About the Exhibition


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A Guide Through the Labyrinth of Memory

Memory, a major exhibition at the Exploratorium, ran from May 22, 1998 through January 10, 1999. More than 40 new exhibits grouped into six broad areas guided visitors through the labyrinth of memory from personal, social, cultural, psychological, and neurological perspectives. To provide a better understanding of the exhibition, descriptions of the thematic sections follow. Memory was made possible by the National Science Foundation and sponsored by Bank of America.

Remembering Who You Are
Every individual has unique memories--places, people, sounds, and smells that are personally significant. In this area of the exhibition, visitors were encouraged to share their earliest memories, or view a display of treasured memorabilia, each object accompanied by the story of why it's important to its owner. A multimedia presentation will introduced visitors to the art of Franco Magnani, a San Francisco resident who painted scene after scene of his childhood home in Tuscany, all from memory.

Sense Memory
This area explored the evocative power of each of our five senses. A six-minute video, Precious Images, took you on a whirlwind journey through the most memorable images from hundreds of your favorite classic movies. Our "Jukebox Memories" exhibit provided a blast from the past with the sounds of the top songs of the last 40 years. A tactile guessing game challenged you to identify some common household objects--things you probably see every day, but may not recognize by touch. Smell and taste are very powerful memory stimulants. Visitors got to see what their brains conjured up at the smell of baby powder, or what they could tell from the taste of a jellybean.

Remembering is easy for most people. Understanding how and why we remember is a topic that brain researchers have found to be very complex. This area of Memory examined the physiological basis of memory in the brain. One exhibit showed how nerve cells communicate with each other, and daily sheep's brain is dissections, revealed the intricate structures deep within. Visitors examined tissue from a human brain with Alzheimer's disease to find out what went wrong.

Remembering Without Thinking
Memory is not always a conscious process. In this area, visitors got to explore the ways that our brain carries memories that we may not even be aware of. Visitors played "Hoop Nightmares," a wacky basketball game which temporarily alters your body's memory of how to throw a ball, and found out how previous experience can affect how we see an image.

Remembering and Forgetting
You can learn a lot about how your memory works by seeing its shortcomings, then learning some tricks to overcome them. This area of the show was full of exhibits that allowed you test your memory, and discover some simple techniques to improve it. You handle hundreds of pennies every week, but can you pick out the real penny from an array of almost lookalikes? If you saw a face once, could you pick it out of a lineup? Visitors discovered the differences between long-term and working memory, and between recall and recognition.

Shared Memories
Some events and times are so powerful that they become shared memories--almost everyone over the age of 40 remembers where they were the day that John Kennedy was shot. This area examined the memories that span a multitude of consciousnesses. Visitors flashed back to the most memorable moments of this century, viewed a photo show of powerful and innovative memorials, or participated in creating a time capsule to pass on shared memories to future generations.

Memory is intensely personal, intensely powerful. For each of us as individuals, our memories establish where we've been, who we are. They are the threads that connect our childhood selves with the adults we have become. When we're young and don't have as much to remember, we take our memories for granted. As our memories grow, and as we age, they are something we fear losing. Memory was a new kind of exhibition, an experiment that used science and art from a variety of social and cultural perspectives to help us understand ourselves.


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