Anne and Patrick Poirier

Anne and Patrick Poirier’s work first became known in the early ’70s as “preservation of evidence.” This retrospective, some twenty years later, was well-situated for two reasons: Vienna is a “historical” city, reflecting the glitter and decline of a previous era; secondly, the Palais Liechtenstein, where the museum is housed, is a very difficult space in which to present contemporary art. Ostia Antica, 1971–72, was presented at the opening exhibition of the museum, and in this show it received special placement. It stood alone in a large banquet hall whose ceiling is decorated with a fresco by Andrea Pozzo that compares Hercules’ deeds to those of the house of Liechtenstein The Poiriers’ construction and the room’s architecture engage in a dialogue riddled with fundamental paradoxes that are central to later work. Under the title of “Mnemosyne,” 1991, the artists presented the archives of a fictional archaeologist and the designs of an imaginary architect. These are two opposing positions. While the archaeologist works empirically in order to reconstruct the past, the architect has visions based on the archaeologist’s finds.

These two positions are reflected in the space itself: adapted in 1979 for the Ludwig Collection as well as for the Hahn Collection this Baroque palace has never really functioned well as a museum. Memoria Artificiosa (Artificial memory, 1990) also had a central role in this exhibition. On top of a pedestal lay the top of a human skull into which an architectural model had been placed. It is the model of an imaginary theater that contains three connected rooms in its center. They are the theater of memory, the theater of dreams, and the theater of forgetting.

As Günter Metken points out in his catalogue essay, memory is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. “The cult of memory is taking on an inflationary character.” But isn’t an entire culture being dismantled in front of our eyes in Yugoslavia? Aren’t certain historic buildings and libraries being deliberately destroyed? Hasn’t an almost universal ideology collapsed? And aren’t they building in Las Vegas a perfectly organized past? It is completely air-conditioned, and you don’t have to fear the “Red Khymers” as in Angkor or the Islamic fundamentalists as in Egypt.

What do these speculations serve, the Poiriers ask in Journal de l’archeologue-architecte, a publication accompanying the exhibition. “Can they contribute to the development and understanding of our work? I don’t know. These are questions that I ask as night approaches. My goal is neither to explain nor to justify. My goal is to understand something that after twenty years of work has remained a mystery. Why are we on this earth? What purpose does art serve if it doesn’t ask this question in one way or the other?”

Peter Nesweda

Translated from the German by Charles V. Miller.