Malta, and Première of _Madame B_

Michelle and I spent a week on the gorgeous island of Malta, a historically rich and cultural vibrant small EU country. The occasion was, as usual, double: an exhibition and a Curatorial School. A combination of openings, lectures and seminars kept us pretty busy. We are still waiting for visual material to come our way. Once this has arrived, I will post the usual information in the Exhibitions section of this website. This Vermeer-like photo gives a preview of the quality of the curation, done by Raphael Vella. Raphael had initiated and organised the arts festival in which the exhibition took place as one of three works by non-Maltese artists. All three works are highly political, in very different ways. The film Madame B was also screened, in an outdoors theatre. This turned out not the best idea - when Emma began to die, towards the end of the film, fire works went off. A particularly successful screening was State of Suspension, a film that has sadly acquired renewed actuality because of the recent gruesome war.
Then, last night, on the ominous date of 11 September, the World Première of Madame B finally took place. The event was hosted by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, in an auditorium of 200 seats - all taken. Here you see a section of that large audience, applauding Marja Skaffari, as they will soon also do for Thomas Germaine and Mathieu Montanier. To our delight, all three main actors were present.

Catching Up: Poland, France, Australia

I have been so intensely busy that I have had no time to write in my blog. After Colombia I went to Poland. I spent a busy and inspiring week there. I was invited by Roma Sendyka, here on the left, and was happy that Kaisa Bojarska (right), who got me to come to Poland last October, was here among many other wonderful people. Roma had organized a Summer School, where I gave some lectures. She also installed Nothing is Missing, with student curators. Roma is the best teacher, totally democratic in her interactions with students, and at the same time demanding, thus showing respect for their capacities.
The Summer School took place in Nieborów Castle, a Palace that belongs to the National Museum. To my delight, and again, thanks to Roma, I was given permission to return next Spring to film for my new project - on which more later. During the week I also went to the Muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, where I made a short video tour about their new installation of the permanent collection of this oldest modern art museum in the world:

Only a few days after, I went on holidays: a few days in Paris, then on to the South, to attend the marathon performance of Henri VI in the Festival of Avignon. The play lasts 18 hours. The actor I have been working with for film projects, Thomas Germaine - Artaud and Herlat in A Long History of Madness, the three men in Emma’s life in Madame B., played the title role. As his greatest fan, I had to go. It was an incredible experience. The creativity of the mise en scène is beyond anything I’ve ever seen, and Thomas, brilliant as always. Here you see him responding, flabbergasted, to the murder of his uncle and confidant, the Duke of Gloucester. The moment when he realises he is alone now in facing all the intrigues, violence, and betrayals.
The second reason we went Southwards was to see a permanent installation by Ann Veronica Janssens, one of my favorite artists, on whose work I wrote Endless Andness. She had installed coloured glass in a chapel at the cemetery of Grignan. The effect was as if she had painted the air in the chapel. Here is an overview and a detail of the effect - not the glass itself but the reflections on the walls. It was another unforgettable art experience.
While in France the new reached me that yet another of my favorite artists, Doris Salcedo, had won the prestigious Hiroshima Art Prize. Her most recent major work, A flor de piel, in exhibited in Hiroshima. Here is a detail of that work, a shroud made of rose petals. I was asked to write an article for the Bogotá newspaper El tiempo. How could I refuse, even while on holiday? Here is a pdf of the article. salcedo_premiohiroshima.pdf
At this moment I am in Sydney. The Sydney College of the Arts is staging the Madame B exhibition, in connection to the conference The Image in Question.The topic is the current overflow of media images and what attitudes we can develop to make sense of this visual world. I am giving the opening lecture. As I tend to do, I will develop my ideas in dialogue with art. In this case, through the work of Monika Huber, Ann Veronica Janssens, and Stan Douglas. Janssens’s work is abstract; Huber makes actual press photographs semi-abstract by overpainting them. Douglas uses yet different strategies to recall, address, and critique visual traditions. Three brilliant bodies of I a happy to delve into. The exhibition was linked to a group show of DCA faculty, It is beautifully installed. See Madame B (Australia)

Exhibition and book launch in Colombia

Today, on May 22, the exhibition Madame B: Exploraciones en el capitalismo emocional opens in Medellín, in two university galleries. The one is an art gallery of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia sede Medellín, the other, the art gallery of the private university EAFIT.

The challenging new element is the spread over two very different spaces, quite a distance apart. We have also posted photographs and a video tour. An enormously active media coverage helps, hopefully, to attract visitors to both sites. A dozen newspapers, radio, and four television programs add the news to the screens on the street.

During this same trip, the Spanish translation of my book on the work of Doris Salcedo and the question of political art is being launched, on May 19 in Bogotá in the presence of the artist, and today in Medellín. This is, for me, a marvelous opportunity to make good on the premise I try to spread wherever I can, that art making and studying are not distinct activities. Something unheard of in Europe: this event, too, was advertised on street screens. This, and the media interest in general, are for me a demonstration of the strong presence of culture and thought in Latin-American public life. True, one television interview was cancelled in favor of a football match, but still… This screen advertises my book! The initiator of the translation, Lucrecia Piedrahita Orrego, also curated what she called an “expografía” which was in fact an exhibition of quotes, images, and videos of the book. This took place at the Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, in the galería de Arte de la Facultad de Arquitectura, April 1-16.

Exhibition on Åland

After the exhibitions in Lodz, Tallinn and Zürich, the full Madame B exhibition is now in the Post och Tullhus in Eckerö, on the Swedish-speaking island of Åland. Curator Mervi Appel did a brilliant job acquiring and designing the exhibition, and Göran Stenius - also a participant who plays the bailiff - installed it expertly. Here you see Mervi speaking at the opening. Many participants came from mainland Finland, including cinematographer Christopher Wessels, and the singing beggar Lila Köngäs-Saarikko. And of course, our star actress Marja Skaffari, who plays an Emma unique in the history of Flaubert-based films. Imagine the joy for Mervi and Marja’s mother Raili Skaffari, who came and spent hours in the exhibition.
For me, this trip to Åland, home also to Astrid Törneroos who played such a brilliant little Berthe, made it irresistible to make a first start with a new project I only have a very sketchy idea for. I cannot betray what it will be - since I don’t know it myself - but I do have the first bits of footage, thanks to Christopher and Michelle. The shooting involved also Marja and her husband Jere Lokio. More at a later time…

London, Paris, Big News

Just a few days in London. I gave a keynote lecture at the Association of Art Historians (AAH) in the beautiful lecture theatre of the Victoria & Albert Museum (V&A), on anachronism. The topic of the conference was “history in the making” - just my kind of thing! It was an opportunity to reflect on history and the way anachronism can be useful to make history visible in the present,and to present our project Madame B as an example of “history in the making” in the double meaning of the phrase: the past being constantly (re)made as part of the present; and making and scholarship as complementary activities.

Apart from that lecture, these few days were entirely devoted to working with Michelle, who moved to London in February. We edited material for the second disk in our DVD box of Madame B. Apart, that is, from having drinks with Ola Jach, curator at the muzeum Sztuki in Lodz, who also attended the AAH conference.

In addition, I had a “plotting” breakfast with Bill Sherman, director of research at the V&A, with whom I had felt a productive connection when meeting him a month ago at MoMA in New York. We discussed issue of “history in the making” from the vantage point of an institution like the V&A devoted to history but functioning in the present. I hope we get to work together in the future.

I also had the great pleasure to seeing Julia, Michelle and Elan’s daughter. When they lived in Amsterdam I more or less followed her growing up, becoming a toddler and starting to walk & talk. Now, the encounters are much rarer. I was astonished by how much more mature she seemed suddenly. She also is clearly extraordinarily talented. She makes paintings of which her dad said, “I wouldn’t mind having framed and on my living-room wall.” And I agree.

I was also very happy to spend some chatting time with an old friend, Marquard Smith, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Visual Culture and to be given his recently published book, The Erotic Doll: A Modern Fetish (Yale University Press 2013). The cover alone tells us about gender politics in modernism.

Time flew by, and I was on my way to Paris directly from London. There, I was going to shoot a small documentary for the DVD box of our current project, of an interview with Thomas Germaine. He is the actor who plays the three men in Madame B. The BIG NEWS he told me was that the Shakespeare play Henri VI (18 hours!) by La Piccola Familia, the theatre company of the brilliant director Thomas Jolly, had been awarded the Beaumarchais prize for “meilleur spectacle” - an untranslatable phrase that means best play / best performance. You can read more about the play in my blog of 14 April 2013. Here is “our” Thomas as Henri VI again, in a photo by Nicolas Joubard. I couldn’t find a better picture, so I repeat this one. Needless to say, the award is entirely deserved. I can’t wait to see the entire 18 hours in Avignon, at the famous theatre festival, this Summer. Congratulations to the two Thomases and their many colleagues (the play has some 50 participants)!

Remembering Sonja Neef: an afternoon in Köln

On April 6th, 2013 Sonja Neef, one of my best, most creative former PhD students, died at age 45. I went to the funeral service in Braunschweig, Germany. On Friday April 4th, the nearest we could get to the actual anniversary of her death, an afternoon symposium was devoted to her intellectual legacy at Morphomata, a research institute at the University of Köln, where Sonja had been a resident the year before she fell ill, and where I was last year. It was a sad occasion but a wonderful event. Her direct family members - husband, children, parents, sister - were all present. Sonja’s friend from her Morphomata year, Henry Sussman, came from Yale University to give one of the lectures. I also gave one. Among other elements of her work I appreciate especially her work on William Kentridge, whom we both esteemed as one of the most creatively political artists of our time. Here Sonja is lecturing on his Felix in Exile.
The event was also a book launch for an edited volume, Astroculture, she had vigorously worked on while also finishing her own long-term monographic project, Der babylonische Planet. Sonja was incredibly active, creative and brilliant. Imagining what she would have achieved had she not been taken at the half-way point of her life leaves me flabbergasted.

Rochester Reunion in Manchester, trip to Lancaster

Janet Wolff, former colleague at Rochester in the 1990s, had a birthday yesterday. And it so happened that our common friend and also colleague at Rochester was in the UK at the same time as I am. Somehow we discovered this. So, we decided to spring champagne and ourselves on Janet. We had a lovely time, which made me regret we don’t see each other often enough. The photo is pretty awful - my first and probably last selfie ever - but you get the gist of the girls’ reunion. Left is Janet, middle is Michael.
I am on my way to Lancaster, for a lecture, a screening of Madame B. and a PhD seminar and tutorials.
Two days later… Lancaster was a lovely experience of encounters with great colleagues and PhD students. Madame B.was sneak-previewed in a nearly gothic old Art Centre, called The Storey, for an audience of scholars and students. The discussion was amazingly animated. And I am now getting used to the question about the costumes and jewelry. When I say it all came out of our respective closets, people can’t believe it. There was also a very sensitive response to the rhythm, the way we have managed to build slowness into a film that could have been just as easily three hours long than the 96 minutes we squeezed it into.

I also enjoyed the company of the organizer of the visit, Sharon Ruston, author
of a very creative study on Romanticism: Creating Romanticism: Case Studies in the Literature, Science, and Medicine of the 1790s (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013). Sharon was generous and effective, sharing her friends with me and me with her friends. And her friends are the most interesting people - creative writers, scholars of “Medical Humanities”. I am especially interested in the article “Language, mind and autism in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” in Linguistics and literary studies: interfaces, encounters, transfers. Fludernik, M. & Jacob, D. (eds.). Berlin: De Gruyter, p. 279-303, by Elena Semino, the head of the department of English Language and Linguistics, co-sponsor of my visit. It’s an amazing novel, I very much enjoyed meeting Elena, and my old interest in mental illness (see A Long History of Madness) doubles my eagerness for this article.

Zürich, Paris, Łódź, New York, Boston

This blog will be both short, on each event, and long because there have been so many since the last blog. I have been silent since Tallinn, not because there was nothing to report but, on the contrary, I was too busy travelling and doing the things I would have liked to report on. Two weeks after Tallinn I went to Zürich, Switzerland, to participate in a conference in honor of Sigrid Schade, who was celebrating both her 60th birthday and her book on Canadian artist Vera Frenkel. While I was there, the Baerengasse Museum installed a small show derived from our Madame B project, which we titled When Love Fails Us. To abbreviate, just watch the link and see what I wrote about it on that page.
Soon after this trip I went to Paris, where I saw and admired the new exhibition in what has become my favorite museum in Paris, the Maison Rouge. This was a combination of works by sculptor Belinda de Bruickere and, curated by her, paintings and drawings by Philippe Vandenberg, in dialogue together. There was also a second exhibition, enigmatically titled “L’asyle de la photographie” that documents the end of a psychiatric hospital through its archives. The result was not the usual voyeurstic gaze at mad people but, on the contrary, the gaze of madness cast upon photography. Barely back home I was called to Łódź, where Daniel Muzyczuk had organized a screening of the film Madame B. at the Muzeum Sztuki, where our exhibition Madame B had just closed. This was an opportunity to meet the artist Agnieszka Kalinowa, whose riviting video Silencer is in the museum’s collection. Agniekszka has asked me to write about her films for an upcoming exhibition in Gdansk. A wonderful encounter. The blitz visit to Łódź was also an opportunity to see the brilliant new display of the museum’s permanent collection, curated by the group of curators and the director, Jarosław Suchan who is both a brilliant curator and scholar, and a brilliant director, loved by his staff because he gives them space to do their own thing. The exhibition, Atlas of Modernity, was truly fantastic. The basic idea was to spatialize modernity, not only in the obvious way that museum exhibitions require, but in terms of categories that always overlapped a bit, questioning their own borders; and through juxtaposing works far apart in historical time, so that anachronistic dialogues emerged. The best was the blurred boundaries between “Autonomy” and “Capitalism”. The greatest added pleasure was to see works by Alina Szaposznikow, one of my favorite artists. Here is her amazing sculpture Multiple Portrait from 1967. And I was very happy to continue my friendship with curator Kasia Słoboda and coordinator Przemek Purtak, with whom I had such an intensive working relationship during the installation and opening of our exhibition. Two lovely young people working to continue the high-level of performance in the museum, and who give the concept of curating as derived from caring, its proper meaning.

A few days later I was on my way to New York and Boston.
New York was tied to my annual participation in a seminar at MoMA (see earlier blogs). This year, the big surprise was the presence of French curator Jean-Hubert Martin, who initiated in 1989 the trend of huge international exhibitions with his famous and much-discussed Magiciens de la terre, and whose very recent show Théâtre du monde at the Maison Rouge last Fall had been a great inspiration to me. Here he is standing in one of the galleries of that recent exhibition. The topics of the seminar - exhibiting, collecting, and performance - were of great interest to me.
I used the opportunity to visit with many old friends, such as Leo Spitzer and Marianne Hirsch. A very big surprise was running into Dénes Farkas, an Estonian conceptual artist I met in Tallinn and whose career has had a big boost from last Summer’s curating by my old friend Adam Budak in the Venice Biennale. I was so happy to find Adam in New York just when I was there! So, we decided to visit the Armory Art Fair together, and Adam was able to guide me through the daunting mass to just a few hand-picked fine galleries. Here, Dénes (left) and Adam (right) are flanking Dénes’s galerist, Annamária Molnár, Budapest, when we all met up at the Fair.
Then, on to Boston. I have rapidly become very fond of Brandeis University and the lively programs in art history there. I am developing a project (still confidential) with Gannit Ankori, who teaches art history there and is, among many other things, a great specialist of Frida Kahlo, and Christopher Bedford, director of the Rose Art Museum on campus. Gannit has become a very special friend. Her work on Frida Kahlo is a rare example of the way biography can add to the understanding of art instead of reducing it, showing correllations rather than causality. I admire her generosity towards her colleagues. One of the events she had organised was a book launch for a monumental book on Art Since 1980 by her colleague Peter Kalb. I was very happy to participate and reflect on the book. Gannit is the greatest match-maker. The unexpected encounter I had at Brandeis - a new friend I made - also thanks to Gannit, is artist Shimon Attie. His famous photographs of historically layered walls in Berlin, The Writing on the Wall, have been longstanding inspirations for my thinking about history and its layeredness. His work belies the cliché that photography freezes the moment. The phrase “correlations rather than causality” I used above about Gannit’s work actually comes from a conversation with Shimon. If I now have to stop writing this blog, it is to watch Shimon’s draft of his latest work!
P.S. Shimon’s new work is totally brilliant! It is still in post-production so I don’t feel entitled to reveal it, but do keep your eyes open for it.

Tallinn: Exhibition, sneak preview, Winter School

From January 17 to 22 I was in Tallinn, the beautiful capital of Estonia. I had never been there. It started with the usual invitation to give a keynote lecture at the Tallinn Winter School, a graduate training course in cultural theory and art. Hesitating because of the over-frequent travelling I have been doing this year, I accepted when the fabulous coordinator Tuuli Piirsalu made it possible to add to the lecture an exhibition in the Vaal Galerii - the city’s most prestigious art gallery - and a sneak preview of our film Madame B, for the students enrolled in the Winter School, which we wanted to do in order to get feedback on it. Three events, then. It was all very satisfying.
The evening of our arrival the exhibition, which had been unofficially accessible to the public already for a week, was officially opened. Michelle was also invited, and we had a great time. The exhibition - a small satellite exhibition derived from the Madame B Project_is non-narrative, perhaps rather descriptive of the situation of being caught in emotional capitalism. This was presented on the first floor. On the second floor, a mezzanine visible from downstairs, showed the deeper causes of such imprisonment. We report extensively on this exhibition on the Madame B website, and on this site under Emotions and Capitalism, with photos and a short video walk-through.
We had the immense pleasure to see some of the people involved in the project come to the opening. On this photo you see the cheerful group of, from left to right: Michelle (standing), Helinä Hukkataival (from the back), Marja Skaffari (who plays Emma), Mervi Appel (co-producer and curator of the next big show), gallerist of Vaal and curator of our exhibition Tiina Määrman (standing), and sitting, Marek Tamm, head of the Winter School, who had the creative intelligence to see the importance of this instance of “art-based research” for the 120 PhD students enrolled in the School. I end the circle, back turned to the camera.

In the Winter School itself, which began on Monday, the first big surprise was the encounter with the famous social philosopher Zygmunt Bauman. I had never met him, and we had an instant connection. Like practically no one else I know, he manages to integrate a deeply critical perspective with sketching hopeful alternatives, and an in-depth analysis with broad historical overviews. I was, as a Dutch expression has it, “hanging on his lips”. In the hour-long discussion he came up with examples to explain his views. Each time it was an issue I had been thinking and worrying about.

Another lovely encounter was with political philosopher Siobhan Kattago, who is currently editing a volume of memory in which I have a chapter.
The sneak preview took place in an old Stalinist cinema, which has been preserved with its name, Soprus, meaning “friendship”. Below a photo of the outside and one of the inside. It has fabulous equipment. The Winter School has provides delicious wine and bites. For the first time we saw the film on a big screen with beautiful sound. Sara Pinheiro’s sound track drew many comments. The excellent equipment made the sounds glorious in their mysterious allusive layering. It was clear to everyone that the sounds often have a memorial function. With Christopher Wessels’ brilliant camera work, Sara’s sound design, and the fabulous acting of everyone, I was completely convinced of the film.

Taiwan Conference and Lectures

From 12 to 18 December, very soon after the Polish adventure, I went to Taiwan with my partner Ernst van Alphen to participate in a conference and give lectures and seminars. I found a former PhD student from over 20 years ago, Vinya Huang, enjoyed a city and country I had never visited before, and encountered very active students and faculty interested in visual culture.
Our hostess, Jui-Ch’i Liu, chair of the Graduate Program in Visual Culture and organizer of the conference, and her partner Daiwie Fu, dean of the faculty of humanities and Social Sciences, took us on touristic trips, elaborate dinners, and other wonderfully exhausting and fulfilling events.
One such event was a visit to a temple where what they called a folk religion is alive and kicking. The buildings suffered from horror vacui, so much so that the rare spots that were not (yet) carved, painted or filled with mosaics stood out like a sore tooth. The temple has been, still is, and will always remain under restoration; as alive, changing and full of people as the religion itself, the city, and the country. For me, this is a good example of what is perhaps best called contemporary Taiwanese baroque.
Unfortunately, it was raining almost all the time. Even the burning incense sticks needed the protection of an umbrella. Here, one decorated with a Japanese monster from comic strips. That is visual culture for you! It also demonstrates that the temple is not a mere touristic site; it really is alive.
The conference was devoted to the theme of Performativity of Visual Culture. I spoke about the performative look as a motor of narrative, showing during the talk the combined clips of scene 1 of Madame B so as to enforce on the audience the constant need to choose which, as was my argument, defines the realm of visual culture.
A few days later, we gave talks, Ernst on the archive as artistic medium, the topic of his book-in-press, and I talked on the project on mothers of migrants, under the title “Unseen but not Invisible: Facing Mothers of Migrants”. Nothing is Missing
The last day we gave a seminar together, under the heading of “Semiotics and Visual Culture”. The vibrant active minds of the students, who asked us questions for hours, was a fantastic bonus. Then, as a big surprise, in the afternoon, both Vinia Huang and Ruth Hu, who spent last year in the Netherlands finishing her dissertation and who works in the Taipei Fine Arts museum, took us out to see a brilliant exhibition there, of photographs by Chao-Tang Chang. Very inspiring for the idea of (in)visibility that was still on my mind from the previous day. I decided to write on the show for Art in America.