Contour Biennale/DAI Roaming Academy #12: ‘Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law’

On March 11 & 12 in Mechelen, Belgium, I will be co-curating the public program of this event in collaboration with the biennale’s exhibition curator, Natasha Ginwala. Here is the Intro to the Opening Weekend:


As a system of rules constructed and enforced through institutions to regulate behaviour, negotiating legacy relations between particularity and general application, while being maintained through textual and oral interpretation, law is a space of great—if denied—aesthetic deliberation. Justice, quite differently, might be figured as an intractable entanglement of relations, intentions, affectabilities and adjustments between ever-moving, never-global, densely articulated bodies.

The law’s modernization in the colonial epoch consolidated limits for possible relations between justice and law, in its ontological set-up of male persons with base units and rights of property in contractual relation. Engendered and ethnocidally arranged through this fractal abstraction, juridical modernism foreclosed the order of land-based life and literacies. Its decrees of ‘right’ expansion continue to be built upon and innovated, while it secures and distinguishes only particular subjects, objects, and things, into investment-worthy relations.

When artists engage procedures of witnessing, testimonial production and the performativity of the trial, allegories of justice and modes of theatricality surface to haunt the past and present. These spectral zones must constantly be inspected and contested, just as ghosts must be evoked in order to deal with their unfinished legacy. Film and performance are vehicles among many that carve out alter-civilizational images and conceive legibility for eroding matters of injustice. Working from Mechelen, this co-curated programme invites artists, theorists and filmmakers to explicitly unpack the technicity and asymmetrical power of European legal infrastructure. Over two days the program examines artists’ role in challenging normative legal foundations while transforming our understanding of response-ability to double-meanings of law/lore, and tracing the inevitably formal dimensions of present day struggles.

How do ongoing planetary rebellions determined through existing value forms and categorizations, including the racial categorization of “no body / no thing” aim at legal rupture when placed before the courts, without falling into mimetic disfigurements within this very same insufficient order? What does it mean to take an eye or ear to scenes of struggle that reverberate well beyond as well as inside legal institutional terrains? How can artists’ own literacy in post-media conditions—very much at play inside the contemporary law court—make sense of possible realisms against and beyond juridical modernism’s reproduction of capitalism and its increasingly death-driven function?

The artists of Contour Biennale 8, Polyphonic Worlds: Justice as Medium, are connected through their attention to aesthetic contestations of the juridical beyond its present coding, their productive dealings with a planetary regime of impermissible evidence, and their ritualistic as well as counter-analytical engagements with an expanding, expropriated archive. The “record” here is often not data that can be positively marked up or collected in advance, but instead, what is lived while being judged to be outside of proper adjudication. To cultivate flexible imagination around these juridical-aesthetic impasses is to work through the persistent constraining of just realisms, where survival is constantly at stake. Here, justice itself becomes the medium through which we cannot avoid moving through, within and around.

For the full program, click here: Contour 8 Public Program

[Image of the artist Rana Hamadeh performing  ‘Can You Make a Pet of Him Like a Bird or Put Him on a Leash For Your Girls?’]

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‘Harbour Imaginaries from Below - on the aesthetics of limits to cheap labour and nature’, by Rachel O’Reilly

‘Harbour Imaginaries from Below – on the aesthetics of limits to cheap labour and nature’ talk

I give a talk, ‘Harbour Imaginaries from Below – on the aesthetics of limits to cheap labour and nature’, on Friday 8. January, 2016, at the MUHKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp as part of the School of Missing Studies’ Lodgers #4 program.

Could the desire for the fully automated movements of goods also be a desire for silence, for the tyranny of a single anecdote?

From January 4-16 Lodgers #4  presents a series of reading-, scriptwriting, – and performance workshops, departing form the harbour as a plethora of disparate languages. Each stage in the reception, processing and distribution of goods comes with its own syntax, vocabulary and infrastructure. Each of these languages also has its own history and evolution.

We will be looking at the coded communication between ships, the harbour master, dockworkers – but also at the PR language used to present the ideal harbour; the programming language of automatization, the human language of formal and informal labour protest, and the gaps in the story that the colonial leaves.

Accumulated, this Babel-like situation marks a point on the evolution of the harbour, one that offers an insightful opportunity to investigate the many facets of its influence and breadth. For some, automatization threatens the future of the voice(s) that the harbour can speak with – traditionally the setting for interaction and tales of fantasy. For others, the future harbour is a utopian site where humans are emancipated from the location itself, leaving the harbour silent and speaking in inaudible code.

Participants are invited to participate and engage in a collaborative process incorporating the many disparate languages with which a harbour ‘converses’ – working on a speculative narrative that takes place in the harbour of 2050. Departure points for this narrative are silence as a political imperative of infrastructure, and the role that silence will play in the future harbour both in its human and automated state. In proposing that the future harbour may be silent, we’d like to increase the volume of the stories, which must be told now.

More information on the program: Lodgers #4