Lin Onus, Jimmy's billabong, 1988, synthetic polymer paint on canvas, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra. Purchased 1988. © Estate of Lin Onus, Licensed by Viscopy, 2014.

Memory, identity and habit: a personal riff

Co-editor of Artlink Indigenous: Blackground Glenn Iseger-Pilkington recounts a personal tale of the way experience and memory interweave in the stories we make of our lives.

This issue of Artlink Indigenous focuses on the lived experiences of Indigenous people in Australia and seeks to reflect the multiple realities and spaces they occupy.

I have often touched upon my own experience within my writing, in the context and framework of locating myself and sharing my identity position, my culture. I have never delved into it in any way other than that, it has always been surface level, sometimes it has a little poignancy, but from my own perception it has only ever been like an introductory montage to a complex multi-episode TV mini-series that no one will ever make.

This is the way I perceive and experience my life, as a kind of living theatre, a series of connected events which form me, change me, build me, break me and as with all of us, one of these events will be the one that ends me. As a human and as an endless ruminator, I seek to link them, to understand them and find meaning in universal chaos and random pattern; I seek purpose and analyse coincidence in hope of harnessing, controlling and mastering this thing we call life. So many of us exist in multiples, living in the past/present/future, we often focus on what has constructed us, and what we might become, our history and our legacy, so much so that sometimes we forget to occupy our present space.

We all re-experience our lives through the events we recall, sometimes frequently, sometimes infrequently, often with vivid recall or as a blur, like memories seen through a morning mist over a lake. Our memories, the emotions attached to them and the sometimes-overwhelming somatic experience resulting from the action of recall, along with the very present moment, are all that we are. Nothing else really exists beyond these moments, everything else is gone, or will be gone. We will not all be remembered but we are all experienced, by ourselves and by others. Each day that passes leave us with new experiences, each a new lens with which to look back to our memories. We gather new lenses, thousands upon thousands of new lenses, each representing new ways in which to remember, none ever quite like the other, none offering truth, but each offering a space in which to again occupy what is gone, that which will never happen again.

Although our lives are fleeting, ephemeral, temporal, it is these experiences of ourselves, of others and of the world around us that create our identities, as much as those inherited identities that pre-existed us, that are grafted onto and become significant parts of us. Each moment we are active, each exchange we engage in, each step we walk, offers new opportunities and crossroads which lead to alternate realities, depending on which way we turn, which choice we make. As we move on from our old experiences to new ones, we look back and often without knowing, we shroud them with new emotions and sentiments, so that they too are forever in transition. Like our reflections upon our experiences, our memories are not fixed. They may be fixed in their factual content, the wheres, the whens and the hows, however, for me, nothing is stable in terms of memory and experience.

Thinking back to my childhood I ponder the many childhoods I have relived throughout my 32 and a bit years. I ponder on how many times I have reimagined walking through the storm drains in Derby, alone and completely happy, how many times I have recalled the feeling of red hot pindan[1] underfoot as I wandered around in my own little world. I was alone more often than not, even in the company of others; I would carve out my own space, my own reality. The most life-changing and transformative experience I have had took place at 2.04am on September 03, 1999, the moment my mother took her last breath and left me alone at the young age of 17. This is something that I have learned to live with, a painful reality that I often recreate and relive in hope of keeping her alive for just one more moment: like a habit.

Each time I look back I am peering through a new lens, through new windows to my past, while standing in the present. The memories that define us are like moons which circle us, each has a unique orbit, recurring in our minds and our lives, keeping the past alive in a metaphysical way.

I remember being a child and thinking about how many children around the world were sitting watching the same cartoon as me, how many realities were unfolding just like mine. Since then and having being introduced to the critical discourses surrounding time, space, matter and complex proposals such as chaos theory, I have begun to understand my life as not only a continuum but as a line being drawn that continues to move forward, on and on, as if made by a polygraph scrawling on gridded paper. As the line moves it either intersects or diverts from others, alters from particular patterns and often circles back on itself; like a habit. When we remember, when we recall, we draw over the lines which map these experiences, yet in doing so, we never create a carbon copy, the lenses through which we look never allow us to recreate with any accuracy. After all, our memory is not truth but a reality we choose to render, through a lens we have yet to see through.

Footnotes

  1. ^ The red soil of the south-western Kimberley region of Western Australia.
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