In 2005, the US artist, writer, critic and activist Allan Sekula (1951-2013) travels to Leuven to participate in a large-scale exhibition dedicated to Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier (1831-1905). The dialog with Meunier’s practice continues in what comes to be Sekula’s final work: the open and unfinished Ship of Fools / The Dockers’ Museum (2010-2013). It is part of the collection of M HKA, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen.
While Ship of Fools consists of thirty-three framed photographs and two slide projections – images taken by Sekula between 1998-2010 while traveling the seas, The Dockers’Museum encompasses ca. 1250 artefacts, metonymically related to the world of seafarers and dock workers. These “objects of interest” – sourced and purchased by the artist via eBay – are not readily to be understood as works of art. Rather, they manifest Sekula’s two-fold “cargo cult.” What is more, Sekula conceives The Dockers’ Museum as a counter-museum within the contemporary art institution, seeking to construct “a kind of imaginary life world of a phantasmatic collective.”
From the work’s inception at M HKA and triggered by the very objects he collects, Sekula outlines several sections for The Dockers’Museum. This research presentation departs from the so-called “Mining Section (Bureau des mines),” also identified by the artist as the “Bureau of Mines.” Taking into consideration the spatial logic of Leuven’s Anatomical Theater as well as Sekula’s complicity with this historic site, refashioned in the nineteenth century to house Meunier’s studio, the proposed display – connected to an adjacent room as temporary storage – is, for the most part, composed of unpositioned material from The Dockers’ Museum. These extend from and point to Sekula’s “Bureau of Mines” both formally and thematically via cross- and inter-sections.
Embracing the non-conclusive nature of his last work, as well as Sekula’s own working method of rewriting and reediting his material, the presentation unfolds as a set of questions / speculations, while allowing to be guided by the work’s intrinsic forces. These are forces that spiral outward, beyond museum practices and the art-system at large: “outward towards the world.”