In Hindsight: An ode to forgetting and inexactness

by Natasha Ginwala – Guest Editor

Jehangir Art Gallery July 1969, Image Courtesy: Jahangir Sabavala & Gopal Mirchandani

Humanity’s urge to chronicle, affix and categorize has led to the development of knowledge societies in which individuals expend much energy building (in)tangible information sites. As a consequence there has been a growing reliance on external meaning-making devices which formalize and homogenize social memory. Despite these efforts the possession of a ‘permanent memory trace[1]’ is a false certainty, for mnemic systems are volatile—in a state of constant renewal and transmutation. Whilst remembering essentially involves the re-imagining of an absent thing within the affective ambit of self-presence―memories of body and place contest to co-remember; traversing fabricated information sites to mingle with hemispheres of forgottenness.

One is tempted to consider forgetting as a place of non-being (not nothingness). As Jorge Luis Borges noted, “Forgetting is a form of memory, its broad basement, the secret flipside of the coin.”[2] Forgetting renders the passage of time concrete—like the flowing sand in an hourglass that is analogous to the ‘ash from which forgetting is made.’[3] We are at a moment wherein ‘forgetting’ is neither a complete erasure (as there exist digital ghosts of ‘every’ document), nor does the role of drawing from personal memory hold the implications it did prior to a mediatized society. Yet, the fear of oblivion remains ever present and memory is often dialectically outlined as a struggle against forgetting. Perhaps, as Marc Augé has stated―‘Memories are crafted by oblivion as the outlines of the shore are created by the sea.’ Forgetting challenges memory’s mask of reliability and articulates the presence of absences, furthering a deeper investigation of the image and its imprint—as fragmented afterlives.

In his book—The Mind of a Mnemonist[4], Soviet neuropsychologist Alexander Luria writes about a special patient he has observed and treated for several years. The subject of the book—S. seems to possess a limitless memory but has also been diagnosed with advanced synesthesia. S. remembers without filtering; words and voices instantly turned into images, colour fields, texture, smells—the line between the imagined and the real, perpetually blurring. What is most perplexing for S. however, is the task of learning to forget. Perhaps, if we were to look closely into the techniques of forgetting and the imprecision of memory we might consciously re-learn what it means to remember.

In this issue of TAKE, we attempt to look into the productive function of forgetting as a mode of facilitating ‘rebeginnings’[5] and seeking inexact, non-linear pathways to address the relatively short history of curating in India as well as recent shifts in the field. This is not an effort to create a temporal archive and yet we have sourced archival content; choosing to present documents as social narratives and cultural residue rather than facts of a well-rehearsed past. This anthology does not aim to treat curatorial history as an emergent, alternate canon. Instead, it strives to converse with a series of ‘moments’—set in the past, present and future—through personal articulations. In itself, the issue is by no means either exhaustive or accurate, since remembrance is treated more like a screen upon which memory traces are projected, in a manner that both conceals and reveals―thus, as an on-going construction of ‘(semi)fictions.’[6]

The international symposium, Are Curators Unprofessional?—hosted by the Banff International Curatorial Institute (Canada) in November 2010 began with a set of questions; some of which I mention here:  ‘Is curating a profession? What does it mean to be a professional and when is it necessary to become unprofessional? What is the relationship between curatorial power and responsibility? What issues exist within a field that is demarcated by instability?’ As a self-reflexive interrogation carried out primarily with North American and European curators, critics, artists—the scope of this endeavour was limited from the outset. But it could prove productive to reflect upon these questions for our own context, wherein the curatorial sphere is rapidly gaining self-awareness but has yet to form a connection with its ‘informal’ histories and build meaningful relationships with its publics. Much before this specialized animal ―the curator emerged—artists, art historians, cultural critics, activists had already laid out compelling trajectories of curation, exhibition design and cultural programming. Often the most influential figures in the cultural field are those who resist labels or better yet cannot be tagged. The most inspiring curators are not arbiters or taste-makers, they are genuine catalysts—who play the role of effective mediators and creative rebels. To curate is not simply to nurture and protect (‘curatorio’ means attention and healing), but above all, it is to be curious (‘curiositas’ is inquisitiveness)[7]. Whilst a handful of international curators have gained immense visibility operating as itinerant presences within the institutional circuits of well-managed art economies, there are several others whose practices exemplify purposeful terms of resistance and risk-taking.

With this issue, we go beyond simply contemplating the curator as a new fangled ‘character’ in a plot, we survey ‘the plot’ itself. As a live medium, an exhibition is a site of production, a social persona, a constellatory narrative and a shared conversation. The voices within exhibitions constitute an observable politics, but what often go unnoticed are the silences. There is a plan to all exhibitions, a will or teleological hierarchy of significances, which is its dynamic undercurrent. Hence, it is the result of mixed desires and values from within a network of interests which run from the academic to the economic and from the semiotic to the institutional[8]. Its ephemeral nature lends it a disembodied afterlife—catalogues, floor-plans, a pile of erratic notes and images are most likely the only remnants of exhibitory frameworks. Hence, whilst an exhibition involves the spatial configuration and contextualization of art objects, in itself it escapes object status and may be remembered only as subjective fragments—an incomplete puzzle. Today, exhibition scenarios are being described as ‘construction site,’ ‘laboratory’, ‘think-tank’, and ‘distribution channel’—thereby, implementing appropriated vocabularies and lexicons of industry, the media and science[9]. These ‘scenarios’ continue to remain the material we work with as curators; we create them in the hope that they will outlive us, perform as socio-cultural markers and continue to tell stories.

The approach of this issue also addresses the notion of hindsight—as a position imbued with potentiality rather than retrospection. For, hindsight not only alters the way we (re)view the past, but also impacts the paths we create in the present. In turn, this act of ‘looking backward’ could imply a dramatic seeing forward, thereby sourcing the future in the past. Hindsight also deploys the methodology of camouflage such that memory forgets what it has imagined. It performs as an in-between space wherein morsels of real-time events are observed as suspensions within fields of phantasma. Here, counter-memory has the potential to re-introduce itself―to interfere, transfigure and dis/appear.

Natasha Ginwala
Amsterdam, April 2011


[1] A Note upon the “Mystic Writing Pad” by Sigmund Freud in General Psychological Theory (Chapter XIII),Collier Books ,1925

[2] Lethe: the art and critique of forgetting by Harald Weinrich, Cornell University Press, 2004

[3] Ibid

[4] The mind of a mnemonist: a little book about a vast memory by Alexander R. Luria, Basic Books, 1968

[5] Oblivion by Marc Auge, University of Minnesota Press, 2004

[6] Ibid

[7] Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating, ed. Stephen Rand & Heather Kouris, Apexart, 2007

[8] Exhibition Rhetorics: material speech and utter sense by Bruce Fergusson in Thinking About Exhibitions, Routledge, 1996

[9] I Curate, You Curate, We Curate: Feature on Curating, Part 1 by Alex Farquharson, Art Monthly, no. 269 (September 2003)


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Natasha Ginwala (b. 1985, Pune, India) is a freelance art writer and curator, currently participating in the Curatorial Programme at De Appel Arts Centre (Amsterdam). She has studied at The School of Arts and Aesthetics (JNU, New Delhi) and completed a postgraduate diploma in Broadcast Journalism from the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai. Natasha was selected as critic-in-residence for the PEERS ‘09 Residency at Khoj Studios (New Delhi) and organized Work in Progress: Dialogues on Curation in collaboration with the Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art (FICA). In 2008, Natasha was part of the curatorial team for the exhibition Where in the World at the Devi Art Foundation (Gurgaon).

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