A MUSEUM PORTAL FOR A PANDEMIC AESTHETIC
From the time of their inception, museums as public spaces have reflected the common dominant views of their time. They are the places where ideas and knowledge take shape around exhibitions and objects. The collections they house are reflections of our collective generosity, activating our hopeful desires and imagination, in pursuit of new beginnings. The fact that museums continue to evolve with new ways of connecting us to our past, providing us with our own narrative pathways, may be proof of their own storytelling potency. The museum is a phenomenon of beauty and strangeness with vast online and physical collections inviting us to encounter them, discover them for ourselves. They belong to all of us and what’s within them is collectively owned by us, their public.
They preserve our memories, and in that endless expansive task encompass our “living memory”. They have the power to deaccelerate time countering today’s cult of speed, globalisation and non-stop digital connectivity we call media and communication. Within their walls is the timelessness of the past, with authenticity as a mechanism of delivery. They feed our lust for the archaic, while channelling our curiosity towards experiencing the culture and innovation of the present. We live in a museum age.
But what happens when they are unable to open? What is the main responsibility of these cultural influencers in the time of our own containment? More importantly where do we go to escape the current hum of the pandemic that arrests us from our everyday rhythms and prevents us from taking refuge in the past?
To ask museums to solve our health-related and social outbreaks is to set them up for inevitable failure and to set us up for inevitable disappointment. Instead, what we need is a fertile union towards a different cultural prototype.
A body of new works by clay and ceramic artist Teresa Peters, DISASTROUS FORMS focusses the connection between ancient and contemporary culture while reimaging our notions of time, history, archaeology, and our human relationship to collecting and conservation of artifacts. Just like museum collections, the clay forms are digitised over a black backdrop and their billing campaign references museum and public gallery exhibitions. Unlike museum collections, this pseudo-scientific one demands our imagination to activate it, to unearth what’s hidden within. Some of the ceramics are boldly glazed in fluorescence, others remain in their nude earthy greyness. Some are presented alone like hero objects, while others are arranged in groups like archaeological finds, situated within the backdrop of social and environmental unrest. They challenge our ideas of truth formation, knowledge creation and understanding of the scientific order of taxonomy. They look real, and they are. But not as artifacts but as art.
Teresa Peters engages the aesthetic strategy of slowness through a compilation of impractical imaginative fictional clay remnants and specimens inspired by the Auckland Museum Natural Sciences Collections Online. Presented as an archive, it draws from the museum’s history and context, taking on technological developments of collection digitization to unlock its unrealised potential as the impetus for art. Within this beautiful offering of the speculative lurks a diverse world of natural forms.
The archive was conceived during the first country-wide lockdown. In doing so, Peters layered another meaning connected to this arresting historical contingency. By delegating the work to the digital setting, the artist embraced the intervention of a different kind of enclosure, like a care package to online audiences.
The body of work is posing as a sci-fi disaster archive. One that could have been found, unearthed and collected by museums fulfilling their role in preservation of lost and perished civilizations. Clay has often been the surviving material of our human ancestry, the substance of pioneering technology, and here it serves as a mimic of our imagined future. The FORMS are brutal, sensual, rude, smooth and DISASTROUS. Its a collection of detritus as a desirable offering to our present civilisation infatuated with progress and consumerism, only this time unpolluting.
Embedded within a pandemic that has arrested our bodies with our eyes locked to our device screens, DISASTROUS FORMS is a portal to unearthing alternative pasts and connecting to imagined knowledge systems. It’s asking whether it’s possible to transform the world from the discomfort of our pandemic lockdowns, and what the implications are of not taking a position towards preservation of nature and history.
DISASTROUS FORMS rewards close unprescribed exploration.
DISASTROUS FORMS is a future of condensing temporal perceptions.
DISASTROUS FORMS is an antidote to our collective malady.
Teresa Peters’ work is perhaps an answer to the recent questions and the dilemmas that museums have faced in this moment of enclosure and the enforced hibernation brought about by COVID19. An aesthetic of our pandemic dreams, it’s an appropriation of biological birthing into a digital archival chamber. Our daily feed is abundant with stories speaking directly to our contemporary issues like the breaking apart of nature, our existing matrix of ecosystems and the human enclosure of our home domains. These ceramics offer an intimate break from the physical limitations imposed by the virus, by leading us down the escape path presented as small tunnels dug by worms in the soil or hands though the sour dough. The archive is a narrative pathway of the three-dimensional collection living as a symbiotic organism navigating through the city and the museum itself.
In the context of the current pandemic, DISASTROUS FORMS can act as a vector of transformation in the world of internet we inhabit more by the day. This imaginary collection is a way to refocus our endless distractions. It’s a portal that allows you to meditate and lose time, while simultaneously asking us to pose questions about how we perceive time and its elasticity suspended in this current stillness.
We are invited into the realm of multiple durations of pasts and futures, against the tide of the perpetual acceleration in this dangerous climate. One that is unrepresentable of reality but evocative of our collective imaginations, ready to transform our conscious entanglement of materiality encased in the wonderfully preserved webs of history.
The archive is not just an understudy for a real museum collection. DISASTROUS FORMS are a test of what we perceive as authentic, presented in a virtual world where we can safely imagine, while we navigate the present crisis. May we never underestimate the power of imagination and its radical potential.
︎ Disastrous Forms was created in conversation & curatorial collaboration with Dina Jezdic. Her essay A MUSEUM PORTAL FOR A PANDEMIC AESTHETIC and DISASTROUSFORMS.COM are archived as topics at Auckland Museum Collections Online.