7 months ago

GAM 14 Exhibiting Matters

ISBN 978-3-86859-854-4

Praxis Reports / 2

Praxis Reports / 2 Exhibiting at the “Trowel’s Edge” Ana Bezi ć “For although in a certain sense and for light-minded persons non-existent things can be more easily and irresponsibly represented in words than existing things, for the serious and conscientious historian it is just the reverse. Nothing is harder, yet nothing is more necessary, than to speak of certain things whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable. The very fact that serious and conscientious men treat them as existing things brings them a step closer to existence and to the possibility of being born.” Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game 1 Through site-specific performances, installations, buildings and sculptures, art transforms our knowledge of material places, and by providing a significant new dimension to its understanding and interpretation, it re-inscribes them deeply. 2 Well then, cannot art be put to work to investigate those very places of re-inscription? By places of re-inscription I refer to the exhibition spaces that render what is contested and not-yet-there possible to circulate in the form of visual representation. The production of visual display mobilizes many resources and yet, while producing the visual display, the artists and the resources mobilized are not visible or forefronted. I propose the concept of “interpretation at trowel’s edge” as used in contextual archaeology to aid in navigating the shift from the exhibition to exhibiting and to re-position reflexivity as litmus paper, the tracing agent of missing things. If we reconsider the exhibition space as the “equivalent of a laboratory, [a] place of trials, experiments and simulations” 3 they no longer can be thought as places of knowledge reproduction. Rather, through the processes of exhibiting (as in the production of visual display) these spaces generate new knowledges and new things. Hermann Hesse, in his novel The Glass Bead Game, has poignantly written that by treating things “whose existence is neither demonstrable nor probable […] as existing things” 4 we come one step closer to their existence. How to translate this into the exhibition space? How to make space that traces the steps of the process of exhibiting? In approaching the exhibition space we are already creating, arranging, assembling or, in other words, interpreting. The word “exhibit,” deriving from its Latin root exhibere (ex- “out” + -habere “to hold”), makes space for the exhibition that holds out objects and presents them (as evidence in court, as facts that speak for themselves). It is expected of them to speak, and rather than being actors in their own rights, they continue to act as vehicles of human intentions. For objects to “speak” it requires human modification and so all these objects held out and exhibited are in need of interpretation. Bruno Latour argues that objects behave in “the most undisciplined ways, blocking the experiments, disappearing from view, refusing to replicate, dying, or exploding … they always resist” 5 our interpretation. Being a stand in, they object to what is being told about them, they multiply, they become something else. This hidden geography of objects was also explored in Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour’s “Making Things Public” 2005 exhibition at ZKM – Museum of Contemporary Art. They used a museum to stage an exhibition experiment where “the ability of artists, politicians, philosophers, scientists and the visitors” was tested to make “the shift from the aesthetics of objects to the aesthetics of things.” 6 The exhibition was based on the notion of assembly, that is, the power of objects to gather around themselves a different assembly, to conceptualize exhibitions as spaces of enactments, which open new alliances between authors, works, and visitors. 7 In it, some worlds are heavily intertwined, others vaguely, and some completely separated from each other. As Latour explains: “Things-in-themselves? But they’re fine, thank you very much. And how are you? You complain about things that have not been honored by your vision? You feel that these things are lacking the illumination of your consciousness? If you miss the galloping freedom of the zebras in the savannah this morning, then so much worse for you; the zebras will not be sorry that you were not there, and in any case you would have tamed, killed, photographed, or studied them. Things in themselves lack nothing.” 8 As much as we want to observe galloping zebras in the savannah, they are not concerned about us in order to exist. With objects presented as possessing unique qualities in and of themselves, the position has shifted from the singular/human privi- leged knowledge production to the more democratic forms of knowledge also known as flat ontology. 9 In this paradigm, each voice, be it historical, archaeological, social or spanning diverse disciplinary understanding is valid. Within this displacement of human-thing center, archaeology brings in a particular way of thinking and engaging with things in which human and things are entangled and dependent on one another. 10 The notion of entanglement serves as an integrating concept to describe and analyze the dynamic relationship, “the dialectic of dependence and dependency between humans and things.” 11 Unlike Latour’s mixing of humans and things in networks of interconnections, the concept of entanglement, as used by Hodder, is a sticky environment, one where entities are both things and objects, “they are both relational and they ‘object’, oppose and entrap.” 12 Instead of an entirely relational treatment of matter, the position taken by Latour and ANT (Actor- Network Theory), the emphasis is on affordance and potentialities things give to humans and on the power of things to entrap. 13 In archaeology—here seen as a way of thinking and engaging with things—the significance lies in the process of doing it, more so than the results of the endeavor. A substantial proportion of primary data collection takes place through excavation and surface survey. At its center are the context, a nexus of entanglements both past and present, and reflexivity with its continuing integration in every aspect of archaeological “doing.” Contextual archaeology is focused on an interpretative practice that is both making sense of the past while being firmly grounded in the present. By interpretation I mean thick descriptions 14 and follow Hodder who argues that interpretative judgments are made even at the most descriptive of statements. 15 He gives an example of codified soil description where the grittiness, amount of inclusions, etc. involves subjectivity in describing it. Furthermore, site reports, long seen as nothing but descriptive accounts, are depersonalized and generalized, made to look as if anyone could do them. Interpretation cannot easily be separated from description. The archaeologist makes sense of the past, provides orientations, significance, knowledge and meanings relevant to understanding it. The notion of entanglement, as described above, involves dependency and entrapment, histories that need interpreting. Interpretation is then making sense of this process, where meaning is the product of the context, and is continually produced through the working set of relationships we establish. 16 “As the hand and trowel move over the ground, decisions are being made about which bumps, changes in texture, colors to ignore and which to follow … how we excavate (trowel, shovel, sieving) depends on an interpretation of context … But the interpretation of context depends on knowing about the objects within it. So ideally we would want to know everything that is in the pit before we excavate it! 1 Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (London, 2000), p. 2. 2 See John Schofield, “Constructing Place: When Artists and archaeologists meet,” in Aftermath. Readings in the Archaeology of Recent Conflict, ed. John Schofield (New York, 2008), pp. 185–196. 3 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory (Oxford, 2005), p. 159. 4 Hesse, The Glass Bead Game (see note 1). 5 Bruno Latour, “When Things Strike Back: A Possible Solution of ‘Science Studies’ to the Social Sciences,” The British Journal of Sociology 51, no. 1 (2000), pp. 107–123, esp. p. 116. 6 Peter Weibel and Bruno Latour, “Experimenting With Representation: Iconoclash and Making Things Public,” in Exhibition Experiments, eds. Sharon McDonald and Paul Basu (Oxford, 2007), p. 106. 7 See ibid. 8 Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge, 1998), p. 193. 9 Manual De Landa, Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy (London, 2013). 10 See Ian Hodder, Studies in Human-Thing Entanglement (Chichester, 2016). 11 See ibid., p. 5. 12 See ibid., p.18. 13 See ibid. 14 See Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (New York, 1973). 15 See Ian Hodder, The Archaeological Process: An Introduction (Oxford, 1999), pp. 68–69. 16 See Julian Thomas, Time, Culture and Identity (London, 1996), p. 236. 212

Ausstellen an der „Kellenkante“ Ana Bezi ć This it the hermeneutic conundrum: the interpretation is only possible once interpretation has begun … In practice we have to excavate without knowing what we are excavating, and we have to define contexts without understanding them.” 17 Archaeological interpretation, as any other interpretation, always takes place from the vantage point of the present and it points to the situated character of historical, social, and scientific understanding. This new reflexive methodology in archaeology includes ongoing and constantly changing “interpretation at the trowel’s edge,” with computer diaries written by the excavators, video recording of discussions about interpretation and methodology carried out in the trenches, and constant interactions among scientists, locals, politicians, and other groups who claim some “ownership” of the past. Reflexivity, here, refers to a recognition of positionality—that one’s position or standpoint affects one’s perspective. 18 It is the insistence on systematic and rigorous revealing of methodology and the self as the instrument of data collection and generation. It is the positioned subject who makes the interpretations that are provisional and always incomplete. 19 The process of exhibiting can be viewed as more than simply presenting things. It is about a positioned subject making a statement and a dialogue between and among exhibits, people, and things. Therefore, exhibiting becomes a process of tracing and making new things. Exhibiting is also thoroughly interpretative. Because not everything can be presented, we are left with something, some aspect that cannot be translated/inscribed. These interpretative processes leave us with excess that is uninscribable and untranslatable. And if difference always remains, 20 how to capture this excess in the exhibition space? When does the interpretative moment begin, and in what ways can it be exhibited? Archiving, filing, processing, recording, writing, drawing, painting, cutting, emailing, and all the work involved in the exhibiting process prior to the exhibition is about making the significance of one thing over the other, about playing down or suppressing other things that do not interest us. The excess of meanings and things that are made in the process of exhibiting only show the necessity with continual engagement with interpretation. Latour has thoroughly hermeneuticized the laboratory, the inscription 21 process, and the instrument itself is already a hermeneutic device: “What is behind a scientific text? Inscriptions. How are these inscriptions obtained? By setting up instruments. This other world just beneath the text is invisible as long as there is no controversy. A picture of moon valleys and mountains is presented to us as if we could see them directly. The telescope that makes them visible is invisible and so are the fierce controversies that Galileo had to wage centuries ago to produce an image of the Moon.” 22 By making the instrument visible or forefronted, we would be positioning ourselves to the things left out. And if interpretation occurs at “the trowel’s edge” 23 it means that it already begins with the process of exhibiting and happens at every step of the way. How to highlight and show colors to all the things left out? Or, in other words, the exhibiting is not only about sizing and zooming of frames (contexts). Because frames (contexts), Latour argues, impose restrictions to the possible connections, exhibiting could set to investigate this through the process of shifting frames (contexts) and the movement, the flow, and the changes observed in the process. 24 So we can now begin to view exhibiting as a thing (via Latour), a thing in conflict rather than stasis, a matter of concern rather than a matter of fact. 25 How to demonstrate the existence of all the things involved in assembling exhibiting. And once demonstrated, how can they be exhibited? Can the politics of exhibiting at the trowel’s edge carve a platform for a more democratic and inclusive exhibition space where people will be free to make their own assemblies of things, with everyone as curator? ■ 17 Hodder, The Archaeological Process (see note 15), p. 92. 18 See Renato Rosaldo, Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (Boston, 2000). 19 See ibid., p. 8. 20 See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (London and New York 1975) and Gaetano Chiurazzi: “The Universality without domain: The Ontology of Hermeneutical Practice,” The Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology, vol. 48,3 (2017), pp. 198–208. 21 Latour’s inscription is a result of series of transformations/translations and Latour defines translation as “the interpretation given by the factbuilders of their own interests and that of the people they enroll.” Bruno Latour, Science in Action (Harvard, 1988), p. 108. 22 Latour, Science in Action (see note 21), p. 69. 23 Hodder, The Archaeological Process (see note 15), p. 92. 24 See Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social. An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Oxford, 2005), p. 143. 25 See Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30 (2004), pp. 225–248. „[…] denn mögen auch in gewisser Hinsicht und für leichtfertige Menschen die nicht existierenden Dinge leichter und verantwortungsloser durch Worte darzustellen sein als die seienden, so ist es doch für den frommen und gewissenhaften Geschichtsschreiber gerade umgekehrt: nichts entzieht sich der Darstellung durch Worte so sehr und nichts ist doch notwendiger, den Menschen vor Augen zu stellen, als gewisse Dinge, deren Existenz weder beweisbar noch wahrscheinlich ist, welche aber eben dadurch, daß fromme und gewissenhafte Menschen sie gewissermaßen als seiende Dinge behandeln, dem Sein und der Möglichkeit des Geborenwerdens um einen Schritt näher geführt werden.“ Hermann Hesse, Das Glasperlenspiel 1 Durch ortsspezifische Performances, Installationen, Bauten und Skulpturen transformiert die Kunst unser Wissen über materielle Orte, und indem sie ihrem Verständnis und ihrer Interpretation eine signifikante neue Dimension verleiht, schreibt sie diese wieder tief ein. 2 Kann man nun Kunst nicht an die Arbeit lassen, um genau diese Orte der Wiedereinschreibung zu erforschen? Mit Orten der Wiedereinschreibung beziehe ich mich auf Ausstellungsräume, die die Verbreitung dessen, was umstritten und dort noch nicht möglich gewesen ist, in Form von visueller Darstellung ermöglichen. Die Produktion visueller Darstellungen mobilisiert viele Ressourcen, und dennoch sind die Kunstschaffenden und die mobilisierten Ressourcen während der Produktion der visuellen Darstellungen nicht sichtbar und werden nicht in den Vordergrund gerückt. Ich schlage das Konzept der „Interpretation an der Kellenkante“ vor, wie es in der kontextuellen Archäologie verwendet wird, um beim Übergang vom Begriff Ausstellung zum Ausstellen eine Orientierungshilfe zu geben und Reflexivität als Lackmuspapier, als Instrument zur Suche nach den fehlenden Dingen, neu zu positionieren. Wenn man den Ausstellungsraum als „Äquivalent eines Laboratoriums, […] eine 1 Hesse, Hermann: Das Glasperlenspiel, Frankfurt 1971, 3. 2 Vgl. Schofield, John: „Constructing Place. When Artists and Archaeologists Meet“, in: ders.: Aftermath. Readings in the Archaeology of Recent Conflict, New York 2008, 185–196. 213