Sie sind auf Seite 1von 27

I will show you fear in a handful of dust: Ruminations on the Archive Robert Smithsons Hotel Palenque and Walid

Raads 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. Eliots The Waste Land.1 Smithson alludes to Eliots 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 Smithsons highly publicized anti-expedition to the Yucatan Peninsula with wife, Nancy Holt, and friend, Virginia Dwan, in 1969. Eliots 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 Smithsons 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. Smithsons 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 Raad 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 Smithsons and Raads 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 Raad 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 archives 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 Benthams Panopticon.4 Panoptic visibility had implications far beyond its theoretical context in Foucaults 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 architectureMatta-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-Websters 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.

structures like the museum and archive. We are thus offered portraits of concretized social deposits as they are manifest in the art objectevery painting, Foucault writes, now belongs within the squared and massive surface of painting.5 The conflation of divergent subjectivities in the archive represses as much, if not more, than it represents. Thus the inconsistencies of subjects are lapped by their folding in and collapsing into the perceived consistency of discourse. The archive is first the law of what can be said; . . . . its threshold of existence is established by the discontinuity that separates us from what we can no longer say, and from that which falls outside our discursive practice. 6 Here becomes evident the violence of the archive, which restricts at the outset the system of its [the statements] enunciability. Foucault continues: Every statement involves a field of antecedent elements in relation to which it is situated, but which it is able to reorganize and redistribute according to new relations. It [the archive] constitutes it own past, defines, in what precedes it, its own filiation, redefines what makes it possible or necessary, excludes what cannot be compatible with it. And it poses this enunciative past as an acquired truth, as an event that has occurred, as a form that can be modified, as material to be transformed, or as an object that can be spoken about.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. 1]the archive is thus the mass of the non-semantic inscribed in every meaningful discourse as a function of its enunciation; it is the dark margin encircling and limiting every concrete act of speech.8 This enunciative capacity can likewise be thought via the archives circumstantial legibility:

Michel Foucault, Fantasia on the Library (1967), in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), p. 92. 6 Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. Alan Sheridan Smith (New York: Pantheon Books, 1972), pp. 127-129. 7 Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, p. 124. 8 Agamben continues: Between the obsessive memory of tradition, which knows only what has been said, and the exaggerated thoughtlessness of oblivion, which cares only for what was never said, the archive is the unsaid or sayable

The historical index of images says not only that they belong to a particular time, it says above all that they only attain legibility at a particular time. And this reaching legibility is a particular, critical point in the motion within them. Every present is determined by those images that are synchronic with it: every now is the now of a particular recognizability. In it, truth is loaded with time to the bursting point.9 In the archive, the residues of frozen time are conflated (in value) with the original event as they are iterated in exhibition and compulsively rendered in text. Text and language, here, cannot be neglected. The archives use of language, especially as it is encapsulated in the certificate of authenticity, rivals and on occasion exceeds the mechanical imprint as a rationalizing and authenticating maneuver. The enunciative role of language, however, is also restrictive. Claude Levi-Strauss famously posited languages genesis in an explosion of signification, a big bang that left a semiotic surplus for all time.10 Levi-Strausss inadequation or semiotic non-equivalence (impossible, unattainable equivalence!) between signifier and signified is mirrored by its likewise discord in the archive. Every mythic and aesthetic invention, writes Levi-Strauss, works to conceal this non-fit and absorb the semiotic overspill.11 In the case of discursive indoctrination, the archive constitutes just such a mythic inventionthat which presents itself in the guise of its naturalness.12 Simultaneous with the semiological operation posited by Levi-Strauss is the use of the archives signifying function as the transparent backbone of ideology. The problem of Roland
inscribed in everything said by virtue of being enunciated; it is the fragment of memory that is always forgotten in the act of saying I. In The Archive and Testimony, (1989) Remnants of Auschwitz, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone Books, 1999), p. 143. 9 Walter Benjamin, cited by John McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 290. 10 Hal Foster, The Archive without Museums, October 77 (Summer 1996): p. 101. 11 Claude Levi-Strauss, Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1950), trans. Felicity Baker (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), pp. 60-63. Hal Foster also cites Levi-Strauss, stating: like the primal murder of the father in Freud, the origin of Levi-Strausss semiotic overflow is heuristic, outside the very system that it founds. See Foster, The Archive without Museums, p. 101. 12 See Andrew Leak, Roland Barthes: Mythologies, ed. Roger Little, Wolfgang van Emden, and David Williams (Valencia: Grant & Cutler Ltd., 1994), pp. 17-21.

Barthess use of semiological devices to approach ideology is resolved in the form of the archive, which presupposes itself as both sender and receiver as well conflating the meaning and form of its contents. At the point of an events inscription in the archive, the meaning is always-already complete in its transitive coordinate therein. Barthes writes: If I am a woodcutter and I am led to name the tree which I am felling, whatever the form of my sentence, I speak the tree, I do not speak about it. This means that my language is operational, transitively linked to its object; between the tree and myself, there is nothing but my labour, that is to say, an action. This is a political language: it represents nature for me only inasmuch as I am going to transform it, it is a language thanks to which I act the object; the tree is not an image for me, it is simply the meaning of my action. 13 Likewise does the archive speak its objects; it presents its contents as tautological. In this way, 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. The possibility of a works historical existence resides in its capacity to be written of or spoken ofencased in language via some modality of a material existence that allows us to regurgitate it as history necessitates.14 The operative necessity outlined by Barthes is evident in the created necessity of documentation. 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. A case in point: Certificate: Meeting # 81, 2001. Sous le porche du Sacr-Cur Paris le 30 mars 2014 a midi, reads the script of the authenticating document for Jonathan Monks Meeting # 81 from

Barthes elaborates on the form of myth: it [myth] postulates a kind of knowledge, a past, a memory, a comparative order of facts, ideas, decisions. He continues: the myth is a double system; there occurs in it a sort of ubiquity: its point of departure is constituted by the arrival of meaning. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, trans. Annette Lavers (New York: Hill and Wang, 1972), pp. 117, 124. 14 Jacques Derrida comments on the content and legibility of the archive, 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. The archivization produces as much as it records the event in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 17.

2001 [Fig. 2]: the event is not enough. Any heuristic function of transitory experience is denied. Even nonexistence and erasure must conform to this linguistic operation of the document in archival histories. Upon failure of payment by architect Philip Johnson for his work, Litanies, Robert Morris issued a Statement of Esthetic Withdrawal in 1963, which sets out in legal terms the official emptying of the works quality and content [Fig. 3].15 The operation of memory and its inevitable abstraction is also a stake in the archive, and perhaps the highest stake in the relegation of non-histories, of subaltern histories. In the Bergsonian sense, as Deleuze reiterates, an event in its presence has already become past, and is thus already a degree of abstraction.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, a substitution of this memory built into the particularity of a representation.17 Aristotle posited memory as a state or affection connected with a perception or conception from which time has elapsed.18 Intellect is then the ability to recollect experience in a way that helps make sense of the world, but this form of memory, like that of the archive, often takes shape in illogical abstractions. 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, writes Benjamin, citing Mortiz Heimann. He goes on: Nothing is more dubious than this propositionbut for the sole reason that it chooses the wrong tense. A man who died at thirty-fiveso runs the truth that was meant herewill appear to remembrance at every point in his life as a man who died at thirty-five. In other words, the statement that makes no sense for real life becomes indisputable for remembered life.19
15 16

See Susan Hapgood and Cornelia Lauf, In Deed, Cabinet 41 (Spring 2011): 87-95. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 2: The Time-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989). 17 Allan Sekula elaborates on this notion as it relates to the photographic archival document, stating: In structural terms, the archive is both an abstract paradigmatic entity and a concrete institution. In both senses, the archive is a vast substitution set, providing for a relation of general equivalence between images in The Body and the Archive, October 39 (Winter 1986): p. 17. 18 Aristotle, De Memoria et Reminiscentia, in Artistotle on Memory, trans. Richard Sorabji (London: Gerald Duckworth & Company, Ltd., 1972), p. 48. 19 Walter Benjamin, cited by McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition, p. 276.

The instability of recollecting and the necessity of its conformation to casuistic devices reveals the fundamental error of viewing memory devices as honest operations. The incapacity of the archive to actively connect its viewers to the past solidifies the negation in abundance outlined by Rene Green in her work on archival lacunae, an iteration of the discontinuity Foucault observes in his archival theory.20 Likewise, the fallibility of memorythe possibility of putting ones foot in the wrong shoe, for examplemirrors the fallibility of such an endeavor in the archive. The recording of memories is always-already subjective and flawed. The ghostliness of such an enterprise shuts out and off unmediated exchanges of experience, of the storytelling function of dematerialized or conceptual practices in favor of their fetishization as objects.21 No longer is lived experiences or transient cognition a priority, and not so much a priority, but as even a possible armature of the structure of knowledge and language itself. No event comes to us without being already shot through with explanation, Benjamin writes.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, of the reconstitution of subjectivities only insofar as they conform to the rationale of the archive. Counter to the idea that archives are free of ethical characteristics as amoral, objective entities, that an archives users make sense of its contents and not vice versa, the archive has somehow evaded considerations that the logic of its contents constitute a pseudo-


See Renee Green, Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae, in Interarchive: Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field, eds. Beatrice von Bismark, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Diethelm Stoller, Ulf Wuggenig (Cologne: Verlag der B uchhandlung Walther Konig, 2002), p. 147. 21 Jean Beaudrillard writes on fetishization, stating: In the shift from medium to medium, the real vanishes and becomes an allegory of death. But even in its moment of destruction it exposes and affirms itself; it will become the quintessential real and it becomes the fetishism of the lost object. LEchange symbolique et la mort (Paris, Gallimard, 1976). 22 Walter Benjamin, The Storyteller," in Illuminations, ed. by Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zorn (Schocken Books, 1969).

reality.23 Coincidentally, reality is an archaic term for real estate,24 and the archive ultimately conducts its legitimating, authenticating and enunciative function from the groundwork of its physical contentsthe document, photograph, film and on occasion the dead matter of ephemeraand its deified system of logic. This is how the story of art is told. Theorizing the metaphysical gaps in the system of the archive, in the voids of its logocentric structuring, are obligatory in certain respects. Smithson and Raad, however, succeed in naming the gaps and voids of the archive by speaking the contents of erased subaltern histories. In doing so, each critically evicts the fetishized, and to a large extent, the erased histories relative to the respective geographical foci of their projects. Smithsons work, arguably also a demonstration of his repulsion toward the Greenbergian formalism extolled a generation later by Michael Fried, methodologically unwinds the enunciating space archival document via its own exploitation. The architecture observed in Smithsons Hotel Palenque, a less well-known exploit of his travels in the Yucatan, performs a much different operation than simply deconstructing the function of the monument. 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.25 Smithson instead delivered a deadpan, parodic lecture accompanied by a series of odd and unremarkable slides of the dilapidated, ramshackle hotel where Smithson and company stayed [Figs. 4, 5]. The critical operations of such a work are many, but its anarchitectural


See SubREAL (Calin Dan and Josif Kiraly), Politics of Cultural Heritage, in Art History Archive (Venice: Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1999). In an interview with Anthony Spira, Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska make a similar statement as Dan and Kiraly, stating that unlike the collection, an archive designates a territory and not a particular narrative. There is no imperative within the logic of the archive to display or interpret, in From Enthusiasm to the Creative Commons, in The Archive, ed. Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), p. 150. This represents the positivist fallacy of the archives operations. 24 Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, A User's Guide to Entropy, October 78 (Autumn 1996): p. 85. 25 Neville Wakefield, Yucatan is Elsewhere: On Robert Smithsons Hotel Palenque, Parkett 43 (1995): pp. 133-135.

function is among the first and most noticeable.26 In A Users Guide to Entropy, Yve-Alain Bois writes: The first entry in the Critical Dictionary in Documents, signed by Bataille, is Architecture. . . . Philosophy's preferred metaphor, architecture is another name for system itself, for the regulation of the plan. Every monument is a monument of social order, a call to order issued to inspire fear. . . . Architecture is the human ideal, the superego. Consequently, [as Bataille remarks] an attack on architecture . . . is necessarily, as it were, an attack on man. . . . Bataille reintroduced architecture as the metaphor not of the human figure, but of the idealism of man's project: Harmony, like the project, throws time into the outside: its principle is the repetition through which 'all that is possible' is made eternal. The ideal is architecture, or sculpture, immobilizing harmony, guaranteeing the duration of motifs whose essence is the annulment of time. Thus the dream of architecture, among other things, is to escape entropy.27 In this way, Hotel Palenque not only manifested itself in documents of architecture, but also in documents as architecture, this evident in their exploitation and consequent liquidation of the humanist, positivist elements of both architecture and the archive. Smithson also exploits Western conceptions of the fetishized subaltern history of the Mayan civilization, a clear response to his Yucatan projects own dialectical precedent. In 1841, John Lloyd Stephens conducted a well-publicized excursion of the Yucatan Peninsula.28 Stephenss expedition, however, was cast in distinct notes of imperialist sentiment and reeked of positivist rhetoric, while Smithsons projects allegorically reflect on Stephenss brand of nineteenth century archaeological exploration. 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

Anarchitecture (combining anarchy and architecture) was a term coined by an artists group based in New York in the 1970s, including members Laurie Anderson, Tina Girouard, Carol Goodden, Suzanne Harris, Jene Highstein, Bernard Kirschenbaun, Richard Landry, and Richard Nonas and Gordon Matta Clark. The group denounced architecture's complicity in capitalist modes of production with projects that explored issues related to cities, ways of inhabiting buildings and the role of property. Anarchitecture was subsequently used by the group as an exhibition title at a Greene Street gallery show in 1974. See The Anarchitecture Group, (accessed December 1, 2011). 27 Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss citing Bataille in A User's Guide to Entropy, p. 55-56. 28 See Jennifer L. Roberts, Landscapes of Indifference: Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan, The Art Bulletin 82: 3 (September 2000): pp. 544-567.

Mayan Aztec culture, human sacrifice and mass slaughter.[Fig. 4]29 Smithsons often disinformational anecdotes are thus not free of their own mythologizing role, which can be interpreted not only literally as an allusion to the violence often ascribed to fetishized histories of primitive cultures, but also as a confirmation of the historically imperialist and positivist motives of explorers like Stephens. As suggested by the example above, 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, Smithson and company were tourists); 2) the educational-ideological function of photography (that is, as imagery has been historically used to dictate and represent ideas about a given society or culture); and 3) the historically utilitarian function spelled out by Allan Sekula in The Body and the Archive (its historical implications in bio-physical typing, specifically in phrenology, physiognomy and criminal portraiture).30 By presenting questionable anecdotes in conjunction with such unspectacular images, Smithson challenges the both honorific and repressive operations of photography outlined by Sekula.31 In doing so, Hotel Palenque disallows the privileged entrance granted by most documentary photography.32 The only view of the Mayan ruins Smithsons lecture was expected to deliver resides in a single image of the window of a roofless, derelict cavity of the hotel [Fig. 5]. From the landscape framed by the window, Smithson points out a hazy fragment of the Palenque ruins, 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 photographs view. This empty reference to the desired

Robert Smithson, Hotel Palenque, Lecture given to University of Utah architecture students (1972), Estate of Robert Smithson, Courtesy John Weber Gallery, New York. 30 See Allan Sekula, The Body and the Archive, October 39 (winter 1986): 3-64. 31 See Sekula, The Body and the Archive, p. 6. 32 Derrida uses the term in discussing the corpus of Freuds works and collective versus individual memory. See Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, p. 27.


historical spectacle proposes a systematic erasure of the visionary enterprise of Stephenss expedition as well as a representation of the socio-political erasure of indigenous agency.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. Smithson inverts this principle, however, 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, an erasure of a subaltern history that was at the time already largely erased by its colonial inscriptions in the canons of history. Smithson succeeds in casting s a critical project by utilizing a typically rationalized form (the academic lecture), a reified format (the archival/documentary photograph) and as an idealized subject (architecture)all of which are traditionally conflated with positivist notions of rational progressto effectually expose the irrational design and decaying material structure of the Hotel Palenque. One can also observe archival critique via subaltern history in the more recent example of Walid Raads Atlas Project, an initiative established in 1999 to recover aspects of the contemporary history of Lebanon via audio, visual, literary and other artifacts which take the form of the Atlas Group Archive. Among its aims to locate, preserve [and] study its contents, the Atlas group also produce[s] its contents.34 The key use of this term in the Atlas Groups mission delineates both the ambiguity of the project and the parallel ambiguity of the archival document, effectually deconstructing the archives production and performance of memories in accordance with discursive requirements. The Atlas Group Archive is organized by three file
33 34

Roberts, Landscapes of Indifference, p. 553. See The Atlas Group Archive, (accessed November 20, 2011).


types, composed of a mixture of actual and pseudo-documentation. File Type AGP are the Atlas Group Productions, comprised of the Sweet Talk File and Think Neck File, both of which record extensive AGP initiatives to reconstitute histories of the recent violence in Lebanon. File type FD, meanwhile, the Found Files, include actual large-format photographs found buried in the rubble during the 1992 demolition of Beiruts commercial districts and fictional footage shot by a Lebanese Army intelligence officer. Lastly, File Type A are the authored files of Raad himself as well as fictional characters Dr. Fadl Fakhouri, an historian of the Lebanese wars, and Souheil Bachar, a Lebanese national held hostage in Beirut for 10 years. Raads exacting mimicry of the archive probes the slippage between historical and fictional narrative in archival production of subjectivities, not only via the pseudo-personages of Fakhouri and Bakhar, but also through the juxtaposition of his archives contents. The collocation of entries such as the Thin Neck File [Fig. 6](photographs of the effects of car bombings) or Fakhouris Notebook 38 [Fig. 7](which entails 145 cutouts of cars corresponding to the exact make, model and color of every car bomb between 1975 and 1991) with Notebook 72 [Fig. 8](notations on the finish-line photographs of horse-racing, evidently a pastime of the major historians of the Lebanese wars)35 highlights the absurdity of archival rationale. Moreover, Raads project violates two of the three conditional characteristics of the archive posited by Paul Ricoeurthe relationship of a given collection of documents to an institution as well as the goal of conserving or preserving them.36 The Atlas Group was neither formed by an

See The Atlas Group Archive, (accessed November 20, 2011). 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 trackMarxists and Islamists bet on races one through seven, Maronite nationalists and socialists on races eight through fifteen. Race after race, the historians stood behind the track photographer, whose job was to image the winning horse as it crossed the finish line, to record the photo-finish. It is also said that they convinced (some say bribed) the photographer to snap only one picture as the winning horse arrived. Each historian wagered on precisely whenhow many fractions of a second before or after the horse crossed the finish linethe photographer would expose his frame. 36 The first requirement of the archive according to Ricoeur is a set, an organized body of documents. See Archives, Documents, Traces (1978), in Time and Narrative, vol. III, trans. Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 116.


institution, nor are its documents a means of conserving or preserving. Rather, Raads archive is a means of proceed[ing] from the hypothesis that The Lebanese Civil War is not a self-evident episode, an inert fact of nature.37 It excavates, recovers, deconstructs, re-imagines and exposes, much like the work of another recent example, the Raqs Media Collective.38 Moreover, like Smithsons work, Raad effectively marks an intervention in both the authority of the institution, by challenging its assumption as the foundational enterprise of the archive, as well as the truth-telling function of the archive, by issuing fictional documents and persons. Such projects issue warnings in a Benjaminian fashion that tradition is never a secure inheritance, nor is it a matter of goods to be securely possessed without, on occasion, producing catastrophic effects.39 Despite their critical value, Smithsons Hotel Palenque, Raads Atlas Project or similar projects should not be taken to be thoroughgoing examples of archival decodification. Rather, the lacunae inherent in such endeavors merit attention as well. Nearly all of Smithsons realized non-site projects, for example, were initially publicized as satellites of their gallery presence. Moreover, the slides and audio recording of Hotel Palenque are now owned by the Guggenheim Museum, a testament to its own conformation to a large and established institutions archival standards of collecting and exhibiting.40 Subsequently, this valuation of the archival documents as that which comprises the collectable object negates the strictly accessorizing function of


The Atlas Group (Walid Raad), Lets Be Honest, the Rain Helped (2003), in The Archive, ed. Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), p. 179. Raad continues: We do not consider The Lebanese Civil War to be a settled chronology of events, dates, personalities, massacres, invasions, but rather we also want to consider it as an abstraction constituted by various discourses and, more importantly, by various modes of assimilating the data of the world. 38 See Raqs Media Collective, First Information Report (2003), in The Archive, ed. Charles Merewether (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006), pp. 170-71. 39 Walter Benjamin, cited by McCole in Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition, p. 298. 40 See the entry for Hotel Palenque in Guggenheim Online, (accessed November 14, 2011).


photography ascribed by Smithson to his documentation of events.41 Fetishization pervades in the societal attachment to the physical archive. This characterizes the ambiguous relationship and confused boundaries between the original art object, its material record and the process by which the materials were accrued or valuated. 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, to recoup failed visions in art, literature, philosophy and everyday life into possible scenarios of alternative kind of social relations, to transform the no-place of the archive into the no-place of a utopia.42 As is the case with Smithsons Yucatan projects, collateral knowledge of Raads practicehis interest in simultaneously utilizing and exploiting the archiveis almost necessary to discern the ambiguities of the work. Both Smithsons and Raads work approach illegibility as heuristic devices of their own accord, signaling in a variety of ways how modern and contemporary art has devolved into an insider experience. Moreover, since 1972, 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. 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.43 The institutional stronghold on this particular archive of relics from Smithsons lecture has since severely restricted the work from being since shown in a public

See Alexander Alberro, Introduction, in Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelabu, Smithson, Weiner, eds. Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001), p. 9. See also Walter Benjamin, A Short History of Photography, Artforum 15:6 (February 1977), p. 58. It is as if, as Benjamin writes, the beholder of such documents is still searches for the tiny spark of contingency, of the Here and Now . . . to find the inconspicuous spot where in the immediacy of that long-forgotten moment the future exists so eloquently that we, looking back, may rediscover it. 42 Hal Foster, An Archival Impulse, October 110 (Fall 2004): p. 6. 43 Charles Merewether elaborates on the legal function of the archive, 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, a legal repository in Archival futures: On Kawara and the date from which all things begin, again, in After the Event: New perspectives on art history, eds. Charles Merewether and John Potts (New York: Manchester University Press, 2010), p. 126.


domain. Likewise, the public form of Atlas Group Archive also most often takes the shape of a hard and fast exhibition formatas mixed-media installations, single channel screenings, visual and literary essays and lectures/performanceswhich immediately suggests that it be read as an art object and not as a grounds of serious inquiry.44 Though the Atlas Project in total is not owned by an institution per se, its pedigree alone attests to how it readily lends itself to a contemporary exhibition format.45 Walid Raad is also represented by Paula Cooper Gallery, a prominent commercial art gallery in New York.46 These seemingly inevitable contradictions issue several questions about the ramifications of casting critical projects, particularly those dealing with subaltern histories (such as Raads and Smithsons projects), as art.47 The contextual and economic valuation of Raad and Smithsons interventions, however, also highlights their symbolic value as critical projects. The restrictive guarding of the Hotel Palenque archive by the Guggenheim and likewise the coveting of Raads 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. Each project enacts a double critical structure: implication of the ghost of subaltern histories as well as the failure of ideas of authority, sublimation and progress as they are delineated by the traditional structures of

Although Raad has recently decided to expose the work's fictive nature in his performance, Raad . . . present[s] the material in a documentary guise. The use of primary documents as the basis for a reconstruction of historical events within the context of a museum, or as a lecture sponsored by an art or architecture department serves, however, on the surface, as a disjointed framework for Raad's choice of a documentary narrative structure, in (author unknown), Forging History, Performing Memory: Walid Raads The Atlas Project, Parachute: Contemporary Art Magazine (October 2002), (accessed November 27, 2011). 45 Raads works have been shown at Documenta 11, the Venice Biennale, the Whitney Biennial and several other museums and venues across Europe, the Middle East and North America. See About Walid Raad in The Atlas Group Archive, (accessed November 20, 2011). 46 See Walid Raad under Paula Cooper Gallery, (accessed December 6, 2011). 47 A second theoretical-philosophical inquiry that cannot be adequately addressed by this paper resides in the inevitable failure of such projectlike feminist theory or like its counterpart, institutional critique, the counter-intuition of archival art is revealed in the modalitys assumption of an original force to be reckoned with. That is, like feminisms recognition of man as that which the gendered woman must define herself from and/or against, archival critique inevitably legitimates the power of the archive in certain ways by conceiving of its status as that which must be challenged.


history and the archive. In a sense, each work de-anesthetizes its spectators, an inversion of the operation suggested by Susan Sontag in Regarding the Pain of Others.48 Despite other seemingly inevitable drawbacks, both Raad and Smithson provide an innovative and critical means of interrogating reified notions of the locations respective to each projectin the case of Hotel Palenque, the fetishized history of the ancient Mayans, and in the case of the Atlas Project, the silenced history of contemporary Lebanon. The witnessing operation of each project occurs on two levels: that of the event and of the events representational reconstruction. These aspects in concert reproduce both insight into historiographic constructions and archival critique of the modes by which subjectivities are enunciated. The politics of ideology resides, most obviously, in the exhibition of artin the governing narrative of the exhibition, of the mere fact of a work being shown or not shown, and by whom. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly for its invisible iron grip, is the archive. The ideological impulse of the archive is even more disturbing for the fact of its supposed neutrality, for its assertion of itself as a system without imperative for interpretation. Yet it is in this precise and seeming disinterest of the archive towards its contents that the real power of such a structure lies.


See Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others (New York: Picador, 2003), p. 13.


Bibliography Agamben, Giorgio. The Archive and Testimony (1989). In Remnants of Auschwitz, translated by Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books, 1999. Alberro, Alexander. Introduction. In Recording Conceptual Art: Early Interviews with Barry, Huebler, Kaltenbach, LeWitt, Morris, Oppenheim, Siegelabu, Smithson, Weiner, edited by Alexander Alberro and Patricia Norvell. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2001. The Anarchitecture Group. (accessed December 1, 2011). Aristotle. De Memoria et Reminiscentia. In Artistotle on Memory, translated by Richard Sorabji. London: Gerald Duckworth & Company, Ltd., 1972. The Atlas Group (Walid Raad). Lets Be Honest, the Rain Helped (2003). In The Archive, edited by Charles Merewether. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006. The Atlas Group. (accessed November 20, 2011). Barthes, Roland. Mythologies, translated by Annette Lavers. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972. Baudrillard, Jean. LEchange symbolique et la mort. Paris: Gallimard, 1976. Benjamin, Walter. A Short History of Photography. Artforum 15:6 (February 1977). Benjamin, Walter. The Storyteller." In Illuminations, edited by Hannah Arendt, translated by Harry Zorn. Schocken Books, 1969. Bois, Yve-Alain and Rosalind Krauss. A User's Guide to Entropy. October 78 (Autumn 1996). Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image, translated by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989. Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Foster, Hal. An Archival Impulse. October 110 (Fall 2004). Foster, Hal. The Archive Without Museums, October 77 (Summer 1996). Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge, translated by Alan Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books, 1972.


Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Foucault, Michel. Fantasia on the Library (1967). In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977. Green, Renee. Survival: Ruminations on Archival Lacunae. In Interarchive: Archival Practices and Sites in the Contemporary Art Field, edited by Beatrice von Bismark, Hans-Peter Feldmann, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Diethelm Stoller, and Ulf Wuggenig. Cologne: Verlag der B uchhandlung Walther Konig, 2002. Hapgood, Susan and Cornelia Lauf. In Deed. Cabinet 41 (Spring 2011). Hotel Palenque. Guggenheim Online. york/collections/collection-online/show full/piece/?search=Hotel%20Palenque&page=&f=Title&object=99.5268 (accessed November 14, 2011). Leak, Andrew. Roland Barthes: Mythologies, edited by Roger Little, Wolfgang van Emden, and David Williams. Valencia: Grant & Cutler Ltd., 1994. Levi-Strauss, Claude. Introduction to the Work of Marcel Mauss (1950), translated by Felicity Baker. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987. Lewandowska, Marysia. From Enthusiasm to the Creative Commons. In The Archive, edited by Charles Merewether. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006. Merewether, Charles. Archival futures: On Kawara and the date from which all things begin, again. In After the Event: New perspectives on art history, edited by Charles Merewether and John Potts. New York: Manchester University Press, 2010. Merriam-Websters Collegiate Dictionary (11th Edition). Merriam-Webster, Inc., 2008. McCole, John. Walter Benjamin and the Antimonies of Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. Raqs Media Collective. First Information Report (2003). In The Archive, edited by Charles Merewether. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2006. Ricoeur, Paul. Archives, Documents, Traces (1978). In Time and Narrative, Volume III, translated by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Roberts, Jennifer L. Landscapes of Indifference: Robert Smithson and John Lloyd Stephens in Yucatan. The Art Bulletin 82:3 (September 2000).


Sekula, Allan. The Body and the Archive. October 39 (Winter 1986). Smithson, Robert. Four Conversations Between Dennis Wheeler and Robert Smithson. In Robert Smithson Unearthed, edited by Eugenie Tsai. New York: Columbia University Press, 1991. Smithson, Robert. Hotel Palenque. Lecture given to University of Utah architecture students (1972). Estate of Robert Smithson, Courtesy John Weber Gallery, New York. Sontag, Susan. Regarding the Pain of Others. New York: Picador, 2003). SubREAL (Calin Dan and Josif Kiraly). Politics of Cultural Heritage. In Art History Archive. Venice: Romanian Pavilion, Venice Biennale, 1999. Wakefield, Neville. Yucatan is Elsewhere: On Robert Smithsons Hotel Palenque. Parkett 43 (1995). Walid Raad. Paula Cooper Gallery, New York. (accessed December 6, 2011).



Figure 1.

------ the archive/space of enunciation

------ contents of the archive/ field of subjectivities


Figure 2.


Figure 3.


Figure 4.


Figure 5.


Figure 6.


Figure 7.


Figure 8.