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Centre D’Art Contemporain, Geneva

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How do projects define a community whilst not assuming a common language? Facilitated by no.w.here and Maxa Zoller the three-day platform IMAGE | EVENT at Movement Image, Centre d’Art Contemporain Geneva, brought together six international artist collectives and an audience to discuss the conditions of image production within neo liberal hyper capitalism. How does an event translate into an image? And how does our inner pool of images shape the experience of an event? where some of the key questions presented, discussed and explored during these three exciting days.

Invitations were extended to Casa Tres Patios, a gallery from Medellin in Columbia, the Swiss filmmaker Charles Heller from the Research Architecture Group, Grzegorz Kowalski and his pedagogical space, the Audio Visual Studio at Warsaw Academy of Arts, the Russian collective Chto delat ?, Rene Gabri, Ayreen Anastas and François Bucher and The Museum of non Participation of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. The audience in Geneva ranged from international and local students, to professional cultural workers, artists, filmmakers and teachers.

Across the wide range of people several concerns started to surface: How can we resist the systemic violence of capitalism? What are key aesthetics of resistance? How can we learn from each other? What are the conditions and mechanisms of image production within capitalism and how do we counter this: through breaking the illusion or drawing it out? How can we overcome modernist binaries between subject and other? What are the global acupuncture points and how can we activate them collectively? Approached through a discussion about ‘practice’ these and other questions became our specific urgency.

Framed against a background of drug trade violence in Columbia, Casa Tres Patios from Medellin proposed strategies being used by artists within their creative platform to expose the patters of this systemic violence. In their context the director Tony Evanko and curator Santiago Vélez Salamanca recognized how every-day effects of drug traffiking can suffocate the space for a clear and distanced analysis of the questions around the role of the artist in the context of oppression. Embedded in this situation, Casa Tres Patios showed artists following a variety of practices ranging from surreal documentary film to conceptual installations, to take refuge in the gallery and its community which strategically supports emerging non-traditional artists like Camilo Restrepo.

IMAGE | EVENT sought to play with the apparatus of the artists’ presentations by daily repositioning the chairs, lights and other forms of dispositifs in the room in order to re-perform politics of representation being discussed. The invitation to Casa Tres Patios was to draft a ‘Letter to the Left’, which was read out to the running film camera from the position of the audience. Casa’s difficulty in answering to a letter that was conceived of in London led to an inspiring debate about revolution-cum-guerilla warfare (the Columbian guerilla fragmented after the demise of the Berlin Wall).

Charles Heller, a filmmaker from Geneva presented his highly interesting films including Nem-Nee, a wonderful example of the manipulate operations on language: ‘Nem’ means ‘non-entré en matière’; ‘Nee’ translates as ‘Nichteintretensentscheid’, describing an in-between state of Suisse immigrants, whose asylum has been rejected, yet who cannot return to their country. This term explains ‘ex negativo’ what these people are not, but leaves out of the frame what they are. Heller presented extracts from this 45min film, which seeks to uncover the social, political and linguistic blind spots in Switzerland. Heller’s presentation was punctuated by stream of consciousness reflections from audience member Zoller played to camera and configured around her senses and physical aspect in this space. The screening of his more recent workwas followed by an intense discussion with the audience about the problem of the system’s appropriation of artists’ images. Can we make images that cannot be appropriated?

Heller’s sensitive work was also presented in relation to research architecture, a Goldsmiths College research programme, run by Eyal Weizmann. The specific research group Aesthetics of Evidence, whom had met for a conference inside the United Nations building in Geneva earlier this year, explores the relation between evidence and narrative as a form of fictional construction of truth. An interesting debate developed between Heller and Gabri, Anastas and Bucher, whose own work, Under The Pavement: First Essay on Chronique, 2010, exhibited the un-edited footage of Rouch and Morin’s famous documentary on French everyday life in the early 1960s: Chronique d’un Éte. In one of the most celebrated scenes of the original film a Jewish concentration camp survivor called Marceline recalls her horrific story walking around one of Paris’ major roundabouts, the Concorde. In light of Morin’s unpublished footage that was sourced by the three artists three problems appear: firstly, it becomes clear that the editing in the final version blatantly privileges the trauma of the Holocaust over the trauma of the post-colonial Democratic Republic of the Congo (Congo Kinshasa), it displays the racism inherent in that hierarchy of suffering (Marceline assures us against previous racist remarks that as victim of persecution herself she is immune to racism towards black Africans) and thirdly, the project calls into question the spontaneity of the Concorde scene: intimate recall or performance? – in this scene documentary’s claim for truth becomes porous.

The next presentation was by Grzegorz Kowalski, a highly influential Polish artist and art teacher (out of this class emerged the artists Artur Zmijewski, Pawel Althammer and Anna Molska). Kowalski teaches in the tradition of the Open Form, a concept developed by the Polish architect Oskar Hansen in the 1960s, an architect and theoretician, taught in the sculpture department at the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts where he applied his theory of Open Form. For Hansen the modern artist was the “artist-scientist, whose artistic work alongside modern science contributes to a creative transformation of reality.” He propagated an anti-hierarchical, dynamic relationship between artist and viewer, which he sought to produce through the ‘art of events’. These were based on activities, communication, and an interdisciplinary process-based approach to art, including ‘provocations’, a method by which a given situation was interrupted in order to analyse and potentially alter its meaning. Hansen radically challenged the status of the object and the notion of the ‘ideal’ or ‘closed form’. In his ‘Audio Visual Studio’ Kowalski teaches three stages of Open Form, basically a non-verbal communication between the students, who have to ‘speak’ through colour, form and movement. These three stages are called ‘Dialogue’, ‘Next’ and ‘Common Space/Private Space’. The audience was struck by Kowalski’s radical use of play in arts education, which led to an extensive discussion around the strategic use of unproductivity. The question of whether there are images that cannot be appropriated was discussed in relation to the use of game and play as radical forms of a-teleological pedagogical practice. A question surfaced as to whether, as an audience, we are to ‘judge’ our experience of the process or the product.

Chto Delat? proposed their response to IMAGE | EVENT as a question around thought and action. Their initial proposal that we all sleep in the gallery overnight were rejected by the City of Geneva, so they suggested with the audience to create a collective wall mural in the museum in order to negotiate this space as a live site of image production. But Chto Delat? were denied their Visas to Geneva days before the event, fully embodying issues and restrictions around transnational movement discussed in earlier sessions. In their place was proposed a film screening of Lutz Becker’s 1975 film Kino Beleške (Cinema Notes). This film, for many years lost and recently found, was produced in 1975 in collaboration with the group of artists, curators and critics gathered around the Student Cultural Centre – Belgrade. The film includes verbal statements and performative gestures of the numerous protagonists of the new artistic practice in former Yugoslavia, referring to the role of art in society and re-thinking the concepts of ‘form’, ‘autonomy’, ‘economy’, ‘politicality’ and ‘institutionalisation’ of contemporary art. It was uncanny to realize the similarities between the language of discourse then and now: in a specific manifesto-like Marxist jargon the acteurs raised very contemporary-sounding questions around the corruption of ideology, the gate keepers of mainstream art institutions, artistic means of resistance and the crisis of the language of the left . The echo between 1975 and 2010 could not be overheard.

Negotiations about a performative dispositif from Rene Gabri, Ayreen Anastas and François Bucher had started some days earlier. The invitation extended by no.w.here and Zoller was to frame a cinematic dipositif around five political questions. Instead they took the frame of IMAGE | EVENT and the word ‘politics’ as a departure point into practice. Bucher showed a complex work Severa Vigilancia, 2007. This film consisted of interviews conducted by a group of students that had performed an armed attack in a real life situation: the actors-attackers had taken hostage and threatened to kill college students and staff during a seminar at the local university. This theatre piece was an homage to Jean Genet in that it intended not to represent but actually have the audience experience the real, e.g. near death. The memories of this experience conveyed in the interviews accounted for the sheer terror this ‘play’ executed on its victims, the audience. The film, which was structured in such a way that it only gradually revealed to the Geneva audience that this is a ‘Theatre of Cruelty’ choreographed by a radical theatre group fully embodied the politics of representation of the IMAGE | EVENT.  

As viewers we ourselves are placed in the position of re-animating this event with the film’s characters who reproduce its physical impact from multi perspectives in unfolding cycles of repetition and detail. This was followed by Gabri and Anastas’ video works, amongst which was Kindred Spirits, 2010, in which the artists talk over a video tape they found on the street in New York. Their films both problematise the location of ‘the political’ within the image and/or verbal utterances and their un/conscious choreography. This included a cartography on the word ‘politics’ which would later reprise as a term debated by the audience. The films themselves were mediated around questions as to the status of the images, and to our status as political subjects, themes that The Museum of Non Participation (Brad Butler, Karen Mirza) and Zoller sought to playfully site in the Gallery space through a performed lecture. Treating the space as a stage, this lecture sought to perform and spatialise different attitudes to positions of authority. The ambiguity remained as to whether to experience this as an open site of discourse or as a ‘work’. Previously the Museum of non Participation had occupied columns in newspapers, distributed texts in free pamphlets through social co-operatives, texts had been performed, presented as “artworks” and transferred to film by being spoken directly to camera - and a number of these possibilities were extended to this Image | Event context. Texts from Marc Augé, Asef Bayat and Judith Butler were intertwined with personal and critical reflection on the issues of the last days. Shifting the location of the voice, gestures and language (French and English) the lecture ended in a surreal manner with Zoller occupying the translation booth in order to mistranslate the simultaneous English reading of ‘Frames of War’ into a lament to the translators. In this way a conflict was waged between what is expressed and expressible and what is inexpressible and unexpressed.
To conclude a few thoughts on the dynamics of the three days: it was fascinating to witness the development of the argument, which for us started with a great communicative spirit on the first day, encountered stagnation on the second day (the questions around capitalism and resistance remained frustratingly unanswered) and ended in a new tentative form of thinking in the final wrap up discussion on day three.

Mainly headed by Bucher and others an emerging interest in so-called para-normality and new ways of relating subject and object. Religious texts, shamanism and mind-expanding drug experiences were discussed in relation to the notion of the visitation or the encounter (the deep encounter with the image). Interestingly, these ideas echoed recent developments in Anglo-Saxon and primarily Continental philosophy. These include the monist turn in Raoul Eshelman’s notion of ‘performatism’, Robin van den Akker and Timotheus Vermeulen’s new romantic ‘metamodernism’, and the philosophical concept of Speculative Realism, which according to one of its pioneer thinkers, Graham Harman, rejects the central role the human mind plays in Kant’s Copernican Revolution. These directions involve a shift from artistic strategies of Brechtian estrangement to a re-reading of the Deleuzian/Guattrian notion of intensification in relation to abstraction and opacity, as well as new topological forms of thought such as the crystal (Deleuze) and foam (Sloterdjk).

“We can imagine the end of the world, but we cannot imagine the end of capitalism.” This quote by the American theoritian Fredric Jameson has become a mantra for contemporary thinkers, artists and cultural workers. In Britain and Continental Europe the toughening of immigration laws, cut-throat budget cuts, the resulting neglect of educational systems and the privatisation of public services and public space for that matter constitute our political everyday reality. Rather then surrendering to the deadlock of frustration, anger has become the trigger for creative thought: how can we imagine the shape of our desires to come? Or to quote Mark Fisher’s twist of Thatcher’s famous TINA phrase from an affirmation into a question (“Is there an alternative?”). Can we finally imagine the end of capitalism? It seemed that the discussions held on the final day of IMAGE | EVENT shifted the answer in the direction of a new engagement with the para-normal, neuroscience and what Bucher described as ‘frequency’ (the image as sheer frequency).

The other result of the debate was a clear need for a wider source for knowledge production. The example of Bruno Latour’s new department at the Paris Science-Politique University, which includes a wide and interdisciplinary range of agendas, teachers and guest speakers, as well as Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev’s very timely move to consult so-called ‘agents’ from different professional fields for Documenta 13 are indicative signs of the urgency to create a less mono-cultural art world.

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