Interview by Lauren Ash
I first met James T. Green several months ago at the Hyde Park Dacha when we were both involved as artists in a salon focused on growth. Gathered in Irina's kitchen, I shared of the very beginnings of Black Girl In Om and of my passion for wellness. James shared that his best friend Brian and I would have connected on many of our passions. After life forced him to deal with grief from Brian's passing, in addition to his Aunt's passing and his own nearly fatal experience, James identified and created his own way of processing grief and of honoring the mourning process. He created Cache My Memory a digital notebook of sorts. It is this beautiful project that I wanted to learn more about and share with all of you. Much gratitude to James for opening up his experience and for offering all of us another tool for productively processing death and transition of our loved ones.
LA: Alright James, so tell us a little about you, who you are in this moment.
JTG: [Chuckles] Who am I in this very moment? That’s a really good question, I really like that. I am a conceptual artist, designer, writer, podcaster – I just like making things that – whatever idea I have, I just like to let it flow and let whatever come out come out.
LA: That makes sense. I think that is illuminated in the weekly emails that I always appreciate getting from you. Because you always share projects that you’re engaged with but you also have that section where you’re like, “this is what I found interesting last week!” I think that’s important because it doesn’t limit you. As creatives, I feel we are often inspired by things that may be outside of what we do. And so, just sharing what inspires you, that’s great. So, you said you are a conceptual artists. What concepts do you typically play with and explore?
JTG: The concepts I explore include technology and how we interact with one each other. I’m really into interpersonal relationships, and sometimes technology accelerates it or halts it. And then how race intersects between those two things. If I had to look at it as a triangle, and those are the three things, it’s usually whatever’s melding in the middle between those. And that’s what my solo show that I opening up [at the Arts Incubator] on the 10th is all about. It’s talking about what’s happening in Ferguson right now, which is a melding of this real fucked up thing happened in the real world, and then people are amplifying it online and then it has a racial element that you can’t really grasp.
L: No, that’s great what you said about interpersonal relationships and technology. I think that is especially seen in the project that we’re talking about today, and its Cache My Memory. So can you speak about the origins of that project, its meaning in your life, and also how you’ve seen it impact other people who have participated in the project?
JTG: Yeah, so Cache My Memory – it came about in the middle of last year. How it came about was I had a really, really bad 2014. It was terrible. The beginning of the year I suffered a pulmonary embolism that came without warning. I passed out. I would have died if my wife didn’t find me. And found out that it was a family ailment–it’s something that’s passed along through my family. It’s a preexisting condition that I’ll have for life. A month later, I lost my aunt to the same exact thing, but nobody found her. So she passed away. And then a month later, I lost my best friend to cancer. This trio of things really hit home. It kind of put me on hold for a lot of things – making new work. I was in therapy, I was suicidal. There were a lot of things that came at me – thinking about my own mortality, thinking about what it is I should be doing with my life type thing. So, my therapist of course recommended channeling some of this frustration into what you do best. And that’s artwork. And I was like, that’s a really good idea.
LA: Thank God for therapists!
JTG: I wasn’t really known to do personal work because it scared the living shit out of me, putting your whole, whole self, you know with no curtain in front of yourself, in your art. [But] I decided to go about that. So that project came into play. The concept of it came about because right after I lost Brian, I realized he was the first ever person close to me that died that was like was sort of ingrained in our current age. For lack of a better word, he was a millenial that had so many social and online footprints on the Internet. After he passed away, there’d be so many moments where I would do something as banal as sending a text message, sending a Snapchat to another person, sending an Instagram and his name would always pop up, like “recent user, your best friend.” Facebook would say “wish him a birthday” – because he died a week before his birthday. “Tell Brian, happy birthday!” Act like he’s not gone. The ads on the site would say, “Brian liked this” or “Brian’s going to X.” And it’s like, because he used online tools as much as the rest of us, he was totally ingrained in every aspect of my life, even though he was gone physically. So it was like, a week before I did the project, I remember my wife and I we went to a wedding, and it was still fresh. This wedding happened a month after he passed and we were still not taking it well. We were drinking, and then we just caught our emotions a lot. We just started crying in the middle of the reception because we were thinking about Brain. A song came on that was his favorite and I had all this pent up energy, so I just pulled up my phone, and I opened up Facebook Messenger and I sent him a Facebook message, knowing that he wouldn’t see it but it was this feeling of having a connection.
LA: I just got chills.
JTG: As a kind of sat on that a few days later, I was like okay what if I could build a website that would allow someone to do to the same, but there’s nothing tracked on the back of it. It’s like you’re pasting text on a field of somebody you miss and then after you click it, it’s gone. I can’t see who’s been on the site, I can’t see what anybody has written, but it’s almost like a space in a digital notebook. Once you’re done, there’s no trace at all of it. No writing, no company footprint. Nothing. I still use it from time to time – I just used it a few days ago to talk to him.
LA: So what do you think is the difference between sending a message and to someone who has been lost without a trace of it versus sending it with a trace of it? So what’s the difference between sending it to his Facebook and sending it via this medium that you’ve created?
JTG: If I put it on his Facebook timeline, it’s something that I may deem as a private moment, but in the end it’s public. If it’s public other people can, of course, interact with it, like it, comment it, so on so forth and then it feeds into their database. In some ways it’s a performance. You’re publicly performing grief and memorial. It’s the equivalent of dropping flowers on a grave site, it’s a public act that other known and unknown can see and interact with. But Cache My Memory is different because it’s a very private grief where only the person can see it. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. I can’t recall it in my memory, I can’t do anything. It’s very ephemeral. It’s public grief versus private grief.
LA: In terms of your own healing – you mentioned you saw or are seeing a therapist to help with the grieving process – in terms of when you created this and you started using it, what is that experience is for you in terms of healing and your own wellness?
JTG: It definitely helps. It helps when I hear that other people are using it. I’ll get a text from somebody that says “hey, I just used your website.”
LA: That’s really great that people tell you!
JTG: They won’t’ tell me what they said or who it was to, they’ll just say “I used your website.” It helps. It’s like cleansing or releasing something pent up. I kind of feel bad sometimes when I feel like I have something inside but I can’t let it go because it’s weird to say it aloud. So having this space, where it’s not a notebook or a file on a computer when you can write it down and stumble upon it years later. It’s somewhere where you can write it out and you won’t stumble upon it ever again. It’s like as fleeting as the public speech, but in a way it feels good to say something. It’s been really helpful, because it’s almost like talking to someone. You say it and then it’s gone.
LA: You might remember it, you might not too. Sometimes with those words that you exchange, you remember the general feeling of how it felt rather than the specifics.
JTG: That’s exactly it. And the title of the website, of course, is like a pun on cache-ing a website, and loose memory. “Cache” is meant to be temporary in a browser. It’s meant to be there for a short remembrance of something you visited but it’s meant to be cleared out to keep things going faster. Much like how I had this memory of Brian, but I know in order to move on I have to clear it out, in order to move on faster.
LA: Now that we’re talking about this too I can see more of how this links in with other concepts of wellness. You know, the belief that there are different energy systems within the body and it’s important to make sure they are in alignment and to make sure that the energy is flowing in an appropriate way and I think relates to the concept of the site as well. In some ways, engaging with the site and sending that memory allows for--hopefully--energy to flow in a way that is more productive and just to get it out.
JTG: I agree completely. That’s what happened the last time I used it. I was just sitting in a café and just randomly thinking and gazing out the window. It was something so fleeting – the sandwich that Brian used to order at that café. And then I had all the thoughts and they just started to build and build and I was like “okay, I gotta dump this out.” And I dumped it out on this site, and then I felt good. It’s chilling, it’s really chilling.
LA: I’m excited to share this with a broader audience on our site. I think that people will use it. Thank you.
James invites you to participate in Cache My Memory and would love to hear your responses. Feel free to e-mail him or tweet him @_jamestgreen and let him know how Cache My Memory has helped you process death or transition.
Be sure to check out James' solo exhibition at the Arts Incubator now through Friday, April 24th. His exhibition exceptional/respectable illustrates his visceral output in response to respectability politics, the barrage of the 24 hour news cycle, and the conflict between contemplation and action.
Learn more about James T. Green, and interact with him, at jamestgreen.com.