“Souvenirs, Souvenirs...” Note from the Editors
The three forthcoming issues of Manifesta Journal will explore the plural and variegated resonances of “The Politics of Time”, with Rasha Salti as guest editor.
Our editorial note begins with a disclosure: We are well aware that “the politics of time” (and chronopolitics) might be borderline-tired, and that we may be engaging it just inches before it is declared passé—a double entendre on how the contemporary art world fiddles with the notion of timeliness. Neither the urgency of the subject, nor its prescience was our inspiration. Rather, the discourse on the production of knowledge and poetics that has been borne of it has yet to be significantly investigated. In the non-Western world, one of the distinctions of the modern period was the clear separation between the production of knowledge and the production of poetics, where artistic practice unambiguously produced a poetics. Since the formal “conclusion” of modernism, the fields vested with the production of knowledge have either been disabled or rendered defunct, and artistic production has come to be regarded as not merely a poetics but as knowledge. That confusion is at once riveting and loathsome, troubling and enraging. Curators, critics, institutions and other practitioners are just as important as artists in this shift.
“Chronopolitics” addresses, among other things, the anxiety that countries outside the periphery of western hegemony bear toward experiencing and doing—progress, genial discoveries, everything—with delay, or time lag; as if in a sort of “second wave”. One of the principles of canonization in the twentieth century history of modern and contemporary art, written in the West, was pinned on a model embedded in the materialist idea that progress and bliss were intrinsically linked to the development of new technologies, and that those go hand in hand in a linear path. In his germinal book Time and the Other, anthropologist Johannes Fabian proposes that “Geopolitics has its ideological foundations in chronopolitics”. Hence chronopolitics is as concerned with half-forgotten modernities as it is entrusted with a decolonizing mission.
“Souvenirs, Souvenirs…”,is conceived as a set of disruptions into a linear construction of time. Each contribution enacts a digression that breaks the progress of straight time, exposing divergence and anachronism, peripheral and deviant views. Our title, “Souvenirs, Souvenirs...”, which betrays an indulgence in a sort of irreverent sentimentalism, is intended as a provocative overture for the novel approaches that investigate (or debunk) how histories are constructed, shared, and turned into collective memories through the subjective experience of events. Moreover, as “around curatorial practices” explicitly directs the journal’s investigations towards process, rather than post-mortem diagnoses and syntheses or critical readings on the practice, digression is an—uncannily—significant “organizing” principle; both a strategy and a poetic gesture.
Commonly viewed as an absence of, or a straying from, focus; a waste of time and energy, the negative connotations of digression have overshadowed its virtues. It is the unguarded, amiable default mode for breaking the ice of a first encounter. It is also the straying from a conversation’s predetermined path, or its logic, that accidentally or coincidentally unlocks unexamined, unsuspected horizons, answers and possibilities. The accidental, coincidental and happenstance are often the most memorable surprises in a curatorial endeavour. Our seemingly ex-centric (rather than eccentric) conceptualization of the diverse contributions hopes to prompt these situations. Be they olfactory or visual, vivid or fading, secret or widely spread out, “Souvenirs”, as memories, produce a discourse on our present more than on our past.
In his interview with Johannes Fabian, Anselm Franke brings forward the similarity between the art historiography of the non-Western world and Fabian’s notion of “coevalness” that the latter applies to the field of anthropology. It is both a critique on the Western ethnological gaze and the colonizing ideology that created discourses and distributed knowledge around the places, people, production and spirituality outside the West as if they had belonged to the past. Other contributions in the issue interrogate this discourse by imagining other subjectivities that take on the role of storytellers, or by subverting the tactics through which our subjective capacity for recall produces legitimate documents. That Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige invent new documents based on the historic events around the 1960s Lebanese space program is just one example. Addressing the relationship between an event and its document, or a document and its audience, Philip Auslander introduces a performative type of document that has been affected, recycled, and whose changes are tracked and visible.
In shifting from print to web, we’ve unbound ourselves from the structural linearity of print in a way that has seemed most fitting for staging digressions, tangents and subtexts. The web invites a radical rethinking of how to reconstruct the experience of an exhibition by curatorially organizing text, image, audio and video materials. Thus the web adaptation of Translated By, curated by Shumon Basar and Charles Arsène-Henry, restages how an exhibition of texts and audio recordings that narrates imaginings of places—cities—by literary authors can come to life virtually. Sam Shalabi’s “Mesh”, a music or sound contribution to the journal’s “Etude” rubric, is also an experimental subjective re-constitution of place.
In the same vein, Radiolab’s “Memory and Forgetting” responds to Shalabi’s exploration of faulty memory using a virtuoso montage that takes us on a sound trip through science’s endeavours to dissect the procedures of memory. The podcast also explores the switch from a reader’s position to a listener’s position within the frame of the magazine, expanding the array of sensorial experiences of the journal’s contents, in addition to provoking porous encounters between different moments in time. Such activity constantly brings us to reassess our position in the present. Embodiment and the body are thus key concepts, as are questions on memory’s place in the body.
Sensations and experiences from the artistic and psychosomatic explorations by Lygia Clark in the 1960s and 1970s expose exactly this point, and can be read about in the second part of Suely Rolnik’s contribution.1 On the other side of the coin, François Aubart wittily comments on dislocation and the transportation of a souvenir, in a situation where the absence of the body has been replaced by the presence of a memory, particularly in relation to the cheesy memories that certain generations share. Finally, the body—through the sense of smell—and its relationship to the past are again brought to the center of the debate by the eminent historian Khaled Fahmy’s “The Essence of Alexandria”, where he dissects the ideological constructions of memory within the post-colonial nostalgia for cosmopolitanism. In contrast, the filmmaker Oussama Mohammad vivisects the current repression of the Syrian revolution through the citizens’s resistance weapon—the free circulation of images and videos on the web.
Access to and use of archives in the production of art is neither evenly keeled across the world, nor across fields. How states and institutions erect, preserve and police archives is an important feature of the “politics of time” as well as considerations on “archive fever” and the political implications imparted on the works that use archival material. On that note, filmmaker Rania Stephan’s The Three Disappearances of Soad Hosni, artist Maha Maamoun’s Domestic Tourism II and filmmaker and artist Naeem Mohaiemen’s The Young Man Was (Part 1: United Red Army) are three captivating (and award-winning) works made entirely from archival material, plumbed from a wide variety of sources and from various geopolitical origins. Issues with access, copyright, poetics and audiences accompany their reflections.
Emma Smith collected personal memories from a group of curators to build the script of her game “On In + An One”, where readers can re-enact fragments of their practices and experiences. Estefania Peñafiel Loaiza dug into the archives of the once-glamorous Carlton Hotel in Beirut and revived the mixture of languages and the poetry of minor events to reconstruct a narrative out of their forgotten voices. The title of her contribution to our “Exhibition Room” rubric, “No Vacancy”, not only refers to the buzzing activity of the hotel itself, but it also evokes a space packed with memories—materialized through stories, documents or objects—that is not so distant from the space of a museum.
As an institution, the role of the museum is to collect, conserve and exhibit objects according to certain narratives that are historically, socially and geopolitically grounded. The displayed organization of these various missions constitutes both a repository and a representation of collective memory at a given moment in time. Bojana Piškur tackles exactly these issues when she investigates the impact of the successive uses of the building of the new Museum of Contemporary Art Metelkova in Ljubljana on the interaction of individual and collective bodies within the public space.
Can the subversive power of a performance be captured in an archival document? And how might the body be memorialized in highbrow, hegemonic institutions? In her contribution to the rubric “Projection”, Virginie Bobin’s “Guided Tour” of an imagined museum of performance caustically enquires into museographic practices, staging questions on the historiography, cataloguing, documentation and archiving of performance art. Impishly provocative and genially communicative, the Collection of the Museum of American Art further unveils the almost Orwellian politics of museographic practices and production of knowledge. With regards to the archival fever that constitutes giant bodies of testimonies of all kinds, performance and conceptual artist Lia Perjovschi has for decades been engaging with the place of the archive within the subjective writing of art history.
Likewise, in her short documentary, The Collector, and in her subsequent award-winning feature Ten to Eleven, filmmaker Pelin Esmer delved into the mystifying universe of Mithat Esmer, her elderly uncle who is obsessed with the mercilessly fleeting passage of time, and who has been collecting everything he has been able to get his hands on since the early years of childhood. This issue’s theme also occasioned a fantastic opportunity to engage with the e-flux founders Julieta Aranda and Anton Vidokle on their captivating, ongoing, and globally-franchising Time/Bank project, rooted in a re-enactment of an initiative by a nineteenth century economist who imagined a regime of economic production and exchange entirely outside capitalism. We wish you a time-enchanted reading experience.