connection between individual and collective memory. The installations that were created at the turn of the millennium combine the interactive potential of the database with the seemingly endless array of visual motifs, generic tropes and narrative threads recognizable from popular televisual serials. Every Shot, Every Episode (2001) is a deconstruction and recreation of the Starsky and Hutch (1975-1979) series resulting in a new taxonomy consisting of two hundred and seventy-eight categories. Individual shots and scenes from the series were excised and reorganized to feature new paradigmatic, aesthetic and cinematographic categories including: ‘Every Bloody Clothing’, ‘Every Yellow Volkswagen’, ‘Every Sexy Outfit’, ‘Every Stabbing’, ‘Every Character Looks Left’, ‘Every Insult’, ‘Every Speculation’, ‘Every Extreme Close Up’, ‘Every Pan Right’, ‘Every Tilt Down’, ‘Every Zoom In’ and ‘Every Reaction Shot’. This approach reveals the degree of repetition and the importance of generic tropes and conventions, the foundations of serial television. The shelves of DVDs mounted on the gallery wall positioned next to a suitcase containing the small DVD player and screen offers an impression of open access to secretive imagery. Every Shot, Every Episode reconstructs imagery that blurs the division between individual and collective memory. Viewing and re-viewing sequences, visitors become interactive cartographers, mapping and re-mapping as they select and view paradigmatic sequences from Starsky and Hutch. Nora’s description of memory as “intensely retinal and powerfully televisual”(1989, p. 17) is resonant in the ways that these sequences reflect the fragmented, impressionistic workings of memory. The linearity of television series is here reconceptualised by prioritizing the elements that comprise narrative form. Every Shot, Every Episode points to the tendency to prioritise moments, sensations, effects, color, action or gesture in recalling the larger structure. Paradigmatic selection parallels the ways that specific impressions might be remembered whilst larger narrative structures are forgotten. In turn, the archive of images and narrative that forms the referent – in this case Starsky and Hutch – is modified and transformed by Every Shot, Every Episode.

Every Shot, Every Episode (2001)

This approach was elaborated in Every Anvil (2001). In this interactive installation Looney Tunes (1942-1969) cartoons are deconstructed and reimagined according to generic tropes and violent themes including: ‘Every Explosion’, ‘Every Poisoning’, ‘Every Whacking’, ‘Every Evil Genius’, ‘Every Beg and Plead’, ‘Every Kiss’, ‘Every Slipping and Sliding’, ‘Every Sneaking’, ‘Every Flattening Character’, ‘Every Cooking a Character’ and ‘Every Tornado Spin’. The individual action, aesthetic and cinematographic sign is excised from the animated series, altering the temporal framework to highlight the preeminence of the moment over continuity across the series. Every Anvil, Every Shot, Every Episode along with a further installation, 448 Is Enough (2002), a deconstruction of episodes of Eight Is Enough (1977-1981) displays the McCoy’s interest in dissecting syntagmatic logic whilst recombining the imagery to highlight paradigmatic selection. The use of the new media database helps to develop incursions into conventional narrative form, resulting in sequences that are reconfigured according to impressionistic structures more common to dreams or memories. The McCoy’s subsequent installations use miniature forms to interrogate the exhibition of time, space, narrative, scale and identity. All installations situate popular culture as pivotal in the production of memory.

Every Anvil (2001)

Memory, according to Maurice Halbwachs exists unconsciously in the mind as psychic states of recollection where each act of recollection involves the reconstruction of the memory in the context of the present (1992, p. 24). Memories are constructed and facilitated in association with (or in contrast to) other individuals. Memories as a reconstruction, rather than a faithful recreation of the past are the crucial element in this context. Halbwachs argues that, paradoxically, an individual remembers by placing himself in the perspective of the group, but, by contrast, the memory of a group realizes and manifests itself in individual memories. (1992, p. 22). The McCoy’s practice involves accessing, researching and deconstructing large sources, provoking memories contingent upon popular culture. In an interview, Jennifer McCoy reveals the focus on interactivity and connection between visual culture and memory in their artwork when she suggests that: “one’s memory of a show are placed next to real memories and become part of your mental collection” (2006, np)

Soft Rains (2003-2004) is a serialized collection of six installations that use miniature figures and diorama as the base of these electronic sculptures. The miniature static sets appear as single fragments of time, or frames of film. These tiny sculptures freeze time into instances with the miniature figures representing a single instant, without an indication of the preceding or succeeding events. These instants are resonant. The conflation of the narrative, or genre into instants reiterates the selectivity of memory. In On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Susan Stewart writes that, “miniature time transcends the duration of everyday life” (2003, p. 66). Miniatures, for Stewart, offer “a narrativity and history outside the given field of perception – is a constant daydream that the miniature presents. This is the daydream of the microscope: the daydream of life inside life, of significance multiplied infinitely within significance” (2003, p. 54). Each of the six installations that comprise Soft Rains has its own thematic focus.

Soft Rains (2003-2004)

In Soft Rains #6: Suburban Horror (2004), the miniature imagery becomes decidedly Gothic. A diorama built on the melodramatic iconography of a 1950s scene imagined through a dark cinematic aesthetic reveals suburban settings and suggests the surrounding menace. A woman stares longingly out of a kitchen window, suggesting entrapment and her desire for escape. A car traveling down a road indicates travel to a remote cabin, but the scene at the cabin contains details of blood and dismemberment, revealing a couple that had been murdered with an axe. This installation incorporates fragmented imagery signifying isolation, alienation, multiple time frames and the darker side of the imagination. Screens display low-resolution imagery, where colors are blocked and blurred, drawing from the aesthetic of colorized postcards, or perhaps the saturation and low definition imagery characteristic of 8mm film projections. Soft Rains was inspired by a David Lynchian surrealist aesthetic, and the gruesome imagery also recalls slasher films like the Friday the 13th series. Each diorama is surrounded by lights and tiny cameras suspended and directed onto the scenes via flexible metal arms. Shots are illuminated and filmed by the miniature technologies surrounding the tiny scene. These shots are then projected onto an adjacent screen in the gallery. Exposing sets, lights and cameras, alongside the fantasy projected on the screen deconstructs the illusion, defamiliarizing and reinventing the contemporary Gothic narrative. Suburban Horror draws from the archive of familiar Gothic tropes and imagery to produce disarming miniature fragments, moments that resonate with memorable sequences within the history of cinema. This series of installations rely on tropes of the Gothic and horror genres, impressionistic, distilled, miniaturized and deconstructed. The scale reflects how scale is often distorted by memory, miniature objects are enlarged on screen. In its allusions to iconic cinematic tropes, genres and aesthetics Suburban Horror mimics the potential for memory (and the database) to create a dialogue across time.

How We Met was originally exhibited at Postmaster’s Gallery and then very briefly shown in a decommissioned terminal at JFK Airport in 2004. How We Met is an elaborate series of miniature sculptural dioramas, each representing a moment in time. At first glance the platforms seem to depict aspects of the memory of Jennifer and Kevin’s first meeting as both reach for the same suitcase as it circles a carousel at an airport in France. The dioramas that form the base of How We Met are constellations of small gestures and figures, actions suspended in time with their stillness highlighted by the revolving carousel. These fragmented moments are reminiscent of Nora’s description of ‘true memory’ as comprised of gestures, habits, unspoken knowledge and unstudied reflexes (1989, p. 18). On one platform a miniature figure of Jennifer waits for her bag to emerge whilst Kevin stands to her left, seemingly distracted by a mysterious blonde woman in a red dress. At the edge of the diorama, their moment of connection is depicted through a simple gesture as two disembodied hands reach for the same suitcase. On another platform, a cab waits outside the airport terminal, offering a hint of a transition towards a new space. One camera that is positioned to shoot within the actual airport space incorporates impressions of human sized viewers alongside the miniatures. Customized computer software receives and connects the ‘live’ images, projecting a seemingly random range of sequences onto the screen. This combination of the static miniature diorama with the spectator entwines past with present. Further, baring the device for illumination, recording and projection produces a fractured, but all encompassing vision of moving image and apparatus. The result is that the memory depicted is deconstructed and reconstructed, expanding time into instants and exploding space across the dioramas. Reconstructing the experience in miniature renders the projected sequence dreamlike and impressionistic.

Whilst the title, How We Met, promises a cause and effect sequence, the constellation of images that emerge from the pivotal central gesture, opens up a matrix of connections. Mary Ann Doane perceives cinematic time as diachronic and contingent (2002). She writes about divergent temporal registers that are linked by chance and contingency, a relationship that is characteristic of the cinema.  Chance and coincidence become powerful forces in How We Met, however, this avowal of memory (from the title, from the reconstruction, from the autobiographic presence of the artists in miniature) is playfully recontextualised with the revelation of the extent that this artwork is indebted to the cinema. How We Met consciously references and remixes the bag swapping sequence from Peter Bogdanovich’s screwball comedy What’s Up Doc? (1972). What appears coincidental is in fact memory depicted through the prism of popular film. The slippage between intimate, personal memories and popular visual histories is no more evident throughout the McCoy’s oeuvre than in How We Met. In this electronic sculpture, sequences from film history are inextricably entwined with personal memory.

How We Met – detail (2004)

The recreation of real and imaginary spaces plays an important role in the function of memory. Spaces that include airports, taxi ranks, the cinema, the dance hall and the gallery become actual and imagined sites of remembrance in the McCoy’s installations. These very public, transitory spaces are described by Marc Augè as ‘non-place’, a location created through the excessive logic, space and information of ‘supermodernity’ (1995). Supermodernity arises through excess and extension of time, and in spaces that result from the shift in global scale where distance is reduced by immediate and effective communications technologies. Non-places are essentially empty spaces, locations of solitude, even when they are full of people. These are places of movement and transit where there is little sense of community or connection. The non-place exists as an urban space of little or no distinct identity or particular history. These are temporary, sometimes provisional spaces. Non-places can also be generic spaces of consumption like airports, transit lounges, supermarkets or petrol stations. However, in the installations produced by the McCoy’s, non-places become sites of memory.

Our Second Date (2004) also interweaves the McCoy’s memories with iconic sequences from the history of film. Memory here is contingent upon French New Wave cinema. This electronic sculpture presents an imagination of personal histories as sequences from film, creating a memory site that reveals the influence of film in both content and form. In Our Second Date miniature scenes are positioned at various points on a large tabletop diorama. Each of these scenes blurs the distinction between memory and film particularly when miniature models of Jennifer and Kevin appear inside a tiny cinema watching Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend (1967). Weekend becomes the key visual source for the remembrance of their second date. The table also features a large, slowly spinning disc, a recreation of the traffic jam, complete with carnage, from the film. As the road revolves, the illusion of movement is projected onto the screen. The heightened colors combined with the now familiar use of a soft focus that blurs outlines, produces a dreamlike sequence of moving images. Memories are expressed through screen memories in these exhibits. Digital technologies are used to capture celluloid and possibly personal memories, highlighting the non-linearity crucial to the film, to the exhibit and to the McCoy’s memories. Our Second Date uses cinematic processes like narration, projection and exhibition to provide the framework for and signifiers of memory. Like Godard’s cinema, the McCoy’s Date series defamiliarizes processes of narration, reconfiguring the counter-narrative experiments of the French New Wave, producing a beginning, middle and an end, just not in that order.

Our Second Date (2004)

The McCoy’s create electronic lieux de mémoire by interweaving public, collective and personal, individual memories within the history of visual culture. It is the blurring of public and private, individual and collective memory that distinguishes their new media art. The memories exhibited by the electronic sculptures need not have an actual referent in the viewer’s memory, or even in the McCoy’s experience. Alison Landsberg describes ‘prosthetic memory’ as a link to those histories that do not originate from direct and lived experiences (2004 p. 26). Prosthetic memories are derived from media engagement and arise through a direct connection to screen imagery. Landsberg defines prosthetic memories as: “memories that circulate publicly, that are not organically based, but that are nonetheless experienced with one’s own body – by means of a wide range of cultural technologies” (2004 p. 25-26). Prosthetic memories are direct and indirect – direct in their audio-visual presentation as images, and indirect in that they always refer to another spatio-temporal realm. They are collective, but also individual in that they become part of a specific range of experiences, virtual and real. Prosthetic memories produce an experiential relationship based on a virtual world rather than a ‘real’ world experience. They are created, produced, received and shared via technologies that consciously construct memories in processes of presentation and representation. Echoing the description provided by Jennifer McCoy, Landsberg suggests that prosthetic memories, “become part of one’s personal archive of experience” and that the memories that cinema affords might be as significant for the viewer in constructing, or deconstructing, the spectator’s identity, as any lived experience (2004 p. 26). The McCoy’s installations position memory as contingent on the history of visual cultures. In the case of How We Met, the artwork is indebted to popular film. In this artwork the difference between embodied and prosthetic memory is indistinct. It is possible that the bag sequence, heavy with the romantic tropes of chance and coincidence from What’s Up Doc? stands in for, and could even be entirely unrelated to, the memory of how Jennifer and Kevin McCoy actually met. Accordingly, whilst referencing cinema, exposing the machinations of the apparatus and reworking counter-narrative, Our Second Date may well also define memory as selective, constructed and prosthetic.

The power of the fragmentary detail within photography is well known in the writing on the ‘punctum’, by Roland Barthes (1984, p. 25-62). Writing during the 1950s, Barthes defines history as outside of his lived experience, but inextricably linked to his maternal bloodline. He explores the importance of subjectivity and emotion – eidos – in his encounter with history via photography. Barthes conceptualizes photography working according to a dual system of representation. He perceives the ‘studium’ as those coded, recognizable signs that are open to everyone, whilst the punctum is specific and subjective (Barthes 1984, p. 27). Barthes argues that the apprehension of the punctum is a sudden recognition of meaning that exceeds normal boundaries. This excess becomes an encounter with the self and history. Barthes’ punctum refers to the fragmentary detail of the photograph, the detail that holds significance, so much so, that it overwhelms the context. Barthes describes the effect of the punctum as akin to a sting, a recognition that he feels with a visceral physical intensity. It is this focus on detail, those smaller memory fragments, miniature signs or metonymic symbols that open out to more expansive revelations of the interconnection between memory and history, that structure the McCoy’s electronic sculptures. Whilst Barthes’ punctum refers to a detail within a photograph that linked him to his blood relations, prosthetic memories can provide a similar affective ‘pinch’, by provoking memories arising from his/her visual literacy of the popular culture archive. Prosthetic memories can also link viewers across cultures and across histories. These media images allow identification, perhaps even a visceral response from the virtual or the imagined. In a larger, perhaps more utopian context, prosthetic memories can forge the ground for new identifications, new political realignments through recognition, identification and empathy. Landsberg argues, “prosthetic memories have the potential to generate something like public spheres of memory” (2004, p. 21). The potential for cinema to generate and disseminate memories is highlighted in the work of Marita Sturken who argues that films contribute to the development of ‘technologies of memory’ where memories are shared, produced, archived and given meaning by new communications media (1997).

Eternal Return (2003) inspires the creation of prosthetic memories by situating anonymous miniature figures caught up in the rapture of dance. The presence of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy is less visible in this exhibit, but perhaps evident in the forms and concepts that spin out of the installation. Featuring a nostalgic, black, white and sepia toned dancehall; this elaborate sculptural diorama depicts a scenario set entirely within a distant past. The emphasis on cyclic rotation and repetition performed by unidentified miniature figures adorned in formal ball gowns and tuxedos, create invitations to become swept up in the nostalgia and romance of the exhibit. The wedding cake couples dance and spin in a wistful symbolization of the wheel of time. More than any other electronic sculpture, Eternal Return offers numerous entry points into the past. Encompassing imagined scenes from the 1930s dancehall, iconography and choreography akin to the films of Busby Berkeley, all mirrored in reflective surfaces, Eternal Return, as the title suggests, is a pure fantasy of another time and space. This ‘pure’ memory site renders its temporality cyclic by the repetition of movements and gestures, enhanced by the revolutions of the dioramas and giddy miniature figures. There is no identifiable narrative in this installation, no recognizable characters, endpoint or closure, just endless cycles of repetition.

Eternal Return (2003)

Common to all other projected sequences, images of the diorama are filmed, edited and they repeat and return in a combination ordered by the bespoke computer software. More than any other exhibit, the complexities of the apparatus on display in Eternal Return become part of the spectacle. Exhibiting the intricacies of the technologies involved, demystifies, but its partial concealment also re-mystifies the exhibition. Such a kinetic spectacle, featuring unidentified dancers, imagined spaces and distant past points to history and memory, but also incorporates the present amid the swirl of contingent temporalities. Quoting Gilles Deleuze’s third synthesis of time in the title of the installation, the Eternal Return refers to the complex return of difference, one that may not have existed previously (1985). This installation also manifests Walter Benjamin’s achronological history imagined in The Arcades Project. In this incomplete work Benjamin visualised history by creating a collage of quotes and reassembling fragments through montage, defining history as connection, rather than a linear taxonomy (1999), Eternal Return is built on endless repetition and eternally returning fragments of projected pasts and futures. Quotes from early film history inspire a montage of prosthetic memories, external memories that may not have materialized previously.


The notion of artist or auteur is insufficient to account for the McCoy’s oeuvre. Whilst Jennifer and Kevin McCoy create an impression of quite intimate work in installations like How We Met and Our Second Date, the idea of an individual, coherent worldview expressed across a body of work is not enough to account for the dual dioramas presented back to back in Double Fantasy (2005). Double Fantasy identifies the differences in childhood dreams by using miniature models where images from each are randomly selected and projected onto a screen. There are two contrasting impulses in Double Fantasy. The doubled diorama emphasizes difference, but the screened stills juxtapose and interweave projections of disparate dreams. Dream Sequence (2006) extends this doubling and splitting further, projecting dual visions of dream imagery emanating from two revolving dioramas onto adjacent screens and by incorporating impressions of the miniature dreamers below their dreams. Dream, fantasies and memories are individual, shared and collective.

Dream Sequence (2006)

The McCoy’s lieux de mémoire inspire new ways to perceive and imagine history and memory. Miniature scenes and narrative forms expand the realm of memory by highlighting connections to film, television, nostalgic fantasies and projected histories. The conflation of real and imaginary spaces reflects the potential for locations to provoke memories. Airports, taxi ranks, the cinema, the dancehall and the gallery become sites of remembrance in the McCoy’s exhibitions. Non-places like the airport represent the location of a first meeting, a miniature cinema becomes the place of a second date and the revolving imagined space of the dance hall distills memories using movement, gesture and sound and reproduces them as memory sites.

Their electronic sculptures and database art revise and exhibit memory by incorporating intertextual references to the history of cinema and visual culture. The re-vision of memory through multimedia technologies can instill a sense of hyper-engagement, connecting viewers with personal or public histories. It can also blur the distinction between prosthetic and embodied memories. Whilst many of these works emerge from archives of popular culture and are exhibited in art galleries, they are also made accessible via the McCoy’s website ( and Flickr which includes views of the documentation and images of the live feed of their installations. Such multiple forms of exhibition extend the scope and lifetime of each artwork and, simultaneously, feed the imagery back into the database. In the gallery space and in the virtual world, the McCoy’s art situates the viewer centrally and actively within a matrix of visual references, paradigmatic associations and generic conventions, highlighting the strength of the currents connecting popular iconography with personal memory.

The memories exhibited and inspired by the work of Jennifer and Kevin McCoy have the potential to tease out the hard edges of ‘true’ memory (Nora 1989, p. 13). The electronic sculptures display memory “in permanent evolution” (Nora 1989, p. 8). Furthermore, these artworks display memory as not exclusively linked to an individual, but instead linked by association, or contingency. The McCoy’s electronic sculptures actively exhibit memories as evidence of Nora’s description of recent shifts in history and memory as he describes it “from the idea of a visible past to an invisible one; from a solid and steady past to our fractured past; from a history sought in the continuity of memory to a memory cast in the discontinuity of history (1989, p. 17). Memory is inspired, produced and exhibited according to images outside of the self, popular visual histories. Nora suggests that, “the lieu de mémoire is double: a site of excess closed upon itself, concentrated in its own name, but also forever open to the full range of possible significations” (1989, p. 24). With new and multiple forms of digital technologies, the McCoy’s electronic sculptures illustrate precisely such a doubling whilst emphasizing the increasingly intimate proximity between memory, screen memories and the history of visual culture.


This is an extended and expanded version of ‘Exhibiting Miniature Memories: The McCoy’s Electronic Sculptures’, AntiThesis, March, 2009, pp. 7-11.



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Stewart, S 2003 On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, Durham, NC, Duke University Press.

A/V: (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 1999)

Double Fantasy (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2005)

Dream Sequence (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2006)

Eternal Return (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2003)

Every Shot, Every Episode (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2001)

Every Anvil (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2001)

How We Met (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2004)

Our Second Date (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2004)

Soft Rains (Jennifer and Kevin McCoy, 2003-2004)

Weekend (Jean-Luc Godard, 1967)

What’s Up Doc? (Peter Bogdanovich, 1972).



Wendy Haslem is a lecturer in Screen Studies & Cultural Management and Director of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is currently involved in researching and writing Gothic Projections: From Méliès to New Media an investigation of the evolution of the Gothic narrative and aesthetic from silent film to digital media.