The Flemish/Dutch art journal De Witte Raaf has published a questionnaire on individual and collective modes of working. I’m among the dozens of authors, artists and curators (including, obviously, a few duos) who have contributed a short text in response to the editors’ prompts. In case you don’t read Dutch and you want to get the basic idea: Google Translate is getting eerily good…
The ExitStateCraft series I’m editing for BAK’s Prospections platform continues with Eva Meyer and Eran Schaerf’s essay “Kahanoff’s Levantinism: The Anachronic Possibilities of a Concept.”
Postscript, March 2:
Paul Street has noted that “the Ukraine Crisis is a good focus for practicing the art of detesting two things at the same time“—i.e. “both supremely dangerous US-led Western imperialism and the less powerful but nonetheless criminal, imperialist, and supremely dangerous Vladimir Putin regime.” This in no way should result in false equivalences or whataboutism; Street rightly lays into the “foolish and false claims emanating from the Russian and Putin-fan side, which creepily includes no small number of “left”-identified and mostly white male Americans writing for and/or posting from media outlets that shamelessly channel Russian talking points for US and Western consumption.” Not just in America: In Germany, the Stalinist rag Junge Welt (which used to be the mouthpiece of the East German Communist party’s sclerotic youth organization, FDJ) memorably decreed that Putin had managed to “enforce peace”… on the day before the invasion.
Just as one can and should reject two (or more) things are the same time, so one should be able to keep different temporal horizons in view, and act on different timescales. In the short term, everything must be done to condemn, isolate and undermine the Putin regime, and to support the Ukrainian population—while still refusing to normalize and eternalize the post-1989 order of “democratic” nation-states that have frequently proven eager Putin pupils. I would argue that it is more crucial than ever to keep engaging with, and developing, the kind of social and political (and cultural) imaginary mapped by Meyer and Schaerf in their essay. Somewhat uncannily, it ends with remarks on experiments with “multinations” in Poland and Bukinova, a region that is today divided between Romania and Ukraine:
Zionist efforts to achieve territorial autonomy came into conflict with the Bund movement, which advocated for non-territorial autonomy. Bundist theoretician Vladimir Medem rejects the traditional overlapping of state and nation, and proposes a form of federalism based on autonomous social institutions for regions with mixed populations. Belonging to such a “multination” becomes a “subjective public right,” and through the formation of “entities under public law” the multination itself becomes the “legal person” of this law. This kind of personal autonomy was put to the test in the region of Bukovina in 1910 among Germans, Jews, Poles, Romanians, and Ukrainians. Plans to introduce it in 1914 in the Galicia region of Poland were hindered by the outbreak of war. Such ideas were also proposed at the Paris Peace Conference on 20 February 1920 in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the inevitable dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
It goes without saying that the ever grimmer news makes it difficult to keep this dual focus in view; when friends, comrades and colleagues are trapped in cities under siege, it’s hard to see past the end of one’s nose. This is imperialist chronopolitics: imposing empire as a perpetual present beyond which there is no tomorrow, and against which no life can be allowed to thrive.
BAK’s Prospections has now added a section in support of Ukraine: https://www.bakonline.org/prospections/no-to-war/
By now, the proofs of two long-gestating book projects have almost been fully proofread and should be ready to go into print at the beginning of 2022—if there are printers who have the needed paper and labour-power, which is is a bit of an issue at the moment. Some further delays would be in keeping with these projects. I submitted the complete first draft of the Art and Autonomy reader (published by Afterall) in 2014, and the project has lingered in a kind of financio-organizational development hell for years. In a bout of foolhardiness, or foolishness, I’d decided that the usual reader format of selected texts plus introduction would not do, instead creating a complex montage of shorter and longer fragments connected by editorial text throughout the volume. I’m glad it will finally see the light of day, but I try not to think of the absurd amount of (socially unnecessary) labour-time that Afterall’s editors and I sank into this endeavour.
The origins of my two-part book project Forms of Abstraction stretch back even further, but the first volume has only been delayed by two years or so. The edited manuscript of this volume, Objections, was about ready to go to the designer in early 2020, when Covid hit and the project was put on hold, to be reactivated this year. Forms of Abstraction is my project on art and forms of financial, juridical and technoscientific real abstraction. Objections, focuses on objecthood and thingness; its sequel, Personafications, will explore subjectivity and personhood. But that’s another story for another time; for now, I’m relieved that this first part is about to be materialized.
[Images: preliminary cover designs.]
I have watched the rise of the cottage industry of reenactment studies with a certain bemusement. My own work of reenactment (with the 2005 exhibition Life, Once More: forms of reenactment in contemporary art) was always part of a wider set of inquiries not just into performance, but into historicity and historicism, futurity and potentiality. Some of that work can be found on the articles page, particularly in the sections “Futurity, Potentiality, Emergence and Divergence” and “Time, Moving Images and Performance.” I haven’t written much that deals directly with reenactment since 2005, but I gladly accepted an invitation to re-reflect on the subject in an introductory essay for a new volume (expertly) edited by Cristina Baldacci, Clio Nicastro and Arianna Sforzini. As the title of my piece “From Re- to Pre- and Back Again” suggests, I also reflect on strategies of prefigurative preenactment.
Here’s the blurb:
Over and Over and Over Again
Reenactment Strategies in Contemporary Arts and Theory
Edited by Cristina Baldacci, Clio Nicastro, and Arianna Sforzini
ICI Berlin Press, 2022
Over the last twenty years, reenactment has been appropriated by both contemporary artistic production and art-theoretical discourse, becoming a distinctive strategy to engage with history and memory. As a critical act of repetition, which is never neutral in reactualizing the past, it has established unconventional modes of historicization and narration. Collecting work by artists, scholars, curators, and museum administrators, the volume investigates reenactment’s potential for a (re)activation of layered temporal experiences, and its value as an ongoing interpretative and political gesture performed in the present with an eye to the future. Its contributions discuss the mobilization of archives in the struggle for inclusiveness and cultural revisionism; the role of the body in the presentification and rehabilitation of past events and (impermanent) objects; the question of authenticity and originality in artistic practice, art history, as well as in museum collections and conservation practices.
The book is available in print, and can be ordered from booksellers as well as directly from the ICI; it is also online at the ICI site, with my introductory essay being here.
For BAK’s Prospections platform, I edited a series of new commissions and archival materials under the (perhaps excessively referential and punning) title ExitStateCraft. In addition to an editorial and the republished pieces, there’s a historico-theoretical essay by Kevin Ochieng Okoth and a related contribution by artist-researcher Nina Støttrup Larsen, as well as a “codex-comic” by Cooperativa Cráter Invertido with an accompanying text (or prologue) by Mariana Botey.
I myself contributed the essay “Transnational Trajectories,” which traces some genealogies, contradictions and potentialities of inter- and transnational organizing.
Thanks for their input to Maria Hlavajova, Rachael Rakes and Wietske Maas – and to Wietske and Aidan Wall for their editorial care.
Image from Nina Støttrup Larsen’s The Cut, The Punch, The Press, 2021.
Since reenactment has become quite the academic cottage industry, my 2005 exhibition Life, Once More: forms of reenactment in contemporary art has become a point of reference, and my big “hit.” From time to time I get requests for a PDF of the catalogue, which is long out of print. For years I’ve had to confess not having access to a PDF myself, but recently I found a scan online. I’ve posted it in the “Edited Volumes and Periodicals” section (or just click here).
I can’t help but feel that Life, Once More gets a slightly disproportionate amount of attention because it says “reenactment” on the tin. The project was part of a research trajectory on time-based media and historicity, which resulted in my 2013 book History in Motion: Time in the Age of the Moving Image. This one is still available; don’t wait until a PDF is all that remains, and buy the book!
Last year, I wrote the essay An Aesthetics of Prolepsis for the catalogue of the Munich exhibition Tell me about yesterday tomorrow—and essay which, in critiquing the limits of what is sayable in Germany, became itself unpublishable, at least in its entirety. While catalogue will contain a shortened version without the “offending” passages, the full text is now available at Third Text Online thanks to Richard Dyer and Nicola Gray. It’s a long piece, but a PDF can be downloaded from the bottom of the page.
An excellent Dutch translation has been published in De Witte Raaf.
It was a relief when, after the US election, I felt I could finally take down the massive “God Hates Trump” sign from Paul Chan’s New Proverbs series, which had loomed large over my dining table for a number of years. Sadly, Paul has had to add another sign to the series, which can be ordered from Printed Matter.
The tenth anniversary of the (ongoing) Fukushima catastrophe on March 11 will see the official launch of the book Don’t Follow the Wind, edited by Nikolaus Hirsch and Jason Waite in Sternberg’s Critical Spatial Practice Series. The volume documents the Don’t Follow the Wind exhibition project in the Fukushima exclusion zone, and collects a number of essays. My contribution, titled “Radio-Activity,” comes out of a trip to Fukushima last March, with members of the DFTW collective. This site visit and the encounters have informed my essay, and will continue to inform my practice.
I would argue that Don’t Follow the Wind is precisely about radioactivity—about not just the radioactivity of certain materials, but about the political economy of the nuclear-industrial complex that has unleashed them, and about the actual and potential praxis of displaced people, of communities and those mediating between them, of seemingly free agents and those bound to the earth. In terms favored by certain contemporary feminist theorists, we might say that Don’t Follow the Wind stays with the trouble and pursues and ethico-aesthetic practice of entanglement. This is radio-activity as posthuman sensuous activity in the wasteland of this world.