By Bernadette Van Haute and Ernst Wagner

This LAB entry tries to examine the concept of collective memory using a few examples from the virtual exhibition Collective Memory on this website (Link). ‘Walking’ through the exhibition of 67 works, a critical visitor is left wondering what connects these works – so different are the ways in which the artists deal with the subject of collective memory. Thus, we try to map the field of different artistic approaches across all country contributions. Our mapping follows three guiding questions in two categories.



  1. The first category (upright, in red) addresses the broad variety of artistic strategies deployed by the artists to deal with the topic of collective memory. An artist can express it, spread it, circulate, look for, connect to other meanings, reflect, bring to life, explore, research, try out, experiment, criticise, transform, create, invent, master, overcome and so on. Each work in this exhibition takes another course. We reduced the complexity to two a bipolar scale that ranges from representing what was experienced to (co-)creating a narrative that shall be experienced by a collective.
  1. The second category (horizontal, in blue)  covers the topic of collective memory in two subcategories: What is ‘collective’ and what is ‘memory’?
    1. Collective: There is a broad range of understandings what ‘collective’ could mean, family, community, ethnic group, nation, a postulated cultural identity like 'African' or a religion. There are real or constructed, actual or imagined groups. We reduce this complexity to two aspects: existing groups that are socially formalised (like family or nation) and ‘conceptualised groups’ that are culturally constructed (like Global South).
    2. Memory can be related to events or to narratives (such as ‘national identity’). They can be fictional, they can be condensed experience (like slavery), transformed or faked interpretations of what happened.



Formal groups, large or small

Cow Mash, Lerotse III: In Lerotse III, Cow Mash from Pretoria, South Africa, refers exclusively to her own family which, in the artist's commentary, is described as matrilineal and traced back to her great-great-great-grandmother. In this commentary, however, Cow Mash not only tells her story of the family, but she mirrors and merges this narrative with the story of the production process over the years - via the metaphor of "chewing the cud". Since it is cows that ruminate, the product also takes on the visible form of a cow. And this process of mirroring and merging then also leads to her adopted stage name "Cow Mash". All distinctions thus dissolve in an interweaving of all layers, which are always charged with the same meaning.