(This is the first in a series of articles from former Node residents. Maeve Mulrennan is currently curator at Galway Arts Centre, Ireland and was a resident of Node in summer 2012.)
When asked by Node Center for Curatorial Studies to write about working with an artist during my time on residency, I immediately thought of Stine Marie Jacobsen, precisely because I haven’t worked with her. Jacobsen took part in the exhibition Letters from the Field, but I worked with 3 other artists for this. Upon returning to Ireland, I began planning a residency and invited Stine to take part. However, this residency programme, ‘Public House’ is temporarily on hold due to the closure of the venue where it is usually held.
I first began not-working with Stine Jacobsen when I missed a talk she gave upon completion of her residency in Künstlerhaus Bethanien. However as luck would have it, Stine became my German teacher. We began a promising relationship as teacher & student, and in this time, we also spoke about her work, common interests, books and other artists’ works.
MM: Stine, one of the books that we spoke about & both read last summer was Tom Carthy’s novel, Remainder. Reading that book, where the protagonist reenacts everything from a fictitious memory to everyday events in his neighbourhood, sparked an interest in reenactment and repetition for me. What is it about reenactment and repetition that interests you, and what is it about it that urges you to use it in some of your work?
SMJ: Tom McCarthy – how could you as an Irish person forget the Mc:)? This is your teacher speaking. (The teacher leaves the room.)
Yes brilliant book (and rumor is that Omar Fast will filmatize it). The main character reenacts memories of fragmented reality scenes that happened around a traumatic experience. The trauma, the accident itself, he does not remember and I guess we as readers are not meant to ever know what the trauma is concretely. This is what I like about it. To leave a space open for “projection” from the beholder. To never write into the core of an idea, because that means death of discourse and thought. I want to keep ideas in a constant flux and negotiation…and hopefully never kill your expectations.
Reenactment and repetition is linked to an idea of the body in crisis and ideas of a traumatized self. Whether this trauma is based on real experience or human condition. I most often reenact movies to look at gender or violence representations and structures of power mechanisms inherent in society or the cinematic apparatus itself. As an analogy to the real world or as Ranciére puts it: “And Cinema goes on: which also means that cinema continues to be a privileged form of representation of our world.” And reality and fiction intermix – the viewer (over-)identifies with film characters and vice versa film copies reality – reenactment is to me looking directly at this moment of intermixing or identification and what that means to us as beholders.
Repetition is deconstructing the mental transmission happening when we embody images. With repetition or robotisation, the body is reduced to a virtual image, to a moving image, to 25 frames per second, where time dissects the flesh and one can see it as the vessel of content and potential it is, opening up or closing the reading of the body as sign. Ironically when you edit film, you can follow the blinking of your eyes to cut the film. So it is a very interrelated affair.
I think repetition is an existential human trait, think of our everyday breathing repetition. Like that moment, where you wake up in the night and your body for some weird reason forgot to breathe and you wake up gasping for air? You were maybe subconsciously trying to kill yourself, who knows. What a trauma that is or let’s say, if breathing is life then a sneeze is a revolution. I have allergies, so I am often at war…with my own thoughts.
But then again I don’t want to reveal everything, or be absolute, so I work just as much with the absence of the image and leave it to the viewer to think the rest. Maybe I should remove every 8th word in this answer?
MM: I like the idea of the maker / actor of repetition attempting to reconcile something, or do penance - I am from a Catholic country after all! It goes against the idea that if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll get the same results. At the moment I’m obsessed with a film called ‘The Beaver Trilogy’ by Trent Harris (2000). Have you seen this? The filmmaker reenacts an event from 1979, once in 1981 and again in 1985. You can see that he is trying to do penance and put things right for taking advantage of an amateur performer & Olivia Newton John impersonator, ‘Groovin’ Gary’. Gary has a change of heart and does not want Harris to screen the footage he took of him, as he is afraid that ‘people will get the wrong idea’ of him singing badly while dressed in full on, and very bad, drag. Harris goes ahead. Two, and then six years later, Harris remakes the film. In the first reenactment, it has a happy ending, with Gary being asked to perform again. In the second, Harris is portrayed as a mean, manipulative character. I’m obsessed with Harris’ guilt and penance. Does the idea of penance or atonement through reenactment interest you?
SMJ: Yes I know the film, though I think I’ve only seen part of it. I think someone made me aware of it while I was filming with my American neighbor Kirk Douglas Sample pretending to kill me from the back seat of my car while I was driving. I got an (verbal) academic warning from one faculty member at CalArts for doing this video. Aw. The person felt I was acting morally incorrect and that Kirk did not know what he was doing. But he did and does! This presumption that people are ignorant, I think is a very dangerous and arrogant attitude. Penance and atonement are definitely a big interest of mine and it points in two directions, inwards and outwards. What can you do in the name of art? Coming from a protestant Scandinavian culture, I grew up with Christian ethics and norms, which very unconsciously in the beginning drew me in the direction of rituals, resurrection, trust and manipulation.
I am currently preparing to discuss catharsis in art with the writer Maggie Nelson who wrote a book on the same topic that we are discussing now, called The Art of Cruelty. Catharsis is linked to the terms penance and atonement. I definitely think that art can offer a platform for catharsis for the participant and/or the beholder(s). It is a built in potential in the structure of art. What is your thought about catharsis (Penance and atonement) in art? I am curious to know.
Did I just do a comparison between God and Art? I just heard a voice say in the name of the father, the son and the holy spirit when I wrote: “What can you do in the name of art?” It could read like that. I need to explain that. What I meant is that there are ways to open doors in peoples’ hearts and minds with art, because they trust you, the artist, in another way, because you represent something philosophical or abstract, that they are somehow drawn to and most people I meet, actually have a deep respect for this. Also they know that there (hopefully) is no big bad conglomerate monster behind you. It is a 1:1 relation that I cherish and protect. I would not know what to do if there was no longer in people a participatory willingness to share themselves (with me and with us.).
MM: From a curatorial point of view, catharsis can be a contentious area. I come across a lot of artists who see their role as precisely the one that you defined as NOT being: they see the role of the artist nearly like a God, swooping in to the life of a person or group of people, and ‘healing’ them through art. Often the participants felt used and the art was awful. Maybe this is where the Professor in CalArts comes in – maybe they are guilty of doing this in the past! From an Irish perspective, catharsis in relation to art is prevalent in Modern & Post-Modern work: from artists such as Micheal Farrell & Patrick Ireland occupying the role of artist / activist to contemporary artists such as Dominic Thorpe who, through performance, has worked with our history of institutional abuse. To go back to your thoughts on the equal position of the artist in relation to the participant, this addresses the power play between artist & non-artist – no one can be taken advantage of as the relationship is honest and both parties are aware of what can happen. I think the media has a different relationship with people – it is not equal and can take advantage of peoples’ ignorance. You see this in TV shows like Jerry Springer, Jeremy Kyle – is there a German equivalent? People are aware that they are being taken advantage of for entertainment, but are seemingly happy to accept this. What about the viewer – does this endless reel of guilt, blame, denial and revelation help the viewer with their own atonement?
SMJ: There are so many Jerry Springer equivalents in Germany…People think that if they “don’t publish they perish”, meaning that it is not enough to live or have lived. The subject is a project, you are nothing if you don’t have a project or if your subject is a product and if you do not have the possibility of fame, then reality show is the only way to immortalize/victimize yourself. The human condition is suffering and we have an urge and a history for sharing our pain in public. A victim culture.
I do think the possibility to achieve catharsis in art exists. But when the expectations are too high or juxtaposed…that’s when you can read in the news, “I was manipulated by this and that reality show.” I once watched a clip from the British “Big Brother Show”, where one of the participants was hiding behind a plant. The plant was on wheels and he would literally wheel in front of him all the time so you could not see him. I thought that was hilarious. When do we ever hear of participants in an art project revolting or acting critically, that’s rare and to me very interesting. Being “beaten” by the non-artist mind-wise …or literally. A big corporation would never risk losing that control. The worker is free as long as they think of work constantly and as long as people are violent against themselves.
“Bürgerkrieg der Sprache mit sich selbst” to finally bring in a German sentence – a quote that has been hanging on my wall for more than a year now. Could you translate the sentence for me Maeve?
MM: I’ll be honest I had to think about the word “Bürgerkrieg”; I had an image of town councillors hitting each other. “Language is a civil war with the self”????
I think there is a blur between a person’s life and their ‘story’ – I don’t think they are the same thing. Apparently there is a novel in everyone. I’m not sure if it is wise to tell that story though – if you are looking for catharsis or atonement through the telling or retelling of a story, you might just be hurting or eroding the self. To quote Woody Allen from an interview in Der Spiegel, is “Political questions, if you go back thousands of years, are ephemeral, not important. History is the same thing over and over again”. We never learn. Apparently the Vikings took all the good looking Irish people with them to Iceland. We should invite them back and see if they can give us some catharsis. Or I can invite you to Ireland and you can do a project where the Vikings apologise to Irish people through making art together, or by giving Irish people make-overs to atone for taking all the good looking people away.
SMJ: Ha ha ha brilliant, that’s a deal! Funny that you should mention the Vikings, just less than two days ago I talked to a Turkish taxi driver about me coming from Denmark and he told me that it was not my fault that the Vikings were so violent and evil. Phew, thank God that (a lot of) time heals wounds.
Damn we have to work on your Genitive case when we meet again:) Language is feminine in German, “die” and here it became “der”, so it can only either be Genitive case or Dative case. The words are more like a title, it says: The civil war of language with oneself…
Images copyright Stine Marie Jacobsen http://www.stinemariejacobsen.com/doyouhavetime/index.html
 http://www.nodecenter.org/projects/exhibitions/letters-from-the-field/ Accessed 7th April 2013
30 April and 2 May 2013
BENTEN CLAY, Erik Bünger, Joanna Dauner & Marjam Fels, Larissa Fassler, James T. Hong, Teodoro Lupo, Andrew T. Lyman, Annika Ström, and Marcelina Wellmer
Curated by: Silvia Cipriani, Julia Hartmann, Aline Lara Rezende, Daphne Tsaoussis, Nahomi Ximénez, Chun-Ya Yang
Fail, failure, mistakes, wrong, error; all are daunting words we tend to avoid or hide at all costs. Failure is perceived as hazardous because it has the potential to disrupt our accepted knowledge, to convert our comfortable certainties about how the world is supposed to work into questions.
During our curatorial collaboration, we have failed at different times in many different ways. Lots of things were proven impossible, lots of ideas were rejected, abandoned, left incomplete, and at times, the whole process dissolved. Using these seeming downfalls as a starting point, we chose to revel in and explore the rich spectrum of fail.
Reactions to failure evolve over time and are dependent on personal will: either to resist, accept or try to resolve. Still, failure is a dynamic generator as it produces a moment of crisis, which in turn opens up a space to reassess and consider the possibility to create something different, something unexpected, something better.
Failures, undeniably, are an inherent component of any creative act, of all extraordinary discoveries, of every action and motion. The arts are not immune to this obsessive pursuit. Success and failure are not mutually exclusive, rather they are contingent; a bawdy pair, they carry and modify each other. By embracing failure as a means to unlock creative possibility, it allows us to cross the divide between the problem and solution, and to stand on the threshold of the new.
FAIL! intends to uncover and praise accidental successes, spectacular failures and perfect imperfections. The project consists of an exhibition, a performance and a roundtable conversation exploring the different facets of failure including, futile working strategies, system collapses, epic fails, second chances, collaborative clashes, unexpected obstacles and the use of errors as a means to create something afresh.
All photographs copyright Laura Gianetti for Node Center for Curatorial Studies 2013
As ‘Favourite Flavour’ homework for discussion the following friday, Node resident Juan Uribe gave his fellow Node curators the text ‘On the New‘ (2002) by the philosopher, art critic and curator Boris Groys;
“The supposed illusion caused by the end of the new in art goes hand in hand with a new promise to incorporate art into life. Artists and theoreticians wish to show themselves as being truly alive and real, in opposition to the abstract and defunct historical constructions represented by the museum system and the art market. But when and in what conditions does art appear as if it were alive and not as if it were dead? This article attempts to illustrate the internal logic of the collection within museums, a logic that obliges artists to introduce themselves into “reality, into life” and to make art appear as if it were alive. At the same time, the article attempts to explain that what is meant by “being alive” is, in fact, the very same as “being new”. The museum as a constructor of historical representation recognises only the new as that which is real, present and alive and therefore it is precisely within the new that innovation will be possible, inasmuch as it allows the introduction of a new difference between things.” (Abstract)
Today, following the Tools & Install Workshop by Sabrina Basten and Bart Cuppens, the residents are now proud builders of a wall and two plinths, already hung with artworks.
Today was the first day of the Tools & Install workshop, taught by Sabrina Basten. For this time Sabrina invited a special guest: Bart Cuppens, Chief of building crew in Kunsthal Rotterdam. During the workshop, the residents will learn basics about tools, will improve their drilling-, sawing- and painting skills and will have useful tips for installing artworks. Noise of machines, dust and laughs were all around the space!
Node resident Justin Ross‘s ‘Favourite Flavour’ homework for fellow Node residents this week was the text ‘What’s (Really) Specific about New Media Art? Curating in The Information Age‘ written by Domenico Quaranta, 2012. A critical text on curating “New Media”.
“Does new media art require a specific curatorial model? Does this curatorial model follow the way artists working with new media currently present themselves on the contemporary art platform? How much could “new media art” benefit from a non-specialized approach? Are we curating “new media” or curating “art”?”
Talking about New Media Art, Justin presented his ‘The New Media Nightbrunch’, a night of art and performances in the setting of the Tokyo art and fashion event ’The Pool’, a concept pop-up store and art event arranged by Justin during a stay in Tokyo. During the night artist groups LineKernel, OnnaCodomo and HeHeWho performed. Take a look at impressions from the event here.
Today we hosted a Cultural Brunch at Node. John Holten from Broken Dimanche Press, Andrzej Raszyk from berlinerpool, Matthias Einhoff from ZKU and Maria PTQK shared their interesting previous and recent work with us. Thank you for joining us!
To continue with the series of articles, we chose an essay from Maeve Mulrennan, written for the publication of the exhibition ‘Letters from the Field’ in August 2012. The article raises questions related to the discussions we are having in the residency the last weeks.
Fictional Scenarios: Whose Experience Is This?
by Maeve Mulrennan
The human ability to create a fictional scenario is necessary in order for progress. Creative innovation drives us forward and aids criticality. Fiction is not necessarily separate from truth: one cannot be without the other. Fiction is not a lie: it is a creative and critical expression of what could be or could have been.
Ciaran Walsh’s work, Two Scripts for a Museum takes a scientific paper on amnesia as its starting point. The paper outlines how people suffering from amnesia related to a specific part of the brain (the hippocampus) are unable to imagine fictional scenarios. When examining these scripts it becomes apparent that the gaps and pauses in the text are extremely important. The viewer, imagining the script being acted, recognises these pauses as a void. The ability to create a fictional scenario is what changes who we are now into what we could be. If alternative ways of living cannot be imagined by anyone, or only by a select few, what will happen to us? The case studies that Walsh is looking at suggest that it is a lack of memory that affects the ability to imagine future scenarios. Recognition of our past is necessary to imagine a future. This contrasts with studies on three and four-year olds where it was easier for them to imagine fictional scenarios than real beliefs:
Young children may find reasoning about fictional mental states that contrast with reality easier than reasoning about epistemic mental states that conflict with reality.1
A three year old does not have a bank of memory to draw from when forming a fictional scenario. The ability to imagine is ingrained into the human condition at an early age. However a three year old with no past is not the same as an adult who is aware that they have had a past but have lost it.
Is it possible then that people who feel that their history and / or culture have been taken away from them feel the same way as a person with amnesia? Can they imagine a future when they know that their past is now a void?
For people with amnesia due to a damaged hippocampus, a lack of the past is indicative of a lack of future and understanding of the human condition. Could one’s future depend on someone else’s past? It is said that memory is a life long film-reel that can be rewound to specific moments when prompted. When large segments are spliced out, what comes next can be confusing. Hannah Arendt discusses the repercussions of this:
We are in danger of forgetting, and such an oblivion – quite apart from the contents themselves that could be lost – would mean that, humanly speaking, we would deprive ourselves of one dimension, the dimension of depth in human existence. For memory and depth are the same, or rather, depth cannot be reached by man except through remembrance.2
Ruth Le Gear is strongly attracted to the scientific method behind natural phenomena, as well as the more intuitive process of understanding these phenomena including homeopathy. These methodologies are polar opposites but her practice operates on the premise that crucial connections are involved in perception and a unified experience is created from differences.
Le Gear’s new video piece presents the viewer with a lost civilisation. She utilises fictions surrounding Lemuria and Atlantis and recontextualises them in contemporary Berlin. It was a widely held nineteenth century belief that these two islands were real but lost places. After this belief was proved false, it entered the realm of fiction. These fictions gave reasons for their downfall: they became lost because a mistake was made, something went wrong. Lost cities recur in utopian literature, for instance with Thomas More, William Morris, Charlotte Perkins Gillman and many others, demonstrating a necessary human need to explore fictional scenarios in order to understand more about the self.
If mistakes are made, are we lost forever? Who decides what our mistakes are? Why do we decide to accept this?
Lindsay Lawson’s work removes scenes from the plot-based narrative model of the Hollywood film and creates an infinitesimal loop where light, absence and repetitive action create new meaning for these scenes. The work questions authority by appropriating copyrighted material. By appropriating somebody else’s fictional scenario, it may be possible to create new meaning and understanding. By viewing a scene repeatedly through several layers of disassociation from the authorised version or scenario there is room for the audience to explore and to create their own, linking the scenes to personal or cultural memory.
The position of the artist as author also raises questions: Lawson’s artwork is a one-off film print on 16mm – this is in direct contrast to the digital shared film that she works from. By appropriating both content and method, the artist is creating a fictional scenario relating to authorship. The internet acts as a constantly shifting and expanding cultural memory archive, a mass of authorised and unauthorised content. History is no longer a clear, selective narrative in a book written by an authorised ‘expert’. With search engines and a conglomeration of information, each with different authority, impact and potency, history is now an ever-evolving network of ideas to be shared and consumed.
Who is the author of our imagined future? In 1975 JG Ballard addressed this:
We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind—mass merchandising, advertising, politics conducted as a branch of advertising, the instant translation of science and technology into popular imagery, the increasing blurring and intermingling of identities within the realm of consumer goods, the preempting of any free or original imaginative response to experience by the television screen. We live inside an enormous novel. For the writer in particular it is less and less necessary for him to invent the fictional content of his novel. The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent the reality.3
If an artist is inventing a reality that opposes capitalist fictions, can reality be copyrighted?
1 Jacqueline D. Woolley “Young Children’s Understanding of Fictional Versus Epistemic Mental Representations: Imagination and Belief” Child Development, Vol.66, No.4, (August 1995), 1011 -1021 Blackwell Publishing 31/7/12.
2 Hannah Arendt p94 Between Past and Future: Six exercises in political thought, Viking Press NY 1961.
3 JG Ballard Introduction to Crash (French Edition) 1974.
Two Scripts For a Museum
Ongoing artistic research into medical testing by the Institute of Neurology
(University College London) and the School of Psychology (Cardiff University)
of the apparent inability of patients suffering from hippocampal amnesia
to imagine new experiences and construct fictional scenarios. The scripts
represent real interviews.
He Cried in a Whisper at Some Image, at Some Vision (II)
inkjet print on photographic paper
37 x 50 cm
Imagine that you are standing in the main hall of a museum containing many exhibits
There’s not a lot as it happens.
So what does it look like in your imagined scene?
Well, there’s big doors. The openings would be high, so the doors would be very big with brass
handles, the ceiling would be made of glass, so there’s plenty of light coming through. Huge
room, exit on either side of the room, there’s a pathway and map through the centre
and on either side there’d be the exhibits.
I don’t know what they are
there’d be people
To be honest there’s not a lot coming
Do you hear anything or smell anything?
No, it’s not very real. It’s just not happening. My imagination isn’t…
well, I’m not imagining it, let’s put it that way. Normally you can picture it can’t you?
I’m not picturing anything at the moment.
So are you seeing anything at all?
Last Saturday we had Node’s second year anniversary with 12 hours of events and a party to close the day!
During the whole day, alongside with welcoming tea and coffee, we had different stations and activities. We created an Exhibition Title Generator device in which visitors could create their own imaginary exhibition titles.
At midday we started with the Know-how-why-what Ping Pong, a one-on-one exchange between present Node residents and visitors. Each member of the ping pong duo taught the other their topic for 15 minutes. We had lessons in different fields, from Nose Morse Code, Chinese language, Indesign, Chakra Alignment to How to enter to the Venice Biennale for free.
At 14:00 we had the yummy Lunch Remix, in which people were asked to find a partner, fill a form and make a sandwich for their partner. It was great catalyst for interaction between people!
At the same time Perla Montelongo and Lauren Reid performed the Untitled Prophecies. They conduct a one-on-one analysis of the past, present and future of artworks via precise esoteric measurements, predicting the potential ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of artworks. Artists got a full printed dossier of their prophecies and found interesting to look at their artworks from that perspective
Later we hosted tree sessions of Live Confessions, a conversational game from the late 19th century played by Marcel Proust and the Surrealists, that laterally explores the aspirations and personalities of the interviewed people. In this format, Leen Horsford and a guest who is not familiar with the art field, interviewed Node director Perla Montelongo and past residents, Paz Perez-Bustamante and Rachel Fox. Following Leens rules, there was no documentation, so the secrets stay with us!
Finally, alongside with Chun Ya Yang VJ performance, we had an amazing Freestyle Cocktails where the residents designed experimental cocktails for all the visitors!
Thank you to the ones that joined us in the celebration!