A Speculative Impulse: Art Transgressing the Archive

The archive is a problematic site of investigation. It preserves history and functions as collective memory, yet it systematically excludes voices and narratives. It is framed as objective, yet it is constraining and biased. It protects fragments of the past, yet it often perpetuates violence against peoples and forms of knowledge.

A Speculative Impulse: Art Transgressing the Archive, examines the work of three contemporary artists who use speculative strategies to defy and transcend the logics of archives. Echoing what Saidiya Hartman has described as “working with and against the archive," the U.S.-based artists Firelei Báez, Gala Porras-Kim, and Stephanie Syjuco, probe the authority of the archive and seek to interrupt its hegemony. Born in the former Spanish colonies of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, and the Philippines, respectively, and working with archival materials housed in different types of cultural institutions—including maps in historical repositories, archeological objects in museum collections and ethnographic photographs in national archives—their practices devise strategies intended to disrupt, undermine, or neutralize archival violence.

The exhibition's title is a reference to “An Archival Impulse" (2004), a text by Hal Foster that set the tone for what would become known as the “archival turn" in contemporary art. This discourse identified a trend wherein artists appropriated and interrogated archival structures and materials. Responding to this framework, this exhibition probes a distinct impulse at play: one in which artists mobilize speculation to perform decolonial interventions.

Speculation, the activity of guessing possible answers to a question without having enough information to be certain, is an action born out of a lack that refuses to accept its condition and theorizes despite insufficient evidence. In relation to the archive, a site pervaded by omissions, it is a form of resistance, an act of hope, and an appeal to all that has been left out of the record.

Turning to speculation both as a creative strategy and a mode of defiance, the work of Báez, Porras-Kim and Syjuco, reveals their objects' and subjects' capacity to resist and ultimately exceed the archive's hegemony. Together, their artistic projects begin to carve a path towards a speculative liberation.

Carlota Ortiz Monasterio is a curator and art historian from Mexico City. Her research focuses on theories of the archive, narrative strategies and practices that explore notions of identity, diaspora and embodied knowledge in relation to Latin America and the Caribbean. She received a BA in Art History from Universidad Iberoamericana and is a 2023 MODA Curates Fellow.