About Unfold #2

The Literal Intimacies of Zoology: Reading Through the Folders of Colonial-Science

Sara Giannini in conversation with Anna-Sophie Springer and Etienne Turpin

Sara Giannini First of all, I would like to thank you for being a part of Unfold. I am thrilled to delve into your selection for Unfold#2 in only a few days. It is both exciting and intimidating because all the materials I have organized for the project will be so closely read and appropriated by your intervention.

Since the launch of Unfold in September 2015, I have been going back to the problem of legibility and its ties to collecting. Etymologically, reading and collecting [“legere”/”colligere”] stem from intimately gathering together. I think that the practice of reading is the essential comportment of the project on several different levels: from Benjamin's citing labour in The Arcades Project to my re-reading of it through the artistic contributions which repurpose projects for the specific space of the folder, and from the further readings which I commissioned, to those enlivened by the reader/viewer/user.

With these remarks in mind, I wonder how you read Unfold#1?

Anna-Sophie Springer & Etienne Turpin We read as we would in any other space, whether physical or digital, which is to say, promiscuously. If Walter Benjamin saw himself as a rag-picker in the history of the catastrophe called capitalism, we are, similarly, just scavenging through the ruined debris of the ivory tower, which is not without certain charms for the collector. Unfold presents a form that aligns with our style of inquiry, and we were excited to present a collection that can unfold for your readers as they work through The Lesson of Zoology.

SG While doing research for Unfold I was very inspired by your intercalations: a paginated exhibition series co-published by K. Verlag with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin. In your own words, the series is conceived as a curatorial-editorial device “enabling explorations of the book as a form of exhibition architecture,” where the concept of “intercalation” reflects the importance of juxtaposition to reconfigure boundaries and categories. Clearly there are many resonances with the way I envisioned the structure of Unfold, as both an archival and publishing space based on “counter-point” formations of different contents, through the folder-form. How would you describe these parallels? How do you relate the ideas behind the series to the proposition you have made through Unfold?

AS & ET The intercalations series is a modest attempt to articulate exhibitions through the form of the book. In the first volume, Fantasies of the Library, we tried to show how the library is not merely an assumed repository of given knowledge, but that it is itself a construction for knowledge transmission that has any number of promiscuities and alliances with its outside. Libraries are never a given; like concepts, they must be made. So, our question was: how, in the Anthropocene, can the library be re-made from its history as a space for assembling other types and styles of knowledge? This seems quite close to the Unfold project, although in our previous books, we were very committed to the form of the book because the codex is not an exhausted format, even after several millennia. In Unfold, you wanted us to think through the form of the folder. The digital folder, the hyperlink, the drop-down menu, these are structures which not only shape our knowledge by modulating accessibility, but which change possibilities for replication and derivation. This is different than the modulation of the codex as a paginated mode of revelation. But, of course, the relationship to Unfold is that by exploring, tinkering with, and excerpting in a bibliomanic ecstasy, we can reveal how the structures of these media affect the nature of our thinking and our affinities with certain knowledge relays.

SG Unfold is primarily concerned with modes of sharing and thinking across disciplines and “habitats,” responding to the reformulation of modern institutions of knowledge such as the library or the encyclopedia. Your current research and curatorial interest in natural history and scientific knowledge within colonial apparatuses has informed your selection for Unfold#2, which deals with the modern taxonomy of knowledge and bodies. How would you describe this aspect of your work?

AS & ET All of our work deals with taxonomy because knowledge requires, by definition, organization. Whether that organization is emancipatory or colonial has been a matter for the librarians of Empire to decide through the order of their stacks and the structure of their folders. What is a file? It is an index of the structure of knowledge in a given order. So, what can we unfold from the files of zoology? The Lesson of Zoology is a lesson in the ordering of nature toward the end that we now inhabit, called the Anthropocene. Total chaos and total control, simultaneously. Does the scientific will to knowledge afford us any vestige of emancipation? This is a question worthy of intense inquiry, as we cannot simply dismiss this history as colonial, because it constitutes our present; at the same time, we cannot accept this colonial inheritance without an anxious trepidation given the violence it has enacted and enabled. So we must work through it, that is, we must unfold it to find what we can use.

SG I was wondering whether you see any parallel between Benjamin's writings in the Arcades Project and your method of selection.

AS & ET We think the best answer we could give is our introduction, as the text attempts to appropriate Benjamin’s provocation in One-way Street, titled “To the Planetarium.” Are we not, now, in the planetarium? Benjamin’s interest in the vestigial aspect of history was influential on our structure, but we also wanted to experiment with the idea of the “ordering of physis [nature]” which he describes so well in that text. What is The Lesson of Zoology if not an image of the ordering of nature? It is an image meant to circulate and proliferate the correct ordering of “Man” and “Nature.” Anna Tsing’s “Earth Stalked by Man,” included in our introduction folder, denaturalizes this Man, and we take that process of denaturalizing the colonial relationship between Man and His Nature as a point of departure from which we intend to unfold another logic and other possibilities. In our contribution to Unfold, we aren’t trying to make a new structure, or to introduce some aleatory position, but, within the ruin of natural history and its colonial ambitions, we want to reconsider what can be reappropriated. We remain in an Enlightenment heritage as we continue to recycle our files. We are still in the folders of modernity, so to speak. But, in reorganizing their relations, there are many affinities and assemblies that suggest other trajectories for knowledge, collaboration, and emancipation. They are to be discovered, or discredited, in the folds and folders themselves.

SG My last question returns to my first one about legibility. Do you envision any particular mode of reading for your collection?

AS & ET We only envision intimacy. Reading is so procedural, always moving from one page to the next, beginning to end. But, in Unfold, through the lateral movement, the schizophrenia of the structure, and the possibility for exploration, pleasure, and discovery, the approach might be best described as a becoming-intimate with the lessons and the ruins of zoology. And, why not since it is a science that has already so intimately constructed you as the reader?

Anna-Sophie Springer is an editor, curator, and the co-director of K. Verlag, a Berlin-based independent press exploring the book as a site for exhibition making. Her practice stimulates fluid relations among images, artifacts, and texts in order to produce new geographical, physical, and cognitive proximities, often in relation to historical archives. As a member of the SYNAPSE International Curators’ Network of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, she is the co-founder and co-editor of the intercalations: paginated exhibition series published as part of Das Anthropozän-Projekt. Sophie has written widely on exhibition histories and curatorial practices. Her most recent exhibition, 125,660 Specimens of Natural History (2015), was co-curated with Etienne Turpin at Komunitas Salihara in Jakarta, Indonesia, in collaboration with the Indonesian Institute of Science. Sophie received her M.A. in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, University of London, and her M.A. in Curatorial Studies from the Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst, Leipzig. She is currently conducting research for her Ph.D., which examines the financialization of tropical nature, at the Centre for Research Architecture at Goldsmiths, University of London.


Etienne Turpin is a philosopher studying, designing, curating, and writing about complex urban systems, political economies of data and infrastructure, visual culture, art, and aesthetics, and Southeast Asian colonial-scientific history. Etienne is the founding director of anexact office, his design research practice based in Jakarta, Indonesia. The office is committed to interventive urbanism, curatorial and artistic experimentation, and applied socio-spatial research with a focus on mediation; the office operates as both a vehicle for inquiry and a platform for assembly with the objective of providing tools and methods for practices of mutual aid in the Anthropocene. As a member of the SYNAPSE International Curators’ Network of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Etienne is the is co-founder and co-editor of the intercalations: paginated exhibition series as a part of Das Anthropozän-Projekt. He is the editor of Architecture in the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2013) and co-editor of Art in the Anthropocene (Open Humanities Press, 2015) and Jakarta: Architecture + Adaptation (Universitas Indonesia Press, 2013).