18 and a half minutes
18 and half minutes is part of a group of works that explore the concept of Social Amnesia and the politics behind memory through research and visual representation. During the research I came across the infamous case of the tape where a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, was abruptly erased for 18 and half minutes. This removal of information caught my attention because it illustrated an explicit intervention in collective memory. In the transcripts of the Watergate trial found in the Nixon Presidential Library Archives the explanations as to why this gap occurred, differ greatly. Nixon told the grand jury that his secretary, Rose Woods, had told him that she had damaged the recording but only briefly. Then the former president said that General Alexander Haig, his security adviser, informed him that 18 and half minutes of conversation had been erased from the tape. Further in the transcripts he suggests that the taping machine had malfunctioned. In another version Woods says that the president came into the room and began “pushing the buttons back and forth” and in a testimony in November 1973, she denied responsibility: “The buttons said on and off, forward and backward. I caught on to that fairly fast. I don’t think I’m so stupid as to erase what’s on a tape”.
Although we will never know what was said in that room, nor the true circumstances of the tape’s erasure, the 18 and half minutes of white noise nevertheless say a lot. They reflect a deliberate attempt to modify the record of events and symbolize the significance of erasure and gaps in the construction of History.
With this research in mind and with the actual static on the tape I made a prototype for a public sculpture to remember this event and to symbolize the many things that go unsaid in history.
Raul Ortega Ayala is a British/Mexican artist. He studied Visual Arts in Mexico City and then a Master in Fine Arts at the Glasgow School of Art —in combination with Hunter College in New York, from which he graduated in 2003. He then moved to London, where he worked for 5 years on various projects and returned to Mexico in 2009 where he currently lives and works.
This work was made in collaboration with Inition.
Inition is a multidisciplinary production company specializing in producing installation-based experiences that harness emerging technologies with creative rigor.
With a track record spanning over 13 years and hundreds of installations in both the UK and abroad, Inition is known for leveraging new technologies for creative communications well before they hit the mainstream – augmenting reality since 2006, printing in 3D since 2005, and creating virtual realities since 2001.