London based, Polish born artist Marysia Lewandowska considers the uses of archives as conceptual tools helping to address relationships between people, their ideas and documents that survived dispersal associated with the passage of time. This seems especially relevant when tracing women’s cultural contributions and difficulties associated with finding their material evidence.The aim of this series of seminars is to bring attention to the relevance of voice and voicing understood in its wider sense as a contribution and political agency.Confronting absence, void, erasure or silence often acts as a catalyst for constructing an artwork, which becomes a corrective intervention in the process of re-visiting histories now. The artist places sound and voice as central agents in contemporary manifestations of political imaginary deployed through listening and feedback. This is consistent with her commitment bringing attention to the role women’s voices continue to play in diverse social contexts.The tactics associated with her practice resonate within a wider community urging us to re-discover and re-arrange the internal “structures of feeling” in which archival knowledge, material traces, artistic expression and open access are given a chance to cross-pollinate and to be heard.
STRUCTURE: The course is taught remotely and divided into 6 units. Online Study Lectures effectively run over the week – Monday and Wednesday from 6pm to 8pm CET – maintaining our usual tours’ focused, intensive and immersive experience.
Session 1. - Women’s Audio Archive, 2009
In establishing the Women's Audio Archive, Lewandowska seeks to create a collection and a site that would act as a meeting point where conversations recorded by her would participate in developing a history of women in the media-visual tradition, which by its ephemeral nature can be easily forgotten. The Archive, with its focus on sound makes an incision in the hegemony of visual culture and commodity values. These recordings document public events, seminars, talks, conferences, and private conversations as valuable records of a particular time in discourse, beginning around 1983 until 1990. Lewandowska denotes this period of time as one dominated by academics and artists close to New York based October magazine and by feminist gatherings, including the participation of Judy Chicago, Mary Kelly, Barbara Kruger, Yvonne Rainer, Jo Spence, Nancy Spero, Jane Weinstock, etc. In a variety of settings and institutions, as well as in private, the recordings also document talks by artists and academics such as Benjamin Bucloh, Victor Burgin, John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Tom Lawson, Les Levine, Peter Wollen, etc. A long process of negotiation with the all of the above speakers led to making all of the recordings under Creative Commons licensing a part of the public domain.
Session 2. - Tender Museum, 2009
In the Tender Museum project, images of the Muzeum Sztuki, in Lodz (Poland) found in media and film archives, sound recordings enclosed by copyright and private photographic collections are combined in the process of re-distributing and fictionalising the encounter with archival sources. By insisting on releasing previously unseen materials into the public domain the project directly re-imagines the foundational act of generosity associated with every museum. Central to the project are questions concerning the use of documents and their role in reinforcing existing power hierarchies. By researching and recovering the figure of Urszula Czartoryska (1934-1998), art critic, curator and wife of the Muzeum Sztuki’s prominent director Ryszard Stanisławski (1921-2000), a different picture emerges as to the role she played in shaping the museum’s programme.
Session 3. - Open Hearing, 2010
The project Open Hearing revisits the creative politics used by the Greenham Common women peace campaigners to force a public debate and the responses of the legal apparatus to the unprecedented act of so-called civil disobedience. With, Open Hearing Lewandowska further exposes how the trials against the peace campaigners became a forum and theatre for exchanges between women as citizens and the local authorities. Alternating with the film is a soundtrack which refers to the court cases deposited in the Women Library’s archives by the Greenham Common Women. The cases reveal the struggle of the legal system in dealing with this creative challenge to the authorities and the unfair strategies employed against campaigners who merely exercised their right to reclaim peace and the common land. The documents serve as the basis for a discussion about human rights and the status of the commons, reverberating some of the current concerns regarding ownership not only of land but also of resources deposited in public archives.
Session 4. - It’s About Time, 2019
It’s About Time project takes as a point of departure the archival records of meetings held between Venice’s civic, intellectual, and business leaders, and the Mayor, poet Riccardo Selvatico. These early discussions, animated by ideas of civic pride, moral philanthropy, and public good, led to the creation of La Biennale di Venezia in 1895. Further archival research revealed glimpses of a set of parallel conversations taking place at the same time in Venice led by the fearless Duchess Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa, whose 1899 bequest secured Ca’Pesaro for Galleria d’Arte Moderna and provided studios for young artists. While the status of their proposals remains unclear, the notion of female representatives meeting to discuss art and philanthropy opened up a new realm of possibilities, introducing the role of dissent in shaping contemporary culture. The central element in the development of the project was a process of a collective script writing. A group of Italian women practitioners: Lucia Cavorsi; Giulia Damiani; Valeria Facchin; Alice Ongaro; Carlotta Pierleoni; Flora Pitrolo; Silvia Tanzini based in London together with the art historian Clarissa Ricci and scholar Francesca Tarocco in Venice speculate on a scenario in which the intellectual foundations of La Biennale were built by women.
Session 5. - how to pass through a door, 2022
The recent project continues Lewandowska’s practice of recovering women’s cultural contributions through the use of voice, previously developed in projects such as the Women’s Audio Archive (2009) and It’s About Time at the 58th Art Biennale in Venice (2019). Starting from the notion of the archive as an open-ended construction of contributions and interpretations, Lewandowska’s artistic research during her residency engaged with the legacy of Maggie Keswick Jencks as it is framed by the multiple histories of The Cosmic House: once a family home, a built manifesto of Post-Modernism and a meeting place for the movement’s main protagonists, and now a museum. The new sound installation presented for the first time occupies multiple rooms throughout the The Cosmic House, activating Maggie’s voice by relying on the archival records, both spoken and written, spanning from her formal lectures on the Chinese Garden to the more intimate letters and notes related to the construction of the house. Through her method of ‘voicing’, Lewandowska proposes an alternative encounter with the space, acknowledging Maggie’s role and contributions opens up a polyphony of interpretations and a parallel universe to that of Charles Jencks, her architect husband.
Session 6. - Welcome, 2023.
This most recent project re-imagines the 1923 Hannover Kestner Gesellschaft's exhibition history through a bold performative move, giving voice to an overlooked female contributor. In her opening speech, created by the artist for Sophie Küppers, art historian, collector and future wife of El Lissitzky, we are confronted with a reflective narrative, which challenges our ability to acknowledge and to remember. The Welcome speech was performed live by Medea Stabbert during the opening of the exhibition.
Welcome proposes a way of undoing time, reminding us of a struggle to perform against the grain of social expectations. The project has repercussions beyond the frame of the documented history, it summons us to examine, perform and discuss the legitimation of the original claim. The document is no longer simply the object of research, providing a direct link to a collective, historical past but becomes its reflection and record opening up knowledge to the consciousness of others. Could augmenting history be seen as a form of activism?