some version of something that happened

A version of something can be its interpretation; the particularities of the ways in which different individuals can perform the same action or refer to the same event. A version of something can also be defined as a translation. Versions are inherent to the digital and technological world we inhabit, with the constant updating of software, apps, and browsers in their planned obsolescence and system upgrades. All artistic forms contain versions. Throughout the history of painting, artists have always interpreted varying themes: the Annunciation; Salomé bearing the decapitated head of John the Baptist on a platter; Odysseus’s encounter with the Sirens; Saint Sebastian, found from across medieval mosaics to Renaissance oil painting, to Kishin Shinoyama’s 1968 photographic version. Contemporary art, too, encompasses versions, in artists’ appropriations and citations of references.

The museu do louvre pau-brazyl, a delirious version of an institutional franchise of the Louvre Museum located in Artacho Jurado’s Louvre building, comes to an end after five years of activity with the exhibition of SOME VERSION OF SOMETHING THAT HAPPENED by the Chopped Liver Press project, created by the artist duo Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, who also conclude their creative collaboration after 23 years.

While the Louvre Museum in Paris unfolds in new versions through its franchises in Lens and Abu Dhabi, the Louvre building in São Paulo was designed to serve a mixed residential and commercial function: from the luxurious preliminary plans of the city-meets-country club condo building that included a winter garden, an art gallery, and a restaurant and bar on its ground floor and terrace, to the building’s concrete execution which allocated the ground floor and mezzanine for storefronts and offices. Between 2016 and 2021 the uses and meanings of each part of the building were the driving force behind a series of exhibitions and publications by the museu do louvre pau-brazyl. The posters with reproductions of works that decorate the entrance halls of the building’s Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Renoir, and Velázquez blocks formed the museum’s first imagery-imaginary body; the absence of such reproductions and the name Pedro Américo from the Louvre’s five rear blocks spoke to the asymmetries of representation.

The concept of versions serves as an entry point to the body of Broomberg & Chanarin’s work: layers, iterations, collages, quotes take on new forms; new uses overlap in different projects. The artists reimagine and reconfigure works by other artists, such as Bertolt Brecht’s War Primer—transformed into War Primer 2 through the addition of images of contemporary wars and conflicts atop World War II-era newspaper clippings. The same is true of Dodo exhibition, held at Jumex in 2014, which takes at its core the satirical war film Catch-22, a cinematographic version of Joseph Heller’s book of the same title. The film, set in 1944 Pianosa, Italy, was shot in San Carlos, Mexico, since the Mexican desert in 1969 was a closer version of the 1940s Italian landscape than the region of Pianosa itself. The artists uncovered previously unseen fragments of negatives filed in the archives at Paramount Pictures, re-editing them to form a nature documentary set in 1969 Mexico—a succession of landscapes that no longer exist.

Reiterations and interchanges between imagery and posters featuring quotes are recurrent in Broomberg & Chanarin’s work. “Be furious you’re going to die,” a quote from Heller’s Catch-22, has served as the duo’s motto, in addition to featuring as the title of an essay in the exhibition publication as well as on a Chopped Liver Press poster. Similarly, “Bandage the knife not the wound,” a quote by Joseph Beuys, is both the title of a series of photographic montages as well as a poster from the Chopped Liver archive. The same occurs with “When will you fuckers learn”: found photographed on a sign in the Archive of Modern Conflict, the image appears in the works Holy Bible and Divine Violence, and the phrase taken up again on a Chopped Liver Press poster.

Broomberg & Chanarin’s work together and the project to publish limited edition books and posters are deeply connected. With the artists’ “creative suicide,” this archive of quotes printed on selected pages of the New York Times International Edition can be interpreted as a “literary memorial” to the extinct duo.

Their posters follow the tradition of handmade protest signs, with clear messages and an inherent collectivity, while providing a layer of intimacy and access to the duo’s dialogue and exchange of references—on various levels, their work asks: who is the author of history? Some posters take on a more direct relationship with the sociopolitical context of the moment, such as “Baby it’s cold outside,” produced when facing the imminence of Brexit, while others are more poetic, such as “Head is all heart has,” a verse by author Lydia Davis.

Epitaphs are also of interest to the artists, this form of verse—the last verse—which brings literature closer to death. The inscription on Man Ray’s headstone, “Unconcerned but not indifferent,” was the title of an essay written by the duo; they had previously utilized Marcel Duchamp’s epitaph “Death always happen to other people” in a Chopped Liver Press print edition. Broomberg & Chanarin selected as their own epitaph “Some version of something that happened,” a quote taken from an interview with the American writer Dave Eggers. It is this phrase that features on the project’s final poster as well the blind side of the Louvre building.

The phrase transports us to the territory of a retrospective gaze, weaving together networks of interactions from past to present, from the disjuncture between a lived situation and the subsequent construction of memory; from adaptations, revisions, and interpretations to its most conflicting aspects of cognitive warfare in the battlefield that is narrative: versions. Circumscribed to projects that come to an end, this phrase forms the transition, so that they can exist from now on as an archive, envisioning the infinity of possible readings and reconfigurations to come.

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