Brittle shards of wall enshrined in vitrines mix with a colorful, contemporary take on Arabic illuminated manuscripts. There are timeworn chess pieces and mirrors too. Time seems to ping-pong between and around these objects: carrying them from the past into the future, pausing in the present, and back again.
Always there is anticipation. Time is a marker and a vehicle for what is exhibited in Fragments From Our Beautiful Future: it is sliced up, cobbled back together again, rendered playful and less precious—or, conversely, monumentalized. If anything, time is activated in such a way to remind us that all collections, and ultimately all exhibitions, amass and stretch time. By showing Steve Sabella’s 38 Days of Re-Collection (2014) and Rebecca Raue’s Kalila wa Dimna series (2017) together with objects from the renowned Bumiller Collection of Islamic Art—11th-century Persian chess pieces and 17th-century mirrors, in this case—the exhibition is as much about the politics of collecting as it is about collecting as an artistic strategy. Indeed, the latter is not only a gesture that catalogues and pre- serves cultural heritage from the past, but one that is generative and produces imaginaries for the future as well. Both Sabella’s and Raue’s projects, though very different in aesthetics and approach, can be viewed as rooted in the act of collecting. It is an accumulative act that, as the artists show through their respective works, is always one that is coming into being and is incomplete. An act that suggests the whole to be more than just the sum of its parts, and therefore pits the individual piece against the larger entity that is the collection. It is perhaps an apt societal meta- phor for how to address the position of the individual vis-à-vis the collective, in terms of narrating memory, history and demonstrating agency in the state of the future.
At the heart of Fragments from Our Beautiful Future lies not only a complication of who the “we” is in our beautiful future, but also who holds ownership over the future’s fragments. Collections, every collector or conservationist should remind us, are never innocent. Whether subject to institutional curatorial policy, the obsessional desire of a collector, the market’s logic, or, more grimly, the history of lucrative spoils result- ing from war and empire, collections can be seen as ephemeral homes for displaced objects. It is through the lens of temporal and geographical displacement, the meaningful confusions and transformations it creates in the work of Sabella and Raue, that I wish to read this exhibition.