Where do artifacts go when they are destroyed? They enter a void of historical erasure, of fabricated narratives and convenient amnesia. We used to call that place a museum. But what happens when a museum is itself destroyed, when it is burned or looted, when icons and artifacts turn to dust or fall back into the hands of people? Can we still access them, and do we even want to? As Boris Groys points out in this issue:
“After all, what is the revolution? It is not the process of building a new society—this is the goal of the post-revolutionary period. Rather, revolution is the radical destruction of the existing society. However, to accept this revolutionary destruction is not an easy psychological operation. We tend to resist the radical forces of destruction, we tend to be compassionate and nostalgic toward our past—and maybe even more so toward our endangered present.”
After a stream of disappointments following the uprisings of recent years, we start to think about cultural heritage and who secures the narration of history. The notion of history and the nation of history. Thinking back to the 2003 looting of the Museum of Iraq in Baghdad, we can remember how confusing it was to mourn the loss of civilization at the same time as mourning the loss of human life. It was confusing because it was emotionally difficult to understand which one produced the other. When the museum was looted, we did not know whether it was a place containing artifacts from a history we wrote, or from a history that actually wrote us. This was civilization converted into information, then manifested as material history in the museum before finally exploding into the streets—a dematerialization of art taken to another level completely.
Following an outpouring of the social imaginary, we start to think about concrete power and where it really rests. And it makes us ask strange questions: Who stabilizes narratives and provides absolute protection for heritage? It is certainly not the internet. And it is certainly not historians or religious fanatics. It has always been the military—guarding the state as repository, literally holding it together to narrate itself as a community, keeping people from becoming artifacts. Naturally, it’s important to remember that the looting of the Museum of Iraq took place in the midst of an insurgency from outside the country, not from inside. These are two very different things. In this issue, Nato Thompson looks at the “cultural turn” in the US military, evidenced by new programs it deployed during the occupation of Iraq. These programs used grassroots organizing tactics to build social bonds between the occupying army and communities within Iraq. Such programs provoke us to face a paradoxical overlap between nonviolent and violent forms of organizing, and the unsettling similarities in how each produces concrete transformations in society.
We might say that this paradox is itself the location of art. And before making assumptions about art’s complicity in being instrumentalized by power, or its autonomy as a free space in some imaginary absolute, it becomes important to identify the particular quality of concreteness assumed by artworks placed at the center of this paradox. We have to find the terms for understanding the fact that we are living inside an epic contradiction, hopped up on speed. Returning to Groys’s essay, it was precisely Malevich who created the first artifact of destruction—his Black Square, an image of permanent destruction that survives permanent destruction. It is a paradoxical post-revolutionary recovery operation that preceded even the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Where do artifacts go after they die? It may be that contemporary artists are remaking them. Let’s then think together with Amanda Boetzkes and Andrew Pendakis about plastics. And let’s take a little rest and let a pre-human Petrosaurus Rex tell us something about the the heritage of the elastic future.
—Julieta Aranda, Brian Kuan Wood, Anton Vidokle
In this issue:
Boris Groys—Becoming Revolutionary: On Kazimir Malevich
After all, what is revolution? It is not the process of building a new society—this is the goal of the post-revolutionary period. Rather, revolution is the radical destruction of the existing society. However, to accept this revolutionary destruction is not an easy psychological operation. We tend to resist the radical forces of destruction, we tend to be compassionate and nostalgic toward our past—and maybe even more so toward our endangered present.
Nato Thompson—The Insurgents, Part I: Community-Based Practice as Military Methodology
The US military is seductive and repulsive in its grandiose violence. But it is also a fruitful place to examine developing techniques for the manipulation of culture. Considering the sheer scale of the US military—with its colossal budget—it’s not a bad place to look for new ideas and new methodologies concerning tactics for “getting to know people.”
Amanda Boetzkes and Andrew Pendakis—Visions of Eternity: Plastic and the Ontology of Oil
If plastic appears irreducible—appears to be a constitutive basis, instead of having emerged from and subsequently effaced its earthly basis—then the challenge is to uncover what plastic so readily disguises. Plastic is a petroleum product that claims at least a quarter of all the oil extracted. More than this, though, it is through plastics that we begin to fathom the complete permeation of oil into every facet of cultural life.
Jon Rich—The Bachelor Century: Single Sinners Seeking God’s Job
A soldier in the battlefield kills indiscriminately—gunfire and stabbings directed at whomever happens to be present. In contrast, the target of the bomb in Hiroshima is entirely ethnic, akin to the way Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s chose his victims. It is a crime against the human race, or a part of that race, because the bomb acts without regard for the political views of its victims. To be murdered because you are American, or Japanese, or Kurdish, or Christian, or Muslim is fundamentally different from being targeted because you are a soldier.
Claire Fontaine—We Are All Clitoridian Women: Notes on Carla Lonzi’s Legacy
In the Italian feminist ultra-left of Lonzi’s time, a deep connection between knowledge of oneself—especially of one’s own pleasure—and satisfaction was regarded as the only way to reach autonomy. There was a vivid awareness that colonization operates through the mind and the body, and the only way to reach freedom was working on one’s own subjectivity.
Lars Bang Larsen—The Society Without Qualities
Money is the one thing that connects us and that we cannot truly have in common. In societies without qualities we can, in theory, have any number of things in common. However, after the decline of symbolic orders, it is an enormous effort to call them up and give them words and form. Remember, this is the desert of the real … So never mind good intentions, they won’t get us anywhere: when art addresses the future in (self-)skeptical ways, it refuses nostalgia and hope as sentimental compensations for an uncertain future.
The print edition of e-flux journal can now be found at:
Amsterdam: De Appel / Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten Andratx: CCA Andratx Antwerp: M HKA Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Athens: OMMU Århus: Aarhus Art Building Auckland: split/fountain Austin: Arthouse at the Jones Center Baden-Baden: Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, The Banff Centre Barcelona: Arts Santa Monica / MACBA Basel: Kunsthalle Basel, Museum fur Gegenwartskunst Beijing and Guangzhou: Vitamin Creative Space Beirut: 98weeks Belgrade: Cultural Center of Belgrade Bergen: Bergen Kunsthall / Rakett Berlin: b_books / Berliner Künstlerprogramm – DAAD / do you read me? / Haus Der Kulturen der Welt / NBK, Neuer Berliner Kunstverein / Pro qm Berlin and Zurich: Motto Bern: Kunsthalle Bern / Lehrerzimmer Bialystok: Arsenal Gallery Bielefeld: Bielefelder Kunstverein Birmingham: Eastside Projects / Ikon Gallery Bologna: MAMbo – Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna Bregenz: Kunsthaus Bregenz Bristol: Arnolfini Brussels: Wiels Bucharest: National Museum of Contemporary Art Bucharest (MNAC) / Pavilion Unicredit Cairo: Contemporary Image Collective (CIC) / Townhouse Gallery Calgary: The New Gallery Cambridge: Wysing Arts Center Castello: Espai d´art contemporani de Castelló (EACC) Chicago: Graham Foundation / Logan Center, University of Chicago / The Renaissance Society Cologne: Kölnischer Kunstverein Copenhagen: Overgaden Derry: CCA Derry~Londonderry Dubai: Traffic Dublin: Dublin City, The Hugh Lane / Project Arts Centre Dusseldorf: Kunstverein für die Rheinlande und Westfalen Eindhoven: Van Abbemuseum Farsta: Konsthall C Frankfurt: Städelschule / Portikus Gdansk: Centrum Sztuki Współczesnej Łaźnia Genève: Centre de la photographie Ghent: S.M.A.K. 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Rio de Janeiro: Capacete / A Gentil Carioca Rome: MACRO Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Roma / Opera Rebis Rotterdam: Piet Zwart Institute / Witte de With Saint-Nazaire: Le Grand Cafe, Centre D’art Contemporain Salzburg: Salzburger Kunstverein San Antonio: Artpace São Paulo: Kunsthalle São Paulo / Master in Visual Arts, Faculdade Santa Marcelina Sarajevo: Sarajevo Center for Contemporary Art Seoul: The Books / The Book Society Sherbrooke: Foreman Art Gallery of Bishop’s University Skopje: Press to Exit Project Space Sofia: ICA Sofia / Sofia Art Gallery St Erme Outre et Ramecourt: Performing Arts Forum St Louis: White Flag Projects Stockholm: Bonniers Konsthall / IASPIS / Index / Konstfack, University College of Art, Craft and Design Stuttgart: Württembergischer Kunstverein Stuttgart Sydney: Artspace Tallinn: Kumu Art Museum of Estonia The Hague: Stroom Den Haag Toronto: Art Metropole / Mercer Union / The Power Plant Torun: Centre of Contemporary Art Znaki Czasu in Torun Toowoomba: Raygun Contemporary Art Projects Trieste: Trieste Contemporanea Umeå: Bildmuseet, Umeå University Utrecht: BAK, basis voor actuele kunst / Casco-Office for Art, Design and Theory Vaduz: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein Valletta: Malta Contemporary Art Foundation Vancouver: ARTSPEAK / Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia / Fillip / Motto / READ Books, Charles H. Scott Gallery, Emily Carr University of Art and Design Vienna: Salon für Kunstbuch, Belvedere Gallery Vigo: MARCO, Museo de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo Vilnius: Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) Vitoria-Gasteiz: Montehermoso Kulturunea Visby: BAC, Baltic Art Center Warsaw: Zachęta Narodowa Galeria Sztuki / Zachęta National Gallery of Art Wiesbaden: Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV) Yerevan: Armenian Center For Contemporary Experimental Art, NPAK Zagreb: Galerija Miroslav Kraljevic / Gallery Nova / Institute for Duration, Location and Variables, DeLVe Zurich: Postgraduate Program in Curating, Zürich University of the Arts / Shedhalle / White Space.