I finally made it to the Hirshhorn after many, many visits to DC. Unfortunately, I was a bit too late to visit Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Mirrors”. However, I did get to check out the rest of the Masterworks collection. I was particularly captivated by this piece:
Reynier Leyva Novo
Cuban, b. Havana, 1983.
The Weight of History
Joseph H. Hirshhorn Purchase Fund, 2016 (16.12)
In his series “The Weight of History,” Reyneir Leyva Novo employs iNk, a software developed to compute the weight, volume, and area of the ink used in printed documents. 5 Nights applies the iNk software to five revolutionary texts that constituted the basis of totalitarian regimes in the twentieth century.
It’s a stark image, for one. The piece is in this transition space between two galleries – there’s not much else in the room. And from a distance, it doesn’t seem like much. To be honest, if I’d hadn’t turned my head the right way, I would’ve completely missed the piece altogether.
I’m fascinated by the use of data here for spatial purposes, and for artistic ones. On my first approach, I wondered what the scale was – atrocities were my first thought. To instead focus on the ink – not even the words, or the text itself, but the ink – makes for a more interesting line of questioning. What are we supposed to get from “The Weight of History” in “5 Nights” here? Are we thinking about print and print culture, and the ways in which revolutionary texts take up a physical space in or world? Are we thinking about how to compare each ink block’s representations – both the texts and the totalitarian regimes? Are we thinking about the metadata that matters from an object – and what is obscured or brought forth in this kind of installation that plays with data? Why is it the ink that matters – to Reynier Leyva Novo, to the piece, to me?
Maybe what’s weighing on me the most with this piece, though, is its placement in the museum. What exactly the piece is saying in context with its surroundings? I can’t image this placement is random. If you turn around, you’re facing a cityscape- federal Washington, with the most prominent building being the National Archives. Here, you have totalitarian regimes facing the founding documents upon which American mythology is based. You have this place filled with ink – ink of revolutionary texts, that constituted the basis of American history in some form or fashion. The two must be in conversation somehow; whether the artist intended that conversation I’m not sure. But the Hirshhorn must have considered it – and so I’d love to know how others have approached this questions and this piece in the same way.