The Jerusalem Show
Chapter 4: Measures
Exhibition in a library on collecting and archiving: Khalidi Library
Click the links below to visit each artist section:
Exhibition in a library on collecting and archiving
In the relation between what is said and its taking place, it was possible to bracket the subject of enunciation, since speech had already taken place. But the relation between language and its existence, between langue and the archive, demands subjectivity as that which, in its very possibility of speech, bears witness to an impossibility of speech. This is why subjectivity appears as witness; this is why it can speak for those who cannot speak.
– Giorgio Agamben
It would be a delusion to consider an archive as a stable source for truth. Nevertheless, the act of archiving and collecting is very important for uncovering – whether objective or biased – unspoken and neglected issues. It presents a potential to challenge the user to confront muted realities. Therefore, an archive may also become a tool for tactile, emotional, and experience-based communication and could open up a space for exchanging 'unrecognized' and 'unregistered' information for its users.
In this chapter, the very act of collecting and archiving is linked with a presence of a library. Thus, two distinctive projects, based on extensive research by Tom Nicholson and Raqs Media Collective, route their way in this presence.
The site-specific installation The Unwritten Library (2014) seeks new ideas and thoughts as the neglected outcome of difficult times. The work is about 'the idea of books that are simultaneously unwritten even as they are erasures of books already written.' Hence, The Unwritten Library invites the viewer to collect past and future dreams, ideas, and thoughts.
Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) (2012–2014) is based on a long-term research on the Australian Eucalyptus trees in the ancient Ma'man Allah/Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem. The work traces a walk through 69 seeds, displayed at Khalidi Library, accompanied with a book and a proposition for a future monument as another walk in another landscape.
Extracted from the artistic statement of Raqs Media Collective.
(Monica Narula & Jeebesh Bagchi)
The Unwritten Library
How can one lay a claim on the future in those parts of the world where the past and the present can sometimes feel like a labyrinth, a prison and a battlefield? What would one have to learn and unlearn in order to make the future work in the face of an intransigent history? Raqs has always been interested in the way new ideas appear in fractious and difficult times. Sometimes this requires entirely new ways of thinking, along with an unlearning of the dead habits of the past.
The Unwritten Library is a work that speaks to bibliophilia, daydreams and intellectual debt. The treasures it invokes are always waiting to be read. What would be the principle behind a library of the unwritten word?
All it would admit to would be that while every book demands another, not all of them get written.
We have worked over the years on the idea of books that are simultaneously unwritten even as they are erasures of books already written.
Every book demands another, but not all of them get written. Every debt demands to be paid, but not all are redeemed. Then there are the debts that we owe to all that we read, which we can never really repay. In that sense we are all 'Namak-Harams', defaulters to the debt of purloined knowledge. Someday, a Hamlet will issue a stern reprimand, saying, 'There are more things on heaven and earth, Namak-Haram, than are dreamt of in your philosophy'. He will be reminding us of the things we owe, with interest.
Somewhere, there might exist a library dedicated to the philosophy of the Namak-Haram, stacked high with books filled with the unwritten word. What titles would one browse if one came across its stacks, folded into the course of a tiring day like a mirage in a desert? Can books be desired into existence by reciting the spells that are waiting to be read off the surfaces of their wished-for spines? The absent titles on the spines accumulate to form a backbone for thoughts that need articulation. This could be knowledge that still lies in waiting, or a store house of untried ideas. Before a thought finds the vehicle of words, it has to find its fuel in silence. No transports of knowledge are possible without stepping into the unknown. Which idea takes flight, which question arrives, or departs is what makes the waiting worth its while.
We want to expand this library of unwritten books to fill the Khalidi library.
Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah)
Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) begins with the remarkable presence of Australian Eucalyptus trees in the ancient Ma'man Allah/Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem. These 'River Red Gums' originated in early Zionist plantations, but are famous in Australia for their connection to Barmah, where the Cummeragunja walk-off took place in 1939, a landmark act of anti-colonial resistance.
Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) is both a walk and a proposition. It is a walk with 69 stations: simultaneously a walk through a display of Eucalyptus seeds in the Khalidi Library (through a take-away 'guidebook'); a textually described walk from one Eucalyptus to another through the Ma'man Allah cemetery; and an imaginary itinerary through the histories intersecting the cemetery, to which these trees bear witness.
Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah) is also a proposition. A proposition for a future monument described at the work's end: a way to do this walk again, but in another landscape.
More about the project
Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is a work in progress that has evolved in a sibling relationship to Comparative monument (Palestine), 2012. The work begins with the remarkable and dominating presence of Australian Eucalyptus trees in the Ma'man Allah/Mamilla cemetery in Jerusalem, Palestine's oldest and most important Islamic cemetery. These 'River Red Gums' that now cover the cemetery originate in early Zionist Eucalyptus plantations, but are famous in Australia for their connection to an area of Southern Australia where the Cummeragunja walk-off took place in 1939, a landmark act of anti-colonial resistance.
As a walk with 69 stations, Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is a textually described itinerary that moves from one Eucalyptus to another through the entire contemporary site of the cemetery. This walk is accompanied by a sequence of archival photographs of the site, which become a way to indirectly describe the histories that crisscross the site, encompassing the remarkable Mamilla Pool (built by Herod the Great, since 1948 drained of water, a massive void in the middle of the cemetery); the site's manifold significance in the events leading up to 1948, when the cemetery became part of Israeli West Jerusalem; the destruction of half the cemetery to create Independence Park, inaugurated in 1959 by David Ben-Gurion; and the cemetery's contemporary status as a contested site for a Museum of Tolerance (an array of histories to which the monumental Australian Eucalyptus trees stand as unlikely witnesses).
The work is also a proposition: seeds are collected from each of the 69 Eucalyptus tree. These seeds are for planting. They are for a replica of the configuration of Eucalypts at the Ma'man Allah cemetery, an exact double of their placement, inserted back into an Australian landscape, part exile, part homecoming, a map of the cemetery grown into or amidst a forest of Eucalypts in their own place, one forest cleaving another. The Eucalypts become an itinerary, a sequence from one station to another. It is a way to do the walking in the cemetery again, but in another landscape, inscribed with other strata of history.
Comparative monument (Ma'man Allah) is an attempt to articulate the historical links and echoes between Jerusalem and Australia. Drawing on the symbolic importance of trees in Israel and Palestine, and in Australian commemorative traditions, such as the Lone Pine, it is also attempt and to rethink the nature and possibilities of the monument itself.
Nicholson, Tom. 2014. Comparative Monument (Ma'man Allah): A Guide Book to a Collection of 69 Eucalyptus Camaldulensis Seeds in the Khalidi Library, Jerusalem. Surpllus. ISBN 978-1-922099-11-2
Raqs Media Collective
Raqs Media Collective was founded in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta in New Delhi.
Raqs Media Collective enjoys playing a plurality of roles, often appearing as artists, occasionally as curators, sometimes as philosophical agent provocateurs. They make contemporary art, have made films, curated exhibitions, edited books, staged events, collaborated with architects, computer programmers, writers and theatre directors and have founded processes that have left deep impacts on contemporary culture in India. Raqs (pron.rux) follows its self-declared imperative of 'kinetic contemplation' to produce a trajectory that is restless in terms of the forms and methods that it deploys even as it achieves a consistency of speculative procedures.
Raqs remains closely involved with the Sarai program at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (www.sarai.net), an initiative they co-founded in 2000.
Tom Nicholson often works with archival material and the visual languages of politics, often using public actions and focusing on the relationship between actions and their traces. He has made a number of works engaging aspects of Australia's early colonial history, using combinations of drawings, monumental forms, and posters, often drawing these histories into relation with the histories of other places.
His recent work has been shown in Meeting Points 7, at M HKA, Antwerp, curated by WHW; Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney; Sélestat Biennial, France; Melbourne Now at the NGV; the inaugural Qalandiya International (2012); Parallel Collisions at the 2012 Adelaide Biennale; Marking Time at the MCA, Sydney (2012); the 2012 TarraWarra Biennial; Second World, curated by WHW at Galerija Nova, Zagreb, and as part of the 2011 Steirischer Herbst in Graz, Austria; 2010 Shanghai Biennale; 4th Auckland Triennial, Last Ride in a Hot Air Balloon (2010); To the arts, citizens! at the Serralves Museum, Porto (2010); and Animism, at Extra City and M HKA, Antwerp (2010). Other works addressing the possibilities of a new kind of monument or public art-making have been exhibited in the recent exhibition Future Memorials at the TarraWarra Museum of Art with Jonathan Jones and Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin; Since we last spoke about monuments at Stroom Den Haag (2008) and Zones of Contact at the 2006 Sydney Biennale. His ongoing collaboration with the New York-based composer Andrew Byrne was presented in Antwerp (2013), Shanghai (2010), Venice (by the Italian contemporary music ensemble L'Arsenale, 2009), Bath (2008) and in Melbourne (2006). His long-term collaboration with Raafat Ishak was also the subject of a survey at the Shepparton Art Museum. Along with Ishak, he was an active member of the artist collective and gallery, Ocular Lab (2003–2010).
Nicholson is represented by Milani Gallery, Brisbane, and is a Lecturer in Drawing in the Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture at Monash University.
He lives and works in Melbourne.