The value of archives and documentation in the field of contemporary art


Conversation in tandem with Adam Korcsmáros (Nadine Gandy, Bratislava) and artist Marysia Lewandowska, led by Emanuella Mazzonis

Emanuela Mazzonis: Good morning, Adam Korcsmáros and Marysia Lewandowska. Thank you for being with us today, with me. It's really an honour to have the opportunity to talk to you. And thank you for participating to in this cycle of interviews held by the Luxembourg Art Week and dedicated to a selection of galleries that are participating in the fair for the first time. I am Emanuela Mazzonis and I am the editor of this project.
Adam, I would like to start with you. You are the director of Gandy Gallery. I would like to ask you to introduce the gallery that has been founded in Prague in 1992 and now is based in Bratislava since 2005. I know the gallery brings together around 30 artists whose work addresses issues related to identity, migration, memory, body and archive work. I also know that in 2021, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the gallery, the gallery founded a non-profit association called Zoom Europa. So I would like to ask you to tell us briefly more details about the gallery.

Adam Korcsmáros: Well, so, good morning and thank you for the introduction. The gallery founded by Nadine Gandy was the first private gallery space after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia. First it was based in Prague and at that time it presented Western artists like Patrick Raynaud, Nan Goldin, Matali Crasset, among others, and also introduced Czech artists to the scene. And after it moved to Bratislava, it works more with the central geography of the city that is close to Vienna and Austria and also other areas like the Balkans. Its kind of central position allows it to work as a communication hub, let's say. Also the programme of the gallery is focusing on artists from these countries and presenting their work. Maybe a few words about the different exhibition programmes we have, like the presentation of established artists. We also started a series called “Chapter One”. And we offer space for young artists to present their current work that is more experimental, or innovative approaches. And maybe last mention… Zoom Europa is an association that supports different projects related to Central and Eastern Europe.

Marysia Lewandowska
Marysia Lewandowska

EM: Thank you, Adam. Thank you very much for this introduction. So, Marysia. One of the things that struck me most when I was looking at your website was the name of your Instagram profile that is called “share_what_you_know”. I think it’s a perfect title that is in line with the use that should be made of Instagram: to share one's knowledge universally. Among the many photos posted, two caught my attention: a selection of black-and-white photos from Donald Judd's 1989 exhibition at the Kunsthalle in Baden-Baden and a black-and-white photo of Andy Warhol vacuuming that you posted to pay homage to his retrospective held at the Tate two years ago. They're both archive images which revive the memory of the past. You have worked a lot on the value of archival traces and how they can be used as a means of identifying, unravelling and reconstructing historical narratives. I’m thinking about important projects of yours, such as Enthusiastic Archive, founded in 2004, the Women's Audio Archive from 2009, and It's About Time from 2019 – that is a special project curated for the Venice Biennial by Ralph Rugoff. Why are archives important to you? And what role do they play in the field of art and knowledge?

Marysia Lewandowska: Hello Emanuela, very good to be participating in this conversation and thank you very much for inviting me. Where shall I start? I thought it was interesting how you kind of traversed my own history. So this indicates to me how important documentation and archiving one's own practice is, because without really encountering my work as yet, you were able to access what I do via my archiving devices, if you like, one being Instagram and the other being my own website. Now why archives? I think archives are interesting for artists – not just for me as an artist, but many others – predominantly because it's a terrain which is untouched by curation. It is somewhere where many different actors can find whatever they need to pursue their own practices. So scholars, academics, journalists look into archives for the purposes of trying to find out something, encounter something or tell the story. But I think what my uses of archives – and that's how I would name it – is that they also are full of exclusions. They point to us presence which would have been otherwise unavailable and they sort of allow for many different returns. So it's important to think of the archive as a source of knowledge. But also for me as an artist, it's a… I don't necessarily use the archive in order to display something, but in order to understand something. So the understanding then is processed via the work of art. So then art becomes a form of knowledge.

EM: Thank you, Marysia. A very clear, brief explication, but very clear. I think it's extremely interesting to understand how you define the archive as a terrain untouched by curation. This is really peculiar, because it's true. It's a tool, it’s a space that actually has been untouched. It’s original. So all of us who can have access to archives can really, as you said, understand instead of only… I think also discover, but probably mostly understanding – this is extremely important for everyone, for the public in general. So this is, I believe, a really important explanation you gave us in order to understand also your work and your approach, your method. Now I would like to talk about an exhibition you participated in in 2009. So a little bit of… some time ago. The exhibition was entitled The Green Room: Reconsidering the Documentary and Contemporary Art. It was held at the CCS Bard Galleries, Hessel Museum of Art. The exhibition focused on the role that documentary artworks played in the artistic production of the 20st and 21st century. And how much, in the context of globalisation, the representation of reality becomes central in the world of art. Today, even more than in 2009, we can ask ourselves questions about the value of documentation. In a world dominated by social media, where everything is accessible and everything is shareable, I wonder what role digital platforms play – I mean Instagram, Facebook, Twitter – in the world of documentation. So, I have two questions. One is for Adam. I ask your opinion on documentary forms at the time of digital reproduction. Taking into consideration how important is the relationship between fact and fiction, media and mediation, and the question of archive and copyright. While to Marysia, I ask you if today we could come to consider digital platforms – again as the one I mentioned before – contemporary forms of archives. Do you want to start first, Marysia?

ML: Sure. I think some time ago when I started having an Instagram account and a Twitter account – I never joined Facebook, it was quite a conscious decision – but those two platforms that I use, I think at that time I actually suggested that a hashtag is an expression of a contemporary archive. So it's not the… well, the platform obviously allows us to meet indiscriminately. I am not that interested in this sort of indiscriminate meeting. But I am interested in those platforms and their ability to build communities of interest. And that's really how I use it. And that's how I know most of the people that I share with also use it. And those exchanges are important to how we behave outside of those platforms, in the wider world. So I don't really see this as a separate domain, but it has to be integrated in how one's practice and life and politics and ethics can meet through those different ways of participating. Because essentially you can say that it is not just a documentary function, but it's the participation function that is the most important.

EM: Yes. Thank you, Marysia. Adam, do you want to add something? Do you want to answer the question I raised to you?

AK: The question was quite complex and opens many interesting topics. But maybe just to about what Marysia said that… I see that these archives that are digital platforms will be an important source of information in the future. And they will help people to reconstruct or to analyse how we lived and how we are told. And from this this point of view, I think it's something that is equally important as the archives in the past, where we find information about art, artists and so on. Concerning the topic of fact and fiction, it's also a problem strongly related to these platforms and maybe their backside. It's often difficult to distinguish between what and what – not only digital reproduction, but also digital production of images and texts by artificial intelligence is something that we have to deal with. And in this context, I see an approach of art or artists to this, let's say, archive as important from the point of view of critical reflection and focusing on problematic aspects or topics that would otherwise be… we would not focus on or recognise in this mass of information around us.

EM: Thank you, Adam. Yes, I think that the concept of participation included in the big topic of social platforms is actually one of the most important ones. And thinking now about an art fair that is going to open and where Gandy Gallery will participate, the physical participation is very important because finally we are back in physical spaces and we can finally interact with galleries, with artists, with artworks. And I would like to ask Adam as a last question if he can maybe anticipate just some details about the Gandy Gallery stand at Luxemburg Art Week in November.

AK: We will be presenting four artists, as I mentioned, in relation to Central and Eastern Europe. All of them are from these countries. There will be different media from print, painting and also objects. And just to briefly introduce the artists: there will be Marysia Lewandowska, next artist will be Ilija Šoškić from ex-Yugoslavia, now based in Rome, and two artists from the former Czechoslovakia, Alva Hajn and Zorka Ságlová.

EM: Perfect.

ML: All women!

EM: All women! This is a great choice.

AK: No, no. Alva Hajn is a man [laughter].

ML: Okay. Sorry [laughter].