Quartett >88<

Joe Scanlan, 1989

Quartett 1988 consists of 745 framed drawings or “writings,” as Darboven calls them, 56 indices or indexes, and one mannequin, and comprises the most recent installment of her continually impressive manual documentation of her existence within time. Darboven’s vocabulary consists of handwritten and typewritten numbers, numbers in word form, numbers as dates, names, dashes, cancellations, and pages upon pages of unintelligible wavy lines. Each of these 801 images exactly represents the duration of its making; subsequently seeing this cross accumulation of time and labor can be an overwhelming and oppressive experience.

Darboven’s writings contradict the vain mission of such classical measurements of time as calendars, History, or the Novel in that she obliterates her personal and social identity in the same breath that she evidences her life. Darboven’s work resembles patriarchal history only in its obsessiveness, its labor and its scale; her activity literally tells very little but symbolically speaks volumes about the submission of her gender and herself within society and history.

This anonymous dexterity is soberly exaggerated in Quartett 88 through Darboven’s inclusion of a life-sized and fully encased female mannequin, done up in the chignon hairdo, lace vest, and embroidered skirt of a turn-of-the-century stenographer. The only detail missing from this informative and lifeless artifact are its arms, suggesting that women are placeable in History not by what they have done but by how they look; in other words, through imposed fashions and roles rather than exposed contributions and achievements. In deference to this condition, Darboven invokes the reputations, achievements and tragic fates of Madam Curie, Rosa Luxembourg, Gertrude Stein, and Virginia Woolf, all of whom contributed greatly to society’s intellectual, political, and cultural developments in the tumultuous first decades of the 20th Century, and still inform and affect us today.

Marie Curie, born Manya Sklodowska in Poland in 1867, was awarded the 1903 Nobel prize in Physics along with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, and again individually in 1911. Her discoveries of polonium and radium, and her research of radioactivity’s properties and effects were instrumental to its scientific understanding and use throughout this century. She died of leukemia in 1934 as a result of her long exposure to radiation.

Rosa Luxemburg, nicknamed “Bloody Rosa,” was born in Poland in 1871. After earning a PhD in law and political economy in 1898, Luxemburg was a tireless revolutionary and social agitator, founding the Polish Social Democratic Party and the German Communist Party. Her writings were noteworthy in their call for the dissolution of national borders through Socialist Internationalism, their critique of national independence as a bourgeois concession, and her chastisement of Lenin for his agrarian self-determination and dictatorial tactics. Luxemburg was assassinated in 1919 by counter-revolutionaries.

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania in 1874. She studied psychology at Radcliffe College and medicine at Johns Hopkins before departing for Paris in 1903, where she lived until her death in 1946. Her fragmented and abstract works exemplified her great interest in the repetitive and often excruciating task of writing in the present tense, and made her a peer of Matisse, Picasso, and Braque. Her most widely read book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, was actually Stein’s own story published under her lover’s name.

Virginia Woolf was born Virginia Stephen in London in 1882, and was educated at home by her father. As both an author and critic, Woolf made great contributions towards changing the narrative structure and communicative intent of the Novel, and her early experiments in contingent, present tense experiences and their relationship to one’s stream of consciousness and perception of time put her in the conceptual company of Joyce, Proust and Stein.