Fifteen years ago, Museion opened to the public for the first time as an extraterrestrial capsule offered to the city of Bolzano, Italy by Manifesta 7. However, three years ago, under the new curatorial light of its director, Bart van der Heide, and curator Leonie Radine, along with a young capable team, the enterprise seemed to take off to the infinitude of hopeful whims and political visions. Since then, Museion has seen a consistent shift in trajectory configured to be a triennial project titled TECHNO HUMANITIES (2021-2023), which inquires into new epistemologies conjured by technological progress, economy, and ecologies. The multidisciplinary program unfolded in the past years through two exhibitions: TECHNO, on the community of resistance found in rave cultures, and Kingdom of the Ill, on the power dynamics that constitute a healthy and productive body or an unhealthy, unproductive one. Together, these shows have discovered new orbits, not only for Museion, but also for all of the communities and artists who gravitate around it.
Driven by the signals sent into the artistic galaxy by TECHNO HUMANITIES’ first two chapters, I found myself teleported in front of Museion, and below the two stars coming from the installation Kur dielli të ikë, do ta pikturojmë qiellin (When the sun goes away we paint the sky) (2022) by Petrit Halilaj, now located at the museum’s entrance. The stars, originally commissioned for Manifesta 14, bridge Museion with the Grand Hotel in Pristina, Kosovo, by brightening a horizon of possibilities for art as a social practice in time and space, one that keeps renovating itself. The stars greet me and invite me to enter the exhibition HOPE, the concluding chapter of TECHNO HUMANITIES.
When does hope start? When does it end?
Hope, like every rational-emotional object, is situated in social temperatures. It is a lens through which one can locate oneself between conflicts and historical imaginations. The situatedness of this state is implemented in HOPE, the exhibition, through works from 30 international artists that challenge the time specificity of the media employed in their various works, which tend toward future narratives that seem evergreen in a shared trajectory of linking human desires with the unknown of discovery. Bart van der Heide and Leonie Radine curated this last iteration of TECHNO HUMANITIES in collaboration with musician, theoretician, and curator DeForrest Brown, Jr.. The trio is interested in confronting the cancellation of the future as prophesied by leftist theorist and philosopher Mark Fisher. Departing from Fisher’s explorations into the uncanny and the eerie, HOPE leverages the different cognitive, emotional, and technological layers provoked by hope and dismay; between scientific progress and fiction.
Thus, what represents a scenario of hope – historically and materially – for someone can determine the ruin of another. Hope fluctuates, and is always in a negative dialectic with the ruinous and the unjust, and complicity with the resourceful. Triggered by an instinct of predominance or survival, hope responds to the expectation of things turning out for the better, and therefore, is a futuring sentiment. According to this worlding quality of hope, the four floors of the glass architecture of Museion have been redesigned by Diogo Passarinho Studio to contain the sections that transform the exhibition into a multidimensional maze, where the future is a category in constant obsolescence. The museum thus becomes a place in which looking at the past is a gesture of inquiring about the present, one that is consumed by the forces of transitions, and not accumulation anymore.
The journey into states of HOPE starts from the lift. Transformed into a sonic time capsule by the audio piece AUI OI (2012) by Ulrike Bernard & Caroline Profanter, the viewer’s ascension to the fourth floor sets the mood for the promises of post-human alliances. However, when the mechanic doors of the lift open onto the “Observatory,” section the visitor is welcomed by a mosaic of scales and practices that follow one another, silent and erratic, in a constellation that proclaims that the future is a metaphysical construct carved into loops of euphoria and of techniques of time fictioning.
A considerable area of the floor is devoted to two works by the collective Black Quantum Futurism, whose research has long stood with the re-appropriation of Black narrative through the deconstruction of racial-capitalist time. The installation Black Hole Viewfinder (2021) and the video Write No History (2021) create a relationship between the suspended time of memory and its poetic-political reconstruction. The visitors need to bend down to little peepholes to enter a new dimension embedded in the walls of Museion, where objects, charms, and footage are preserved in chests, while screens display videos of an ancient secret society of Black scientists, or “Temporal Disruptors,” as the artists names them, who gather and unearth objects and stories to renovate rituals, hacking colonized timelines. The obscured evidence of a Black indigenous past, one that could have existed but has been refused by the brutality of colonialism, is made visible.
Are the debris of erased cultures, objects, and affects dispersed in the cauldron of history? Matthew Angelo Harrison replies to this inquiry by becoming a gatherer for an archeology of the future, showcasing a series of African ritualist masks bought online in the second market and preserved in polished polyurethane. In his works Tip of the Tongue (2021), Noumental Drift (2022), Dark silhouette: Composition of borrowed inlets (2018), Bodily Study: Inverted Labor (2021), and Paternal Veil (2021), the artist links economic profit and cultural displacement. The masks, decontextualized by their geographical and cultural connotation and neutralized by their new cerebral packaging denounce their fetishization by the Western market, an alterity that it continues to annihilate and exploit.
The human obsession for preservation on an institutional scale as exemplified by the museum is exhibited by Bojan Šarčevič’s sarcastic Sentimentality is the Core (2018), a freezer that runs for the entire duration of the exhibition, diffusing songs from the ‘80s all the while. Questioning the sustainability of the archive in a constantly perishing ecosystem, the installation brings the imagination to a delusional landscape, in which human techniques of memory-keeping disperse its energies in the effort of ideological conservation – in the case of Šarčevič, the Communist one.
The delusions of grandiose aspirations of expansion versus the poetic quest for a change of perspective are presented in Nicola L.’s Sun & Moon Giant Pénétrables (1996/2021). In this wall installation, two wearable canvases labeled “Moon” and “Sun” take the form of overall suits, which one could wear as a second skin to embody the perspective of celestial bodies gazing on the earth and its affairs, and vice versa. Nicola L.’s suits recall astronauts' fashion, mocking the vain human urge to conquer the universe.
The vastness of space, once accessible only with sophisticated technologies, is altered by the infinite possibilities encountered in the virtual realm of our screens. For Suzanne Treister, this deep space represents the nodal point between interplanetary co-existences. Through her multimedia work, she links human consciousness with technological development. In HOPE, along with canvases from the series The Escapist BHST (2018-2019) and Survivor (F) (2016-2019), Treister presents costumes for her alter ego, Rosalind Brodsky. In Treister’s project, Brodsky tries to rescue her Jewish ancestors from the Holocaust by participating in an expedition organized by the Research Institute for Time Travel.
The curatorial choice of creating a landscape of hope in the “Observatory”, one that results in analog remnants of the past, continues on the third floor in the “Arcade”, a mise-en-scene of immersive technological environments that deals with the twofold meaning of the Arcade notion. Through both designed gaming environments and a pervasive melancholy for an idyllic past, this section emphasizes the dominion of classical mythologies on imaginations of the technological future. The artists providing these visions of hope – LuYang, Shu Lea Cheang, Maggie Lee, Ilaria Vinci, Lawrence Lek, Tony Cokes, and Neïl Beloufa – are familiar with the gaming craze, and with the playable abstraction that it can create.
Lawrence Lek opens the sequence of artworks showcased in the “Arcade” in a two-room installation reflecting on the future of museums. Part of the series is named Nepenthe Zone (2022-ongoing), a multimedia installation that acts as a portal into the fictional island of Nepenthe, where one has access to switching from oblivion to remembering as a surgical definitive gesture. Lek’s installation has an aseptic, yet captivating, aesthetic, devoid of any human emotional smearing, suggesting a future where the machine has artificialized its way through the human psyche and is now disposing of it.
The museum then becomes a self-referential apparatus of data for data.
If you want to start to remember why you are here, trace your steps back. If you want to keep forgetting, then just keep walking.
The voice of Nepenthe follows me while I move toward Neïl Beloufa’s relief paintings, which – in a camouflage leather pattern – depict the parasitic symbiosis between humans and their portable technologies. Screens of different sizes in Jelousing people that don’t care about their surroundings (2022) become supplementary eyes through which an internet-born generation observes a world derealized in its violence.
The immanence of technology and its anesthetic effects is examined by the continuity of embodied experience and information, where every political struggle and revolutionary gesture is reduced to an actionless virtual signaling – or as the title of one of Beloufa’s artworks on display suggests, to whistling before the end of the world (2022).
On the notes of a controversial relationship with the use of technology – one that moves between fear, fascination, and addiction – the work transitioning the visitor into the next section of HOPE is Tony Cokes’ Testament A: MF FKA K-P X KE RIP (2019). This fast-paced video essay flashes the commemorative speech for Mark Fisher given by Kodwo Eshun, in which the lengthy waves of subcultural movements are praised and encouraged as the last hopes to mobilize bodies and minds in the necrotic structure of capitalist realism.
THIRD EARTH ARCHIVE
The Third Earth Archive’s section stands out from the two galleries preceding it. Assembled by DeForrest Brown Jr., Third Earth Archive is completely devoted to the cosmology of the mythological Black civilization of Drexciya, its imagination and sounds propelled by the fusion of DJ’s body with the machine of techno music.
This floor is divided into listening and reading sections curated by DeForrest Brown Jr., crowned by a timeline of illustrations (Third Earth Archive) by AbuQadim Haqq. The digital paintings visualize sci-fi narratives that tap into the empowering submarine world of Drexciya, imagining a Black society flourishing from the ghosts of the slave trade and the racial capitalist state. Channeling a balance between the destruction of the white supremacist modes of social reproduction and the formulation of Black liberation that can only be pursued in a fictional future, DeForrest Brown, Jr. puts an accent on the dialogue created between Afro-pessimism and Afrofuturism. The Black embodiment of future theory sees the re-appropriation of culture and complete self-determination of the Black subject by mining lost technologies and throwing the mighty sonic power of techno rhythms into space. “Third Earth Archive” eludes deconstructing the relationship between the oppressed and oppressors – and, simultaneously, makes hope neither an option nor a choice, but the only resourceful technology of the historically dispossessed.
The space-time travel provided by HOPE lands on the ground floor, where the section “Passage” concludes the wormhole of the exhibition. There, I was encouraged by ALMARE to push my cognition to think toward a further layer in the future, one of language and sounds engraved in matter. In ALMARE’s Life Chronicles of Dorothea ïesi S.P.U. (2023), presented still a work in progress in the form of three audio pieces, or audio diaries, catalog the futuristic adventures of researcher Dorothea as she extracts (and resells) sounds from the past. The realization of the project is inspired by the symmetrical growth of pseudo-scientific theories concerning recording technologies. By listening to the vernacularity of a language familiar to me (Italian) – but grammatically awkward – as it described a future society, I was teleported into a time where the archaic does not mean antiquate, but specific to the liveliness of its surroundings.
During my journey, I noticed a figure moving across the floors. Not a visitor, not a technician, but a third presence. He, as a guard and mediator, scrutinizes the artwork and indicates directions to the audience as a mediator. However, his body carries the device on which Irene Fenara’s Struggle for Life (2016) is displayed: an Apple watch displaying images of the sky from surveillance cameras, disarmed due to the small size of the gadget’s screen. We are under the sky that observes us, but for which sign are we waiting from its immensity? How much do we need to see in the abyss of space to better know who we are? If surveillance would not be a control tool, would we learn how to be better attuned with each other? The subtle artwork seems to leave a trace of questions following the movement of its emissary.
After the mediator showed me his wrist, a gesture that felt intimate, I felt closer to him and driven to speak with him, breaking the wall between the audience and museum workers. His name is Saman Kalantari, and he is an Iranian artist, but no artworks by him are part of the exhibition. He confessed to me that being inside of Museion but outside of the show is inspiring. He is one of the few remaining glass artisans mastering traditional Iranian glass techniques, now a proxy for someone else’s abstraction of hope – but hopefully soon to express his own, albeit in a Western context.
While embracing the high given by the temporal nexus suggested by the exhibition, I had to wonder what hope looks like in the time of now. The major wish transmitted by the exhibition HOPE is to leave the spaceship of modernity behind and to practice the museum as a sociogenic space to belong, and for new forms of belonging. However, the process of landing somewhere to assemble a non-extractive vision of society requires further points of contact with the complex contemporary socio-political landscape from which hope and its provocateurs stem. As the gigantic OPEN (2015) sign by Riccardo Previdi suggests in the museum’s foyer, Museion’s gate is open to welcome the time traveler to the maze provoked by this question.
- IMAGE CREDITS
Cover: AbuQadim Haqq, exhibition view HOPE. Museion 2023. Photo: Luca Guadagnini.
fig. 1: Black Quantum Futurism, Write No History, 2021, exhibition view HOPE. Courtesy the artists. Photo: Luca Guadagnini.
fig. 2: Matthew Angelo Harrison, Dark silhouette: Composition of borrowed inlets, 2018. Lafayette Anticipations - Fonds de dotation Famille Moulin. © Tim Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery, San Francisco.
fig. 3: Bojan Šarčević, Sentimentality is the Core, 2018, exhibition view HOPE. Museion 2023. Photo: Luca Guadagnini.
fig. 4: Nicola L, Sun & Moon Giant Pénétrables, 1996. © Nicola L. Collection and Archive Courtesy Alison Jacques, London and Nicola L. Collection and Archive. Photo: Makenzie L Goodman.
fig. 5: Suzanne Treister, SURVIVOR (F)/Museum of Cosmic Ecstasy, 2019. Courtesy the artist and Annely Juda Fine Art.
fig. 6: Lawrence Lek, Still from Nepenthe Zone, 2022. Courtesy the artist.
fig. 7: Tony Cokes, Testament A: MF FKA K-P × KE RIP, 2019, exhibition view HOPE. Museion 2023. Photo: Luca Guadagnini.
fig. 8: Riccardo Previdi, Open, 2015, exhibition view HOPE. Museion collection 2023. Photo: Luca Guadagnini.