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    • Conversation
    • No Mountains, Rivers or Trees A Conversation with Elke van Campenhout
      13 January 2021
      posted by: Vladimir Miller
    • case of: Vladimir Miller
    • No Mountains, Rivers or Trees
      A recorded and written conversation
      So, this is a third draft of our conversation, previously we have tried to talk about your workshop and spent a lot of time happily discussing our (I think we share it, right?) frustration with what you would describe as the "discourse harness" in the arts. Indeed, if I summarize it, it seems like an attitude of self-policing in the arts is augmenting and so is the pressure to adhere to an idealized conception of the critical artist. 
      Yes, the artists 'discourse harness' I am referring too, is indeed the cloud of critical theory and identity politics that envelop all institutional and self-reflective artist communications today. In my experience of life outside of the arts as a monk I see that there is still life outside of the critical discourse. And I see that this outside seems to have become a bit of a blind spot in the research discussions and environments today. The critical move, which was historically aimed at opening up new spaces for knowledge to blossom, and for other experiences to be recognized, is at this point often doing the opposite: closing down diverse ways of thinking by becoming the sole denominator of value, visibility and recognition. 
      This development results in a shaming politics on the working floor: as artists we get shamed by a policy that tells us that we are not engaged enough in contemporary realities, by peers that shame us for any kind of political incorrectness, by mentors and teachers who unknowingly pass on the harness from generation to generation, without recognizing the limits of their own opinions. 

      Yes this passing-on of critical anxiety is something I encounter a lot in myself as an educator.  I find myself on both sides of this "passing on", I also feel it sometimes is passed on to me. The latter is actually more active on my part: I often actively take the work of others to feel "not quite there" in terms of discourse. 
      There is an inner voice in my head that speaks like the Discourse. In response to your proposal to create a temporary space out of discourse the voice would for example say: "but, critical discourse permeates all areas of life". I think I lost the ability to use critical discourse as a helpful tool, because I have been taught  to apply it to all areas of life. For example if you talk about life outside of the arts, I think you are talking about the tantric monastery you founded... Do the critical positions on gender and sexuality and probably labor not apply there? I am asking this in an exemplary way, to get a sense of how reactive and in a way total/itarian this way of seeing the world has become for me...
      So how do we progress in this situation? Because I actually don't want to keep having these kinds of caricatural conversations, they do neither life nor critique justice. 
      Indeed it is not a question of falling into caricature, or denouncing critical discourse, or creating dichotomy. To pick up on your remark on the monastery, for example, I would say that, no, I am not talking only about the monastic life – although in that environment the critical discourse notions do get put into perspective, and lose their overarching power. I am also talking about daily politics, about the daily lives of people that do not consider the critical framework to be the sole denominator of what matters. In our previous discussions we discussed the inability of the left to communicate issues of solidarity and engagement in such a way that they could appeal to a wider audience. Critical analysis does not necessarily bring about this sense of togetherness, since it differentiates with an increasingly fine mesh between diverse identitary positions,  as if the only possible way to understand and react to the world would be to divide it .
      In The Monastery we do try to experiment a flexibility in dealing with diverse perspectives. From a non-dual point of view a lot of identitary issues disappear from view. But it is obvious our daily lives do not play out in that non-dual field, necessarily. So yes, issues of sexism, racism, segregation and privilege do play a major role in the monastic work. The experiment in the monastic practice is to start from a sense of unity rather than a sense of critical segregation. Much like the concept of 'agonism' as Chantal Mouffe uses it: the acceptance of a common playing field on which to act out difference. And again, it is not either/or. It is both: to be able to see clearly the problems of power and identity without excluding the underlying thread of connection. To be able to change perspective and move more fluidly from one register of experience to the other. Without the need to denounce or undermine the experiences that bloom on another plane. The flexibility to move from being a critical citizen, to becoming a sensitive plant, a sensuous animal, or spirit, or lose all form and dissolve into space. 
      Often this flexibility gets denounced, as being 'uncritical'. Much like the move in the feminist second wave to judge anything that was not formulated in the prescripted patriarchal analysis form as 'backlash': betrayal and intellectual rubbish. Which presupposes that 1: there is only one way of verbalizing criticality and one framework to express it in and 2: 'critical' is the hierarchical top dog for evaluating our life's choices, thoughts and actions. Really? Is that so?
          In your workshop "Debunking the Myth", which you recently hosted at a.pass, you are trying to see and maybe undo some of these presuppositions.
      Not so much undoing, as making palpable. When I talk about 'the harness of discourse' I try to open up zones for the 'suspension of belief': the belief that the critical analysis of the world through identity politics and leftist critique is the only way to 'properly' engage in the world. The invitation is to undress, to take off this harness temporarily, to experience life and work through other parameters. And to nourish and vitalise the artistic work in the process. In my practice, also in the a.pass block that is called 'the asylum (for desiring bodies) I want to provide space for 'the work'  to play beyond or outside the discursive field we think we already know - and as such affirming the status quo of the critical standoff - and meet on different grounds. 
      I talk about "nakedness" as the moment we admit to our inappropriate desires, our non PC tendencies, our unchecked and adopted beliefs. Nakedness as a form of contemplation – not to destroy, but to unfold all the colours hidden under the surface. The rumbling bowels, the anxious contractions, the beating sex. And let these inform the research. 
      If I can sum it up in a sort of a sketch, we said in a previous discussion that the neo-liberal educational institution has made critique a matter of bureaucracy. It has quantified evaluation and made pre-approval of research trajectories more important than a detailed public critique of the research results. Could you describe this development and how it affected your perception of education and funding structures? 
      To be more precise, I would rather say that critical theory has become the content for the boxes to be ticked in a bureaucratic system of evaluation. So in itself it is not the critical gesture that is the problem, but rather the prescriptive form that this critique is forced into. No longer fueled by a living, writhing state of discontent, it becomes a discursive framework that needs to be applied in order to 'pass'.  And that excludes a lot of other forms of knowledge production that do not fit into the prescriptive frame.
      So yes, the 'emperor's new clothes' stand for the bureaucratised forms of critique, the normative harness of self-evaluation that is doing the opposite of what it promises to do. And my point is, that this might not be the most inspiring field of ideas when we are talking about the arts. I question what might be there if we wandered out into the open, naked, not protected by the institutionalized markers of worthiness, relevance and contemporariness. Fueled by a more personal urgency, whatever that means. Maybe to address the same issues, but in another way. Or, in the same way, but breathed to life by a renewed sense of feeling connected to the issue.
      How would you describe this process of wandering off? 
      As a work of contemplation. A moment of reflection on the tools we are using. Allowing in influences that do not score so high on the standardized score maps. Or at least not taking those as the initial impulse to move into work. And in order to get there, I propose some 'meditations': some cleansing tools to question the beliefs we hold so dear, and to see if we can create space to broaden up the field of thought, but mostly of practice and experience. By working on non-dual philosophical frames for example, or by reconnecting to body work as another source of knowledge, or by digging into the unconscious, or slightly repressed sources of our desire to work. In my workshop I borrowed some methodology from Buddhist psychology, non-dual practice, and self-help work. And tried to bridge the divide between the person and the worker. Following my intuition that a lot of researchers have been alienated from their desire by being policed into the bureaucratic frameworks of relevance and contemporary concerns. 
      This reminds me again of this state of "passing on" of the harness: Do you think we should also apply this process to institutions themselves? Otherwise the risk of "going naked" is only carried by the artist, and not really supported. 
      Yes of course. In the past I did argument for the coming into being of the Tender Institute, that would be much more vulnerable than its presumed political agenda. That would recognize its dependence on individual flights of desire and engagement, and on the communal coming-into-shape of an ever-changing vessel for coming together around the topics that incite our curiosity and connection. A naked institute runs the risk of being left behind in the cold, though. And has to accept its mortality.
      I think it is interesting that your work is inspired by tantra, and that you are using body and intimacy metaphors to describe how critique and discourse affect us. They point to a psychological, affective and embodied reality of our well-being. Can we talk more about this nakedness that we feel when our ideas are unsupported, unvalidated, un-aligned, when they are "private" desires and motivations? Are we ashamed of ourselves and our motives for for artistic `work`? And as educators do we pass on shame, are we shaming each other?
      For sure! As social beings our self-worth is to a large degree dependant on the opinion of others. And as performers, artists and people that make their life in the eye of the other, such concerns run even more deep. In Buddhism there is a particular attachment, that is considered one of the most difficult to overcome, and this is the attachment to reputation: what people think of what I do, what others think about what I think. In the artist context there are quite a lot of markers that are off-limits: I want to come across as critically aware, politically engaged, formally post-post-modern, post-conceptual, or at least socially relevant. As in any other attachment, this clinging to markers of approval produces fear. Which can symptomise in the stagnation of the creative process, or in the alienation to the work talked about before. 
      Since it is such difficult and risky work, I keep wondering what would we give the attachment to reputation up for? In Buddhism the ultimate goal is detachment and thus the breaking of the circle of incarnation. And yet, art is of this world, its aims are rarely transcendent. Without undermining the temporary detachment you are proposing, I ask myself: are not art and spirituality sort of metaphysically mismatched as patient and method? 
      In Tantra we work with the practice of overcoming obstacles (fear, anger, anxiety,...) by diving deeply into it, letting it manifest to such a degree that it implodes and turns into its opposite. That is a strategy that works very well for unleashing the suppressed energy in the body and for allowing a more vital flow to pick up momentum. In the work. I do I try to use the same principal on the mindbody of the research.
      This might sound therapeutic, but it is rather a counter-therapy. Whereas therapy is aiming at restoring your relation to the social grid, Tantra is supporting you in letting go off the approval of the social. To open up to other possibilities of being and thinking and acting in the world. Which seems a good place for an artist to be. To be naked. A naked state of working is to look more honestly at what is there. To stop censoring our impulses before they got the chance to unfold. To hold off from opinions that are passed on unrevised and, often, uninformed. 
      In the unfolding of the artistic work, there are moments of doubt, of anxiety that get translated into bodily states of discomfort, immobility. What often follows is a turning away from the material and the physical and a withdrawal into our headspace, where things are more clearly delineated as safe or not safe. The body does not have these clear markers. It produces its energetic and desiring flows in accordance to a multitude of influences: hormonal, vascular, unconscious, ancestral, cultural, ... You could say the body colours outside the boxes of the academically acceptable. Of the semiotic gridlines of interpretation. 
      You might be pointing to an important component of what the labour of the artist is. As much as it pains us, it seems less about intuitive creativity, and more about introspection, contemplation, sorting out voices, working with one's own not-so-amazing impulses. There is a potential to support this labour in following someone's research process in a structure like a.pass. I think we could embrace this often invisible work as the thing that is actually happening, the actual process. I think it is often invisible because we still concentrate on results, manifestable changes in methodology and approach, changes in discourse, new ideas. All the while this current of listening to oneself and processing is running underneath it all. 
      Writing this, I am thinking about this well-known Zen phrase, which I can not rephrase verbatim, but goes something like this: First there are mountains and rivers and trees. Then you start on your path and there are no longer mountains, rivers and trees. And then you progress on your path and once again there are mountains, rivers and trees. In parallel with what we have been talking about, I would say that first there is the 'contemporary artist' caught up in its own struggle to fit into a predefined definition of what that is. Then there is the work, the research done, in which this artist loses shape, becomes formless, no longer sees the worker as clearly delineated from the person, or from the society around. And then again, the subject of the research and the individual subject separate in the coming-into-being of the art work, that then is free to roam the world, without being seamlessly linked to the author, the maker, the person behind. This gives the artist the freedom to use 'dirty strategies' in this third phase: to play roles, to play tricks, to not become identified with the work. This is where the challenge lies of most art that captures the attention: the impossibility of identifying the clear outline of the maker. The dirty politics that irritate, make you react, make you think. It is not the artist's work to confirm to their personal beliefs on a one-to-one basis. Because then the work is done, the ideas formed, and simply passed on to a passive viewer to receive or not. It is the work of the artist, to let the work do the work of passing on the process of thinking and experiencing to the viewer/participant... Or not....
      At what stage do you connect your work/shop in this process you are describing
      As a monk, as a person, as a researcher and artist, I situate my work mainly in the second phase. In the moment I share work, in performances, workshops or texts, this work is trying to break through evidences. Dissolving beliefs and habits. The desire to undo for no reason whatsoever. But to allow some air to enter.
      How could we integrate this disidentification between the artist and the work for the process of artistic research? Maybe it is already on its way there... I don't see artistic research as clearly separated into the three stages you describe. In my understanding of it I often use the idea of a set: a constellation of processes, artworks, concerns which is constantly worked and working. This set is always already separated from the artist, like a garden would be separated from the gardener. It would be interesting to imagine a discourse culture of research where what grows in the garden is allowed to be wild, unruly, but also cared for.. 
      For me research is also always situated in the second phase, which is the place where the unruly weeds roam freely. Only the weeds for me are not the works, but the different streams of association, physical and mental, material and immaterial, rational and irrational, that criss-cross the garden, get entangled into one another, into other's vines, changing shape. The poisonous and the beautiful, the healing and the critical no longer clearly identifiable. Research for me is very much a pharmakon, both clearing and  obscuring the question hidden deep in the roots. At that point there is no longer a clear demarcation between the personal and the work. Although we most of the time act as if there is, and then get tangled up in the unforeseen consequences and vulnerabilities this  lack of clarity produces. 
      If I go back to critique and discourse, there is something about the wild garden image that I find very productive. Maybe there are some images here that change attitude and purpose with which critique comes into that garden. At what point it critique useful and for what? What would be the role of a mentor or an educator or a colleague entering this garden? I think in those roles we often function as biologists and farmers to each other: we identify poisonous plants, the wrong kind of soil, we weed out, we collect the pretty apples... is there another way? 
      Permaculture? As mentors and educators we often come in with a benevolent bottle of Weedkill. I think my dream of a supportive learning environment has always been to let the community figure out what is relevant in any given constellation. Not to water some plants more than others, but let them take care of each other. And to provide compost: the debris of digested and undigested history, feeding the weeds to flower more bountifully. Not necessarily to produce more fruits, but to find their grounding, rooting into a mutually challenging symbiosis. In which the concerns of the one become a matter of concern to the other by sheer proximity. 
      Dear Elke, thank you for this talk!
    • Conversation
    • Workshop
    • A Good Workshop Conversation with Krõõt Juurak
      07 December 2020
      posted by: Vladimir Miller
      A Good Workshop

      Hey Krõõt!
      At the end of the every block the curator writes a documentation of what happened in the block. The reason to do it, is to pass on pass on some information to the other curators and also to develop on and add to the archive of methodologies at work at a.pass. 
      I will be writing this report as I am the designated block curator. It would be great to have a conversation about the work(shop) that you proposed. I suggested this interview format so that you don't have to write a report. I have the Intuition that reporting would be strange in connection with your workshop and your work in general. 
      The last time we talked it felt to me that the way you propose things and the way the workshop was proposed it cannot be grasped with conventional questions of  "what did you do?" and other questions that point to to productivity. Productivity is so ingrained in the language which we use to describe proposals that it makes it hard to talk about proposals which challenge that concept. 
      I am curious how you think about this? Is there a language problem?
      Yes, there is definitely a language problem, I agree. 
      First of all I didn't want to write the report about the workshop for several reasons... I don't want to be the ultimate authority on what we did and what that meant or what anyone learnt or did not learn. The workshop was proposed in such a way that it is not clear what the profits are and what the productivity of it is. I don't want to be the one who has the last word because this is counterproductive to the other participants of the workshop.
      Actually because I wasn't even taking this workshop I have the least idea about what we did or what it was good for. I would say that's the reason why I find it so strange and difficult to write reports. It feels like I'm patronizing the participants' experience. 
      I know the feeling very well. When I propose a collective space in my own work it's also impossible for me to say afterwards what actually happened. I know what happened from my perspective, but then I was just one of the people who occupied that space. Producing environments in which you then yourself enter as a participant doesn't really go well along with conventional concepts of what work is or what education should look like.
      And on the other hand — which is at first glance a little bit contradictory — I love the conventional way of educating, I like the formal structure of a school, where one person is the "teacher" and the others are "students". 
      As a role play, I think it's brilliant. It is not an environment where everything is everything. 
      have a rather difficult educational past. I struggled through primary and highschool, barely making it, but as I am getting older, I am almost 40 now, educational experiences have been getting better and betterAnd perhaps in developing these workshops I have been dealing with those educational "traumas". Most people come with some kind of baggage from their experiences in educational institutions and I am interested in how these experiences are still shaping the way we function whenever faced with a "school-like" structure.
      And secondly, since I have always hated school, workshops, any kind of educational experiences (I don't even have a driving license), I tried to do something that a person like myself could handle. I guess that's why this workshop is anti-productivity and anti-information. The proposal could also be: wasting time together and/or separately.
      And one fun fact: statistically speaking the main reason people take workshops is to meet other peopleI think that is a fair reason. Often you don't go there to learn a new skill but rather just to see who else is there. It is hard to meet people nowadays. As a workshop leader I try to keep this in mind, and try to make sure it isn't about me.
      I think we have very similar reasons for why we do the work the way we do the work. For me the hardest part is  to navigate the persona of the initiator. I like that you described the teacher/student relationship as a kind of a role play. It's good to try and keep it a role play because this relationship constantly wants to become a reality. It's very hard to get out of the costume. 
      We're so trained in believing these roles, we start to take them seriously. 
      I always try to keep in mind that in taking workshops people learn about giving workshops. And when you are giving one you learn about how to take one. I do not have a lot of faith in explanatory learning, we are animals and learn from example, unwittingly. 
      In this workshop at a.pass, did you feel like the participants were aware of that roleplay? Did they get out of their roles? 
      Perhaps the idea was rather to get into their roles, I would think that most of them became aware of the part they played, absolutely. 
      For example, I kept postponing this interview with you, and after the second postponement I stated that I have really good excuses. That moment I became aware of my recurring role as the artist-teacher resisting report-writing. It is tricky because we are not in a workshop and this is not as safe as a workshop would be. It is relatively safe because we are friends, but we are in a professional environment. It is more risky to come up with really good (fake) excuses.
      In the workshop I really try to create a ground where excuses and this cliche known as "bad student behavior"becomes a practice. An artist's practice. 
      So many of our artist practices are based on the so-called protestant ethic, where you have to be a good person with good wishes and of course good products. It is all based on a moral premise. Obviously turning that around isn't going to change it, but I think at least you can have a break from having to be so damn serious about being good all the time
      I struggle with that myself: Trying to keep up the play. I thought it would it would be a good idea to be an artist so I could decide for myself what work was and what life was. And at some point you notice that you take less risks because your income depends on it.  And then what you do doesn't appeal to you anymore and probably it will not be appealing to anyone else either. So it is a closed circle or a downward spiral:  when our livelihood depends on it, we start to fear and fear eats fun. I think workshops are great format to make a space for fun, for boredom and for doing nothing. 
      There's a counter-institutional resistance in both of our proposals, a space to fail and miss the institutional brief. 
      And at the same time it is a narrow pathway how to do that properly, an other brief. I keep asking myself how to not to please the institution by critique-ing it in this way. 
      It is a matter of constant evaluation for me of what actually makes a good proposal? What am I satisfied with, what is the institution satisfied with, what are the participants satisfied with? Thinking like this I find myself mostly fighting against passing on the institutional pressure and established ideas (which we all have, all who take part in a workshop) of what a "good workshop is" . 
      It is slightly more complex than being anti-institutional. But not very complex. In fact it is just about making a space within the space or using it for your own advantage and finding out the problems as they arise and trying  not to worry about anything else
      A.pass is a special case: we welcome the institutional educational experiment. These are our questions as artists and educators. To a certain degree we are on a similar side of things. We are also bored with the conventional ideas of passing down knowledge. But I'm wondering how much is for you at risk in other institutions? Do you calibrate your proposals depending on where you go, or do you even radicalise them if it is a more conventional context?
      I don't know if this is good or bad but I do the same thing every time. Let's say a very similar workshop works for nine-year-olds, tooPerhaps it is a very childish workshop and I wonder if it is more unusual for a.pass, Impulstanz or for real children.
      I think you deploy a Trojan horse. You have a surface layer, structural layer in this workshop which is able to attach itself to the institution. But within that structure it feels to me like there's a space for absurdity and boredom and a collapse of reasoning.
      Right. Let's say, if you ask me what we did, I could tell you exactly: we had a nap every day of 20 minutes, we wrote in our diaries, we sang karaoke, we had a silent meeting... We knew exactly what we were doing at any given moment but for a person randomly walking in, it would not have looked like we were doing anythingFor sure it did not look like we were working. 
      There's again something language-related  that makes structural questions invalid here. I appreciate very much how your work can invalidated certain questions by answering them: they can be answered but they don't describe at all what was actually going on in your workshop in terms of .... not necessarily in terms of the process, because the process is easy to describe. But in terms of what it means, or what it actually produces, or what it triggers, or what kind of community it develops, or how practices resonated with each other. 
      There's a kind of a failure of of the institutional perspective which you trigger, precisely because you can answer to it. "Yeah, yeah, we did this, we did this". But it doesn't help to understand it.
      Actually it is not quite accurate to say it was all anti-productivity: we had also had a couple of lectures, we discussed political performativity and artist solidarity. I try to combine as wide range of activities as I can. And since I am constantly doubting my own abilities, self-sabotage as a method is an important tool for me. Self-sabotage is a very common method especially in the creative field and  I think we don't cherish it enough. It takes such a large almost elephant-size part of our livesI want to know more about it.
      In this workshop I gave the participants the simple task to write a motivation letter, formulated as  "What/why you want to get out of this workshop?" And I formulated the task in such a way that I didn't notice it could be misunderstood. But when I read the letters everybody was writing on why they wanted to get out of the workshop. And I was genuinely confused and worried. Do they really want to get out of the workshop? And then I looked at what I had written and understood that I had unwittingly sabotaged myself.
      And then in one these letter somebody called this workshop a "procrastination conspiracy". 
      I find interesting is that you identify self-sabotage as a useful methodology to pass on. So far I have only applied it to myself. In the collective gathering workshop I talk about "authority suicide": how to fail organize when you are proposing something? My initial response would always be to panic and to solve a situation when people don't know what's the plan is, when there is a feeling that people are lost. I have gradually developed a higher tolerance and now try to fail to do that or to do it badly or to accept not to know how to go on, in order to finally collapse this persona of the "responsible-when-it-fails" as the last piece of institutional structure. 
      But I never I never tried passing on this strategy as a skill. I think because there is still the expectation of organising differently, of self-organisation after the collapse. 
      So, if I'm imagining what you do: is it a workshop or a project where it is difficult to say who's in charge or when it starts and when it ends?
      Yes, thats the attempt. 
      I admire people who are able to do this kind of free structure. Every time before a workshopI I think I should try that and I kind of coward out and still go with a very strict structure instead. Maybe some day. But I really admire when there is this kind of a situation where you are not sure if it is meant to be that way, is it really planned to be disorganized or has everything gone out of hand. It's risky. 
      It is risky. It is one of those things outside of language. You can't really address it, because the only way to address it is to re-establish some kind of authority over it, to turn it into an institutional method yet again. So what you can do is to go for awkward silences and dance around it hoping that either it is a true failure and something else will come out of it, or that at least there's a kind of a meta-failure and people kind of are in on the joke. That people understand it that it is an unspoken, unspeakable thing that has to happen. 
      It's complicated, I don't really know.  I'm talking like it is a whole method but actually I'm always just trying to stretch that space. I try to realise when authority comes in, what are the performances of it and either not do them or wait as long as possible to do them.
      It would be a paradox  if it would become a whole method.
      Yes, exactly. 
      What we say about a.pass as a structure is that it is engaging in the paradox of creating an open space. I think somehow your work(shop) deals with that as well. We do it from different sides: through over-emphasising structure or through building down structure. But the goals are quite similar.  I think a.pass keeps failing in that, because at the same time there is always the question of "Are we doing our job well?" Is there "progress", etc? There has to be a reason to engage in this communal project/institution, you want to end up somewhere in your work you would not be able to get to by yourself. 
      But I'm still wondering, if we take your method seriously,  if there should be some kind of a radical letting go of certain goals in this environment. Sometimes I still feel like we think to "educational".
      Maybe it's because I'm doing psychoanalysis at the moment that I think this is also a psychological method.  You  become aware of your habits and then it's not about changing them, but about playing them. Performing them and enjoying it. Don't struggle. Or struggle but have have a good time struggling!
      We could have keep having this abstract idea of open space, but it's not open and it's not space. It is rather  our filters define how we understand something
      I think the playful perspective helps me. When I'm explaining these thoughts to you, I see myself from the outside getting stuck in language loops. My wish would be to  get out of them. No to just keep explaining and subverting structures,  but to step out of it, to step somewhere else
      Here I feel the limits of a specific institutional language or culture to express spaces and proposals which are really beside them. There are some things which a particular language or particular culture of discourse cannot  reach. Maybe as we said, it can only be done in a sort of unspoken way, unspoken  in the sense of not using that language. 
      That thought is really fascinating for me because the way I usually proceed is through over-explaining and I  catch myself in this conversation that this might be a trap.  I have been polishing the language of my proposals, trying to subvert them within the proposal for quite some time now. Almost like trying to build a bridge from one language space to another. It's just that sometimes I get so busy building this bridge that I don't have  time for the actual work of inhabiting that space. Or rejecting the space, like the way you reject the idea of educational reporting. 
      Thank you for this conversation, dear Krõõt!
    • Companion
    • Conversation
    • Writing into becoming water an instant conversation
      16 July 2019
      posted by: Nicolas Galeazzi
    • Marialena Marouda, Christina Stadlbauer and Nicolas Geleazzi
    • Writing into becoming water

      Imagining a two-day boat trip on the Dilje-Leuven Canal:

      M.M.: A brief introduction into my practice: I see performance as a practice of inhabiting a specific ecosystem. Currently, I am focusing on the oceanic ecosystem, one that can only in part be inhabited by human beings.
      Concerning the ocean, the question that interests me most is: What is my relation to the ocean, and how can this relation be described? What are the affects or elements that make it up? And how can those affects be performed and thus communicated? My focus lies on creating affective (an)archives. i.e. archives that communicate relational experiences and knowledges of the ocean.

      NG: What makes the ocean for you to the ideal ecosystem to be performatively inhabited?

      M.M.: Well, I feel very attracted to it physically and mentally. And it also proposes a different way of thinking and being than land proposes. So I want to explore those. But it is not an "ideal" ecosystem because it is actually quite difficult to inhabit it physically. Very little is known of the ocean compared to ecosystems on land.

      C.S.: For me, it is less the ocean than the water that triggers the idea of inhabiting it in a performative sense. Water is everywhere, in us, around us, we are made up of water - and the element is so common that we don't think about it much, as we live our lives. To give it a moment of special attention and to engage with it as a practice is like a process of becoming aware of something that we deal with every day, and that is so at the basis of our existence.
      The ocean was extremely attractive to me when I was a child. I used to spend my entire summer holidays at the Mediterranean Sea, and I spent most of these months inside of the water. It was the experience of being submersed, totally enveloped by the salty moving body that intrigued me. The smell, the temperature, the consistency (compared with the bathtub water or the swimming pool water) of the Mediterranean became like a place where I would feel at home for me.
      Today, much older, I don't have this urge anymore to submerse in the sea. I'm much more respectful of the gigantic body of water and enjoy more contemplating it by staying at its side, and not going in.

      N.G.: Probably, I could see the ocean in any water. Looking deep into the glass before I take a sip of delicious spring water - e.g. at Schwarzsee in the Alps - I see the sea, I see into the history of these molecules and can follow them through my body into my pee, into the ground into the flower, into the sunray into the rain into the river into the stream into the whole flow that cyclically generates life. Of course, on these waves, we perform our lives and are performed by them. In the case of water, the conditions it creates, the landscape it carves, I'm not sure if I inhabit and perform within or if it's not the other way, the water inhabits me and performs through me.

      M.M.: I think different bodies of water work differently, affect the human body in a different way. So for me, the ocean as I recently encountered it Portugal, for example, the force that it has, is very different from my own experience of the sea in the Mediterranean in Greece.

      C.S.: Can you tell more about the performative aspect that intrigues you with water or the ocean?

      M.M.: Performance is for me the way we choose to enter into relation with the body of water that we encounter. So for example, if you say that you want to be engulfed by the sea, the salty and continuously moving water, I am interested to know more about this sensation that you have and how it could be performed now, for example, in the conditions in this room.

      C.S.: The most intriguing part that comes to mind at once is the aspect of being carried. And of course, we have this much more on the earth. The earth is solid and carries us all the time - something that we also take for granted, and forget about it, as we sit on this chair.
      In the water, especially the salty - thick - water, the buoyancy is a fantastic characteristic that gives me a sense of trust inside this ever-moving deep sea.

      M.M.: Yes, I recognize this feeling! What I would propose now on the trip is to explore how this sensation could be reconstructed through performance or how this sensation could influence what you are researching artistically.

      C.S.: First association is STAGE DIVING!! But that is not very serious, of course!

      M.M.: What is stage diving?

      N.G.: The tricky thing might be, that the sensation is part of the ecosystem which should be performed. But probably that's exactly the chance. To perform WITHIN something not ON something (like a stage). If we take performance as a 'doing' not as a 'representing' it becomes very interesting, I think. Performance in an economic sense is an act of domination. To 'perform' witing a system, in respons-able relation to it, is something very different. The notion of being performed while performing is there very applicable.

      C.S.: Stage diving is to let yourself be carried by the masses of listeners /audience standing in front of the stage when you dive onto their uplifted hands. It is a big test of trust!

      M.M.: Aaaaahh yes, the rockstar thing. We could try it.

      CS: Now, I have to think of VariousArtists - whose performance often has to do with experimenting with what he eats, drinks, how much he sleeps, or exercises. So a 40-day water fast could be a very embodied experience of what water does. And very cleansing, as well. Another important aspect of water, of course - the CLEANING!
      In that sense, Trudo makes his body the ecosystem and the stage at the same time.

      M.M.: We can make a list of those aspects here, during this conversation? I was planning to do this also on the boat trip. Now we can imagine the ocean and that we are travelling on it. What sensation does it give us?

      1. Being engulfed/ buoyancy
      2. Sense of cleansing
      3. ...

      C.S.: There is something that happens to the sinuses, also. And to the sense of smell that I find very interesting. In the ocean, of course, you smell the salt and the "sea" - like algae and dead fish and live fish and all the rest of it. But there is also something happening to the nose, in my case. It gets full of water and clogged, and at the same time, it cleans itself.
      What aspect of sensation is that?!

      M.M.: How would you name it? If you had to use one word? Smell? Or salt-smell?

      N.G.: For this, it would have been perfect to be on the boat. I'm sure we would find another answer than here!

      C.S.: There is something that is inside and outside at the same time. It is as if the ocean gets INSIDE of my body through the nose. It is the one opening that lets the water in. So, it is not the smell, I think - it is more the permeability of my body to the body of water.
      Of course, also the skin gets wrinkled and like a prune, that it keeps the water out. On the contrary, it may even lose a bit of my body water instead of letting the ocean in, because I always get very thirsty when I spend a long time in the water.

      M.M.: Permeability is a wonderful word for it! There is this concept of the Hypersea, that was put forth by two biologists, Mark and Dianna McMenamin. They understand all living organisms on land as "lakes" that communicate with each other by on the one hand keeping the water in and on the other being permeable and passing water from one organism to the other. It's as if all organisms on land form a deterritorialized sea that they carry in their bodies.

      N.G.: The inside/outside is actually rather a human perspective. Nothing wrong with this, but from the water perspective we are simply a tunnel! A place of passage, and probably of transformation. Perhaps that's the most real performance we do. Being a catalyst for waters. WE ARE THE CANAL!!

      C.S.: Now, I have to think of homoeopathic medicine, somehow. The transformation of the water inside our body tunnel.
      A tangent.

      N.G.: btw. What do you think is the boat a stage ? or rather an ecosystem within an ecosystem?

      C.S.: the boat is a very artificial object for me that allows us to traverse the body of water, to be on it without getting wet, to not engage with the water but only with the surface of the water, and there is an aspect of dominance in boats also. You are always (unless you are going under) on top of the water and you don't get wet. It is an object that divides you from the water. You feel it but indirectly only. The most stringent aspect of water - that it is WET - is lost. You don't get wet.

      M.M.: You can get very wet on a boat! Have you ever been on a boat when there are strong wind and big waves? You get soaked.
      For me, the boat is a machine that allows us to enter into relation with the vastness of the sea, that otherwise, we would not be able to approach. But yes, it also has an aspect of domination. Without boats, no "discoveries", no colonization, but also no communication, no fishing, no trade. It's a complex place to be, the boat. It also makes for a very specific surface on which to move and urges a particular behaviour regarding the human bodies that inhabit it.

      N.G.: We have this image of the sailors, that try to master the waters with their boat, fighting against the waves and storms, overcoming the overwhelming forces of nature. Like Ishmael fighting Moby-Dick the wale.

      C.S.: I have an aunt who cannot swim. She would go on a boat, though. But she would not go directly into the water. Only where it is very shallow.
      And Jonas who found himself inside the whale. How did he end up there again? That was an ecosystem inside of the water, and then he was inside the belly, and that was a bit like land again. Like a membrane that allowed him to be inside the water for a long time, but without touching the water. Was it so?

      M.M: So you would prefer a whale belly to a boat?

      C.S.: that is difficult to answer. I don't have a clear image of a whale belly...

      N.G.: Of course! Even in this nutshell, I dream of the big monsters.

      M.M.: So we add 3. permeability, 4. whale-belly...

      N.G.: Or let's say permea-belly.

      C.S.: And now, the ice. What about ice. Is this ocean? But solid, you can walk on it. And it totally changes the experience of being in/on the water.
      Or under it...?

      M.M.: Yes definitely, ice is also ocean. Just in a different form. With a whole different set of conditions. I talked to a glaciologist recently, and he said there is the category of sea ice and the ice shelf, that are both ice formations on the sea, which differ from the big glaciers that are usually land formations.

      N.G.: For an ice bear it might be something different than for a penguin, or for the wind. For the ice bear it is (more and more ) a boat!

      C.S.: With ice I find it confusing. Do I remember right that for a long time it was not known if the North Pole is solid or if the South Pole is solid - land or sea. Ice confuses things a bit, I find...

      M.M.: Then lets end in this confusion? I think its quite appropriate.

      NG: True!

    • Conversation
    • Recent Past
    • Research Center
    • Talk
    • Boundaries do not sit still
    • Close Encounters
    • Conditions for the work Sofia Caesar / Femke Snelting
      23 April 2018
      posted by: Femke Snelting
    • Close Encounters series
    • a.pass, 4th floor
    • 05 May 2018
    • 05 May 2018
    • Conditions for the work

      Image: detail of Spaghetti plot, vinyl on wall, Sofia Caesar, 2018. Photo: Gilles Ribero

      Saturday May 5 2018, 15h-18h @ a.pass , 4th floor


      For this episode of Close encounters, Sofia Caesar and Femke Snelting have invited each other for an afternoon of conversation about contracts as propositions and elements as conditions. Both are involved in related but very different practices that they will present and bring into discussion with each other and the public.
      Sofia shares two recent works, Worker leaves the factory (Conditions for the work) a permanent installation at PAV, Turin (IT), and the video Excess Lines to talk about her artistic methods that involve re-enacting found footage produced by car manufacturer FIAT in the last 100 years, appropriating techniques of motion analysis, and creating open structures for the re-writing of contracts.
      Femke discusses her work with the Codes of conduct in the context of Free/Libre and Open Source software communities. Codes of Conduct address on- and off-line behaviour of community members, acknowledge the possibility of harassment explicitly or euphemistically and provide guidelines in case something happens. These self-regulating practice function in an environment that is particularly sensitive to the ways words can be made flesh, both as code and as law.

      Close Encounters is a series of presentations and public conversations organized by the a.pass Research Centre. They take place whenever (associated) researchers feel the need to communicate publicly about their research. These informal events are designed to take the time to meet, listen and evaluate an idea, a project, a research, or a specific point in a research trajectory. Even if free-formed and singularly appropriated by its protagonists, the format is a dialog that expands the presented research. The Close Encounters get a closer look at things while trying to respond to three key questions in relation to artistic research: What to study? What to research? What to practice?
      Femke Snelting works as artist and designer, developing projects at the intersection of design, feminism and free software. In various constellations she has been exploring how digital tools and practices might co-construct each other. She is member of Constant, a non-profit, artist-run association for art and media based in Brussels. Since 1997, Constant generates performative publishing, curatorial processes, poetic software, experimental research and educational prototypes in local and international contexts. With Jara Rocha she activates Possible Bodies, a collective research project that interrogates the concrete and at the same time fictional entities of “bodies” in the context of 3D tracking, modelling and scanning. She co-initiated the design/research team Open Source Publishing (OSP) and formed De Geuzen (a foundation for multi-visual research) with Renée Turner and Riek Sijbring. Femke teaches at the Piet Zwart Institute (experimental publishing, Rotterdam) and is currently curator of the Research Centre at a.pass.
      Sofia Caesar is an artist and choreographer. Her works rearrange the power relations present in structures that act on the body, such as architecture, language, surveillance, or the camera. Her propositions, performances, installations, videos, and sculptures take us to the surreal, impossible, and complex layers of our relation to the language that surround us. Her oeuvre is developed in search of moments in which the body exceeds the forces that attempt to control it. Caesar's poetic and political strength lies in how she reveals that structures can be both controlling and generative, on the one hand tools of violence and power, and on the other the very means for the creation of new structures for the body. Caesar has participated in exhibitions and residencies in institutions such as A Tale of a Tub, Rotterdam (NL), Parco d'Arte Vivente, Turin (IT); La Maudite, Paris (FR); SFMOMA, San Francisco (USA); Casamata, Parque Lage, Capacete, Oi Futuro RJ, Galeria A Gentil Carioca, Rio de Janeiro (BR); CCBNB-BR, Fortaleza (BR); Tomie Othake, São Paulo (BR), and others. She holds an MFA from the School of Missing Studies, Sandberg Instituut, in Amsterdam (NL).
    • Conversation
    • Research Center
    • Talk
    • Close Encounters
    • A conversation-on-exhibition Marcelo Rezende / Adrijana Gvozdenović
      13 October 2017
      posted by: Femke Snelting
    • Close Encounters series
    • Manchesterstraat 17 - 1080
    • 25 January 2018
    • A conversation-on-exhibition



      Close Encounters @ a.pass End-Communications

      This month, two Close Encounters take place during the a.pass End-Communication event, an event dedicated to a.pass researchers presenting their research at the end of the post-masters program.



      Thursday January 25th, 15:00-18:00 @ Manchesterstraat, 17 - 1080




      In this episode of Close encounters your host is the artist Adrijana Gvozdenović, who has invited the exhibition-maker with great experience Marcelo Rezende for a late afternoon conversation about the practice of exhibition making. From the different positions they occupy, within the art system mainly powered through the conventions of exhibition making, they will share their stories and experiences, while inviting a live audience to interact generously. The talk is programmed to place an emphasis on the controversial and sensationalistic questions: How can you produce meaning and experience that matters? Why do we still believe in reality?


      Marcelo Rezende

      Marcelo Rezende (Brazil, 1968) is a researcher, critic and exhibition-maker. He was director of the Museum of Modern Art of Bahia (2012-2015), artistic director of the 3rd Bahia Biennial (2014) and was part of the curatorial group of the 28th São Paulo Biennial (2008), amongst other projects and occupations. He is the author of the novel “Arno Schmidt” (2005), associate curator of the Museu do Mato (Scrubland Museum) in Bahia, and he prepared for the Johann Jacobs Museum (Zurich) the exhibition “Utopischer Beigeschmack” (summer, 2017). He is currently the director of the Archiv der Avantgarden (ADA) in Dresden, Germany.


      Adrijana Gvozdenović

      Adrijana Gvozdenović is an artist living and working in Brussels, and is currently a researcher in a.pass – advanced performance and scenography studies and a member of the Institute of Contemporary Art in Montenegro. She is interested in the anecdotal and peripheral in art, in the performative aspects in the conventions of exhibition making, as well as artists’ motivations and their responsibility in the general context of art and art related politics. Her focus is on writing and collecting that often result in artist publications. She performed and presented her publication in Alexander Rodchenko's "Worker’s Club" in 2015. She holds a Master of Free Arts (Luca-University College for Sciences & Arts, Brussels, 2014) and a Master of Research in Art and Design (St-Lucas Antwerp, 2015)



post-master program
pre phd-program
to be discussed

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