the archive of destruction – Pedro Lagoa Interviewed by Elisa Adami
Pedro Lagoa (P L) The archive of destruction is an evolving structure which, as the name suggests, is dedicated to the collection of documents related to the concept of destruction. By assuming certain kinds of destructive acts as its subject matter, the archive reinvests their signification in a movement that counters their own nature: It artificially preserves what attempts against memory. Regarding its structure, we can make a distinction between a main core of the archive and its departments.The main core is dedicated to the research, collection and presentation of documents. The acts of destruction featured in the archive are of two different types: physical destruction ‒ directed towards inanimate, material objects; and destruction understood in a more abstract sense – addressed to ideas and concepts. If the physical side is easy to understand, on the abstract level, one will find documents that focus on more immaterial and subjective practices of rupture with established ideological systems, codes, practices, values, theories, etc. This section comprehends things as avant-garde movements, political revolutions, or theoretical ruptures in fields such as art, philosophy, politics or science, to name just a few. Outside the scope of the archive is destruction aimed at living beings.The departments, instead, were initiated to enable the development of the archive beyond its initial ‒ and more restricted ‒ function of collecting and presenting documents, and to allow for the activation of its contents towards the creation of new work. The archive first ramified into sections, then departments and, more recently, it saw the addition of a small publishing label, the editions of the archive.
Pedro Lagoa, record breaking party, 2010.
Hamilton Space, Seoul. Photo: unknown
(E A) When did you start to work on this project and what was the motivation behind it?
(P L) The project started in 2007, and as with every idea, its inception is a bit hazy. At the time, I was already working with some ideas of destruction. Earlier that year I had organised the first record breaking party in Frankfurt, and I was interested in the concept of potlatch and mechanisms of creation of symbolic value which can include iconoclasm. Also, I have a certain tendency to collect things, even if not in a particularly organised way. By that time the idea of the archive came up as a good way to organise and re-contextualise a series of documents all sharing as a common denominator the concept of destruction. The basic paradox of an archive dedicated to collect actions against memory, an archive that focus on the denial of the idea of archive itself, seemed a good enough starting point to work with. The archive was envisioned as a research tool both for potential viewers and for myself, and it was structured in a way as to keep it open to diverse possibilities of development beyond the specific exhibition context for which it was originally conceived. The lack of limited temporal and 'thematic' boundaries, and the 'elasticity' of the idea of destruction ‒ particularly in its abstract sense ‒ allowed me to work in a way that was not too restrained.
The Educational Service of the archive of destruction, a cut through the archive of destruction, 2007-14. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) One of the distinctive traits of this archive is the fact that all the documents collected therein are copies. Can you comment on this?
(P L) Yes, the documents collected in the archive consist mainly of photocopies, digital prints, burnt CDs or DVDs. I have recently introduced objects into the collection, but I would not say they are unique either. Usually, they are industrially produced, and therefore in principle indistinguishable from their serial twins. In a recent presentation of the London Branch of the archive of destruction, (1) for instance, one could find a 1939 World Atlas, a bottle of Italian wine produced in an anarchist farm, and a sample of a William Morris tapestry pattern, among others. The only unique objects are more likely to appear in the context of the departments.The fact that these documents are copies, on one hand leads to privilege their content in detriment of formal aspects of design such as binding or packaging, and, on the other hand, effects a levelling down of hierarchies established on those same formal aspects while removing the aura of the unique object. Regarding the use of these copies, we may distinguish two main strategies. On one hand, the documents are presented in their entirety in the physical display of the archive. On the other hand, following the tradition of collage and appropriation, small excerpts of the same audio-visual and written documents have been creatively re-assembled and re-contextualised in works such as the video a cut through the archive of destruction (2) or the text collage titled archive. Yet, I would say that even in the first case, given the archive's tendency to put an emphasis on the relations established among the individual items, the documents are used in a way similar to the one in which fragments are used in a collage to produce new meanings from their always shifting combinations.
Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction, arquivo, 2012. Revista Punkto, http://www.revistapunkto.com/2012/05/o-arquivo-de-destruicao.html. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) The archive of destruction has no fixed address. You told me that some of its contents are geographically dispersed between the different locations where it was presented: London, Seoul... In a sense, we may say that this archive lacks of a domiciliation, of that famous archeion, that is the etymological origin of the term 'archive'. The domiciliation ensures the archive with the possibility of a growth and the physical security of a deposit. So my question is: What happens to an archive without a permanent domiciliation? What are the consequences of this delocalized, scattered form?
(P L) The nature of the archive makes it a bit hard to speak in terms of localization and domiciliation, as it might be said to have several at the same time as having none. But even before that, perhaps it would be important to start by specifying which of the meanings of the word delocalized we are speaking of: whether we are speaking of something that "is removed from a particular location", or something that is "free from the limitations of locality". (3) To speak in terms of localization one would have to presuppose that the archive exists only – or mostly – as a materialized entity. The contents that are dispersed, as you mention, are some documents that were left behind after the archive was presented. The first definition could make sense then. But since, as I mentioned, the documents of the archive are not originals, this actually does not affect the archive's integrity that much, as it is always possible to reproduce them. The archive can be virtually recreated anywhere technology allows and, in this sense, it comes closer to the second definition. To say that the archive has no fixed address, means that it does not have an HQ, a physical location where it is permanently installed and available to be consulted and that not all its documents exist in a materialised form. The only way to keep track of its contents is through an inventory kept in file cards that, in turn, make possible the reconstitution of the archive. So, if one assumes that the archive exists more as enunciation, as idea and possibility of materialization rather than as a constant physical manifestation, we may say that it exists free of the constrains of locality. But on the other hand, in order to actually become an archive that can be accessed and used as such, one needs its physical manifestations. Given the documents' reproducibility at any time and place, I would say that the ultimate effect of this scattering, as you put it, might be that the documents ‒ its sporadic materialisations ‒ become decontextualized evidences of the existence of the archive.
archive of destruction: London Branch, 2014. Gasworks, London. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) And yet another manifestation of the archive is online. When I first came across this project on the web, I remember going through its different sections – Department of Stuffed Geniuses, Quagmire Fields Section, etc. - and I could not help but think of Marcel Broodthaers' Musée d'Art Moderne, Départment des Aigles. Broodthaers' work is famously associated with the institutional critique and its museum may be actually considered as an institution of critique in itself. To what extent, if any, have you attempted to achieve something similar with your archive – I mean a deconstruction of the Foucauldian institution of the archive through the establishment of a counter-institution?
(P L) The archive's structure was designed to be functional to and consistent with its conceptual premises rather than intended to perform an institutional critique of the archive as such – even though its inception was surely informed, to some extent, by a critical approach to the role and functioning of archives. Yet, the efforts made to deal with the notion of destruction as an object of archival preservation, induced me to introduce a few twists in the formal structure of the archive of destruction, twists that clearly differentiate it from institutional archives. For instance, all documents are available to be consulted and used without the mediation of an archivist; there are no hierarchies or impositions of rigid categorizations and classifications on the documents, being these deliberately organised through different systems at every presentation, but with no obvious clues provided to the visitor. The archive tries to be as less imposing as possible on the users, leaving a great deal of decisions on their hands, from how to access ‒ or not ‒ the archive to the uses and interpretations that can be made of it and its contents.The expansion of the archive into departments and other ramifications was something that arrived at a later stage. It stemmed from the need to accommodate into the project works that, so to speak, were generated by the archive itself, rather than simply collected therein. The departments allowed for a greater freedom and playfulness in dealing with the collected material ‒ opening possibilities for creating new logics and sets of rules. From simple repository of materials and accumulation of documents, the archive became a more Broodthaerian living organism, able to generate new ideas and offshoots. (4)
(E A) The destructive act can take on many different meanings. For instance, the same gesture of burning books assumes a diverse significance according to the context in which it is performed. Whereas Latham's ritual public burnings of books between 1964 and 1968 are to be interpreted as a liberating act of emancipation, when executed by political or religious powers, such as the Spanish Inquisition, the Nazi, or the fireman squads in Fahrenheit 451, they become an oppressive gesture of censorship. The other face of destruction as resistance and revolution, is destruction as repression. How did you negotiate this inner contradiction? Is the reactionary side of destruction featured in your archive at all?
(P L) Actually, all the examples you listed above are part of the archive's collection, so I would say that the 'reactionary' side, as you call it, is present. Nonetheless, the process of selection is based more on criteria of relevance for the critical purpose of the archive than on any moral judgement. To analyse things in terms of 'progressive' or 'reactionary' could actually become a quite exhausting exercise. Even if the examples you point can be somewhat undisputedly analysed on those terms, very often destructive acts contain in themselves a complexity not reducible to simple dualities. Often, they encompass both 'progressive' and 'reactionary' traits; or their evaluation on those terms becomes a highly subjective matter. Therefore, while the archive strives to keep a certain diversity in its contents and to maintain the degree of complexity of its subject, there is also an effort in avoiding the production and enforcement of moral judgements on the documents selected. It is up to the user to ultimately decide whether to produce – or not – that sort of judgements.
archive of destruction: London Branch, 2014. Gasworks, London. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) Your research spans over a long period of time, from the historical avant-gardes of the early twentieth century to the neo-avant-gardes of the 1960s, up to the present day. I am curious: Do you detect any trends or patterns in the evolution and programmatic use of the idea of destruction in contemporary art?
(P L) That's a difficult question, because I do not think so much in those terms... The organisation of the documents itself does not follow any chronological order. For me it is more interesting to create transversal associations and see how things are appropriated or resurge in different epochs. To produce an analysis as you ask would be always partial, as it puts at work certain simplifications and narratives that inevitably give a false – and limited – picture of a specific time and that are often marked by the fallacious idea of 'evolution'. Yet, aware of these limitations, one can still acknowledge that certain moments in time – and coordinates in space – have seen destructive actions emerge with greater consistency or persistence. One should not forget that a conscious, deliberate destructive act always implies, at its root, a form of refusal or negation: Refusal of acceptance, of conformism, of subjection to one particular time: the Present. These actions are influenced by, and rebel against the time that generated them: the cultural, social and political moment in which they were produced.Surely we can recognize certain historical moments characterized by powerful and radical rejections in art: 19th century Europe, WWI and WWII, the 1960s and 1970s.
So, to sketch a rough picture, the destructive drive can be found in paintings of ruined landscapes in 19th century Europe which echoed both the lives of industrial workers and the ennui of the bourgeoisie; in Dada's vehement refusal of the 'civilized' Europe that had just given birth to the rational-scientific model of trench-war and chemical warfare in WWI; in the artistic and political avant-gardes and highly iconoclastic works and practices that emerged in the wake of the WWII; in the iconoclastic actions against the symbols of capitalist culture – TV sets, automobiles, pianos, etc. – in the Western countries of the 60s and 70s, which culminated in the rejection of the art 'object' itself with Conceptual art. The actions which emerged around the DIAS (5) can be seen as a response to a world polarized by the Cold War, the memory of WWII and the spectre of an imminent nuclear disaster. And yet, this overview is still not accurate or even reasonably through, since it excludes many geopolitical contexts, each with its own specificities.
Nevertheless, continuing with this sort of exercise, and still aware of its limitations, I would risk to say that when we arrive in the 1980s the production of 'destructive work' slows down, which possibly reflects a closer alignment of artists with political and economical power and the increasing absorption of art into the field of 'culture' and the 'cultural industries'. It is truth that recently there has been a number of exhibitions at institutional level focusing on the subject of destruction, such as the Gustav Metzger (6) and DIAS show at Tate, the re-enactments of John Latham's Skoob Towers performances in Frankfurt, (7) the Damage Control exhibition at the Hirshhorn Museum, (8) or Film at the End of Art at Nottingham Contemporary, (9) to name just a few. Still, this interest seems to be placed more in works produced in the 60s and 70s rather than works made by a younger generation of artists. This impression – as rushed as it has been sketched here – leaves nevertheless some questions hovering: Are we living in a time when destruction in art is something of a historiographical, archival interest only? Or could it simply be that the most powerful expressions of rejection are to be found outside of contemporary art? Or the ones that are produced within the art field do not make it to the fore of visibility? Is the present moment one of alignments of artists with their time and therefore with no refusals to be expressed through art? Eventually, and on top of this, one can speculate that given the present crisis in utopian thought – which got smothered by what Perniola terms as 'nihilistic cynicism' (10) – and with the colonization of all the free spaces of life and imagination by the economical sphere, the space of destruction – both symbolic and with an affect on the Real – has been taken over in its entirety by the economical and political powers, leaving one to question how much margin is left for artists to compete with that.
The Educational Service of the archive of destruction, 2014. Museu de Serralves, Porto. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) In Archive Fever, Derrida talks about the impulse to destroy the archive and, after Freud he calls it death drive. This death drive, he says, “is at work, but since it always operates in silence, it never leaves any archives of its own. It destroys in advance its own archive.” (11) The archive you are building moves exactly in the opposite direction; it does not destroy anything, but rather it memorializes the same acts of destruction which threatened its existence in the first place. Do you see the archive of destruction as a destructive or preservative institution? Or, in other words, would you define the impulse at the base of your work as archival or anarchival?
(P L) My motivation to start the archive was not exactly one of a preservational nature, though this trait is obviously present and generates the paradox of preserving that which works against memory. In this sense, one can speak of a clear archival impulse.But if we are to look for the destructive potential of the archive, we should focus on the abstract, rather than the physical order. The archive does not attempt at erasing memory, but it ignites possibilities of generating thought and actions of a destructive nature ‒ rather than performing a direct destruction itself. In this way, even if it apparently nullifies the original intentions which lie behind the destructive gestures – namely erasure and oblivion – I think it does keep up with their most authentic premises – the instigation of other destructive acts. And perhaps this, alongside the way it operates by countering certain characteristics of institutional archives, allows me to speculate that the anarchival impulse is not totally absent from it...
the archaeological department of the archive of destruction, 2013-14. Gasworks, London. Photo: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction. Courtesy: Image and Communication Department of the archive of destruction.
(E A) Maybe the ultimate act of the archive of destruction should be its own annihilation – the extreme phase when the archive fulfils its inner auto-destructive vocation. Have you ever thought of smashing your own archive?
(P L) Given the amount of times the question comes up I would say that the archive's self-immolation is definitely more a concern – on the verge of obsession - of people who come in contact with the archive rather than mine. In my view the project is still at an early stage, and at least until I feel the idea gets exhausted and starts to fall into repetition ‒ which is in itself a form of destruction ‒ I do not think I will be too concerned with that.The possibility of smashing the archive raises also a few questions on what kind of destruction we are speaking of, since as I said, the archive exists both as a physical entity and as an idea. And one thing is to destroy the physical materialization of an idea, while to destroy the idea itself is quite another.
(E A) Do you have any favourite examples of works on destruction or auto-destructive works you would like to leave us with?
(P L) Well, I guess I have way too many favourites, in fact, which doesn't make for an easy selection... and considering that this interview is getting already way too long, I'll leave you with just one name, Japanese noise band Hanatarash and two of their performances ‒ 'Bulldozer Gig' (12) and 'Cock Aktion' (13) ‒ whose extreme radicality and intensity does away with the need of any further rhetoric.
Pedro Lagoa is a visual artist currently based in Lisbon. With a formation in areas such as Museology, Literature, and Art Theory, he attended the Advanced Visual Arts Studies program at Maumaus School of visual Arts, in Lisbon, and completed his studies at the HfBK Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main. In recent years his work has been developing around concepts and practices of destruction expressed in a diversity of media and formats, and has been presented, among other places, at: Gasworks, London (2014); Museu de Serralves, Porto (2014); recyclart, Brussels (2014); Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich (2013); Lampione, Frankfurt am Main (2013); Nam June Paik Art Centre, Gyeonggi-do (2010); Ve.Sch Raum, Vienna (2008); Formcontent, London (2007).
Co-Director of Mnemoscape.
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Presented from the 23rd April to the 23rd May 2014, at Gasworks (London). http://bit.ly/YzpSqv
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In a 1972 interview Broodthaers, when asked about the relationship of his Musée d'Art Moderne with traditional museums, tells of the way an artwork evolves as being a sort of biological process. It starts with a precise intention and then it takes a life of its own, outside the initial idea, one that he would practically have no control of, 'the ideas multiplying themselves like living cells'. Interview with Jürgen Harten and Katharina Schmidt, 1972 in Marcel Broodthaers, Writings, Interviews, Photographs (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, Cambridge) 1988.
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DIAS : Destruction in Art Symposium, organised by Gustav Metzger in London in 1966
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Mario Perniola, Art and its Shadow (London: Continuum Press) 2004
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Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press) 1998, 10
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