This work is a collaboration with Monique Moumblow
The experiences we render into story are integral parts of who we become. Yet some stories remembered are more significant than others. These stories are often comprised of “vital memories” (Brown and Leavy) that recall a moment of drama or trauma in a life. Vital stories are not always coherent, or consistent. We may tell them slightly differently, only recall fragments, or embellish. Although we may share them with others, we may also repress or forget details over time.
47 Storeys is one such vital story. In 1996 Paul Litherland went to a bar at the top of a very tall building, drank a beer, waited until the other patrons and staff left, then parachuted into the night-time sky, landing safely on the street to the astonishment of two late-night revelers. Three months after the jump, afraid of forgetting significant details, Paul commemorated his adventure to video. 20 years later Paul revisits the event with Monique Moumblow. They re-edit the original 43 minutes tape down to 11 minutes. Paul then attempts to re-enact his original mediated performance. On one screen we see Paul who sits, listens to himself through headphones, and speaks over his original narrative. On a second screen Paul attempts to duplicate his original performance word-for-word and gesture-by-gesture. On the third screen is the edited original. These three different renditions of the tale, from 3 different moments in time, are almost the same, but they never perfectly align. No matter how much we practice, the story is never exactly as it was.
47 Storeys is a brilliant and slightly comedic rendition of the “performative act of memory -making” (Kuhn). Narrating the past re-activates and catapults memories into the present, often with the help of souvenirs such as the video-tape and parachute equipment that Paul still keeps in his care. Paul’s fumbling narrative recollections lay bare this performative process of memory-making as past and present collide in a single temporal moment superbly visualized in this 3 channel video.
In the re-telling of this vital story grey-haired, bespectacled Paul moves in imperfect harmony with his former self. This temporal collision invites reflection upon both memory re-enactments, story-telling and the vagaries of ageing: “the permanently fluctuating relationships between younger and older selves” (Segal). We see, hear and feel these fluctuations, experiencing a vertigo of narrative mediation: Paul’s post-hoc memory is rendered into story and captured on video tape, which is then digitally remastered in the present for the future. It is the absence of documentation of the original event –no pictures, photos or go-pro video– that makes the re-telling of the story so necessary and so compelling. Thankfully, Paul lived to tell the tale, again and again.
Monique Moumblow is a video artist and a fan of spectacular storeys.
Paul Litherland is a gentleman adventurer, a closet scuba diver in a room full of wingsuiters.
Author: Kim Sawchuk (professor et director of Ageing-Communication-Technologies, Université Concordia)