September 10–October 13, 2019
In 2008, Katarina Burin felt the urge to design a monogram—but not for herself. An artist whose practice had long explored the social instincts of European twentieth-century modernist design, Burin imagined a female Czech architect from the interwar years and conjured the fictional Petra Andrejova-Molnar, known as P.A.. Burin spent a decade developing an entire career for P.A., conducting meticulous historical research to aid her production of models and drawings; decor such as furniture, ceramics, textiles, and wallpaper; and documents such as photographs, stationary and catalogs.
It is important to note that all visual artifacts of this fictional archive are made by Burin. These include original works “by P.A.” as well as re-makes of existing models and drawings by historical designers who-in Burin’s imagination-influenced P.A. or with whom she collaborated. This fictive-historical mix serves to anchor P.A. within celebrated design circles that rarely included women despite their utopian goals. In this way, P.A. becomes an amalgam of the marginalized or anonymous women who contributed to the modernist program and, at the same time, represents a personification of creative longing and ghostly absence.
Authorship, Architecture, Anonymity marks the completion of Burin’s production as P.A. and is the first exhibit to survey the work in its entirety. As a whole, the project is a complex enterprise that embraces the collectivist zeal of modernism while noting the erasure of women designers from the modernist canon. Prior exhibits have leaned toward presenting P.A. as a forgotten or recently discovered figure. By acknowledging Burin as author, we consider her strategies and reasons for subverting historiographical norms. As researcher, producer, and draftsperson, she inhabits bygone models as a means of discovering their bearing on the present.
Burin’s effort is a multilayered engagement with the slippery nature of collaboration, as something intrinsic to architecture and of philosophical value to the socialist spirit of interwar Eastern Europe and modernism overall. Many architectural collaborators—women in particular—have been and continue to be overlooked in favor of a single architectural voice or personality. In her manifestation of P.A., Burin performs a feminist correction of these histories and injustices. At the same time, she is a collaborator with the very history she critiques. Her maneuvers into the past point to propositions for the future—about visual culture, collaborative practice, and theories of collectivity.
It is appropriate that drawing has been essential to the creation of P.A. Architectural drawings are instrumental (for their relationship to physical construction), and prospective (for the desires and goals that they reflect). Burin’s use of technical drawing to give shape to P.A.’s life and career emphasizes the supple relationship to time afforded by the medium. For these reasons, we have placed drawing at the center of the exhibition.
One way to view Burin’s fiction is as individual pieces of a historical puzzle. Instead, we invite the viewer to appreciate the production of P.A.’s career as a single work of art. For Burin, the documentation of architecture is perhaps more important or “real” than the buildings or events it represents. Among investigations that are usually textual, Burin’s project is all the more intriguing for being visual: having allowed herself to be possessed by the spirit of a past moment, the artist has made manifest an archive that would have been.
—Farhad Mirza and Anne Thompson, exhibition curators