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From a temporary to a timely museum: the city as assembly 1

What does considering the city as temporary museum imply? Does this apparent inversion generate an altogether different view or an idea that is temporary as well as assailable? Raoul Teulings (1959), artistic researcher, writes about the consequences of this inversion and argues in favour of the city as permanent temporary museum. Comparing a city and a museum is less than obvious. Depending on how this comparison is drawn, the concepts of both the city and museum will raise problems specific to their nature. The city as well as the museum establish a form of collective memory, an ordering that is always related to a political ordering. The city and the museum can oppose this order or comply with it. The city, I argue, shows both opposition and conformity. The organisation of the city and museum forces its users to behave in a particular way. In its specific historical order, the museum gathers diverse objects, and thus multiplies political strategies. The city and the museum share the strategy of presenting their futures as predictable. Thus both can be considered as archival places� where “taste and ideology correlate”.4 The city is an architectonic archive in which “the public and political realms are synonymous with architecture”.�


conception. In his Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889) he posits a time conception that does not clearly distinguish between present, past and future, but sees the present and past as one and the future as indefinite and potentiality. Conscience cannot conceive consecutive closed discrete moments in time. When you adhere to this opinion, the concepts of memory and archive take on fundamentally different meanings, as does the function of the city as a museum that has become institutionalised. I shall use the ‘Bergsonian time’ to draw a different picture of the city as timely museum.

Storage location According to the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, Bergson’s philosophy generated a significant cultural rupture in the post-war period.� A new memory machine has become apparent. In what way does this definition affect the already present archival and museal functions of the city? In his introduction to Les lieux de mémoire (1989) (Between History and Memory) the French historian Pierre Nora argues that today’s archives have become storage locations. They have turned into commonly accepted substitutes for the loss of locations for memory and remembrance. Our collective memory is “nothing more in fact than sifted and sorted historical traces.” Nora’s definition is very elaborate. The lieux de mémoire give access This order, I argue, not only has an aesthetic function but also a to the past whilst they can be contemporary places, political clearly political one. Is there an alternative way of reading this traditions, rituals, books or even national customs. Through these order? Can the “city as museum” be considered a machine that acts of ritualising the past becomes actual. Nora claims that the generates meaning? It would then generate with each instance of use a different meaning. Can the urban regime be inverted? Can the city should be considered a memory machine. This implies that archives such as the traditional museum no longer hold the unique city as entity obtain a new function that goes beyond the static privilege of having an archival function. nature of the traditional museum? Can the city’s multiformity be conceived or is it an indistinguishable part of a single law or order? How does this general and institutional memory of the city In the museum, the law of the canon of art history stands tall; the function? Through this memory the city engenders the “memory city should be able to function as a creative opposition to it. of power”. Squares, boulevards and the like testify to social and If this is the case, their relationship is based on a contradiction. Can this contradiction be somehow cancelled out? Is the city as city cultural hegemony. The present-day variants of these storage locations, the so-called economic zones, should be read in the same established or in a state of becoming? Is ‘temporariness’ the right vein. They testify to the fact that public space has succumbed to countering theory to the ‘perpetuity’ of the museum-like urban the laws of the economy and the market.� I add this to emphasise order? that the “city as timely” museum does not have a mere aesthetical dimension. It has an economical and political dimension too, albeit Timely that they are in a state of continuous transition. The current urban The reversal mentioned earlier demands a reconsidering of the order functions one-dimensionally and keeps the city from ‘becomconcept of time. Yet, I would like to further radicalise the aspect ing’ heterogeneous and indefinite since the “memory of power” of temporality. Temporariness then should be replaced by a more rules supreme. Such a polis is always conservative. adequate term that allows us to picture the status of the city as How can the “city as timely museum” adequately deal with of ‘being’ as well as ‘becoming’. The term ‘temporariness’ suggests that it is possible to frame time, that time can have an end (and as this? How can it avoid that its criticism is turned into a “memory of power”? Can today’s city, that has a virtual and technological such also a beginning). An event that has come to an end can still live on in time through memory and traces. The city in its virtuality double, represent this political and economical hierarchy? Through postmodern mediatisation the contemporary city has become the does not make that distinction; its possibilities are equally ‘real’. The term ‘temporariness’ clearly distinguishes between continuous domain par excellence of joining and interchange. It assembles the real and the virtual. Due to the nearly all-encompassing interconinfinite time and restricted finite time�. This pattern allows us to nectivity the urban zone has become an in-between. Timeliness grasp both its past (origin) and its future (purpose). manifests itself in this ‘in-betweenness’ as interest. In that sense it When it comes to art and the museum I find this teleologialready presents itself as a timely museum. cal7 point of view quite problematic. Since in this view the future cannot be differently conceived, the city’s possibilities become Escape routes restricted. The timely museum can free the city from this impasse. The hegemony of the ruling “memory of power” puts these This conception of time that is rendered scientific, excludes other conceptions and comes across as rather arbitrary. Current develop- junctions constantly under pressure. Has the current design of the city become an oppressive regime? The city conceives itself too ments have shown the existence of indefinite and meandering much as ‘border’, as does the museum. They must be conceived conceptions of time that escape any form of order. differently. Will the city be able to keep on indicating the escape routes�� that are imperative to considering it a ‘timely museum’. This essay aims at turning the temporary museum into a timely This theory of ‘becoming’ precludes any form of ‘solidification’. This one, which is more consistent with this alternative conception of theory of becoming then should be measured up to the idea of the time. Pivotal to this argumentation is the conception of time as city as mere archive. As such the city would truly be proclaimed a developed by the French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859-1941). timely museum. It differs significantly from the ruling ideas that are based on a In urban discourses the city is referred to as a closed entity. The physical time conception that allows us to divide up time and term ‘city’, for instance, is rather used than the term ‘urban’. The conceive of it as temporary. Bergson has a radically different

city is opposed to the non-urban, such as nature. By emphasising the differentiating quality of the description, the city can be seen as an assembly without a centre rather than as a closed entity.�� In this view the city becomes not only a collection of material objects, but also a continuous chain of events. Only then is the city timely.�� The creative potential of this can hardly be measured. This time conception produces an altogether different memorial image of the city: the past cannot be separated from the present but is an inextricable part of the future. As such the city can be many cities and meanings at once. Rather than that it is given meaning, it produces itself meaning. The contemporary city and museum seem to mirror each other in their organisation, and they unquestioningly strengthen the connection between design and ideology. Yet, this is remarkably paradoxical.�� The city’s ordering breeds uncontrolled growth and (temporary) suspension; it replaces human memory with an ‘external’, an institutional form, in this case the archi-structure of the city. (Note that the museum architecture ultimately represents the architecture of the 19th century archive, as does the planning of the city.) This replacement denies the uncontrolled growth. At the core of the timely museum is the city’s true timeliness that manifests itself as duration rather than as the inexorable clockwork of common memory. How can the city cherish this form of (self)destruction that is the secret of the storage locations? How can it deal with this destruction that threatens the “order of memory”?�� The city has to face the threats rather than suppress them in its violent order. The city’s planning and archi-structure cleanse: the taboo zones move to the urban periphery. Yet the city should also make visible what it suppresses: these areas where the city seems to transform in something else. The timely museum is an in-between world where the visible world joins with the underground world, where action meets passion��. The urban is no longer designed, it is generated through drifting overtures. Thus the city need not show itself as in a state of being, but in a state of becoming, a state that pre-eminently makes it timely. Raoul Teulings, 2006

1. Temporary: lasting or meant to last for a limited time only; of passing interest; occurring or existing in time. 2. Timely: occurring or appearing in good time; done or made at an appropriate or suitable time. 3. Lieu (French.) or topos (Greek). 4. In: Pierre Bourdieu, Les régles de l’art, 1992. 5. Daniel Libeskind, Gillmor, 2004, pp. 62. 6. This definition is the result of the atomist time conception that holds that it is made up of a linear order of discrete moments. 7. Derived from the Greek telos: end, purpose, ultimate object or aim. The principles of causality.

8. In his well-known Cinema (1983 and 1985) books he develops the thesis that Bergson’s conception of time (la durée) advances a different conception of the world. This different and changing way of Worldmaking (Nelson Goodman, 1978), to which art is no exception, features prominently in this argument. 9. Jürgen Habermas draws this structural change in his Strukturwandel der Öffentlichkeit (1962): with the rise of the bourgeoisie the memory workings of the city are transformed. Walter Benjamin (1892-1940) too emphasises this aspect in Das Passagen-werk (1935). 10. In: Mille plateaux, Gilles Deleuze en Félix Guattari, 1980.

11. In this respect, another time aspect emerges: the urban should establish itself not only through spatial, but also through temporal coordinates. 12. And asserts its ‘duration’ (cf. durée; in Henri Bergson’s Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, 1889) as indefinite future. 13. The paradox is part of what entails toponomology. Derrida remarks that these places are “hypomnemic” (Derrida, Archive Fever, p. 11): they always record less than human memory does. “(T)he technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future.




The archivization produces as much as it records the event” (ibid. pp. 16-17) This conclusion brings about one of his famous paradoxes: in this way memory proves self-destructive. 14. By the way: Derrida thinks this characteristic of the archive and proof of Freud’s destructive principle of the death wish. 15. In: Mille plateaux, Gilles Deleuze en Felix Guattari, 1980 p. 88.


Profile for Annelys de Vet

Temporary Museum Guide 2006  

Temporary Museum Guide for the yearly side program of the Amsterdam art fair.

Temporary Museum Guide 2006  

Temporary Museum Guide for the yearly side program of the Amsterdam art fair.

Profile for annelys