I Forgot to Remember to Forget
The title for the second installment of Manifesta Journal’s engagement with the theme of “the politics of time”, “I Forgot to Remember to Forget”, is borrowed from a jukebox country music classic, written by Stan Kesler and Charlie Feathers, recorded at Sun Studio by Elvis Presley on July 11, 1955, and released on August 20 of that year, with Mystery Train on the B-side. Besides our commitment to irreverent tributes to pop culture, the song’s title seemed to encapsulate the thematic and poetic directions that guided the contributions. Manifesta Journal 15 thus engages with questions of official amnesia versus collective memory, with coerced erasures and resilient significations, and with memorializing and commemorating; whether from the purview of the state, civil society or individual subjectivities. “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” playfully pokes at the purported antagonistic relationship between forgetting and remembering and underlines the role of subjective agency. Our intention was to undo and transgress this tightly knit binary, in addition to the other binaries it foregrounds, namely, perpetrator/victim and public/private. Our contributors, and the projects they engage with, propose and instigate a process of reversing and transforming the power relations from which contemporary historiography is woven, legitimizing forgotten histories as well as making them accessible, and inscribing them in a realm outside that of the simple public/private binary, namely, “the common”. We are delighted to inaugurate Manifesta Journal 15 with Fawwaz Traboulsi’s “Guilt Matters?”, which critiques culturalism and its imperious coupling of “guilt/West” versus “shame/East”, in addition to revisiting the rapport between remembering and forgetting in the context of the legacy of the Lebanese civil war.
As artists and filmmakers from all over the world have been representing, re-presenting and re-enacting repressed histories, we have invited writers, poets and scholars to meditate on the knowledge and poetics produced by these artistic practices. Genocide, collective trauma and the resilience of memory: Başak Ertür’s “Plenty of History” interrogates questions of visibility and access to knowledge in public repositories through her reflections on the artist Hrair Sarkissian’s photographic series, Istory; Gareth Evans contemplates “thinking through time” in Patricio Guzmán’s Nostalgia for the Light, in the filmmaker’s foray into the time-suspended traces of the victims that disappeared from Pinochet’s gaols, and in an exploration of how notions of future and present are fabricated. Then, liberation struggles, reifications and failures of memory: Emeka Ogboh’s “The Ambivalence of 1960” is a counter-memorialization, made from a sound montage of speeches by Nigeria’s liberation leaders on the eve of independence. Meshed with contemporary everyday Lagos street recordings, it weaves a soundscape that draws the gaps of unfulfilled promises and betrayed history, fifty years after independence. Later, in Zero Gravity Revolt, an exhibition curated by Elena Sorokina, 1930s Soviet science-fiction texts are (re)enacted to embody the promises of scientific communism that the regime proponed in popular fiction, in which the conditions of production transform labor and the proletariat to the extent that levitation in trans-planetary revolutionary realms becomes possible. Furthermore, using video clips and audio recordings from YouTube, radio and her own personal archive, curator Regine Basha’s “Tuning Baghdad Notes: ‘Fog il Nakhal’” takes us on an intimate journey through her lived experience of geographic and cultural belongings that history has rendered impossible. Later, in “The Black Panthers in Israel—The First and Last Social Intifada in Israel”, Sami Shalom Chetrit shares the photo album of an uprising that even though is entirely unimaginable today, is significant in its successful appropriation of race and class consciousness from the Black Panther’s movement. Traveling the bitter realities of race and class segregation in American cities between the 1960s and now, Haig Aivazian riffs on an untitled work by artist Edgar Arceneaux from his Hopelessness Freezes Time exhibition that revisits the fraught history and legacy of the struggle for civil rights in the U.S.
Neoliberal capital’s production of time defends its narrative by co-opting and voiding the subversive potential of what it represses. Anna Colin’s “Deviance as a Space of Resistance” conjures the figure of the witch as a “surviving deviant” who embodies a realm of resistance to normalization and forms of knowledge that cannot be confiscated. Gregory Sholette’s “Artists, Embrace Your Redundancy”, investigates the potential for insurgency that permeates the “hidden surplus” in the system of art production and consumption and the way today’s Occupy movements attempt to (re)activate the “dark matter” of that universe. Filipa Ramos’s “The Absent Spectator 1: The Present Was Now”, constructs an imagined memory of Contemporanea, (arte 1973–1955), a controversial milestone exhibition that took place in Rome in 1973, thereby bearing witness to an event she never attended.
In 2007, Xenia Kalpaktsoglou, Augustine Zenakos, and Poka-Yio, curators of the Athens Biennial, revived the infamous 1944 proclamation, Destroy Athens, by poet and artist Yorgos Makris, as a provocation to the artistic, intellectual and political establishment of Greece at the time. In her essay, “Destroy Athens?”, Marina Fokidis reflects on the implications of that revival, as well as her experience with the Thessaloniki Biennial, in light of the country’s devastating financial crisis.
Another dimension comes into play when thinking through these questions from within the physical landscapes of colonization, military occupation, civil war, genocide and collective trauma; sites upon which narratives of memory and forgetting are both forged and contested. In “Where Everything is Yet to Happen”, curators Ivana Bago and Antonia Majača propose to de-condense and stall the conventional time frame of a biennial (set in Banja Luka, Bosnia-Herzegovina), for the purpose of freeing artistic and intellectual production from the time-abbreviated and, in the psycho-physical space of post-Yugoslavia, so heavily-loaded categories of perpetrator, victim, accomplice and observer. Then, in their long-term and multi-disciplinary explorations of the politically vexed notion of Palestinian refugees’s right of return, the West Bank-based collective Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency debunk the stunted categories of private versus public domains (both captive to the regime of military occupation) and propose to revive the notion of “the common”, a set of resiliently remembered collective practices that clear a ground for transgression and resistance. Demystifying the charged metaphor of alien and citizen, artist Yazan Khalili’s “The Aliens” caustically imagines the visit of aliens from another planet into the sordid landscape of the occupied West Bank at an abandoned, unfinished amusement park.
It would not have been possible to have come this far in our investigations of the “politics of time” without Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History making an appearance. It does, and in a rather uncanny form of reverie scripted in poetic verse, titled “She Was a Party Image”, by writer and philosopher Ashkan Sepahvand, who meditates on historiography and translation.
Finally, Manifesta Journal 15’s game, designed by Joseph Del Pesco and Al McElrath, titled “Bringing Home America’s Army”, is a war-simulation network game that “never forgets”. Nonetheless, we conclude this editorial with Fawwaz Traboulsi’s last sentence: “An Arab adage claims that man is called ‘insan’ because he is ‘nasin’, or oblivious. Forgetting can be constructive; even human.”