Courtenay Finn: On The Tectonics of History (2009)

On The Tectonics of History makes its fifth and final stop at the International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP) in New York. Unlike a conventional touring exhibition, the last incarnation of this traveling show does not feature actual artwork but is a documentary reflection on the show as a whole. The exhibition was conceived in response to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuseel’s declaration of 2005 as an anniversary and memorial year. The activities and celebrations during 2005 focused almost exclusively in and on events in Austria’s past from 1955 (the year the allies withdrew) up until the present. On The Tectonics of History positioned itself as an alternative to the state-sponsored “success story,” and highlighted how during the country’s commemorative events Austria’s participation in Nazism was avoided. Rather than sweep selective parts of history under the rug, curators Andrea Domesle and Martin Krenn wanted to investigate the possibility of an active politics of memory. The exhibition started in Graz, Austria and travelled to Usti Nad Labem, Czech Republic; Grandsk, Poland; and Dresden, Germany. With each stop different works were shown and new artists were invited to examine their own experience, both personal and regional, with the Nazi regime.
What is currently on view at ISCP is a timeline of this journey, a wallpaper installation that maps out the thought process and trajectory of the exhibition. Color coded by country, following the print colors of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CMYK), the exhibition starts in Graz and takes the viewer through each venue, spanning upwards of twenty-five works. The curators focused exclusively on photographic, film and video work, examining how these mediums can act as storage facilities for our cultural memory. At ISCP each work is represented through a series of photocopies, layered together over the layout process for the catalog that accompanies the exhibition. As the colors and countries build on themselves, they move from being individual colors (CMYK) to becoming a full spectrum. The multi-layered collage points to this notion of collective memory and drives home the notion that history cannot be understood in separate parts, but rather needs to examined as a whole.
The documentary nature of On The Tectonics of History’s display emphasizes history’s relationship to construction and reconstruction and at the same time calls attention to the exhibition’s essential focal point- that which has been forgotten, neglected, or suppressed. Lisl Ponger’s photograph Vergozen, 2005 shows layers of carpets piled on top of one another, exposing a layer of dirt and rubble beneath them. The image causes the viewer to question what has happened here. Joachim Seinfeld’s photograph Wenn Deutsche Lustig Sind- Dokufiction: Asch 1938 II (When Germans are jolly), 2005 is a layering of three historic photographs in which the artist has inserted himself into the image as respectively victim, spectator and perpetrator. Seinfeld reconstructs our understanding of the past, playing with point of view and calling into question that not everything is what it seems.
Kafka once said, “You can hold yourself back from the sufferings of the world, that is something you are free to do and it accords with your nature, but perhaps this very holding back is the one suffering you could avoid.” On The Tectonics of History reminds us that more damage is done by forgetting and hiding memories away, than by the attempting to understand and uncover the images of our past.
Courtenay Finn, currently works as the Programs Administrator at the Lower East Side Printshop, a printmaking studio and residency program in New York. She has a MA in Curatorial Practice from The California College of the Arts in San Francisco, California and a BFA in Fiber and Material Studies from The Cleveland Institute of Art in Cleveland, Ohio.

in: Whitehot Magazine, New York, June 2009