I can believe we still have to protest this shit – research (2021-22)

takes as a starting point ‘The Little Red Book of Woman/Women’, collectively written in 1972 on the cusp of the first national women’s day in Belgium. The last pages of the book contain a list of claims such as equal pay for the same work, reform of schoolbooks that promote stereotypes and the right to decide independently about abortion. Many of these claims are continuous demands today. But who demands them? And for whom? Coming from what history? Heading to which/whose future?

This research was funded by 

Right Now (2018-19)

The act of claiming has a dual connotation. Though it harks back to a history of colonisation and theft, we could also consider the strike as a form of claim, when people take back the rights they’ve been deprived of. Reclaiming provides a counterpart to closure and private ownership, especially when carried out collectively and for all. The claim has hypothetical, utopian and speculative qualities; it does not seek permission. Using a playful take on the format of the symposium, Right Now looks at the emancipatory possibilities of the act of claiming, through perspectives of feminist speculative fiction and utopian literature.

Script of the lecture-performance.

Link to the video’s: Three Lectures and A Conversation adapted from the lecture-performance Right Now.

Rabbit Island Project: R.I. School (2017-18)

developed together with Julieta Aguinaco during a stay on Rabbit Island, Lake Superior, Michigan. The fresh water cephalopod could be an animal that lives in the depths of Lake Superior. It would have eight inky legs, a giant head, a glimmering opacity and the skills to survive in waters with a very low oxygen level. Its shape could be amorphous; radiating with pink, blue and yellow colors as the cephalopod takes on the role as the over-arching umbrella for a small but vibrant community of corpuscles that constitute the shapeless blob. Creatures crawling, swimming and climbing through and over and into one another, sharing space and place without appropriating it. There is no pecking-order here, no room for dichotomies, no hierarchy. This lot can become anything and commit to everything.
At present, this taxon of cephalopods does not exist. Nor in Lake Superior, nor in any other fresh water pool in the world. However, millions of years ago, the area where Rabbit Island is located used to be a shallow sea, with salt water. Who can claim then that there was never an octopus seen on the shores of Lake Superior? As the way the not-yet-existent fresh water cephalopod would live, with and through multiple other organisms, could construct an image of what a possible future world could be, it might be interesting to summon it to life. Although, evolution is more complex than a re-occurence of a species; something can never become ‘again’, but it can grow beyond itself.

During our stay on Rabbit Island, we founded R.I. School – an attempt at cross-species conversations. We prodded the island, the lake and its residing species to share their knowledge and ideas on how to construct more livable worlds. We organised lectures, conversations, reading groups, workshops and walks with the nonhumans present, though all of them refused to give any straightforward answers.

R.I. Session #0: Trying to converse (days 1-8)/domestic labour. Main camp.
R.I. Session #1: Walk around the lake (or the island). Rabbit Island.
R.I. Session #2: Conversations with humans (invited guests). Amphitheater.
R.I. Session #3: Cross-species conversation. Sarah’s speculations. Tree platform.
R.I. Session #4: Dear Lake. Cephalopod reading (no answer). Dinghy.
R.I. Session #5: The island doesn’t want us here (upcoming storm). Main camp.
R.I. Session #6: Significant Otherness/Reading of The Companion Species. Tree platform. Link to video R.I. Session #6.
R.I. Session #7: Dear Island (no answer). Woods.
R.I. Session #8: Reading of Conversation With a Stone. Poem by Wisława Szymborska.
R.I. Session #9: On lacking the sense of taking part (Antonia’s comments). Main camp.
R.I. Session #10: Dear Lycopodium. Julieta’s questions (no answer). Lycopodium ally.
R.I. Session #11: Art has nothing to claim here/Who do you think you are? Everywhere.
R.I. Session #12: To claim to know/naming is claiming (the order of things). Berg’s cabin.
R.I. Session #13: To claim to know/naming is claiming (the order of things). Woods.
R.I. Session #14: To claim to know/naming is claiming (the order of things). Sauna.
R.I. Session #15: Foul nature/Leaving the island. Mainland.

To claim not to know what’s already been claimed known / Facing the earth. Facing information. Facing our lives (2017)

is a project developed together with Julieta Aguinaco at ARCUS Project Residency in Moriya, Japan. How can we represent a place, specifically the Tonegawa, without colonising it? is the central question to our research into the Tonegawa as an element of the larger Moriya area in Japan. ‘Why the Tonegawa’? one person may ask. ‘Don’t you have your own rivers back home that are as boring or spectacular as the Tonegawa?’ This question is fair. The impetus of this project is not necessarily our interest in the river. In a way, we employed the Tonegawa as a lever to discuss the issues of a visitor going to a place where he/she is not from, and consequently trying to represent that place.
The lecture-performance uses material gathered about the Tonegawa from a scientific, a social and a personal perspective, questioning whether representation without colonisation is possible when it becomes part of a larger process of collecting. This process is endless, hence, we wanted the amount of voices and interpretations to continue to grow during the Open Studios at ARCUS Project. After the performance, there was an opportunity for the visitors to share their comments, critique, knowledge and ideas about the Tonegawa. These remarks were incorporated into the performance for the next day.

Link to script (English version)
スクリプト (日本語版)

Photos Hajime Kato


Those quiet men who always stand on piers asked where we were going and when we said, “To the Gulf of California”, their eyes melted with longing, they wanted to go so badly (2016)

is a lecture-performance of a script written with Julieta Aguinaco during a visit to the Sea of Cortez. This visit was a reiteration of a trip writer John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts did in 1940, covering the whole peninsula of Baja California to collect sea specimens — documented in the novel The Log From the Sea of Cortez. Ricketts collected sea life almost randomly, while Steinbeck’s novel presents the trip as an adventure, far from the organized and specific methods we attribute to science. In this haphazard approach we could recognize a similar urge when thinking about art. Furthermore, like Steinbeck and Ricketts, we too were uninvited visitors researching a landscape that never asked for us. What is in it for the visited? Performed at Nixon Art Space, Mexico City.



The Limits of My World (2015)

is a project together with Julieta Aguinaco. By her gallery CYDONIA, Julieta was commissioned to take part in ABC – Art Berlin Contemporary. Following The Limits of My Language, the project we wrote and performed together in July, Julieta invited me to collaborate again, but now at an art fair. On the condition that my name would not show, we worked jointly under Julieta’s name and made the collaboration clear through the work. I saw it as an opportunity to get actively involved in the interplay between art and capital, without the need to conform to the institutionalization of it.

Dear Juli
Let me add that friendship is also the truth of the disaster. The thought that you were ill was extremely distressing to me and was like a threat aimed at something that both you and I would hold in common. It seems to me that in these days of distress […] something has been given to us in common, to which we also have to respond commonly. That something which one may call misfortune, but which one also has to leave nameless, can, in a certain way, be common. Which is mysterious, maybe a delusion, maybe unutterably true.”

Dear Sarah:
It exists! I’ve been there but I could not stay. I realized I was only a visitor. Maybe because I gave up way too fast. Maybe I accepted that it was not what I expected. It is mysterious, It is a delusion, It is unutterably true.

This is a conversation between two friends that are trying to make sense out of world and a time. It’s a search for that which is always bound to disappear: friendship as a base for a sensible world. Is it only a mirage? The title refers to Ludwig Wittgenstein known statement “The limits of my language are the limits of my world”, and the question asked is how can the limits of one person’s subjectivity explore or imagine new possibilities for exiting those limits by engaging with the limits of another person’s subjectivity? Is to know each other also to destroy each other?

The project stages three parts that deal with the individual’s relationship to the world differently, following the three main chapters of Die Blendung, a novel by Elias Canetti: A Head Without a World, Headless World and The World in the Head. Each part is an act within what could be experienced as a script for a play. In this script, the art-objects are merely actors within the discourse, for what really matters is the conversation between the two friends as the enduring attempt to discover ways out, possibilities, or new forms. Together. Friendship could offer a renegotiation of the limits of an individual’s subjectivity (the heads) and the place/landscape/reality (the worlds).

Press release

Interview in Art & Signature

Act 2

The Limits of My Language (2015)

is a collaborative project with Julieta Aguinaco initiated by the statement: One doesn’t find a different paradigm, We make it. Performed at ‘Do the Right Thing’, Dutch Art Institute, Arnhem.

Marianna Maruyama writes about the work: In a joint presentation of their collaborative work, [they] offer a performance making heavy use of text fragments and passages from their own work and the work of others, together with videos by Aguinaco. They consider the possibility of friendship as a community, all the while dealing with questions of language, withdrawal, naming, and positioning within the art world, asking, in more ways than one, what can be named and known?
She muses, “there is an abundance of art practices, spaces…Where is the absence? Where is our desert?” Reading together at times and taking turns at others, the two artists read parts of their non-linear text, and set up the entire performance in the loose structure of a play in three parts: A Head Without a World (dealing with the theory of exit); A Headless World where Julieta Aguinaco reads the text “Almost No Memory” by Lydia Davis; and A World Without a Head (focused on the attempt to find a desert, a quest for an absence).
In the third act, Aguinaco presented three of her videos, all of which follow a similar pattern where the viewer trails behind the protagonist of the film (the artist) who is walking in various settings: a market at night, a cemetery and natural geysers in Bolivia. In the videos, the artist-protagonist is naming everything she sees and points at in an almost manic, high-speed manner; she seems to be talking as fast as she can. “This is a shop it’s open, this is a shop, it’s closed, etc.” The naming goes on for a few minutes until the sound fades out, leaving only the silent image. This gives the viewer the sense that the act of naming could go on forever. In the last film, Aguinaco narrates her films in an especially unenthusiastic and detached voice, “welcome to the Andes. Welcome out…Welcome home. Where? We have to look elsewhere,” tying back to Demoen’s questions related to exit theory and withdrawal. Both artists’ work asks the audience to question whether the attempt to name things only show the limits of our perception and our knowledge, or rather addresses more complex issues and questions related to belonging to a community, and the set of relations described by being and knowing?



Lecture: Unworking; Act of Resistance or Defeat? (2015)

Carel Willink, a Dutch magical-realist painter, wrote an essay in 1950 on the subject that painting found itself in a critical moment. In the text, he fulminates against modern, abstract art and criticizes abstract-expressionists for not having any traditional métier or expertise. In 1986, the unknown realist painter Gerard Jan van Bladeren, who had read the essay by Willink, felt that something had to be done, an act of resistance to wake up the art world. He walked into the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and attacked the abstract painting Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, by Barnett Newman. With a Stanley knife he cut four horizontal and four vertical slits in the canvas. For the restoration, the piece was send to an American firm called Goldreyer. After four years, it appeared not restored but fully repainted with three layers of opaque alkyd – a type of paint used mostly for window frames. And not with linseed oil and a brush, but with a paint roller. The director of the Stedelijk Museum called the painting handicapped, and all resulted in a long court case until the expenses became too high, and the city of Amsterdam had to give it up. A settlement was created, and Amsterdam was not allowed to be critical about the restoration any longer. In 2010, the story was brought up again. The final conclusion was that the new layer of paint did differ from the original one and also that Goldreyer had painted two layers of varnish on top of the red paint, again with a paint roller. When van Bladeren, the cutter, is released from prison, he is still obsessed with Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue. He believed he had created a masterpiece through destroying it and after hearing of the restoration, wants to reinstall his work. In 1997, he returns to the Stedelijk, but the painting is nowhere to be found. However, he notices Cathedra, another work by Newman, and attacks this one instead, again with a Stanley knife. This time he creates three long horizontal and two short vertical incisions. Destroyed abstraction is the best art there is, he believes. Afterwards, not only the instigator was accused, but the victim – modern art – as well. The action was interpreted as an artistic critique on museums that were reactionary for still installing this type of paintings. There were speculations that the value of the painting would even increase because of the damage done. ‘It is a turning point in the history of modern art’, so it was declared, ‘it should remain on the wall in its current state of destruction’.

Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue

Lunacharsky said in 1920: ‘I could sketch only with a couple of strokes the peculiar zigzag line of the relationship between revolution and art that we have hitherto observed. It has not been broken off. It continues even further.’ (Revolution and Art). The bizarre story of Who’s afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, is one of many, but this one is peculiar. The destruction was received as a political act of resistance with an artistic meaning, but it could’ve also been an artistic act of resistance with a political meaning – seeing that both parties were found guilty, the museum because of its curatorial decisions, and the cutter for obvious reasons. In Chantal Mouffe’s agonistic model of democratic politics the divide between art and politics doesn’t exist. The aesthetic strategies of the counter culture are exploited by neoliberalism. Artistic critique is an important element of capitalist productivity, even though any critique is neutralized by capitalism. Mouffe doesn’t make a distinction between the political and the artistic, but sees an aesthetic dimension in the political and a political dimension in art. The core vibrant of democracy is the agonistic struggle between different hegemonic projects. It can’t be rationally resolved, for it defines the configuration of power relations around which a given society is structured. The agonistic model allows for possible transformation, and the public space is the arena where a confrontation between different hegemonic projects takes place, without any possibility of reconciliation. Critical art inspires dissent, and therefore represents an important dimension of democratic politics. It makes visible what the dominant consensus tries to obscure. Artistic activism is when an artistic practice tries to give a voice to all those who are silenced within the framework of the existing hegemony. However, Mouffe does not believe that artistic activism could, on its own, bring about the end of neo-liberal hegemony. It has to be linked to the political fundaments of society. ‘What is needed, therefore,’ Gerald Raunig notes ‘are practices that conduct radical social criticism, yet which do not fancy themselves in an imagined distance to institutions; at the same time, practices that are self-critical and yet do not cling to their own involvement, their complicity, their imprisoned existence in the art field, their fixation on institutions and the institution, their own being-institution.’

Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf

The first one of the following texts is by the Dutch playwright Gerardjan Rijnders, it is the summary of one of his plays called Liefhebber, freely translated into Lover. The second text is an extract from Philip Roth’s The Humbling.

1 The theater critic, called Lover, comes home after another highly disappointing performance. He has decided to never go to the theater ever again, to not write any reviews any longer, no Ibsen, no Brecht and no Shakespeare. He’d rather go to China, Chili, Bali and Mongolia. He’d rather have cancer; he’d rather be death. But never will he ever see another show. He blames the theater for not having any relation with real life drama, there is drama everywhere, except on stage. He starts ranting about the contemporary theater-theater. The so-called art-theater, that has nothing to do with reality. He sees himself as a socially engaged being, a little sentimental even. But not even him the theater can thrill. While continually furious about a reality that he compiles out of newspapers, radio and television reports, Lover does not see the real life drama that is happening in his own living room. His son Peter drinks from a vase, eats the flowers, burps, farts, masturbates, takes a heroine shot, smashes the television and the radio, fucks his mother, strangles his mother and kills himself. Lover does not react to any of this, and has decided to call the editor to resign. Whether he actually does that is left open.

2 He’d lost his magic. The impulse was spent. He’d never failed in the theater, everything he had done had been strong and successful, and then the terrible thing happened: he couldn’t act. Going on stage became agony. Instead of the certainty that he was going to be wonderful, he knew he was going to fail. It happened three times in a row, and by the last time nobody was interested, nobody came. He couldn’t get over to the audience. His talent was dead. All that had worked to make him himself now worked to make him look like a lunatic. He was conscious of every moment he was on the stage in the worst possible way. In the past when he was acting he wasn’t thinking about anything. What he did well he did out of instinct. Now he was thinking about everything, and everything spontaneous and vital was killed – he tried to control it with thinking and instead he destroyed it. It didn’t pass. He couldn’t act. The ways he could once rivet attention on the stage! And now he dreaded every performance, and dreaded it all day long. He spent the entire day thinking thoughts he’d never thought before a performance in his life: I won’t make it, I won’t be able to do it, I’m playing the wrong roles, I’m overreaching, I’m faking, I have no idea even of how to do the first line. He would hear the cue coming closer and closer and know that he couldn’t do it. He waited for the freedom to begin and the moment to become real, he waited to forget who he was and to become the person doing it, but instead he was standing there, completely empty, doing the kind of acting you do when you don’t know what you are doing. He could not give and he could not withhold; he had no fluidity and he had no reserve. Acting became a night-after-night exercise in trying to get away with something.

Both anecdotes play with the notion of the defeat and the retreat. Lover could be seen as the one who retreats because of a lack of reality. Whereas the actor is defeated by reality; awareness makes him incapable to act. However, these notions are not fixed. The retreater retreats because he is defeated by what he had such high hopes for, in this case the theater. What happens in the background is of no importance for his defeat. The defeated actor as a result retreats fully from acting, and as the story unravels, ultimately kills himself.
The retreat is often mistaken for a passive act of self-alienation, just look at all the strategies – disengagement, boycotts, not-working, un-working, un-authoring; via exit strategies, through withdrawing, functioning in the margins etc. But it does not necessarily include abandonment of the political and the social, nor an escape from cultural blind alleys. The retreat could be an act of resistance. According to the supporting text of the program The Retreat at Documenta 13, it holds the possibility to be a ground for politics and the politics of aesthetics, since the process of production at the center of the social owes its potential to the act of refusal. Politics and art are triggered by a force that always starts from a choice – choosing to do or not to do. However, how far can one retreat before falling of the edge? How many loopholes can one find until the resources run out? How far can one stretch the retreat until it becomes defeat?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Edward Albee)

HONEY: (Apologetically, holding up her brandy bottle) I peel labels.
GEORGE: We all peel labels, sweetie; and when you get through the skin, all three layers, through the muscle, slosh aside the organs and get down to bone…you know what you do then?
HONEY: (Terribly interested) No!
GEORGE: When you get down to bone, you haven’t got all the way, yet. There’s something inside the bone…the marrow…and that’s what you gotta get at.

Site of Future Trailer Park (2014)

is collaboratively curated by Julieta Aguinaco, Ben Burtenshaw and myself as an exchange on the Welcome to Econotopia project that was initiated at the Dutch Art Institute in 2013 – curated by Renée Ridgway. The group traveled to Mexico and Marfa, Texas as a close research of the relationship between the geo-political issues, Donald Judd and the mirage. The exhibition shows a series of outcomes made on site and after, as well as a publication. These re-articulations are an attempt to relate the issues explored within Welcome to Econotopia; now in the context of the land we stood on as a physical and social space.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 12.26.03

Has Anyone Seen These Works Lately? (2014)

is a collaboration with Ilan Bachrach (voice) and the Van Abbemuseum for the yearlong project, seminar and group show Using the Museum, organised by the Dutch Art Institute. In 2000, the Van Abbemuseum introduced a new system to register the location of the artworks in the collection. It shows that a 120 works, bought between 2000 – 2014, went straight from the artist to the depot and have never left the storage since. The project Has anyone seen these works lately? gives visibility to what is not there.
The work was shown in the space where the Van Abbemuseum had installed an overview of all the works in their collection.

Van Abbe display

List of works never shown

Claiming of the Concrete Buildings (2014)

is a project with the help of Sarah Jones & Ralph McKay at Summer School Marfa, a residency in Marfa, Texas curated by Renée Ridgway and TAAK Amsterdam via The Dutch Art Institute.
The claim letter was published in ARID, a Journal of Desert Art, Design and Ecology.
Link to ARID.

Last Friday, I walked into Pueblo, the local supermarket of Marfa, to check the bulletin board. Advertisements, yoga classes, dog-or-cat-of the week announcements, and a claim letter directed to Donald Judd, The Chinati Foundation’s Board of Directors and Staff and the Concrete Buildings. Two men, a big guy in a green shirt with a curvy moustache, and a big guy in a grey shirt with glasses, were reading the claim and discussing out loud. I walked up to them, stood behind them and eventually joined the conversation. They were pointing at a specific sentence that read:
The buildings are ours now.
‘What does that mean?’ – the man in the green shirt with the moustache asked, ‘What buildings is this talking about?’ I said I thought the letter was talking about the concrete buildings, the ones Judd put up some 25 years ago. Those at the very far back of the Chinati Foundation.
‘Yes’ the man in the green shirt replied, ‘I know what buildings, the arched concrete ones at the back right? I helped to construct them. We were supposed to build ten of them, on a grid, but only finished one and a half. I used to work for Bob Kirk, Judd’s contractor.’
‘So who is this ‘ours’?’
‘I think it might be a reference to all of us. The buildings are ours, like, as a shared site.’

The Concrete Buildings were supposed to become Donald Judd’s masterpiece. Instead of reworking existing constructions, he made a plan to put up ten buildings, sizes small, medium and large, that would be created according to the same logic as his artworks. But Judd passed away before he could finish the project. Today, two medium sized-ones are standing lonely in the deserted landscape.
The Chinati Foundation takes care of the site were Judd fled to in order to escape the institutional structure of the artworld. Critical of the way galleries and museums function, especially in their way of brutally treating the artworks and the temporality of the exhibitions they proposed, he set out to find an autonomous location and found it at an old army base in Marfa. The plan was to make the work site-specific and permanent.
At present, the preservation of the works on the Chinati site, Judd’s house, both of his ranches, and the myriad amount of places he owned in the town of Marfa, has taken on humongous proportions that outshine Judd’s initial idea of openness, new possibilities and autonomy. Since Donald Judd died in 1994, the people of the Chinati Foundation and the Judd Foundation have been working really hard to keep everything exactly the same as Judd left it behind. Every stone, collected mollusk or chair has remained untouched. The beds are made, sculptures haven’t moved, even his library is on permanent display. The way everybody tiptoes around the property makes it become almost uninterestingly static. Stuck in revisionism, the Judd legacy grants the impression that this place of artistic freedom has become a strictly regulated site. It almost has a sacred touch to it, as if it was a shrine kept unchanging for art pilgrims. However, glorifying the past does not hold much dialogue for the future. There is no room for contemporary dynamics, let alone for discussion.

The man in the green shirt with the curvy moustache looks at me and says: ‘those buildings remained unfinished not because of the death of Judd, but because they ran out of money. And they ran out of money because Judd and Kirk – the contractor – would put most of it in their own pockets. Of course they had to get a salary for their design and effort, but they took almost all.’ I wondered out loud how much they got. He said: ‘They got a grant from a railroad company called Burlington Northern, Burlington Northern, it was somewhere around 800.000 dollar.’

According to Judd, art, architecture and nature are the three components for a perfect artwork. The letter that claims the Concrete Buildings proposed a fourth component, namely a common site, where the buildings would function as a place for possibilities.

A week before this get-together in the supermarket, I got the chance to take a closer look at the usually inaccessible buildings, thanks to Ralph, the fully equipped Chinati guide. The constructions were absolutely stunning and so incredibly interesting. Who has ever encountered a Judd-under-construction? An open-Judd? This promising incompleteness created the urge to write a letter that claimed the buildings. The visible two on site, and the presumed eight invisible others.
It became essential to return and read the letter out loud on location. Ralph tried to convince the Chinati once more, but they refused to give access again. The rejection letter noted:
I feel we were quite clear about providing access once and warned that using the space as part of their “project selection” was problematic as repeat access would be challenging. Using the concrete buildings as an (quote – unquote) “art piece” requires additional permission – approval from Jenny, Rob, Bettina – and I don’t think we can make this happen by tomorrow. Please try to encourage them to find another solution.

On Thursday June 12, at noon, I read the claim out loud at the back fence outside of the Chinati Foundation, accompanied by two witnesses, Sarah and Ralph. The sun was rude, almost shameless and the wind blew untied in the dry landscape. After the reading, Ralph and Sarah signed the copies on the hood of the car. Then we drove into town and hung the claim all over Marfa. In the bookshop, at the local newspaper, the supermarket Pueblo, at the library, the court house, the bulletin board of the city and the coffee place.
The next day, the story started for real. Marfa being such a small town, people were actually reading the letter. Ralph said on Friday that Rob Weiner, the associate director, had read it at the bookshop. Also, he emailed me last Sunday that Jenny Moore, Chinati Director, said she’s glad ‘there’s thinking about the concrete buildings. She likes the text and she’s ready.’ I do not really know what that means, Ralph is a bit of an idealist, but it is wonderful that he is following up.

Claim Letter

We can claim anything. Claiming can be a very simple gesture that acts from a position of refusal to accept what seems to be set. It allows you to state that something is the case without necessarily providing evidence or proof. This claim is not written for personal or private use, hence it is written in the we-form. It functions as a common claim, a request out of the need of many. And even though it is fully rooted in the context of art and addresses its problematics, it manifested itself outside of the known frame. I see it as a form of active withdrawal, of actively dropping out. If there could be a critical gesture in the retreat, it must look a little like this. At least that is what I hope; cause what else is the point of distancing oneself. It had the possibility to reach people that had something to do with art, but also held the prospective to go beyond.
The buildings are open to use, and empty, so who is going to start?

2810 Ranch Road

Lecture: On Institutions/the Retreat (2014)

This part of this presentation is about Belgium – based on a youtube video and my own experience.

About Belgium, not because I am Belgian, but because of the country’s possibilities as a place of retreat. Belgium is a federal state with communities, regions and language areas. This means that there is a federal government that is responsible for the entire country and includes: taxation, justice, foreign affairs, social security and pensions. There are three communities, based on language. Belgium has three official languages: Dutch, French and German, and therefore there are three communities. The Flemish Community, authorized for the Dutch language area and it also exercises authority in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area. The French Community, authorized for the French language area and it also exercises authority in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area and the German Community, authorized for the German language area. Each community has a government and a parliament that is responsible for personal matters such as culture, education, welfare, health, sports and language.
The three regions are: the Flemish Region, this coincides with the Dutch language area, the Walloon Region covers the French and German language areas and the Brussels-Capital Region which is authorized in the bilingual Brussels-Capital area. Each region has a government and a parliament that is responsible for territorial matters such as the environment, urban planning, housing, mobility, infrastructure, economy and employment. In addition to the federal government, the communities and regions, there are also local governments, like those of the provinces and the cities.
There is a lot of confusion. On our National Holiday in 2007 the press asked the then Prime Minister to sing the Brabançonne – the Belgian national anthem – and he sang the Marseillaise, the French one.
I grew up in Flanders which is monolingual: we spoke Dutch. I lived under the Flemish community and region. Upon moving to Brussels things changed. In this institutional framework I had no idea to what part I belonged. I spoke Dutch (Flemish), and had an education organized by the Flemish community, but I used the library of the French speaking university, governed by the French community. The Brussels Capital Region collected my garbage. I paid my taxes on a federal level, for a job I did in the Flemish community. My house was under the rules of the Brussels Capital Region, but when there were elections for the regions and communities, I had to vote for the Flemish regions, even though I lived in Brussels. I did not even know the politicians from the Brussels region or the French part. My public transportation card was given out by the Brussels Capital Region, but I travelled for free because I was a student supported by the Flemish region.
I belonged to all communities and regions and to none. I could have easily vanished for one community, while it would think I’d be part of another one. The complexity of this action might be more difficult, but I always felt that disappearing in this institutional madness was a possibility.

This part of this presentation I took from the French philosopher Catherine Malabou’s lecture at a program called The Retreat at Documenta 13 – which is sort of an odd title since it is located at Banff in Canada, which is more of an elitist art hub than an actual place of retreat. At one point in her presentation she starts talking about her three heroes of the retreat. The three great figures of the retreat: Maurice Blanchot, Alexander Grothendieck and Thomas Bernhardt.

This part of this lecture-presentation I took from an interview between Stephen Wright and theorist Alexander Koch. The latter published in 2011 GENERAL STRIKE, a publication that sketches the act of ‘dropping out of art’.
He answers, you are right to ask to what extent this decision (to retreat) has a critical dimension. Remember all those classical gestures of refusal in art: empty canvases, closed galleries, silent artists. I see that sort of silence as a fundamental mistrust in arts’ contribution to social and individual change. I wondered if emptiness, silence or announced attacks on museums were already the radical peak of such distrust. And I found that there was a possible step further to imagine: just leaving the canvases, museums, and artworld as a whole, alone with themselves and seeking out other endeavours. But then how would we know about such steps, once they were taken?

This part of this presentation is about my work as a research for the possibilities of withdrawal from the institutions of art.
In the last Guggenheim International Exhibition in NY in 1971, Daniel Buren hung a huge banner of 20 by 10 meters in the museum’s rotunda. Some of the other artists in the exhibition, like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, complained that the banner blocked the view, and that their works had to deal with this unwillingly. Buren notified that Flavin’s fluorescent lights also unwillingly coloured his banner.
My interest in the retreat comes from institutional critique. I thought it to be fascinating to work with an institution while commenting on it at the same time, and that this institution would actually like that (except for the case above, Daniel Buren got thrown out of that exhibition). But institutional critique is not really retreating. It is known for reflecting the art world’s ideological framework back onto itself. It stays inside the place that it critiques. Andrea Fraser famously says that there is no outside of the art context. To critique the institute means at the same time that you inevitably participate in the institute. And what happens outside the field of art can have no effect within it. She says: ‘We are the institution of art’. That is a rather depressing thought, but it may also be obsolete as it is connected to Institutional Critique in the late ‘80 and ’90. Perhaps the idea of ‘withdrawal’ might create some possibilities. Not as a new form of IC, for it does not necessary imply a critique, but as a way of keeping distance without disconnecting – and from that position question institutional structures. And it can happen on many levels. There are and have been numerous artist initiatives and art collectives that are experimenting with the idea of withdrawing through making alternative institutions or platforms. So did I.

This part of this presentation is part of a lecture by the American artist Oscar Tuazon at The New School for Public Engagement. By introducing Burt and Holly Davis, he explains their really brutal project of hardcore retreat.

This part of this presentation is about my work as a research for withdrawal from the making of an artwork and the rules of the art world.
One of the most recent works I made was part of the end exam exhibition of the school I was graduating from. The graduation is the moment where the transition between art school and art world happens, where young artists make their first steps outside of the school, hoping to find galleries, buyers, museums, further education, residencies etc that might give them a chance. This all is very common, but I had no interest in getting picked up like that. I wanted to take a step back and not correspond to the needs of the set structures, of the institutional rules and – in extension – of the market. I wanted to look at everything from a distance, but not directly comment on it. I wanted to try another possibility. It had to be withdrawal without loosing contact with the context of the exhibition. Therefore, I needed to find a location that was not in use for the show, but that would still have an important function for and in the show. I found two storage spaces on two different floors of the building where all the objectionable objects for an exhibition get stored. Location-wise, this giant repository created the buffer I needed. But the idea of withdrawal had to be discussed as well. Therefore, I collected specific fragments from lectures, interviews and readings by artists, art historians, theorists, curators and critics. The pieces of audible text were montaged next to each other into a sound piece as a collection of thoughts, ideas and sayings. They offered possibilities to ‘withdraw’ and formed a dialogue. With each other, but also with the context they found themselves in. The repository of text resonated with the physical repository of the storage space. One more element was added, a list on an A4 paper containing all the sources used. The fact that the work was almost invisible, and that there was no artist connected to it, made that basically most people walked right passed it. It generated a group of very little people that wanted to be there. That wanted to spend time with the work. People that came looking for it.

This part of this presentation is a definition of ‘the retreat’ that I took from the introductory text for the program The Retreat at Documenta 13.
To enter or enact a retreat, is to draw together, in réfuge, seclusion, separation, and sharing—not in order to abandon active life with others, but to consider ourselves, with others. The choice to retreat, to move to a space away yet in the world, can open up the possibility of redressing forms of disparity and can disturb relations of power, even if the act itself may seem a reduction of means or a lack of means altogether. Retreat is not abandonment of social challenges, political antinomies, or cultural dead ends, but a temporary condition whose intent is to generate permanent change.

This part of this presentation is about this presentation.
This Summer I made the decision to apply to another institution, the one where I am studying at now. Guess I realized the need to take part in the game. For else I would end up disconnecting fully, and how can you research the withdrawal as a possibility for change if you don’t have anything to withdraw from? The final question would be then about my presentation. Why did I not try to withdraw from this one? Perhaps I tried a little. It is annoying when the rhetoric differs from the act.

The Lecture as a Means to Withdraw (2014)

is a project under the name of Voitka Group, performed by Cissie Fu at puntWG, Amsterdam.

My name is Cissie. For this project about the lecture as a means of withdrawal, I am a part of Voitka Group.
I will start by introducing the figure Bartleby
Herman Melville’s famous work Bartleby the Scrivener, has Bartleby as its main character. He is a scrivener – a kind of clerk or copyist – on Wall Street. In the start he seems an industrious worker, being at the office both night and day, he never leaves. Remarkable about Bartleby is that he replies every request with: ‘I would prefer not to’. And this gets worse and worse until the point that he gets fired, but still he ‘would prefer’ not to leave the office building. Consequently, instead of moving Bartleby, the boss moves his office. The subsequent tenants can’t get rid of Bartleby either, so they call the police who move him to the Tombs as a vagrant. Inside this prison, Bartleby ultimately dies of starvation for he also ‘prefers not’ to eat.
An important passage in the book is when his boss asks him to go to the post-office, upon which Bartleby – of course – replies: I would prefer not to.
His boss asks him: ‘You will not’
Bartleby: I prefer not’.
Here it shows that Bartleby does not simply say yes or no, but ‘prefer not to’, hence engaging with the human consideration of the person addressed.

First, I will talk about Provo.
On the 13th of May 1967 the provotariat gathered in the Vondelpark for the dissolution of Provo. The provotariat was a combination of hoodlums, artists, poets, thinkers and political activists, which Provo considered to be the revolutionary force in a time where the ‘old proletariat’ had lost its momentum.
Two weeks later, The Paper Tiger was published wherein the death of Provo was announced. I quote: “The same names were always mentioned in the press, the same names that kept the movement going. Provo had gradually become something tangible, a cellar, a boat, a cinema and a printing house. The image of a group of non-violent, crazy idealists who brought out their protest in an original and hilarious way had transformed into an image of grim tension. All that remained was that image, and thus the decision to destroy Provo in order to decentralize the group to create a void where things are possible again.

This part is about the Russian political art collective Radek Community. I quote from an article published by the website Moscow Diary in 2008.
“A week ago, the Radek Community announced its dissolution. Little has changed in Moscow since then. Most people just smiled and said something like “Didn’t those guys break up a while ago already?” Basically, they saw the announcement as another non-event in a normalized administrative media routine. Why make a fetish of it?”

For this part I will give the stage to artist Eva Weinmayr. She will talk about the English art collective Art in Ruins.

This part is briefly about Voitka Group
The French neomarxist Henri Lefebvre developed the theory of the moment. Every moment, he says, is subversive. But the moment that is revolutionary or subverting, is always only temporarily. When the desire and the revolt come together, history makes a turn.
From the end of the revolutionary moment, we start. Voitka Group plays in that void. It is a scattered collective of ruins. We are structured like a collective, but we also tend to flee the difficulties that collectivity involves – by operating as networks. Each project and process has its own strategy, its own plan and its own members. Every time a project becomes tangible, every time an image is created, Voitka Group calls for its own dissolution. Like a repetitive suicide bomber.
We do prefer not to, but we also prefer not to be Bartlebys in as far as Bartleby says ‘prefer not to’ instead of saying ‘no’. The above collectives, and many more, find solutions inside the existing system. They sabotage and challenge, until eventually they dissolve, disappear, or dismantle. The retreat or exodus seems not to be an option. Voitka Group wants to operate in the retreat, in the withdrawal, in the disconnected connection.

After the lecture: Institutions by Artists – session 07 – Promises and Practices, readymade artist Claire Fontaine said:
There is no art under capitalism
We need to stop solving the problems of others and start creating new problems

For this part I will give the stage to the French philosopher Catherine Malabou. She will talk about her three heroes of the retreat: Maurice Blanchot, Alexander Grothendieck and Thomas Bernhardt.

This part is taken from an interview between art theorist Stephen Wright and theorist Alexander Koch called ‘Quitting: a conversation with Alexander Koch on the paradoxes of dropping out’. The latter published GENERAL STRIKE in 2011, a publication that sketches the act of ‘dropping out of art’.
Alexander Koch answers: you are right to ask to what extent this decision to retreat has a critical dimension. Remember all those classical gestures of refusal in art: empty canvases, closed galleries, silent artists. I see that sort of silence as a fundamental mistrust in arts’ contribution to social and individual change. I wondered if emptiness, silence or announced attacks on museums were already the radical peak of such distrust. And I found that there was a possible step further to imagine: just leaving the canvases, museums, and artworld as a whole, alone with themselves and seeking out other endeavours. But then how would we know about such steps, once they were taken?

This part is about the critical dimension of the retreat.
“In the last Guggenheim International Exhibition in NY in 1971, Daniel Buren hung a huge banner of 20 by 10 meters in the museum’s rotunda. Some of the other artists in the exhibition, like Donald Judd and Dan Flavin, complained that the banner blocked the view, and that their works had to deal with this unwillingly. Buren notified that Flavin’s fluorescent lights also unwillingly coloured his banner”.
Institutional Criticism knows a long history of working with the institutions of art while commenting on it at the same time. The institutions in most cases are pleased by these critical gestures, except for the case above; Daniel Buren got thrown out of that exhibition. Institutional Critique, however, is not necessarily linked to the retreat, as it is known for reflecting the art world’s ideological framework back onto itself. It stays inside the place that it critiques. Andrea Fraser famously says that there is no outside of the art context. To critique the institute means at the same time that you inevitably participate in the institute. And what happens outside the field of art can have no effect within it. She says: ‘We are the institution of art’.
That is a rather depressing thought. Furthermore, Fraser is wearing an old coat as she points out that art is and remains autonomous, where its function is limited to its own ground – which asks for a self-limitation that barely permits reflection on one’s own field. There is no indication of forms of escaping, shifting or transforming. She does not consider any possible exit strategies.

Now I will hand over the word to Stephen Wright, who wrote about the double ontology of art, meaning that art is both what it is and a proposition of what it is. He will talk about his reason to start considering exit strategies.

This part continues on the critical dimension of the retreat.
The institutional critique of today lies not in direct comments on the field of art only; it lies in the disconnection, the flight, the exodus. In leaving behind the apparatuses of capture. According to art theorist Gerald Raunig, it lies in a new concept of resistance, where the aim is to hinder a dialectical idea of power and resistance: a positive form of dropping out, a flight that is simultaneously an ‘instituent practice’. Instead of assuming the conditions of domination as an unchangeable horizon and yet fighting against them, this flight changes the conditions under which the assumptions take place. Paolo Virno notes in The Grammar of the Multitude that exodus transforms ‘the context within which a problem has arisen, rather than facing this problem by opting for one or the other of the provided alternatives’.
Also activist and art critic Brian Holmes thinks about a possible ‘third phase’ of institutional critique. He talks about the link between the art circuit to projects and experiments that do not exhaust themselves inside the art system, but ‘extend elsewhere’. I quote: ‘These projects can no longer be unambiguously defined as art. They are based instead on a circulation between disciplines, often involving the real critical reserve of marginal or counter-cultural positions – social movements, political associations, squats, autonomous universities – which can’t be reduced to an all-embracing institution’.

For this part, the stage will be Gerald Raunig’s. He will talk about philosophical activism.

This part elaborates on the exodus as a collective action
The flight, or exodus, is not the subject’s personal retreat. A protagonist such as Melville’s Bartleby is often seen as a personification of personal resistance and of individual withdrawal. This old image of retreat into an artist hermitage is repeated, and used by the new circles of cultural pessimism against collective interventionist, activist or other experimental strategies.
When withdrawing, it is important that there cannot be the intention to make a personal statement. In order to make a statement, one already needs to operate from a position of power. When Lee Lozano executed her Dropout Piece – where she dropped out of the art world – she had been a successful painter for many years. Or when Gustav Metzger demanded a creative strike, the request was only heard since the already well-known Metzger initiated it. In the retreat, the collective action empowers itself. It is anonymous and invisible. From the moment that the retreat is discovered and empowered by something outside of it, it can no longer be itself.

This part is a definition of ‘the retreat’ from the introductory text for the program called ‘The Retreat’ at Documenta 13 – which is sort of an odd title since it is located at Banff in Canada, which is more of an elitist art hub than an actual place of retreat.
To enter or enact a retreat, is to draw together, in refuge, seclusion, separation, and sharing—not in order to abandon active life with others, but to consider ourselves, with others. The choice to retreat, to move to a space away yet in the world, can open up the possibility of redressing forms of disparity and can disturb relations of power, even if the act itself may seem a reduction of means or a lack of means altogether. Retreat is not abandonment of social challenges, political antinomies, or cultural dead ends, but a temporary condition whose intent is to generate permanent change.

This part of the lecture is about the possibility of a lecture as an artistic format
Recently, Voitka Group did another lecture. The remark of one of the listeners was that he would have expected the lecturer to give an experimental or at least a more creative presentation – considering that the lecturer was presented as an artist. He criticized the format of the lecture as an artistic venture. Two problems arise here:
The first one is the use of the word ‘creative’. What kind of creative format did he have in mind, and is creativity still something solely related to the artist? The word ‘creativity’ has become extremely hollow since it’s been appropriated by the ‘creative industry’. The deprived lifestyle that many artists lead out of commitment to their work and believes, is employed by the neoliberal market, where it is called: being flexible. The artist is the total illustration of flexibility and creativity, and therefore the perfect example of how labor should be conducted.
The second problem is the refusal to see the format of a lecture as an ambiguous artistic project.

This part of the lecture is about the ambiguous artistic lecture as a possibility to withdraw
Brian Holmes writes: The energies devoted to the creation of a privileged object could be better spent on reshaping the everyday environment.
Just like there is an overproduction of art objects, there is an overproduction of lectures, hence making them an inherent part of the mainstream art system. But you cannot research the withdrawal as a possibility for change if you don’t have anything to withdraw from.
The lecture as an artistic endeavor allows for a retreat. The temporality of its form, the fact that it is never unambiguously art, and that it already implies a distance – a lecture is often about the ‘work’, and not the work itself – allows for a certain kind of withdrawal that is not disconnected. For now, the lecture as a work is the epitome of the paradoxical relationship between the withdrawal and the capture.
As said in the beginning, Voitka Group is a collective of ruins where each project has its own strategy, plan and components. When the image is created, we call for our dissolution. And so we call for it.

The last words are for an unknown member of the audience of the program Institutions by Artists, Session 7, Promises and Practices. It is a short remark about the importance of smuggling, and deals with perhaps the most important question: how can discourse on the institutions of art become productive for society?

Konstanet Talks (2013)

is a project with Kaisa Sööt, executed under the name ‘Voitka Group’. The name originates from the Voitka brothers who escaped from society in 1986 and disappeared for 13 years into the Estonian forest. Konstanet is a non-profit gallery in Tallinn that exists out of two spaces – the online space at konstanet.com and a scaled (1:5) physical ‘gallery’ space. Konstanet shows to be a good premise for ‘talks’ about possible exit strategies from the art world centres.

The project can be found here

Interview in Arterritory

Untitled (Storage Space) (2013)

Untitled (Storage Space) intended to create a dialogue between different ideas, suggestions and speculations on ‘how to withdraw’ from the artistic field(s). A soundpiece containing a collection of text fragments was installed in two repositories of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy, the area where all furniture, schoolboards and easels are hidden during the graduation show.

Marjolein van der Loo wrote about the work in Mister Motley (17 july 2013):
“Zo stap je opeens een opberghok binnen, een ruimte die doorgaans bij het bezoek aan een tentoonstelling verborgen zou blijven. Tussen gestapelde klapstoelen, tekentafels, krukken, schragen, lades en sokkels klinkt een stem die een pleidooi geeft over de plaats van kunst buiten de kunstmarkt. De Belgische kunstenares Sarah Demoen heeft de ongebruikelijke keuze gemaakt om haar werk te presenteren in twee opslagruimten van de academie. Zij neemt deze ruimtes als uitgangspunt voor haar werk en heeft ze gevuld met het meubilair dat nu fungeert als deel van haar installatie. Haar interesse in kunsttheorieën deelt zij met de bezoeker door fragmenten gesproken door kunstenaars en theoretici te laten horen. Daardoor fungeert het opberghok nu ook als ruimte voor filosofie, kunsttheorie en reflectie op zowel haar eigen werk, als dat dat van de andere studenten, de academie en andere deelnemers van de kunstwereld.”

The overview of used text fragments can be found here.

Theater (2008-2012)

zie!duif is a collective of eight artists that developed from the master in Theatre Studies at the University of Antwerp (‘06-‘07). Twenty-two students made the performance ‘Een Tipje van de Luier’ during an intensive workshop led by Frank Vercruyssen (tg STAN). This performance won the first prize at the Student Theatre Festival in Groningen, The Netherlands. Winning the prize required making a new work for the next edition, so zie!duif kept on growing as a collective, though not in the amount of people. We lost fourteen and continued with eight.
Eight artists that see each other as equals, without the interference of a director or moderator. Eight different roads searching for a collective path, suffering under the complexity of communication. This experience will always be central in the performances. zie!duif jumps from witty anecdotes to serious discussions to honest narratives. From one thing to something else, just like people talk.  Eight stories, eight opinions, eight visions, eight outbursts, and in between the lines, eight attempts to reach something essential through language. And the viewer finds itself in the middle of all this, physically and mentally.




We are alone. Alone existentially. Professionals in the material of being alone. It’s just that we can’t be without others. Do you understand? That’s why I’m here. Here, one finds understanding, a moment of peace. It’s not easy, you know, to sit together and listen to each other. Actual listening. There is too much pointless chatter. I’m so happy to be here. And it does help. We are here now. Here we are.

S: In fact, we should all try to first understand each other, before we aspire to be understood. Right?
R: Yes, without any judgment or prejudice. 
S: And only when one can say “I understand you” to the one that has just told her story…
R: Sincerely understand
S:… only then you can talk about your own problem and then this one can say “I understand you too.” And that’s how you get to a mutual understanding. Do you understand?
K: Yes, we understand.

Written & performed by: Tina Ameel, Yannick Bochem, Leen De Graeve, Sarah Demoen, Kathleen Treier, Ine Van Baelen, Katrien Van Wassenhove en Leentje Vandenbussche
Coach: Stefaan Van Brabandt
Texts by i.a.: Umberto Eco, Flair, Peter Verhelst, World Food Corporation and Nigella Lawson
With the support of: Studententheaterfestival Groningen, Artforumvzw, fabuleus, Oude Badhuis and Villanella
Image: Kristien Verhoeyen



Its high time to make a decision. Within two weeks it will happen. Within two weeks he has to be present, our guy, our leader and the face of this action. Our guy will be a sign on the wall. A sign that time is running out, that we slept too long. We cannot hide any longer. The street is calling, the world is calling, the time is calling – unfortunately all too often into the desert. We are almost petrified, as is the ground beneath our feet, in which we dig for the roots of our engagement. A heavy burden lies on the shoulders of our guy. He will be the product of this action, entirely in accordance with the laws of our time. The glitzy product, the tinkling name, the flashy logo. When the time comes we should be able to sell our guy. When the time comes. In two weeks. Time is running out.

Written & performed by: Tina Ameel, Yannick Bochem, Leen De Graeve, Sarah Demoen, Kathleen Treier, Ine Van Baelen, Katrien Van Wassenhove and Leentje Vandenbussche
Coach: Robby Cleiren
With the support of: KBC-Jong Theaterprijs/TAZ, Arenbergschouwburg and Campo
Image: Bart Grietens

19 JUNI (2010)


This is a just a normal choir. With sopranos, mezzo sopranos and altos. Every week they come together to sing. Musical scales and complex polyphonic music. A soprano makes coffee. An alto is looking at her. Does she want coffee too? Another soprano takes her scores. What song will she pick for the warming up? The alto is going to the toilet. Does she have to go now? Why is she here? Where would she rather be if she wasn’t here? The soprano puts her scores down. Why do they do what they do?

Today, I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days.

Written & performed by: Tina Ameel, Leen De Graeve, Sarah Demoen, Kathleen Treier, Ine Van Baelen, Katrien Van Wassenhove and Leentje Vandenbussche
Coach: Jan Bijvoet
Coproduced by: Cultuurcentrum Luchtbal with the support of the Flemish Government and the City of Antwerp.
Special thanks to Het Oud Badhuis
Image: Clara Hermans