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Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace - About the Exhibition

18 June – 20 October 2013

Sky Arts Ignition: Memory Palace brought together a new work of fiction by the author Hari Kunzru with 20 original commissions from leading graphic designers, illustrators and typographers to create a multidimensional story.

The way we read books is changing. Memory Palace explored how a story might be imagined in a different format – as a walk-in book.

The Story

Hari Kunzru's story is set in a future London, hundreds of years after the world’s information infrastructure was wiped out by an immense magnetic storm. Technology and knowledge have been lost, and a dark age prevails. Nature has taken over the ruins of the old city and power has been seized by a group who enforce a life of extreme simplicity on all citizens. Recording, writing, collecting and art are outlawed.

The narrator of the story is in prison. He is accused of being a member of a banned sect, who has revived the ancient ‘art of memory’. They try to remember as much of the past as they can in a future where forgetting has been official policy for generations. The narrator uses his prison cell as his ‘memory palace’, the location for the things he has remembered: corrupted fragments and misunderstood details of things we may recognise from our time. He clings to his belief that without memory, civilisation is doomed.

The Commissions

The chosen practitioners work across a variety of fields, from comics and editorial illustration to advertising and typography. The broad selection of contributors demonstrates the exceptionally diverse and expanding worlds of contemporary graphic design and illustration.

Kunzru’s story is written in a series of short passages that move in a non-linear way through the dystopian world he created. Each of the designers and illustrators worked on a different passage of text from the story, responding freely to the text. The resulting commissions varied dramatically in scale and format, from intricate hand-drawn works to large three-dimensional environments.

Video: Inspiration & Process

In these videos a selection of designers and illustrators talk about the process of creating their commission for the exhibition and how their work was inspired by the passage of text they were given from the story.

Peter Bil’ak

Peter Bil'ak's installation is a play on perspective. Working with the complete section of text he was given to work on, he created a large wall of reversed type. The sentence is illegible until the visitor passes by the work and looks back, at which point the text becomes readable and its meaning is revealed.


View transcript of video

Hansje van Halem

Hansje van Halem responded to a passage about misremembered London underground stations that the prisoner likens to gemstones. She collaborated with the J.C. Herman Pottery to create thirty-two hand-painted floor tiles. Each unique gem shaped tile represents one of the stations the prisoner was tasked to remember.


View transcript of video

Erik Kessels

Erik Kessels responded to two memory fragments that recall advertisting and recycling, creating a giant palace made from recycled advertising leaflets. The multiple layers of the structure, made up of thousands of partially legible messages act as both a comment on the overarching story and our present reality where we are overwhelmed by colours, shapes, and images in a constant onslaught of designed materials.


View transcript of video

Na Kim

Na Kim worked in response to a jumbled memory fragment outlining the laws of entropy. She created a large advertising billboard filled with abstract graphic symbols of organising tools that references a sentence where mankind is instructed to measure the earth.


View transcript of video

Frank Laws

Frank Laws created a series of intricate paintings that form an installation of the prisoner's cell. The scenes depicted inside the cell are the Prisoner's memories of London buildings. The narrow viewing points evoke the claustrophobia induced by spending day in day out in a confined space.

Henning Wagenbreth

Henning Wagenbreth's installation responds to the prisoner's definition of a museum and is made up of hundreds of painstakingly painted wooden blocks he calls Tobot Bloks. Piled as a brightly coloured tower, they feature words and images. The installation makes reference to the construction and deconstruction of culture and also acts as a metaphor for how language and meaning is constructed.

View transcript of video

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