21 February 2017

The Loss of Memory; A Ghostly Experience

21 February 2017 - Written by IC Visual Lab

Agustín Zuluaga Olarte's self-published book, Santisimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament), attempts to explain and understand the loss of memory due to Alzheimer's disease and Dementia.

© Agustín Zuluaga Olarte, from the book Santisimo Sacramento

I remember (that ghostly verb J. L. Borges uses in Funes, The Memorious) the day when I was driving my father to his allotment. After his retirement he was spending most of his time working the land; something he did for almost his entire life. We were listening to the radio. Antonio Machine was playing 'No me vayas a engañar' (Don’t try to fool me) and my father, a great fan of his songs, was singing and whistling along.

Once the song finished, there was a pleasant silence in the car - Machine’s song brought back some memories for both of us. After a few more miles my father asked me "Alberto (he referred to me as his work mate), where are we going to work today?" to which I answered "I am not Alberto, Dad, I am your son Alejandro." I looked at him, he gave me a strange look as if my words didn’t match his reality. Then, there was another silence, a different one. That was the first time my father didn’t recognise me.

Books can touch you in various ways, but there are certain books that go straight into your black box of feelings. Books that encapsulate similar experiences to the ones you have also gone through. Books where you can have some intimacy, a private space where you are allowed to revive emotions and feelings that somehow were already assimilated as past experiences. And every time, they are remembered differently.

© Agustín Zuluaga Olarte, from the book Santisimo Sacramento

These books remind us that we are still alive and the relationship with them goes beyond the physical object. This is what happened to me when I first saw Agustin Zuluaga’s Santisimo Sacramento (Blessed Sacrament). Luckily, I was able to buy this book from Sonia Berger (DALPINE) at Fiebre Photobook in Madrid. The book was published in a very short run of 30 copies.

Agustín Zuluaga is a Colombian architect with a background in landscape design, a photographer and a teacher. In this book, he tries to explain and understand the loss of memory due to Alzheimer's disease and Dementia in his parents and ancestors.

He uses photographs, negatives and his own recollections as well as techniques such as double exposure and solarisation to create a visual world that becomes physical and tactile in the form of a book. He confronts and challenges the constant transformation and ephemeral nature of memories with images that conform his own past, his own experiences, and his own reality. Zuluaga embraces the physical aspects of a book as a medium to convey his ideas. He printed and hand-made his book which comes in a slipcase. An image is printed on the cover but no title nor name. Inside, there is a three cover folder which contains the pages. The book is not bound at all - all the pages and spreads are lose, allowing the viewer to interact with them.

© Agustín Zuluaga Olarte, from the book Santisimo Sacramento

The idea behind this is clear: memories sail over our heads, changing their shape and form but they are never anchored. The only page which appears immobile is a picture of a cremation urn, referencing that matter is the only thing that stays. The paper used is Earth pact-Propal made from sugar cane, whitened chemical-free, emulating the look of recycled paper which again enhances the nature of memories. The paper seems fragile and a little damp as if it was preserved in a humid place for a long time. I don't know if this is intentional or it's the way the paper reacts to the ink, but it definitely works for me.

Santisimo Sacramento uses a dreamlike sequence with sections where we can identify characters and landscapes but which also blend with each other. There are also sections where pure abstractions lead the narrative. Now and then, we encounter ponds of silver grains where memories are conformed - Rodrigo Quian Quiroga says "the key to abstraction and hence the creation of memories, is, paradoxically, the ability to forget."

The book was only published in a very small edition, which is already sold-out. I am hoping the author is thinking of publishing another edition, because this book would definitely appeal to a larger audience.


Santisimo Sacramento by Agustín Zuluaga

Photography, design and editing by Agustín Zuluaga Olarte

Self-published, June 2016

Hardcover with slipcase // 17,5 x 25 cm // 40 pages, 45 images

Edition of 30 hand-made, numbered and signed copies


Agustín Zuluaga Olarte is a Colombian artist working with photography, installation, and video. He is interested in the deconstruction and reconstruction of memory and the image as a representation of this reality.

Alejandro Acin is the director of IC-Visual Lab, an organisation based in Bristol (UK) that aims to promote and produce contemporary photography through a series of events and commissioned projects. IC-Visual Lab organises Photobook Bristol, an international festival for photobooks. He also works as a designer and editor at ICVL Studio.

Written by

IC Visual Lab

Reading time

5 minutes

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