The Binomial Distribution of My 17th Year

Whenever I hear mention of ‘1987’ my mind automatically conjures to two images: the face of Ronald Reagan and an Old Milwaukee beer can. These two monoliths crop up because, in 1987, when I was 17, it felt like the spectre of Reagan was everywhere and, as wont a 17- year-old will do, there was a significant intake of Old Milwaukee beer. I like to think of these, my two 1987 totems, as memoria automatica: those entities that come to mind without much bidding and, if I’m being lazy, will stop further inquiry beyond their expanses.

Though somewhat accurate, memoria automatica is troublesome. Even if all I thought about during 1987 was Reagan and Old Milwaukee beer, mathematically speaking, the distribution of those two variables over 365 days can vary wildly: Which days did I think about Reagan and which days Old Milwaukee? 115 days to Reagan and 250 days to Old Milwaukee? 364 days to Reagan and 1 day to Old Milwaukee? etc. If I’m not being lazy, I can work out the probability of every variation thanks to the statistics of probability theory that govern binomial distributions. The other problem with memoria automatica is they obscure all the other events taking place beyond my presidential anxiety and choice of weekend entertainment. 1987 was a heady year full of things happening, some personal, some historical. If I’m not being lazy, I can conjure these events up as well.

The Binomial Distribution of My 17th Year is a work that explores the visual contradictions and dismorphia of memoria automatica. It is a series of 365 tiered lamination windows. The first tier of each window is a laminated transparency containing a binomial, a mathematical expression with two terms, represented by my two 1987 memoria automatica: the face of Ronald Reagan and an Old Milwaukee beer can. The second tier of each window consists of laminated transparent images depicting various events of 1987, some personal to me, some historical and global in impact. The third window is an opaque white plane with a one sentence text descriptions of that which my memoria automatica eclipse.

The binomial is distributed in correct mathematical sequence over the 365 individual laminations, illustrating how memoria automatica is both monolithic and false. The ghost images just below the binomial distribution conjure up that which is forgotten, screened, or elided by memoria automatica. The use of lamination, the one-time epitome of analog security now rendered moot by digital forms of security, highlights the conflict over memory and identity in the digital age. This work ultimately asks, who are we according to our memories and what strictures of limitation are inherent in that which is automatic?

The configuration of The Binomial Distribution of My 17th Year, like memory itself, is flexible depending on the space – it can be hung as a monolith grid, a linear progression, a split interval, etc.; each individual lamination measures 3.25” x 4.75” x 2”.