Friday, January 29, 2016

Missing in action

I went to a very disappointing exhibition today, and I'm very glad I did. It took me a little while to realize this, but it was worth it! An exhibition about works of mostly ancient art that are lost to looting, accident or deliberate destruction (like Daesh's in Iraq and Syria), it's called "The Missing: Rebuilding the Past." Its online version is called themissingexhibit. From what my friend N had told about it, I thought I'd be encountering miraculously recreated works, snatched from the jaws of oblivion by newest technologies, and giddily conferring a special kind of "aura" on them. Instead, the exhibit seemed empty, as, of course, it was. The works are lost, gone. Brilliant efforts to record and reconstruct are being made, but none is trying to conceal the absence of the lost original.
The closest to what I was expecting to see was Morehshin Allahyari's "Material Speculation: ISIS, Unknown King of Hatra" (2015), an effort to reconstruct works destroyed in the museum of Mosul, "a museum that had been too under-funded to achieve full photographic inventory documentation of its holdings." Each resin figure contains a flashdrive with all the information she has been able to gather about the original object and its fate, including maps and videos. This information and 3-D printable files of her reconstructions, will be available online for anyone interested. A spectral afterlife...
Spectral too Palmyra Photogrammetry (Conan Parsons)'s recreation of an ISIS-destroyed theater at Palmyra generated by weaving together information from hundreds of tourist snaps - many originally with the tourists on camels in the foreground! It's too late to get any new information (a high quality 3-D reconstruction requires hundreds of thousands of 2-D pictures) but there are sure to be more old snaps, though probably not of the back and sides, or of places the camel rides didn't go. My time in China has made me less dismissive of recreations (or perhaps inured me to them) but this exhibit, without a single artifact, did a good job evoking the complicated realities of loss.

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