Guest artist Aron Rossman-Kiss watches the meandering shape of the marshes – and sees a model for the library. A library with blurring edges, in which sorting and order lose contour and power. Referencing the natural landscape, he develops a metaphor for ambiguous, resilient archives.
Impossible Library: You spent some time as our artist in resident at the Impossible Library. Could you share some of your impressions of the impossible library as a library, archive, stacks. What did you find?
Aron Rossman-Kiss: The space itself is a nice idea with lots of potential. It’s interesting to see how different publication languages interact with each other. You see all these different dialects and it is nice to go through and wander through different magazines. What is also nice and which I used also, are lots of first issues. I was going through these magazines and you see an editor's note at the beginning of the first issue. You see these first projects and how they are justified. There is something kind of touching about it. Even when it is a corporate magazine. To see what leads someone to start a new publication.
I was curious to see how this grid-logic was present in both a physical space and in the library
IL: You also wound up having an artist talk, entitled “Reading Marshes" about mud and dirt and the strange smells of nomad’s land, co-creating the border between land and sea, but also destroying possible shelters. When thinking of a library one might think of a shelter or a safe space. So I am wondering where is the bridge between the marshes and the library? How are marshes and archives connected?
ARK: Before, I came to Hamburg, I was very interested in the history of the city through the 12th century onward. I asked one of the members why it was called the Impossible Library, and they said it is originally because some of the stacks were in Oberhafen a flood-prone area. It was impossible to make a library there and it had to be moved to a dryer location. I was curious to learn more about the natural and material conditions that give rise to an archive. That structure a library or an archive and are then projected onto the world. This interplay between these two cartographies is something I explored.
I was reading quite a bit about the history of Hamburg and Elbe and also going back to the very first archives in Mesopotamia when basically the first urban centers, the first states—which research has shown—were born in marshlands—in what’s today southern Iraq. I was interested in tracing the birth of the modern nation-state against the marshland. You have all these projects in Hamburg but later also in the Middle East basically in every nation-state where marshes are being dried out and you establish a gridded landscape which is readable. I was curious to see how this grid-logic was present in both a physical space and in the library. My talk was also about how we need to make libraries more “marshy.” More ambiguous. More resilient.
When we start believing these categories, these eternal laws, then obviously what is ambiguous or what is amorphous or amphibious will get lost amongst this
IL: What role did the IL’s archive play?
ARK: Initially, when I came to Hamburg, I was interested in different methods of classification. But then, seeing the collection, I felt it was perhaps not very much suited and the general logic of classification and this idea of making knowledge or a territory, readable, legible, classifiable, and what was lost in this process. In general, lots is lost when we show the world or see the world according to these grids. For example, during the talk, I showed this little excerpt from a film by Alain Resnais, who made this short film about the national library in Paris. This very dramatic voice-over says: “New disciplines were invented to classify these books which then became laws.” When we start believing these categories, these eternal laws, then obviously what is ambiguous or what is amorphous or amphibious will get lost amongst this and there will be no space.
AL: Along the lines, these questions around counter narratives: through archives? And that sort of manifesting in the geography.
ARK: I was also reading some of Ann Stoler. Who has done lots of work around like reading the archive against the grain so-to-say particularly the colonial context. She works mainly around the East Indies but then she has extended her research in interesting ways to show how. One can also follow Foucault to show that basically every ordering desire also includes its demise, in that it is also built in disorder. In a way, the marsh is also following an order which is inherent to it because it represents this very complex ecosystem that is resilient. Much more than a dry-gridded landscape. I was curious to see how basically this metaphor applies to basically a place that produces knowledge like a library or an archive.
IL: Your work “July Days” is about different speculative narratives from a particular image archive. It’s about bringing “a choir of voices together”. What role does this bringing together or gathering play in your work?
ARK: I think generally speaking, lots of my work is based on fieldwork or inspired by anthropology. Therefore, I am interested to see how different discourses are built up based on different voices and how the whole narrative process is built. With "July Days", I think it is a bit different perhaps. I was curious… the whole work started with this image. Where allegedly you have some revolutionary soldiers in the war, with Malevich’s black square flag. I was reading this article by T.J. Clark, which asks the question: What does it mean when art erupts with such forcefulness into everyday life. What does it say about life what does it say about art? Basically, it is this moment where revolutionary art is kind of at its apex. It turns out this photo is not representing the black square and it is not even probably revolutionary soldiers. I was interested in this desire to see something in this image and what it meant in our relation to archives, archival images, and how it relates to art or art history. But this work wasn’t based on fieldwork or interviews and desires of what do we want of history today.
IL: For the library you went in to the field to create videos of the marschland…
ARK: I would not describe that as fieldwork. It is mostly this little video I prepared for the vitrine of the Impossible Library. It is a vitrine work. It features footage I took near to the place where the arms of the Elbe meet in Willhelmsburg Island. It is one of the rare tidal forests left in Europe.
IL: You combined them with slogans like: “archives to the people”?
ARK: It is made for the storefront: These little slogans or sentences refer to research and my thought process about the marshlands, about archives and their intermingling. It was a playful way to make people stop and join me in the library.
At one point during my stay, I tried to create categories and organize the stacks myself, but then I realized the material was not appropriate for this. Which doesn’t say anything about the quality of the material but rather about my desire. It was interesting how I found myself as this kind of librarian who wants to imprint their narrative on an unruly body of knowledge. I could have pursued it, but I don’t think it would have made sense. I found the categories I was trying to develop and devise based on the material were too scattered and did not necessarily coincide with what I had in mind. It was interesting, and this realization was important. To see, I also wanted to impose this narrative which didn’t work out.
Interview: Nina Prader
Support: Torben Körschkes, Annika Dorau, Ina Römling und Urs Spindler
Fotos: Torben Körschkes, Ina Römling / Aron Rossmann-Kiss