V HOMAGE to ABY WARBURG

Image: TASWIR / Room “Human Writes” / Performance Installation William Forsythe & Kendall Thomas, 2005 Photo Di Mackey / Courtesy ha’atelier

The process of assembling and poetically associating a vast variety of material into the TASWIR project is in part inspired by Aby Warburg’s Bildatlas, his Mnemosyne project of pictorial mappings in the “Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek” in Hamburg in the 1920s.1 Aby Warburg, together with philosophers and cultural theorists in the renowned Hamburg library of Cultural Sciences, devised their Mnemosyne Atlas as an associative juxtaposition of visual forms, of emotional expressions, a research project across disciplines, constructing European modernity by invoking gestures of pathos predominantly but not exclusively from the Renaissance and Hellenistic antiquity.2 By juxtaposing forms of emotional expression in different artistic processes, Warburg developed an ephemeral and associative pictorial atlas that allowed him to establish diachronic and heterogeneous interrelations between objects of different periods and cultures,3 objects whose contemporaneity is still and perpetuously forthcoming.4


Aby M. Warburg, Mnemosyne-Atlas, Board A, Nr.32 and 33, 1926

The TASWIR project engages Aby Warburg’s pictorial mappings in a twofold way: Firstly, the TASWIR exhibition playfully relocates the axis of European Modernity, which in Warburg’s Mnemosyne is largely seen as an extension of the Renaissance and of classical antiquity, and positions classical exhibits and topics from Islamic and Jewish traditions as constituents of a contemporary order of things that can no longer be called Western. The assembly, montage, a-linear interpretation and multi-layered documentation that determines the method of TASWIR reverberates rather deeply with the surface structure of a text celebrated as semantic body, palimpsest, abysmal matrix of creation, a tradition largely repressed by European memory and its predominantly allegorical ways of reading texts.5 As in the classical traditions of Hadith, Talmud and Midrash, the TASWIR project arranges seemingly accidental clusters of material according to latent and subcutaneous semantic, visual, and sonic correspondences. The chains of associations clustering in TASWIR’s exhibition, its Madrasa and its ongoing digital documentation are brought about by processes of displacement, dissociation, inversions of meanings, veiling and unveiling, showing and not-showing, similarly as in methods of free association in psychoanalysis and the literary montage developed in Walter Benjamin’s ‘Arcades Project’: “Method of this work: literary montage. I have nothing to say only to show.”6 The TASWIR exhibition, however, and this is the second variation that it offers to the Warburg project, simulates Warburg’s ‘displacement of the display walls’ – das Schieben der Gestelle – and advances it as an architectural and nomadic gesture, the gesture of publically reconfiguring the order of knowledge and the order of things, beginning with objects displaced, and the artist’s / thinker’s commentary on objects displaced. TASWIR carries the epistemic movement with which Aby Warburg kept extending, relocating and regrouping the pictures and images of his Mnemosyne Atlas into the public space of artistic production and its continuous documentation.

TASWIR thus relies upon an epistemology of shifting; an epistemology Warburg might have referred to as “Schlitterlogik” – logic of “slipping” or “slithering” – an “iconology of the in-between space.”7 The TASWIR project documents this material process, this shifting of spatial and temporal relations, in its own atlas. In this atlas, TASWIR keeps a kind of “surface-record” of its own doings, a digital palimpsest, overwriting its own history with continuous, yet ephemeral, visual, sonic, philosophical configurations.

TASWIR.ORG / Digital Atlas Front Page / Design Benjamin Metz / © ha’atelier
TASWIR.ORG / Digital Atlas “T-Page” / Design Benjamin Metz / © ha‘atelier

The TASWIR project demands an initiation into a semiotic game that the rabbinic masters of the Talmud excelled in, a way of reading in which matters revealed stand in for matters concealed and in which the things presented transport a question or matter obscured. It is this technique of substitution and veiling, this “art of citation”, taking things “out of context,”8 reminiscent of the Talmudic process and of Freud’s reading of dreams and the psyche, which the TASWIR project turns into an architectural principle, drawing upon ancient/contemporary ontology of producing knowledge. We envision a public space in which distinctions between representation and production are being undermined and in which the traditional European institutions of the academy, the university and the museum are intertwined by the productivity of scholars, curators and artists, sharing questions and strategies of reading irrespective of institutional, facultative, or national belongings.9


Taysir Batniji, Voyage Impossible, Performance/Installation 2009 / Photo Di Mackey / Courtesy ha’atelier

© A.S. Bruckstein Çoruh

  1. The programmatic claim that Aby Warburg’s work should be used as a yardstick for the Cultural Sciences at large has repeatedly been made. See, for instance, Cornelia Zumbusch, Wissenschaft in Bildern. Symbol und dialektisches Bild in Aby Warburgs Mnemosyne-Atlas und Walter Benjamins Passagen-Werk, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2004. See also Georges Didi-Huberman, L’image survivante – Histoire de l’art et temps des fantômes selon Aby Warburg, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 2002 and his recent exhibition “ATLAS. How to Carry the World on One’s Back ?” at the National Museum Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Madrid, 2010-2011, the ZKM in Karlsruhe and at Hamburg Deichtorhallen at the Falckenberg Collection 2011, delineating artistic and poetic traces of Warburg’s Atlas throughout the 20th and 21st century.  
  2. Aby Warburg, Der Bildatlas MNEMOSYNE, eds. Martin Warnke and Claudia Brink, Aby Warburg Gesammelte Schriften Vol II, 1, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2003. It has been a rare privilege for me to present the TASWIR project in the rooms of Aby Warburg’s library at the occasion of the international conference “Jewish Concepts of Law and Modern Legal Theory” 2010.  
  3. Cornelia Zumbusch discusses Aby Warburg’s discontinuous and a-linear scheme of a visual history in the context of Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, ibid., p. 3. See also Susan Buck-Moss, The Dialectics of Seeing. Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989.  
  4. Jalal Toufic, “The Contemporary is Still Forthcoming”, e-flux journal #28, October, 2011.  
  5. Daniel Boyarin keeps pointing out the difference between the materialist reading of midrash, in which each and every bit of text acts as an indeterminate semantic trigger, and allegorical or symbolic forms of interpretation in which words and letters give rise to mental associations known beforehand lying beneath of beyond the materiality of the text. See for example “The Song of Songs, Lock or Key: The Holy Song as a Mashal”, in: Intertextuality and the Reading of Midrash, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990, pp. 105-116 and many other publications by the same author.  
  6. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk, Gesammelte Schriften, V, 2, ed. Rolf Tiedemann, Frankfurt a. M.: Suhrkamp, 1982, p. 1030.  
  7. Aby Warburg, Werke in einem Band, ibid., p. 642, and p. 643.  
  8. „It belongs to the concept of citation, however, that the historical object in each case is torn from its context.“ Cf. Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project [N 11,3], ed. Rolf Tiedemann, transl. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999, S. 476.  
  9. Diary entry of Aby Warburg, September 9, 1929, Tagebuch der Kulturwissenschaftlichen Bibliothek Warburg, eds. Karen Michels and Charlotte Schoell-Glass, Aby Warburg Gesammelte Schriften Vol. VII, Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2001, p. 522.