I am pleased to announce a new collaboration between Etienne and myself going online tomorrow, 1 February.
Sara Giannini’s Unfold: The Volume Project is an experimental online library of “folders,” for which Sara has commissioned a series of colleagues as content organizers and reorganizers. Very much inspired by intercalations 1: Fantasies of the Library, Unfold is the second part of Sara’s previous project, VOLUME, she curated in 2013 at the Beirut art space 98weeks.
Our intervention is titled “The Lesson of Zoology: A Physis is being organized…” It follows Sara’s own collection presented as “Unfold #1″ where she departed from an intensive reading of Walter Benjamin’s The Arcade Project. The other guest curators of later instantiations are, in order of appearance, CAMP (Mumbai); Kris Dittel in collaboration with Onomatopee (Eindhoven); Alessandro Ludovico (Bari); and Lara Khaldi & Yazan Khalili (Ramallah).
We are very happy that, for our collection, we could host Rich Pell and Lauren Allen from Pittsburgh’s Center for PostNatural History as collaborating contributors. Among many other elements, each of our 9 folders contains one publication from the CPNH’s archive that has never been presented publicly.
Below is a short interview Sara did with us about the Lesson. You can read the introduction to our project, which we co-wrote with Walter Benjamin himself, here.
The Literal Intimacies of Zoology: Reading Through the Folders of Colonial-Science
Sara Giannini in conversation with Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin
Sara Giannini First of all, I would like to thank you for being a part of Unfold. I am thrilled to delve into your selection for Unfold#2. It is both exciting and intimidating because all the materials I have organized for the project will be so closely read and appropriated by your intervention.
Since the launch of Unfold in September 2015, I have been going back to the problem of legibility and its ties to collecting. Etymologically, reading and collecting [“legere”/”colligere”] stem from intimately gathering together. I think that the practice of reading is the essential comportment of the project on several different levels: from Benjamin’s citing labour in The Arcades Project to my re-reading of it through the artistic contributions which repurpose projects for the specific space of the folder, and from the further readings which I commissioned, to those enlivened by the reader/viewer/user.
With these remarks in mind, I wonder how you read Unfold#1?
Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin We read as we would in any other space, whether physical or digital, which is to say, promiscuously. If Walter Benjamin saw himself as a rag-picker in the history of the catastrophe called capitalism, we are, similarly, just scavenging through the ruined debris of the ivory tower, which is not without certain charms for the collector. Unfold presents a form that aligns with our style of inquiry, and we were excited to present a collection that can unfold for your readers as they work through The Lesson of Zoology.
Image: Stereoscopic image of taxidermy collection overlaid into a 3D image. Courtesy of the Center for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh.
SG While doing research for Unfold I was very inspired by your intercalations: a paginated exhibition series co-published by K. Verlag with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. In your own words, the series is conceived as a curatorial-editorial device “enabling explorations of the book as a form of exhibition architecture,” where the concept of “intercalation” reflects the importance of juxtaposition to reconfigure boundaries and categories. Clearly there are many resonances with the way I envisioned the structure of Unfold, as both an archival and publishing space based on “counter-point” formations of different contents, through the folder-form. How would you describe these parallels? How do you relate the ideas behind the series to the proposition you have made through Unfold?
AS & ET The intercalations series is a modest attempt to articulate exhibitions through the form of the book. In the first volume, Fantasies of the Library, we tried to show how the library is not merely an assumed repository of given knowledge, but that it is itself a construction for knowledge transmission that has any number of promiscuities and alliances with its outside. Libraries are never a given; like concepts, they must be made. So, our question was: how, in the Anthropocene, can the library be re-made from its history as a space for assembling other types and styles of knowledge? This seems quite close to the Unfold project, although in our previous books, we were very committed to the form of the book because the codex is not an exhausted format, even after several millennia. In Unfold, you wanted us to think through the form of the folder. The digital folder, the hyperlink, the drop-down menu, these are structures which not only shape our knowledge by modulating accessibility, but which change possibilities for replication and derivation. This is different than the modulation of the codex as a paginated mode of revelation. But, of course, the relationship to Unfold is that by exploring, tinkering with, and excerpting in a bibliomanic ecstasy, we can reveal how the structures of these media affect the nature of our thinking and our affinities with certain knowledge relays.
Image: Taking mouse measurements. Photograph from The Mouse Newsletter. Courtesy of the Center for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh.
SG Unfold is primarily concerned with modes of sharing and thinking across disciplines and “habitats,” responding to the reformulation of modern institutions of knowledge such as the library or the encyclopedia. Your current research and curatorial interest in natural history and scientific knowledge within colonial apparatuses has informed your selection for Unfold#2, which deals with the modern taxonomy of knowledge and bodies. How would you describe this aspect of your work?
AS & ET All of our work deals with taxonomy because knowledge requires, by definition, organization. Whether that organization is emancipatory or colonial has been a matter for the librarians of Empire to decide through the order of their stacks and the structure of their folders. What is a file? It is an index of the structure of knowledge in a given order. So, what can we unfold from the files of zoology? The Lesson of Zoology is a lesson in the ordering of nature toward the end that we now inhabit, called the Anthropocene. Total chaos and total control, simultaneously. Does the scientific will to knowledge afford us any vestige of emancipation? This is a question worthy of intense inquiry, as we cannot simply dismiss this history as colonial, because it constitutes our present; at the same time, we cannot accept this colonial inheritance without an anxious trepidation given the violence it has enacted and enabled. So we must work through it, that is, we must unfold it to find what we can use.
Image: Stereoscopic image of a botanic garden greenhouse overlaid into a 3D image. Courtesy of the Center for PostNatural History, Pittsburgh.
SG Your curatorial text for Unfold#2 is entitled The Lesson of Zoology: A Physis is being organized … I am interested in hearing more about the relationship between Benjamin’s writings in the Arcades Project and your method of selection.
AS & ET We think the best answer we could give is our introduction, as the text attempts to appropriate Benjamin’s provocation in One-way Street, titled “To the Planetarium.” Are we not, now, in the planetarium? Benjamin’s interest in the vestigial aspect of history was influential on our structure, but we also wanted to experiment with the idea of the “ordering of physis [nature]” which he describes so well in that text. What is The Lesson of Zoology if not an image of the ordering of nature? It is an image meant to circulate and proliferate the correct ordering of “Man” and “Nature.” Anna Tsing’s “Earth Stalked by Man,” included in our introduction folder, denaturalizes this Man, and we take that process of denaturalizing the colonial relationship between Man and His Nature as a point of departure from which we intend to unfold another logic and other possibilities. In our contribution to Unfold, we aren’t trying to make a new structure, or to introduce some aleatory position, but, within the ruin of natural history and its colonial ambitions, we want to reconsider what can be reappropriated. We remain in an Enlightenment heritage as we continue to recycle our files. We are still in the folders of modernity, so to speak. But, in reorganizing their relations, there are many affinities and assemblies that suggest other trajectories for knowledge, collaboration, and emancipation. They are to be discovered, or discredited, in the folds and folders themselves.
SG My last question returns to my first one about legibility. Do you envision any particular mode of reading for your collection?
AS & ET We only envision intimacy. Reading is so procedural, always moving from one page to the next, beginning to end. But, in Unfold, through the lateral movement, the schizophrenia of the structure, and the possibility for exploration, pleasure, and discovery, the approach might be best described as a becoming-intimate with the lessons and the ruins of zoology. And, why not since it is a science that has already so intimately constructed you as the reader?
Access the folders of The Zoology Lesson from 1 February by following this link: unfold.thevolumeproject.com
If you would like to receive announcements of the later UNFOLD editions drop Sara an email to firstname.lastname@example.org