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Memory and the Imagination

We are so bound by our experience of time. We tend to think of time as flowing from one point to another, or as an arrow that moves in one direction, never standing still but continuously moving.

As such, we are always in the present. A present that keeps moving, but because we exist in time, we move with it, and therefore, always remain static within – relative to – a moment. Think of a passenger in a moving car: even though the car is moving, the passenger isn’t, relative to the car.

If we are always in the present, how do we make sense of the passing of time? How do we understand consciousness when the moment we experience something, it immediately recedes into the past?

The answer is: through memory.

Life is like a series of moments, linked together by memory. And memory is not static either. It continuously transmutes as each memory itself becomes a moment and recedes into the past. However it never fades away; instead, it is perpetually renewed as it is interpreted and reinterpreted.

In this way, memory transcends time.

Memory enables us to re-experience the moment, not always – or perhaps rarely – in the way we originally did, but that experience is enriched by layers and layers of reinterpretation. In a way, it grows and evolves organically.

So, although we seem to be moving further and further away from the original moment (that Platonic Ideal), we are not necessarily left with pale copies of that moment, as imagination enables us to reinterpret and re-experience that memory as if for the first time.

The imagination is the creative spirit that gives meaning to our experience of life. We draw from it not just from within our selves, but also from the tradition of collective human creativity that is kept alive by being shared as a common cultural heritage: the books we read, the art we see, the music we listen to – these are the ways thinkers and artists of the past inspire us and influence what we do, which in turn inspires and influences others in the future.

It is the imagination which sustains the vitality of our memories, keeping the brief moments of being – little epiphanies in themselves – and transfigures them into something meaningful, permanent and timeless.

Note on the painting illustrated:

Mana, 2016,
mixed media (Australian ochre, Italian terre verte, lapis lazuli, 23.5K gold leaf, golden mica, and acrylic) on canvas,
50 x 50 cm

Mana as the Creative Force of Imagination

Mana is a concept in Austronesian languages that relates to the supernatural or spiritual forces that permeate the universe. Exact meanings vary regionally across cultures.

In a way, it is a link that connects the physical and spiritual forces of nature with the human experience of place and how this affects our cultural landscape.

Mana, present in the lightning storm (gold), represents not just the power of nature and its ability to arouse awe; it also symbolically links the spiritual (lapis lazuli) with the natural (terre verte, ochre). It is how we experience the Divine on earth.


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