To Don Duration - Lisl Ponger’s The Master Narrative und Don Durito audio-video Installation

by Khadija von Zinnenburg Carroll

When the Weltmuseum in Vienna reopened Lisl Ponger made an extraordinary intervention. It remains a mystery as to how she managed to both curtain her work as architecturally separate from the anthropology display and to face the central courtyard frontally with an installation that questions the very premise of the anthropology museum and its un-self-reflexive mode of othering. The exhibition is made up of a group of works that Ponger has been working on since 2000 in which staged photographs are created using actors and the props of exoticised locals. Flanking these is a two-channel audio-video installation, The Master Narrative und Don Durito (2017), in which she narrates ten chapters of ethnographic history. Her chapters are in themselves roomy as a museum that does not supplement the architecture but supplants it with an alternative mode. It is a deadly critique posed with her humorous, light touch, brilliant for the way it delivers more stories even than the whole ethnographic material accumulation in Vienna (ironically rebranded as the Weltmuseum in the same moment that The Master Narrative opened within it). The Master Narrative und Don Durito’s great feat is to distil the seemingly endless chaos of the world as it was collected during colonial exploitation, now gathered together in yet another new display that still does not manage a coherent self-reflection of European collecting mania.

To subvert the master narrative of the universal museum the script takes a format comparable to Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, a vast assemblage of cited fragments. Ponger draws upon a variety of perspectives from different times and disciplines. There are primary sources of fellow artists and ethnographic and historical accounts, both retrospective and from the scant archive of those few critical witnesses. The images that accompany these are first day covers of postal stamps that trace the peripatetic exploration and colonization around the globe. The stamp is about as mobile and ephemeral as a historical object can be and exemplifies Ponger’s parody of authentic artefacts of anthropology. The artist has also assembled a metamuseum of ethnography, entitled the MuKul (Museum for Foreign and Familiar Cultures). This collection includes a speculativly fabulated salvage ethnography of The Vanishing Middle Class, shown at the Secession in Vienna in 2014.

The Master Narrative und Don Durito in 10 chapters