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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Barely returned from Oslo, with much delay, the next day, Monday March 27 I participated in a seminar organized by De Appel and its director Niels van Tomme, in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam. It was an invigorating event, which demonstrated common concerns about art in the contemporary world. To get a sense of the event, here is a brief video of my conversation with Niels after the event: Activating.
On March 23 to 25 a conference took place to give more depth to the exhibition Emma & Edvard. Some of the greatest scholars in topics that radiate from the phrase of the title, “Modern Sensibilities”, came together. They delivered fabulous, brilliant papers. I felt greatly honoured that they all accepted my invitation and were able and willing to really address the topic. As a result, as opposed to the usual one-topic conference where speakers bring their own obsessions, so that no collective concentration of thought emerges, here the very diverging topics came together in a common search for how to understand the sensibilities that underlie modern art. You can read the programme, abstracts of the lectures, and bioblurbs of the speakers here: programme.pdf
The photo shows the speakers in a relaxed after-conference moment. Left: Jon-Ove Steihaug, director if collections and exhibitions of the Munch museum, Griselda Pollock, Ernst van Alphen, Rachel Burke; right: Jonathan Culler, Kristin Gjesdal, Mieke Bal, Patricia Berman, Øystein Sjåstad.
Unfortunately, Miguel Á. Hernández Navarro could not make it, but he will participate in the publication. The papers will be published in )Text Matters_, an international journal for cultural studies and literature based at the University of Lodz, Poland, edited by Dorota Filipczak. They will already appear in Fall 2017.
March 17 was a memorable day, to say the least. ASCA had organised a “Tribute to Mieke Bal” titled In Medias Res, alluding to the book of the same title I published last year on the brilliant shadow plays of Nalini Malani. See In Medias Res. The integration between that event and the opening of an exhibition of works by Nalani at the Stedelijk Museum expressed concretely the value of collaboration so dear to both Nalini and myself. At the end of a series of eight lovely speeches, each addressing a different field in which I work, the vice-mayor of Amsterdam took the microphone to appoint me “Ridder in the Orde van de Nederlandse Leeuw” (Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion). This took me completely by surprise. And so, this photo by Erik de Jager suggests, did it to the audience:
The day after, Saturday 18, was the opening of Reasonable Doubt in Castrum Peregrini. It was a glorious event, with lots of visitors and a broadcast conversation with brilliant curator Nina Folkersma. See the relevant page, Reasonable Doubt in Castrum Peregrini, Amsterdam.
Sunday morning, finally, Anna-Helena Klumpen, who had come from Berlin to be present at all these events, came to my house for an interview. See Anna-Helena_Klumpen. Anna is a specialist of my film work. She is writing her PhD dissertation about thinking in film, and before that she wrote her MA thesis on A Long History of Madness.
Today I am off to Norway, for some lectures, a meeting to plan the new display of Munch’s work when the Museum moves to the new building, in 2019, and, above all, a conference at the Munch Museum, “Modern Sensibilities”, on Thursday and Friday, to probe some more of the issues the exhibition Emma & Edvard: Love in the Time of Loneliness has brought up.
I am very please to invite you all for the opening, on March 18 at 5 pm, or for a later visit, to the first exhibition of Reasonable Doubt in the Netherlands. The Centre is open from Tuesday to Friday from 10 to 6 pm.
It so happens that as of the opening of this exhibition in the Intellectual and Cultural Centre Castrum Peregrini, Herengracht 401, Amsterdam on Saturday March 18, three exhibitions of my video work are running simultaneously.
This photograph was made by Przemo Wojciechowski in Nieborów Palace in Poland. It shows Queen Kristina (played by Marja Skaffari), frustrated by the delayed arrival of René Descartes, an impatience her clutched fists in this confrontation with the small statue of the famous philosopher signifies. For more on the exhibition, see Reasonable Doubt.