Leaking Lands
A video Installation by Ofri Cnaani

This is a story that begins with an error. In six short hours in September of 2018 a disastrous fire brought an end to two centuries’ worth of treasures held in Brazil’s national museum. Only a handful of artifacts of the 20 million items that were housed at the museum survived the fire. In the age of algorithmic reproduction, it feels almost unimaginable that so many valuable objects were simply wiped off the face of the earth without leaving any sort of digital trace. Among the digital remains there is a sporadic collection that was contributed by users via WikiCommons and includes photos of the collection as captured by visitors on their personal devices. The digital files are accompanied by a full virtual tour, a product of Google Arts & Culture, where one can easily visit the no-longer existing museum. The artist traces the collection’s aftermath to show how the removal of the object leaves behind the multiplicity of its conditions. Cnaani's work proposes that although the museum’s objects no longer operate within their inherited institutional orders or colonial indexes, some of their constitutions, temperaments, and affordances are “dragged” with them from their original matter to the digital and information realm. Residues are never clean. They cannot be easily turned into data. They fail to complete a simple transfer from analogue to digital, or from material to immaterial form. The residues form an ecology of leftovers that habituate the space in-between eras and orders. Museums’ residues don’t have form, like objects. They are the surplus of affects, tools, and affordances that arrive with the objects. They are active formations.

‘Leaking Lands’ is video installation that acts like a ‘digital séance’ in three parts. On one screen, Cnaani uses the virtual tour to wander around the spectral museum, guided by conversations with several of the institution’s caretakers who were looking after its collection and its publics. On the second screen, the artist uses the hybrid collection to look at ways data systems intermingled and refused the canonic institutional order and its indexing system, industry standards, and the forms of governing these orders represent. Finally, the third screen, brings to life a collaboration between the artist and dance-maker Luciana Achugar (Uraguay). Achugar's 'pleasure practice' is a healing practice that decivillizes the body, a storage space of transgenerational trauma, through pleasure. Cnaani subjects 3D models ofobjects from the collection to a methodology of movement. Following a similar speculative methodology, objects can no longer be ‘known’ or ‘utilized’ to a specific set of indexing or ‘put to work for a specific ideology’.

The project takes this saga, which presents a tension between National Colonialism and Late-Capitalist digital Colonialism, as an invitation to think on the new species of spaces that emerge in this current techno-political environment: where vertical institutional hierarchies and horizontal network entangle in a new political mesh. The virtual space allows the artist to explore movement without a body and to engage with the collection on the new nexus of body and nobody. It provides a disorientating experience of competing for physical and memorable realisms of locations within this shifting sense of reality.