Material Memories

Author’s own photograph, Material Memories III Render, (Grace Pappas) Anna Gray, Viraj Joshi, Matteo Bandi
Author’s own photograph, Material Memories I: Museum Interaction Documentation Disk, (Grace Pappas) Anna Gray Mixed

A set of interactive museum displays aiming to capture the current history of archeological museum artefacts in material form. It is a project reimagining the room of a museum as a machine; a machine that is powered by visitors’ presence. The displays in this museum are equipped with metal disks whose sole purpose is to transduce people’s presence into a patina that marks them.

Ten years ago after my grandmother’s passing we had to clean her house of her belongings. In her bathroom I found a tub of Nivea cream with marks of her hands still on its surface. I kept it on my desk for years. One day my mother not knowing its significance picked it up and opened the lid to apply some. I almost tried to stop her before I realised I would now have both of their hands’ marks on its surface.

Materials are integrated within the stories that unfold around them. They have the capability to hold prints on their surface, much like deciphered memories making them witnesses of those events.

About a hundred years ago a mysterious mechanism encrusted in a layer of rust was recovered from the middle of the sea just off the coast of the Greek island of Antikythera. Conservators and scientists had to segment the mechanism open in three main sections in order to study it. In conjunction with development of new technologies we were able to unpack a series of stories contained in its crust. The object was dated around 100 BC and has been identified as a calculator which predicts the motion of celestial bodies including solar and moon eclipses.

The objects we create become an aggregation of the knowledge of the culture that surrounds us. In the case of the antikythera mechanism, the metal gears become a crystallisation of the joint knowledge of the scientists that studied the celestial bodies, the mathematicians that developed gear ratios appropriate to match that knowledge as well as the skillful technicians that transformed the crude metal to match that gear requirements.

We tend to take for granted the knowledge and resources that are given to our current culture. It is important, however, to understand that this knowledge does not follow a linear path. After its creation, the mechanism and its captured information laid in a shipwreck for two thousand years. Within those two thousand years, civilisation went from elaborate science and geometry to believing the earth was flat and then back again. Material Memories is a reflection on this fluctuation of knowledge.

Museums act as a concentrator of information-rich artefacts, and its visitors are the inheritors of this information.

Material Memories is reimagining the museum space as a gravity-activated mechanism where the visitor physically becomes the soul that brings the space to life. When a visitor enters the space, the mechanisms within the displays come to life and record on a metal disk that interaction. In this way Material Memories becomes an ode to the point of contact between the visitors and their cultural inheritance; an attempt to physically and emotionally reinforce and capture that moment of exchange. The mechanism becomes a cartilage between the isolated museum piece and its visitors and the metal disk a time capsule of that interaction. It is a reintroduction of a layer of interaction so the objects can continue building a patina, making the visitor a physical part of the space as well as the artefacts of current history.

Author’s own photograph, Material Memories II: Animated display case for light sensitive artifacts, 2018 Mixed Media

Grace Pappas is an Information Experience Design MA student at the RCA.

‘Material Memories’ is currently exhibited as part of the RCA graduate Show from 23rd – 1st July 2018. For more information see the RCA School of Communication,


Anna Gray, Hand-blown Glass

Viraj Joshi, 3D Modeling

Matteo Bandi, Rendering

Daisy Buckle, Text Editing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *