Aby Warburg exchanged a great banking fortune for a life studying human activity. He gave his inheritance as eldest child to his brother so long as the brother would buy him any book he wanted. Warburg together with Erwin Panowsky is considered the father of iconology. 1 Warburg’s final endeavour was an atlas of human culture. This comprised forty black panels to which he pinning nearly one thousand images arranging them according to themes. The work remained unfinished at the time of his death. There is little text and the viewer is left to make connections and associations between the items. Warburg named this series Mnemosyne after the muse of memory.2
Perhaps what Warburg’s Mnemosyne represents, is a looking back on human culture as a memory built of images, symbols and objects left behind as art and artefacts. From these traces, a speculative view of the evolution of culture and the visual arts can be constructed analogous to how an individual uses memory to compose a narrative of the past. The fragmented nature of this process is one that allows for constant reformation of that narrative and thereby leave great scope for the imagination. This is an important aspect of what I do, making objects and images as icons that connect ideas. I started the MA, by looking to bring together the disparate branches of my practice into one narrative. The story is latent, the ideas fragmentary, shaped by works that outline the spaces in between. These spaces are opened out to scrutiny, the imagination, new narratives. Mnemosyne could be another good title for a work, installation or collection.
- Iconology contrasts with the more tightly defined iconography. Whereas iconology is the study of the history of culture and visual arts through imagery and symbols, iconography is more specifically the study of specific symbols with respect to given art genres or forms. Many make no distinction between the two terms and use them synonymously. The grey area that exists between the two terms is a source of debate amongst academics but so long as one specifies the parameters of an argument probably bears little import on discussions about art.[↩]
- Mnemosyne is a Titanide and minor goddess of memory and sister to Calliope who Hesiod and Ovid considered chief amongst the muses.[↩]