Going Extinct: Staying with the Trouble of the Archive

Going Extinct: Staying with the Trouble of the Archive is a performance installation that enfolds the viewer in an uncanny parody–a darkly fantastical, natural history exhibition about intergalactic, humanoid creatures from the bottom of the sea that are about to become extinct.

 

The installation attempts to employ some of the typical elements of museum displays, such as detailed descriptive labels and carefully placed arrangements, but seeks to undermine their authority. The exhibit brings in some of the wonder and mystery of curiosity cabinets—precursors of museums—while unfolding an allegory of colonization that is critical of systems of classification and the hierarchies of injustice they enforce. The installation includes an excess of trash artifacts from the imagined civilization—all of which have been modified, made, or recycled by nadahada–as well as a live diorama of “two of the last remaining creature specimens,” housed in a circus tent.

 

While the exhibition stands on its own, it is meant to be experienced as a guided tour. The Sumerian goddess Ishtar acts as docent and spirit guide, taking visitors on a journey through the seven gates of the underworld, each of which is a separate section of the exhibition. Meanwhile, the guard tries, but fails, to keep order in the gallery. Upon entering the underworld, the creatures perform a “non-reproductive mating dance” ritual for viewers, a kind of multispecies drag striptease, in which the stripped garments become animated puppetry throughout the dance.

The exhibition's subtitle, “staying with the trouble,” comes from Donna Haraway, as the term she uses for a transdisciplinary practice of multispecies responsibility. We added “of the archive” in a nod to Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever (1995), in which the trouble de l’archive stems from the mal d’archive (archive fever), a sickness and a passion. "Trouble" here in French—meaning murkiness and a disorder—makes an untranslatable idiom into English, “to recall at least that the archive always holds a problem for translation.” And as the archive is not a question of the past, but of the future, it is a promise that performatively guarantees a futurity that relies upon succession. To stay with the trouble de l’archive would be to symbiotically make coalitions through affinities by attending to difference precisely through the gaps of the archive, the repression encrypted within it, that which does not get inscribed and gets lost in translation—the other that puts time out of joint. What is referred to as “art”—or at least the kind that we want to be involved in—while it, too, is a translation, resides in these gaps of unknowability, as a translation that does not presume to know.

Installation View

 

At Gallatin Galleries at NYU, 2018