Karen Kedmey Reviews Srijon Chowdhury’s Memory Theater in Artsy Editorial 5.5.16
For his debut project at Portland’s Upfor gallery, Bangladeshi artist Srijon Chowdhury turned the gallery into what he describes as a “theater for another theater inside of it.” The result is “Memory Theater,” an immersive installation that prompts visitors to meditate upon their memories and, on a grander scale, the memories of the universe.
Chowdhury’s installation is based on a mnemonic device theorized by the 16th-century Italian philosopher and inventor Giulio Camillo. His ambitious, imaginative plan was to create something that would allow people to remember the entire history of the universe. He envisioned this structure, which he likewise called The Memory Theater, as a place to house images that could coalesce into what would essentially be memory made manifest. Camillo’s structure was never built, however. Now, 500 years later, Chowdhury gives form to Camillo’s unrealized vision—albeit with a decidedly contemporary twist.
“Memory Theater at Upfor is a play,” Chowdhury has said. The play centers on a circular, wooden structure made out of 8-foot-tall arched frames with thin linen stretched across. Outside the structure, Chowdhury arranges a diverse cast of sculptures from 28 other artists he invited to participate—“the actors backstage,” he calls them. Filled with a soft, pink glow, the inside of this circular form is set with white-cushioned seats meant to encourage visitors to linger and observe. Though no other objects fill this interior, the sculptures assert their shadowy presence through the structure’s diaphanous linen walls.
The entire gallery is filled with the ambient sounds of two black holes colliding a billion years ago. Together, these objects and sounds conjure a mood of mystery and timelessness. As Chowdhury explains, the works he chose to pair with his own are ones that “feel fetishistic, ritualistic, and outside of time.” This is true, for example, of Erin Morrison’s ceramic vases, whose forms feel at once ancient and contemporary. Nearby, Jack Bangerter’s small watercolor cutouts of nude male and female figures could be read as our human ancestors—not quite as ancient as time immemorial, but worth remembering nonetheless.