The project “Conserved Memories” set itself the task of developing artistic methods, for the purpose of analysing the concept of “collective memory” through the practise of a permanent, and also visual, negotiation of “doing memory”.
Three interconnected levels were worked on – the practise of individual memory (Friedemann Derschmidt), the practise of the enactment of collective family memory (Friedemann Derschmidt) and different associations of the civil society (Tal Adler/Karin Schneider), and the practise of national enactment in the framework of museum collections (Tal Adler/Niko Wahl/Anna Szöke). We were able to show that these levels are mutually dependent, and that infect this is the case up to current infiltration of normative effective situations. The researchers involved in this project took on board different ‘cases‘, whereby the mutual point of overlap was the case of Austria´s politics of history and memory, as a former Nazi perpetrator state. The subject of memory appeared to be particularly ambivalent in this case, as Austria has officially presented itself, for a long period of time, as the “first victim”, and was therefore particularly productive in producing a “collective non memory”. How and in which places this narrative is continually challenged and reconfigured was one of the questions addressed by “Conserved Memories”.
Along the guidelines of the PEEK, the focus was placed on the development of a set of art- based methods. This was designed and at the same time tested out in various contexts (exhibitions, participatory workshops), whereby the leading question was whether it would be helpful to generate a different way of narrating, a responsible way of speaking, or a different way to commemorate, and therefore a new form of memory configuration. This method set related to the generation of the recounting of memories (oral history), and the possibility of presenting them, i.e., communicating them.
These methodical processes are to be seen in the framework of curatorial research about the possibilities and limits of what can be shown, which in turn forms the substantial basis debate of the format historical collection in museums. One focus of the research lies in the problematic facets of collections, of which an example was the human skull collection in Vienna’s Natural History Museum. A new photographic presentation (by Tal Adler) of this collection, acting as a meta-archive, should initiate the discussion about how to approach the subject of human remains in museums.
Inspite of the binding factor, connecting the different levels of the project turned out to be extremely challenging. There were a large number of contact persons and responsible persons, with whom it was necessary to negotiate the conditions for the respective projects, to fix them, and to carry them out. Additionally, there were often times where spontaneous changes had to be made to the plans. In this sense, it was precisely the processes, which didn’t work out, that generated interesting insights and therefore it can be concluded that the project´s objectives were carried out successfully. The entire process has also provided us with ample material for further investigation and discussions. In a fundamental sense, the outcome of the project has been to outline the principles of arts based research on the theme of the culture of memory.