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Ra’ad’s Atlas Project
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only A heap of broken images, where the sun beats, And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief, And the dry stone no sound of water. Only There is shadow under this red rock, (Come in under the shadow of this red rock), And I will show you something different from either Your shadow at morning striding behind you Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you; I will show you fear in a handful of dust. - T.S. Eliot, “The Waste Land” (1922)
In the last of four conversations with Dennis Wheeler between 1969 and 1970, Robert Smithson quotes the last line (above) of T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.”1 Smithson alludes to Eliot’s “handful of dust” as a metaphoric image made literal by one of his mirror displacement projects, Incidents of Mirror-Travel in the Yucatan, a multi-site “installation” of Smithson’s highly publicized “anti-expedition” to the Yucatan Peninsula with wife, Nancy Holt, and friend, Virginia Dwan, in 1969. Eliot’s imagery, however, both haunting and bleak in metaphor, contains and conveys an aura of violence, of savage earth or of an evacuated deadening, that resides not only literally in Smithson’s explorations of non-site, but also allegorically in his notions of (or rejection of) the art object and subsequent de-rationalization of time and space via the document. Smithson’s work, among similar examples of anarchic compulsion that characterized the late 60s and 70s by Gordon Matta-Clark, Ed Ruscha and others, also calls
Robert Smithson, “Four Conversations Between Dennis Wheeler and Robert Smithson,” in Robert Smithson Unearthed, ed. Eugenie Tsai (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991), p. 121.
attention to the fragmentary nature of documentation itself, specifically as it is evoked and reified by the archive.2 Unlike Matta-Clark and Ruscha, however, who focus on the disparities and contradictions of the urban American landscape, Smithson and more recent counterparts, such as Walid Ra’ad in his archival work for the Atlas Project, instead examine and call into question critical erasures of subaltern histories via the “mytho-poetic” space of the archive. To “ruminate” is to think deeply or contemplate something, a somewhat poeticized function suggested by the conceptualist inclinations that such work as Smithson’s and Ra’ad’s offer as a modus operandi. The intransitive use of “ruminate,” however, means quite literally, “to chew the cud,” or more specifically, “to chew again what has been chewed slightly and swallowed.”3 In just such a way do Smithson and Ra’ad also approach the archive and document, in a masticatory fashion. The proliferation of critically dematerialized practices since the 1950s and 60s has challenged the role and rationale of the archive as well as its supposed inert and objective operations. The archive’s thirst for documentation, for guarantors of authorship, became all to clear with the influx of conflated object-documents of conceptual practices, congealing in the form of the photograph, film or the certificate of authenticity. Conceptually, Michel Foucault originally conceived of the archive as a system governing the appearance of statements, an integral element of the systematized super-surveillance posited in his theoretical essay on Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon.4 Panoptic visibility had implications far beyond its theoretical context in Foucault’s pivotal text, including the task of rationalizing institutional and bureaucratic
During the late 60s and 70s, Gordon Matta-Clark and Ed Ruscha also conducted similar projects within the fabric of urban United States. Like Smithson, both artists used archival, serialized and photographic notations to explore and pun the social ramifications of architecture—Matta-Clark in Fake Estates, a documentation of 15 unusable tracts of land purchased in New York City, and Ruscha in Real Estate Opportunities, documentation of empty “For Sale” lots across Los Angeles in varying states of decrepitude. 3 See entry for “ruminate” in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition) (Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2008). 4 See Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison (NY: Vintage Books 1995), pp. 195-228.
. 1]—“the archive is thus the mass of the non-semantic inscribed in every meaningful discourse as a function of its enunciation. than it represents. as a form that can be modified. which cares only for what was never said.structures like the museum and archive. in Language. pp. It [the archive] constitutes it own past. which restricts at the outset “the system of its [the statement’s] enunciability. . but which it is able to reorganize and redistribute according to new relations.”8 This enunciative capacity can likewise be thought via the archive’s circumstantial legibility: 5 Michel Foucault. Alan Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books. 7 Foucault. Counter-Memory.”5 The conflation of divergent subjectivities in the archive represses as much. “Fantasia on the Library” (1967). And it poses this enunciative past as an acquired truth. 6 Michel Foucault. Thus the inconsistencies of subjects are lapped by their folding in and collapsing into the perceived consistency of discourse. in what precedes it. . 92. trans. as material to be transformed. The Archaeology of Knowledge. “now belongs within the squared and massive surface of painting. redefines what makes it possible or necessary. . p. We are thus offered “portraits” of concretized social deposits as they are manifest in the art object—“every painting. The archive “is first the law of what can be said.7 Just as a circle-inscribed square illustrates the pervasiveness of Capitalism. so it also helps visualize the archive as a mechanism of dominion over the enunciation of it statements and the reconstitution of its subjectivities [Fig.” Foucault writes. the archive is the unsaid or sayable 3 . if not more. and from that which falls outside our discursive practice. 124. excludes what cannot be compatible with it. 8 Agamben continues: “Between the obsessive memory of tradition. The Archaeology of Knowledge. it is the dark margin encircling and limiting every concrete act of speech. or as an object that can be spoken about. as an event that has occurred. defines. which knows only what has been said. 1977). Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. 1972).” 6 Here becomes evident the violence of the archive. 127-129. its own filiation. and the exaggerated thoughtlessness of oblivion. its threshold of existence is established by the discontinuity that separates us from what we can no longer say. ” Foucault continues: Every statement involves a field of antecedent elements in relation to which it is situated. p.
especially as it is encapsulated in the certificate of authenticity. Claude Levi-Strauss famously posited language’s genesis in an explosion of signification. Felicity Baker (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Roland Barthes: Mythologies. a “big bang that left a semiotic surplus for all time.The historical index of images says not only that they belong to a particular time. 1994). it is the fragment of memory that is always forgotten in the act of saying ‘I’. here. however. pp. 290. trans. stating: “’like the primal murder of the father in Freud. 1993). cited by John McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press. pp. unattainable equivalence!) between signifier and signified is mirrored by its likewise discord in the archive. 9 Walter Benjamin.’ the origin of Levi-Strauss’s semiotic overflow is heuristic.” (1989) Remnants of Auschwitz. 12 See Andrew Leak. ed. works to conceal this “non-fit” and absorb the semiotic overspill. the residues of frozen time are conflated (in value) with the original event as they are iterated in exhibition and compulsively rendered in text. 101. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books. “The Archive without Museums. 17-21. 11 Claude Levi-Strauss. Text and language. trans. “Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss” (1950). “Every mythic and aesthetic invention. And this ‘reaching legibility’ is a particular. 1987).”10 Levi-Strauss’s “inadequation” or semiotic non-equivalence (impossible. 60-63. In it.” In “The Archive and Testimony.” October 77 (Summer 1996): p. 10 Hal Foster.9 In the archive. The enunciative role of language.”12 Simultaneous with the semiological operation posited by Levi-Strauss is the use of the archive’s signifying function as the transparent backbone of ideology. ‘outside the very system that it founds.’” See Foster. is also restrictive. Every present is determined by those images that are synchronic with it: every now is the now of a particular recognizability. rivals and on occasion exceeds the mechanical imprint as a rationalizing and authenticating maneuver. p. the archive constitutes just such a “mythic” invention—that which presents itself in the guise of its “naturalness. The archive’s use of language. 4 .” p. cannot be neglected. truth is loaded with time to the bursting point. 1999). p. “The Archive without Museums. 101. 143. critical point in the motion within them. Hal Foster also cites Levi-Strauss. and David Williams (Valencia: Grant & Cutler Ltd..” writes Levi-Strauss. Roger Little.11 In the case of discursive indoctrination. Wolfgang van Emden. The problem of Roland inscribed in everything said by virtue of being enunciated. it says above all that they only attain legibility at a particular time.
it is a language thanks to which I ‘act the object’. trans. ‘Sous le porche du Sacré-Cœur à Paris le 30 mars 2014 a midi’. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang. 1995). the meaning is always-already complete in its transitive coordinate therein. a memory. transitively linked to its object. that is to say. it presents its contents as tautological. ideas. there is nothing but my labour. 124. 17.” reads the script of the authenticating document for Jonathan Monk’s Meeting # 81 from 13 Barthes elaborates on the form of myth: “it [myth] postulates a kind of knowledge. I ‘speak the tree’. whatever the form of my sentence. Barthes writes: If I am a woodcutter and I am led to name the tree which I am felling. A case in point: “Certificate: Meeting # 81. I do not speak about it. At the point of an event’s inscription in the archive.” Roland Barthes.” He continues: “the myth is a double system. 14 Jacques Derrida comments on the content and legibility of the archive. an action. 13 Likewise does the archive “speak” its objects. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. it is simply the meaning of my action.14 The operative necessity outlined by Barthes is evident in the created necessity of documentation. 117. which presupposes itself as both sender and receiver as well conflating the meaning and form of its contents. p. 1972). 2001. there occurs in it a sort of ubiquity: its point of departure is constituted by the arrival of meaning. decisions. between the tree and myself. a comparative order of facts. The possibility of a work’s historical “existence” resides in its capacity to be written of or spoken of—encased in language via some modality of a material existence that allows us to regurgitate it as history necessitates. This is a political language: it represents nature for me only inasmuch as I am going to transform it. a past. asserting that “the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future. language functions as both the enunciating system of the object-event within the archive and meanwhile occupies a literal presence in its form as physical text. Mythologies. In this way. This means that my language is operational. The obsessive and incorrigible function of the physical document within the archive emphatically highlights the frozen and de-autonomized art “Object” of the avant-garde while simultaneously creating a pseudo-autonomous record of a works’ existence. 5 . trans. pp. The archivization produces as much as it records the event” in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression.Barthes’s use of semiological devices to approach ideology is resolved in the form of the archive. the tree is not an image for me.
Litanies. often takes shape in illogical abstractions. In both senses. Any heuristic function of transitory experience is denied.” Cabinet 41 (Spring 2011): 87-95. 19 Walter Benjamin.19 15 16 See Susan Hapgood and Cornelia Lauf. Upon failure of payment by architect Philip Johnson for his work. a substitution of this memory built into the particularity of a representation. an event in its presence has already become past. the archive is a vast substitution set. “In Deed. which sets out in legal terms the official emptying of the work’s “quality and content” [Fig.’” writes Benjamin. providing for a relation of general equivalence between images” in “The Body and the Archive. 276. “De Memoria et Reminiscentia. Richard Sorabji (London: Gerald Duckworth & Company. In other words. A man who died at thirty-five—so runs the truth that was meant here—will appear to remembrance at every point in his life as a man who died at thirty-five.17 Aristotle posited memory as a “state or affection connected with” a perception or conception from which time has elapsed. the archive is both an abstract paradigmatic entity and a concrete institution. 18 Aristotle. cited by McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition.16 The registration of the event via its inscription in the archive constitutes first a degree of memory (which is always-already abstract) and second. stating: “In structural terms. and is thus already a degree of abstraction. 48. 3]. Robert Morris issued a “Statement of Esthetic Withdrawal” in 1963. and perhaps the highest stake in the relegation of non-histories. 17 Allan Sekula elaborates on this notion as it relates to the photographic archival document. Ltd.2001 [Fig. Gilles Deleuze. p. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. p.” in Artistotle on Memory. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. the statement that makes no sense for real life becomes indisputable for remembered life. Even nonexistence and erasure must conform to this linguistic operation of the document in archival histories. 1972). of subaltern histories.15 The operation of memory and its inevitable abstraction is also a stake in the archive. but this form of memory. 2]: the event is not enough. as Deleuze reiterates. 1989). In the Bergsonian sense.” October 39 (Winter 1986): p. 6 . citing Mortiz Heimann. trans.. like that of the archive. 17.18 Intellect is then the ability to recollect experience in a way that helps make sense of the world. He goes on: Nothing is more dubious than this proposition—but for the sole reason that it chooses the wrong tense. trans. “’A man who dies at the age of thirty-five is at every point in his life a man who dies at the age of thirty-five.
the archive has somehow evaded considerations that the logic of its contents constitute a pseudo- 20 See Renee Green. The recording of memories is always-already subjective and flawed. “The Storyteller. Hans Ulrich Obrist.” in Interarchive: Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field. 7 . Diethelm Stoller. No event comes to us without being already “shot through with explanation. Counter to the idea that archives are free of ethical characteristics as “amoral. The ghostliness of such an enterprise shuts out and off unmediated exchanges of experience. but as even a possible armature of the structure of knowledge and language itself. p.” Benjamin writes. 21 Jean Beaudrillard writes on fetishization. stating: “In the shift from medium to medium. But even in its moment of destruction it exposes and affirms itself.” L’Echange symbolique et la mort (Paris.The instability of recollecting and the necessity of its conformation to casuistic devices reveals the fundamental error of viewing memory devices as honest operations.22 The social loss of stories free from explanation has produced very little which does not “tell” to the benefit of information. The informational function of the archive is an operation of reality fabrication. an iteration of the discontinuity Foucault observes in his archival theory." in Illuminations. of the storytelling function of dematerialized or conceptual practices in favor of their fetishization as objects. Gallimard. and not so much a priority.20 Likewise.” objective entities. for example—mirrors the fallibility of such an endeavor in the archive.21 No longer is lived experiences or transient cognition a priority. The incapacity of the archive to actively connect its viewers to the past solidifies the “negation in abundance” outlined by Reneé Green in her work on archival lacunae. the fallibility of memory—the possibility of putting one’s foot in the wrong shoe. 147. it will become the quintessential real and it becomes the fetishism of the lost object. 1969). by Hannah Arendt. that an archive’s users make sense of its contents and not vice versa. Beatrice von Bismark. ed. Ulf Wuggenig (Cologne: Verlag der B uchhandlung Walther Konig. Hans-Peter Feldmann. 1976). “Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae. of the reconstitution of subjectivities only insofar as they conform to the rationale of the archive. the real vanishes and becomes an allegory of death. eds. 22 Walter Benjamin. trans. 2002). Harry Zorn (Schocken Books.
methodologically unwinds the enunciating space archival document via its own exploitation. ed.25 Smithson instead delivered a deadpan. Smithson’s work. 5]. The architecture observed in Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. each critically evicts the fetishized. arguably also a demonstration of his repulsion toward the Greenbergian formalism extolled a generation later by Michael Fried. This is how the story of art is told.”24 and the archive ultimately conducts its legitimating. “Politics of Cultural Heritage. Theorizing the metaphysical gaps in the system of the archive. In doing so. in the voids of its logocentric structuring. an archive designates a territory and not a particular narrative. Smithson and Ra’ad. Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press. Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska make a similar statement as Dan and Kiraly. parodic lecture accompanied by a series of odd and unremarkable slides of the dilapidated. This represents the positivist fallacy of the archive’s operations. 1999). stating that “unlike the collection. ramshackle hotel where Smithson and company stayed [Figs. 24 Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss. p. 8 . authenticating and enunciative function from the groundwork of its physical contents—the document.” in The Archive. “reality” is an archaic term for “real estate.” in Art History Archive (Venice: Romanian Pavilion. a less well-known exploit of his travels in the Yucatan. the “erased” histories relative to the respective geographical foci of their projects. There is no imperative within the logic of the archive to display or interpret.” in “From Enthusiasm to the Creative Commons. but its “anarchitectural” 23 See SubREAL (Calin Dan and Josif Kiraly). 2006). film and on occasion the dead matter of ephemera—and its deified system of logic. 4. succeed in naming the gaps and voids of the archive by “speaking” the contents of erased subaltern histories. “A User's Guide to Entropy. 133-135. “Yucatan is Elsewhere: On Robert Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. however. are obligatory in certain respects.reality. 150.23 Coincidentally. In an interview with Anthony Spira. 25 Neville Wakefield. 85. Hotel Palenque was first presented in 1972 to a group of University of Utah architecture students expecting a talk on the famous Mayan ruins in Palenque. Venice Biennale. performs a much different operation than simply deconstructing the function of the monument. photograph.” Parkett 43 (1995): pp. and to a large extent. The critical operations of such a work are many.” October 78 (Autumn 1996): p.
” Yve-Alain Bois writes: The first entry in the ‘Critical Dictionary’ in Documents. but also in documents as architecture.spatialagency. this evident in their exploitation and consequent liquidation of the humanist. ways of inhabiting buildings and the role of property.function is among the first and most noticeable. [as Bataille remarks] ‘an attack on architecture . The group denounced architecture's complicity in capitalist modes of production with projects that explored issues related to cities. 9 . Philosophy's preferred metaphor. 27 Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss citing Bataille in “A User's Guide to Entropy. . the superego. Hotel Palenque not only manifested itself in documents of architecture.’ Thus the dream of architecture. Roberts.” p. Every monument is a monument of social order. however. Tina Girouard. including members Laurie Anderson. Jene Highstein.net/database/the. Suzanne Harris. Bernard Kirschenbaun. is necessarily. but of the idealism of man's project: ‘Harmony. architecture is another name for system itself. . a call to order issued to inspire fear.’ . Only for the fictive space provided by such works as Hotel Palenque could an empty swimming pool “Call up the fears and dreads of the ancient 26 “Anarchitecture” (combining ‘anarchy’ and ‘architecture’) was a term coined by an artist’s group based in New York in the 1970s. and Richard Nonas and Gordon Matta Clark. . or sculpture. an attack on man. signed by Bataille.’ . . “Landscapes of Indifference: Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan. a clear response to his Yucatan projects’ own dialectical precedent. is ‘Architecture.” The Art Bulletin 82: 3 (September 2000): pp. . positivist elements of both architecture and the archive. Bataille reintroduced architecture as the metaphor not of the human figure. is to escape entropy.” http://www. throws time into the outside: its principle is the repetition through which 'all that is possible' is made eternal. The ideal is architecture. .anarchitecture. Smithson also exploits Western conceptions of the fetishized subaltern history of the Mayan civilization. See “The Anarchitecture Group. Architecture is the human ideal. as it were. while Smithson’s projects allegorically reflect on Stephens’s brand of nineteenth century archaeological exploration. Carol Goodden. 28 See Jennifer L. among other things. was cast in distinct notes of imperialist sentiment and reeked of positivist rhetoric. 2011). like the project. John Lloyd Stephens conducted a well-publicized excursion of the Yucatan Peninsula.27 In this way.28 Stephens’s expedition.26 In “A User’s Guide to Entropy. Consequently. 55-56. guaranteeing the duration of motifs whose essence is the annulment of time. for the regulation of the plan. . . 544-567. . Richard Landry. In 1841. “Anarchitecture” was subsequently used by the group as an exhibition title at a Greene Street gallery show in 1974.group (accessed December 1. immobilizing harmony.
as imagery has been historically used to dictate and represent ideas about a given society or culture). “Hotel Palenque. See Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. and 3) the historically utilitarian function spelled out by Allan Sekula in “The Body and the Archive” (its historical implications in bio-physical typing.Mayan Aztec culture.” October 39 (winter 1986): 3-64. which can be interpreted not only literally as an allusion to the violence often ascribed to fetishized histories of “primitive” cultures. 30 See Allan Sekula. “The Body and the Archive. “The Body and the Archive. 4]29 Smithson’s often disinformational anecdotes are thus not free of their own mythologizing role. 27. and instead ruminates on random details of a ruin we cannot visualize as well as the pre-Spanish farming methods that produce the thickened atmosphere which obscures the photograph’s view. specifically in phrenology. 31 See Sekula.32 The only “view” of the Mayan ruins Smithson’s lecture was expected to deliver resides in a single image of the window of a roofless.31 In doing so. Estate of Robert Smithson. From the landscape framed by the window. Smithson and company were tourists). 6. physiognomy and criminal portraiture). derelict cavity of the hotel [Fig. 10 . Smithson challenges the both honorific and repressive operations of photography outlined by Sekula. Smithson points out a hazy “fragment” of the Palenque ruins. Hotel Palenque disallows the “privileged entrance” granted by most documentary photography.”[Fig. Courtesy John Weber Gallery. This “empty reference to the desired 29 Robert Smithson. Hotel Palenque also destabilizes the notion of the photograph as document by undermining three of its most esteemed and normalized functions: 1) the narrative function of the photograph in travel photography (after all. 2) the educational-ideological function of photography (that is. New York. 32 Derrida uses the term in discussing the corpus of Freud’s works and collective versus individual memory. but also as a confirmation of the historically imperialist and positivist motives of explorers like Stephens.30 By presenting questionable anecdotes in conjunction with such unspectacular images.” Lecture given to University of Utah architecture students (1972). human sacrifice and mass slaughter. As suggested by the example above.” p. 5]. p.
See The Atlas Group Archive.historical spectacle” proposes a systematic erasure of the “visionary enterprise” of Stephens’s expedition as well as a representation of the socio-political erasure of indigenous agency. One can also observe archival critique via subaltern history in the more recent example of Walid Ra’ad’s Atlas Project. The Atlas Group Archive is organized by three file 33 34 Roberts.org/index. Among its aims to “locate.” p.33 The fallacy of positivism in the structures of education and pedagogy connects the idea of the “lecture” with a delivery to some truth or conclusion. in presenting a non-site that essentially leads nowhere. Hotel Paleque thus mounts a dual intervention: a casting of the archival document as fiction so as to enact a deconstruction of the archive as an ideological weapon and powerful space of knowledge formation and secondly. Smithson inverts this principle. Smithson succeeds in casting s a critical project by utilizing a typically rationalized form (the academic lecture). preserve [and] study” its contents. effectually deconstructing the archive’s production and performance of memories in accordance with discursive requirements. the Atlas group also “produce[s]” its contents. an initiative established in 1999 to recover aspects of the contemporary history of Lebanon via audio. 2011). “Landscapes of Indifference.theatlasgroup. 553. literary and other artifacts which take the form of the Atlas Group Archive.34 The key use of this term in the Atlas Group’s mission delineates both the ambiguity of the project and the parallel ambiguity of the archival document. visual. a reified format (the archival/documentary photograph) and as an idealized subject (architecture)—all of which are traditionally conflated with positivist notions of rational progress—to effectually expose the irrational design and decaying material structure of the Hotel Palenque. http://www. 11 . an “erasure” of a subaltern history that was at the time already largely erased by its colonial inscriptions in the canons of history.html (accessed November 20. however.
Lastly. vol. an historian of the Lebanese wars. 1988). model and color of every car bomb between 1975 and 1991) with Notebook 72 [Fig. Moreover.”36 The Atlas Group was neither formed by an 35 See The Atlas Group Archive. File Type AGP are the Atlas Group Productions. Fadl Fakhouri. 116.” include actual large-format photographs found buried in the rubble during the 1992 demolition of Beirut’s commercial districts and fictional footage shot by a Lebanese Army intelligence officer. to record the photo-finish. evidently a pastime of “the major historians of the Lebanese wars”)35 highlights the absurdity of archival rationale. 8](notations on the finish-line photographs of horse-racing. 12 . 2011).theatlasgroup. Traces” (1978). not only via the pseudo-personages of Fakhouri and Bakhar.” 36 The first requirement of the archive according to Ricoeur is “a set. composed of a mixture of actual and pseudo-documentation.” both of which record extensive AGP initiatives to reconstitute histories of the recent violence in Lebanon. http://www. It is also said that they convinced (some say bribed) the photographer to snap only one picture as the winning horse arrived. 6](photographs of the effects of car bombings) or Fakhouri’s Notebook 38 [Fig. Maronite nationalists and socialists on races eight through fifteen. an organized body of documents. Each historian wagered on precisely when—how many fractions of a second before or after the horse crossed the finish line—the photographer would expose his frame. Race after race. a Lebanese national held hostage in Beirut for 10 years. but also through the juxtaposition of his archive’s contents. 7](which entails 145 cutouts of cars corresponding to the exact make. trans.” See “Archives. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Documents. and Souheil Bachar. Ra’ad’s project violates two of the three conditional characteristics of the archive posited by Paul Ricoeur—the relationship of a given collection of documents to an institution as well as the “goal of conserving or preserving them.org/index. File type FD. The collocation of entries such as the Thin Neck File [Fig. whose job was to image the winning horse as it crossed the finish line.html (accessed November 20. “It is a little known fact that the major historians of the Lebanese wars were avid gamblers. It is said that they met every Sunday at the race track—Marxists and Islamists bet on races one through seven. meanwhile. Ra’ad’s exacting mimicry of the archive probes the slippage between historical and fictional narrative in archival production of subjectivities. in Time and Narrative. III. comprised of the “Sweet Talk File” and “Think Neck File. p. File Type A are the “authored files” of Ra’ad himself as well as fictional characters Dr.types. the “Found Files. the historians stood behind the track photographer.
institution. Ra’ad’s Atlas Project or similar projects should not be taken to be thoroughgoing examples of archival decodification. but rather we also want to consider it as an abstraction constituted by various discourses and. Ra’ad’s archive is a means of “proceed[ing] from the hypothesis that ‘The Lebanese Civil War’ is not a self-evident episode.guggenheim.” Rather. cited by McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition. the Raqs Media Collective. Ra’ad effectively marks an intervention in both the authority of the “institution. http://www. p. 170-71.” nor is it a “matter of goods” to be securely possessed without.” by challenging its assumption as the foundational enterprise of the archive. Smithson’s Hotel Palenque. 2011).39 Despite their critical value. Rather. the slides and audio recording of Hotel Palenque are now owned by the Guggenheim Museum. 298. by issuing fictional documents and persons. 2006). in The Archive.”37 It excavates. the lacunae inherent in such endeavors merit attention as well. Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press. Moreover. “First Information Report” (2003). Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press. recovers. p. ed. in The Archive. by various modes of assimilating the data of the world. more importantly.org/newyork/collections/collection-online/show-full/piece/?search=Hotel%20Palenque&page=&f=Title&object=99. deconstructs.38 Moreover. ed. “Let’s Be Honest.5268 (accessed November 14. nor are its documents a means of “conserving” or “preserving. Ra’ad continues: “We do not consider ‘The Lebanese Civil War’ to be a settled chronology of events. 2006). Nearly all of Smithson’s realized non-site projects. pp. Such projects issue warnings in a Benjaminian fashion that tradition is never a “secure inheritance. producing catastrophic effects. as well as the “truth-telling” function of the archive. a testament to its own conformation to a large and established institution’s archival standards of collecting and exhibiting. much like the work of another recent example. invasions. dates. 179. 13 .” 38 See Raqs Media Collective. like Smithson’s work. an inert fact of nature. personalities. for example.40 Subsequently. 40 See the entry for “Hotel Palenque” in Guggenheim Online. this valuation of the archival documents as that which comprises the collectable object negates the strictly accessorizing function of 37 The Atlas Group (Walid Ra’ad). on occasion. were initially publicized as satellites of their gallery presence. the Rain Helped” (2003). re-imagines and exposes. 39 Walter Benjamin. massacres.
may rediscover it. as Benjamin writes.” in Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews with Barry. stating: “The intention and effect [of a unified subject position] of this is to legitimate the archive itself as a repository that is neither arbitrary nor subjective in its accounting of the apst but rather. in accordance with its origin. of the Here and Now . “An Archival Impulse. “Introduction. Huebler. p.” 42 Hal Foster.” its material record and the process by which the materials were accrued or valuated. eds. Charles Merewether and John Potts (New York: Manchester University Press. looking back. to recoup failed visions in art. 9.41 Fetishization pervades in the societal attachment to the physical archive. 6. . since 1972. Oppenheim. signaling in a variety of ways how modern and contemporary art has devolved into an insider experience. . a legal repository” in “Archival futures: On Kawara and the date from which all things begin. p. collateral knowledge of Ra’ad’s practice—his interest in simultaneously utilizing and exploiting the archive—is almost necessary to discern the ambiguities of the work. The “ownership” of the archive by the Guggenheim restricts legal exhibition of the original audio and images to galleries or museums as dictated by the owning institution. a drastic adjustment from its original context. Siegelabu. This characterizes the ambiguous relationship and confused boundaries between the original art “object. Weiner. LeWitt. Hal Foster writes: Perhaps the paranoid dimension of archival art is the other side of its utopian ambition— its desire to turn belatedness into becomingness.photography ascribed by Smithson to his documentation of events. Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell (Los Angeles: University of California Press. Both Smithson’s and Ra’ad’s work approach illegibility as heuristic devices of their own accord.43 The institutional stronghold on this particular archive of relics from Smithson’s lecture has since severely restricted the work from being since shown in a public 41 See Alexander Alberro. 43 Charles Merewether elaborates on the legal function of the archive. the beholder of such documents is still searches for “the tiny spark of contingency. eds. Moreover. to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia. See also Walter Benjamin. “A Short History of Photography. p. 14 . Smithson. literature. the only practicable option of viewing Hotel Palenque in a public format has been radically divorced from its initial and original presentation at the University of Utah as an actual lecture. Morris. to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future exists so eloquently that we. philosophy and everyday life into possible scenarios of alternative kind of social relations.” Artforum 15:6 (February 1977). 58.” October 110 (Fall 2004): p. 2010). 2001). 126.42 As is the case with Smithson’s Yucatan projects. Kaltenbach.” in After the Event: New perspectives on art history. It is as if. again.
archival critique inevitably legitimates the power of the archive in certain ways by conceiving of its status as that which must be challenged. sublimation and progress as they are delineated by the traditional structures of 44 “Although Ra’ad has recently decided to expose the work's fictive nature in his performance.ecnext. That is. 2011). present[s] the material in a documentary guise. http://www. 2011). as a disjointed framework for Ra’ad's choice of a documentary narrative structure. as “art. like feminism’s recognition of “man” as that which the gendered woman must define herself from and/or against. visual and literary essays and lectures/performances—which immediately suggests that it be read as an “art object” and not as a grounds of serious inquiry. however.44 Though the Atlas Project in total is not “owned” by an institution per se. the Middle East and North America. 47 A second theoretical-philosophical inquiry that cannot be adequately addressed by this paper resides in the inevitable failure of such project—like feminist theory or like its counterpart. single channel screenings.com/artists/WR (accessed December 6. the Whitney Biennial and several other museums and venues across Europe. The use of primary documents as the basis for a reconstruction of historical events within the context of a museum. The restrictive guarding of the Hotel Palenque archive by the Guggenheim and likewise the coveting of Ra’ad’s Atlas Group archives by a variety of contemporary arts contexts (biennials included) suggests their efficacy as critical works and their ability to transgress the bounds of non-artistic discourse. the public form of Atlas Group Archive also most often takes the shape of a hard and fast exhibition format—as mixed-media installations. however. 15 . Ra’ad . 46 See “Walid Raad” under Paula Cooper Gallery.com/coms2/gi_0199-1001605/Forging-history-performing-memory-Walid. institutional critique.html (accessed November 20. the counter-intuition of archival art is revealed in the modality’s assumption of an original force to be reckoned with.domain. on the surface. “Forging History. or as a lecture sponsored by an art or architecture department serves. Performing Memory: Walid Ra’ad’s The Atlas Project. its pedigree alone attests to how it readily lends itself to a contemporary exhibition format. Likewise.”47 The contextual and economic valuation of Ra’ad and Smithson’s interventions.46 These seemingly inevitable contradictions issue several questions about the ramifications of casting critical projects. also highlights their symbolic value as critical projects. 2011).” Parachute: Contemporary Art Magazine (October 2002). http://www.” in (author unknown). .html (accessed November 27.paulacoopergallery. particularly those dealing with subaltern histories (such as Ra’ad’s and Smithson’s projects). See “About Walid Ra’ad” in The Atlas Group Archive.org/index. http://goliath. . 45 Ra’ad’s works have been shown at Documenta 11. a prominent commercial art gallery in New York.45 Walid Ra’ad is also represented by Paula Cooper Gallery. Each project enacts a double critical structure: implication of the ghost of subaltern histories as well as the failure of ideas of authority. the Venice Biennale.theatlasgroup.
48 See Susan Sontag. 2003). most obviously. and in the case of the Atlas Project. The ideological impulse of the archive is even more disturbing for the “fact” of its supposed neutrality. the silenced history of contemporary Lebanon. the fetishized history of the ancient Mayans. Yet it is in this precise and seeming disinterest of the archive towards its contents that the real power of such a structure lies. 16 . in the exhibition of art—in the governing narrative of the exhibition. p. each work de-anesthetizes its spectators. is the archive. for its assertion of itself as a system without imperative for interpretation. an inversion of the operation suggested by Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others.history and the archive. In a sense.48 Despite other seemingly inevitable drawbacks. The “witnessing” operation of each project occurs on two levels: that of the event and of the event’s representational reconstruction. of the mere fact of a work being shown or not shown. and by whom. Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador. both Ra’ad and Smithson provide an innovative and critical means of interrogating reified notions of the locations respective to each project—in the case of Hotel Palenque. 13. But secondly. The politics of ideology resides. and perhaps more importantly for its invisible iron grip. These aspects in concert reproduce both insight into historiographic constructions and archival critique of the modes by which subjectivities are enunciated.
Deleuze. 1989.html (accessed November 20. 1995. Aristotle. translated by Alan Sheridan Smith. Hal. “De Memoria et Reminiscentia. “A User's Guide to Entropy.group (accessed December 1.Bibliography Agamben. Foster. New York: Pantheon Books. edited by Hannah Arendt. Schocken Books. edited by Charles Merewether. 1972. the Rain Helped” (2003). 1969. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression." In Illuminations. edited by Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell. Baudrillard.. London: Gerald Duckworth & Company. 1972. Cambridge: The MIT Press. “The Storyteller. Siegelabu. Derrida.spatialagency. The Atlas Group. Mythologies. LeWitt. 2001. Walter. Barthes. 2011). New York: Zone Books. “The Archive Without Museums. translated by Eric Prenowitz. In The Archive.theatlasgroup. Roland. Yve-Alain and Rosalind Krauss.” In Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews with Barry. Los Angeles: University of California Press.net/database/the. translated by Annette Lavers.” October 110 (Fall 2004). Benjamin. Cinema 2: The Time-Image.” October 77 (Summer 1996). Huebler. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Alexander.” Artforum 15:6 (February 1977). 1972. Morris. Bois. Ltd. The Archaeology of Knowledge. translated by Harry Zorn. translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta.” http://www. Jean. Jacques. Gilles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. http://www. Giorgio. 2006. 2011). 1976. “A Short History of Photography.” October 78 (Autumn 1996). Walter. Weiner. 1999. The Atlas Group (Walid Ra’ad).anarchitecture. Kaltenbach. translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. “The Archive and Testimony” (1989). Michel. “The Anarchitecture Group. Foster.org/index. Alberro. Benjamin.” In Artistotle on Memory. Paris: Gallimard. Smithson. Hal. “An Archival Impulse. L’Echange symbolique et la mort. New York: Hill and Wang. Foucault. translated by Richard Sorabji. “Let’s Be Honest. 17 . “Introduction. In Remnants of Auschwitz. Oppenheim.
Leak. “From Enthusiasm to the Creative Commons. Merriam-Webster.” Cabinet 41 (Spring 2011). In Time and Narrative. Hapgood. Claude. New York: Vintage Books. http://www. Foucault. In Language.” In The Archive. Wolfgang van Emden. 1987. 1993. Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition). Michel. 18 .” In Interarchive: Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field. 2006. edited by Beatrice von Bismark. Susan and Cornelia Lauf. 1977. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. “In Deed. and David Williams. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Renee. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Andrew. Practice.5268 (accessed November 14. “First Information Report” (2003). edited by Charles Merewether and John Potts. Lewandowska. John. 1988. again. Levi-Strauss. McCole. 2002. “Fantasia on the Library” (1967). Counter-Memory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. and Ulf Wuggenig. Roland Barthes: Mythologies. “Archives.” In After the Event: New perspectives on art history. 1994. 2011). Diethelm Stoller. 1995. 2008. Marysia. 2006.guggenheim. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. edited by Charles Merewether. “Hotel Palenque. Green.. Volume III. Valencia: Grant & Cutler Ltd. Paul.” Guggenheim Online. Michel. Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition.” The Art Bulletin 82:3 (September 2000).. Merewether. Ricoeur. Hans Ulrich Obrist. Traces” (1978). Charles. 2010. Cambridge: The MIT Press. Cologne: Verlag der B uchhandlung Walther Konig. translated by Felicity Baker. Raqs Media Collective. “Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae.Foucault.org/new york/collections/collection-online/show full/piece/?search=Hotel%20Palenque&page=&f=Title&object=99. New York: Manchester University Press. Roberts. “Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss” (1950). “Landscapes of Indifference: Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan. translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. edited by Roger Little. Inc. Jennifer L. “Archival futures: On Kawara and the date from which all things begin. edited by Charles Merewether. Hans-Peter Feldmann. In The Archive. Documents. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
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the archive/“space of enunciation” -----.Appendix Figure 1. -----.contents of the archive/ “field of subjectivities” 20 .
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