The Museum of Stones (detail), 2012, mixed media installation. Photo: Arwed Messmer

Smashing, 2004, video, colour, sound, 92 min


Jimmie Durham is a sculptor and poet whose work can be described as a disarming mirror, a sarcastically sharp yet playful critique of both Western colonial rationality and universal stupidity. A disarming mirror: as a Native American artist and activist, Durham reverses the stereotypical imputations projected onto and used to categorize the native and “primitive.” He unmasks the ignorance and stupidity in self-proclaimed “modern” systems of knowledge and their alleged superior rationality by applying the very same methods used to categorize, historicize, and musealize cultures of the “other” to the tradition of the West and Modern Science. This reversal produces insights that empower counter-hegemonic narratives—narratives opposed, for instance, to the predominant view of progress and evolution—letting us grasp instead a history of actual destruction, a story of regression and decay, which has its backdrop in modernity’s genocidal continuity which began with the conquest of the Americas and lasts up to today. 

In his The Museum of Stones, Durham plays the classifying scientist that juxtaposes Western ideas and practices surrounding stones with this own. Stone, in the western tradition, is the “object” that is “pure, dead matter” and mechanical “nature,” as opposed to “subject” and “culture.” And stone also stands for permanence; it is the material into which Western culture inscribes its fantasies of eternity, representation, and power. For Jimmie Durham, these have become the source not of “reason” but of fanatic and willful “belief” and the mass deception prevalent in Western modernity. Hence The Museum of Stones includes a quote and sketch by Adolf Hitler that speaks of stone as the only thing that “withstands the flux of all phenomena.” Durham’s own conception of stone is rather different: he sees in stone an agent that not only inhabits a different time, but is also an image of permanent geological transformation. 

The video Smashing equally engages with stone—here it is used as a tool to destroy various objects given to Durham as he sits behind a desk offering his service. Decomposition, destruction, trash: it is through those “objects” that have fallen outside the “order of things” that Durham’s work tells us what this order doesn’t know about itself. 

Jimmie Durham, born 1940 in USA, lives and works in Berlin and Rome