To be sure,
we need history. But we need it
in a manner different from the way
in which the spoilt idler in the garden
of knowledge uses it …
On the Use and Abuse of History for Life
The quotation above, in which Nietzsche criticises the historical scholarship of his age, sets the tone for the large-scale, space filling multi-media installation Memoria Episodika by the Luxembourgish artist Edmond Oliveira. Like Nietzsche Oliveira demands a historiography close to life. It is an artistic confrontation with the idea of history. Memoria Episodika literally demonstrates history.
However, this history is no sheer accumulation of knowledge or driven
by the demand for rational insight, i.e. cognition in a Hegelian sense, but the attempt to reconstruct an experienced past. Here Oliveira
follows the traces of Walter Benjamin for whom historiography represented a procedure based on empathy.
The installation is the result of a longstanding project. In essence, it represents a personal archive of images and sounds, started in 2001, covering the period between 1972 and 1990 – the years of Oliveira’s childhood and youth.
Memoria Episodika consists of 35 sheets in different formats, made of laser tulle, several sound showers and a private flat storage cabinet with test prints of the images printed on paper and permitted to be touched.
These easily moveable sheets hanging like the washing on the line, illuminated from behind, are densely printed in form of a collage, consisting of images taken from comics, newspapers, magazines, record sleeves, a private photo album etc. all of it dating from that period. These images are showing everyday life: Snapshots from the worlds of music and cinema,news reporting and sports, advertising and politics. They are not iconic images and definitely not conveying participation in a victory parade (Walter Benjamin). Despite occasionally including photos and graffiti from the time of the
Portuguese Revolution, photographed in situ by Oliveira, they should not be understood as political comments, but rather as atmospheric elements of time.
This also applies for the radio speeches of Salazar and Caetano, the main protagonists of the Estado Novo (1930-1974), the Catholic corporatist and authoritarian regime responsible for war, poverty and repression up to the Carnation Revolution of 1974. Fragments from this earlier period have been mixed into the sound collages, which are dominated by music from the 1970s and 80s, televisio announcements, news, films, soaps and animation pictures; reminiscences of an exciting time. Moreover, these are memories of his father, who fled repression, unemployment and military service in the colonies, ending up in Luxembourg, where Edmond Oliveira was born. But he never lost contact with his home country and those who had helped him to escape. Radio played an important role in this.
The installation as a whole represents a re-montage of space and time,
based on an artistic orchestration, which does not express or prove the movement of its historical material, but rather attempts to display and exhibit it. This reconstruction of time is a montage of moving images and sound fragments – functioning like our memory, whose contents are not firmly anchored, but rather tend to disappear and resurface in a fragmented fashion.
Different from what might be expected the exhibition is not centred on
the artist’s Self but aims at the Self of the spectator. The spatial design is directed towards the visitor’s visual, psychic and spatial experience. Oliveira is playing with subjective memory – always incorporating the present state of feeling/perception. There is no narrative here; things are being shown, heard and felt: time as synesthetic experience, in which the allegedly ahistorical turns into history.
graphic artwork design Paulo Tomas
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© Edmond Oliveira