from "The Double Edge of History", p. 40, (Springerin 3, no. 3, Fall 1997: 57-59, published in German)
The dangers of taking pleasure in the past and the benefits of remembering in order to reinvent are not clearly posted. There is the risk of peddling nostalgia, of getting lost and/or paralyzed in emotionally inflected territory in which re-creation of the past obscures and replaces (or displaces) the present. To aid critical understanding of past specificities, and their effect in the present, it seems more productive to consider loose continuums of production than to provide a form of periodization as punctuation.
How to balance multiple relations to history? Alternatives to traditional historiographic practices might trace spatial and temporal configurations of interconnected events, activities, and associations of ideas nested in cultural circumstances, and by design provide spaces for multiple meanings, conflicting imaginations, conflicting "facts," and partiality. Historiography might be approached akin to artistic methodologies, utilize juxtaposition and artistic license, render ambivalently rather than declaratively, and ultimately acknowledge, not only in principle but as part of a historicizing method itself, that historiography is a creative as well as an interpretive practice: that it is a form of production.
The list of group entities, alternative spaces, and organizations that have dissolved or closed their doors seems to signal distress and dysfunction for certain critical strategies, as well as the disintegration of nonprofit networks. Although some organizations that wanted to were unable to survive, many that are now gone were strategic and time-based by purpose (i.e., protest strategies are usually one step in processes advocating social change). Other endeavors have become institutionalized, incorporated into large entities, reconfigured, and so on. But facts always have multiple meanings. For a less bleak panorama, one should register the fact that critical alternative activities have altered accepted notions of possible functions and definitions of art.
page 77, From Julie Ault and Martin Beck, Outdoor Systems, indoor distribution, n.p. Ed. Julie Ault and Martin Beck. Berlin: Neue Gesellschaft fur bildende Kunst (nGbK), 2000. Exhibition catalogue.
OS, id was laid out as a series of overlapping arenas suggested by density and content, composed with preexisting as well as newly produced materials. For example, the arena entitled grid included a table designed in 1970 by the Italian collective Superstudio. On the table, plexiglass sign holders contained information about Superstudio's Supersurface project, one manifestation of which is the table's gridded laminate surface. The table was itself situated in front of an outdoor-size vinyl billboard showing a photograph we shot in 1999 of an uninhabited California desert landscape that nonetheless is marked by street signs at the intersection of Avenue D and 170th Street. This coordinate within the territory that has long since been mapped in anticipation of capitalist development was juxtaposed with a video monitor that continuously showed Superstudio's 1972 film Supersurface: An Alternative Model for Life on Earth. Also integrated within this arena were aerial photographs of sprawling suburban residential developments that were commissioned from a Los Angeles-based photographer. Finally, panels with images and texts on the adjacent walls provided information about Superstudio and their conceptual project 12 Ideal Cities.
In such ways, historical and contemporary elements could be read in varied forms and arrangements as a network of interconnected references to assist viewers in simultaneously making connections and grasping the contradictions between, for example the utopian underpinnings of Superstudio's grid project and the dystopian facts of suburban land development. Viewers could engage with the dialogue of images, objects, texts, and sound in an environment in which interpretation was neither predetermined nor prematurely foreclosed.
pp. 167, From "Case Reopened: Group Material." In Show and Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material. Ed. Julie Ault, p. 216. London: Four Corners Books, 2010.
Group Material should not be reduced to memory or record but can most constructively be articulated and elaborated by the dynamics between multiple bodies of information. Somewhere between the representation of lived experience of events and their contexts and the nonjudgmental multiplicity of the archive, historical representation gets complex and exciting. The history of history is fraught with what Derrida calls "an incessant tension between the archive and archaeology." He continues, "They will always be close the one to the other, resembling each other, hardly discernible in their coimplication, and yet radically incompatible, heterogeneous..." Perhaps imprint and memory are not mutually hostile, and the conflict between archive and memory is overestimated. What if we understand History and Memory as inseparable, accept their apparent coproductive roles, and refuse to regard this as a predicament?
pp. 185, From "Ever Ephemeral." In Ever Ephemeral: Remembering and Forgetting in the Archive. Malmo: Signal Center for Contemporary Art and Inter Arts Center, 2011. Exhibition handout.
It is difficult to identify where an association of ideas or interests begins, and it is just as complicated to pinpoint ending. Chronology is not much help. A chronology can start or end anywhere. It can extend in either direction indefinitely, depending on the scope of its frame(s) of reference. Storyline. Lifeline. Timeline. History. All open to reformulation. The linear appearance of chronology is deceptive, as is the perception that time flows from one direction to another. Physicists and philosophers widely agree that "the flow of time" is a creation of consciousness that we rely on for order.
Chronology and tense are inspected, analyzed, disarranged, and played with in Ever Ephemeral. A labyrinthine set of frictions that unfold in the archive is awakened here as well: between past tense and present tense, between remembering and forgetting, between completion and continuance, between the enduring and the ephemeral. The diffusion of Ever Ephemeral across two venues is meant to infuse its experience with recollection. A game of tag is set in motion as the exhibited constellation lays open innumerable relationships between archiving, memory, history, and narrative.
From Not only this, but "New language beckons us." Ed. Andrew Blackley. New York University Fales Library and Special Collections, New York, 2013. Exhibition vitrine text.
Gentrifying real-estate machinations go hand in hand with the growth, decay, migration, and conversion of NYC's art districts - SoHo, the East Village, Chelsea, Williamsburg, the Lower East Side, and so on. By the time [Martin Wong's] The Last Picture Show took place at the legendary Semaphore Gallery's final short-lived incarnation on Greene Street (1986-1987), director Barry Blinderman had closed both his original gallery on West Broadway (1980-1986) and Semaphore East (1984-1986) on Avenue B. Martin Wong had held a solo exhibition in each. Were his powerful storefront paintings also metaphors for yet another dying environment he held dear?
A series of places and the lived experiences in and around them. A context of concurrences. An era. Eras end constantly. Sometimes an era comes to an end because of a massive change, sometimes by degree, and sometimes inconspicuously. Now and then it happens with the death of a single person.
pp. 223, From preface to Tell it to My Heart: Collected by Julie Ault. Ed. Julie Ault, Martin Beck, Nikola Dietrich, Heinz Peter Knes, Rasmus Rohling, Jason Simon, Scott Cameron Weaver, Dahn Vo, and Amy Zion, p. 154. Ostfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2013. Exhibition catalog.
I must admit I feel a bit uneasy about the notion that the art I am fortunate enough to live with constitutes, potentially, the "Julie Ault collection." Accumulating artworks, artifacts, ephemera, books, and so on has been an organic process rather than the reflection of a conscious archiving instinct. Such constituents do, however, act as building blocks of identity, as well as the tracings of relationships and work contexts. Over time, the responsibility to protect the material traces of ideas, people, practices, and contexts, even as they shift or disappear, has clarified into an active motive. The works in "my collection" confront me continually, just as the artists they are made by do, and have in the past. They stand for relationships and for personal and public histories. And there is the pleasure of it all, the everyday delights and challenges of living among the voices of those I most respect and attend to.
pp. 229, From "Active Recollection: Marvin Taylor in Conversation with Julie Ault," New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 2014. Exhibition handout for Afterlife: a constellation, Whitney Biennial, 2014.
Julie Ault: I regard you as the author of the Downtown Collection. I read the boilerplate description of what constitutes the collection, but I'm longing for a kind of director's cut about your intentions, purposes, and conceptual framing, and discussion of the implicit as well as explicit criteria you used to both formulate and shape the collection. Do you consider yourself the author of the collection?
Marvin Taylor: For me, it's been a project: how can we take a scene that was deeply invested in institutional critique and document that scene in an institution without letting the institution completely take over and do all the things that institutions do once they get hold of material that is on some way critical of their very existence? Most repositories would just bring the materials in, catalogue them in the traditional ways, and the collections' energies and spirit would die the death of cataloging, just like dried butterflies.
I chose note to do that. Instead, I chose to modify what archivists call the "documentary strategy" as much as possible. (Transgressive is a word many people don't like, but the materials we have ask constantly, "Why are you doing this?" "What structure is informing how this is done?") I guess I would like to be thought of as an author who questions his authorial intent while actually building the collection; to be very conscious of every step of the kind of decisions I am making and the implications of those decisions.
pp. 241, From "Questionnaire: Julie Ault." Frieze 163 (May 2014): p. 224.
What should stay the same?
A moratorium on gentrification would be good. The thorough gentrification of New York cannot be reversed; the extent of cultural demolition inflicted is disgraceful. We've been brainwashed to think nothing can stay the same, but that isn't really true. The collective and corporate expansionist mind-set that has infected society and so many institutions is profoundly destructive. Downsizing seems to me a more valuable agenda.
DON'T BE YOURSELF
pp. 191-194, From Draw it with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, pp. 88-89. New York: Paper Monument, 2012.
In 1991, in need of change and disillusioned with what I perceived to be the art world's shallow relationship to sociopolitical issues, I enrolled at Hunter College. I wanted to go back to school and believed that as a returning student I might get something deeper out of it than I did when I was a teenager. Also, I was beginning to teach on the merits of my art practice, but I lacked a college degree.
I had been working as an artist for over a decade and had no interest in studying art. Instead, I gravitated toward political science, fueled by the fantasy of transitioning into politics proper, where I imagined I would find a more rigorous context of ideas as well as a keener sense of cause and effect than the one I experienced as an artist engaged with social issues. My outlook entering school that year was ridiculously idealistic.