The ancient art of the memory theatre has been used as a mnemonic technique by Greek rhetoricians to remember complex and long speeches. It is an association of abstract knowledge and physical space, an imagined palace, theatre or house we could walk around in mind, inspecting rooms and objects, to access a vast array or even the sum of all human knowledge. The construction unfolds its actual capacity not by its immaculate but by its irregular design – making knowledge memorable particularly through grotesque, dramatic or beautiful architecture.
‘Producing My Credentials’ is a series of performances and an exhibition that invites the audience to enter an audacious and curious version of Sophie Jung’s memory theatre. During her performances, Jung and her assistant Peter Burleigh dress in golden velvet jumpsuits to walk the audience through an idiosyncratic collection of objects spread throughout the space of Kunstraum. Intertwining materials and language into a peculiar narrative, her references reach from the mutualism of the hermit crab and the sea anemone, to the unpracticality of 1800s hoop skirts. Saturated with feral discourse, Jung spins her theatre both on stage and in our mind. Shifting and shuffling her associations during and with each performance, her theatre neither aims to unravel any absolute knowledge nor does it place the mind’s eye in any state of certainty.
Holding up a silver nail varnish by Chanel, Jung breaks the invisible wall between audience and performer right at the beginning of her performance. ‘Lisa, could you do Peter’s nails?’ Peter submissively follows her instructions, while Lisa patiently applies the paint. But Jung stays irresolute: ‘Maybe we can start already? … What was it called? It was called … I can’t remember.’ As the artist continues to mumble and to buzz, one might sense that this is not only an intention to collaborate with the attendants but the gambit of the artist’s precariousness and insecurity. She dares to leave the audience to simmer in vicarious embarrassment. Jung embraces this fragility, however, with all its slurry pits and falls, turning her performance and words into ‘a filthy pink and grey, bristly, muddy, squealing pig, unruly and stiff with mass’, just as Sally O’Reilly aspired in her contribution to the exhibition publication.
‘Can you also get me a beefeater?’
‘The silver surfer ... who knows about this?’
‘When I don’t know what I should say you can say: Yap Yap Yap Yap Yap.’
‘How shall I read it? Very theatrical?’
‘Do you know the game Mornington Crescent? … There are no rules. They made them think there are rules. But there weren’t …’
‘In the text before I was talking about the beefeater. Does anyone know why they are called beefeater?’
‘They got paid in beef.’ (Audience)
‘Is that true? I heard a different story …’
Jung’s memory theatre does not intend to build a flawless architecture. Instead it beautifully ridicules the idea to simply affirm certain knowledge. Through her enduring process of digressions her staged constellation slowly grows to a shimmering lustre of possibilities. Odd little jokes, cause laughter and applause. Sometimes they seem to release the feeling of unease and with its enactment in between the actual and rehearsed, it might remind one of Andy Kaufmann’s performances. Jung does not only show how fragile definitions and (hi)stories are woven around objects and predefined conceptions but creates her own composition of charming language around them. Vicarious embarrassment is not a feeling that detaches us from her. To the contrary, it invites us to get drawn deeper into her personal memory construction, where we soon get consumed by her beguiling architecture of disarming words, tales, themes and amusing deviations.