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Find a balance of fact and fiction

We all have particular childhood memories that are more vivid than others.

I particularly remember the year the dog ate my birthday cake - but did we catch her at it or simply find the aftermath? I have images in my head of both, and yet I know it was the latter. It is this ability of the mind to fill in the details that has become of increasing interest to scientists - and now artist AR Hopwood - since American psychologist Elizabeth Loftus announced that her experiments showed false memories could be implanted by suggestion.

Hopwood became fascinated with the workings of the mind a few years ago while working at Goldsmith's College in London with the psychologist Christopher French, who studies false memory alongside his research into paranormal belief and suggestibility.

Loftus's theories were explored in experiments such as that in which she managed to make a significant number of participants "create" memories around a road traffic accident. Other psychologists expanded the research, including Dr Kimberley Wade, who carried out an experiment in 2002 in which a number of participants were convinced, via doctored photographs, that they had been on a hot air balloon ride as a child. A few of them even embellished details.

Hopwood says: "What's clear from over 30 years of research into false memory is that, under certain circumstances, a minority of people can be convinced by an authority figure that they have certain memories which, in fact, they do not." This point, softened and expanded, was the starting point for his exhibition.

There is much that is tongue-in-cheek. The exhibition opens with a wall of "Erased UFO" photographs - a gallery of images people have taken of apparent UFOs from which Hopwood has erased the flying object. Dotted around are lightly comedic faxes relating to the objects on display, planting suggestions in the mind of the reader.

Elsewhere, Hopwood's interest in the imagined has led him to create his own "false" or "non-believed" memory archive from public submissions via his website, www.falsememoryarchive.com, which are flashed up on a screen in the gallery. Submissions range from the comic ("For years I thought I'd visited Russia with my family as a child. It turns out we'd actually been to Norfolk.") to the poignant.

Hopwood also reverses the cards by taking the details of the life of the psychologists working in the field and building on their experiments. He sent Dr Wade up in a balloon with a Sense Camera - a camera which takes photos every 30 seconds to aid those with short-term memory problems - and asked a Dundee psychic to create a past life regression from biographical details sent to him by Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, who works on whether we can trust eyewitness testimony. The results promise to be both amusing and disorientating.

Hopwood says: "I hope that the work raises some key questions. What link does our susceptibility to false recall have with our ability to imagine the future? If a memory of something is shown to be 'false' what happens to the recollection? What is more important - what actually happened or what we remember happening? At what point and in what context does a blend of fact and fiction break down, and in what circumstances should the two diverge?"

The questions are as open-ended and provocative as the subject under research.

AR Hopwood: False Memory Archive is at Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh until April 19

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