Impresión de archivo: [re]coleccionando a Gordon Matta-Clark
El texto examina la tensa relación entre Gordon Matta-Clark, el artista entrenado como arquitecto, y su padre, el pintor surrealista Roberto Matta. Se argumenta que la arquitectura fue “impresa-grabada” –archivada– en Matta-Clark, no sólo por su padre, sino también por su impulso destructivo y la reinserción de su trabajo en la creación de su colección en el Canadian Centre for Architecture en Montreal en el 2002. El texto discute la idea sobre qué es “archivar” la dimensión personal de la arquitectura para Matta-Clark, y las implicaciones de coleccionar su trabajo en una institución dedicada a la arquitectura.
Palabras clave: archivo, Gordon Matta-Clark, archivo de arquitectura, colecciones de arquitectura, archivo y psicoanálisis, arte y arquitectura
Archival Impression: [Re]Collecting Gordon Matta-Clark
This article examines the contested relationship between the artist Gordon Matta-Clark, who was educated as an architect, and his father, the Surrealist painter Roberto Matta, with regard to architecture and the archive. It argues that architecture was impressed, archived in Matta-Clark not only by his father, but also by his destructive drive and the reinscription of his work in his collection at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal in 2002. It discusses what it means to archive Matta-Clark’s personal architectural dimension, in light of Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever, and to collect his work in an architecture-centric institution.
Keywords: archive, Gordon Matta-Clark, architectural archive, collecting architecture, archive and psychoanalysis, art and architecture
What the father gives to the son is at once a writing and its substrate. 4515N01
There are several accounts that discuss the psychological and paternal ties and tensions between Roberto Matta and Gordon Matta-Clark. Matta, as he was commonly known in his family circle, was a former architect who became a Surrealist artist after working for Le Corbusier in Paris. Educated in his native Chile, Matta was exposed to the principles of the broader Modern Movement in architecture but soon became disillusioned by them, shifting his “architectural” concerns into paintings. 4515N02 After meeting Anne Alpert (originally Anne Clarke and later Clark) in Paris at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in 1938, where both exhibited their work, they moved together to New York and, in 1943, the then-married couple had Gordon Matta (later Matta-Clark) and his twin brother, John Sebastian Matta. Only months after the birth of the twins, Matta left the family. This event began what has been described as a contested relationship between father and son(s). 4515N03 An account of the encounters between father and son will always be approximate and incomplete, but, as Pamela M. Lee suggests in the introductory chapter of her pioneering book Object to Be Destroyed, “Matta-Clark wrestled for the rest of his short life with a simultaneous denial of his father’s influence and a desire for his recognition.” 4515N04 But this influence and recognition is not only driven by the family relationship between them: it is a two-fold struggle. On the one hand, this father-son relationship went beyond the typical Oedipal complex that is directly informed by the nature of their paternal-filial bond. On the other, the fact that both were trained as architects prior to becoming artists adds a new layer of complexity to this bond. Spyros Papapetros claims that Matta was a critical figure for Matta-Clark’s formal architectural education, saying: “Architecture comes with the sanction of paternal authority and the benefaction of the father’s renowned architect friends; they and perhaps not the architecture school, represent, for Matta, Gordon’s real schooling in architecture.” 4515N05 Both Lee’s and Papapetros’s assertions seem to support the idea that Matta-Clark indeed had a two-fold struggle with his father—as his father and as an architect. With this, I would suggest that, in the production of Matta-Clark’s work, there is a psychological impression of his father, an inscription that is, on the one hand, a paternal weight, and on the other, an architectural weight. This psychologically-driven impression poses a series of questions not only for Matta-Clark’s production (which I will not necessarily address in this text), but also for how we consider his work — or what we inherit from it — as part of an archive, more specifically, as an “architectural archive,” that of the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal, where a collection of his “archive” has been held since 2002.
The complexity of Matta-Clark’s work lies in it being art and “[n]ot architectural in the strict sense,” 4515N06 realized and performed in multiple media and formats, made in part to disappear and informed by a short and apparently traumatic, yet joyful, life. This complexity allows us to question not only the formal and practical re-collection of his “documents” and “works,” but also to ask what it is that we are archiving when confronted by this ambivalent production condition. What does it mean to archive Matta-Clark? What is the role of an architectural institution — such as the CCA — in collecting the work of a figure who was initially ignored by architecture and was instead absorbed by the art world?
There are two particular distinctions that I would like to highlight when considering the questions posed above. First, the seemingly obvious challenge to archiving when we approach a body of work that was created with the variety of formats in which Matta-Clark worked, mostly in terms of those that were destined to be destroyed. This destructive material condition might present literal difficulties when archiving, mostly in physical terms, since many of these “disappearing” works were also registered and documented by visual and audiovisual media. However, different challenges arise when considering what the work is in relation to what it produces and what produced it — that is, what and where are the projects of Matta- Clark located? What drives their destructive nature? Second, I would suggest, following Anthony Vidler’s argument that Matta- Clark’s work was “a fundamentally architectural practice,” 4515N07 that it cannot be disconnected to the paternal-psychological bridge to his father and to architecture, and that this connection drives its destructive nature. Not only must we ask the question of how to archive a work that is a bridge between art and architecture, but also where the work is located, registered and consigned.
To address the strong presence of the psychological drive in the subject (Matta-Clark) and objects of concern (his work), this article discusses “archivization” as a process in Matta-Clark through a reading of Jacques Derrida’s notion of the impression and the discussion of the archive in his book Archive Fever. 4515N08 Derrida’s reading of Sigmund Freud’s “A Note Upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad’” and the latter’s explanation of the notions of impression, suppression and repression will drive the discussion of the archive and its locus, how these impressions may or may not be constituted in archival documents and, lastly, their role as part of the CCA collection.
To Archive: Consignation
In 2002, Jane Crawford, Matta-Clark’s widow and the director of the estate of Gordon Matta-Clark, “made an important decision: to put the archive on long-term deposit at the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) in Montreal in order to make it accessible.” 4515N09 This decision implied not just the transfer of a bulk of documents from one place to another, but a series of actions, both conceptual and practical, as to what this transaction was about. Rather than simply a reference to an event, this quote stresses the multilayered complexity of this operation. First, the decision makes evident an apparent need to act, the will to dispose of something already located somewhere else. Second, it assumes the existence of an archive, something that, by definition, contains (a collection) and is contained (in a place) and can be rearranged and replaced. This transfer also adjudicates to the archive a temporal dimension while being in a transitory state as a “long-term deposit.” That is, the archive would be able to be relocated, not just as a change in its geographical location, but also alluding to a certain capacity and ability to relocate itself, to find a new locus for itself in a different time than when it was conceived, as well as a different place, perhaps the place of architecture.
An archive is, in principle, the repository of a collection. It is a place, a container and both the act and the set of documents or artifacts arranged to shape it. For this to happen, there must exist first, as Derrida suggests, the idea of an origin, of a commencement, a place for consignation. 4515N10 This was, he argues after revisiting the etymological definition of the archive, a place, the arkheion, and a guardian figure, the archon. The story that is being told with this etymological explanation lays out the principle that the archive is not possible “without substrate nor without residence” and that it is in “this domiciliation, in this house arrest, that archives take place.” 4515N11 There must be first, following Derrida’s reconstruction of the notion of the archive, both the will and the place to give rise to it. I would like to propose, for the purpose of this text, and because of the strong twofold psychological connection between Matta and Matta-Clark, two parallel readings of what it means to archive with regard to Matta-Clark: both in terms of archiving his work, as well as what had been archived in him.
The first reading is derived from Derrida’s understanding of the archon and consignation, “’Consignation’ aims to coordinate a single corpus, in a system or a synchrony in which all the elements articulate the unity of an ideal configuration,” one that is also subject to the authority of someone. He continues, “The archontic principle of the archive is also a principle of consignation, that is, of gathering together.” 4515N12 Both concepts are contenders for the power of the archive, the driving force for achieving the status of the archive, the original moment, the commencement. In Matta-Clark, there is a clear moment in which this operation takes place: when his widow, Jane Crawford, who had both the legal and personal power and knowledge to gather his estate after his death, decided to put it together to save it from oblivion. With this action, one origin of the Matta-Clark archive was taking place, “[b]ecause the archive, if this word or this figure can be stabilized so as to take on signification, will never be either memory or anamnesis as spontaneous, alive and internal experience. On the contrary: the archive takes place at the place of original and structural breakdown of the said memory.” 4515N13 But what memory is being broken down in the case of Matta- Clark? Following Freud’s reflection on the death drive, Derrida suggests that “the death drive is above all ‘anarchivic’,” adding, “It will always have been archive-destroying by silent vocation.” 4515N14 This assertion regarding the death drive can be seen as not being far removed from Matta-Clark’s own destructive drive. A series of his own works reflect a certain non-negative form of violence or destruction as an operation of removing what is constructive or stable, such as the edifice of architecture. 4515N15 Yet I do not want to state that, because Matta-Clark’s work reproduces destruction, the remaining documents cannot be archived. Instead, I think this poses different, direct questions as to how to manage their documentation. The question remains as to what is archivable “of” or “in” his works in the broader sense: What produced them? What is it that makes the archive in Matta-Clark?
Before moving on, I would like to briefly present another moment of the archive pertinent to this initial reading of the consignation and collection by Crawford. The estate of Gordon Matta-Clark (represented by the gallerist and art dealer David Zwirner and directed by Jane Crawford and Jessamyn Fiore), although technically public by virtue of being an archive, was more private until almost two decades ago. People interested in the work of Gordon Matta-Clark needed to invade Jane Crawford’s privacy to consult the material, scholars visiting her to consult the collection were “[f]aced with a limited time in a private home, these researchers struggled with the daunting task of trying to understand the overlapping and interwoven puzzle of projects and ideas.” 4515N16 Although every account by historians or researchers is always enormously grateful to Crawford for her kindness while visiting her home, the status of the archive was not exactly that of a public place, but it indeed was the arkheion, the house guarded by the archon. It was in 2002 that there was a repetition, a re-origination when the collection was transferred to the CCA, also relocating the consignation. What has been already “archived,” that is, extracted from circulation, domiciled, was again being consigned to another locus. The CCA was going to take charge of clarifying the “overlapping and interwoven puzzle” of the material archived, as well as facilitating navigation through it. The material is now strictly categorized and organized and the exquisite facilities of the CCA provide the consultation space. This operation confirms the existence of an archive while insisting on a location and on a new beginning: “There is no archive without a place of consignation, without a technique of repetition, and without a certain exteriority. No archive without outside,” 4515N17 suggests Derrida. Moving Matta-Clark to a place with an exteriority implied casting, relocating, originating a new locus for it, a new impression. “Jane Crawford had made it clear that she wanted the archive to be presented to the public, not just preserved.” 4515N18 This statement clearly says that, this time, the archive should be made accessible to the public, perhaps also to be saved – again – from oblivion, or to be resignified by the new arkheion and the new archons. The CCA is doubtlessly a very different domicile and Crawford was well aware of this:
It was clear to Jane Crawford that the archive needed to be in an institution that would not merely care for the material, but expand the critical discourse on Matta-Clark, and this was precisely what the CCA sought to do. Described in its mission statement as being a new form of cultural institution to build public awareness of the role of architecture in society, promote scholarly research in the field, and stimulate innovation in design and practice, the CCA has as its guiding purpose to make comprehensive and integrated bodies of material available for advanced interdisciplinary research. 4515N19
The CCA is an institution devoted to the study of architecture and, with this new consignation, Matta-Clark was reinscribed in the realm of architecture as the CCA expanded their collection to include an apparently conflictive figure that operated on the margins of both institutionalized art and architecture. This reinsertion of Matta-Clark into the world of architecture, I would argue, is yet further evidence and a key reaffirmation of his ever-present consciousness within architecture that was ascribed and inscribed, impressed on him, by his father. This operation was a reenactment, a reanimation of his will to architecture, his own will to archive it.
One question follows this new consignation: what is contained as the “matter” of the archive that had been transferred? The Gordon Matta-Clark collection at the CCA is composed of “letters, notebooks, drawings, negatives, photographs, and clippings,” 4515N20 but also of films in multiple formats, reels, DVDs, old videocassettes, posters, books, address books and one artifact. It is arranged in series and sub-series. The series are categorized as follows:
- Gordon Matta-Clark’s Textual Records
- Anne Alpert’s Textual Records and Photographs
Gordon Matta-Clark’s Working Photographs
Gordon Matta-Clark’s Notebooks, Sketchbooks, Address Books and Artist’s Books
Gordon Matta-Clark’s Artwork
Gordon Matta-Clark’s Films and Videos, Gordon Matta-Clark Library, Gordon Matta-Clark’s Artefacts
Audio and Film Documentation on Gordon Matta-Clark
Documentation on the Family and Friends of Gordon Matta-Clark
The collection at the CCA is, in itself, a reconstruction – not merely a physical reconstruction, but also a discursive one. Documents are now part of a revised order, a new system for accessing (or not) 4515N21 the material that proposes a mixed reading of his work somewhere between a factual record and an artwork. The restrictions are not limited to consulting the documents, but also to their rights and means of reproduction:
The rights for all works are held by the Estate of Gordon Matta-Clark. Artists Rights Society (www.arsny.com) administers the reproduction rights for the artwork in the collection. The only works not considered artwork are the typewritten texts, and the books. All other works must be treated as if they are artwork and the Artists Rights Society must be contacted.
Terms governing use and reproduction:
No material may be reproduced without the prior consultation and consent of the CCA and the appropriate fee paid to Artists Rights Society.
I would like to highlight one particular aspect that is contained within this disclaimer. Matta-Clark’s collection is made of what we can consider to be both historical records and artworks. How do we then approach, read and consult a material that is situated in between being considered an artwork and a historical document? Matta-Clark’s career was formally in the art world and, as such, his work is valued (by the art market), read and understood by different means than those of architecture. Although his work has architectural connotations, his status as an artist means that the documents need to be treated “as if they are artwork,” therefore challenging the definition of what is in front of us as documents in this archive, which has been given new life at the CCA.
With Matta-Clark’s work transferred to the CCA, the institution as shelter and container adds, but perhaps mostly resurfaces, his architectural past. 4515N22 While the archive is both the collection and the collector, the process is not just the act of gathering, of innocuously consigning: “The archivization produces as much as it records the event,” 4515N23 argues Derrida. This second impression creates a new archive different than the first, not only in a quantifiable way, but in the way in which it follows the same anarchivic drive of the first archive. It destroys at the same time as it creates – “The archive is hypomnesic” 4515N24 – and, as such, it is driven by the archival desire, that is, the death drive, archive fever. 4515N25 But the notion of the impression, as well as the destructive drive, comes from Derrida’s reading of Freud’s 1925 “A Note Upon the ‘Mystic Writing Pad’.” Freud describes the following operation before presenting the Wunderblock, writing:
If, for instance, I write with a piece of chalk upon a slate, I have a receptive surface which retains its receptive capacity for an unlimited time and the notes upon which can be destroyed as soon as they cease to interest me, without any need for throwing away the writing-surface itself. Here the disadvantage is that I cannot preserve a permanent trace. If I want to put some fresh notes upon the slate, I must first wipe out the ones which cover it. Thus unlimited receptive capacity and a retention of permanent traces seem to be mutually exclusive properties in the apparatus which we use as substitutes for our memory: either the receptive surface must be renewed or the note must be destroyed. 4515N26
This description is a paradox, one that poses the contradictory nature of memory as being both receptive and destructive, as is any mechanism or apparatus that could be a substitute for it, as Freud explained later in the same text. For Derrida, the archive works in this same way — it is an apparatus that contains both receptive and destructive dimensions, and with it, its own conceptual impossibility of archiving. Yet this destructive drive is not only a theoretical mechanism for approaching the problem of the archive, it is also a reflection on modes of inscription and impression, as well as the psychological process involved. I would like to emphasize how the first reading of the archiving of Matta-Clark’s work is closely related to modes of inscription and impression in defining both the arkheion and the archon. There are multiple layers and times of inscription when considering the work of Matta-Clark. The critical moment, I would argue, recording the deepest impression on him, is related to his undeniable bridge to architecture and, as such, to his father. 4515N27 The moment of the archive in Matta-Clark is also the moment of architecture, of the paternal impression made on him as an inscription, an archive in him: “Now the principle of the internal division of the Freudian gesture, and thus the Freudian concept of the archive, is that at the moment when psychoanalysis formalizes the conditions of archive fever and of the archive itself, it repeats the very thing it resists or which it makes its objects.” 4515N28 That is, the psychological trace that formalizes the register, the impression, while suppressing or repressing it, inscribes and archives itself.
To Archive: Architecture as Death Drive
I would now like to propose a second reading of what it means to archive Matta-Clark. The principle is the same: the will and location that give rise to an archive, the casting of an impression by repressing and suppressing, by enacting the death drive. This second reading comes from a path that I have already suggested above, which is the strong presence of Matta, his father, in his life and in relation to architecture and art. 4515N29 The apparently troubled relation between them, besides being an emotional tie, was also informed by Matta’s own complex relationship to architecture. Matta, as well as Matta- Clark later in life, rejected the principles and the hardness of the Modern Movement and found painting to be a more “expressive” medium, allowing them to express their inner being. Nevertheless, as Matta declared in a 1981 interview, “I am not an artist, I am an architect. With Gordon I talked about housing ideas. Modular units you could combine as you please. We talked about working together. We talked about getting the motorcar business to change — I had proposed housing units from cars.” 4515N30 This might not be a literal declaration coming from a figure like Matta. Declaring that he is not an artist but an architect could be an evasion, or a revelation of his own complex relationship with the architectural discipline, and in this process of distraction, he makes it clear that “Gordon” was an extension of his own “trauma.” If Matta formally wanted Matta-Clark to be closer to architecture or to art is not for me to say, but it is not a critical question for the purposes of this text. What I wish to stress is the always-conflictive nature of Matta’s relationship with architecture and how it was passed on to Matta-Clark.
In one letter that Matta sent to Matta-Clark when the latter was still undecided about what to study, before enrolling at the Cornell University School of Architecture, he wrote, “Since you seem to feel that your life has become a senseless driving from here to nowhere–you need an end, let it be architecture (remember that no where can be now here).” 4515N31 As evidence, these letters — as writings and substrates — are the formal inscription in which Matta transmitted the troubled legacy of architecture to his son, as well as the moment of impression in which the death drive, the “archiviolitic,” materializes in Matta-Clark, leaving no trace behind.
Matta-Clark’s works are thus rooted in the original moment of the impression, a death drive impression motivated by Matta-Clark’s link to his father and to architecture; the archive becomes an encrypted condition for his work. It works against itself, carrying the destructive drive, making a building cut –for example– unarchivable and anarchivable, and its impression, what we have inherited from it, is located in the psychological bridge to his father and to architecture. Here, architecture in Matta-Clark could always be an anarchitecture, perhaps even before he adopted the term himself, his insistence on undoing and on anarchitecture in itself a futile effort to liberate himself from architecture. Architecture is archived within him, and his works reenact the death drive toward it each time he tries to repress or suppress it, archiving it again. To archive Matta-Clark in an architectural institution is to reaffirm that the strongest impression on him is the paternal link to his father and to architecture, and as Derrida declares, “In other words, the archiviolitic drive is never present in person, neither in itself nor in its effect. It leaves no monument, it bequeaths no document of its own. As inheritance, it leaves only its erotic simulacrum, its pseudonym in painting, its sexual idols, its masks of seduction: lovely impressions. These impressions are perhaps the very origin of what is so obscurely called the beauty of the beautiful. As memories of death.” 4515N32 Impressions are what we perhaps inherit from Matta-Clark, the anarchivic will of the archive –architectural– fever. 4515N33 Matta could have taken the way of the “erotic simulacrum, its pseu-donym in painting, its sexual idols, its masks of seduction,” and Matta-Clark cast the “lovely impressions,” the “no monument,” the “no document of its own.”
Matta-Clark’s work is anarchivable in the same way that he conceptualized the archiving of architecture with Anarchitecture; 4515N34 his death drive towards architecture is consigned in him and within him in the unknown “place of [the] original and structural breakdown of the said memory.” 4515N35 Matta-Clark’s work is, in part, the interface of the archive; the mode of access to himself, anarchivable. The interface to architecture is impressed in him.
The impression of his father, as a family photo at the beach may suggest, was always behind him, as a ghost in the back of his mind in an unknown (surreal) landscape. An impression that the surrealist Matta perhaps insightfully knew how to inscribe on Matta-Clark’s (sub)conscious as an archive of himself. Matta-Clark’s archive is an archive of impressions, anarchivic impressions left behind in photographs, drawings, cut sketchbooks, films and videos, but also outside of the arkheion in recipes, in the FOOD restaurant, in gatherings with friends, in the Pig Roast, in performances and, as many recount, in his own kindness and sociability and in his commitment to life as art.
Derrida, Jacques. Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995.
Diserens, Corinne, editor. Gordon Matta-Clark. London: Phaidon Press, 2003.
Diserens, Corinne and Nuria Enguita, editors. Gordon Matta-Clark. Valencia: IVAM, 1992.
Lee, Pamela M. Object to be Destroyed: The Work of Gordon Matta-Clark. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2000.
Mbembe, Achille. “The Power of the Archive and Its Limits.” In Carolyn Hamilton, ed. Refiguring the Archive. Cape Town: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2002: 19-26.
Moure, Gloria, editor. Gordon Matta-Clark: Works and Collected Writings. Barcelona: Polígrafa, 2006.
Noever, Peter, editor. Anarchitecture: Works by Gordon Matta-Clark. Los Angeles: MAK Center for Art and Architecture, 1997.
Otero-Pailos, Jorge. “Creative Agents.” Future Anterior 3-1 (Summer, 2006): ii-vii.
Sussman, Elisabeth, editor. Gordon Matta-Clark: You Are the Measure. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.
Vidler, Anthony. “’Splitting the Difference,’ review of Gordon Matta-Clark by Diserens, editor, and ‘Gordon Matta-Clark: The Space Between,’ by Attlee and Le Feuvre.” Artforum (Summer 2003): 35-36.
______ “Architecture-To-Be.” In Betti-Sue Hertz, editor. Transmission: The Art of Matta and Gordon Matta-Clark. San Diego: San Diego Museum of Art, 2006: 59-71.
Wigley, Mark. Cutting Matta-Clark: The Anarchitecture Investigation. Zürich: Lars Müller, 2018.
Architect, Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico,
MS in Critical, Curatorial and Conceptual Practices for Architecture,
Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation
Assistant Professor, Department of Architecture, Texas A&M University