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.

Seminar “activating Artifacts”, organised by De Appel and the University of Amsterdam

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.

Conference “Modern Sensibilities”, at the Munch Museum, Oslo

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.

a big surprise

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 public responding
the public responding
Here I am standing, moved and proud, next to the vice-mayor of my beloved city, Simone Kukenheim, after she pinned the decoration on my jacket.
a state portrait
a state portrait

As you can see from the photo below, the “ribbon” (lintje) is not the most aesthetic piece of jewelry I have, but it has meaning: it comes in the name of the people of Amsterdam, for having left the ivory tower with my work.

with the artist Nalini Malani, who has become a great friend. photo: Johan Pijnappel
I also participated in a video posted at the entrance of the Stedelijk museum during the tenure of the exhibition Transgressions. You can see the video here and learn about Nalini’s work from herself, the curator Margriet Schavemaker, and a small bit from me. The entrance hall with its cozy video corner looks like this:

The webpage of the University of Amsterdam posted the news of my knighthood immediately. See here for the university’s text about the distinction.
Below are some photos, by Erik de Jager. The first series shows the speakers in order of appearance, with only Griselda Pollock missing.
  • Patricia Pisters, Director of ASCA
    Patricia Pisters, Director of ASCA
  • Jon-Ove Steihaug, director of exhibitions, Munch Museum (curating)
    Jon-Ove Steihaug, director of exhibitions, Munch Museum (curating)
  • Jonathan Culler, Cornelle University (narratology)
    Jonathan Culler, Cornelle University (narratology)
  • Jonneke Bekkenkamp, UvA (Bible)
    Jonneke Bekkenkamp, UvA (Bible)
  • Maaike Meijer, Maastricht (feminism)
    Maaike Meijer, Maastricht (feminism)
  • Michelle Williams Gamaker, Goldsmiths (film making)
    Michelle Williams Gamaker, Goldsmiths (film making)
  • Ria Lemaire, Poitiers (founding interdisciplinary programs)
    Ria Lemaire, Poitiers (founding interdisciplinary programs)
  • Esther Peeren, vice-director ASCA (cultural analysis)
    Esther Peeren, vice-director ASCA (cultural analysis)
  • Checking out the turn-out
    Checking out the turn-out
  • my cousin Elaine and my sister Leontine
    my cousin Elaine and my sister Leontine
  • Margriet Schavemaker, Beatrix Ruf, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
    Margriet Schavemaker, Beatrix Ruf, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev
  • with Ursula Neubauer
    with Ursula Neubauer
  • Thijs Vissia, Margreet Vermeulen, Françoise Davoine
    Thijs Vissia, Margreet Vermeulen, Françoise Davoine
  • with Nina Folkersma, curator of Reasonable Doubt
    with Nina Folkersma, curator of Reasonable Doubt
  • full house
    full house
  • listening
  • Simone Kukenheim, Vice-Mayor of Amsterdam
    Simone Kukenheim, Vice-Mayor of Amsterdam
  • the surprise
    the surprise
  • I got it
    I got it
  • tears
  • "another piece of jewelry"
    "another piece of jewelry"
  • still in shock
    still in shock
  • after-effects

The photos after these eight show the event, from before to after-effects, including some tears.

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.

Reasonable Doubt in Castrum Peregrini, Amsterdam

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.

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.