• Review

  • March 16th, 2015 03.16.2015

    A Cacophony of Noise and a Poetic Encounter with Two Elderly Men


    The Future of Memory – An Exhibition on the Infinity of the Present timewhat a promising and philosophical title for a group show. On my way to the exhibition, hosted at the Kunsthalle Wien, I passed two of Vienna’s plethora of monumental buildings—the Museum of Fine Arts and the Natural History Museum. Facing each other, their shadows adumbrate the golden days of the Habsburg Empire. With buildings like these on every second corner, it’s inevitable that the past is still very present in everyday life in the city, and not part of a hazy memory that is fading away. The nineteenth century architecture is part of an encapsulated memory, each desperately clinging to the past.

    As I walked between the two museums, I might have been walking along the same path, stepping on the same stone as Sigmund Freud once did, contemplating his theories on memory. I stopped and recalled Derrida’s idea that our so-called “present” is already compromised by a residue of a previous experience. The Future of Memory similarly critically challenges our constructions of reality—investigating the conditions under which individual and collective memory evolves.

    Entering the exhibition, I was hit by a cacophony of noise. Pharrell’s “Happy” penetrates the gallery, together with diverse electronic music and an assortment of sounds. I tried to focus but could not concentrate with the clamor around me, coming from the various video works and installations in the room. My second attempt was more successful; I started to get used to the noise level, amused as I reflected on the thousands of reprimanding looks cast my way by museum guards as I laughed out loud in their sacred halls.

    The Future of Memory presents works by 27 international artists, from which more then a third is female. At times the dedicated space to the selected pieces is uncomfortably limited. The black and white photograph Polygon XII, 2014 by Julian Charrière is placed between a single and a multiple channeled video. The series documents landscapes from a former nuclear weapon testing site in Kazakhstan. As the negative absorbed radioactive particles, the photograph contains the manifestation of these residues, turning the invisible damage into a perceptible phenomenon, acting as a physical reminder of past events. Adjacent to this piece it is the multiple channel video with sound Resist: Disappearing Happiness, 2014 by Dragana Žarevac. The video is a compilation of various scenes, side by side, showing people dancing to Pharell Williams’ “Happy”. Breaking the enjoyment are footages from war and demonstrations.

    In the construction of cultural memory, contradictions and intense positive experiences are increasingly acknowledged as important aspects. According to Michael Rothberg, memory is seen as a “productive, intercultural dynamic” as “subject to ongoing negotiation, cross-referencing, and borrowing”. Digital formats of remembrance and commemoration are gaining importance, as witnesses to the trauma of history that will not be able to recite its stories through people forever. In this light, how does this inexhaustible flood of digital material influence our collective memory? The presented works in The Future of Memory do not explicitly deal with this question—though if it does, it is in an understated way. The curatorial concept and the individual works seem to be two different things, as the context and setting of the exhibition seems to overlap and overwrite the individual positions. Perhaps if another exhibition title had been chosen, it would not evoke such great expectations regarding a topic, which has been highly discussed in academic and artistic circles.

    Regardless of this expectation, the highlight of the exhibition is Dani Gal’s poetic work As from Afar from 2013, presented in a separate room in the basement. The 26 min. video is a fictionalized documentation of two elderly men’s encounters and dialogues—Simon Wiesenthal and Albert Speer. Besides the extensive research performed on the two lives at hand, one of Gal’s sources for the story was Tom Segev’s book “Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends,” published in 2010. An important part of the work is the narrator’s voice—a fictionalized account of Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, speaking on memory and images. Gal’s subtle manipulation in recreating these events, ie. the interpretations and perceptions of history, is aware of the processes being inherently problematic—examining instead the way in which memory and history linger close to evidence and fiction.

    The Future of Memory – An Exhibition on the Infinity of the Present Time at the Kunsthalle Wien, runs through March 29, 2015.