There’s something so enrapturing about conveying it visually – how can facets of the present represent a time that has ceased to exist? Memory is not nostalgia, not a longing; memory is simply a storage shelf (packed) with collectables. It is an intimate space, and to find aesthetic representations of it in the public realm is to unbox, examine, create a collage of new-age images and store them as Memory Version 2.0. However, this time it is in a public storage space because those very objects now aid in your remembering, even almost acting as a trigger of some sort.
In Mai.K’s As I Lay Dying, the sights and sounds of nature capture the vitality of life. Yet her visual essay is a bleak take on death and fate and it uses the juxtaposition of growth to give proximity to decay. Mai.K speaks of her grandmother’s death and uses metaphors in nature to make us wonder whether occupying space on the planet translates into existing on the planet. If people do not hear you, cannot see you, cannot feel you, do you really exist?
Memorial of An Inquiry awakens the same questions in my mind, but takes them a notch further into the darkness. If you live and then disappear in solitude without leaving a trace, did you even ever exist? Jan Pineda’s experimental short is about a period in Philippine history that lies in the grey area between reality and falsehood. It speaks of a collective solitude of the Tasaday tribe, who’s existence in the 1960’s can be either argued as real or as a hoax by then-dictator Marcos.
In depicting this limbo of obscurity, the film also makes us delve deeper into existentialism: does playing a part make it a part of your real identity? Or if existing as another alienates you from your own unique identity, why do you still continue to exist and live as you would in your own skin? Perhaps existence is not defined by your identity.
Mai.K’s As I Lay Dying captures the circle of life for me, while Memorial of An Inquiry illustrates a memory that is an outlier to that circle simply because it might not even be real. While the former elucidates the essence of life, death and what comes after, the other deals with existence, non-existence and disappearance. As I Lay Dying is embedded in reality, with its imagery presented as relatable, realized with shots of everyday scenes. Yet, it gives a very lonely presentation of death – so much such that one wonders if life was but a dream. If reality and the fabrication of reality have the same deadly fate of ceasing to exist, are they any different from each other?
If remembering reality and a mere fabrication of reality create equally powerful images in our heads, then does remembering help to capture a memory? Or rather, does a memory have to be real in order to be accessible? Can a dream become a memory?
Both films for me capture time very well – a time lost, a time that never was, or perhaps a fate to come in the times ahead. Pondering over life, maybe they call upon us to look at life as a time span where we merely occupy space.
Maybe there isn’t a difference between existing and not existing as long as you occupy space and are occupied by something within that space, even if it lies in the realm of the mundane and monotonous. Maybe loneliness is freeing, because only then can you truly ‘occupy space’ on earth without subscribing to any societal expectations.