Amarnath Ravva

Random Access Memory: a narrative process

Weeks after the millennium, I had discovered the madelines of an older digital age—video I had taken when I was 12 years old. I began to write texts triggered by the images and experiences recorded on those few grainy tapes, and soon afterwards decided to recreate the process so that it would be more under my control, and less a product of accident or discovery. During the summer of 2001, I made a trip to India with a video camera and 25 hours of blank tape. I used the video camera as a note taking tool and recorded experiences, photos, evenings, mornings and afternoons. As I wrote from my footage, the connections and associations were almost random—sounds would produce associations far removed in time and space; a relative’s expression could bring forth a narrative that did nothing to explain the look on their face.

In 2003, all the tapes, and their endless permutations of associations, were stolen from me. I returned to India to record again; in some cases attempting to recreate what I had already documented and often found that it was impossible. Balconies I filmed or filmed from were no longer there; relatives had moved away and changed. My process became one of approximation, of being as close as possible to what I remembered, knowing that my memory was fallible and full of lacunae.

Part of the reason for my return to India in 2003 was to fulfill a wish for my mother, who wanted me to perform a ritual at the southern most tip of the country in a place called Rameswaram. As I set up my video camera to document the ritual, the pujaris, or priests, told me that I could only make a partial document of the ceremony. Omission and prohibition, what could not be recorded, became the focus of the texts I generated. The text began to fill in the gaps and spoke to the unanswerable questions posed by the series of images I watched. How is it that I got here and why? As I watched what they allowed me to document, I began to write what could never be seen in the video—the historical narratives that had brought me to that moment or accounts of what was missing from the visual record. My experimental manuscript, generated from this process of exchange between text and video, finds its only linear coherence through sections marked by time code, such as 01:34:15:00, that correspond to video of the ritual. All other sections are joined narratively through traces and triggers and are attempts to understand those moments.