Technoheritage and Restitution
An exchange between artist Nora Al-Badri and anthropologist Jonas Tinius
What perspectives on originality, authenticity, and materiality does an idea of ‘technoheritage’ offer? Drawing on the works and projects of Nora Al-Badri, this dialogue takes the restitution debate into the realm of remix, virality, and machine learning, asking what, if any, new ways of looking at restitution these fields open up. What could a digital museum of looted art or lost objects look like – and what would be the responsibility of artists and anthropologists in conceiving such a new kind of infrastructure? Are objects in a digital sphere becoming new objects: more accessible, more democratic? Does this challenge the monopoly of the museum as a gatekeeper of cultural heritage? This conversation probes a different way to understand the digital sphere as a new public space.
6.6.2019, 19 Uhr
Performance walk, exhibition, film and discussion at ifa-Galerie Berlin during Lange Nacht der Ideen
Talk by Arie Amaya-Akkermans
Through five different fragments selected from Giorgos Seferis’ Mythistorema, a sequence of twenty-four lyric and dramatic poems in free verse, Arie Amaya-Akkermans will explore different aspects of Hera Büyüktaşcıyan’s exhibition Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky, focusing on Seferis’ method of moving ambiguously between history and myth.
Opening Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky
Opening of the exhibition
28.3.: Opening of the exhibition Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky
29.3.: Artist and Curator Talk with Hera Büyüktaşcıyan and Nat Muller
It used to be easy for us to draw up idols and ornaments
to please those friends who still remained loyal to us.
The ropes have broken; only the grooves on the well’s lip
remind us of our past happiness
George Seferis, Mythistorema
Hera Büyüktaşcıyan’s solo exhibition Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky comprises newly commissioned work that poetically explores what migration, cultural heritage, belonging and displacement mean. The project is inspired by a floor mosaic in Berlin’s Pergamon Museum known as the Alexandrine Parakeet Mosaic (160–150 BC) that was taken from the ancient Palace of Pergamon (now Bergama in Turkey). While the provenance and ownership of antiquities and colonial artefacts is currently debated extensively in academia and museum circles – this forms the political backdrop to the project – Büyüktaşcıyan broadens these notions and takes us on a journey that traverses time and place by touching on universal sensibilities such as loss, identity, and history.
The exhibition title alludes to the neighbourhood adjacent to the Pergamon excavation site, where some of the houses are built on a bridge, thus appearing to be suspended between earth and sky, like a bird perched on a tree. The figure of the Alexandrine parakeet is a motif that resonates throughout the works. In the video that gives the exhibition its title, this bird acts as a guide and flits between modern-day Bergama and the ruins of bygone Pergamon. In the exhibition, the parakeet performs an ambiguous role, simultaneously a symbol of freedom and historical iconographic captivity. However, the artist has set this bird free to roam the plains of the excavation site and the modern Anatolian city. It bears witness to change and the way in which this once powerful and glorious city has now been transformed into a populous urban centre, which still retains traces of its past. In this respect, the bird occupies a time and space that is in-between, a liminal space, neither on the ground, nor in the sky, neither in the past nor in the present.
The past cloaks our perception and knowledge of the present. Knowing that the past lies behind us, it might function as a soothing blanket we can wrap around ourselves. At the same time however, the past can entrap us and prevent us from looking beyond that very knowledge. This sentiment is expressed in The Observers, a pair of delicate porcelain parakeets wrapped in artisanal rugs. Like sentinels, they observe the passing of time and monitor the material residues of the past. Which traces of history endure, which have become latent, and which are absent? Is it possible at all to escape the fragmentary and volatile nature of memory and derive meaning from ruin?
The tension between history’s material presence on the one hand and its haunted evanescence on the other is beautifully articulated through two other carpet-based works: the installation Foundations and the floor piece Panta Rhei. Carpets feature throughout this exhibition as a counterpoint to the birds. They combine the stationary, warming and comforting features of home with scope to become an impromptu means to wrap one’s belongings when suddenly forced to flee. For those who have lost their home, a carpet can be laid out to create a private space of refuge that instils a sense of belonging within its limited parameters.
In Foundations, a walkway of rolled-up carpets with mosaic patterns welcomes the viewer to stroll through the pillars of a space long lost, the stoa of the Pergamon library. A monumental yet mobile installation, these rolls resemble the parchment scrolls that once filled Pergamon’s celebrated library. Their fabric scorched with the patterns of mosaics, they also read as notational scores that chronicle Pergamon’s ancient past, as well as its more recent turbulent history. In Panta Rhei, the title referencing Heraclitus’ idea that “everything flows”, carpets are layered one on top of the other, each featuring the Alexandrine parakeet mosaic. Here too, memory’s fragmentary, mutable and to an extent undisclosed nature is expressed like a volatile palimpsest that flows from the remnants of the past to a rearticulated present. In this piece the artist has referenced the architectural foundations of the Altar of Zeus in Pergamon. The present-day excavation site, overrun by weeds, forms a habitat for snakes. This piece points to loss and separation, referencing the famed friezes now housed at the Pergamon museum in Berlin.
The challenges of representing the ghosts, as well as the narrative mechanics, of history come to the fore in Icons for Birds on Stones, a series crafted from archival images of the Pergamon excavation site using carbon paper and pencil. These spectral rubbings, exhibited as building blocks, make up the research basis of the narrative that Hera Büyüktaşcıyan is sharing with us here.
In Neither on the Ground, nor in the Sky Büyüktaşcıyan offers a temporality that is non-linear, a place that neither reaches to the sky nor touches the ground, and travels through history that primarily turn us to our unruly present.