Madame B in Turku

On March 9th, the exhibition of Madame B, the full 19-screen presentation opened in Museum Aboa Ventus & Ars Nova, Turku, Finland to our delight. So, at this point in time, two very different full presentation of this work are running simultaneously - in Oslo and in Turku. After Oslo, I thought nothing could be so fantastic as Emma & Edvard. But to my great surprise, the difference is so enormous that no comparison is possible anyway. The only thing the two shows have in common is those video works. But also, both buildings have a structure that lends itself for a more or less narrative presentation without imposing linearity, let alone chronology.

In terms of content, the emphasis is slightly different. In Oslo, on the loneliness; in Turku, on the issue of emotional capitalism. The curator had chosen the photo of emotional capitalism “in practice” for the outside wall. This sets the tone already for casual passers-by. A literature professor from the University will hold a reading seminar of Madame Bovary after _Madame B.

Emma & Edvard: Love in the Time of Loneliness

After a year and a half of hard work, the big moment has arrived: the exhibition is open!
The main actors came for the opening and performed live in the galleries, to the great pleasure of the numerous visitors.
This photo was taken when Emma (Marja Skaffari) runs up to the podium where I am giving my opening speech, claiming “Madame Bovary, c’est moi!” and an embarrassed Charles (Thomas Germaine) apologizes for his wife while his mother (Helinä Hukkataival) points an accusing finger at her daughter-in-law.

Photo: Rena Li @ Munchmuseet
I spent two weeks in total at the museum, a long and intense period filled with the pleasure of working with dedicated and friendly “Munchies” (pron. Munckies) as I call them, with affection and gratitude. Here are some of them:

Michelle came for the opening, to help with finishing touches, and o videorecord the events. Here she is contemplating the point of the mirror at the exit of the show, reminding visitors that self-reflection is, in the end, the underlying thrust of it all.

Photo: Elan Gamaker

The result of all the hard work is terrific. At least, so says Kjetil Røed, the best-know art critic of Norway in the largest newspaper, Aftenposten on Sunday January 29. He wrote a dream review, that explains the concept of the exhibition so well I like to leave him to it; a bit of boasting, a bit of time pressure, and a lot of respect for his deep understanding. In English translation below the photo (quoted without spaces and photos) he wrote:

The best Munch exhibition I have ever seen!

Here is the evidence:

For the full text in English, see Responses to the exhibition:

Needless to say: I am thrilled by this reception. More, including some more comments, on the Exhibitions page, Emma & Edvard: Love in the Time of Loneliness

A semester as never before

As my luck in this lucky year had it, I was invited to spend the Fall semester as a Holly Fellow at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Upon arrival, my first surprise was to run into the new director of the Clark, who happened to be an old friend. When I was briefly a fellow for one month, in January 2001, Olivier and his wife Laure de Margerie were fellows for the year, and treated us to their lovely and generous friendship. Here you see them, laughing about a joke Ernst is cracking.

The Fall in this part of New England is spectacular. The weather was mostly sunny, and the one night-frost night required for the leaves to colour properly came just at the right time. As a result, for weeks on end it felt as if I was walking or driving through an artist’s palette. The photographs don’t do it justice, and even your imagination won’t, but at least they give a suggestion. On this image you see what I saw every day walking to work: the grounds and in the distance, the buildings where my office is, and the Clark Museum. Tucker Bair kindly gave me his professional photos.

The classicist Museum building houses a private collection that keeps expanding through donations and legacies. It is based on a collection the likes of which are hard to find, with lots of impressionist paintings, sculptures and works on paper. Some of the earliest photographs were recently beautifully displayed in the adjacent Manton building that houses the library and our offices, by curator Jay Clarke. She was able to show the early developments of photography as an art, in a relatively small but exquisite show. The museum building has recently been extended with another building and walls, a water-based decorative terras built by a Japanese architect, Tadao Ando, including another art center on the top of the hill. For days on end, about six weeks in total, we ate our lunch outside looking at this, again by Tucker Bair:

And then, overnight, came the snow. Too bad for the addictive colours, but then, this is exhilaratingly beautiful, too. Thick, woolly, and clean - at least for a few hours. And the deer were there all the time, mostly three of them. When we approached, they pricked up their gorgeous ears, looking straight at us with those large brown eyes, and then galloped away with an elegance one can only admire. A moving Christmas card. Tucker was able to approach this one close enough to see the magnificence of the animal:

The one unfortunate circumstance of this divine semester was the absence of my close friend Michael Holly, in honour of whose pioneering work building up RAP (Research and Academic Program) my fellowship was named. She and I initiated and built the program of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. Now, such programs are everywhere, but ours was the very first - of the country, and of the entire world, probably.
Michael left Rochester to become director of RAP more or less at the same time that I went to the University of Amsterdam. Since then, of course, it is harder to keep the friendship up in person. Now, we meet wherever life & work takes us. Or, as the case may be, we are separated all over again: I am in her environment, she is elsewhere. So, when she briefly came back from her own fellowship at the Getty to help the Clark celebrate the reopening of the entirely rebuilt Manton Center, we had a lovely reunion.

But then, of course, there was work to do - which is as pleasurable to me as anything. After the exhilarating although pretty hectic Spring semester, with three books coming out one of which I still had to finish, without interruption, over the Summer I got started on the book for the Munch exhibition Emma and Edvard. No Summer Holidays this year. Never mind. Delving into Munch’s work was an intensely exciting and pleasurable experience. The photo that became the emblem of the show, in addition to the two of sideways looking, is a poignant image of loneliness. Juxtaposed to the famous self-portrait that is known as the loneliness picture, one can see how the artist was not the cynical misogynist some make him out to be.

The utter solitude is matched by the one of the woman who, like Flaubert’s Emma in our videos on her wedding day, is totally isolated. This is supposed to be a festive day! This is the picture that ended up on the invitation card. In addition to the mood of loneliness and disillusion, these paintings also demonstrate the way Munch deployed both colour and the tension between figuration and abstraction in his style. Not to forget what I call “the cinematic”. The flash going off behind the “bride” and the man with bowed head next to her is at least an allusion to the electronic media.

Meanwhile, another great event was the Honorary Degree that was awarded to me by the University of Luzern (Switzerland). The initiative had been taken by Boris Previsic, a professor of cultural history in the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. I felt especially gratified by the combination of those two areas, and by the insistence, in the award speech, on the importance of my attempts at integrating art making with analysing, as I have done over the last decade. Boris remembered me from a Summer School at Cornell, and shamefully, I did not remember him. The first photograph here shows me between the Dean and the Rector, pointing to Boris who had written the beautiful speech that the Dean then read. I have fought all my life against the way people who do important things sometimes remains invisible - and from their smiles you can tell the two men agree. This photo and the next are not really a sequence, but narratively they are.

Boris is an accomplished flutist, performing in concerts all the time, while also being a very active academic. He and I were so constantly in agreement - fighting the “neoliberal” culture in the academic world, the regress to disciplinary boundaries, seeing the value of practice as theory, and more. We had the lovely albeit a bit eerie experience of automatically looking at each other when politically outrageous things were being said or quoted in the many speeches during the festivities of the “dies natalis” of the University. An intellectual and political agreement that was balm on both our hearts (this happened on November 10th…) Let Boris’s music be of some comfort…

Before taking off to Luzern I was able to send off my book manuscript. I also took a few days break in New York, among other things to participate in a documentary for acclaimed US web producer Vox against the awful black-facing tradition in the Netherlands, “Zwarte Piet”. The piece is entitled Why blackface is still part of Dutch Christmas.
And then the book. The pace of working had been a bit over-the-top, but thanks to many people I managed it. First of all, the brilliant staff of the brilliant library at the Clark. I worked a lot with librarian Karen Bucky who, always with great expertise and patience, helped me find what I needed. Not to forget the indispensable IT help from the always willing, always knowing John Carson. And in Oslo, thanks to editor Karen Lerheim, and designer Henrik Haugan our trio of busy bees got it all done, even the proofreading and indexing in less than a week. As a result, the book will be ready for the exhibition opening at the end of January. Here is a sneak-preview of the cover - I’ll replace it when I have the final:

And in addition to all this, I got the opportunity to show and discuss my new film, Reasonable Doubt, in various places: the Cinema Theatre Images, in Williamstown, Harvard University, the Pembroke Center at Brown University, and in the Stattkino in Luzern. The EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam is next, on January 18th - see their website. So far, the film is very well received. It seems viewers are sensitive to my attempts to integrate documented history with fiction to create a “theoretical fiction” that shows, audio-visually, the process of thinking Reasonable Doubt. This has been, indeed, a semester as never before.

After input comes output: three productive months

So much has happened these three months that I didn’t have a minute to report on it. I’ll just enumerate the events - judge for yourself. It feels to me like the harvest of years of hard work. But a generous harvest it is!
The last big event of this period is the arrival of the book In Medias Res: Inside Nalini Malani’s Shadow Plays. The outcome of a wonderful encounter with brilliant, innovative, political art. This has been my primary occupation over the past year and a half, and I am mightily proud of the outcome. I am also deeply grateful for the friendship that has grown with Nalini Malani and Johan Pijnappel. The book itself is a beautiful object, with a Mylar cover that has, in small proportions, an effect similar to the shadow plays. A collector’s item, or I’d prefer to say, an artwork in itself. Here you see the artist holding the first copy of the book:

Before this: From 6 to 10 April I was in Dublin. In addition to a keynote lecture on Deleuze and Art, I was able to exhibit our 5-screen installation Precarity, based on the Madame B material. As usual, the combination of an academic event and an exhibition triggered wonderful discussions. The conference logo was based on a brilliant photograph by organizer Radek Przedpelski:
Barely had I returned to Amsterdam, when I left again, from 20 to 25 April, for the world première of my film Reasonable Doubt in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Kraków, Poland, the first feature film I have made alone, without the invaluable contribution of Michelle. It was hard, but premiering in the Festival Film and Philosophy, the film drew a lot of people, and was a huge success. The Q&A afterwards was very interesting. On my left the lead actors Thomas Germaine and Marja Skaffari; on my right Roma Sendyka and festival director Marzena Dudziuk (photo: Piotr Daren).
Simultaneously, in the Museum of the history of Photography, the 5-screen installation of that project was exhibited, beautifully curated by Roma Sendyka and the curatorial collective she had gathered around her. Here they are, at the opening event! (photo: Piotr Daren).
A few days later I went to Vienna for the launch of my book Lexikon der Kulturanalyse, a small book that only exists in German. Anna Babka, a former participant in the ASCA Theory Seminar, now a professor in Vienna, had organized both the book and its launch, along with her colleague Wolfgang Müller-Funk. On this photo they are on the left.

The opportunity to visit with my granddaughter Damar who is doing an MA in Vienna was a lovely bonus.
After a trip to Paris to visit friends and write a catalogue essay for an upcoming big survey exhibition of the work of Louise Lawler, on June 1st Reasonable Doubt was screened in cinema De Uitkijk in Amsterdam, an event organized by ASCA. Patricia Pisters moderated the Q&A afterwards. And on June 2d I left to Madrid, for another book launch, of the big book Tiempos Trastornados, on visual art. This one only exists in Spanish, and has been edited by Miguel Ángel Hernández Navarro in close consultation with myself, and his colleague Alejandro García Avilés.
Here another marvelous opportunity presented itself: to see the Hieronymus Bosch exhibition in the Prado. I had missed the show in Den Bosch in the Netherlands, which I regret, but I had already heard the Madrid one is both more comrehensive and better installed. The Spanish call him “Bosco”, by the way, and consider him Spanish. Funny how nations and nationality can be made to appear transhistorical. The exhibition was over-the-top brilliant, and the joy of spending long hours staring at minuscule images was profound. Bosch’s imagination combined with reality is unparalleled. I was in stitches when I saw the cord around the bottom of the crucified Saint Lucia’s skirt - otherwise people might look up her skirt! Torture and the obsession with chastity - well, we know they can go hand in hand.

Now I am ready to continue writing the book for the exhibition in Oslo. The final part will be done at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, between September and November.

Emma and Edward: Looking Sideways

I think 2016 is my lucky year. I have received the most incredible, because three-tiered invitation: to curate an exhibition at the Munch Museum in Oslo, of their enormous collection of Munch paintings and graphics; to incorporate the installations of Madame B in it; and to write an extensive catalogue for it. It is so exciting, and also challenging, in view of my limited knowledge of Munch’s work, and of the time frame: the opening is on January 25th, 2017. Luckily, I was so stimulated by the invitation and the friendly and helpful staff in Oslo that I came up with an idea right away.
To get a sense of my concept, look here:

I have selected the paintings, and with the help of Ute Kuhlemann Falck, curator of graphics at the Museum, checked their availability. Given the popularity of Munch, this was not easy. Many paintings are or will be on loan elsewhere. Ute is co-author of this 2014 book:

The photo gives a good impression of the fascinating use of material in Munch’s work.
Heaping more luck on me, the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, has invited me to spend the Fall semester there as a fellow. And guess what… one of the great Munch specialists, Jay A. Clarke, works just there, and so I can be confident that I will have a well-supplied library as well as an expert consultant at my disposal. Plus, a fabulous collection of art more or less contemporary to Munch as a daily lunch-break space to walk through.

I am starting a page in “curating” that keeps you informed about my progress. Needless to say, I will be terribly busy for the rest of this year. For more, see Emma and Edvard

some new events

Between the last post, still under the shadow of the death of my friend John Neubauer, and today, many things have happened. As they say: “life goes on”. I participated in some lovely international meetings, such as a one-day conference at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris, organized by Mathilde Roman, on January 16th, where I gave a presentation on Madame B in the presence of artists I greatly admire - Aernout Mik, Sebastián Díaz Morales, Omer Fast, and others.

Last week I organized and ran a workshop on intermedial analysis in a newly established department of Culture and Aesthetic at the University of Stockholm. I also presented Madame B there, to great acclaim.One of the participants, Anna Maria Hällgren, made this lovely drawing.

Meanwhile, I have been working hard to finish Reasonable Doubt, the film and installation project on René Descartes and Queen Kristina of Zweden. The briefest I can say about it is what I wrote for the DVD inlay:
R.D. stands for René Descartes, always engaged in Reasonable Doubt. And so was Kristina, Queen of Sweden. At the dawn of modernity, two brilliant, lonely, eccentric, paranoid Europeans briefly met, in a mis-encounter, in 1650. This video work is not a biography but scenes that constitute a double portrait. Some of scenes are historical, some fictionalising ways of making historical ideas relevant for today. This box contains a DVD with the feature, and one with five installation pieces. The latter have been made to accommodate visitor’s interest, moods, endurance, and, if it so happens, impatience, as a complex and embodied way of absorbing thought in process.

This photograph, made by Polish photographer Przemo Wojciechowski who was the set photographer for the shoot in Nieborów, Poland, will be the logo image of this project. Marja Skaffari is gazing at the sculpture of Descartes. My interpretation of the character Descartes comes across in this image, also by Przemo. Thomas Germaine plays a Descartes who is feeling poorly, but also insecure about everything.

I am currently finalizing the very last bits, including the painful issue of financing… You can help with that, of course, by ordering this or any of my other films on DVD.

Two weeks in Rome

To keep the In Memoriam visible as long as possible, I will keep this post short. For the film shoot that occupied my first few days in Rome, please see the last part of this page on the film project Reasonable Doubt Cast & Crew Then, we had the Interculturality Week at the Royal Dutch Institute Rome (KNIR). For those who read German, this account wittily written by our colleague Dagmar Reichardt may amuse you. If not, it includes a photo gallery, too. Read it here.

In Memoriam John Neubauer

In memoriam John (Janos) Neubauer
On Monday October 5th, 2015, my long-time friend and colleague John Neubauer passed away, in the presence of his beloved wife, the artist Ursula Neubauer, and his daughters Eva and Nicole. He was 81 years old. From 1983 to 2003 he was professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Amsterdam. Before that he had taught at Princeton and Pittsburgh, and had been a guest professor at Harvard, and in Colombia, Canada and Germany, and a guest researcher in his native Hungary. Many around the world have had the opportunity to benefit from his enormous knowledge of what is now called “world Literature”; and enjoy his great intelligence, coomitment, and humor.
John was a true world citizen. Born in Hungary, he has lived for a long time in the USA, and ended up in the Netherlands. He felt European, and was averse of all forms of nationalism.
He earned a BA (cum laude) in physics, spoke a large number of languages, and had a deep interest in music. His first book considered the history of the relationship between music and language, including literature - The Emancipation of Music from Language - and until the end he has worked hard to finish what had to be his last book, The Persistence of Voice, symmetrically with the first one studying the impossibility of separating music from language in an absolute way. With some devoted friends, we hope to bring that book out posthumously, as soon as possible. In this way his scholarly work is framed from both sides of his career by his greatest intellectual passions: history and music, across cultural borders. In-between he wrote innumerable books and articles, on literature, cultural history, and topics such as adolescence. He was a great scholar of the Humanities, in the widest sense.
John was not only an internationally important scholar but in the first place a thoughtful, loving husband, father and grandfather; a warm friend who enjoyed life, wanting others to be able to do so as well. Until the very end he made people laugh with his refined humor. In these relationships he was keenly self-critical. He could tell endlessly about what he had read, heard and seen, always balancing his story-telling with sincere interest in the experiences of his interlocutors. Students and PhD candidates have been able to learn a lot from that thoughtful attitude. Shortly after the sudden death of our colleague and friend Jan van Luxemburg he started an organization, in memory of Jan, for the promotion of reading. This program will be continued under the leadership of three colleagues to whom John had entrusted this task.
John was extraordinarily athletic; an exceptional sportsman. Until a few months ago he made long walks in the mountains, and is known for being an enduring marathon runner. He was 80 when he ran his last marathon. Athletic as few intellectuals are, it is extremely ironic and harsh that he had to die of a cruel degenerative disease of the muscles. His death is a deep loss for all his many friends and colleagues, readers and students. I can only hope that his wife Ursula will be helped to cope with this great loss by the thoughts of many, and continue her life and artistic projects, in which John has always encouraged and stimulated her. Ursula, Eva and Nicole have a lot to be proud of. I hope they can get some comfort from that.

Film shoot in Niewborów Palace

It’s already several months ago… right after the shoot, things happened that made it difficult to keep the blog up-to-date; not only in my own work but also with the files that needed synching; and in the life of the photographer. One thing that I still don’t have, apart from a few, is the photographs. But this shoot was too fantastic to miss. We spent almost a week in an amazing Palace, which is part of the National Museum of Poland. The opportunity to film there while staying in the Palace itself was too good to miss. The staff was brilliant, allowing us to film anywhere, remove obstacles such as crowd-control cords, and yet, watching with hawk’s eyes that nothing got damaged. Fantastic professionals, and lovely human beings.
The part we filmed there between March 27 and April 2 concerned Queen Kristina of Sweden, played by Marja Skaffari. Her neurotic disposition included intense impatience. So, when Descartes incurred some delay in arriving, she really went ballistic.
At first she wonders why the great man would decline to run to her side - she, the mighty Queen…

But soon she begins to wonder about herself. Is she not beautiful enough, not smart enough? And so, she smears dirt on her face, to be able to face herself as, supposedly, “ugly”.

When Descartes finally arrives, she is already busy with other projects, and doesn’t have much time for him. That part of the installation will be titled “Mis-Encounters”. Kristina meets (almost) a friend who could become a lover. But she is incapable to emotionally engage. So, she runs away, hides in a hollow tree, and asks Descartes questions about love he is barely able to answer. For he, too, was damaged as a child, and of all the tasks he sets himself, loving another human being seems the most difficult one.

I am now busy editing five installation pieces. A final shoot in Rome, in October, will complete the material for the project.

Prague and Protest

On February 19, the National Gallery opened a new department of moving images. This department will have a three-monthly, changing display. The installments are called chapters. The first one, titled “The Importance of Being a (Moving) Image” assembled works by seven experimental video artists. Michelle and I had been invited to make a reduced version of Madame B, appropriate for a group show. We made a 5-channel installation we titled “Precarity”. We are, of course, very proud to be included in this project at such a prestigious venue. The installation ended up on a floor of its own, and this allowed for an elegant placement that does justice to the fantastic architecture of the Palace. The downside: there was no possibility to capture the installation as a whole in a photograph. This image, made by co-curator Jen Kratochvil, who made the display with Adam Budak, is as good as it gets.

Images of individual screens are easier to make. On the following photograph, little Deyna Mehdi is confronted with the anxiety of Emma regarding gender, expressed, luckily, in a language the child doesn’t understand, and answers with a lovely smile. This moment has always been one of my favorites in the project.

Two rather dramatic things happened around this opening. Two days before leaving for Prague I wanted to go to my office to take the hard drive with the files on it, just in case something went wrong. But the building had been occupied by (justifiedly) angry students. So, it was impossible to get in. I made my failed attempt just when the press arrived in full force, so I had my day of fame. Instead of climbing in, I requested and got the students to get the disk for me. All in all, it was a hilarious moment. So hilarious, I want to share it with you, in spite of my inelegant pose.

The second incident was less fun. I had a terrible fall on my way to the opening, and bled terribly. My dress ruined, my face like that of Frankenstein’s monster, and the festive evening was a bit ambivalent. Still it was glorious. The Palace had never before attracted so many people. Adam Budak really has made the place change dramatically in the little time he has now worked there. Th next day, still looking seriously weird, I gace the longest lecture of my life.
The lecture can be watched (and this does include my war wounds) on this link:

I will soon describe the show further on the group exhibitions page.