Serpentine South Gallery 12–14 Oct 2012 Free

A two-day event inspired by the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2012 designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei, the Memory Marathon explored memory, archaeological excavation and historical recordings through overlaps and interactions between artistic practice and scientific enquiry.

At culture’s bleeding edge…non-stop marathon of art, talks, music and performance’ –the Guardian

Over three days, the Serpentine Gallery staged the Memory Marathon, the seventh annual festival of ideas. This multi-disciplinary event featured a wide range of participants, including leading artists, architects, film-makers, musicians, scientists, theorists and writers in a continuous, performative programme of explorations, musical and theatrical performances, film screenings, discussions and experiments.

Specific events ranged from 15-minute solo presentations to 45-minute discussions or performances held throughout each day of the Memory Marathon, during which time attendees were transported on a deeply evocative journey through music, culture and history; consider the importance of memory in law and biology; learn what animal brains ‘do’ and how machines ‘think’ in the company of experts from a wide range of scientific fields; discover the impact an increasingly digitised world has on memory; learn tips on how to remember a 1,000-digit number in an hour; and experience first-hand the powerful links between the senses and memory.

The three-day event began on Friday 12th October with La Suite, a thrilling five-hour performance by acclaimed Lebanese sound artist Tarek Atoui, who, together with 14 internationally renowned musicians, took audiences on a mesmerising journey through Tarab and classical Arab music recorded from the early 20th century onwards.

The more than 60 participants included former REM vocalist Michael Stipe; filmmakers Amos Gitai and David Lynch, who presented a new film; historians Jay Winter and Donald Sassoon, who together explored the theme of ‘War Memory’; celebrated neuroscientist Israel Rosenfield, who introduced ‘The Problem of Memory’ with writer John Hull, robotics expert Luc Steels and Grand Master of Memory Ed Cooke; artists Olivier Castel and Ed Atkins on ‘Deception and Self-Deception’; scent expert Sissel Tolaas on ‘Sensory Memory’. Other contributors included Harvard astronomy professor Dimitar Sasselov; writer and critic John Berger; writer Douglas Coupland; poet John Giorno; writer and cultural historian Marina Warner; author and technologist China Miéville; artists Gilbert & George; architects Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron and Fumihiko Maki; composer Gavin Bryars with poet and painter Etel Adnan.

Professor, author and scientist Israel Rosenfield has noted: “Memory is relationship; on the one hand our temporal relationships and on the other our spatial relationships.” The 2012 Marathon approached memory as an active practice that can question received ideas – a probing of the old in the name of the new.

The Memory Marathon was dedicated to Eric Hobsbawm.

Four hours of the Memory Marathon were broadcast live on The Space.


Curated by

Hans Ulrich Obrist

Nicola Lees


Antonia Blocker

Lucia Pietroiusti

Stella Bottai

Associate Producer, Tarek Atoui, La Suite

Victoria Brooks

Public Programmes Assistants

Claude Adjil

Antonia Marsh

Tommy Reeves

Emma Gradin


Herzog & de Meuron

Eric Hobsbawm

Alice Rawsthorn

Israel Rosenfield

Memory Marathon 2012


Discover over 50 years of the Serpentine

From the architectural Pavilion and digital commissions to the ideas Marathons and research-led initiatives, explore our past projects and exhibitions.

View archive