Journey, Image and Space-the Memory Palace Workshops

Memory Palace workshop at Gobi Heaven festival August 2019

I know a few things about ‘ear wind’, that little tornado of loss. Having struggled with Chinese language acquisition over the years, far too often I have had vocabulary and phrase learning gush in as ‘ear wind ‘ ….that is in one ear and (alas!) out the other. I recently started using memory palaces to help retain some smatterings of vocabulary. Strangely enough it has opened up unexpected worlds and other roads of curiosity. For example: I am finding time to read more books and actually taking notes of things I want to remember from those books. A couple of months ago I found myself sitting in a Beijing writers group listening to writers respond to other peoples writings (fascinating!). Even some of my attempts to remember dreams were partially successful ….. a chink in the door to other worlds! An improved memory undoubtedly expands the quality of living. The trick however is to make the discipline a daily practise.

Image , Space and Memory – the Memory Palace workshop at Gobi Heaven
Niamh Cunningham

I decided to share some introductory ideas at a workshop at the Gobi Heaven Festival. The above photo is of a workshop on remembering numbers.

Spatial Memory:

We retain detailed spatial information on places we use frequently, such as homes, offices , shops, cafes, classrooms, subway stations, the spaces and therefore floor plans can remain in our memory for a long time. For example I have made a palace to remember a poem using classrooms and the gym of my old school St Leos, Carlow, Ireland dating back almost 40 years ago. I recently went back to visit it. Some of those buildings no longer exist but they exist strong and firm in that memory palace.

Building your stations:

  1. Never trap yourself into a dead end
  2. Keep in a linear fashion, avoid crossing your own path generally keeping your journey to the sides of a space.

When planning your path way start from the innermost point, often a bathroom works well and work your way outwards so you end at the front door. If you need to extend your memory palace to store more information on that subject/ lesson/ poem, book , collection of passwords, collection of peoples names, at a later point you can go out the street and extend to a neighbour’s house or a park or restaurant.

My portrait studio: choosing a linear path with numbered stations which lead out to an exit

Image Making so you can code for your information:

Your movie clip situation can be shocking and action packed using either items or peoples names which can carry the sounds of the information. The action that is happening in this situation can carry the meaning of the information. You have to work for your own ways of encoding and this will take time to see what works for you.

To encode your information into a visual happening, it might be a dramatic type of cartoon action, unexpected, the more ridiculous the better! Sometimes action packed cartoon violence works.

What is Debbie Harry doing in my memory palace ? —
station 16 : 打败 (da bai)

What is Debbie Harry doing in my Memory Palace?

See the image for 打败 (da bai) : I borrow 80’s singer Debby Harry from the band ‘Blondie’, she is sitting on my friend Fiona’s couch . I used my friend’s childhood home to build a memory palace to remember a Chinese lesson. Here is Debbie Harry smashing… (unsuccessfully) a lobster ! Debbie (to me) sounds like Da Bai which means ‘unsuccessful’ or ‘defeated ‘. The part of the character 贝 (bei ) means shellfish so I use the lobster with an impossibly hard shell in the image. The part of the character 打 (da) can mean to hit /strike/fight . Debbie Harry is using a huge hammer unsuccessfully to try to crack the lobster shell. The person in this scenario carries the sound of the information Debbie – (da bai) (打败) As I happen to already know the character for shellfish 贝 (bei) which is part of the complete character for 打败 (da bai) I will compound this action movie clip using a hard to crack lobster shell. The action of unsuccessfully trying to crack the hard shell of the lobster carries the meaning of the word or phrase.

A sample of a memory palace for encoding poetry

10. Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
11. Far off by furthest Rosses We foot it all the night,
12. Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
13. Till the moon has taken flight

some lines from the poem Stolen Child WB Yeats , translator Li Liwei

Needless to say , using imagery for English language is so much easier for me.

planning the pathway for stations in a room..

A big thank you to participating artist and friend Li Xinmo and also to memory palace enthusiast Joyce (LiuQing) for kindly stepping in to translate for these workshops.

I intend to explore further the role of image , journey and space both in my making of art and future workshops. 2019 is the year for my portrait series and development of the Sucrose Series. 2020 will provide new possibilities to investigate journey, image, space and memory.

A huge thank you to Anthony Metivier of the Magnetic Memory Method for opening this new pathway, lets see where it leads!