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Foreword Afterall Journal Issue 21

In 1967, the members of Foksal Gallery in Warsaw loaded their archive into a small boat and threw it overboard into the Baltic Sea…

In 1967, the members of Foksal Gallery in Warsaw loaded their archive into a small boat and threw it overboard into the Baltic Sea. This event, recounted in Pawel Polit’s discussion of the early Foksal milieu, has echoes elsewhere in this issue: in a story where the censors of the Pinochet regime in Chile throw copies of Para leer al Pato Donald (How to Read Donald Duck, 1971), a critical study of cultural imperialism, into the Pacific Ocean. The similarities between the two events are more than superficial: both, despite their radically different intentions, revel in the obsolescence that the archive is meant to safeguard against.

The archive is a well-theorised subject that moves between being a bulwark against oblivion and, conversely, a surfeit of memory, diminishing the capability to remember. In this issue of Afterallit returns with slightly different coding, sat in the backseat of history, and treated with trepid ambivalence: the archive is destroyed, parodied, questioned and contextualised in a number of essays that attempt to turn the self-consciousness of ‘looking back’ to history into a key part of their methodology. In her excavation of rumours of dissident artistic acts in Chile in the 1970s, María Berríos analyses the effects of undocumented actions, and how that undocumented character allows them to function differently from historically ‘certified’ events or works. Michael Rakowitz, one of the artists featured in this issue, also investigates the relationship between an event and its later dissemination through myth and storytelling – a problematic that is also present in Alejandra Riera’s puzzle-like assemblages of her work as provisional maquetasor models, which act performatively on the page or wall, inverting the primacy of the exhibition form over other means of materialisation.

Other essays consider specific instances where the archive is at stake – a body of knowledge and practice to be lost, recouped or fought against. Chon A. Noriega looks at Raphael Montañez Ortiz, a US Latino artist and founder of El Museo del Barrio in Harlem, New York, whose practice aims at the destruction of the archive – ‘recycling’ Hollywood cinema and ritually destroying museum installations – and engages with the problem of the exclusion of minority and working-class artists from film archives and the artistic canon in the United States. Michèle Faguet considers the history of Colombian cinema, in particular the films of pornomiseria, which turned poverty into a spectacle for Colombian and international middle-class audiences in the 1970s. And Paweł Polit looks at the two competing claims of the founders of Foksal Gallery in Warsaw, trying to open a space for the contemporary fulfillment of the aims of their ‘theory of place’.

A resistance to the archive is also at play in the two essays dedicated to Nasreen Mohamedi, an Indian artist whose elegant, minimal drawings, photographs and diaries are now being discovered in the West. In their analysis of her work, both essays tackle the question of how to deal with the ethics of her ‘rediscovery’ and the perceived need to place her geographically and art-historically. How much needs to be spelt out in order to tell the ‘whole story’? The history of abstraction, meanwhile, has been the purview of Austrian artist Heimo Zobernig, who has subverted abstraction’s attempt to reduce meaning with twenty years’ worth of painting, exhibition display, catalogue typeface and analysis of colour – often resulting in strikingly beautiful, almost classicist, geometric paintings and sculptures.

The issue of the archive is also important to Afterall journal, which, as a repository of discourse, is itself an archive – of the activities of others but also of its own. To celebrate our tenth anniversary we have taken the decision to make our back issues freely available on our new website. To make publicly funded content publicly available was our first reason, as well as to improve access to texts that we think are very much worth reading. This move is also an acknowledgement of the different ways a journal can be read. Some read it cover to cover, for example, while others dip in for a particular artist, writer or topic. As the articles in this issue suggest, each historical instance carries with it different means of remembering itself, and the nature or fate of this documentation is a live problem to be grappled with – nothing is set in stone, thankfully.

— Melissa Gronlund