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The
Museum of
Peripheries
and Other
Lost
Documents

(A set of possible
scenarios for Y.)

 

Scene I

Where we meet Robert the architect, and his assistant, Teresa. The scene takes place in a small architect’s studio –TAMS, on the 11th floor of a Central Business Complex in town P.

A young man bends over a scale model. The model is 120 by 200 in size. The man’s name is Robert. He is wearing a dark suit and a turquoise neckerchief wrapped around his neck. His hair is neatly sleeked back, and he smells of perfume with the dominating scent of myrrh. It is still too early in the day for his impeccable look and manner to impress anybody. A woman stands at the opposite end of the table. She is probably a few years younger than the man. Her face is pretty (although it has been quite some time since she has been complemented on her beauty). Her hair is thin and sparse, her complexion extraordinarily pale. The woman’s name is Teresa. She is nervous; she looks at the window and wonders whether the man is already beginning to suspect exactly what happened that night in the studio.

The man bends lower over the model and a slip of paper falls out from his right trouser pocket. It is a photograph he had torn out from a newspaper that morning. He thought it was peculiar and decided to keep it so as to give it a more thorough look back home. The picture shows a fat middle-aged woman dressed in protective gear with a helmet and head lamp. She is posing in a narrow underground tunnel (the text indicates that it is the tunnel constructed under the river bed in P.). The photo is of poor quality –one may think that the chubby face of the woman is equipped with two pairs of eyes.


Scene II

Composed solely of DIY instructions for the public.
Selected Drawings (years 1972-1981):

1. crayon shavings collected in a 10 litre aquarium, to 4 cm (height)

2. 10,000 dots made with a black magic marker on the inside covers of a hotel bible

3. a dotted mile, marked with the drops of diesel oil dripping from a car going at the speed of 12 mph

4. crayons in different colors (at least five packages), cut into equal parts, 10 mm each, glued to the ceiling in uneven intervals

5. a black square, 12 meters long, burnt in grass. A lighter, rope, 4 wooden pins, a watering can, a water barrel

6. five crayons squeezed into holes drilled in the wall in equal intervals

7. a hundred attempts at drawing an ideal circle in a lined notebook. The drawing is erased each time with a rubber, and the bits of the erased paper mixed with the graphite and rubber are piled in a small heap next to the notebook

8. a sign hidden behind the wardrobe saying: D E A D T R E E S A R E A

9. a line of 130 cm (height) running along the entire length of the room, drawn in a single stroke of the hand

10. crayons of different colors ground in a meat grinder –the dust scattered on the pavement, just before the entrance door to the gallery.

 

Scene III  

In which a fragment of a radio show is played. The programme is based on an interview given in 1971 by an American artist introduced as S.R. The artist, whose full name we never learn, travels across countries of the Eastern Block. The journeys evoke in him a longing for childhood in the province and memories about a “first conscious work of art”.

- Do you remember your first ever visit to a museum?

- Absolutely (laughs), perfectly well!

- Is it a funny recollection?

- Very funny. I was more or less seven years old. It was the mid 1940s. We lived with my parents in Rutherford. My father decided that it was time to do something with the seashells I would hoard in my room. Actually, it wasn’t just shells, there were also insects, rocks, tree barks; I also had a few bee and hornet nests, bracket fungi, and pine cones. But it was especially shells that I collected, I loved them! I was in awe of their spiral shapes –it was like small architecture- like tiny houses, town districts from Mars. I would spend hours studying them through a magnifying glass, measuring them and taking notes. I felt as if I was solving the mystery of the Universe, learning the original formula of things. With the shells I would also bring sand to the room, probably some saprophytes too (laughs). I remember feeling the tiny specs of sand on my bed sheets before falling asleep.

- What did your parents think of your passion?

- I think that they were a little proud even that I had a hobby, which definitely made me different from my peers. They were not thrilled with the sight of mud on the floor and sand in my bed, though. One day my father called me and told me to follow him to the basement. There was a plaque nailed to the door saying EARTH MUSEUM IN THE SUBURBS. I remember it very well –the neat capital letters, dark green oil paint. And inside, in the biggest room in the basement, my father had installed wooden shelves with empty jars for preservatives, different cases, and even an empty aquarium which I had used for the stick insects I had as a small child. He must have chucked out a whole ton of garbage to make room for it all, it was really quite moving. I spent the entire weekend moving my collection to the basement, putting everything in meticulous order. I created my own taxonomy, separating everything into classes and subclasses, pseudoscientific categories. I named the shells and produced paper labels with descriptions. Most of the information I either invented or developed on the basis of the little information I could find in the books my parents brought me from the town library. Apart from the “permanent collection”, I also arranged a special section for “temporary exhibitions” which focused on the marginal specimens in my collection: rocks or chitinous shells of insects. I remember having organized a special exhibition of the “material evidence” which confirmed the hypothesis whereby dinosaurs became extinct as a result of the earth being hit by a meteorite. All the evidence I had collected the same summer in our backyard (laughs)! I dug out some random bird bones, a strange-looking rock –and that was enough to construct the rest of the story. It was the year World War II ended, and I heard different stories which I would filter, they sounded like from another planet. I was busy creating my own museum on the basis of my own private canons. My world was in the basement.

- Is there anything left from this childhood experience of yours?

- The basement was buried and the house demolished in 1949. The museum is probably still underground. Exactly where it should be. All that was put in order ended up in a tomb, doomed to decay. The thought about the death of mausoleums, where things become fossilized, excites me. That is why I treat “The museum of art in the suburbs” as my first fully conscious work of art. …

Where one of the “unintentional monuments” to be found in P. is described. The character of Anna is introduced – a teenage girl who thinks she is an artist and plasters the town walls with letters to unknown addressees in the form of poems.

 

Scene IV

Sewage is being discharged into the river from a set of six pipes sticking out of a relatively small pool just by the main bridge in P.. The black sludge is pulsating rhythmically, spurting into the water. When looking from the  bridge, it is as if a thick sticky smoke is gushing into the water from horizontally installed chimneys.

It once used to be a popular place; kids would hang out here, smoking cigarettes, snogging and touching or writing obscenities on the concrete bridge spans. It all ended on a certain spring morning when the pipes began to spurt out the stinking substances –organic waste from the town hospital. When the pipe spit out a piece of an umbilical cord, the locals began calling the place the “cesspool”, quickly forgetting it was once jokingly referred to as “the fountain monument”.

The 17 year old Anna Herbert recalled the fact in her short poem, glued in 24 copies to objects in the vicinity of the bridge:

a fountain lost

raped

by a pipe

pressing

sludge

inside.

Where we meet a Polish architect who dreams of building a museum which would stimulate art –a museum which would fold and unfold, depending on the current concept of how to use it. This part of the radio drama takes place on board a helicopter flying over P.

 

Scene V  

- So we are dealing with, how do you call it, a tool of visual impact?

- Yes, it’s an example of a now. I would want for architectural space to be formed live, in a sculptural manner. I dream about architectural visual concerts. We are not interested in building sarcophaguses for art, we want to stimulate artists –let them take on the challenge posed by this kinetic structure.

- Can we now switch to the deficit of good ideas in art? As I understand, you are assuming that we would not have to have any more good ideas for interesting works of art or exhibitions?

- Yes, we can simply run out of good concepts. At the same time, the art which we are storing in the existing museums will no longer have any meaning to us. It’s quite possible.

- And what are your feelings, how do you imagine, if at all, art in the future?

- Art is unpredictable in its development. Let me stress it again –it is impossible to predict its future.

- So what is the role of the newly built museums if we cannot anticipate art’s form in the future? It may turn out that we no longer need all those walls, ceilings, storage facilities. What would be the purpose of solid buildings if art is no longer material, if it is elusive, resembling sessions in telepathy…?

- We have made the assumption that a contemporary gallery or museum should have the duty to reach out to what is still unknown in art. And not only in terms of exhibiting, but also encouraging and provoking the birth of new art…

- In other words, in contrast to art which…

- In contrast to art which means possessing, dominating, disintegrating. Just like the building itself, which can, at any time, be hidden away underground, new art is to be a backdrop for events –in terms of cognition, untamed creation, collective action, experiencing the presence of others, of nature.

- So what is the task and duty of the architect who wants to erect buildings for art?

- The architect, or the artist, should never make finite works, but instead build systems of backgrounds to expose and present the different users of these spaces. The task of the architect is to expose actual events…


Scene VI   

The scene is maintained in a style of a stand-up comedy. A thirty-something man is reading notes about his artistic achievements from a piece of paper. The situation takes place in a night club, at about 2.00 a.m.; the room is filled with cigarette smoke and humming conversations. The man is standing by the mike, centre stage, in spotlight. Few people are giving him the time of day.

Fragments:

… It seems that both the words, just like rocks, earth or sand, tombstones and slaughterhouse waste, create a language whose syntax is governed by ruptures and fissures. Take the time to focus on a single word long enough and you shall see it open up and transform into a series of errors, disintegrate into bits, each containing its own emptiness.

I have also preferred the urban, neglected, yet, living outskirts of the central eastern towns to the cold corpse of Western Europe. To me, the West is one huge smelly ruin. Its sentimental predilection for architectural mummies forces it to surrender to the eternal adoration of rubble. I think that conceptual art, which is entirely based on written data, is only half the story. One mustn’t concentrate solely on the mind, but also remember matter. There is no escape from physicality. Nor from the mind. I believe these two things are on a constant collision course. It could therefore be said that my artistic work is a misfortune. A silent catastrophe of mind and matter. …


Scene VII    

Where another part of a radio programme based on the interview given in 1971 by an American artist, introduced as S.R., is played. The artist is visiting Eastern Block countries which, this time, make him ponder on the relations between drawing and geology.

- Your actions against the landscape and works related to language seem to be linked by means of a drawing from 1966 titled The Hourglass. It reminds me of an archaeological excavation site. It seems to suggest that the natural elements –the mountain chains, ravines, water reservoirs, etc.- are, just like architecture, letters in a landscape coming together to create words and sentences, while their disintegration is a semantic one.

(photograph projected from a slide projector onto a wall: no. 62 a)

- I’m happy you’ve mentioned this work. The Hourglass was created soon after my return to art, in 1965, after a two-year break. I did not want to make art for a while, I was tired of it all. I would get a rash on my skin the minute I touched paint. I was bored with the very thought that I would again come across somebody in the studio and would again have to talk about art. But then, it all came back to me, in the early spring of 1965. At the time, I had just begun a comparative study of artistic, industrial, natural, urban, etc. forms as part of a specific intellectual project which definitely went far beyond a purely aesthetic endeavour. I think that “The Hourglass” highlights the obnoxious presence and material nature of the meta-language which modernist criticism and art have forgotten about, carefully separating the word from the image.

- Could you describe the work in greater detail?

- It’s a drawing in pencil on a horizontal sheet of white lined paper. The sheet may evoke associations with an official table; it is filled with handwritten words on the lines. All the words are partly buried in “sand” made up of thousands of pencil dots. The text is a mixture of terms from natural sciences and grammar. Formally, it is a tectonic hierarchy of layers, eroding words. They have also become fossilized in the sand, creating deposits and awaiting the cleansing power of an excavator. My vision, as you see, is basically a geological one. My perception of a geological formation overlaps, for example, with the interpretation of the drama of the contemporary industrial landscape; it is definitely far from an environmental idyll.

 

Scene VIII

Where we come back to TAMS architectural studio to learn more about P. and the events which had taken place in the building the previous night.

The architectural scale model is excellent. The buildings have been cut out from high quality wood. A water course is running across the middle. The direction of the current of the miniature river can be switched by pressing a small button hidden under the table top. The model is not so much a meticulous reconstruction of P. as it is an intuition of what the city could become, were it not for

an unfortunate coincidence

which was to mess things up for the urban planners four months later.

Looking at the model, one sees that the river in P. splits the city in two almost ideally equal halves. Narrow sidewalks for pedestrians, made up of cements slabs, run over the bridge. The river runs from the south northwards (The city has been well organized, though it would be hard to find anything sensible to do here – thinks the man leaning over the scale model). The western part is occupied by industrial buildings, ubiquitous parking lots and a number of shopping centres. In the east, there are mainly communal housing projects from the 1960s –some already abandoned. The buildings are beginning to turn into wild gardens: the balconies are overgrown with weeds; small trees stick out from the roof tops. There are no indications that these vacant structures could ever be demolished.

Every four years since 1970 (always in October), an Exhibition of Art in Industrial Space is organized in P., in collaboration with the workers from the Glass Works, which is about to be shut down. The workers will soon lose their jobs, as will they lose any interest in art.

Snowflakes are whirling in the air outside. The man points his finger to one of the buildings on the model, just by the river bank. He freezes. Long minutes pass. He clears his throat, trying to get the attention of those gathered in the room, and finally says, loud and clear:

a  c l o t.

The woman turns around –her face is lit up with a radiant smile. She is happy not to have to pretend anymore that nothing has happened. She comes over to the man and begins stroking his face with her pale hands. She places her head on his shoulder and whispers to his ear: One must not concentrate solely on the mind. There is no escape from physicality, nor is there any escape from the mind. We are on a collision course…

Warsaw-Stockholm, February 2012

 

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