Knowledge means for one to struggle with a multitude of ghosts and to look at the living beings as if they were ghosts, Aby Warburg.
We are used to considering art history as a discipline; a pre-fixed and encyclopaedic body of knowledge “about art”, through its different ages, styles and civilizations. But what if art history was an ocean of bodies, faces, names, blood, tears, celebrations, crimes, ecstasy and disgust, remembrances and forgetfulness; where one is doomed to constant reorientations, detours and preposterous equations. Just as the German “historian of images” Aby Warburg (1866-1929) first and foremost suggested with his 1926-1929 project of the Mnemosyne Atlas. A set of 78 visual plates made of black and white artwork reproductions, grouped into “constellations” and gathered at Hamburg University. The complexity and perceptiveness of Warburg’s constellations and his burning passion for multiplying them referred to a scientific project: to create a tool for mobility and orientation between “all the world’s visual memory”, anticipating our digital screen age and prosthesis-memory condition. Subject to heavy schizophrenic symptoms, Warburg approached the atlas as a somehow never-ending process. The sea of images through which he literally navigated, in a pre-digital era, thrown him into violent inner demons but allowed to exorcise these demons at the same time.
In 1933, four years after Warburg passed away, when under the threat of Nazism his archives had to be transferred to London where they remain to this day at the Warburg Institute, there were 60 000 books from all disciplines of humanities and sciences and 25 000 artwork reproductions.
In 2018, while Aby Warburg makes his very first steps in Iran, it seems that we are more than ever subjected to the Mnemosyne syndrome, lost in the open-ended memory of on-line global images. Three Iranian artists from the diaspora come together at Ab-Anbar gallery to translate her own attitude in regard to the legacies of the Mnemosyne Atlas (between film and installation works). Sima Khatami with the IMMERSION syndrome, Fari Shams with the TRANSMISSION syndrome and Mitra Farahani with the CONFESSION syndrome. They don’t approach art history neither as a physical site of conservation nor a virtual space out of time, but as a lively state for mind revolution, here and now.
Mitra Farahani, David with the Head of Goliath n°45, 2014
Sima Khatami, Atlas of Erasures, 2009- (work-in-progress)
Fari Shams, The Concise Companion to Art History arranged by Ingo Müller and Gerd Schneider (2018)
Thanks to the Warburg Institute, London and to Giovanni Careri, Ecole des Hautes en Sciences Sociales, Paris.