To remember is not to recall events in isolation, but to become capable of forming meaningful narrative sequences, localizing and recalling the personal memories by attaching the events to collective situations. By this I mean to relate facts to people, particular kinship, religion, class or group affiliations. Thus, despite the fact that what we remember belongs to our private world, the external world can sustain and bear witness to it. It is there, in this external world, that graphics can condition the presence of any memory.
The relation between graphic design and memory can be exemplify by the way illiterate people learned and remembered their religion in medieval times. The working method of such a process is described by Yates in his book “the Art of Memory”. For him, this old art of memory seeks to memorize through a technique of impressing places and images on memory, pinning notions to object to remember them (Yates, 1966). In this way, seeing places, and seeing images stored in these places opens an inner vision which immediately brings to mind the thoughts and words of a discourse.
The method, also called artificial memory, displays two kinds of images, one image for objects and the other for words. Memory for the word’s image would bring to mind the words the memory is seeking through their sound resemblance to the notion suggested by the image.
For instance, a Gothic Catholic cathedral would be seen as a place to stimulate the association of certain concepts. It acts as a mnemonic instrument of faith and also as a cultural tool to help with the formation of particular mental images of things that the institution wishes the believer to record. These mental images of things such as Faith, Hope, and Charity have been placed and reinforced in the memory of the believer, through the contribution of the sign system that a church in fact embodies.
Therefore, the fixation of a thought to a particular image, and the agency of this image/thought in the religious environment, confine and define the form of the metaphysical imagination of the individual. But to do so, the believer there must assiduously remember the invisible joys of paradise and the eternal torments of hell, to be part of the cultural institution. Such images are always present in a Catholic environment through a sign system composed of statues, stained glass windows, paintings and a symbolic use of the physical space, which narrate and dramatize narratives. Such stories can be completed, quoted or narrated by another believer without dependency on the learning skills of the audience. The same could be said about any graphic design.
© Sebastián Guerrini, 2009