Arbeit am Gedächtnis
Transforming Archives

Main programme May – November 2021

The Akademie der Künste, as one of Europe’s oldest cultural institutions, is predestined to pose the question of cultural memory. With its archives, its members and its institutional history, it is continually engaged in “memory work”. The exploration of issues of exile and persecution, of the destruction and survival of cultural heritage, is an integral part of its institutional DNA. This applies equally to the artistically productive beginnings of democracy and modernity in Germany, the history of enforced conformity, the experience of nationalistic and anti-Semitic violence and the Shoah. It also applies to the Cold War and the divided history of the Academies in the East and West. And last but not least, it applies to the newly formed society of the post-war period, shaped by countless migrations, at the threshold to the 21st century.

The Akademie der Künste’s 325th anniversary this year provides a fitting occasion to also reflect anew on its own institution as a place of memory storage. The driving force behind this project is not memory in itself, but rather its political and critical dimension. In these processes, contemporary art assumes a crucial role in the sense of generating presence and possibilities of transformation.

How and what a society remembers has becomes a key question at a time when self-perceptions are being re-negotiated and mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion are being questioned. This shows in a new presence of the archive in contemporary art. The artistic memory work positions itself against current examples of historical oblivion and a disturbing surge of revisionism through the strengthening of nationalistic, racist and anti-Semitic historical narratives. At the same time, it argues in favour of long-overdue strategies for decolonising and diversifying bodies of knowledge and ranges of experience. The memory of humanity, analogous to the memory of nature itself, becomes a question that is crucial for survival. Cultural diversity as a resource of social and sustainable life has become a fundamental issue for shaping the future. This makes accumulated memory institutions and archives the focus of critical reflection as well. As a manifestation of power, they are called into question in their production of a canon.

From May to November 2021 the programme „Arbeit am Gedächtnis – Transforming Archives“ examines the actuality of artistic engagement with memory stores and memory as artistic method.

In addition to a festival on the migration of memory in music and sound („Memories in Music“), dialogues on the memory of the city and the implications for monument preservation („Metamorphosen – Stadt zwischen Gedächtnis und Gewissen“), a performative conference on the decolonisation of knowledge and memory („Unexpected Lessons. Decolonizing Knowledge and Memory“) and other events, the spotlight will be on a large exhibition, which opens with 13 artistic positions and exemplary positions from the Akademie’s archives in June in the Akademie’s building at Pariser Platz.

The Akademie der Künste is funded by:

Federal Government Comissioner for Culture and the Media