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    • PHARMAKON Pharmakon: whitch culture?
      13 January 2015
      posted by: Elke van Campenhout
    • 01 October 2014
    • 30 November 2014
    • case of: Lilia Mestre
    • PHARMAKON

      This Thematics project builds on the notion of ‘pharmakon’ as coined by the contemporary philosopher Bernard Stiegler. In ancient Greece, ‘pharmakon’ was understood both as ‘poison’ and ‘medicine’, and in some cases also as ‘scapegoat’.

       

      The word might mean either the one or the other depending on the context, which implies a certain knowledge, or ‘knowledge-ability’. A skill of dosage and use, witchcraft involving insight and imaginative contextualization.

      At the ‘Pharmakon: whitch culture?’ conference, a group of artists and theorists will investigate the notion of ‘pharmakon’ in our society. As Stiegler suggests in his analysis of the need for a ‘pharmacology’ to counter the poisonous fumes of economic, ethical and cultural impoverishment, it is clear that the fabrication of our culture(s) has urgently to be (re)questioned. What are the categories we use to produce and develop the culture in which we ‘individuate’ ourselves? What is the change in ‘technics’ that is needed to re-imagine our desires, stepping out of ourselves, as ex-isting in the public sphere? What sort of witchcraft is demanded from us, as artists, citizens and thinkers, to come up with the right spells and potions, and to dose our practices to transform poison into medicine.

      The ‘Pharmakon: whitch culture’ conference is part of the Thematics two-month research residency project, organized by Bains Connective, which brings together artists and theorists to work on, share and perform their concerns on this matter. They experiment on developing artistic remedies and toxic fumes, in search of a reformulation of the agency of the artist in contemporary society. In this way the Pharmakon project inserts itself into a growing movement of artistic initiatives that engage more directly in the political sphere, that want to make the public, the other, the citizen, part of their researches, that question how the artistic relates to the world we live in. These artistic interests speak of the willingness to restate desire in its fullness as a societal driving force. A desire that is not reduced to economic drives, but that is structured and transformed in accordance with the practices and thoughts of its members. Or more simply: we speak about set-ups that could inform and produce knowledge, and which could question the drives and urgencies that produce our social agencies.

      Participants in the Thematics residency: Alexandre Le Petit, Flora Pilet, Sophie Quénon, Lilia Mestre, Elke Van Campenhout, Joséphine de Weck, Michiel Vandevelde, Michiel Reynaert, Veridiana Zurita, et al.

      Guests invited to the conference: Bernard Stiegler, Pieter de Buysser, Maria Lucia Cruz Correia, Maika Lond , ... 

      ‘Pharmakon: whitch culture?’, was a Thematics artistic research residency project, taking place in Brussels from the 15th of October until the 15th of December 2014. This residency is one of the stages in the development of the broader, transnational ‘Pharmakon’ research project undertaken by Institut Nomade. The ‘Pharmakon: whitch culture?’ conference will last three days and will explore the theoretical and artistic approaches to dealing with an increasingly toxic economic, ethical and cultural environment, in search of other techniques by which to connect, share and imagine the fabric of our togetherness. As a ‘performative conference’, this meeting involves artists as well as theorists, dissolves the boundaries between ‘specialists’ and ‘public’, and between ‘performers’ and ‘theorists’, and opens up a space for desire and reflection.

      Thematics was organized by Bains Connective, in collaboration with Institut Nomade, the a.pass research center and Kaaitheater.

       

      Partners of the project :

       

      (1) Bains Connective

      Thematics is a two-month residency program for artists and theoreticians, curated by Lilia Mestre within the framework of Bains Connective. Every time the residency addressed another topic, deemed to be urgent or relevant for the current state of (artistic) affairs. During this period, different artists and thinkers share their works, strategies and ideas. The work space Bains Connective creates the initial context and set-up, and offers work spaces and a communal starting point by inviting artists, theoreticians, academics, politicians and activists to add and contribute to the research. As a basis for the exchange, we organize weekly meetings as well as two public encounters, where the participating artists can share their work in a format of their choice. Starting from these basic principles, we work closely together on developing ways to share interests and processes of work.

      Thematics develops for each residency project a strategy of questioning and interviews that follow up and register the artistic processes so as to create a written publication that reflects every Thematics residency. These publications are also a working tool that expresses to necessity to communicate, to speak out, to share the practices, methodologies and artistic trajectories with each other and a larger public.

       

      (2) Institut Nomade

      The activities of the Institut Nomade are fundamentally trans-disciplinary in nature. Concerned with how the notion of "performativity" resonates in both artistic practices and cultural constructions, the Institut conducts research into the ontology of performative language, the relationship between the performer/author and the stage, and the stage itself as a scene of collective individuation and thus a form of micro-politics. The global project of the Institut could be described as an inquiry into "modern culture", that mobilizes the conceptual tools provided by the performative arts, the heritage of J.L Austin's concept of performativity, and Bernard Stiegler's contemporary elaboration of the idea of the "pharmakon". The Institut is concerned with all forms of writing that compose our public voice– forms that we create by and for ourselves. This research takes on a variety of formats including interviews, performances, texts, images, videos, installations, soundscapes, etc. The interaction between these media is organized by rhizomatic systems of writing and by experimental loops of representation that participants are invited to appropriate and reconstruct.

       

      (3) a.pass research center

      a.pass  is an artistic research environment that develops research on performativity and scenography, in an international artistic and educational context. a.pass offers a one-year artistic research training program at post-master level for artists and theoreticians, based on the principles of self-organization, collaboration and transdisciplinarity. a.pass participants develop an independent artistic research project, with a personalized curriculum in a shared and collectively created research environment.

      The a.pass research center develops, documents and archives tools for qualitative and relevant artistic research practices. The research center uses this growing archive to communicate and interact with the artistic and educational field and functions as a forum for the development of a critical approach on
      artistic research. a.pass emphasizes the relation between the research practices and a broader societal field, and encourages engaged transdisciplinary practices.

      In the context of its artistic research center, a.pass offers a tailor-made PhD trajectory for doctoral students that gives the possibility to develop the practice-based part of their PhD research in collective research environment.

       

      (4) Kaaitheater

      The Kaaitheater is a Brussels and international arts centre which has been a leader in theatre, dance, music and performance for over thirty five years.

      A number of artists and companies have been closely associated with the Kaaitheater for many years: Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker & Rosas, Jan Decorte, Jan Lauwers & Needcompany, Meg Stuart & Damaged Goods, Ictus, tg STAN and Tristero, and from abroad Jérôme Bel, Raimund Hoghe, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Jonathan Burrows, The Wooster Group and others. From 2013 to 2016 Eleanor Bauer, Kris Verdonck, Mette Ingvartsen and Ivo Dimchev are our artists in residence.

      Social and ecological topics are a prominent element in Kaaitheater’s work. The Kaaitheater is part of two European networks: Imagine 2020, that focuses on art and climate change, and House on Fire, supporting productions that are intended to contribute to a critical debate on political and social issues.

      The Kaaitheater presents about 75 productions each season and welcomes its visitors to two locations in the canal zone in Brussels: the Kaaitheater itself (the large theatre, on Sainctelettesquare) and the Kaaistudio’s (small theatre and rehearsal studios, near Dansaertstraat).

    • A workshop took time and place 24/7 as a singular occupation of a public space with hourly rotations. A group was working in parallel daily 10am - 1pm.

      This workshop was designed and organized by Luigi Coppola and Christophe Meierhans

      Luigi Coppola and Christophe Meierhans are working in different contexts and with different means about common decision taking procedures - or let’s say, alternative democracies.

      While Christophe proposes in a lecture performance series a new democratic system based on disqualifying people in charge, rather than electing them, Luigi is developing social choreographies as democratic models and is currently involved in a communal project of reorganizing the political, agricultural and economic system of a whole village in south Italy.

      Together they propose a research workshop where most components of its activities will have to be decided commonly with the workshop participants. Just the very basic conditions are determined: The workshop occupies a public space with only one person at the time - 24h a day.  The rest of the group develops, discusses and observes the occupation from a distance and takes the relevant decisions.

      The discussions and decision taking procedures already started last block and created some new questions and tendencies. But an entrance into the process is possible at anytime.

    • As a consequence of the the act to translate 650€ at the National Bank in to 1€-Cent pieces by one participant of the Occupy Democracy workshop, a financial justification of a receipt had to be handed out to the revisor of the a.pass accounting and finally to the ministry of education of the Flaamse Gemeenschapt Commissie:

      nationale bank exchange-receipt

      This is a receipt that doesn't document the purchase of a commodity or a service, but the transformation of one form of money, in to an other - one form of money, which generally enables purchase into an other form, where exactly this basic function of money is impeded.

      This receipt deserves a special explanation.

      In the course of a workshop called Occupying Democracy / Occupation Précaire one participant translated 650€ reserved for material expenses of the Workshop into 1 €Cent coins - an amount of copper which weights about 350kg. The monetary value is kept - just its applicable value is abrogated!

      While this act points to the overarching problematic in the relation between the performance of art and the performance of money, it was of high educational and research value in the course this workshop, and in consequence it caused a social intervention in public sphere. The combination of this clearly lifts this act into the state of an a

      rt work in itself with conceptual and genuine artistic value.

      Through the simple act of translating the materiality of money in to an other consistency without chaining its monetary value but to discard with this it’s functional usability, the sum of 650€ becomes an artifact - a sculpture in it self. The provided receipt is in so far the proof not only of an act of ‘buying’ the essential artifact of this act, but is part of it’s social plastic. Money is used here to create art in the most possible direct way.

      History

      In the frame of the a.pass trimestrial Block 2014/III reflecting on the relation between ‘Space and Contract’ Co-curated by the Associate Program Curator Vladimir Miller and the Program Coordinator Nicolas Galeazzi, we asked Christoph Meierhans and Luigi Coppola to come up with a workshop proposal based on their individual artistic practice on democratic forms.

      This is what they proposed:

      Original Workshop proposal

      OCCUPYING DEMOCRACY / Occupation Precaire
      WORKSHOP; 29th September - 3rd October
      (10am - 5pm group work; 24/7 singular occupation of the space with hourly rotations)
      Luigi Coppola and Christophe Meierhans

      Luigi Coppola and Christophe Meierhans are working in different contexts and with different means about common decision taking procedures - or let’s say, alternative democracies.

      While Christophe proposes in a lecture performance series a new democratic system based on disqualifying people in charge, rather than electing them, Luigi is developing social choreographies as democratic models and is currently involved in a communal project of reorganizing the political, agricultural and economic system of a whole village in south Italy.

      Together they propose a research workshop where most components of its activities will have to be decided commonly with the workshop participants. Just the very basic conditions are determined: The workshop occupies a public space with only one person at the time - 24h a day. Starting with one square meter of occupation, the territory of artistic occupations should be expanded for minimum one square meter with every occupant. The rest of the group develops, discusses and observes the occupation from a distance and takes the relevant decisions.
      The discussions and decision taking procedures already started last block and created some new questions and tendencies. But an entrance into the process is possible at anytime.

       

      Process of the Workshop

      Eight a.pass participants engaged in the workshop and managed the

      1m2-24h/7-occupation-1-at-the-time

      concept together in shifts of 2h per person. The occupation was held on Place Saint-Jeans in Brussels.

      A Budget of 800€ was on spot and available to the current occupant in order to increase the tension between the decisions of the individual towards the decisions of the Workshop collective.

      Beside the occupation, the group held daily plenum gatherings at an other place in town, discussing the development of the occupation and its ethical, artistic and political implications.

      The fact that one person is in charge for the budget of a group for only 2h at the time reviles obvious conflicts of interests between the ‘society’ of this workshop and the individual occupant and was therefore the most concrete challenge of the idea of rethinking democratic systems through this workshop.

      At the beginning this challenge wasn’t faced much. The occupants only moderately bought things for their own use and bigger sums were only spent on objects that had a value for the whole group.

      The group fully accepted, that someone buys a beer for his midnight shift, or a morning juice, some chips, or batteries for his/her camera etc. Someone bought a Kalimba as the lullaby music instrument of the whole group. Someone else Gloomy Sticks - a scenographic element, which structured the space the whole week after.
      Occupants contributed even more private material and made this way the available money partially obsolete. This surely very interesting attitude suspended therefore, we might say paradoxically, the challenging discourse of the workshop. The tension embedded in the experimental concept of the workshop wasn’t fully embraced and experienced.

      The sum of those small expenses didn’t exceed 125€ and didn’t contribute much to the curtail discussions. The receipts for this sum are available and can be justified.

       

      Turning the coin

      One occupant interpreted the responsibility of the budget available in the explained transformative way. He went with the at the point remaining 650€ to the National Bank and was allowed to translate the bills into coins without any concern. The restriction related to these cases is, that one can change an infinite sum into smaller coins, but one is only allowed to bring 1€-cent coins back to the bank in portions of 5kg a week! In our case, this would take us almost one and a have year of weekly engagement to walk coins back to the bank.

      This conceptual act changed the situation in the workshop drastically. The collective was confronted with a radical individual move, which challenged everyones responsibility.

      The unpracticality of the available money in this form occurred when other occupants wanted to buy just a little chewing gum at a night shop in their shift - none was willing to take these coins. No night shop, no café, even giving them away for free was impossible.

      The only ones who saw the value of this conns being transferred in something real, practical and useful were a bunch of homeless people. Their time and economy allows to spend hours for picking up the coins, carrying them to around, negotiating with potential takers only to get the sum for example of a weekend ticket to the Ardennes together. A holiday dream some of them were waiting for since ages!

      With this aspect, the precariousness of this occupation entered other dimensions.
      It sets our abstract discussion on a slippery yet concrete and practical experience.
      The Workshop givers and the program coordinator who are finally responsible the workshop were suddenly under totally different the pressure of justification.
      The reviled presence and unavoidable openness of the money - we hardly could hide the 350kg coins in the public space - was constantly under thread of being stolen.
      It opened a communication to the most precarious living participants of this society.

      The group had to find new and concrete solutions for the technical and ethnical handling of the money and was confronted with an urgent decision finding process and it’s mechanisms.

       

      Continuation

      At the end of the week long occupation we left the space with about the half of the transferred 1 €-cent coins - ca. 170kg - in a suitcase together with a protocol for further operations.

      An Open Call shall be launched for competitive proposals to perform the coins.

      The selection procedure will follow principles that were discussed and tested in the workshop.

      The proposals will all be read on one evening to the public. 

      Only after the reading one member of the audience will randomly be chosen to act as a one-man-jury select a winning proposal.

      Another person has to be chosen randomly for as a performer of the proposal.

      The social plastic has to go on!

      Responsible for this report:

       

      Nicolas Galeazzi
      a.pass Program Coordinator

      Brussels 10/02/2015





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