Interview: artist AR Hopwood discusses The False Memory Archive

Hopwood explores ‘the pliable nature of autobiographical memory’ with the Edinburgh International Science Festival

’I remember running away from the hospital as a newborn baby,’ reads one of the less likely inaccurate memories that AR Hopwood has gathered for his False Memory Archive through online portals. This is the raw material for a range of works – some sculptural, some photographic, some textual, some filmed – created in conjunction with leading researchers to illustrate ‘the pliable nature of autobiographical memory’.

‘What’s clear from over 30 years of psychological research is that, under certain conditions, a substantial minority of the population can be coerced by authority figures into having memories of events that didn’t actually happen,’ says Hopwood, whose work under his own name and that of the With Collective invariably uses memory as its starting point. ‘The legal and therapeutic implications of this are huge, and the recollections submitted to the archive are in turn funny, dark and surreal. They somehow democratise the idea of a false memory and make it clear that to some degree we all have memories that are unreliable and prone to distortion.’

Produced in association with the Wellcome Trust, Arts Council England and Creative Scotland, these deeply personal non-recollections are placed in an acutely researched scientific context and can be both frivolous and massively crucial to the bearer’s psyche and responses.

‘Most importantly, I hope the work raises some key questions,’ says Hopwood. ‘For example, what link does our susceptibility to false recall have with our ability to imagine the future? If a memory of something is shown to be “false”, what happens to the recollection? What role can artists have in representing scientific information to the public? What’s more important: what actually happened, or what we remember happening?’

Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh, until Sat 19 Apr.

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