A Feast for the Mnemonist, 1994

A Feast for the Mnemonist is dedicated to “S.”, the mnemonist in A.R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. S. was a man with a more or less unlimited power of memory; he could remember virtually everything that had ever happened to him, from infancy onward. He was able to commit long lists of words to memory, even unfamiliar words, or words in foreign languages, and recite them back in order, or backwards, even after years had elapsed. His difficulty was not in remembering things, but in forgetting them when they were no longer needed.

His memory was primarily visual. After he became a professional mnemonist and began to give memorization performances before audiences, he refined his natural abilities with techniques reminiscent of the Greek memory palaces. He would visualize each word and mentally place each along a familiar street in his hometown. When he needed to recall the set of words he would simply “go for a walk” down this imagined street, and call off the word-pictures as he “walked” past them.

S. also had a marked degree of synesthesia. Synesthesia is a crossing-over of the senses; tasting sounds, hearing colors, smelling textures, and so forth. This was helpful in his mnemonism because the words he had to remember had many qualities for him in addition to their meanings: each word, for S., had a color, shape, taste, texture, sound, and smell.

A Feast for the Mnemonist was intended to be a body of work that would have especially appealed to the Mnemonist’s peculiar talents. All the pieces in this show related directly or tangentially to some aspect of memory and/or synesthesia. Some of the pieces evoke the passage of time: some look forward, some back. Some are about forgetting, some about being unable to forget. Some are hopeful, others pessimistic. Taken together, they are meant to be thought provoking and...memorable.