The Art of Memory. Photo by Trevor Oswalt
Conceived and directed by Tanya Calamoneri and written by Lisa Ramirez, Art of Memory could be characterized as either a fantasia or a nightmare — or perhaps both. In it, four librarian create an elaborately braided narrative about forbidden knowledge and transgressed boundaries. They inhabit various roles — handless maidens, the Bronte sisters, an ill wind, minor deities — and the piece uses books, children’s games and alchemy to glide across a fractured kind of narrative.
Per the website for Company SoGoNo, which developed the work, Art of Memory also weaves together text, Butoh dance, and original music, and is inspired by Frances Yeats’ Art of Memory. The text is both original and collaged from Luis Borges’ The Library of Babel, Grimm’s Fairytales and Emily Bront√´’s Wuthering Heights.
Here for your viewing delectation is YouTube video of the show from 2007, when it originally premiered at the Ontological Hysteric Theatre Incubator.
This version of Art of Memory — which was nominated for various New York Innovative Theatre awards, winning best set — is a revision of the prior one. Which is why it seemed especially appropriate for Ramirez to be asked 5 Questions about it.
Art of Memory runs through July 20 to Aug. 2 at the 3LD Art and Technology Center (80 Greenwich St. at Rector St.); for tickets, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.3LDNYC.org.
And now, 5 questions Lisa Ramirez has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why are you interested in writing characters that most people would either write off or judge?” “Why is it so important for you to show the humanity in all the main characters that you write?”
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why do you write mostly female characters?”
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Why would you write a theatre piece with a dance company?” “Isn’t it weird collaborating with dancers?”
4) The New York Innovative Theatre Awards honored Art of Memory with various nominations and an award. Now you’re “re-working” the piece. How do you revisit a work that received a great deal of attention and acclaim and be sure you don’t toss out, either intentially or accidentally, the baby with the bathwater?
I was at the very beginning of exploring this notion of memory and how people (women in particular) process memory and knowledge when Art of Memory was reviewed or given awards, so I have simply continued where I left off before. I view what was performed before as a workshop production or an incubation period. This is a continuation of that process.
5) Your piece focuses on four librarians and it seems as if there are references to literary figures or at least to books as objects themselves. Yet we’re increasingly living in the age of the holy Kindle. Do you think we’ll ever reach a point in society in which books will either cease to exist or be a kind of exotic hand-me-down?
I hope not. For me, books are as necessary as food. For me, reading from a Kindle would be similar to eating from a computer; I like the tactile experience of a real book.
6) What exactly is the art of memory? And by that I don’t mean, “What is the Art of Memory?” I mean, isn’t it — as a famous composer-lyricist once wrote — “strange what we recall and odd what we forget”?
Exactly. To me, the art of memory is what we do with what we are given in life, i.e., how we process our lives and the experiences we have had. We either tell the truth about our lives, tell half-truths to ourselves and others to make it more bearable, or we make up stories of how we wish our lives are or should have been. I think all of us vacillate somewhere between the three on a daily basis. It is also about how we perceive things. You can have two people from the same family remember a similar event in a completely different way.