Spirals: Art, Archives and the Curatorial between Cape Town and Berlin

The Spirals virtual seminar series throws ideas of art, archive and the curatorial into flux by resituating them in a series of exchanges between Cape Town and Berlin. Curated by the Junior Research Fellow, Dr Duane Jethro, with the generous assistance of Nina Liebenberg, the series circulates ideas about art practise and archival engagement of all kinds between these two lively, dynamic yet also very different global north and global south settings. We bring researchers, scholars, artists and curators based in Berlin into a conversation with our colleagues at the CCA and the University of Cape Town in a themed virtual format

Casting our ideas about art and archive into virtual flux, our conversations surface points of alignment, divergence and patterns of circulation around shared  topics. Among other urgent questions, the series seeks to provoke discussion around the nature of archive, archival access and representation; the place of, and human emplacement in, theories of the non-human and nature; modes of engaging colonial legacies in archival formations; disciplines and disciplinary disobedience. Moving around, into and outwards of a crucial set of questions about archive and the curatorial, these conversations serve as a hub for intellectually orbiting through  respective fields from different vantage points, and, in the process, decentering knowledge exchange and building constellations for future collaboration. 

Our guest speakers are given 20 minutes to present some of their work while researchers and practitioners from the Centre for Curating the Archive have 10 minutes to comment and raise questions. Thereafter we open up for discussion and exchange. Video recordings are made available for each session. Just click on the link at the very bottom of the session description page.

If you would like to subscribe to the series, please email Dr Duane Jethro (duane.jethro@uct.ac.za).




26 November 2021

This session considers the question of 'Weaving', as an open-ended term referring to the practise of tying together, in this case histories as materialised in textiles that are incorporated into museum and heritage settings. We host Magdalena Buchczyk, in a talk titled, 'Curated Textiles' which explores how curatorial knowledge inflects material practice. Focusing on the turbulent history of Eastern European textiles from a Berlin museum, the session investigates how knowledge production about textile culture is entwined with history, politics, art practice, curatorial storytelling, and the making of places and people in Europe. This raises wider questions about textiles as curated objects, not only in the space of the museum or archive, but also at the different stages of their making.

Lebogang Mokwena, Phd candidate at The New School for Social Research, New York, acts as the discussant for this session. 





29 October 2021

Nnenna Onuoha is a Ghanaian-Nigerian researcher and artist based in Berlin. Her films and videos centre Afrodiasporic voices to explore monumental silences surrounding the histories and afterlives of colonialism across West Africa, Europe and the US, asking: how do we remember, which pasts do we choose to perform and why? Her talk, 'Filming Ghosts, Silences and Hidden Things', draws examples from past experiences, particularly the making of the short film “Rosenfelde” during her recent residency with Dekoloniale Berlin, and focuses on turning to ghosts and speculation in spaces where the past cannot directly be engaged due to outright denial or other bureaucratic obstacles.  

The discussant for the sesssion, Dylan Valley, is filmmaker and media studies scholaras well as a lecturer in the Centre for Film and Media Studies at the University of Cape Town. 







17 September 2021
Codifying Desire

In this session we host Hannes Hacke, research associate and curator at the interdisciplinary Research Center for the Cultural History of Sexuality at Humboldt-University, Berlin. His talk is titled 'Codifying Desire: Documenting and Exhibiting Sexuality'.

Hacke's doctoral research at the Centre for Anthropological Research on Museums and Heritage focuses on the history and impact of LGBTIQ history exhibitions in Berlin. He is also the co-founder of the network Museen Queeren Berlin and of Queersearch, the umbrella organization of the queer archives, libraries and collections in the German-speaking world.







30 July 2021
Colour, Camera, Colonialism

Dr Hannouch’s talk is titled, Gustav Fritsch ca. 1900: Three-Color Photography, Nature, & Colonial Science. In it, she traces German anthropologist and racial hygienist Gustav Fritsch's (1832-1927) research on color, its complex relationship to colonial sciences, and the notion of Nature ca. 1900.  Fritsch has a complex legacy as an anthropologist, racial hygienist and for his early use of photography as a scientific tool. He has a strong South African connection, having visited in the 1860’s and producing important, but now also controversial portraits of important political figures on Robben Island and indigenous people across South Africa during a period of colonial domination. The talk, dealing with a later period of his work, explores relationships between histories of science, human anatomy, technology, and concepts of nature will be of wide interest to the South African scholarly community.






25 June 2021
Colour Unearthed

In her talk, On the Colonial Histories of Colour,  Dr Martins reflects on the fascinating series of essays exploring the colonial histories that attach to a set of vegetal and mineral based colours she is currently writing for Futuress Magazine. 

The session explores what the unearthing of the problematic and enduring histories of extraction and exploitation that certain colours reference, and their continued deployment as shades and palettes in a variety of creative media, may mean for thinking about colour as archival trace, art histories as material histories in the broad sense and the potential of transdisciplinary aesthetic research today.







28 May 2021
Talya Lubinsky, a South African artist currently based in Berlin, discusses her exhibition, Marble Dust (2020), as a way of considering the politics and poetics of disintegration and decay in reconfiguring our approaches to heritage management. The exhibition focuses on a particular cemetery archive in Mamelodi, South Africa, as a node for investigating what is at stake when the ostensible durability of stone memorials is placed in tension with the ephemerality of disintegrating paper, and indeed, disintegrating bones. Processes of decay and disintegration are framed not as loss, but as productive material transformation. Thinking through the limits and potentials of what Caitlin De Silvey calls ‘post-preservation’ (2017), Lubinsky explores the ontologies of the material qualities of commemorative forms and in so doing, complicates relationships between living and dead, nature and culture, absence and presence.







30 April 2021
Metadata Politics

For the fifth Spirals session, we host Dr Rebecca Kahn. Her talk, based on a soon-to-be-published article, is titled Man, Woman, Other. It is concerned with the ethics and politics of museum metadata. This is not always immediately evident in museum collections, although arguably every object in a museum accumulates embedded and encoded politics at each phase of its journey into the collection, and after. Digitisation can expose these politics, as ever-larger virtual infrastructures promise interconnected and interlinked access to heritage collections online. On the one hand, these technologies have the potential to reunite scattered collections, democratise access and reveal hidden narratives. On the other, they also risk adding complicated, outdated and inaccurate metadata into the data ecosystem, without providing corresponding contextual information.







26 March 2021
Black Feminism, the Scholarly and the Curatorial

In this conversation we engage with the black feminist intellectual enterprise and how Dr Edna Bonhomme’s work on health and healing expands and shifts through thinking in and with the curatorial. Our point of departure is a question that sits centrally in her practise, what makes people, and black folk especially, sick? Where do science and art meet in interrogating notions of health? What possibilities for healing can we find in the curatorial? 

Her talk titled, Imperial Fevers, Invisible Lives, explores how  epidemics aren’t just about the bacteria and viruses that coexist with us, but  reflect the social divisions that push some people to the margins of society. Whether it is the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black American communities or the high incidence of maternal mortality for Black people, we have to reckon with how histories and legacies of inequality create the phenomenon of premature death. This talk examines these inequalities as it relates to sexual and reproductive health of Black women in the United States and beyond.






26 February 2021
Data, Decoloniality and Digital Affordances

This session explores intersections between knowledge production, gathering and storage in digital space and practises of representation and artistic engagement. We consider the liberatory potential of digital technology and data practises in and for heritage, archive and museum settings; what decolonial artistic engagement in digital and virtual space can look like; think through the nature of the digital object and its assumed but also undiscovered affordances; and critically consider the trappings of digital arts and archival practise. 







27 November 2020
Nature(s), Archive and Anthropology

The Nature(s), Archive and Anthropology Spirals talk asks, what is nature and where is the natural located in systems of classification and representation? We engage with the archival construction, representation and incorporation of nature. We are interested in its ordering and systematisation in books, museum collections and databases and seek to raise questions about the work of representational practises, translation, classification and the (archival) construction of the natural world. What anthropological methods can be employed for interrogating data formations of the natural world, but also what artistic methods can be developed for creatively engaging with, disrupting or even reorganising some of these structures?







30 October 2020
Archival Ethics and Possibilities of Representation

In this first Spirals series session we approach the challenging but rich question of Archival Ethics and Possibilities of Representation. Gathered under the auspices of various colonial projects, or collected for unethical scientific projects, natural specimens, objects and human remains held in heritage institutions, hospitals and universities in Europe present an extraordinary set of scholarly and ethical problems of management, return, and restitution. Inscribed by self-evident traces of ownership and origin, and subject to claims for return, these assemblages are often also marked by broken official provenance, incorporation and classification, that trouble easy modes of addressing them, deaccession and return.
How can we approach some of the urgent questions posed by contentious collections? How do we address the violence of museological incorporation and display of human remains as anatomical specimens specifically? What artistic strategies can we mobilise to reformulate some of the challenging ethical questions that objects such as these provoke in museum and heritage settings? And what types of language, terms and concepts can we summon up as modes of ethically addressing these difficult collections and recover different ways of understanding their status as sensitive objects of knowledge?