Questions about human memory

Collaged and folded edition of Felix Salten's Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Bernice Eisenstein © ROM 2014Genizot were traditionally temporary spaces for storing papers of religious content – this preservation is a prism for understanding the many ways in which memory works.

The complicated concept of human memory is explored in the Holocaust Education Centre’s Artist-in-Residence, Bernice Eisenstein’s new exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum. is a contemplative body of work, encouraging the audience to question their own internal repositories of memory — both physical and intangible.

What objects hold your memories?

Genizot at the Royal Ontario Museum © ROM 2014On display until, genizot features deeply personal objects of the artist that invoke overpowering memories, from her father’s tie clip to German documents of her mother. Exhibited in combination with Eisenstein’s paintings, the personal belongings act as touchstones to understanding the intimate foundations of the artist’s work.

The word geniza is derived from the Hebrew root g-n-z (“to hide” or “to put away”). Historically genizot were storage places used to house worn-out Hebrew language books and other religious papers, as it was forbidden to discard writings containing the name of G-d.

The genizot represents a type of collective memory accumulated within a space.Night Sky Portrait of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry by Bernice Eisenstein © John Silverstein Artist Bernice Eisenstein explores the ways in which we attach memories to physical objects, and how this impacts our experiences and prisms for understanding the world.

Toronto artist Bernice Eisenstein is the author of the internationally acclaimed graphic memoir I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors, the winner of the Jewish Book Award for Memoir (2007). The publication was adapted into a National Film Board animated short film which was voted among Canada’s Top Ten Short films of 2010 by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Her latest work, Correspondences (2013), was created with celebrated novelist and poet Anne Michaels.

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Q&A

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It's often said that a person is the sum of their memories. Your experience is what makes you who you are.
Memory, then, shapes the very core of human experience. Despite this, memory is generally poorly understood, which is why many people say they have 'bad memories'. That's partly because the analogies we have to hand—like that of computer memory—are not helpful. Human memory is vastly more complicated and quirky than the memory residing in our laptops, tablets or phones.

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It's often said that a person is the sum of their memories. Your experience is what makes you who you are.
Memory, then, shapes the very core of human experience. Despite this, memory is generally poorly understood, which is why many people say they have 'bad memories'. That's partly because the analogies we have to hand—like that of computer memory—are not helpful. Human memory is vastly more complicated and quirky than the memory residing in our laptops, tablets or phones.

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