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A Sedimentation of the Archival Mind, 1

Beyond identity and difference there is the realm of the undifferentiated, indifferent, arbitrary, banal, nondescript, uninteresting, unremarkable, non-identical, and non-different.” —Boris Groys

Author

Senuesaki

Uesaki Sen

Archivist Keio University Art Center Sen Uesaki is an archivist and lecturer at Keio University Art Center (KUAC) whose projects focus on the design of archives for Japanese avant-garde art. His recent... Read more »
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A Sedimentation of the Archival Mind, 1

Beyond identity and difference there is the realm of the undifferentiated, indifferent, arbitrary, banal, nondescript, uninteresting, unremarkable, non-identical, and non-different.” —Boris Groys

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Beyond identity and difference there is the realm of the undifferentiated, indifferent, arbitrary, banal, nondescript, uninteresting, unremarkable, non-identical, and non-different.” —Boris Groys

The Sogetsu Art Center and the Matter of Printed Matter: The Sugiura Kohei / Yoko Ono Bean Sprout Invitation

“Beyond identity and difference there is the realm of the undifferentiated, indifferent, arbitrary, banal, nondescript, uninteresting, unremarkable, non-identical, and non-different.”1 —Boris Groys

115
Invitation card for the 15th installment in the Sogetsu Contemporary Series designed by Sugiura Kohei. Sogetsu Contemporary Series 15: Works of Ono Yoko. 1962. 474 x 116 mm. Designed by Sugiura Kohei. Courtesy Sogetsu Foundation and Keio University Art Center (KUAC)
115bis
Invitation card with bean sprout for the 15th installment in the Sogetsu Contemporary Series designed by Sugiura Kohei. Sogetsu Contemporary Series 15: Works of Ono Yoko. 1962. 474 x 116 mm. Designed by Sugiura Kohei. Courtesy Sogetsu Foundation and Keio University Art Center (KUAC)

The string of words in the second half of the statement quoted above collapses in exhaustion as it reaches the end of the sentence, and gradually, in its performative redundancy, the poles of identity and difference appear to be overwhelmed. By entering the “realm” that Groys refers to, what exactly are we archivists trying to achieve (capture)? Upon entering, do we not, as our work demands, identify and differentiate and thus push back the “realm” of the banal and nondescript?

Post essay platesl2 0 2

The chart for the exhibition, Penumbra of the Printed Matter: Sogetsu Art Center, 1958-1971 (KUAC 2009).

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The chart for the exhibition, Penumbra of the Printed Matter: Sogetsu Art Center, 1958-1971 (KUAC 2009). Designed by Mori Daishiro.

The chart that Mori Daishiro and I made for the exhibition, Penumbra of the Printed Matter: Sogetsu Art Center, 1958-1971 (KUAC 2009), was not an attempt to arrange and display adroitly a number of carefully selected materials (composition). Rather, it was a matter-of-fact attempts to appose every possible motif in the context of a given comprehensiveness (juxtaposition). Ultimately, our interest focuses on the difference in the degree of fictitiousness between representation that emerges from a selected list and documentation that emerges from a comprehensive list. Acutely aware of the incompleteness of the full complement of the remnants available to us, we work not only with things that are “left over” but also with the void of things that used to be, by overlapping the two nets of documentation and representation. (Though under closer examination, each net is woven with a vertical thread of documentation and a horizontal thread of representation, forming an even mesh.) If an occurrence is something that can be captured, it is sifted through a double-net trap called “archive,” which will separate the captured elements through the mesh of its double weave. Some nets will be clogged with remnants, while others will be empty of any prize. It would be tempting to call our catch from the archive a “bricolage,” but since we are archivists, it is not so much the catch that we have to collect and mend but the meshes.

In spreading out the white, uncoated sheet of paper (which nonetheless has oxidized and yellowed considerably) that was originally folded in three, the first thing we notice is the object’s most distinguishing feature—its long vertical format (474 x 116 mm). The area occupied by a line of letters in black ink and a line of colorless numbers that are expressed only by a series of bumps on the surface of the paper (empty impressions made with a typewriter) reiterates the overall form of the document and accentuates its vertical extension. Then, just barely attached to the surface, is a dried-up bean sprout. The announcement on the invitation reads: “WORKS OF YOKO ONO” (May 24, 1962). The event that is referred to was the 15th installment of the Sogetsu Contemporary Series, in which cutting-edge performances were presented at the art center. Sugiura Kohei, who designed the card, provides us with some insight: “I asked the staff at Sogetsu to grow some bean sprouts and I stuck them on the announcements after I typed a bunch of letters with a typewriter.…[This was meant to convey] the living cry of a human being and transparent thought process. I wanted to express the vitality of organic matter with the sprouts. I chose bean sprouts because they were easy to grow. You might say that instead of using something muddled, I wanted to distinctly convey a trace of living brilliance by attaching one sprout to each card.”2

Among the collection of materials preserved in the reference room at Sogetsu Foundation, I discovered several unsent invitations without any bean sprouts attached. The invitation described above is from the artist Takiguchi Shuzo’s papers (c. 1945–1979), which are now housed in the Keio University Art Center Archives. Takiguchi preserved it in its original form, seeing this as a “question of printed matter” that represented Sugiura’s approach as a designer.3 To what extent is it possible for the archival net to capture or sift through matter so trivial, when the very physicality of the trivial matter is the only clue to examining [a] matter?


Note: This text is a revised version of the essay “Remnants of Sogetsu Art Center (1958–1971): Events, Printed Matter and the Archive,” which was presented at MoMA on July 26, 2011, by the graphic designer Mori Daishiro and myself, together with Ann Adachi and Arakawa Ei. A Japanese version is available here.

Text translated into English by Christopher Stephens.

1.

"Jenseits von Identität und Differenz liegt der Bereich des Undifferenzierten, Indifferenten, Beliebigen, Banalen, Unscheinbaren, Uninteressanten, Nichtbeachtenswerten, Nichtidentischen und Nichtdifferenten." Boris Groys, Über das Neue: Versuch einer Kulturökonomie (München: Carl Hanser Verlag, Edition Akzente, 1992), 48.

2.

Sugiura Kohei, “Omoidasu mamani, Sogetsu Art Center to no kakawari” (Memories of Sogetsu Art Center and Related Events), Kagayake 60-nendai: Sogetsu Art Center no zenkiroku (The Brilliant ’60s: A Complete Record of the Sogetsu Art Center), edited by Nara Yoshimi, Nomura Noriko, Otani Kaoru, and Fukuzumi Haruo (Film Art-sha, 2002), 114–119.

3.

When this printed matter with a bean sprout attached to it was unearthed from a pile of disorganized papers in Takiguchi’s archive, it was carefully wrapped in glassine to prevent the slowly drying sprout from being lost. Incidentally, in translating the term “printed matter” into Japanese, I referenced the following quote from Robert Smithson: “My sense of language is that it is matter and not any ideas — i.e., ‘printed matter.’ R.S. June 2, 1972.” Reprinted in Jack Flam, ed., Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 61.

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A Sedimentation of the Archival Mind, 1

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Howtosmall
Detail of sweater from Merce Cunningham's dance How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run (1965). Photo: Abigail Sebaly.

Sen, this is a kindred spirit writing from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where I am cataloging and researching the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's complete collection of sets and costumes. In my daily work, I regularly encounter surprises like the bean sprout, although in the case of the Cunningham materials, these "traces of living brilliance" are often residues of their use in performance. To illustrate, I have included an image of a sweater from Cunningham's 1965 dance, How to Pass, Kick, Fall, and Run. When I first took this sweater out of the box, I immediately noticed a hairpin that had been used to replace a broken zipper pull. It may have once been appropriated as a backstage quick-fix (foot tape is another ubiquitous repair tool in this collection), but now it is frozen in time, an inseparable part of the garment whenever it is displayed. I think it's important not to be overly precious about details like this, but to totally dismiss the hairpin, or to remove it from the sweater, would also be a loss to the history of the piece. You mention working "in the void of things that used to be." Surrounded by objects of performance (that are no longer being used in performance), I am acutely sensitive to this void. The archival work ahead, in my case, is to find ways of conveying use where there is no longer active use. The hairpin may seem banal, but in the archival context, it informs us of how much the sweater was actually used in performance. In this context, the casual gesture, the accidental marking, the holes and runs in a piece of fabric, constitute clues to a former life.

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Discuss (1) Print

Sen, this is a kindred spirit writing from the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where I am cataloging and researching the Merce Cunningham Dance Company's complete collection of sets and costumes. In my daily work, I regularly encounter...

Show more »