Recent conversations on contemporary art are littered with language on the archive-as-artwork, mostly inspired by Derrida’s 1988 publication, Archive Fever. Exhibitions continue to spring up centered on the archive, most notably Archive fever: uses of the document in contemporary art curated by Okwui Enwezor at the International Center of Photography in 2008.
Passages of the Undocumented by Massa Lemu at Rice University’s EMERGEncy Room releases the notion of the archive from within the confines of white walls into a lived experience. Lemu, a Malawian artist and recent Core fellow inserts himself into charged landscapes on street corners, so often occupied by the “undocumented” and restages these sites as posts for poetry and propositions. Through text and performance his work like others (Walid Raad’s Atlas Group, pad.ma, Raqs Media Collective) contributes to the erosion of the archive’s former boundaries of stability, function, and meaning. In a moment when we have an almost perverse relationship with documentation through electronic media, Lemu uses writing against itself… to expose the undocumented.
But writing! What an invention! What a marvelous monstrosity! When I write I know that I am drawing. (…) As an invention, writing has replaced memory with law, and therefore metaphor with “truth.” Writing invented history and tied us to it. All of us who write, then, or use words in any way, have the responsibility to become poets. – Jimmie Durham, 2003
Exhibition on view at Rice University’s EMERGEncy Room. November 1-29, 2012, Sewall Hall 402