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Grayson Cooke: AgX

Chris Ellis,

HNO3, 2014
Film still
Image courtesy of the artist and Brenda May Gallery

AgX was an art-science project about material memory and forgetting, traits that are central to who we are as human beings. By focussing on the way photography encapsulates memories, and makes them tangible and physical, this project was designed to appeal to anyone who has taken or stored a photograph as a way of remembering. This was especially important for the older generations of people who have experienced photography on film, and who may have had collections of slides and negatives stored away in cupboards and attics.

As we shift from analog to digital, the question of what we do with these celluloid memories becomes more and more critical; this project asks people to reflect on their own photographic collections, and the possibility of their disappearance.

Artist Grayson Cooke works across disciplines as both a scholar and media artist to explore the way we archive our personal lives, our society and culture, and our environment. Grayson examined how we store these material memories, and how we relate to them both individually and as nations. In his work, Grayson hoped to change the way we view our past, and transform our experience of the present day.

This exhibition featured a timelapse of macro-photography recoring photographic negatives being chemically destroyed. The symbol AgX is chemical shorthand for the silver halides, the light-sensitive compounds that constitute the celluloid image. The silver halides are the ground of a certain historical regime of the image; throughout the 20th century, it was on celluloid that our visual memories were stored. The silver halides are thus the basis for personal and collective memory – they are the blood of the modern archive, its pulsing life. As digital imaging comes to play an increasingly large role in personal and collective life, however, the form of these archives, and thus of memory AND forgetting, have changed

AgX was thus a material enquiry into memory and forgetting, situated at the confluence of analog and digital media. The photographs in this project came from the artist's archive of photographic materials - they record the images of friends, small details, and naïve obsessions of a former time. They are not artistically significant, and were returned as nostalgia, but they are also just things in the world, subject to the same physical and chemical laws as any other body, prone to dissolution and disappearance just as much as to remembrance. AgX showed images transcending their image-ness as they reduced to their material form.