Siim Preiman

Curator's foreword

I find myself thinking about lizards again and again

Some time ago I stumbled upon a blog post attempting to convince me of the existence of a reptilian master race on Earth. I am still haunted by the accompanied evidence: a collection of blurry photos showing old maps displayed on a computer screen. The lack of clarity in the photos did little to convince me of the existence of reptiles, quite the opposite, in fact. Nevertheless, I couldn’t quite shake off the perplexity caused by these photos. My gaze lingered on a map that had a monstrous sea snake drawn in one of the corners. I couldn’t help but imagine the countless of hands that had contributed to shaping this map and handling it throughout history. At some point, in some place, someone laid a piece of paper down on a table and drew the map with a snake. Someone stored it, someone digitised it, someone uploaded it and so on, until the clumsy hands that held the camera capturing the low-quality JPG from a monitor transferred it to a computer via a cable or a card reader and finally uploaded it to the blog. And here I was, staring at an image that was not really a reproduction, nor a true copy, but some kind of repeatedly duplicated ghost or shadow. I ran my fingers over my computer screen, over the blogger’s screen, over the reproduction, never touching ink or paper, never hearing it rustle, never smelling its scent. 

Recently I had the opportunity to touche a WWII-era German army map illustrating the region around Rakvere. On its reverse side, there were inscriptions by soldiers who, one after another, had carried it through the chaos of war like a somber relay baton. “I hope that the next person to receive this map from me won’t have to pass it on with the cost of blood.” I gently ran my fingers over the words written in beautiful handwriting, feeling as though I was connecting with something tangible, touching a piece of history. This object was older than me, having journeyed to places I will never visit. Again I thought about hands that had touched this map before me, retrieved it from a fallen comrade’s pocket, carefully wrapped it wax cloth, shielded it from the rain deep beneath their coat, and held it close against their heart. Time and again we envision ourselves as the focal point of the world around us. Yet, within the story of this map, amidst the constellation of thoughts, individuals and places that surround it, I felt like nothing more than a fleeting visitor, a brief detour, a dead end. The true essence or purpose of this map had been something else, even if that something had long since been worn away to dust by the winds of time.

And then, hands will gather up this dust once again, reassemble it to the best of their ability, naming and organizingit. Catalog is a serial publication about cataloging edited by Lieven Lahaye and designed by Ott Metusala. Each edition centres on a different theme, yet they all bring together original texts and quotations; in one way or another, they all deal with gathering, discovering, publishing and hiding of information. With each new edition, Catalog continues to expand, until the individually published booklets become a book, a catalog. This rhizomatic collage fluctuates between density and sparsity, sometimes branching out infinitely, then leading to dead ends at other times. The fragments of information found in the booklets enrich history, assign meaning to the previously meaningless and often sprout from the authors’ childhoods or personal conversations. Among other things, the previous editions have delved into the practice of designer Kristi Metusala, Ott’s grandmother; the little known author Duncan Smith; and the rubble women who cleaned up the debris of post-WWII Berlin.

As I perused the previous editions and engaged in conversations with the artists, I felt myself repeatedly searching for the center, the essence at the heart of the data cloud of Catalog. I reflected on the various collections of data, both tangible and abstract, I have compiled throughout my life. I reflected on post-truth, information noise, centralised and decentralised information networks, conspiracy theories and inevitably, lizards. Then, by chance, my gaze fell upon  a postcard on a bench in Lieven’s studio, with an inscription : “When you return to your teenage bedroom and realise you were a librarian all along.” Suddenly, everything clicked into place.