The codification of memory

Montréal, april 2012

How can we conceive the amalgam — in appearance impossible — between, on the one hand, bar codes, these inert effigies created to commercially identify objects, and on the other hand, textures characterized by what we could call “vivid black and white”? Joseph Chahfe has made it his mission to create this unique and non conventional combination, dissociating the world of profane and daily figures — like the numbers identifying the goods that surrounds us — and the universe of emotional recollection recreated through colour schemes filled with observed past experiences. The artist’s practise comes to fruition to the extent that this coexistence becomes in itself the generating matrix of the work presented in the rhythm of a sequential read.

A code consists of a system of signs, the combination of which creates countless designations for tangible and intangible objects. In this sens, the bar codes set the rules of an alphanumerical grammar intended to identify each and every component of the universe of merchandises. In considering the expansive wave of this codification, which can bring together a computer device, a vegetable, and even personal identify with the codification of passports, one has to recognize that the boundaries between objects and subjects are blurring. The tentacular aspect of codes on subjects and on their living space could result in pessimistic and catastrophic reflexions on the human nature and its future. Regardless, Joseph Chahfe’s paintings lend themselves to a reflexion exercise, more challenging than the simple demagogic declamation. In this iconographic initiative, memories are embodied by large surfaces inhabited by chromated relief, connoting the walls of any urban landscape, where the layers of disparate materials, like our memories, overlay themselves to shape our visual and emotional space. It is the fragments of these walls which indicate what is memorable and what is forgettable in our lives. In that sense, memory, like bare codes, shapes some kind of language with its own codification procedures. The works of Joseph Chahfe establish a fundamental parallelism between memory and bar codes: every mnemonic action entails a graphic action.

The dynamic of formation, conservation and mutation of our memories tells us that these are identifiable and significant in our existence through an emotional selection at the intimate and personal level. In this unconscious work, we build a communicational system of our lives, and also of our desires In other words, we serialize pieces of our memories, organized on the paths of emotion, but also suffering. Therefore, memories bear, in Joseph Chahfe’s modus operandi, an unprecedented likeness with each arrangement of numbers and vertical lines. Both represent the elementary particles of a distinctive system of meaning. But series and systems do not explain on their own the unique meaning and identity of objects and of our memories. Indeed, bare codes, as well as the events in our lives, only exist in so far they are interpreted. Without playing the discovery game of a potential cryptic message (or coded, in a limited sense) only accessible with an educated eye, Joseph Chahfe’s paintings reveal their own grammar, but without any abstruse motivation. The notion of interpretation refers to the possibility to locate our memories which have become — although we are not aware of it — manipulated artifacts. In this impulse of aestheticization of the memory, from the codification of these fragments, Joseph Chahfe, pushes us to observe, reflexively, in a play of mirror reflections, the traceability of our own identity.

Jorge Pantaleon
Doctor of Anthropology
professor at the department of Anthropology at the University of Montréal