Documents 6. “Dear, Ela, dear”

Affective Affinities and Power Relations in the Epistolary Archive of documenta, Kassel

Tuesday, 6 November 2018 - 7pm
Free, until full capacity is reached
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 200


Organized by
Museo Reina Sofía
Jean-Christophe Ammann and Harald Szeemann. Photo: Till Spiro, Kassel
Jean-Christophe Ammann and Harald Szeemann. Photo: Till Spiro, Kassel

Through multiple perspectives, the programme Documents reflects on different thematic spheres in the Museo’s Library and Documentation Centre: artist publications, platforms, publishing networks, independent publications, and archive as a place that articulates and reinvents narratives about art and its ecosystem. In this, the sixth activity in the series, Mela Dávila, a contributor with documenta, Kassel, and an expert on its holdings, addresses power relations and affective affinities that reveal the institution’s epistolary archive.

The documenta Archive has existed officially since 1961. Its mission is to join and preserve the documentary imprint created by successive editions of one of the most influential international contemporary art exhibitions. Its origins, stretching back to 1955, stem from painter, architect and designer Arnold Bode and art historian Werner Haftmann. Until 2016 the Archive operated as a municipal entity and is now run under a consortium made up of the City Council, the University of Kassel and documenta. At the present time it is immersed in a process of redefinition and expansion which aims to lead to the creation of a study and research centre over the coming years.

Along with the technical — plans, lists of works, projects, sketches — and audiovisual documentation in each edition of documenta, the collection of letters constitutes another of the Archive’s major collections. This correspondence, with varying formats over time, ranging from typed letters to facsimiles and, more recently, emails, sets forth an inexhaustible source of data with particular relevance to art history. Equally, and often unintentionally, the epistolary exchanges encapsulate a subtext with the ability to contemplate at once the pronounced characteristics of the authors and the affective and power relations linked to the central figures of documenta since it came into being.    

In her lecture, Mela Dávila focuses on letters from the first editions of documenta, taking as her point of departure these affective imprints to offer a general reflection on the role and potential of the archive as a structure to conserve and transmit knowledge, one with power and control of memory.

Mela Dávila Freire holds a degree in English and German Studies from the Universitat Autònoma in Barcelona and a post-graduate degree in Publishing from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra. Throughout her professional career she has combined institutional responsibilities with research into subjects related to documentation and contemporary art: art archives, artist publications, bibliographic collections and other related fields.   

From 2015 to 2017 she was director of Public Activities at the Museo Reina Sofía, after having managed the Study and Documentation Centre at Barcelona’s Museu d’Art Contemporani (MACBA, 2006–2012), where she was previously in charge of the Publications Department (2000–2006).

As an independent consultant she has worked with the documenta Archive (Kassel), the Lafuente Archive (Santander), Arts Libris (Barcelona), Instituto Cervantes and other organisations and public and private collections. Her most recent curatorship projects include Legible-Visible. Entre el fotograma y la Página, presented in Barcelona in the spring of 2017, and from November 2018 onwards she will be involved in the 14th Cuenca Biennial (Ecuador).