The last two decades have seen a rapid growth of interest in documents and archives of contemporary art.
There are artists who utilize the archives not only as a subject of artworks, but also on a theoretical level, as a system of relations, content and form. Marco Scotini models exactly this, being an art critic and independent curator, an academic of architecture and aesthetics and most of all Ragghianti’s pupil: he works in the direction of a disclosure of a method, which has the merit to circulate, in the discipline related to the archive, the aesthetics necessity and modern criticism.
I would like to begin this interview by introducing your profile as curator. In particular, it has been several years that in your exhibitions, documentary material interacts with multidisciplinary artistic practices, marking a clear line of research. Various other artists show an interest in the document itself, with all the related possibilities of manipulation. Which are the aesthetic and the social factors, that motivate, in your opinion, this renewed interest?
The exhibition Disobedience Archive was born in Berlin ten years ago – when still this taxonomic tendency in art had not assumed the appearance of pre-eminent importance like it has today – and has already been hosted by fifteen international museums. Major exhibitions focusing on the archive as Interrupted Histories (curated by Zdenka Badovinac in Ljubljana) and Ground Lost (the collective WHW in Graz) are from 2007 and therefore subsequent to Disobedience. However it is from Archive Fever by Okwui Enwezor, in 2008, that this phenomenon has increased out of all proportion all the way up to the Encliclopedic Palace in the last Venice Biennale. Even the show that I just cared for, in the PAV in Turin, Vegetation as a Political Agent, follows the same approach, uniting works of art to herbaria of the nineteenth century, to political publications and scientific documents. After the opening brought by conceptual art I think it is reactionary to continue to offer art exhibitions, with the capital A. In the 70s what was exhibited in museums was especially the documentation of what had happened elsewhere, certifications, documentary photographs, newspaper pages etc.. If this is true on the one hand, on another level we discovered that those who were believed to be documents and evidence of reality were instead materials artifacts. After the fall of the Berlin wall we needed to rewrite history: then we had to resort to all kinds of visual material, outside the disciplinary affiliations (that fell as well as the wall). Because now the West (also in a cultural sense) had lost its centrality.
The initiatives carried out at NABA Academy of Arts of Milan, under the direction of the Visual Arts Department, mark a research path where the theme of reconstructing memory through the archive and telling the story through an artistic practice, have found a new focus. For example, the book “Politics of Memory”, which you wrote with Elisabetta Galasso, investigated with clarity the ways in which data is recorded, accumulated and stored. Can you share with us the topics of your work?
Of course, not only as a curator but also in the role of the director of an Institution for training in the arts, I felt the need to import this archival method as pedagogy. All artists or filmmakers who now find themselves reunited in the volume Politics of Memory, held their lessons at NABA five years ago. They are extraordinary figures who prefer to be called “archeologists of the present”, because they do not tell history properly (if history is defined as the linear, irreversible and teleological interpretation of Modernity), but rather they re-write memories, practicing an art of repetition. As I have said many times, these archaeologists work on time but also against the clock, in favor of a time to come. What does this mean? They fail to see the past as something finished or immovable, but as a simulation, an ever-present potential. When we say the word “today”, we also convene to a whole world of possibilities in the past (what could have been, the failed attempts, the chances lost).
As an art historian you are responsible for the Archives Gianni Colombo and recently, during an intervention at Open Care in Milan, you have placed emphasis on the question of how to rethink the historical archive, defining its “aesthetic paradigm”. What form can take this meaning in relation to your critical path?
I started to treat the Archive Gianni Colombo in 2004 and my concern was not only to maintain inventory records and works of art. More than a deposit (disciplined and orderly) I thought of a device that, taking together different research plans, allowed me – that I had not known personally Colombo – a rewrite of the author and his development (which in fact has been and is now visible to all). Thus, in this case, I have not served as much of a scientific paradigm but as an aesthetic one. The idea is the one of a well – performed storage, I would say an ‘elastic space’, paraphrasing Gianni Colombo. A tool to be used in different ways and that works on several levels, that takes into account the same documents, photographs, sculptures, designs and models of environments. About the “aesthetic paradigm” a precise episode comes to mind. Years ago I wrote an article about Gianni Colombo, one of the first I wrote, titled “Spectator coming down the stairs”. It was a re-reading of a “Bariestesia” made for the stairs of Gallery Hoffmann in Friedberg in 1975. I added The table of a escalier at Duchamp’s Nu descendant of 1912. Just a few months ago the German gallery found the project made by Colombo for this intervention in situ: a beautiful design with the table and staircase rise above, that Colombo had stuck with the technique of collages, the exact photocopy of the subject of Duchamp! What about philology, then?
If we spoke not only of the archive as an instrument for historicizing the past, but also as a practice aimed at the contemporary – which is intertwined with the values of critical thinking as well as linked to protection and promotion – then the archiving processes conducted by the artist himself or the curator may be put at the center of the art system and its market, put at the center of creativity and of the relationship with the audience. There is, in your opinion, a need to store contemporary art? In which form and manner this type of archive may become the engine of the process of knowledge?
The archive, by statute, is empirical, practical, and its existence is always temporary. In the age of digital databases and computer networks, the archive is the best model to be able to give an account of a multiplicity lattice, heterogeneous and dispersed, with open rings and with variable durations. The existence of the archive is not there merely to count, but to tell, each time in a different and discontinuous relation of power, knowledge and subjectivity. It is de-store and re-archive of the material. Compared to the ideal character of the historian (the objectivity and accuracy of the facts), the archivist has to do with building pragmatic, artificial and therefore contingent information, something never-ending and always ‘work in progress’. If now the archive is really our contemporary lives, is because it is characterized by plurality: the archive makes no claim to rediscover the roots of our identity but, on the contrary, it helps to dissipate it.
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