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Sven Spieker


The Poster Archive

Posted on 19 May

The printed poster as archive - a fascinating proposition. Especially in this case, where the pictorial surface of the poster is indeed constructed like an archival space, a collection of playing cards. Then, it is clear that this particular poster documents the past of the famous former Sogetsu Art Center, and as such is part of yet another archive.

More important for my purposes here, however, is something else: it is the artist’s added apology, for which the artist signs, and for which his poster serves as an archive. If this marks another point of intersection between the poster and an archive--the apology being consigned to the poster--, it also signals a specific temporality that is, properly speaking, the temporality of the archive (and for which the artist, tongue in cheek, apologizes). By creating a poster that announces an event already past, Tanadori in fact reminds us of the specific form of temporality that is common to archives and to posters alike. The temporality I have in mind here is commonly called the “future in the past”, a “will have been” for which languages with an elaborate temporal morphology (such as German or English) have a formalized expression, while others (such as the Slavic languages, for example) need to use various forms of circumlocution.

The future in the past is a temporal mode that anticipates the future as a part of history (the art of Socialist Realism, which is particularly rich in posters, is based on this temporal mode, in which an anticipated “bright” future is shown as if it were a part of history). Looked at as a purely anticipatory public announcement, a poster seems to project the event it announces into an open future. Yet as a printed artefact, a poster also has a monumental component - posters announce a future event which they commemorate at the same time as an event already past (this is the "Future II"). This particular paradox of a future anticipated as the past is, I believe, highlighted, if not produced, by Tanadori’s belated production of the poster, and by his apology. His ruined poster no longer simply anticipates an event; it commemorates a future event. As I mentioned, while Tanadori's remarkable admission of his belated production highlights the "failure" of his poster, in a sense, all posters embody this temporality. And as such, they resemble archives.

Like posters, archives are monuments dedicated to (past) events that are yet to come; in an archive, the past itself becomes visible as the future, as an event that still has to arrive. Ever since Freud’s Mystic Writing Pad, the archive has been thought to embody this paradoxical temporality - a mode of remembering that properly speaking belongs to the future; or, put differently, the anticipation of the future as the past. Once we strip a poster of its exclusively appelative/communicative character, we might say that it embodies precisely this temporality. Of course, a poster--a term that nowadays can also refer to a person who posts messages to blogs and other online formats--does not technically integrate these two components the way in which Freud’s Wunderblock does; nor do posters by and large have the kind of public character we associate with posters. In producing a poster that so obviously misses its most obvious and straightforward purpose--to announce an event--, Tanadori ruins the poster, but he also reproduces in rather pure form what is most paradoxical about an archive as a place of consignment for documents of events whose future in the past is yet to come.

Of course, the question is what is an event? The introduction to the symposium “Expose 1968: Nanika Ittekure, Ima Sagasu” (Expose 1968: Say something, I’m trying), which was co-organized by the Sogetsu Art Center and Design Review (Fudosha), which was announced by its organizers but then “ended without ever beginning, in keeping with the artists’ idea that because we don’t believe in words, we won’t make any statements’” is testimony to an attitude that approaches the archive not from the point of view of an event as a fully determined occurrence but rather as an eventuality, a possibility, an anticipation. I see here the greatest benefit of Tanadori’s failed poster: it reminds us that events, especially future ones, are always proposals rather more than certainties. As such, their proper time is the Future II, the archive’s tense. In this tense, "historical" events are always part of what the Austrian novelist Robert Musil called Möglichkeitssinn, the sense of possibility. Together with the future in the past, Möglichkeitssinn ought to be the departure point for a new understanding of the archive. And of the poster: what if we understood posters to announce possible, rather than certain events? Or, conversely, how about producing posters of past events, including ones that never in fact occurred? Anyone who has looked into the arsenal of neo-avantgarde art of the 1960s and 70s has come across "posters" of all kinds that announce events that were in fact non-events, or posters that were themselves considered to be the event. The "late" poster produced by Tanadori, in effect, works in tandem with a (non) aesthetic whose goal was the evacuation of the event, though not of its possibility, from art. The creation of archives as posters announcing non-events served as a conduit for these endeavors. When in 1962 the Zagreb-based artist group Gorgona sent out printed invitations to 50 addresses that said in block letters "Isvolite prisustvovati" ("You Are Invited") on the front, there was no added information about any event to be found. The invitation was, like Tanadori's, a kind of failed poster. Yet as such, it forced its recipients to consider the possibility that an archive, printed or otherwise, is not simply the certification of a (future) event. It may, on occasion, simply hint that an event is, or was, in the realm of what is possible or thinkable and that it can be, or even needs to be, recalled or archived precisely as such. That is why I have ventured to call Tanadori's apology tongue in cheek...

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The printed poster as archive - a fascinating proposition. Especially in this case, where the pictorial surface of the poster is indeed constructed like an archival space, a collection of playing cards. Then, it is clear that this particular...

Show more »