PDF file, 7.8mb, 108 pages
Courtesy the Artist
One of the guiding principles of the Pompeii Commitment programme is the idea that archaeology and contemporary art share a methodology which – even in recovering the past – is always grounded in the present and concerning the future. Digging through the archaeological layers of a city “frozen in time” for many centuries, one may find that Pompeian materials are anything but static. Their generative and re-generative potential is reflected in their transformative value as palimpsests, embodied hypotheses, storytelling creations which speak of their present context as much as they belong to an entangled past. Joining in this spirit, Prem Krishnamurthy takes the invitation to participate in Pompeii Commitment as a chance to develop a personal enquiry digging into the multiple layers that constitute one of the most seminal bodies of research, writing, and artistic production in his polymathic practice – his experimental, ever-changing, electronic book P!DF, first officially published in September 2017. Whilst consistent in format (a PDF document) and delivery (a “written spoken-word event”, in my words), P!DF continued to reinvent itself and its content over the years up to its most recent public release a year ago, on 29 March 2020, as an essay-exhibition-performance-lecture. In this way, the publication organically expands and retracts its purpose and size as a “self-help manual, a pedagogical workbook, a mindfulness kit, and a speculative playbook”, to borrow Krishnamurthy’s words. Akin to a book of books – or perhaps a PDF of PDFs – Krishnamurthy’s contribution to Pompeii Commitment, titled Pompeii!, opens a framework to digress, visualise and reflect through progressive moments and contiguous networks which altogether trace an evolving, non-linear trajectory of P!DF from 2017 to this day. As “the close of one form can also represent the beginning of another”, Pompeii! lets go of what P!DF once was in order to see what it might still become. In contrast with the most common contemporary understanding of “catastrophe” as a terrible event (in itself evocative of the volcanic eruption which destroyed/preserved Pompeii in 79 A.D.), Krishnamurthy cites artist Femke Herregraven to revive the original etymology of this word pointing to a “sudden turn”, i.e. a transformation, and ties this to the belief there may be a value to forgetting what we already know. Hyper-linking to an open access Google Drive repository – a cloud-based storage in itself synonymous with multi-user editable archiving – Pompeii! releases all of the past published parts of P!DF into the world as fragments, inviting the public to participate and leave comments. To be able to collectively dig deep into the former versions of a work is a rare opportunity, even more so is to be participants in the book’s course. The forty-eight PDFs are carefully labelled chronologically, displaying the most recently written pieces at the top. Krishnamurthy’s filing system is not only the expression of good archival practise that prioritises accessibility and content legibility – which is not be mistaken for a belief in perfect preservation – it also inherently values and remarks upon the visibility of each single stratum within the whole, intuitively reminding us of how accustomed we are to engaging with top (VS buried) layers and points of arrival (VS departure), often assuming or expecting the latest, so-called final, version of something to be a fixed, discrete, inert item. Pompeii! proposes to understand design and art-making as the shaping of things that are themselves always in a state of transformation, and thus not to be entrusted solely to archives – but rather, paraphrasing Tyson Yunkaporta via Krishnamurthy, to collective relationships and deep intergenerational connections. SB
Home page image: Prem Krishnamurthy, Pompeii!, 2021. Courtesy the Artist
Prem Krishnamurthy (United States, 1977) is based in Berlin and New York. His work across media explores the transformative potential of art and design by experimenting with presentational strategies, performative modes, and ways of communing. He currently directs Wkshps, a multidisciplinary design consultancy; is artistic director of FRONT International 2022, titled Oh, Gods of Dust and Rainbows, the Cleveland Triennial of Contemporary Art; and organises Commune, an emergent workshop that practices artistic tools for social transformation. In March 2020, he started a live, collaborative, virtual event series called Present! as part of the digital artist-led space Home Cooking. Notable past exhibitions and programs include the 13th A.I.R. Biennial: let’s try listening again, New York (2019); Fikra Graphic Design Biennial 01: Ministry of Graphic Design, Sharjah (2018); Masterpieces & Curiosities: Elaine Lustig Cohen, Jewish Museum, New York (2018); P!CKER, Stanley Picker Gallery at Kingston University London (2017–2018); Design & Empire [working title], Liverpool Biennial (2017); Brian O’Doherty: Speaking in Lines, Simone Subal Gallery, New York (2017); Creative Operational Solutions, Para Site, Hong Kong (2016); and DIS-PLAY / RE-PLAY, Austrian Cultural Forum, New York (2016). From 2012–2017, Krishnamurthy was founder and curator of P!, the critically-acclaimed “Mom-and-Pop-Kunsthalle” in New York’s Chinatown, which mounted over forty on- and offsite exhibitions including the first US solo presentations of artists including Céline Condorelli, Karel Martens, Maryam Jafri, Michal Helfman, Société Réaliste, and Wong Kit Yi. From 2004–2017, Krishnamurthy was a founding principal of the design studio Project Projects in New York. He received the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Communications Design in 2015 and KW Institute for Contemporary Art’s “A Year With…” residency fellowship in 2018. His professional papers were acquired by Bard College’s Center for Curatorial Studies in 2019.