(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
Every Wednesday we will present an article from our past or current residents. To start with the series, we chose an essay from Dunja Rmandic, written for the publication of the exhibition ‘Letters from the Field’ shown in Berlin in August 2012. The article adresses questions about identity and memory in the city of Berlin.
Should We Let Go?
by Dunja Rmandic
“This can’t be the Potsdamer Platz” – Homer, the old poet, Wings of Desire
And so here we are, in Berlin. As many say, in a city where the twentieth century happened; the good, the evil, the progressive and the ugly. Rather than having a classic beauty that defines most European cities, Berlin stands as a collage of aesthetics, a collage of histories, and overlapping landscapes, all omnipresent at once and all simultaneously canceling each other out. Here history is everywhere and it is nowhere.
What is it that keeps us holding onto ideas, objects, moments, and the past, giving us a sense that this is what constitutes our identity? What if we never held on to those in the first place? We naturally navigate through history, as well as spaces, with the help of symbols. But Berlin seems to have embraced a type of amnesia that defies historical fetishes in a way that denies a one-dimensional experience of the city and refuses to prioritize one history over another. It leaves us in a state of limbo, in the in-between where everything is possible and nothing is special. There is no nostalgia, there is no homecoming. Even the remnants of the Wall – the most recent and remembered history for most of us – seem abstract. I watched the wall come down live on TV, and the emotional experience of it has profoundly shaped my attitude to politics, suffering, and symbols, yet being here, living ‘in the East’ and close to the wall, I am left empty. Do we really move on from history so fast? Outside looking in, Berlin has its Kirchners, Dietrichs, Langs, its Brechts, Benjamins, its Bauhaus, Plancks, and Einsteins, its Reichstag, the Jewish Museum, and the Wall. Once in the city, all of those symbols collectively dissipate, and what is left, what is felt, is a potential to have – or to be – all of those again. The city has learnt from its destructive history that anything that is created is soon destroyed; we are here to create, live, love, forget, be and do – we come, we go, but there is no central axis here anymore and this is how it remains invulnerable. Welcome to the matrix that is Berlin.
What do we retain in the form of a city and as a nation, and what do we retain as our individual history? On the one hand history teaches us but on the other its effects can be stifling. Stine Marie Jacobsen’s practice takes us straight to the core of the relationship between memory, violence, and history, on both the individual and the broader social level. Working with theories of memory and contemporary psychology through performance, her focus becomes material, dialogical, and most importantly, ethical, and she keeps us holding our breath for how her pieces will resolve. Contemporary Germany seems to be a perfect context in which to scrutinize these questions, and Berlin as a perfect platform to experiment within.
How do we construct history and how do we construct memory? Megan Cotts’ archival research into honeycomb paper – those fun shapes that fascinated us as children – patented by her family and then subsequently revoked by the National Socialists in the 1930s, has gone beyond a recovery of history. Through reenacting the physical process of making these endless patterns, playing with the scale, and shifting the emphasis from the original, mass-produced combs to handmade interpretations of shapes, Cotts discreetly questions legacies, authority, and memory while simultaneously constructing her own. Yet despite this questioning, her impetus and our collective unrelenting attachment to material objects remains in question.
But what if we rejected every ounce of what constitutes an identity, every structure that contains it, every value that informs it, every symbol that defines it? How can we construct an identity without history?
An identity devoid of history can only exist after the apocalypse. Rebecca Smith’s childhood was defined by the visions of biblical apocalypse and devoted preparation for its immanent arrival. Exorcising those narratives from her personal life, she has formalized them as nostalgic symbols in her series Beast (2010). While removing herself from that formal lifestyle, she has not discredited the impulse behind those tendencies that seek to immortalize the present, wishing the ‘now’ to be the climax of humanity. Perhaps a desire to rid humanity of history altogether is a more acceptable contribution of doomsday cults, and one that art is well placed to engage with.
Of the myriad of images of Berlin, one that makes sense to me the most is that of it as a pre-historic swamp. Serendipitously, the Immortal Neobiocosmonaut, the hero in Ylva Westerlund’s comic book-inspired manifesto, comes out of a swamp and presents us with an image and experience of a utopia. Only when he dematerialized could he know of it and only when he rematerialized could he communicate the possibilities he saw for our future. But in order to attain this future, we need to change our relationship with language: “impossible” says his opponent; “not at all” says he, “…you just switch the ‘possible’ for ‘mortal’… .”
Reminiscing about knowing Berlin when it was a swamp, Damiel and Cassiel – our guardian angels in Wings of Desire – also reminisce about learning language from humans. We exist through language, we move through language, we own through language and we create through language. While standing in the middle of the field, as in her Untitled (monochrome) (2010), Sharon Houkema isolates us in language and forces us to feel it instead of relying on knowing it. She wishes that, as we taught it to the angels, maybe we can un-teach it to ourselves and try to experience form outside of language; try to experience art – and ourselves – anew.
So here we are, still in Berlin, where the vulnerable has been replaced by the immortal; where art critic Karl Scheffler’s remark in 1910 that this “is a city condemned always to become and never to be” is as true in 2012 as it was when it was first written.1 In another century the same statement might still resonate, and in another century we just may manage to experience ourselves anew.
1 Karl Scheffler, Berlin: Ein Stadtschicksal (Berlin: Fate of a City), 1910.
The Psychology of Rumor by Gordon W. Allport, page 56: “In general, people skeletonize their memories rather than elaborate them.” Two of the shapes are from a memory test in the book. One of them I drew from memory during our conversation.
Stine Marie Jacobsen
I am standing in the middle of a vast landscape. I tell you I am “in the middle”, to give you an idea, a picture in your mind. But the truth is, I have no idea, if where I’m standing, is the middle. There is nothing for my eyes to hold onto, nothing to determine position, nothing to determine scale. I am surrounded by endless white, not black: white. White as far as I can see, an unhindered, unbroken white.
Sharon Houkema, Untitled (Monochrome), 2010, printed paper
Check Letters from the Field online publication
Finally the sad day came: Last day for enjoying the company of our lovely summer residents. We started the day with a toast with Berocca (a tradition imported from Ireland), then we got ready for the final review of mistakes and improvements for the program. Lunch time: we went to have some nice japanese food in Berlin Mitte, followed by wonder waffles, collective hugs and closing the night with Karaoke session, highlighted by “Under pressure” energetic performace. We’ll miss you all dear summer Nodies!
All summer nodies ready to carry, drive, clean, build walls, install and get ready for the show!
Before the opening of our Summer final show, Node team needed to get new haircuts for the occasion. With so little time to make hairdresser appointments, we trusted blindly in our residents Dunja Rmandic and Maeve Mulrennan to design and execute our new haircuts. Now they are the official Node friseurs!
Unfortunately we need to travel to Australia or Ireland if we want to get a haircut again…
Sketch for Lauren’s haircut
Sketch 2 with face recreation
A happy costumer of Node Friseurs!
Agreement to prevent any hard feelings and/or revenge thoughts
Another happy costumer of Node Friseurs!
Photos by Dunja Rmandić
Time to work on the spatial distribution of the twenty artworks for Letters from the Field as well as thinking on ways to present the publication. If you want to see the final results, please visit our Flickr photostream
A moment for contemplation in the middle of the Summer residency final exhibition concept discussion (with thanks to Dunja Rmandić)
Node hosted a two-day Tools & Install workshop by Sabrina Basten. Our resident curators learned basics about tools, improved their drilling-, sawing- and painting skills and learned useful tips for installing artworks. Besides practising on mini-scale, on Day 2 Node Center’s walls got a few holes that were subsequently carefully plastered and repainted.
Node hosted a two-day Tools & Install workshop by Sabrina Basten. Our resident curators learned basics about tools, improved their drilling-, sawing- and painting skills and learned useful tips for installing artworks.