What can we really know about historic events? There are certain facts: Belgium colonialized Congo and oppressed the population for more than 80 years. The first Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, was executed in 1961. During the Second World War, Norway was occupied by the German Nazi government. A Trondheim-based artist, Hannah Ryggen, commented on the events in her tapestries, art works in which there is no obvious distinction between the big narratives of the time and her personal life.
This we know. But if the German occupation and the assassination of Patrice Lumumba is a clear fact, then the circumstances are all the more unclear. History is built of stories and documents, stories that can be lies, documents that can be falsified. Collective memories gather in archives that can be manipulated. Even facts that we see as clear evidences can be denied. In this time of information overload, information in itself is still not enough. And history is haunting the present. In his film Spectres, which will be screened during the seminar held in connection to the exhibition, Augustijnen unfolds details of the circumstances around Lumumba’s death. But more importantly, he unfolds the impossibility of “truth,” the notion of history as a well-defined narrative and deconstructs the format of the investigative documentary. What we follow in the film is not so much the fate of Lumumba as the attempts to cover up, the masses of details that blur the view. The possible truth is always slightly out of our focus, hiding in the shadows as the ghosts that the title refers to.
As for Hannah Ryggen, she often commented on the political events in her works and created her own narratives around them. Her tapestries, which recently has gained a growing international interest and are one of the starting points for Augustijnen’s project, are strong and colourful statements where history is reflected through her personal perspective and experience, statements which she expressed in a voice that is very distinctly her own.
The personal voice as an artistic method is also at the core of the works exhibited in Augustijnen’s installation Summer Thoughts. Augustijnen makes use of another well-known format — the personal letter. The letters are written to the curator Marta Kuzma and dated between 2012 and 2014. In these texts he approaches historical events in a manner far from the information-loaded documentary. The letters are accompanied by a few archival objects, photographs and press clippings. Events are mentioned, reflected upon and questioned. There are notes on connections, connotations and coincidences, known facts and some misunderstandings. Historical figures and events pass by — Lumumba, Hannah Ryggen and the Belgian Nazi officer who in the end of the war flew a small airplane from Norway to Spain, crashed on a beach and became a hero for contemporary neo Nazis.
If the claim of the documentary is to search for the truth, the personal letter is expected to express authenticity and the individual. If that is the case in Summer Thoughts, we don’t know. What Augustijnen is pointing out by relocating the letter from the intimate reading to the public is maybe finally that the individual statement, letters and diaries which fill the historical archives, are as doubtful as other sources of information.
The seminar Fishing in the sea of debt, led by Sven Augustijnen and curator Corinne Diserens, revisits the work of Hannah Ryggen who spent most of her creative life in the coastal area of the Trondheim fjord. The seminar lends it title from Ryggen’s tapestry Fiske ved gjeldens hav (1933) and sets out to actualize her work against the backdrop of current political and archival configurations. Maurizio Lazzarato presents his research on “Governing by debt” and films by Sven Augustijnen, Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi and Abderrahmane Sissako will be screened and discussed.
The program of the “10 working days”, March 18–27, takes place in the context of the artistic research project Divisions. Full programme and more info here http://divisions.no/workingdays
Sven Augustijnen (b. 1970) lives and works in Brussels. He has exhibited at, among other institutions, Kunsthalle Bern, Wiels Brussels, VOX Montréal, CCS Bard, Annandale-on-Hudson and The Power Plant, Toronto.