On the final day of ‘Time, Trade & Travel’ Zachary Formwalt was interviewed by art historian and critic Sven Lütticken. After a brief introduction to Formwalt’s artistic practice and interests, a fragment of his newest video ‘A Projective Geometry’ was screened. The video was also part of the exhibition ‘Time, Trade & Travel’ in SMBA. The film testifies to Formwalt’s investigation of the history of a railway in present-day Ghana. The railway was built in the 19th century by Britain to connect Sekondi to the inland gold mine in Tarkwa as a facility to create a connection with the worldwide market.
Anthropologist Rhoda Woets not only wrote an essay for SMBA Newsletter #129 on the work of kari-kacha seid’ou, she also lectured modern and contemporary Ghanaian art on September 30. During this afternoon Woets discussed the work of several artists in relation to the complex definition(s) of contemporary Ghanaian art. The notion of contemporary art in Ghana is for instance related to institutions such as art schools and art galleries. Popular art, craftwork and weaving such as kente are usually not included in this category.
The Ghanaian government has a tradition in stimulating the arts. In 1952, five years before the nation’s independence from the United Kingdom, the College of Art in Kumasi was established. Resonating its colonial relations, the school was affiliated with art institutions in London, such as Slade and the Royal College. Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah continued many of these international connections, as he took Western culture as exemplary in his mission to create an independent nation-state. In his vision modern art was a tool to construct identity; he argued that artists should express Ghanaian cultural history in their work. Many Ghanaians indeed relied on African traditions and symbols in order to express their identity. One example of this concept of ‘Sankofa’ is the ‘Accra Optimist Club’, a group of Ghanaian men who wore traditional cloths during colonial times.
The Stedelijk Museum and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam proudly presented the symposium ‘What is a Postcolonial Exhibition?’, an SMBA initiative organized as part of the program of Temporary Stedelijk 3 – Stedelijk @. Click here to read the symposium’s info sheet and watch the video registrations below.
What is a ‘Postcolonial Exhibition’? has been made possible through the support of:
Amsterdam Fund for the Arts
SNS REAAL Fonds
Part 1: Mapping the Field (turn up volume)
- Margriet Schavemaker, Head of Collections, Stedelijk Museum. Introduction and Welcome.
- Elena Sorokina, art historian and freelance curator. Introduction to exhibiting the postcolonial.
- Jelle Bouwhuis, Curator, SMBA. Brief note on the Stedelijk’s global art history.
- Johannes Fabian, Anthropologist. Introduction to Time and the Other, after interviewed by Anke Bangma, curator at the Tropenmuseum.
In collaboration with the Stedelijk Museum, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam organized the symposium What is a ‘Postcolonial Exhibition’? on May 25. During this day the institutional engagement with the colonial past and the postcolonial present was discussed. The symposium presented a range of institutional practices and scholarly insights to examine a specific aspect: the exhibition itself and the exhibition strategies that go alongside it.
Curator Christel Vesters wrote an extensive report on the symposium.
A first impression, by Christel Vesters
What is a ‘Postcolonial Exhibition’? kicked-off with an introduction by co-organiser Elena Sorokina, who eloquently outlined the framework for the symposium by unpacking its two primary questions: ‘what constitutes the postcolonial today?’, and ‘what is the language of an exhibition?’ If an exhibition today is no longer merely a space in which objects are put on display but has developed itself as a trans-disciplinary, narrative space in which the parameters of time and space are no longer fixed, how can exhibitions then respond to developments like globalisation, post-colonialism or to our multicultural societies?
Date: Sunday, 17 June 2012, Time: 4:45 – 7:15 p.m.
Location: Kriterion, Admission: €5, free with Cineville pass
Reservation required: 020-6231708 (Kriterion)
Participating artists: Artun Alaska Arasli, Neïl Beloufa, David Hammons, Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia, Moridja Kitenge Banza, Olaf Breuning, Tatiana Macedo, Sarah Vanagt, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Clemens von Wedemeyer and Katarina Zdjelar.
In an experimental and inquiring way, the videos presented in ‘Really Exotic?’ take us along on a visual, transcultural expedition in search of the exotic. The programme does not aim to find an ultimate proof or meaning of the exotic. Rather a variety of perspectives are brought together to show the multiple understandings and uses of this burdened concept. In each video a form of the exotic comes to the fore, but every time in a different environment and setting.
In the past, the exotic has been related to primitivism, the concept that, roughly speaking, entails an idealization of the unconscious and the original condition, captured in the image of the ‘noble savage’. This kind of exoticism is confronted with irony in works like Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia’s The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey (1993) and Olaf Breuning’s Group (2001). Both mimic the primitive exotic by playing with and ridiculing the stereotypes that inform the primitivist imagination. Moridja Kitenge Banza’s Hymne à Nous (2008) caricatures the nineteenth century Europeans’ civilizing mission that aimed at transforming the purportedly primitive into the presumably civilized, by presenting an army of copies of themselves as the epitome of a ‘Europeanized’ African man. Irony directed at the primitive exotic is however just one of the strategies of alienation applied by the artists.
In his writing on exoticism in nineteenth and early twentieth century French literature, the philosopher Tzvetan Todorov exposes different forms of exoticism, but not all of them are based on an ominous ‘us’ versus ‘them’ scheme. With regard to the work of the French writer and ethnographer Victor Segalen, Todorov points to the ‘exotic experience’, a way of engaging (while traveling) with the unfamiliar from a point that presuppose an ‘us’ and ‘them’, a scheme departing from the proposition that without the ‘other’ the ‘self’ is incomplete. ‘Without identification,’ Todorov writes, ‘one does not know the other; without the bursting forth of difference, one loses oneself … one must be an exote to reconcile the two’. This kind of exoticism departs from the idea that, in the philosopher’s words, ‘the exotic experience is available to everyone; at the same time, it eludes the grasp of most. A child’s life begins with a progressive differentiation of subject and object; as a result, the whole world, in the beginning, seems exotic to the child’. Growing up entails an ‘automization of perception’, but everyone can revive the exotic experience by avoiding familiarity. As Todorov summarizes: ‘The common experience starts form strangeness and ends in familiarity. The exote’s special experience starts where the other ends – in familiarity – and leads toward strangeness’. The exotic experience is for Todorov thus an experience in which someone is estranged; it is a process of defamiliarization of oneself to the environment that is engendered.
The videos presented in this programme invite the public to indulge in strangeness, though the decision to provide the programme title with a question mark already points to the fact such an experience cannot be guaranteed, because it depends on the viewer, who needs to temporarily adopt the role of the exot. The exotic experience is, again in Todorov’s words, ‘much more [than naiveté or total ignorance] a matter of an unstable equilibrium between surprise and familiarity, between distancing and identification. The happiness of the exot is fragile: if he does not know the others well enough, he does not yet understand them; if he knows them too well, he no longer sees them. The exote cannot install himself in peace and quiet: no sooner does he attain that state his experience has already grown stale. No sooner does the exote arrive that he has to get ready to leave again; as Segalen said, he must cultivate nothing but alternation. That is perhaps why the rule of exoticism has often been converted from a precept for living into an artistic device: Chekhov’s ostranenie or Brecht’s Verfremdung (French: destanciation, English: “defamiliarization”)’.
In the ‘Really Exotic?’ programme, the exotic experience is understood as a benign form of exoticism, because it is based on a self-reflective and temporary ‘praise without knowledge’; worse forms of exoticism have led to, for instance, transformative missions of the exotic other or ideologically supported the colonisation of the other’s land. ‘The Really Exotic?’ programme takes Segalen’s conception of the exotic experience, as illuminated by Todorov, to its logical consequence and presents videos which look at everything differently. Because of the artist’s focus on detail, even that which is actually familiar to us can become unfamiliar. The artistic contribution to this programme takes us along on an exploration of an estranged environment that can at the same time be idealised and critically viewed.< !-
The video programme is curated by Joram Kraaijeveld and Kerstin Winking in collaboration with Marthe Singelenberg of Movie Theater Kriterion.
More information on the video's:
On October 25, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam hosted two book launches of two publications that each focuses on the postcolonial discourse.
The publication If you want, we’ll travel to the moon together is initiated by a group of Art History students of the University of Amsterdam. The book presents a collection of essays that students wrote during the (Dutch) research seminars ‘Kunst en Globalisering’, directed by dr. Marga van Mechelen. During the research seminars, the students focused on the question how artists have been responding to globalism during the past fourty years. The publication includes essays on Rinke Nijburg, Mark Lombardi, Yael Bartana, NSK-State en Transnational Republic, Dan Perjovschi, Banksy, Ai Weiwei, Dinh Q. Lê, Aernout Mik, Sharmila Samant, Renzo Martens and The Action Mill. Prof. dr. Mieke Bal provided an introductory lecture during the book launch, in which she reflected on the topic art and globalism.
During the Amsterdam Museum Night (5 november), artist Michael Tedja (1971) will present a lecture on art, identity politics and schisms in Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. Central is the self-cleansing standard of Dutch art appreciation, which from Tedja’s perspective breathes a virtually 19th century colonial mentality: “The handling, the way in which you handle your own colour and the many colours around you are a colour study. I see it as an artist project that develops by mixing… I do not like Reformed art. Piet Mondriaan didn’t want people to paint diagonals; it had to be vertical and horizontal; the narrow mindedness….”.
Tedja is a painter, writer, poet, publisher and a curator. His art work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. Tedja’s newest book is called The auto poem and consists of nine parts. Each part comprises of 48 pages. His lecture at SMBA is part 7: The teaching poem, of which a part has appeared earlier, in the Dutch monthly ‘Hollands Maandblad’. Tedja wrote The auto poem in the framework of his BijlmAIR residency organized by CBK Zuidoost and Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam.
On September 28, the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam’s department of Social and Cultural Anthropology organized a seminar entitled ‘(Re)contextualising Art: Anthropology, Art History and the Museum’. During this afternoon anthropologists, art historians and curators gathered to discuss the current status of globalization and contemporary art.
Issues that were put up for discussion are the modes of evaluation to judge, acquire and display art from “outside.” What tools and criteria should curators use? Is an intimate knowledge of the social and cultural settings in which artists operate essential in valuing their work, as anthropologists tend to argue? A growing number of anthropologists study contemporary art(ists) but what have their contributions been to the formation of new art historical discourses? In short: how can anthropologists, art historians and curators come to a more fruitful cooperation and exchange?
Both art historian Gabriele Minelli and art historian Madelon van Schie wrote a report about the seminar. Gabriele Minelli’s report is published below. Click here to read Madelon van Schie’s report in Dutch.
Together with the artist Matthijs de Bruijne, Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam has organised an evening with presentations by artists and groups focusing on the effort to create greater social solidarity. One of the points of departure for this evening is the lecture by Joost de Bloois, given at the opening of the exhibition ‘Informality’ in the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, about precarity, art and political activism.
During the opening of the exhibition ‘Informality’, Dr. Joost de Bloois, lecturer at the University of Amsterdam, department of Literary and Cultural Studies, gave a presentation about the notion of “precarity”. The concept of “precarity”, which is best described as ‘the structural uncertainty of livelihood and income’, serves as a rallying cry for a great number of contemporary protest movements (from the French anti-CPE protests to the Spanish Indignados, via the Greek social movement and recent student protests in Italy and Germany). Equally, “precarity” has become a key notion in both critical theory and artistic practice today. In his lecture Joost de Bloois unpacked the different meanings and the ambiguities of the notion of “precarity” within political and artistic practices and critical theory.
Here you can read the full text of his presentation ‘Making Ends Meet: Precarity, Art and Political Activism’.
On June 25th, architect, writer and artist Tony Chakar (Beirut, 1968) gave a lecture about the influence of the war on the everyday life in Lebanon. The complex history of the country, between 1975 and 1990 there was a civil war in Lebanon, and since 2006 there were several conflicts with Israel, deeply influenced the public space and the manner of dealing with language and culture.
Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam organised a screening of ‘The Forgotten Space’ on May 24th. The evening was introduced by art historian Sven Lütticken, who interviewed director Noël Burch, and the launch of Open #21, cahier on Art and the Public Domain.
In the cinematic essay ‘The Forgotten Space’ (2010) the photographer-filmmaker-writer Allan Sekula travels with the French-American director and film historian Noël Burch. Together they explore the sea, the “forgotten space of our modern age, where globalization becomes visible in the most pressing way”.
In connection with The Marx Lounge, SMBA has organised an intensive public programme of reading circles, lectures, film screenings and artists’ presentations. Here you can read Andreas Zangger’s report of the Postcolonialism Reading Group of May 2nd. To read Jelle Bouwhuis’ report in Dutch click here.
Two artists on Congo
By Andreas Zangger
How do you present suffering in art? Laokoon (wikipedia)
How do Westerners see Congo, if they even look at all? What picture of Congo is presented to them? And what can art contribute to this picture? On Monday May 2nd SMBA hosted the reading group on postcolonialism organized by artist Joris Lindhout to discuss the book Congo – Een geschiedenis (Congo – A history, 2010) by David van Reybrouck and the film Episode III – Enjoy poverty (2008) by Renzo Martens, who was invited as an artist expert.
Project ’1975′ entails a theoretical program in which the disperse notions of post-colonialism in contemporary art are challenged. The kick-off of the theoretical backbone of Project ’1975′ was a lecture by Paul Goodwin, curator of cross-cultural programmes at the Tate Britain.