top of page

‘traces remain’    

by Gianna Tasha Tomasso


Initial research and interest into the modern phenomenon of spontaneous roadside crash shrines began with a study by Robert M. Bednar, who asserts they serve multiple purpose; that of materialising memory, acting as a proxy for the absent victim, the transference of the absent body to present objects, a reference to the life lived and the life the object will live, both mortal, and that which seeks to work on collective/group memory - Jack Santino states " they, (roadside shrines), insert and insist upon the presence of absent people: they place the deceased individuals back into the fabric of society." (2006)

The article iterates many insights not previously considered, the active process and evolution of memory, something which is not linear or 'historical' and a process which relies on many contributing factors. Also the consideration of group history, the creation of group memories, and the multiple types of memory we can create or have created for us. Another consideration is the documenting by object, the materialisation of memory as a coping mechanism in reaction to loss by way of trauma. The notion that these sites are actual 'containers' for and of memory, and become a producer of memories in their own right and the notion of transference, of the living to the dead back to living by way of objectifying a life lived.

‘traces remain’ is a work which seeks to project and encompass the idea of the lingering aura left  by a traumatic bereavement. It is also a shrine to the materialisation of traumatic loss, a way to visualise those traces and a way to create new memories by objectification and expression.

The piece is elevated to a museum like memorialisation by the use of the vitrine, the mist and condensation  fills the inner vitrine  hinting at the ethereal nature of our very existence and demise. It is almost the antithesis of the elaborate shrines we have become accustomed to, roadside shrines lining Ireland,  where teddy bears and football scarves, hurleys and photographs all try to re awaken the deceased soul by those grieving, keeping alive the memory as a way to fight off the realisation of mortality. My own shrine of loss was never materialised in such objects, only in a sudden and fog like mist, the realisation that no object can represent or reinvent the person lost.


Bednar states that shrines contain memory in three distinct ways : emplacement, enclosure and management. These three types of containment would have direct interest to the ‘traces remain’ work, and are all considerations that were carefully contemplated.

 In considering each of these in response to the project it seemed the notion of transference could be addressed with authenticity and would not only address my own experience with loss caused by death/trauma and subsequent transference, but the idea that material objects, sites and practices are "not only commemorations of loss, but attempts to counter loss caused by death, making connections with the individual and bringing them into the present" ( Hallam and Hockey 2001).

Trauma and Autobiographical Art)

In questioning the appropriate response to memory or representational  work dealing with trauma, either experienced or by proxy I considered a paper titled Relational Viewing: Affect, Trauma and the Viewer in Contemporary Art, (Ryan Smyth 2012). The difficulty I faced was the idea that my own response in the creation of the work should encompass some element of autobiography and how to justify this departure from my usual practise.

Autobiographical work, or work which directly expressed any of my own experiences or emotions has been an approach I would actively avoid, deeming it to have no merit to the viewer. Having considered the examples of artists work presented by Smyth, that of Bas Jan Ader and Lisa Steele, and understanding that work which deals with the artists personal trauma can be a catalyst for the relational experience of the viewer,  an understanding has developed that by presenting work of an autobiographical nature I am not seeking self actualisation or a method by which to deal with my own experience, but offering my own expression of experience to the viewer as a way of seeking a relational experience with the viewers personal experience of trauma.

This renewed understanding has challenged my belief that autobiographical work is primarily ego driven and instead of using the audience to affirm the ego and its need need for validation, the audience can use it to access an experience or to experience 'empathic vision' (Bennett 2005).


Taking this into account, and other articles, such as Embodied Memory: Transcendence and Telling:Recounting Trauma, Re-establishing the Self (Culbertson 1995) I concluded that the fundamental aim of the work would be to visually vocalise trauma, or traumata. Trauma may not be expressed adequately linguistically, and the trace left behind of someone whose life has been taken perhaps lingers on our consciousness, remaining with us, and remembered with the materialisation of the familiar.

The vitrine and its contents reflect my experience of the lingering. The materialisation of the condensation reflects the understanding that this lingering cannot be solidified by materialisation or transference, and that, in any personal loss by way of trauma, there will always be a lingering. There will always be traces that remain.



Bednar, Robert M: :Materialising Memory: The Public Lives of Roadside Crash Shrines Memory Connection


Jill Bennett, 2005. Empathic Vision: Affect, Trauma, and Contemporary Art (Cultural Memory in the Present). 1 Edition. Stanford University Press.


Santino, Jack, “Performative Commemoratives: Spontaneous Shrines and

the Public Memorialization of Death,” in Spontaneous Shrines and the Public

Memorialization of Death (Ed.) Jack Santino (New York: Palgrave, 2006), 5-16.

Hallam, Elizabeth and Hockey, Jenny, Death, Memory & Material Culture (Oxford:

Berg, 2001).Smith, Matthew Ryan, "Relational Viewing: Affect, Trauma and the Viewer in Contemporary Autobiographical Art" (2012). University of Western Ontario - Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository. Paper 787.

Embodied Memory, Transcendence, and Telling: Recounting Trauma, Re-establishing the Self

Roberta CulbertsonFrom: New Literary HistoryVolume 26, Number 1, Winter 1995pp. 169-195 | 10.1353/nlh.1995.0007

bottom of page