Living Archives at Kunsthaus Bregenz

Living Archives installation view

What is an archive? What is a collection? What are the relationships between the documents stored in archives and objects stored in collections concerned with memory, identity, history, and politics? What narrations are implied in them and towards which possible other ways of reading could they be expanded?

The collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven is a joint consideration of the significance of archives and collections, which play a major role in the current reconsiderations of artistic practices and conservations in the realm of the museum. The project proposes a series of artistic and curatorial approaches, which formulate individual and fragmented art histories, archives and collections, undermining more canonized modes of operation and opening up alternative interpretation. Alongside the exhibit Living Archive – Mixed Messages of the Van Abbemuseum, which includes works by Francis Bacon, Robert Indiana and Paul McCarthy, works by Michal Heiman, Hannah Hurtzig and Katrin Mayer offer a range of processual and amenable strategies of collecting and archiving. Given the failure of many institutions to present parallel histories of their collections, the artists themselves started to search for their own individual historical trajectories that might upset the established canon. They created their own art narratives, archives, and collections. Living Archives – A collaboration with the Van Abbemuseum Eindhoven. Participating artists: Michal Heiman, Hannah Hurtzig and Katrin Mayer.

For Michal Heiman art is literally a field of research. Her work on psychological experiments led her to the 1947 Szondi test. In this diagnostic test by the Hungarian psychiatrist Léopold Szondi, subjects were asked to react to photographs of psychiatric patients. Szondi viewed their reactions, which he thought were based on the genetic correspondences between the two individuals, as a key to their psyche. Heiman applied this theory and created her own Michal Heiman Test No. 4, replacing the portraits of patients with her own archive photographs. The reactions elicited reveal how, on the basis of a single image, we are prepared to jump to conclusions and judgements that can have serious consequences.

Dramaturge Hannah Hurtzig will present the FCA – (Flight Case Archive) in the KUB Arena. The FCA is a mobile, continuously growing archive in the form of a capsule in which visitors can take a place to watch and listen to an audio-visual discussion archive. It contains “stories about places, cities and territories” by experts from different fields as well as the growing material of the Mobile Academy (another project by Hurtzig). The project allows professional knowledge and theoretical discourses to encounter the practices of everyday life, work, and individual narration, thus creating a public geography in which knowledge and information is communicated visually and in a process of negotiation. During the exhibition dialogues from the FCA will be screened in the space.

The artist Katrin Mayer is to be invited to develop a site-specific spatial intervention that addresses current conditions of visibility on a rather conceptual level. By re-reading and appropriating archival material from different contexts and restaging it under altered conditions she questions its status as well as the inscription of cultural semantics into specific spatial or temporal contexts in general. The chosen motifs and narrations relate to the location where they are shown and open up thematic and formal correspondences in interaction with it.

The presentation of the artistic approaches will be accompanied by a selection from the Living Archive (curated by Diana Franssen)an exhibition series of changing formats and periods that took place regularly at the Van Abbemuseum. Triggered by the alternative oral histories that existed about the museum and an understanding of museum archives in general as a treasury of ideas about the future, the Living Archive acted as an active working memory recalling the past in the present. 

Together with the presented artistic approaches the Living Archive is intended to open up reflections on contemporary archival practices, as well as discussing the possibilities of assembling a new kind of archive at the Kunsthaus Bregenz.

Curators: Eva Birkenstock and Galit Eilat