History of Art Seminar 26 January 2022
From Malene Nafisi
The Unnatural Ecologies of Modern Art
Abstract: A museum is not a collection of objects but a collection of slowly unfolding disasters. Despite the spectacle of stillness and permanence that the museum offers, every single art object that we encounter in its rooms is slowly inching toward its own disappearance, becoming undone, heaving, cracking, oxidizing, and breaking apart. The purpose of this talk is to explore the unnatural ecologies that need to be engineered and sustained to keep art objects alive and “imaginable” as such. This exploration will take us into the vast, and yet largely uncharted, geography of spaces that the museum hides beyond the exhibition room—like conservation lab, the storage facility, or the machine room—, and follow some of the actors and forms of labor that populate those spaces and who have been left out of the main narratives of art because they have been considered to be without political, aesthetic, or historical value. By delving into these unnatural ecologies, the talk will reveal the massive economic, environmental costs required to preserve art objects alive, and raise the question of how far we, as a society, are willing go, how much material and economic resources, time, and labor we are willing to invest, in the name of keeping the modern imagination of art alive.
Bio: Fernando Domínguez Rubio (PhD Sociology, U. Cambridge, 2008) is an Associate Professor of Communication at the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of Still Life: Ecologies of the Modern Imagination at the Art Museum (University of Chicago Press), an ethnography of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) exploring the technologies, climatic infrastructures, and forms of care and labor required to prevent artworks from falling apart. He has written numerous articles on material culture, art, and urban infrastructures. He is also the co-editor of The Politics of Knowledge (Routledge 2012).