The Exhibition is in Transit vol. 1 : Martí Manen
Let’s observe the exhibition as something still in definition. At the same time, let’s think about the contemporary experience as permanently in process. 2021 is the contemporary time frame for this text, at least its starting point. 2021; this year that can be understood as a stopped time, something in between a previous history and a societal unexpected shift. This text is going to be a sort of dance, a back and forth with some included time travels to other moments, ideas and desires. In transit, in process, being aware of its own instability. How to write, how to have a future in mind when eyes are closed. Paul Atreides becoming blind and then being able to see what has been -and has to be- unseen (1) .
In 2017 I wrote(2) : The frame was disappearing; the emptiness entailed darkness and at once a possible reformulation, yet speed seemed to hinder the very option of reformulation. And not only speed. Everything falls, and continues to fall. We fell in the Twin Towers; we fell during the repression in Egypt that followed the Arab Springs; we plunged completely into fear as normality and we collapsed before the media powers that destroyed all chances of a change of system in Spain. The 15M movement and its mainstream political offshoots were destroyed by the media in order to preserve the status quo, paying no attention to corruption and forestalling its reformulation.
We could understand the exhibition as a space for experiences (discursive, emotional or physical) to become then a fragment of time. The two main axes of the exhibition are, then, time and space. A space that was first limited and a time that is a fragment. The exhibition is a situation, is an activation, is a moment needing connection with a context. The context will react to the specific situation of the exhibition and is through the situation that the context can be affected. But what happens when there is no space and time is stopped. What happens if we liberate the exhibition from space and time.
The traditional goal of the museum was to stop everything. To keep a series of objects safe for a possible future. Objects were selected to become memory, history. They were a reminder of a past that was constructed as a past and selected from a present. Objects in the museum left present-time to occupy a limbo based on faith. Faith in a future to come, faith in a language to continue, faith in humanity not ending. The exhibition was then out of present- time; it was a system to show a continuity or a way to make the invisible visible. And more than the exhibition, the museum was the collection. The exhibition was there to inform us about this process of selection, to show this power within marking history: writing history for the future means to define a way to read, a specific vocabulary, a series of words. Means also to leave some more objects aside, forget them, discard them as these dogs abandoned close to gas stations.
In 2016 I wrote(3) : An exhibition in a garage ends up becoming not just a local so much as an international gathering. An independent space that opens for a video and which afterwards perhaps won’t continue. It’s all the same, it’s a gathering, generating emotion and providing an early meal. The empathy or sensuality of this encounter, typical of independent spaces, becomes just one more point in a corpus of relations where the level or the scale no longer matters. It’s Ed Atkins, it’s in a garage, but it could be in a museum. It doesn’t matter. But it affects the museum and affects the independent space, it affects all of us, and we’re just that little bit more lost. The video is already working. The fascination with physical detail in a digital creation. Skin, pores, respiration. The body that smacks of the fake, the perfect representation of the imperfect. And grammatical alteration: the digital permits the leaps, the repetition of gestures and an overcoming of “standard” time. The body as a mass gestures as choreography, repetition as structure. We could leap directly to Gary Hill as well as Laure Prouvost and there we would be amidst, amidst this free-for-all of the permanent redefinition of how to construct through modification.
Do you remember the beginning of Lost Highway? You see the road, night, David Bowie produced by Trent Renzor. In the dark, speeding nowhere 4 . No idea of a future, no option for a future. Time is shifted, impossible to use the same coordinates.
But, again, we can observe the contemporary experience as being permanently in process. What happens now -again, 2021- is that the experience has been modified and its temporality is in question. The experience of a digitized version of the world (with lockdowns due to corona in many parts of the world) offers a different frame. Time is a continuous flow of repetitions with no clear definitions or lengths. Work and life happen in the same grid and screen, emotional dialogues become part of professional meetings and kitchens become visible office spaces. A Zoom meeting can be the everyday life of many people (not everyone, of course) and the specificities of a context disappear as the format is predefined: The grid is the standard. Same distance to the camera. The fragments of time are unclear, and a mutated schedule creates new structural definitions. Suddenly it was accepted to work after working hours, suddenly it was tolerated to be part of a habitat with no distinction between private and public, suddenly we lost control. And what is the role of art or the exhibitional experience in this unstable time? Would the role of art continue to be this remnant of a present to become history in the future? Is the role of art to be a representation of our times? Or is art and contemporary art a container that can give us an opportunity to formulate something beyond the grid? Exhibitions were something still in definition with its flexible grammar and a performativity always in negotiation. Still are.
In 2020 I wrote(5) : The many decades of critique and institutional analysis have allowed to name and detect options, but we seem to be now in the face of a likely next step: that change can affect the structure and that institutional critique isn’t made from an existent reality, but rather generates it. Institutional critique was able to add up a vocabulary, a desire, a map for a rethinking. But most institutions still have the same DNA with the same rhythms and formats, they share the idea of what is public, but understanding public function as something unitary and democratic in itself. If identity is variable, if history cannot be written with the same words, if the relationship with the world is different, if politics are also calling for a reformulation, isn’t it time to do so from the artistic institution? Isn’t it time to reformulate structures?
And today. 2021. How to continue? How to react? How to find a way to think about the exhibitional? We have a general stop on time within a context of speed, we have contradictory ideas about temporalities, we feel emotional distances and navigate with new terminologies. The exhibition, the previous idea of space also then became a time frame, now to be a series of glimpses and possible encounters. At Index Foundation we have been opening exhibitions (and producing them) throughout these pandemic times. Having always in mind the fact that the relationship with the exhibition is going to be different. The exhibitions are for us a working context. The discursive is built within the exhibition and is happening while you visit it, at many layers. The exhibition is in the talking inside the exhibition, is in a dialogue one to one. The exhibition as just a space organized to be consumed for a group takes a step back and we can now see the exhibition as a rendezvous with art as an encounter; a real one, a performed one. The goal is to think together, the goal is to define almost a vocabulary and a collection of gestures, movements, choreographic relationships.
In 2016 I Wrote(6) : These are hectic times that prevent us from realizing what precisely is happening to us, where and how. What we are doing. High-speed information overload. Too many political changes, too much contextual instability. Supposedly logical construction is replaced by the unexpected. And in the chaos of these frenzied times, identity is also reformulated and becomes unstable. There are no secure anchorage points, history also falters and we make sure that it ceases to be fixed and hermetic and that it becomes, instead, an ocean of possibilities that critique time itself -the time right now, the time then, the time to come. Unstable context, unstable identity, unstable temporal structure.
We were already there. Here. In a lapse. In transit.
(1) Paul Atreides is one of the main characters of Dune, the science-fiction novel written by Frank Herbert and published in 1965.
(4) Lost Highway, the 1997 film directed by David Lynch
(6) When Lines Are Time, Marti Manen. Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona 2016. ISBN 978-84-16411-24-5
Martí Manen is Director of Index - The Swedish Contemporary Art Foundation in Stockholm. He has curated exhibitions at the Museo de Historia Natural (Mexico City), Aara (Bangkok), Sala Rekalde (Bilbao), Konsthall C (Stockholm), CA2M (Madrid), and Fundació Miró (Barcelona). Manen was the curator of the Spanish Pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennale, and curated Momentum10 (Biennale in Moss, Norway, 2019). In the 1990s, he curated five years of exhibitions in his room located in a student flat.
Marti Manen has published books including Salir de la exposición (Leaving the Exhibition) (Consonni), Contarlo todo sin saber cómo (Telling everything not knowing how) (CA2M), and When Lines Are Time (Miró Foundation Barcelona).
The Exhibition is in Transit vol.1 features contributions from Cédric Fauq, Cosmos Carl, Jaakko Pallasvuo, Jade Foster, Martí Manen, P*D*A*, Tal Gilad and Winnie Herbstein.
Ephemeral Care focuses on ethics, practice and strategies in artist-led and self-organised projects.