First Memories was one component of the collaborative installation Lonnie Graham: A Conversation at the Table presented at the Fabric Workshop Museum (Philadelphia) in 2006. The project enlisted three groups of artists with the task of representing components of the human experience "Mind, Body, and Spirit". Led by Clarissa Sligh, each artist in our group contributed to the concept of "Mind" with a piece surrounding a "Meditation Room" within the exhibition
My desire to collect early childhood memories as an exploration of "mind" stemmed from a conversation topic that continues to fascinate me today. In asking someone their first memory, you discover an experience of significance, even if only for the fact that it was retained for so long. Sometimes the memory is associated with an emotion such as pain, fear, love, excitement, or shame; almost always it describes a moment of realization or learning.
Also, the process of finding the memory reveals complexities in the nature of the mind. Some people answer quickly, believing they have already determined their earliest memory and its importance in their lives. Others struggle to distinguish "reality" from photographs or stories they were told about their childhood. In most cases, time has inserted some element of fiction into what originally happened.
As part of the installation, the First Memories project asked visitors to begin the process of remembering, and to contribute to a collection of significant early childhood experiences. At the doorway to the "Meditation Room", a small station was equipped with blank cards, pencils and a short statement asking for participation.
What's the earliest thing you can remember? Stretch your mind backward to an initial experience, then add your own first memory to the collection.
I remember climbing up a dresser to look at myself in the mirror and thank God that I was born a human, back then I thought that was a good thing. your friend Heather
I think the first was when my brother and I were watching TV and I would cover my eyes because I thought that if I couldn't see then neither could he.
Once I remember a salesman or phone man coming to the house. I was little and my mother held me in her arms while they chatted. She wore those skinny-waisted dresses in the early sixties, pointy bra, and cat eyeglasses. I liked to push her breast in and out with my hand, it just made a neat feeling with the stiff bra. But she kept brushing my hand away (in front of this man) and I remember not understanding why she didn't want me to do this.
Being in a hospital room and seeing my Omie at the side of my crib. She left me though, all alone, and all I remember is hearing "The Lollipop Song" on a record player in the hallway of the pediatrics ward. Whenever I hear this tune, I have a bitter taste of this memory.
I remember eating a bowl of cheerios and feeling (I think for the first time) an intense shiver/chill expand downwards from the back of my skull down my neck into my back. At first I remember being maybe a bit scared, but then I relaxed and (maybe) closed my eyes and stopped chewing because it was such a novel and strange and pleasurable feeling. I can remember the sunlight on the table and the tablecloth and bowl of cheerios before me super-vivid and clear.
Playing with my mother's girlfriend's little boy, he was a year or two older than myself, I was allowed to just wear my panties around the house, imagine that! topless, but I was three. He told me to go in the closet and lay on my stomach, where he pulled down my underpants and stuck these plastic stick toys in the crack of my butt. I was pretending I was a fish, although this doesn't make any sense. Then we heard our mothers coming up the stairs and he pulled them out quickly and we acted all innocent, but I really didn't see what the secret was. I still never told anybody.