The Negative Reader

Another reminiscence on the Arqueólogica exhibition while reading The Negative Reader by Pedro Barateiro. A modest but brilliantly conceived booklet deals with many questions that we have been addressing with the Hard Facts project.

Pedro Barateiro: The Negative Reader, 2013

Pedro Barateiro: The Negative Reader, 2013

Let me just share with you some notes from one particular text that Barateiro wrote in 2006. Along with three other contemporary artists he was invited by the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens to intervene in the museum’s collection. “You’re expected in the museum”, said the message in his hotel and this instruction became the title of his text. But it also stands for a socially and politically constructed demand. Yes, we are all expected in the museums. “But to perform what”, asks the artist.

I like his plain observation of the “display techniques that transform common everyday objects in sculptures and sculptures in everyday objects.” His request to take a picture of one particular figurine without its glass case was denied. The Robert Smithson’s notion of “cultural prison” (meaning the whole art system) suggests two questions: “Why do we keep things in museums?” and “Why do people want to create objects that end up placed within this strict vision of history?” Barateiro proposes to split the history in “small narratives that can relate more freely to each other enabling them to generate other narratives” as “one can more easily remember them but also one can more easily forget.”

I find this element crucial. Splitting our lives and civilisations down to more vulnerable, less permanent chunks of history doesn’t necessarily make us end up in relativism. It may be a much less violent way of knowledge production. And this, argues Barateiro, should be “measured as an alienation procedure.”

In Athens the artist wanted to make an object “that could be both inside and outside” of the Museum of Cycladic Art. I wonder if he succeeded.


More about the book.

The Arqueólogica exhibition on contemporary archaeology was curated by Virginia Torrente and is on display at Matadero in Madrid till 9 May 2013. The study visit by the Hard Facts team took place on 20 February.


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