While there exists endless research, and countless indexes and catalogs surrounding an artist’s quantifiable completed work, unrealized or half-baked utopian ideas abandoned at the worktable rarely make the cut or wander into discourse. But it’s these overtly utopian ideas—the unattainables—that would seemingly contextualize that oeuvre that comes to define the names attached to them.
An ongoing venture devised by Serpentine Gallery director Hans Ulrich Obrist and co-director Julia Peyton-Jones, Mexican artist Julieta Aranda, and artist and e-flux founder Anton Vidokle, Agency of Unrealized Projects (AUP) explores the abandoned, postponed, and rejected. The compilation was originally explored in Unbuilt Roads: 107 Unrealized Projects, a book comprised of utopian and boundary-teasing proposals collated by Ulrich Obrist and Guy Torsta and based on research conducted in the late 1990s. AUP, the archival exhibition, has since taken on numerous forms: initially as a digital public exposition in 2009 presented by e-flux and subsequently expanding from its initial 107 unrealized works to include an open artist call and Basel exhibition in 2011. In Berlin, AUP was conceived in collaboration with Berliner Künstlerprogramm/DAAD, one of the city’s most renowned visual arts granting programs and a major contributor to the international panorama of contemporary art.
While the 1999 publication featured a whole scope of “failed” proposals by prominent artists from Rauschenberg to Christo, the 2012 exhibition at daadgalerie is a bit more open-ended, allowing for numerous current and former DAAD guests and Berlin-based artists to participate. Projects such as Carolina Caycedo’s Life Exchange (2000), a project that consists of bartering your life for hers, or Chaveli Sifre’s PerFumes (2012) add to the growing summation of these projects that teeter on the cusp between the simply unrealized and the completely unrealizable.
Installation view, Agency of Unrealized Projects, daadgalerie, 2012; Courtesy of daadgalerie.
Premiering on the eve of Berlin’s first official fall season Art Week, daadgalerie hosted a series of lectures by Ulrich Obrist, Vidokle and participating talent Jimmie Durham (US), Natascha Sadr Haghighian (DE), Hito Steyerl (DE), and Stefan Wewerka (DE). More an analogue archive than exhibition, the small hall is outfitted by only two “completed” projects, most notably, the pine furniture table and chairs designed by modernist Enzo Mari (IT), realized and reconstructed from his published instructional manual “Autoprogettazione” (1974), and the text that adorns the gallery walls by Karl Holmqvis, a project made concrete and displayed at the Bergen Kunsthall earlier this year under the title The Visit. The textual constructions entertain a viewer’s eyes leading it back and forth between the archive’s physical niche at the rear of the gallery and the imposing white abyss that surrounds it.
The rest of the hundreds of artists and proposals must be mentally reconstructed from legal documents, sketches, arbitrary artist notes, jottings, and formal proposals found only in the collated folders behind the gallery desk and out of reach from patrons. Visitors must subscribe to and engage in a little show of institutional power where only the gallery attendant has access to the cabinets containing the documents.
Individual binders are set out on the Mari tables with projects filed in both alphabetical and categorical order under such titles as: “boats”, “pavilions”, “double exposure”, “islands”, “legal questions”, and “means of communication”. Guests are invited to sift through the binders and request an archived file-folder containing the project from the resident gallery attendant. Blue chip artist’s proposals such as Chris Burden, Gilbert & George, Alighiero Boetti, Dara Birnbaum, and Carsten Höller are blown up and exhibited as blue print large-scale posters behind a series of architectural models at the reception desk—the archival no man’s land.
The project is most definitely an exercise in the historicization of artistic proposals, cultivating the nostalgia of the archival index rather than focusing on a traditional aesthetic experience. The title unrealized looms ever-threatening over the present with what may be a project’s eventual fruition.
(Image on top: Installation view, Agency of Unrealized Projects, daadgalerie, 2012, including furniture by Enzo Mari and wall text by Karl Holmqvis; Courtesy of daadgalerie.)