More positive energy: Växjö, Sweden

After the week in Murcia described in the previous blog, I turned around and went on to Växjö, Sweden, where I have recently developed fantastic contact with colleagues who care about the same things as I do: cultural analysis with relevance; friendship as the way to productive work; collegiality and non-hierarchal thinking as the mode of making the university work. I have enjoyed being there and interacting with those brilliant and lovable people. A long list of names won’t improve the legibility of this blog. Let me just say that a team of around 30 volunteers, colleagues and students have contributed to the filming of 3 to 4 scenes from the DQ project - the inserted novella of “The Captive” which we use for a visual awareness of and plea for the abolition of slavery. No, this most horrific crime against humanity was not really, only officially abolished in 1833; it still goes on today. The lead actor, Mathieu Montanier, expresses the infinite sadness of confinement in this photo made by Ebba Sund.

Ebba also made the photo of “renegade” Thomas Germaine, who comes to help the Captive in his attempt to escape. But the ambiguity is: can the slaves trust a renegade? The short scene, for which Thomas came all the way from Paris, is essential for the presentation of the difficulty of human relations in a context of slavery, captivity, and other forms of confinement.

The day after arriving I found out that my Murcia-based friend Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro (see previous blog) was awarded to be a finalist for the Premio Mandarache de Jóvenes Lectores. For this prestigious prize he is one of three finalists. Over 6000 students read the novels of the finalists and will elect the winner in 2020. It is remarkable that his novel El dolor de los demas (the pain of others) about a traumatic event in a community, was elected by young readers. For it is both upsetting, on an event that truly happened, autobiographical, and “postmodern”, sometimes verging on poetry. For me it is totally brilliant. Congratulations, Miguel! Let me add that Miguel is not only a brilliant writer, poet, and art historian, but he can also act, as the second photo from A Long History of Madness shows. This is to hint at his interest in deploying fiction to probe theoretical issues, such as, in the new novel, trauma. We call it “theoretical fiction”, and Miguel is a masterful practitioner of that genre. Here he played a guardia civil, inspecting driver’s licences.

Meanwhile, the shoot went on, and thanks to the commitments of all, it yielded beautiful material. I wish I could post photos of them all, but it must suffice to let Johan Høglund, a friend-at-fist-email, director of the Centre for Colonial and Postcolonial Studies “Concurrences”, one of the two centres that sponsored this shoot, stand for the academic colleagues who share my commitment to focusing academic interests on relevant issues for society today. The name of the Centre, Concurrences”, expresses the wish to substitute the problematic use of “post-” in the term “postcolonial”, which wrongly suggests that colonialism is over.

And Niklas Salmose, an active member of the other sponsoring institute, the Centre for Intermedial and Multimodal Studies (dir. Lars Elleström), represents the other important issue that motivates it all: the merging of making and analyzing, that goes under the somewhat problematic term “artistic research”. With this merging, of which Leonardo da Vinci is the pioneer, we seek to get deeper into understanding (contemporary) culture through the participation of the imagination. Niklas pursues this with great dedication.

I must also mention and show a new “cinegenic” acting talent emerged from the large number of participating PhD candidates: Nafiseh S. Mousavi, who interrupted her diligent work on her PhD on migratory story-telling to incarnate a wonderful Zoraida, a character in the Captive’s Tale who, imprisoned by a father who takes surveillance for love, helped the latter to escape, and going along with him. Her acting allowed us to insinuate the fact that of the 43 million slaves today, 71% are women. We may well have to extend the planned three scenes into four because of her.

So far these photos are by Ebba Sund. The second photographer, Magdalena Engrup, also made beautiful photos. Here, I only show two crew members Magdalena depicted. First, the guy behind th camera, the cinematographer who came to this task after having for a long time concentrated on photography. His talent, intelligence and commitment, his eagerness to consult and act in togetherness, made the product into a great gift. He worked along with a second camera operator, Aya Sheikmoussa, who also made terrific shots.

Last but not least, we are lucky enough to have Isabelle de Mullenheim, with whom I have also worked for at least a decade, come from Paris to record, and later edit the sound. Knowing how fine the work is she makes, I was very keen to have her on board. With her combination of good cheer and professionalism, she is a joy to have around.

I must end this series of portraits, but not before I explain the reason for this choice of the portrait genre in this blog. During the same week, on May 9th, I had to miss, unfortunately, the unveiling of a group portrait by Dutch painter Rogier Willems, commissioned by the Faculty of Humanities and its dean, professor Fred Weerman. This is a portrait that honors five prominent women professors and thus does a little bit of catching up with the exclusivist decoration of the historic buildings with practically only men as honoraries. I feel greatly honored to be one of them (at the left). The genre of the portrait was on my mind during the day of the unveiling.

I do regret missing that party, but not to have sacrificed it to the progress in the video project and the joy of working with such wonderful people.

I hope to have more to tell about this project soon. But first things first. Now I must edit it all…

New exhibition: Contaminaciones: leer, imaginar, visualizar, in Murcia

Contaminations: reading, imagining, imaging. This exhibition in Murcia of my video work of “theoretical fictions” consists of fragments that make new meanings. The new bits&pieces have been edited to constitute new wholes, sequences that detach the fragments from the narrative films from which they were taken. The work has never been exhibition before in this way. The exhibition is curated by Miguel Á. Hernández Navarro, with whom I curated the traveling exhibition 2Move in 2007-08.

Miguel and I met in 2004, and have remained in regular contact ever since, collaborating on numerous projects. Thanks to our “intellectual friendship” as I like this constructive collegial collaboration, my book Tiempos Trastornados was made possible thanks to Miguel’s commitment to my work for his book series on visual culture, and another exhibition of my documentary work, La última frontera in the Fundación José García Jiménez, in 2011, was also initiated and curated by Miguel.
The gallery space of the Centro Parrága in Murcia will be filled with fourteen screens, each composed of fragments from the film work, and twenty-five photographs. A catalogue will be published soon after the opening on May 2. The exhibition will run until June 9. For more information see this page published by the Centro. Here you see Miguel putting the final touches to the exhibition in Centro Párraga.

Murcia is the centre of my engagement with Spain, which goes deep. My current video project (left column of the page Film Projects) is engaging the historical masterpiece Don Quijote, jewel of Spanish literature. I entered the Spanish context in Murcia, and keep returning there. The first episode of the new project will be shot there, on April 28th. Here you see that lead actor, Mathieu Montanier, playing Homais in Madame B, in the scene based on the alternative ending Flaubert had written but could not get published - not surprising, since it is an utterly postmodern piece.

The first episode of the new project, titled “reading”, will serve as a “moving” poster for the Contaminaciones exhibition: suggesting the importance of reading, as well as announcing the future of my work, and its bond with Spanish culture. Right after the installation and opening of the exhibition, and the filming and editing of the first scene of Don Quixote: tristes figuras and its display as a poster, the actor Mathieu Montanier, main role in this new project, and I will go to Växjö in Sweden, where we will shoot and draft-dit the final three scenes of the project.

London, and more

London in March, the beginning of Spring, was the right time to celebrate the new exhibition at the Lethaby Gallery of the University of the Arts London. I hope to soon find the time to post the exhibition with images on the page devoted to that work. The curators Michaela Giebelhausen and Alison Green, and the gallery director Kate Pelen did a brilliant job.

left: Alison, right: Michaela

The show officially opened on March 13, and the day after we held three workshops and two lectures. My greatest joy was to be working with Michelle again. I realized how much I have missed working with her. We are plotting and planning for a new collaborative exhibition project.

The week after, I returned to London to give two lectures which had been planned last year but fell through due a strike. One was a conversation with the host at King’s College, Luis Rebaza Soraluz, on Doris Salcedo’s work Palempsesto; the other one, the next day, on political art, at University College London, hosted by Maria Chiara d’Argenio. I used the opportunity to have a first session with Michelle about both our new projects, to see how we can bring those together.

And right after returning on Friday afternoon, I attended the opening of five exhibitions at the Haags Gemeente Museum. One of these was devoted to the art of Maria van Kesteren. Another was on Vladyslaw Strzeminski and Katarzyna Cobro, heros of the Polish avant-garde. Both these were exquisitely installed. The great bonus was the profound pleasure to link up again with Jaroslaw Suchan, director of the Museum Sztuki in Lodz, where we had the great honor of premiering the Madame B exhibition.

But the week was not over yet. Sunday afternoon I held the lecture on Salcedo’s Palimpsesto again, this time in the framework of an exhibition of Colombian art, organized by Framer Framed and What Art Can Do, two organizations in Amsterdam devoted to contemporary art with special attention to its political potential.
For those interested in the lecture, I tried to post it here as pdf with the powerpoint images, but the file, with the images, is too large. If you write to my email address I will send it to you. I here post the lecture without the images.

new beginnings

It seems to never stop. In January I gave a lecture on, and screened Reasonable Doubt at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Slowly, it seems that the Dutch art world is discovering what I do. It was a lovely event.
Also in January, I gave a lecture “La agencia de la imagen: ¿Activa, activista, o activando?” in the Seminar “Espectros de otros 68: Genealogías estéticas y activismo global”, Universitat de Barcelona, 10 January 2019, an earlier version fo Which I gave as the as inaugiral lecture for the Escuela Doctoral de otoño, Sevilla, 7 November 2018.
In February I spent a wonderful week as a Visiting Professor at the Centre for Intermedial and Multimodal Studies (IMS), and the Centre Concurrences for colonial and postcolonial studies, Linnaeus University, Växjö, Sweden. The seminars and workshops came with the preparation of a film shoot for my new project, described on the left-hand column of this page Film Projects.
The connection with these two research centres at the Linnaeus University fulfill my wish to seriously integrate (academic) research and (artistic) research - two domains that are currently trying hard to connect. My film work is entirely based on that integration. I am jubilant about the connection - intellectual and artistic - with the Linnaeus University. Early may we will shoot there the final three scenes of the Don Quijote project, and right before that, the first scene in Murcia, Spain, at the occasion of the opening of my solo show “contaminaciones”. More on that later.
The lecture “Advocacy of shock: animating the museum, slowing down the visitors”, about rejuvenating curatorial practice, based on the exhibition in Oslo, Emma & Edvard: Love in the Time of Loneliness, I delivered for a very engaged audience at the University of Utrecht, MA Arts and Society, RMA Media, Art and Performance Studies, 30 January 2019.
The short film “Sissi in Analysis”, which Michelle and I edited especially for the exhibition Saying It at the Freud Museum London, was screened at a special occasion, at “Freud’s Lost Lecture”, presented by CREAM Screens, Regent Street Cinema, on 27th February 2019.
Just yesterday I did something strange: I sat for a photograph in an artist book.The artist, Carla van de Putterlaar, is making a book of photographs of women in the artworld, dressed extravagantly.

Carla’s website shows an astonishing array of women, dresses, and jewelry. She needs financing for the publication. See her website for a range of portraits.

I am now heading to the conference “Sublime Imperfections: Mistakes, Cracks, Noise Today” organized by my colleague and friend Ellen Rutten.

Right after that I am going to London to participate in the workshop day to celebrate our exhibition Madame B: Explorations in Emotional Capitalism” at the Lethaby Gallery of Central St Martins.

Click on the image for event info:

In Conversation with Sarah Lookofsky

Here I discuss my writing devoted to Nalini Malani’s Shadow Plays, multi-dimensional artworks that draw from different cinematic technologies and disparate repositories of images.

another semester flew by

The period from January through the Summer of 2018 was turbulent. While I tried to develop a new video project and a collaborative grant application, most of my time was taken by lectures, essay-writing, and installing small exhibitions. Both Precarity, a short 5-screen version of Madame B, and Reasonable Doubt were exhibited several times. Mostly, this went together with lectures, seminars, and other academic activities. I enjoyed the combination very much.
I am currently completely taken up by various speaking and writing engagements. These include writing up after conferences of last semester, and preparing new ones. But I promise, I will have news again by next Spring (I hope).

Also, during this semester I received the announcement that in 2019 I will be awarded two Honorary Doctorates. Only weeks after being given the honorary doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Helsinki, I received an honorary doctorate in the University of the Arts London; my fourth honorary degree. It seems especially significant that these two fields, apparently (only) so far apart, both recognize my work in their fields; or rather, in the integration in what is today called “artistic research”. This is an outpost - again, only apparently - of my ongoing advocacy of interdisciplinarity on which the research institute ASCA I co-founded has been based, now almost 25 years ago.

Mariana Madena, Radical Busts

In October 2017 During that long, busy semester, I went to Vienna to celebrate the book Anna Babka had edited around Marianne Maderna’s brilliant project Radical Busts. Today, six months later, I received the link to a beautiful video she edited based on the event. It is only ten minutes long, but it covers an entire brilliant project of recuperating the women omitted from history. Making gold-covered busts, ina contemporary aesthetic style, of women and place them nxt to the prestigious guys in the University’s courtyard, is an amazingly subversive act - a truly performative artwork. Thank you, Marianne!

A semester later… too busy to post!

Hallo everyone!
I am resurfacing.
After the exciting events of last Spring, with the exhibition Emma & Edvard: Love in the Time of Loneliness and the conference in March as the absolute height of my career, I was simply exhausted. All I could do was read Jo Nesbø detective novels, simply because they are set in the area of Oslo where the Munch Museum is. In-between novels I spent a short week in Lyon, speaking and screening around migration and migratory aesthetics. They invited Tarek Mehdi, the main character of my first somewhat longer documentary, to be present and discuss the film with the PhD and faculty attendees. They also installed Nothing is Missing and GLUB (Hearts) together, in a space much frequented by students. Inna Pravdenko, from Ukraine, organised it all to perfection. Here you see her addressing the crowd at the opening, making me shy.

Until I discovered that in my zombie-like state I had accepted way too many commitments for the Fall semester. Hence, the Summer went into writing talks. The resulting trips to many different countries, places, the events, are too many to enumerate.
It started with a simultaneous installation of Nothing is Missing in Valencia and Precarity in Utrecht. I couldn’t go to Valencia because they changed the date which now coincided with the ACLA (American Comparative Literature Association) conference in Utrecht to which I had already promised the installation and a keynote lecture. In spite of my absence, which I regretted, José Maldonado Gómez and his colleagues did a wonderfully adequate installation, with the right domestic ambiance in the middle of a modern university building.

In Utrecht, the installation was beautiful, right next to the registration office, so that the thousands of participants were practically compelled to see it. [all the xxx will be replaced by photos when I can]
At the end of August, the long series of travels began with a trip to Toronto, to see, and write about, Ydessa Hendeles’s brilliant exhibition The Milliner’s Daughter. Then I went on to a ten-days job in Rome, where I taught a PhD course at the Royal Dutch Institute Rome, ending with a one-day installation of Reasonable Doubt in the library.
From there straight on to Murcia, where Miguel Á. Hernández Navarro had organised a three-days seminar around my book Tiempos Trastornados. I took advantage of this trip to Spain to stop in Madrid for the opening of Doris Salcedo’s utterly brilliant new installation, Palimpsesto, in the Palacio de Cristal.

This is in my view one of the most important, powerful works of political art I have ever seen.

Since it is a live piece, which moves and changes constantly, I made a short video of it, here for you to see:

There is some Spanish, and most of the speeches are in English. For now I left the video without subtitles, to avoid spoiling th visual effect.
After a few days I then went to Paris, for the opening of Nalini Malani’s incredibly powerful exhibition The Rebellion of the Dead in the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Malani is my other favorite political artist. I had witten an article for the catalogue, and I was ever so happy to see the show for real. There was also a conference on Malani’s work, in which I gave a paper based on the catalogue essay and my book about her shadow plays, In Medias Res.
Here is just a fragment from one of her most recent paintings, a brilliant series.

The spine of the exhibition is a shadow play, Remembering Mad Meg, related to Brueghel’s famous painting. Whether one turn left (as I like to do) after the entrance, or right, to her oldest works, the shadow play is inevitably traversed.

I had the opportunity to show the short video I made of Salcedo’s moving work right afterwards in Bern, where I participated in a conference on Hispanic Visual Culture. I traveled by train, for ecological reasons, and barely a week later I made the same long journey, this time to Zürich, where I have a lecture in the historic café Voltaire

- a Dada hang-out - on “Clouded Judgments”, theorising the way a hovering, or hesitating paint surface that is neither abstract nor figurative can animate viewers; something I had learned from working with Munch, but now through the paintings of clouds by French artist Benoît Maire. Here is one slide from the extensive power point presentation I made for my argument based on his cloud paintings. This is the most “anthropomorphic” one:

From Zürich I took the night train to Vienna, for the celebration of a book on Marianne Maderna’s Radical Busts. We are now in early November. She generously gave me two small busts, of Simone de Beauvoir (left) and Virginia Woolf, now in my living room:

Right after this I went to New York, for a conference on Munch, occasioned by a Munch exhibition at the Breuer House, for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The topic was “Marketing the North” - a topic quite alien to me, but which I sued to talk about “how to save Munch from his reputation”. I wanted to replace the clichés on the artist by a fresh view of his work, especially the “surface tension” of his paintings. The week flew by with many appointments with old friends.
Still jet-lagged, I went to Spain again. The tour through three cities started in Malaga, where I showed, and talked bout, the installation GLUB (Hearts) as a bottom-up view of the city - the topic of the conference.

From there I went on to Santiago de Compostela, here I had the great luck to be able to show a 16-screen version of Madame B in the brilliant museum Centro Galego de Arte Contemporánea, where it is still running until late January. Director Santiago Olmo is my ideal of a museum director: brilliant, open-minded, and democratic to the bone. The conference, organised by Agar Ledo, had as its topic the question of a new history of art, especially in these times of political turmoil.

From Santiago I went on to Madrid for a conference on museums and their limits. Alex Alonso Tak and her team organised a big conference which included people from the Prado and a number of international speakers - another opportunity to make new friends.
The final trip was to Warsaw, where I was happy to connect again to my old friends Kasia Bojarska and Roma Sendyka (from Kraków). The conference was about memory. I used the opportunity to present an installation that combined a reduced version of The Mère Folle Project with Reasonable Doubt, to talk about “Dis-Remembering, Mis-Remembering” - the collective repression of traumatic history and the arrogant, presentist distortion of potentially useful memories. If you have the patience, the full lecture can be heard on this link.
My favorite installation team, Eidotech, here represented by Pawel, and Beata and Antoni of the Genealogies of Memory organisation, are posing amidst the photographs and screens. I thank them all wholeheartedly.

This was the end of my travels. Or so I thought. After participating in a conference in Leiden on “Activist Art” with a response to TJ Demos’s opening lecture, I suddenly had to go to Paris. My old friend Hubert Damisch had died. I deeply mourn his departure and will alway be grateful for the profound thinking he did with and for all of us. In 2012 I made a video on him, when he was the main character in a workshop in Antibes. Here you see him as he explained his thoughts, in one of my favorite photos of him.

More photos on this page:
In this video of 20 minutes, you see him in full action. People listened to him - his wife Teri Wehn Damisch, a brilliant documentary maker, is here on the right - for excellent reasons. Hubert Damisch was one of the greatest thinkers on visual art.

The video ends when he leaves - a symbolic moment, now, alas, forever.

Lucy van de Wiel is awarded the Erasmus Dissertation Prize!

On May 11 my former PhD student Lucy van de Wiel was awarded the Erasmus Dissertation Award. This is about as prestigious as honors in the Netherlands can get. Lucy’s thesis, entitled Freezing Fertility: A Cultural Analysis of Oocyte Cryopreservation and Aging, hit the heart of cultural analysis so precisely in its integration of theory, history and critical readings of documents from films to newspapers and even advertisements, on a subject of great social relevance, that this well-deserved honor also rubs off on ASCA, the research institute devoted to just such projects.
Here, Lucy explains the gist of her thesis to an audience that, in addition to proud supervisors, parents and partners, included the jury of the Foundation Praemium Erasmianum, and the founding director of Women on Waves, Rebecca Gomperts. The women of WoW sail over the world in a fully medically equiped ship to offer safe abortions in extraterritorial waters to women in countries where this is not possible or not allowed.

Lucy generously donated part of her prize money to that foundation. If you want to follow suit you can transfer a donation to the Organisation’s Bankaccount: 3316 Bank: ING BIC: INGBNL2A IBAN: NL54 INGB 0000003316 to the order of Women on Waves P.O.Box 15683 1001 ND Amsterdam. Here you see Rebecca bravely braving a large group of (mostly male) portesters against her endeavor.

The award ceremony took place in the 17th century building of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences. This building evoked sweet memories: in the same room we had shot some scenes of Reasonable Doubt just a few years ago. So, it seemed proper, that Lucy posed for a photo underneath the portrait of the great scientist Christiaan Huyghens where Thomas Germaine / Descartes stood in November 2015.

And also, the two of us posed next to Huyghens’ marble bust. Here, Thomas did a great improvisation on the motive of the seeing - hearing - speaking monkey. I love the contrast between the somewhat grumpy-looking Christiaan to our own happy faces.

It was also a great pleasure to see Lucy’s parents again. The last time we met was at Lucy’s dissertation defense. They were already so over-the-moon then, but of course, little did they, and we all, know, that their only daughter would end up being honored in such a big way barely two years later.

I wish Lucy the fabulous career, and hope she will be enabled to continue her integration of academic and activist work. My heartfelt congratulations, Lucy!

Narratology in Zagreb

In early April, 5-8, my former PhD student and life-long friend Sasha Vojkovic, professor of Film and performance Studies in Zagreb, had organized a three-day conference together with her colleague Sibila Petlevski.

The title, Narratology and its Discontents, suggested a critical engagement with the field that has marked by beginning as a scholar, back in the 1970s. I accepted the invitation, first of all for Sasha’s sake, but then also to rethink my own position in the field I have never really left behind, even if I have brought it to bear on so many other things. I was really happy to get the opportunity to do this, and realize I still find the theoretical refinements and the need to enhance relevance of narrtive theory very important.
Among the many brilliant and lovely people I met there, the scholar, filmmaker and photographer Mischa Twitchin sent me this photograph, which beautifully conveys the layered history of Zagreb, the city’s engagement with Europe whose history it shares, as well as more recent turbulence.

The way Mischa incorporates the past in a street-window is right up my alley. In my own lecture I developed thoughts on the importance of narratology for what is less and less easily called “post-colonial” theory and analysis. It is time to come up with a more honest term, that does not suggest “post-” means that what follows belongs to the past, but instead acknowledges our ongoing complicity with the enduring colonizations in the world. My lecture was titled “In the Absence of Post-“.

The national television broadcast an interview - don’t mind if you don’t understand Croatian, I speak in English. If you are interested, you can watch it below.