Fiction Against the Mal de Musée

‘How could we come to this?’ Maurice Blanchot asked, in 1957, of the lamentable will to spectacle of museums. Today, although easily consumable appearances still prevail, some art looks for an inverse path, and in many cases by way of the word. A word which has allowed it to assert its ideas or its literality, but only rarely, as proposed in Mal d’écriture, its literary aspect.

In Spain, Dora García is the best example. Her interest in narrative has led her to construct realities by publishing fictions, like The Kingdom, half interactive fable (a sort of ‘choose your adventure’) and half chronicle (similar to An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris by Perec). Conversely, Miranda July has more of a name in literary circles, despite the fact that her highly acclaimed first book No One Belongs Here More Than You, published in over twenty countries, is the latest milestone in a trajectory that takes in cinema (Caméra d’or at Cannes), music, performance and the visual arts.

In parallel, Miguel Noguera’s facsimile Guions i story-boards pels ‘Ultrashows’ calls to mind of a 1995 publication with unfilmed scripts by Duchamp and Picabia, which championed this written cinema for its inexhaustible power of evocation and made a call to imagination concluding: ‘Film yourselves.’ They now have the means to realise what would formerly have ended up in that Anthology of Invisible Cinema, but the artists (Keren Cytter and Valérie Mréjen) have not abandoned writing, even if it is often relegated to the margins. Because if the image spreads on the Internet, the conditions for the publishing and distribution of these texts are precarious.

‘We are writing to inform you that although as a medium of communication you are finished, you can always count on our support.’ This is how David Bestué and Marc Vives address the Spanish postal service in one of the 60 letters they’ve written for the MACBA. Jørgen Michaelsen’s Pourquoi Malady? and Erick Beltrán’s The World Explained, a book of interviews carried out in different parts of the museum and printed out daily on site, were also commissions. The result, as the front cover informs us, is a reading machine and a publication of theories, something almost as anonymous as Headless, a serialised book that mixes reflective and procedural writing, behind which are Goldin+Senneby. Meanwhile Stuart Bailey was invited to read out excerpts from the magazine Dot Dot Dot, an exercise in performative writing and an example of how the format of the periodical format has gone from new(s) to oldpaper.

Genres and media are recycled and coexist, while the written word, understood as work in progress, is no longer a testimony to speech. Far from the objectual artist’s book and the theoretical texts that artists used to write in the 1960s and ’70s, for the curator Chus Martínez we now have a third genre. Fiction, a new form that artists use to reflect on contemporary art and is therefore a new line of investigation, parallel to that of academia, institutions and critics.

This is not, then, the presentation of a new collection (which, of course, the MACBA brand has been doing for some time) but an opening-up of the museum to new ways of engaging with contemporary creation and in this way revising its theoretical grounding. Because seeing art as the experience of writing entails reconsidering the figure of the museum. And here it not only asserts anew that historical encyclopaedic ambition attended by Derridean archive fever (the urge to conserve against the danger of oblivion) but also and above all it defines its position in today’s cultural economy, combatting the slide into spectacle that, for Blanchot, stems from museum fever.

So the exhibition is more a reading room than a typical art show and, like a library, does not assemble these works on the basis of a common logic that would allow a general examination but instead makes of the museum an experiential space: in other words, always imaginary, always still to come. Quite another matter is whether the viewers, accustomed to strolling through rooms trying to make sense of everything with their eyes, will take up the challenge. Because here they are not only denied the role of passive receivers but are asked to make a gesture marked by impossibility, that of taking everything in and understanding it. Something we have yet to accept, acclimatised as we are to museum fever.