Future Vocabularies event, BAK, Utrecht

Artist talk: Instituting for the Contemporary, BAK

As part of BAK’s Future Vocabularies project, I particpated in an Artist Talk/public editorial meeting alongside Simon Sheikh and Ewa Majewska, April 11, 2016 from 19.00–22.00 hrs,  Utrecht’s BAK, basis voor actuele kunst.


In the first of three Public Editorial Meetings held towards the publication of the new critical reader Instituting for the Contemporary, Ewa MajewskaRachel O’Reilly, and Simon Sheikh will present draft contributions in response to one of the reader’s eight guiding concerns: “compositionalism”; “not not art, not not politics”; and “care to power” respectively.

These terms bring to question the methods of, and resistance to, the institution. They raise a number of considerations: the transversal assemblies of contemporary organization and its forms (compositionalism); the slippage between categories and methodologies in such practices (not not art, not not politics); and the intertwining issues of care and interlocution in relation to the institution (care to power).

Ewa Majewska’s presentation outlines her proposal for a non-heroic “weak resistance,” that poses the question of an institution of the common. This new form of institution would be one rooted in the resistant composition of singularities that make up feminist, post-colonial, and so-called “periphery locations’ debates on the commons and its political agency.

Drawing on her ongoing project “The Gas Imaginary,” Rachel O’Reilly presents a selection of interventions, images, and vernacular texts, useful for reading the historical present of “extractivist realism” alongside counter-politics, their limits, and the convergences between the aesthetic tactics of contemporary industry and neoliberal culture sectors.

Simon Sheikh connects the notions of care (for the self), through the capacity for speaking of truth to power, to a consideration of the question of how to institute anew. If the speaking of truth has long informed the artistic political critique of institutional critique, the coupling of care to power proposes that the position of speaker — produced as an audience, and speaking for this body — be central to thinking institutionality, and indeed governmentality today.

More on the program: BAK Future Vocabularies

The Object of Art History

I have an interview with Amsterdam-based art critic and historian Sven Lutticken in the latest V2_ebook, BlowUp: Speculative Realities (free download), in which we glance back to modernism and minimalism to think the aesthetic commodity in Smithson’s wake, amidst eco-crisis and the so-called speculative realist turn.

An except from Sven’s responses to my questions: 

if art became crucial for philosophy – for the philosophy of the ‘aesthetic turn’ – because it showed matter to be imbued with spirit, modern art engaged in a flirtation with various forms of base materialism, with matter conceived to be outside the human. The shipwreck of spirit. The Bataille of the journal Documents is, of course, a prime example of such a project – which in this case was itself a truly aesthetic hybrid of the artistic and the philosophical, and which was in effect one episode in Bataille’s critical long engagement with idealism, and with Hegel in particular. Today, in the collapsing Anthropocene, to think matter from outside the human obviously poses different challenges, as the material fabric of our planet has been inexorably altered by human intervention. This was something recognized by Smithson. On the one hand, he turned entropy into something of a fetish, seemingly subjugating history to a natural law (the second law of thermodynamics); on the other hand, he was well aware that human activity accelerated entropy, and that a cosmic given had thereby become a social and political problem – which became the basis of his aesthetic project. By now, planet earth is itself the ultimate artwork, a subject-object out of control, an actant acting up in ways we cannot control. We may want to think matter from outside the human, but matter itself won’t let us.

The ebook accompanies an exhibition curated by Michelle Kasprzak, featuring new art works commissioned by V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media. The exhibition launched at at Roodkapje, Meent 121 – 133, Rotterdam, The Netherlands December 8 2012 – January 11 2013.

Exhibition Information

This edition of V2_’s Blowup series of events and exhibitions will examine the how and the why of speculative realism, object-oriented ontology and artistic practice. Four new art commissions examine different aspects of Object-oriented ontology (OOO), such as a non-human-centered view of the world, and the limits of knowledge. An e-book of interviews with artists and thinkers, released with a short talk at the exhibition finissage, will round out the programme and provide insights into the relationship between this exciting turn in philosophy and contemporary art and design. Commissioned artists include Tuur van Balen & Revital Cohen (BE/UK), Cheryl Field (UK), and Karolina Sobecka (US).


The term ‘speculative realism’ was coined at a conference at goldsmiths in 2007 chaired by Alberto Toscano that included the philosophers Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton grant, graham Harman and Quentin Meillassoux. Since then the term has split into factions like object-oriented ontology (OOO), spawned a number of journals (Speculations and O-Zone), book series and several other conferences and debates. The theme can be taken as part of a current philosophical interest in rethinking correlationism (an act of division between human and world), and is broadly congruent with existing discussions of the nonhuman, more-than-human and other frameworks of new materialism. Many key points of these conceptual trends are also pertinent to current trends in artistic practice: a non-anthropocentric worldview; an interest in modes of ontological levelling (a democracy of things); a consideration of aggregate forces like climate through cat- egories of autonomy.

Approaching Absenteeism

On July 11th at Amsterdam’s Tropenmuseum, formerly the trade museum of the Dutch East Indies, I participated in a fantastic research project meeting, commissioned by the Tropenmuseum, ‘Approaching Absenteeism’. Curated by ‘Landings’ group (Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl), featuring key members of the Tropenmuseum curatorial team, and special guest Jill Casid, author of ‘Sowing Empire’ (Minnesota Press) who presented an evening Public Lecture, this was the first of a series of research projects re-examining the Photography Collection of the Tropenmuseum, finding new points of approach into its archive of over 340,000 thousand images spanning the 19th and 20th centuries. The two part project seeks to study the category of absence within Dutch colonial photography with particular reference to colonial administration, agrarian and extractive-industries, land-formation and figural image-production through albums, promotional depictions of colonial life and amateur photography.

‘Approaching Absenteeism’ was curated in the frame of ‘Landings’, an ongoing research project at the intersection of Land History, Geomorphology, Rurality and Corporeality, led by Natasha Ginwala and Vivian Ziherl. The episode at Tropenmuseum is held in collaboration with curator Contemporary Art Anke Bangma, curator Photography Collection Anouk Mansfield and Director of Exhibitions Wayne Modest, and with the support of Marja van der Loo.


Photographer unknown, 1933 
 13 x 18cm (5 1/8 x 7 1/16in.)
Nekoe plants (Lonchocarpus spec) a vine used in fishing to stun and kill fish.
From the Culture Garden in Paramaribo, found as a young plant in 1922 from the primeval forest.