Fragments of cities come together to chart the evolution of human thought in Es Devlin’s installation, Memory Palace at London’s Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery – named after the mnemonic technique of cataloguing memories within familiar locations.
The 18-metre-wide sculpture, built inside Sir John Soane’s recently renovated country home in Ealing, is carved from bamboo and set within a mirrored box-room. The reflective planes multiply its dimensions, echoing the expanse of time and space.
Memory Palace offers Devlin’s personal curation of pivotal moments that have brought humankind to its present, collected in one sweeping cartographic gesture. Among the buildings and topographical features are the caves of southern Africa where early homo sapiens scratched images into walls; the room where Mary Wollenstonecraft wrote her feminist manifesto, A Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792; the Montgomery street where Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in 1955; and the steps of the Rikdaghuset in Stockholm from where Greta Thunberg launched her School Strike for Climate Change last year.
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‘Arguably the most profound and urgent shift in thinking is located at the far edge of the chronological atlas, in the present,’ says Devlin. ‘It’s the shift we are not beginning to undertake as we re-evaluate all of our practices in light of the climate crisis.’
Devlin has also curated a library of reading materials, which informed the installation in Soane’s former study, where he’d sit reading and sketching his designs.