pad.ma is a digital media archive, and after conducting a workshop in Beirut in April 2010, collective members gathered 10 theses on the archives, which can also be considered as an inspiring manifesto. the question that they raised about the relation between memory and its display is worth to share.
The Past of the Exhibition Threatens the Future of the Archive
What is the relation between memory and its display? Between the archive, “the system that governs the appearances of statements” and a culture of appearances? In a 2002 essay for the journal October, Hal Foster develops three useful stages of the museum as the site of memory, in modern art.
In the first stage, in the mid-1800’s, Baudelaire writes that “Art is the mnemotechny of the beautiful”. Which with Manet for example, has become the art of outright citation. Here art is the art of memory, and the museum is its architecture.
The second moment occurs with Adorno’s essay, the Valery Proust Museum, which marks a point of suspicion of the museum, as the “mausoleum” of art. The museum is where art goes to die. But, it is also the site for a redemptive project of“reanimation”.
The third moment occurs when this reanimation is possible through other means, i.e. through Benjamin’s mechanical reproduction. The key difference here is between Benjamin’s reproduction, which threatens the museum, and Malraux’s, which expands it infinitely. For Malraux, it is precisely the destruction of the aura which becomes a basis for the imagination of the museum without end.
But there are “problems of translation”, gaps, between Malraux’s Musee Imaginaire, its english name the Museum without Walls, and the concept of a Museum without End. Which on the one hand, have fed many a modernist museum architect’s fantasy of endless circulation, and views through the glass, while on the other, continue to offer the promise that art’s institutional structures can have a relationship with the world. Foster’s account of modern western art’s archive ends with a split in art itself, between its display function that appears in spectacular form in the exhibition, and its memory function, which retreats into the archive.
The challenge for the archive, which today threatens the exhibition with its own sensual ability to relink and rearticulate these two functions, is how not to to end up as a spiral ramp, or as flea market. In other words, how to avoid the tyranny of the two historical “freedoms”: one, the (modernist) formal strategies of audience participation in the spectacle, and two, the (postmodernist) eclecticism in which anything, included and curated, could be accorded “exhibition-value”. Or we could put it this way: how does the archive avoid the confusion, that persists in the exhibition (as Irit Rogoff notes about the Tate), between accessibility as entertainment and marketing strategy, and access as something deeper, as something that is “closer to the question”.
To read other theses: 10 theses on the archive