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The false memory archive

Artist A.R. Hopwood is carefully collecting all the lies people tell themselves

Have you ever been lost in a shopping mall as a kid? Gone to Disneyland and shook Mickey's hand? You probaby just imagined it. False memories, in which you believe an imagined or distorted memory to be fact, are more common than people think. They constitute a neurological no man's land where the brain's creative capacity for reimagination collides with the grotesque flotsam of the subconscious, creating a memory that blurs the line between real and unreal.

For the past nine months, experimental artist and Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow A.R. Hopwood has been crowdsourcing examples of this phenomenon for The False Memory Archive. Hundreds of these accounts, along with video and photographic work inspired by false memories, will be displayed as part of the touring exhibition that will, appropriately enough, culminate in a show at the Freud Museum.

I remember biting into a mouse when I was four as a child in Indonesia

"I like the fact that you have a representation of someone that is based purely on a 'non-memory', on something that didn't actually happen," Hopwood explains. "If we accept that autobiographical memory is a ‘creative act’ and that the fictive plays an important role in understanding the formation of a subjective truth, then how can we attempt to objectively identify and challenge pathological delusions, misinformation and damaging myths?"

Read on for extracts from the world's first false memory archive: 


"At around 6 years old my family and I visited relations in Australia; we took a day-trip to the 'Big Pineapple'. I remember loving it there and enjoying every minute of climbing to the top of the huge fibreglass structure to look out over the pineapple fields. When visiting the same relations recently, I mentioned the day-trip and my aunt told me that I was freaked out by the whole place, refused to climb inside the pineapple and spent the whole day in tears."


"According to mum, I hated going to see my father in the weekends. According to me, those weekends were the best thing in life ever - providing a place where I was left at peace, addressed like an equal. Am not sure whose false memory this was, though I love to think it's hers."


"Lulu (the singer) died several years ago. I saw it on TV; she had yellow and white flowers in her hearse that spelt out her name. My mother commented on how sad it was because she was quite young. They played clips of her songs in the news story, so it was definitely her I remember. It weirds me out now whenever I see her alive and doing something new."


"I remember biting into a mouse when I was four as a child in Indonesia in order to make my brother be quiet. I was sitting outside in the garden making mud pie and he just kept talking. A mouse ran by and I bit into it. Blood filled my mouth and ran down my face. My brother and the rest of my family have assured me this has never happened."


"When I was young my dad and his best friend went fishing in a very remote part of the NZ bush. They got lost and they somehow crashed into a tree. The story was often recollected and retold at gatherings of family and friends. I always thought I remembered the crash so clearly as I was in the car at the time, belted in in the back seat with my friend Nick who was my Dad’s friends son. It was a scary but exhilarating experience for a child. However – I was told as a young adult that we were never there."

I walked into my younger brother's room where my mother was sitting on the bed. I told her I felt ill, then vomited, but what came out looked like my tongue


"For most of my life I thought I had been to see Japan with my parents when I was a small child. I have vivid memories of my mum wearing a kimono and those small wooden Japanese shoes (she is the type to adopt local traditional wear so this seemed normal). My dad and I were sat in a small boat and my mum was stepping into the boat. I have told many people that I have been to Japan but that I don't remember much. Then when I was about 24, I mentioned this to my mother in passing conversation and she looked at me like I was mad. Apparently I have never been to Japan, I concocted it all in my mind."


"I was around five or six years old. In the memory, I was wearing my Winnie-the-Pooh nightdress and it was about 11 o'clock in the morning. I walked into my younger brother's room where my mother was sitting on the bed. I told her I felt ill, then vomited, but what came out looked like my tongue. This freaked me out, but my family didn't respond as though it was anything odd. When i mentioned this to my mother years later, she looked at me as though i had two heads and told me it must have been a dream. It was such a vivid memory that stuck with me for 13 years that I'm kind of disturbed to think that it was all in my head."

A.R. Hopwood’s The False Memory Archive touring exhibition opens at The Exchange in Penzance on 28 September 2013 until 4 January 2014.