In many literary contexts, Muse often refers to art, yet its implication is more than art. In ancient Greek mythology, Muses are nine goddesses of different fields of human knowledge including the arts, science, history and rhetoric. Their mother, Mnemosyne, is the Titaness of memory and remembrance. As one of the first twelve titans, she is also the goddess of time and the guardian of trouvères in many tales and myths. Mnemosyne has long been the personification of memory throughout the western history. The word “memory” is also derived from it. Art and memory are always strongly connected.
Such connection could be found in the research of cultural history. German art historian and cultural theorist Aby Warburg, in the last period of his life dedicated himself to establish a picture atlas named Mnemosyne, aiming to discuss human’s inmost thinking structure by searching for memory of human’s culture through the documentation and classification of images. Warburg expounded that memory could store image. The permutation and combination of images memorization assists memorizing. In another word, images reconstruct memory. Such expression is bound up with human’s spiritual world. Put in sequence of the evolution of body language according to Warburg’s “"Method, Madness, and Montage”, all the “images” (including sculpture, painting and prints) are records of history, carrying the spiritual world of mankind, or namely memory. Warburg uses images to construct human memory, which is also reflected in the bibliography of his private library (Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg) for easy reference.
Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas influenced English historian Frances Yates who is also a member of the Warburg Institute. In her magnum opus “Ars Memoriae”, she describes mnemonics from ancient times, the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. The art of memory refers to various mnemonic principles and techniques used to organize memory impressions, improve recall, and assist in the combination and “invention” of ideas since Ancient Greece. Art could also be regarded as a form of memory aids. In the book Yates gave an early story of Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos to illustrate the method of loci, a method of memory enhancement which uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory to recall information. Regarded as its inventor, Simonides once managed to identity two unrecognizable corpses in a collapsed hall by recalling the location of their seats.
With the arrival of missionaries in China, Western mnemonics became connected with China, especially getting involved in the process of cartography and painting. Italian Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci managed to win the trust of Chinese emperor for his proficiency in the method of loci, since he underwent rigorous training of mnemonics. By teaching them mnemonics he forged profound friendships among the Chinese ruling class, while he also introduced traditional Christian images into China. Since then, mnemonics has kept a place in the Chinese ideological system. In the field of arts, Artists’ creation couldn’t be separated from the control of space and the depiction of objects, which easily connects contemporary artistic creations with the principles of mnemonics. Some artists’ practice of creation could be considered as a mode of building memory atlas, especially for contemporary figurative artists. They intend to record the passing time by means of images, yet it’s more than recording and fighting against forgetting. They endow potential spatial logic with images, and imply certain geographic location by presenting diversified graphics. From this perspective, Fu Bin’s works seem to be an interpretation of such mind palace techniques. In the construction and production of his painting could be found a hidden context of mnemonics.
Fu’s works couldn’t be defined as any one specific type of painting but “painting” itself by conventional classification. Neither could the production process and the display be categorized as “painting” in the traditional sense. Carving on woodblocks, he displayed the original woodblock instead of the traditional multiple impressions, so the works could also be considered as sculptures or painting installations. Distinct black printing ink and plentiful textures left by the gouge make the surface rich of layers, which may easily leads to a structure of diversified implications against the origin texture of woodblocks with a meshing vision. These implications are critical elements of building a memory atlas.
Empty corners of a city are a common scene in Fu Bin’s works, and it seems to be in focus. Taking out the figure of humans, the scenes give viewers a sense of alienation, but such alienation is different from strangeness. The spatial logic of the scene itself stands out while these familiar scenes are abstracted. Due to the special relation between the artist and the scenes, the scenes turn into spaces of memories. The framework of the image could be seen in Fu’s simplified paintings. The symbolization and abstraction of scenes is similar to the pictures in the memory. They consist of a series of spatial frames while several artificial details appear repeatedly. Lining up these scenes in our mind would form an overall landscape in terms of mnemonics. Elements to aid memory are in their places in a virtual space constructed by scenography while certain locations are marked. The intention of Fu’s series Parallel Lines is quite clear, which is to highlight the logic of “lines”, constructing an artificial and rational world by straight lines. The rational logic order is a critical element of building the “memory palace”. If the Parallel Lines mainly assists people to build a basic framework of memory, the series of Once Upon implies specific memory in certain places. On one hand these scenes and details are closely connected to the artist’s personal experience, on the other they could be regarded as his efforts to bear in mind these specific spaces that carry specific memories. This pattern is similar to the method of loci which is very popular in the Middle Ages. It is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualizations with the use of spatial memory. The items to be remembered in this mnemonic system are mentally associated with specific physical locations in the imaginary layout of a building, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember an item, the subject retrieves it by remembering the position. It’s derived from Roman rhetorician Quintilian’s depiction about mnemonics. He believes that to form a series of scenes in the memory, the memory palace must be big enough, with frontcourt, backyard, parlor and bedroom. As decorations of the palace, sculptures and paintings in the rooms should be well-arranged and full of variations. Hence, when the memory is activated, items could be retrieved in good order. All the items exist as elements of memory aid. These elements must be settled in a well-organized scene. From this perspective, the sense of order in Fu’s paintings makes these scenes an ideal space for putting memory elements.
In fact, systems like the display in museums, the bibliography in libraries and catalogues all imply many elements of ancient mnemonics. The knowledge and cultural map must be combined with the actual space. With a catalogue and classification, a certain item could be found with a specific spatial location. Today it seems that the old art of memory is out of date, since to some extent cloud computing and sharing science could replace the memory palace in an era of fragmented information and Internet. However, in artistic creation we could better master the precise information of images and special texture of different spaces with the mnemonics and keep building an imaginary palace in images. The classic mnemonics would be always useful in the world of art.
Traces of the medieval mnemonics could still be found in some academic exhibitions in the museum. The way and the order in which they are displayed, and their connections with references are actually patterns of memory. In the study of the late French art historian Daniel Arasse, the mnemonics often reappears in an “anachronistic” way. In his book ANACHRONIQUES, he mentions the display of James Coleman’s project of a temporary Leonardo da Vinci exhibition in 2003 as a way of “images-memories”; he views the general mode of the presentation of German artist Anselm Kiefer’s works in different periods as a “labyrinth” of memory. For Arasse the mnemonics is more than an ancient technique of memorization, it is a way to reconstruct the world, connecting the past and the present.
The concept that is closely related to the influence of mnemonics today is nostalgia. Originally to describe a medical condition of homesickness, this word is learned formation of a Greek compound, coined by a 17th-century medical student to describe the anxieties displayed by Swiss mercenaries fighting away from home. Now it refers to a consequence of the transformation of modern concept of time and space. Such consequence has also influenced the contemporary art. Fu Bin’s works could be seen as fragments of time and space with a wistful yearning for the past. They need to be organized by certain narration which could be presented by some means of mnemonics. Many images in Fu’s paintings are scenes closely related to his personal experience. When one recalling the past, it’s inevitable to feel nostalgic. Nostalgia is a collective syndrome, especially in the post-socialist culture and geographical space as well as in the collective mood of those displaced people. Nostalgia is not only about past, but also about foresight and future, since nostalgia could directly affect our anticipation of the future. By nostalgia and memory, the painting accomplishes its fundamental mission – recording the images. Fu’s paintings have constructed an overall landscape of memory, freezing the past in the paintings, while offering the sights of looking into the future and spaces for free imagination. The ancient mnemonics hence get visually presented among these paintings and imaginations.