Reservoir, a collection for and by the MM-U

Clementine Deliss, June 2021

1. Introduction:
As the expression of initiate, subjective and encoded knowledge, backstage communication between artists is similar to shorthand code with existential, conceptual, and political indicators that represent dialogical meeting points along the road of production. This specific language, which is spoken by and for artists and their associates, is hard to classify or market. It is ephemeral, dissolving when the work enters the wider framework of public dissemination and evaluation. Critics may seek to restore the initial entry point of an art piece, but the resolution and presence of the final representation may intentionally obscure the original trajectory.

If artists develop a form of implicit communication between each other, beyond the glare of the media and wider public, then this exchange based on conceptual intimacy, when curated, necessitates a vector that will carry over their fragile, codified references. Such a curatorial vector need not be permanent. In fact, it is more likely to discourage consensus and be disturbingly dysfunctional regarding boards, schedules and sources of income, such as grants. It is not intended to compete or replace either the artwork or the exhibition, but to act as a bypass. The transducer that becomes operational here must be set apart from the main body of an artist’s work.

2. Reservoir – a library and collection of prototypes:
Reservoir (working title) builds on the concept of the artist and writer’s ‘organ’, extending the metabolic nature of experimental work to a larger entity: a plant, or generator, in the sense of a complex energy base. As a transforming source of liquid, moving knowledge, Reservoir is qualified directly by the response and input it receives from artists, architects, writers, composers, theoreticians, lawyers, designers, and associated students. Reservoir is polymathic, transdisciplinary and transcultural, assembling several language forms, contrasting media, and combining both cultural specificities and disciplines. This heterodox approach is less about classifying information or an archival procedure than about a collective work of contemporary communication between its users.

Emphasising privacy and conceptual intimacy in the generation of new ideas and representations, each ‘guest collector’ or ‘librarian’ is invited to propose their own extension to this resource. Input can be resolved through the donation of a work (edition), the introduction of another person or source, or something else, such as a recording, a set of blueprints, or research notes. Significant within a global context, Reservoir enables a strategy to be developed for the exchange of different currencies and forms of intellectual property in contemporary aesthetic practice. Reservoir encourages the reappraisal of personalised taxonomies and creative searches that are tactile, intersubjective and incommensurable. The potential of Reservoir is to invigorate the vision of a collection as a living resource and provide an alternative set of values that can constitute the fundament for a new form of ‘research station’ (MM-U) with outposts in different locations, points in a chain of production that connect people together, that speak of shared investment and lead towards a new kind of institution for artists, researchers, and independent producers.

3. Reservoir – contents:
As energy source, Reservoir can contain different formats including video, film, digital media, vinyl, print, photography, and various agent-objects. Several cataloguing systems will be used as proposed by its artist editors, that crossover and clash specialist forms of knowledge. The contents or ‘spine’ of Reservoir will be developed initially through members of the MM-U. However, it might be interesting to extend this to include prototype works provided by a wider network of trusted interlocutors, each one identified by a member of the MM-U.

4. Possession vs. Ownership:
Key to this ‘donation’ is the relationship of possession vs. ownership, which needs to be legally worked out. In this sense, the prototype is virtual capital, yet still capable of exploitation – in the best sense of the word – thereby generating a cycle of new inputs and outputs. Perhaps Reservoir can be launched in a secondary format, as an edition or facsimile to enable a wider public to engage with a collective artists’ library? It might challenge the conception of an original authored work by asking artists to produce variations of their contribution, not dissimilar to the dub plates of Jamaican recording studios that qualified one work into several versions, distinctive in their individual formulations yet all connected through a matrix of riffs, baselines or lyrics.

Our most tangible example is the action that BLESS performed during the Bureau d’Esprit. What if they had actually gifted their selection of historical prototypes to the MM-U Reservoir? Not to us individually, but to our common project? What would this act imply in terms of possession and ownership? How might this gift actually reflect the passionate model that BLESS itself seeks to nurture through their work?

Further, by translocating these prototypes from the BLESS archive to the guardianship and care of another collection, might we be able to suspend the power and capital of ‘ownership’ (as with the Potlatch)? Could this gift become the transducer for a dynamic, pro-active understanding of the archive, one that is not only post-coronial (Matthias) but, significantly, decolonial? In other words, a temporary ‘holding’ that releases one from the insidious technologies of the colonial archive that Ariella Azoulay speaks about and that permeate all our institutions: from museums to universities and more.

What would be lost through this process? Might BLESS be in danger of fragmenting their specific history, breaking up their combined trajectory, giving away clues, code, and initiate knowledge? Or, on the contrary, would they be building a different, dialogical and polysemic archive?

If we engaged in this act of radical generosity, we would be building a reservoir of remarkable virtue. Because, as BLESS have said, all prototypes can be re-edited and re-launched. Perhaps, the energy source, the ‘magic’ that actually holds our communal project together is less the prospect of future re-editions (although this is great), than this initial and very fragile investment. Artefacts, images, words, references etc, would collected in an unfinished state. Henrike’s NS doll’s house is a good example.

Such a Reservoir asks each of us to relinquish an organ that signifies the past embodiment of our individual ingenuity. This is, in and of itself, ‘unheimlich’: for we try to hold onto these things, our prototypes, as if they were magic effigies. They signify the realization – even the proof – of our ability to communicate with others. A collection made up from a set of such organs would be metabolic. It would emanate the vitality of initial desire and thereby become divinatory for others.