Göttingen: two days, three events

Goettingen is a lovely old German town, full of cheerful bicycle riders and committed cultural “Wissenschaftler”. I just went there for a day and a half. It seemed more like a week.
Right after arrival, there was even time for a relaxed bite and drink on a terrasse, which allowed me to get acquainted with a few extraordinarily smart and committed “cultural musicologists” - for excellent reasons, they reject the more usual term “ethno-musicologist”. A very enjoyable beginning. After this, there was an opening of a small “interventionist” exhibition, which we call Past Landscape: Among Old Masters.

This is the first show of its kind, where our videos were exhibited among old master paintings. Curator Anne-Katrin Sors, who is in charge of this collection which is reputed to be the best university-based art collection in Germany, had installed our videos among the old master paintings. This was a first for our project, and the result was very interesting. The paintings became modernized, the videos almost still.

And to top of this half day, the film A Long History of Madness was shown in a lovely arthouse theatre, called Lumière. An excellent Q&A chaired by filmmaker Lalit Vachani generated a passionate debate, about such different issues as the film’s multilingualism, the collaboration between Michelle and me, and Françoise Davoine’s role in the process.

The next day, Friday the 25th, I was a guest, for the day, of the Featured Thinker Day, an annual event organised by the Zentrum für Theorie und Methodik der Kulturwissenschaften, based at the University of Göttingen. The concept of this event is brilliant: scholars, mainly but not exclusively young scholars, read a considerable number of my articles, and in pairs of two, over three seminar sessions, respondents raise issues that then become the subject of debate with the audience. I thought the day would be long and heavy. In reality, time flew by, and before I knew it, it was over. The gorgeous weather helping, we ended the day as we had begun the previous day: eating, drinking, and talking on a terrasse. All in all, it was just wonderful.

Vienna, with a day trip to Prague, and on to Paris

April was a relatively quiet month, at least, in terms of travel. Michelle and I worked hard on the preparation of the fist and biggest film shoot for our next project, Madame B. Film Projects We hope to begin announcing the phases of production soon. The shoot is on Åland, where Mervi Appel will act as the primary producer. We have a draft script, which is now in the hands of our advisors, Françoise Davoine and Marjo Vuorela. Michelle and her family went to London for three weeks, where she will do, among other things, what needs doing in preparation of the exhibition at the Freud Museum, which opens September 20th under the title Saying It.

From May 8th to 13th I will be in Vienna. The schedule for these five days is exciting, hectic, and rich.

The day of arrival, May 8th, Nina Hoechtl and I will put the finishing touch to a small exhibition Nina initiated and organised at the VBKÖ (Vereinigung Bildender Künstlerinnen Österreichs) Maysedergasse 2, 4th floor. The exhibition opens the same evening of the 8th at 7 pm, and can be visited after that on Fridays May 11, 18 an 25 from 5 to 7 pm, and Saturdays May 12, 19 and 26 from 4 to 7 pm.
The exhibition is devoted to the idea of witnessing in psychoanalysis, around the case of Sissi. Be My Witness! is what Sissi, diagnosed as schizophrenic, calls out to her psychoanalyst, right after she has revealed the cause of her troubles. “Be My Witness!” could be a slogan for the social conception of psychoanalysis advocated in our film A long History of Madness, inspired by the work of Françoise Davoine and Jean-Max Gaudillière and their colleagues. Sissi is superbly played by Finnish actress Marja Skaffari: theatrical, affective, convincing. The three photos here are from the same, crucial scene of revelation (4 minutes of screen time). It is during this scene that she cries out: “Be my witness!”

Sissi was the first patient of Françoise Davoine, the analyst and main character – and actress playing herself – in the feature film. Like Freud’s Dora, Sissi dismissed Françoise, who seemed incapable of helping her. A few years later, and still confined to a psychiatric hospital, Sissi’s “second chance” in the shape of another analyst, is the fictional sequal to her debut. The analyst, this time, is not afraid of putting herself on the line, an identification that allows the unattainable memories to come to the surface. Sissi was the first patient of Françoise Davoine, the analyst and main character – and actress playing herself – in the feature film A Long History of Madness. Like Freud’s Dora, Sissi fired Françoise, who seemed incapable of helping her.

Sissi’s “second chance” slowly but surely allows her to reach into her deepest darkest self. The (fictional) analyst (brilliantly played by real analyst Marjo Vuorela), this time, is not afraid of putting herself on the line, an identification that allows the unattainable memories to come to the surface. And it is because the latter is able to see how, in fact, Sissi “treats” her as much as the other way around that Sissi is enabled to reach into her darkest past. The single-channel projection is called A Second Chance (Eine zweite Chance, subtitled in German), exclusively devoted to (fictional) analytic sessions with dialogues gleaned from the original session notes. Thus we try to confuse the distinction between fiction and documentary. This is accompanied by Sissi Outside on a monitor, to suggest that Sissi’s existence, confined as it is, is not limited to the hospital alone.

In Western culture, “madness”, or what is called by a variety of medicalising labels, psychosis, schizophrenia, sociopathology and the likes, remains the last frontier, the form of otherness that, in the end, is hardest to deal with. Madness is not confined to groups of ethnic, sexual, age or racial definition. Perhaps it is because we cannot define and then relegate it to elsewhere, it is so difficult to overcome the boundary that separates the mad from the allegedly sane, thus leaving them to social ostracism and loneliness. Yet, frequently, the alleged madness expresses itself in a surplus: hearing more voices than the sane, the mad have a richer psychic life.
For Sissi, this surplus takes the form of her imperial demeanour: she thinks she is (like) her namesake, the empress of Austria-Hungary. She spends time and money to dress and coif accordingly, wears extravagant albeit non-precious jewelry, and talks from high-up to her analyst. In order to further confuse the boundary between documentary and fiction, under the name Sissi’s Skins we display some of her dresses, hats, purses, and jewelry.

The next day, May 9th at 7.15 pm I will give a lecture (with lots of images on Power Point) at the Institut für Theater-, Film- und Medienwissenschaft of the University of Vienna, titled Madness, Migration, and Narration: Art-based Research / Research-based Art, Beyond the Last Frontier. The title is so long because the lecture is supposed to cover all the activities of the week. Address: Spitalgasse 2, Hof 2.2., Hörsaal A.

On the 10th I will hop on a 5.50 am train to Prague, to see the group exhibition Care Crisis in which my installation Nothing is Missing is installed. I could not go to the opening because of the opening, the same day, of Islands of Madness in Mariehamn, Åland. I really want to see how the exhibition as a whole hangs together; I have heard good things about it.
On May 11th I will attend a conference organised by my friend Andrea Braidt, thanks to whom this whole trip became possible.

On May 12th, at 11 am, Nothing is Missing opens at Brunnenpassage, Brunnengasse 71/Yppenplatz, where it will be shown in the middle of a busy shopping area, from 13 to 17 May. I’ll post a photo when I have it. It is quite amazing how well this installation is received; it has been in more than 30 venues. On this photo, in Belfast.

Finally, Saturday 12th at 8 pm, the beautiful and progressive cinema Topkino, Rahlgasse 1 organises a screening of A Long History of Madness with introduction and Q&A. From 13 to 19 May the film will be screened every evening at 5.30. Not prime time, but given that it lasts 2 hours, it can be done between work and dinner.

Well, that’s it for Vienna.

Sunday I take the first morning flight to Paris. There, the film will be projected, finally, in the home town of the author and main character Françoise Davoine, in her presence and that of Jean-Max Gaudillière, who appears only briefly in the film (in the public at the Trial) but was really our man behind the scene.

Jean-Max Gaudillière and Françoise Davoine in their seminar at the Ecole de Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Again, the organisers have chosen a top theatre, “pour cinéphiles”, Les 3 Luxembourg, 87 rue Monsieur le Prince, Paris 6e. This is followed by an afternoon of discussion beginning at 14.30 at the nearby Faculté de Théologie Protestante, 83 Boulevard Arago, Paris 14e. The screening is Sunday May 13th at 11 am.

I will stay in Paris the rest of that week, to relax, see friends, and prepare sets for Madame B. We plan to shoot in Paris in the Winter, December of January. More news on that when we have it!

Planning exhibitions in Monterrey, Mexico, and in the Freud museum in London

Today, while the beautiful exhibition Islands of Madness in still up, and Nothing is Missing is exhibited in a group show in Prague, we received the invitation to mount an exhibition of the Mère Folle Project in Monterrey, Mexico. The venue is called Centro de las Artes. From the photograph we received it looks quite wonderful.

We have not yet seen a floor plan of the space, hence, we don’t know yet what can be done. We will keep you informed. This exhibition will coincide with my visit to Monterrey, where I will conduct a two-week seminar for the national centre for the Arts. And while I am there, the film will be screened in a cinema in the city, with a Q&A.
Meanwhile, we are just beginning to make the installation pieces for yet another exhibition in September, at the Freud Museum, London. This exhibition is called Saying It, and is an integration of everything in our project that concerns Sissi, and installations on key concepts of Freud’s theories by American artist Renate Ferro (see her official website).
The film A Long History of Madness has been projected in the Freud museums of Vienna and Saint Petersburg, and it is a great pleasure to now join the ranks of impressive contemporary artists who have exhibited in the London Freud museum, which is the most extensive one of the three. Joanne Morra, here with her daughter Cara, who is writing a book on the exhibitions on the Freud museums, is curator of our exhibition.

Prague and Åland, the same day…

Straight after Toronto I am heading out again. This time there is an irresolvable conflict of schedule. In Prague, in the Futura Gallery, a group exhibition opens with my Nothing is Missing installation in it. The exhibition, curated by David Arlandis and Javier Marroquí, curators based in Spain, is devoted to Care Crisis - as the curators formulated it, “the state of precariousness brought in in the wake of the integration of women in the - traditionally male - labour realm, and which lays manifest either a deficit in the care needed for personal life development, or a transformation in the system which supplies it.” Unfortunately, the exhibition dates got moved and as a result, the opening happens to be on the same day that in Mariehamn, on the Swedish-speaking, Finnish island of Åland, our exhibition Islands of Madness opens. Tough luck!
“Islands of Madness” is a smaller and different version of “Landscapes of Madness”. As soon as she saw the latter exhibition, curator Mervi Appel decided to bring the show to “her” Åland. Mervi has been involved in our project from the beginning. She plays the anonymous patient in the cell on Seili, poignantly picking up a photograph, then looking to the too-high window from where she hears a bird sing. Her and our friend, the acclaimed performance artist Helinä Hukkataival - the director of the half-way house in the film - designed the beautiful poster. See her portfolio on http://www.hukkataival.fi/portfol/valikko.htm
As soon as I have the information I will post both exhibitions on the appropriate pages; respectively on group exhibition and exhibitions. But as I won’t even have a day between returning to Amsterdam and leaving for Åland, I may be a few days late.

Return to Toronto

On February 28 I head out again, this time to Toronto. It feels like a return; during my years in Rochester, NY, I have given the Northrop Frye Lecture series there, which later turned up as Reading “Rembrandt” During those long-weekend visits I made many friends, and I have gone back to Toronto many times later. During one of those visits I met Lisa Steele and Kim Tomczak, award-winning video artists and initiators of the artists-driven collective Video Archive and Distributors VTape, of which I am a proud member. Lisa organised this visit. This photo is a screen shot of their 2001 video work We’re Getting Younger All the Time from a trilogy in the making, Before I Wake.
During my week-long visit, many activities have been scheduled. First, on Wednesday February 29, at 7 pm, I will give a lecture on the work of Stan Douglas, the prominent artist from Vancouver on whose work I have written before. My lecture will be the first in an annual series “Artist2” where an artist speaks about the work of another artist. Stan has a photography exhibition at the Power Plant, titled Entertainment: a Selection from Midcentury Studio. With the keen sense of history, both social and visual, that characterizes his work, he has made a series of photographs attributed to a fictional mid-20th century photographer. I cannot give away too much… Just consult the website to get a taste. And here is just a detail of one of the photos I will comment on rather extensively.
Thursday the 1st of March I will give a seminar at the Curatorial Studies Program on my own recent experiences with the multiple role of artist, curator and critic, in Landscapes of Madness, Towards the Other, and subsequent exhibitions. I look forward to this discussion, and to meeting Jim Drobnick and Jennifer Fisher, the editors of the new electronic Journal for Curatorial Studies. It is a little strange to be speaking of my own work, but then, I have been doing that increasingly since I started making art.
The day after, Saturday the 2d, two parallel installations will open. At VTape, A Long History of Madness will be displayed every day, twice a day, until April 7th. I am quite curious how the film, which has its narrative line, albeit far from linear, will work in a situation where visitors can come in and out as they please, as distinct from theatrical screenings - even though the VTape 28-seat theatre is still a theatre of sorts. At the gallery of the Women’s Art Resource Centre, in the same building, the dual-screen installation Psychoanalysis on Trial will be opened as an independent piece.

Again, this piece has so far been embedded in a larger exhibition, and I wonder how it will work on its own. Again, a new experience.
Finally, on Monday the 5th A Long History of Madness will be screened at the theatre TIFF BELL LIGHTBOX. Well, all this should keep me busy enough, but I will find time to meet old friends and make new ones.

Art and Visibility in Migratory Culture

Finally! It has taken years, but the result is worth it: here is the volume Miguel (Hernández Navarro) and I have edited in the wake of the two “encuentros” in Murcia and Amsterdam (2007) and the four installments of the exhibition 2Move. This large-scale adventure is still vivid in my mind; it has deeply influenced my “visual thinking”. The volume came off quite hefty, with many articles on a variety of artworks, issues, and cases where politics and art meet as the royal road to visibility. It is a great pleasure to look back, with the volume now in hands, to the years of the intense collaboration with Miguel. It’s time for a new project!
For a description of the content, see the page Editing.

New York and Mexico City

Leaving Amsterdam on Saturday January 28th, upon arrival in New York I will rush to the gallery Andrea Rosen in Chelsea, where my friend Ydessa Hendeles exhibits another one of her long series of marvelous exhibitions, The Wedding (The Walker Evans Polaroid Project) including work by Roni Horn. Sunday I will participate in a panel in an Outsiders Art Fair, speaking about madness and creativity. After some reunions with friends, starting Monday evening the MoMA holds its annual seminar of the C-MAP program, for which I am a councelor. It’s a lovely reason to visit New York at least once a year.

After that I move on to Mexico, arriving after the opening of a wonderful exhibition curated by Néstor García Canclini and Andréa Giunta, called Extrangerías perhaps best translated as “strange little things” or “things a little strange” at the prestigious museum MUAC. I am very proud to have three works in the exhibition (see Group exhibitions). On Thursday, right after arriving, I will give a lecture at “La Esmeralda”, del CENART, then another one at MUAC. On Sunday the 5th, another screening of A Long History of Madness concludes the trip. I will also have the opportunity to visit my friend and former PhD student Paulina Aroch Fugielle. Quite a busy schedule; just the way I like it.

Baby, and Satellite exhibition Turku Library and Curatorial Workshop

The biggest news: Michelle and Elan have an adorable daughter, born December 19th, 2011. See their own websites for more.
This means I am alone for now in the Mere Folle adventure… After a badly needed one-week vacation in Madrid, I will go back to Turku on January 4th. The city library there is hosting a satellite exhibition in which the exhibition in the museum Aboa Vetus & Ars Nova will be both announced and explained. On this occasion, we will conduct a workshop about the curatorial ins and outs of the project. Mia Hannula, the curator, Pamela Andersson, museum coordinator, Eva Koppen, co-curator of the exhibition Towards the Other in Saint Petersburg, and Anna-Helena Klumpen, one of the authors of the Turku catalogue, will give short talks, as will I. The participants of the Curatorial Program De Appel come from Amsterdam for this, and Turku-based participants, both from the art history program at the University of Turku, and from the museum world, will join us. For me, this is a lovely opportunity to see the exhibition once more, before it goes down at the end of January…

Bareclona - film screening and seminar

As an aficionada de Barcelona - for us aficionados, Barça - I could not resist an invitation to give a keynote lecture and further involve myself in an intensive seminar, organised by CIDOB, the United Nations University. The seminar is for PhD training. It is both international in terms of participants, and internationalising in its mission: to break open the confinements of narrow Western thought. Since both forms of opening and widening interest me greatly, I accepted to go, in spite of a somewhat over-the-top schedule. Moreover, the director of the arts centre Arts Santa Mònica had offered me a screening when I spoke in the Centre a while ago. So, this will be a packed but rewarding journey. In the current rainy season, it will invoke memories of last Summer’s vacation there - sunny, as below.

ALHoM Goes to Turkey

The film A Long History of Madness goes to Ankara, and I am going along for the ride. In addition to a screening of the film in this dynamic festival, I will be giving a masterclass on the concept that underlies the film, the “genre” of the theoretical fiction - an idea Michelle and I invented, in the wake of Freud, to indicate a fictional artifact that helps us theorise. And, while I am there, I will also give a workshop with the help of our film Becoming Vera. In addition, the Goethe Institute will be hosting a small exhibition, “What culture Silences” - the longer title is “Of What One Cannot Speak: What Culture Tries to Silence” but I like the shorter one, proposed by the organisers, much better. All this was initiated by Ersan Ocak and Ahmet Gurata, from Bilkent University. Ersan (left), Ahmet (right): big thanks!