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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EveryOne’s Postconceptualism

Invited to Oslo by Anne Szefer Karlsen, Associate Professor of the MA CURATORIAL PRACTICE, Faculty of Fine Art, Music and Design, University of Bergen, I presented this writing workshop as part of Anne’s ‘HOW TO DEAL WITH TEXT AS A CURATOR’ workshop with Federica Bueti, Karen Grønneberg, and Gerrie van Noord (in picture).

Everyone’s Postconceptualism

Urban dictionary – top rated definition:
“there’s no there there”
A descriptive phrase (originally coined by Gertrude Stein) now used to convey an utter lack of substance or veracity as it pertains to the subject under discussion. Alternatively, the phrase can be used as a literal absence of a physical location. Bush and Cheney keep screaming about a link between Iraq and al Queda, but there’s no there there. I went searching for Atlantis, but there’s no there there.

Seminar Description
Language, literature, thought and knowledge are part of the world. There are no pure styles or neutral signs; to use words assuming their ready-made, global purchase on things, or to deny the technical role of projection in meaning’s transfer, is to be bound for failure.

To acknowledge in this way theory and culture as ever, some-how, situated and practiced is also to acknowledge that it reads/writes differently by ‘travelling’ (Edward Said) and that this excursion of meaning involves its own travails for practitioners. Following Spivak then, in this particular conception of contemporary production that works against the neoliberalised, single-timed concept of the art work or curatorial proposition as always-already secured potential ‘knowledge’, it is in fact the poetic aspect of every artistic/curatorial expression that performs the risking of knowability itself. This is not to doubly aestheticise artistic or curatorial writing (aesthetics are always intractably t/here) but to emphasise writing’s stakes and its reflexive potentiality for thinking further—through the response-ability and speculative/fictive aspect of literary and discursive making.

This seminar is an experiment in coming to terms with writing’s ‘situation’ in participants’ own practices through the use of an exemplary text of post-language lyric writing by Juliana Spahr. We will consider modes of response-ability within the frame-based negotiations of specific projects, and the manifold rewards of poetic writing’s political and aesthetic modes of inquiry.

Preparatory reading for the seminar:
Isabelle Stengers, ‘Who is the Author’, in Power and Invention: Situating Science, pp 153-176.

Juliana Spahr, The Transformations. (As much as students prefer to dive in – we will also read this text in class but some familiarity would be good).

Class reference texts:
Edward Said, ‘Travelling Theory’, from The World, The Text, The Critic.
Dominique Paini, ‘Should we Put an End to Projection?’, October, Fall 2004, No. 110, Pages: 23-48.