Digital installations that claim to mimic the ineffable processes of our minds usually do nothing of the sort, but Matthias Dörfelt‘s “Selective Memory Theatre” is subtler than most. To him, the main difference between our memories and digital files is that our minds can actually forget things stored within them, whereas computers — outside of server crashes and file corruptions — never do. “Selective Memory Theatre” pulls images off of the image-sharing site Flickr, then uses two layers of data-processing to distort, remix, and display them in a way that metaphorically mimicks the way our own brains store and reconstruct memories.
Neuroscience tells us that memories, unlike digital data files, are re-built every time we recall them. Dörfelt’s art makes a lot of other conjectures about how the brain turns raw perceptions into coherent memories, and if you feel like fact-checking them, head over to Mindhacks.com and go nuts. But here’s how “Selective Memory Theatre” works. First, a programmed “perception layer” sucks in new images from Flickr and mixes them into a kind of raw noise in the “memory layer.”
Then, the two layers communicate: as new images come into the perception layer, it uses the photo’s Flickr tags to associate it with other, similar images in the memory layer. Those images then get called back up and displayed at 30 frames per second, as do the connections themselves (visualized as glowing nodes in a network).
According to Dörfelt, “this demonstrates the interrelation between perception and memory, which oblivion results from.” Er, ok. In case you couldn’t already tell, the best way to appreciate “Selective Memory Theatre” is just to bask in its mesmerizing visuals, not their quasi-scientific interpretations. And there’s plenty to appreciate.