Reproduction of the gavel belonged to Henri Polak and originally conceived for the 'Introduction of the 8 Hours Working Day' (1911).
Processing Authorities is a work in progress that evolves around an anonymous and singular group of hammers owned by the International Institute of Social History (IISH) in Amsterdam. These gavels belonged to chairmen and heads of commissions of revolutionary and emancipatory movements mainly related to Dutch Trade Unions - labour movements, propaganda actions, agricultural organizations, religious groups, anti-alcoholism commissions, Esperanto movements, sport associations, feminist movements to name some of them. They were accidentally grouped over the years by the Institute, without full knowledge of their histories and derivations. In the attempt to show them for the first time to the public as a collection - or as a fragment of a collection that doesn’t exist yet as such, but that could be particularly rich because of the variety and the number of the objects involved in it - Diego Tonus is researching their micro- or macro-histories and their shifting symbolic meanings, to shed some light on Western cultural decision-making processes and on the visual representation of authorities. The artist is studying shapes, histories and potentiality of these hammers - dating back from the Nineteenth Century to nowadays - to turn them into objects of observation and discussion, re-thinking their meaning and questioning them in relation to nowadays.
Processing Authorities (ACT I) - 2013/2014, consisted of a solo exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, showing for the first time the 52 original gavels belonging to IISH’s Archive; a film titled Soundtracks for Revolutions disclosing their sounds thought as voices from revolutionary movements; and the first draft of a hypothetical publication on these types of tools.
Processing Authorities (ACT II) - 2015, consisted of an accurate process of reproduction of the gavels, subject of the work. As part of the artistic process and observation of these gavels, the artist has made replicas of the original objects to let them visible and usable again outside of the IISH´s Archive. After their remaking they can exist as ‘new originals’ and as a collection of group of voices ready to be thought, seen and discussed again in their paradoxical aspects of decision-making objects - even in their silence. This chapter of the work was exhibited in Atopolis for Mons European Capital of Culture 2015 and curated by WIELS Museum (Dirk Snauwaert and Charlotte Friling).
Processing Authorities (ACT III) - 2016, consists of an exhibition showing for the first time as a collection the 52 replicas or ‘new original’ of the gavels once belonged to IISH’s Archive, together with the last ‘new original’ of architect Petrus Berlage’s gavel designed for the Introduction of the 8 hours working day.
In occasion of this last chapter of the project, there will be the presentation of the Catalogue Raisonnè titled ‘The President's Hammers’: the first publication entirely focusing on this object per excellence of decision-making and visual representation of authority. ‘The President's Hammers’ investigates these modern tools of power both from an artistic point of view - following artist Diego Tonus towards the process of substitution of IISH’s original gavels with their replicas, in the attempt to show them for the first time to the public as a collection outside of the Archive - and from their anthropological, psychoanalytical and sociopolitical perspectives in dialogue with selected authors, contributing to reposition the gavel within today’s cultural landscape.