On Memory and Amnesia…

Memory and Amnesia: In the Presence of Absent Futures

Let us think of the library as an event where time and place are in perpetual conflict: a place where one is able to open up their imagination into different worlds potentially subverting the past-present-future teleology: a heterotopia where fictions of time and place become possible. The library is also a repository where informational material sourced from various geographies, demographics, references, histories and so on are recorded, archived and reorganized according to a logic of mythical relations invented to conform to internal indexical systems and/or organizational principles. The mythic relations may be based on synchronic or dialogic principles; it may also be hierarchically structured. That the library is a site of heterochronies — a place “of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages”1— subject to systems of sourcing, archiving and reorganization which conform to an institutional ethos is testament to its conflicted nature: for these become the systems by which it attempts to constitute all times as well as vet what makes it into its space and what is left out.

Memory and Amnesia: In the Presence of Absent Futures reflects on the dialectics of the library as place of political relations through which potential futures can be envisioned. The exhibition is sited on the ground floor of the Prempeh II Library on KNUST campus. The titular “Memory and Amnesia” distinctively sets up an opposition between a thing and its negative. The antinomies result in a paradoxical theme under which binaries participate and the exploration of possible futures begin. Seven artists’ works ranging from photography, video and installation populate the areas between the security center and discussion area of the library’s lending section. Selasi Sosu’s single-channel video installation projects abstracted glass images onto plexiglass — the still image is visible from both sides of the translucent screen and is changed on a daily basis. Mawuenya Amudzi’s installation is a four-stack hexagonal monument of disused cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors with light fixtures. Images are transferred from transparent sticker onto the screens. Light emissions from the monitors through the images gives the form a theatrical quality. On theatricality, Caleb Prah’s tableaux, inspired by medieval stained glass windows, is a staged composition of individual subjects haloed by baskets (objects of their profession) symmetrically facing each other. His two works, framed with aluminium and glass, printed on flex, mounted against windows with draperies on both sides, animated by natural light evokes the aesthetics of a church room window or perhaps one in a living room. Francis Nii Addo Quaye’s video montages sequence “poor images”2 of derelict architectural structures, old posters, advertising boards, notices, etc dubbed with sounds recorded from radio stations and the streets of James Town in Accra. Quaye’s video editing technique of ‘moshing’ images, audios and texts into a sequence achieves the effect of bombardment mimicking urban societies where one is constantly barraged with aural, image and textual information.

Deryk Owusu Bempah’s 9ft x 14ft photograph on flex mounted on the east end wall of the discussion area depicts an empty tunnel. The tunnel is of a real place on KNUST campus (it is usually a busy interstitial space connecting the main building of the Republic Hall to its annex building). There is an uncanny vacantness in the trompe l’oeil of continuing space in this picture. In the exhibition space the photograph sits behind a spiral staircase that leads to the upper floors of the library. The actual space of the spiral staircase and the illusion of vanishing distance beyond the two-dimensional support of the photograph potentially causes the spectator to contemplate, if only for a moment, how to engage this two-fold visual cum phenomenological paradox. Teresa Menka’s absences characterized by photographs of unoccupied places (bedrooms, kitchens, workshops, farms, etc) exacerbate the theme of negated presence. Menka’s photographs printed on paper are mounted on both sides of three wooden shelves horizontally placed and in diagonal relationship to each other. Eric Gyamfi’s black and white portraits printed on cloth are laid facing upward on all tables in the discussion area. Users of the library participate in the life of the work and/or its use depending on how they engage it: could this merely be a decorative gesture? Does the work function as a table cloth? Is it art? This display strategy makes Gyamfi’s photographic cloths a function of the use of the discussion area itself and breaks any distance between the audience (or users of the library) and the work. An intimate engagement is then established when the spectator is able to touch and inspect the work more closely countering an otherwise contemplative gaze.

The exhibition also calls the status of the image into question.

— Written by Kwasi Ohene-Ayeh (2017).

“Memory and Amnesia: In the Presence of Absent Futures”

Participating artists: Caleb Prah, Teresa Menka, Selasi Sosu, Deryk Owusu Bempah, Eric Gyamfi, Mawuenya Amudzi and Francis Nii Addo Quaye.

Curator: Mavis Tetteh-Ocloo

Advisors: kąrî’kạchä seid’ou, Dorothy Amenuke, Kwame Opoku-Bonsu, Kwaku Boafo Kissiedu, George Ampratwum

Partner institutions: Prempeh II Library, KNUST, blaxTARLINES KUMASI, Department of Painting and Sculpture, KNUST.

Notes:

  1. Michel Foucault, in his essay “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” (1967) outlines six principles of what he calls “heterotopias”. He distinguishes this concept from utopias (“sites with no real place”) as sites which exist but which simultaneously represent, contest and invert real sites — a counter-site. His third, fourth and fifth principles are the ones that squarely suit my trajectory of thought on the library. The third principle posits that “The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible”. In the fourth principle is where he gives the specific heterochronic nature of the library: according to Foucault, “there are heterotopias indefinitely accumulating time, for example museums and libraries. Museums and libraries have become heterotopias in which time never stops building up and topping its own summit, whereas in the seventeenth century, even at the end of the century, museums and libraries were the expression of an individual choice. By contrast, the idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity. The museum and the library are heterotopias that are proper to western culture of the nineteenth century.” Even though Foucault is making his analysis of the library as heterotopic site in the context of nineteenth century Western modernity, I find that he is at the same time able to describe some universal qualities about this site. His fifth principle captures the systems of inclusion and exclusion that regulate heterotopias i.e. who is permitted to enter or not.
  2. Hito Steyerl defines the poor image as one which is first of all digital, ranked and valued according to its substandard resolution, of bad quality by being heavily compressed, itinerant, distributed for free, remixed (ie. reedited, reformatted, downloaded, shared), ripped (AVI or JPEG), with filenames deliberately misspelled and so on. See Hito Steyerl, The Wretched of the Screen, 2012, e-flux journal, Sternberg Press, Berlin, pp. 30 – 44.
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