VICTOR BURGIN Voyage to Italy

Galerie Thomas Zander presents, for the first time, a major new project of the British conceptual artist Victor Burgin. Since the 1960s, Burgin’s influential position as both artist and theorist has been unrivalled. He stands for an aesthetics which fuses psychoanalytic and structuralist motifs while exploring the tensions between political conflict and aesthetic desire.

The exhibition features Burgin’s video Voyage to Italy (2006) as well as the photographic series Basilica I and II (2006) and Gradiva (1982), which have in common a thematic focus that has manifested itself in Burgin’s recent works – the question of an archived memory and the multiple codings of places of remembrance. All the work in the exhibition cites Pompeii, a place where history seems curiously mummified.

The psychoanalytic question of desire for an absent object plays subtly into the historiographic quest for a reconstruction of the past. In a twofold way, the figure of Gradiva, the desired object of a confused archaeologist in the short novel by Wilhelm Jensen, is an allegory for this. Burgin’s 1982 photographic series in seven parts alludes to the novella, which in turn was to provoke commentary from both Freud and Derrida. Burgin rewrites Jensen’s novella to accompany the images, condensing the narrative into seven paragraphs.

Since Michel Foucault has shaped the term archaeology, it does not only apply to all that can be known, but also to the blind spots of historical knowledge. Archaeological space includes not only the possible, but also the impossible and represses history by containing it in a context which it can only evoke through substitutes. This dilemma is atmospherically recreated in the midst of the ruins of Pompeii, seen in Burgin’s video Voyage to Italy. The title of the video alludes directly to Roberto Rossellini’s film of 1953, which inspires the text that Burgin has written for the voiceover narration.

In the series Basilica I and II, the stumps of these columns create a different present out of the past. It is said that one can still feel the presence of a limb after it has been amputated and in a similar manner, the lost parts of the ruined structure can still be sensed. According to Walter Benjamin, the historian removes fragments from the continuum of history so to be able to experience it emphatically. Burgin’s camera cuts the remains of the buildings and columns out of their context and in doing so, shows remembrance as an aggressive act.

As in his earlier works, Burgin also discusses the institutional preconditions that ‘write history’, a crucial question for art theory. If the archive is the designated place of official memory, which decides where historical emphases are placed, then the authority of the historical archive is akin to the role of the museum. In this way, the conceptual exhibition reflects the social conditions of artistic production and contributes to the process of political and theoretical reorientation present in art today.

Accompanying catalogue published by Hatje Cantz.

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