Nate DiMeo’s The Memory Palace podcast excels at transporting the listener to a historical place purely with sound. As the MetLiveArts 2016-17 artist in residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, DiMeo is creating a series of 10 episodes. Each one offers site-specific experiences with the museum that consider how the objects, artists, curators, collectors, and even architecture of the place impact art history.
“The mandate of the residency, and the opportunity of the residency, is to make art out of the art at the museum, to find ways to interpret and explore the collection,” DiMeo told Hyperallergic. “And one of the things that has always captured my imagination as someone attending the museum is the history of the museum itself.”
DiMeo started The Memory Palace long before the Met residency; it’s now nearly in its 100th episode. But to call it a podcast doesn’t completely describe it. With just narration and music, DiMeo builds a whole world; suddenly, you’re standing in the footsteps of a worker on the Brooklyn Bridge or on the glittery shores of early-20th-century Coney Island.
At the Met, he’s concentrating on the American Wing, although in the context of the museum experience as a whole. The first two episodes were released by the museum today, and subsequent additions will be shared on a monthly basis, on both the Met’s site and that of The Memory Palace. Episode one, “Recent Acquisition,” is an elegant story that revolves around the art of the American Wing’s Gallery 760 and the way it commemorates the past, such as in Jules Tavernier’s “Dance in a Subterranean Longhouse.” The second episode, “One Bottle, Any Bottle,” is more conceptual, positioning the listener above the courtyard of the American Wing. It asks you to think about the work, hours, and materials embedded in each object in the museum, down to a diminutive 1815–40 blown-molded glass bottle, one of many that was likely made on an ordinary workday long ago.
“So much of what I do with The Memory Palace is having each episode lead one to another, allowing my interests to develop over time,” DiMeo said. “If you listen to The Memory Palace, you get a sense of what I happen to be interested in, but you’ll also hear the stories in conversation with one another — you’ll hear them evolve.”
The residency follows a commission last year from the Met, in which DiMeo resurrects the memory of Arabella Worsham in the Worsham-Rockefeller Dressing Room. He places her there in the early 1880s, a newly rich woman standing in a room she was able to design according to her own tastes, down to its carved flowers and vines. In just over seven minutes, DiMeo puts you in her position, preparing to go out into the night, and brings a period room that’s now statically preserved to life.
“Nate is a brilliant storyteller and sound artist who has a unique capacity to make facts, stories, objects, and ideas fluoresce through an alchemical mixture of words, music, and incredibly attenuated and subtle sense of timing,” said Limor Tomer, the general manager of MetLiveArts. “The Met is, of course, a gigantic storehouse of objects, but more importantly, it’s a repository of ideas. Nate is making the ideas embedded in the objects visible, and connecting us powerfully and viscerally to those ideas and objects.”
While DiMeo is based on the West Coast, he’s spending as much time as possible within the walls of the Met, talking to curators and pondering future challenges, such as capturing the staggering experience of viewing the Met’s visible storage, with all of its unlabeled paintings and long rows of treasures. We know, on some level, when visiting a museum, that there’s a deliberate hand behind what’s been chosen for view or storage, which artists are featured or ignored; however, it’s rarely discussed directly. DiMeo said that his residency is about “seeing art museums as makers and crafters of history, and not merely art history.” The audio worlds that he sculpts with The Memory Palace reveal some of what’s been hidden.
Nat DiMeo’s The Memory Palace episodes for the Metropolitan Museum of Art can be listened to and downloaded on the museum’s website.