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 bookHistory 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.
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.
The new issue of e-flux journal contains my essay Divergent States of Emergence. It comes out of a recent strand of research and reflection on sovereignty, the nation state, inter/transnationalism – which includes the essays “Abdicating sovereignty” and “Toward a Transnational.” There may be a little book in this, which would present a further development and synthesis of these texts—but at this point I’m not sure whether there is any demand for this, nor whether I can make the time. Perhaps it will remain a potential book existing in the form of fragments.
Image: Madeleine Albright as US President in the simulation Atlantic Storm (2005).
Funktionen der Künste. Transformatorische Potentiale künstlerischer Praktiken is a new volume edited by Birgit Eusterschulte, Christian Krüger and Judith Siegmund, with a range of contributions examining the dialectic of artistic autonomy and the social functions of (the) art(s). As the book’s title suggests, it’s mostly in German, with the exception of my essay. Titled “To Live Inside the Law,” my text examines functional differentiation and the erosion of value-spheres, and specifically the changing relation between art and the juridical sphere.
Unfortunately, the second page of my text contains a sentence that got mangled so that it now reads the exact opposite of what it should say: “While aiming to redefine power as something that is passed down to atomized subjects or citizens, in a sovereign chain of hierarchical command, rather than investigating it as something that ‘circulates,’ Foucault largely bypasses the question of what happens when sovereignty is redefined as popular sovereignty.” Of course, Foucault aimed to redefine power precisely as something that circulates! I don’t know how this managed to slip through the net, but I blame latecapitalistneoliberalpostfordist exhaustion.
Image: Forensic Architecture at the ICA, London, 2018.
Since it never rains but it pours, 2020 was also the year when Texte zur Kunst—already plagued by structural issues—committed an act of intellectual and political self-immolation with a badly misguided issue that played into the anti-BDS campaign by the German political and journalistic establishment. The debacle has been documented here.
Irrespective of one’s position on BDS, in Germany it has become impossible to even debate the merits and problems of this strategy, and to work with people who do support BDS, or are even suspected of harbouring some sympathies, since “BDS = Antisemitism.” There has now finally been a reaction by a number of German cultural institutions, the Initiative G.G. 5.3 Weltoffenheit, and a supporting letter by artists, academics and curators, Nothing Can Be Changed Until It Is Faced. This, at least, is a hopeful sign. (I co-signed the letter, and signature can still be added.)
The McCarthyite climate is probably difficult to imagine if you’re not based in or closely connected to Germany. Earlier this year I wrote an essay for an exhibition catalogue addressing some of the limitations (and ideological instrumentalizations) of German Erinnerungskultur and Vergangenheitsbewältigung. In an all too predictable performative confirmation of my point, my text was censored. It could only be published if I removed some crucial passages, which I did, since the curator was working within impossible institutional constraints. I’ll try to publish the integral version elsewhere, somewhere in the non-German parts of this decaying planet.
As we limp toward the end of this frequently dispiriting year, I hope that the holidays—even in lockdown—will be a restorative and joyful period for all who read this.
Image: Eran Schaerf, Schnappschuss, performance at the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, May 17, 2019.
While certain established art journals are busy self-destructing, the artist and curator Irene de Craen has chosen this annus horribilis to launch Errant Journal, a new publication affiliated with the Amsterdam-based decolonial art space Framer Framed. I’m not involved with this, beyond some informal advice and feedback, but I thought I’d give a shout-out to a promising but precarious initiative. The first issue, with a chronopolitical focus, can be ordered here.