The double binds of co-option and complicity
A kind of self-reflexive criticality emerged throughout the introductions, questioning the positions we come from, and that our being here might reflect our coming from a certain class or level of privilege. I think about how often the double-bind of feminism is that political pragmatism is demanded of us, but also simultaneously the expectation that we will be able to imagine radically new structures beyond the ones we are forced to navigate.
Yuan Fuca: “I’m a curator at an art foundation supported by corporations. Before that, I was running an independent space. It was a big change for me to move from an independent, small community now to something structural and institutional. I won’t say that Beijing doesn’t have intellectual discourse, but capitalism and commerce is very dominant. How do we navigate a money-oriented space? [...] Beijing is also very highly influenced by western discourses, and I’m thinking about any possibility to battle with both sides of hypocrisy. I’ve been thinking about the concept of ‘situated knowledges’ by Donna Haraway, and the privilege of ‘partial perspective’. What we’re doing here is definitely reflecting or echoing some part of that.”
Arkadi Zaides: “My challenge is to contain all the stories here. We’re all very inspiring and active people, but I question who is watching us. In my perception, what I’m doing is a kind of actual activism. But the possibility of transformation... is it possible at all, I’m not sure. [...] Can we educate for action?”
Liene Jurgelāne: “I grew up in Riga, Latvia, in a small country up there in the northeast of Europe. I’m holding space for contradictions, and the question of ‘and’. I have questions of geography and where I come from, being from some spaces that are positioned as ‘less than Europe’. So what it’s like to have the privilege of ‘being European’ and a white person, but in many contexts not being European or ‘white enough’. Especially when it comes to talking about systems of oppression that I benefit from, and not having the language for it because it’s borrowed from somewhere else. By taking action I may end up producing the same thing that the action hopes to challenge. How do I navigate this both in myself and in the praxis that I do? Maybe love as a tool of resistance. How does it manifest itself in different contexts and relationships?”
Uygar Önder Şimşek: “What is the effect of the privileging of our classes? How does that affects us to be who we are? Is it because we are just smart, good and nice that we are here today – or is this part of the privileging of the class to which we belong?”
Collaboration, co-labouring and the commons of shared resources
Collectivism and collaboration felt like key methods in our practices, and a sensitivity to these ways of working that emphasise sharing, exchange, and intimacy – and that person-to-person connection as a conduit of carrying difficult knowledges and shared experiences. That we can thrive in a coming together of complementation rather than the tearing-apart of competition.
Lee Cheah Ni: “We always have challenges with funding and money. But why do we always think that resources are monetary? There are a lot of people who carry energy and resources in a different way. How we can recognise each other, and be resources that join together and grow. How can we join together, then maybe separate later, then join another energy to tackle other issues?”
Amila Puzić: “This will be the first time that I’m going to speak about something that emotionally really affects me, the collective I used to run for several years in Mostar. I get excited when I start to speak about that, as you can tell. How can we talk and share about these difficult knowledges, how can we deal, in my case, with the history of such a contested context? It’s a divided city where I used to work for many years. Maybe it’s about trying to find small solutions. I’m also curious about how we can curate these difficult knowledges, how we can curate our personal stories and experiences.”
Ida Ślęzak: “I’m still a student, working on two masters at the same time. [...] I really want to go into academia – but I have no idea if it’s possible. There is no space for new researchers to get a job. How can we create new alliances when we’re fighting each other for very limited resources? How can I create feminist collectives in academia when all my friends are asking for the same grants that I do?”
Sasapin Siriwanij: “The biggest part of my work right now is to run the Bangkok International Performing Arts Meeting (BIPAM). It’s a platform creating work where we hope to create space for exchange, and a place where people can meet and throw ideas around. We want to bring together the member countries of Southeast Asia in this hub. [...] The recent edition has been quite successful. But every time I do something like this – and I’m new to this position of curating and programming – I think about inclusion and exclusion. Whenever you curate or programme something, there’s the tendency to want to do everything. Your selection will always exclude somebody, even when you have the best intentions to be inclusive. It’s inevitable in your action that you’re already excluding somebody. And that’s quite burning and painful. It’s not realistic to think we can include everyone. Everyone’s history is important, but how much of that can be realistic in the act of programming and curating?”
Soukaina Aboulaoula: “I’m interested in the process of collaboration and that in-between space. Is it needed – do we need to work with other people, or can we just work with ourselves? I like what’s happening here because, to me, you have managed to create a space for these new alliances that we are forming altogether. It’s about using each other as tools, our stories as tools to get to, and strategies, to get to what is wrong with our respective contexts, how can we work to solve this.”
Documentation as “docuvention” and sustainability
I take docuvention from Dr Liang Peilin’s work in applied theatre in Shigang, Taiwan – what does it mean to both document and intervene? Documentation brings up questions of the participant-observer, of the confines of the archive – how can our bodies also be repertoires of action (after Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire)? How can these embodied archives be sustained for generations to come?
Rafika Chawishe: “When you document through poetry, theatre, classical plays – because I’m also coming from theatre – if you try to use that as a platform to start from somewhere, what happens next after you hear the stories, after you create the document, in whatever form (exhibition, performance, platform)? How do you keep sustainability?”
Adela Demetja: “How can we work, in terms of a curatorial institution of group of people, with [the notion of] process. [...] My questions are not what happens after, but what happens while. What is actually the curatorial practice, not the final exhibition or project? Where does the practice begin, how does it develop, or go toward an open end? Right now, in the projects I’m doing institutionally and as an independent curator, I’m trying to figure out how to include that process in the work itself, in the exhibition itself, in the piece that we are all curating/creating. How can we manifest or visualise the means of production?”
Thao Ho: “One of my big questions is archiving and documenting. I’ve been wondering about inside and outside, how do we enter discourse, who are the insiders and who are the outsiders? In June, a German theatre showed a play about Vietnamese history, and we were demonstrating, but this is a conversation that keeps repeating itself, and we’re always educating them. I’m questioning whether I want to put my energy into educating. The feeling that my activism becomes something that is only always a response to something. Should my activism be just a response or be an action? How do we find this balance?”
Contesting histories and ‘grand narratives’
The telling of history becomes a strategy for power and control, which demands that we find alternative approaches to reclaiming and retelling narratives beyond the vice-like grip of the state or certain authorities.
Olivia Hyunsin Kim: “I’m from Germany, but I have quite a complicated history/histories, and I’m navigating as a person of colour in a mostly white society. I try to tackle this one grand narrative of what I’ve learnt in South Korea when learning world history. I don’t believe in this one very narrow version, a version I have a lot of problems with. We need diverse narratives, and not just white people talking about people of colour, but also talking to people with disabilities or who belong to minority groups.”
Vladimir Bjeličić: “I’m trained as an art historian but my entire practice is embedded in performativity. I’m trying to tackle different things, like how to deal with historicities. Where I come from is deeply contaminated with historical revisionism. My generation always goes back to Yugoslavia – what was that all about, what was socialism all about.”
Huang Ding-Yun: “I’m from Taiwan, Taipei – also the Republic of China [as opposed to] the People’s Republic of China. It’s a long fight and dispute between the two regions/two countries. When I was educated in school, I gradually found out that I was educated in a different kind of viewpoint on the history of the “Chinese” – the totally opposite interpretation of how the current government of China [PRC] educates their people. [...] How can we embrace different volumes of histories that happen at the same time – and not just in very intellectual discussions. It’s also about a group of people living in a certain place for centuries. How do we face differences and recognise each other?”
Rola Khayyat: “I grew up in Lebanon, I experienced war as a child and as an adult in 2006, and further on. In my work I look at how to represent war, I look at war and memory, memory in post-war spaces and the silenced histories, the amnesias, how do we reckon with them and make sense of them. I currently live in New York. The struggles that I face include identity politics, and how I bring this experience to a western audience in a way that I’m not losing and compromising, and not falling into the trap of trauma/war porn (Fatou).”
Responding to crisis and change: revolution and political action
This permeated our entire discussion, but I wanted to foreground some of the conversations where political action and revolution, and the unseating of the current order, felt like deep, visceral propulsions for change.
Aya Rebai: “Maybe the solution is working for something, not against something. I’m from Tunisia. It’s a weird country, a small country with a lot of presidents, elections, revolutions. One of its political projects was working against Islamists. This triggered fear in the population. It worked for the first five years, but now it doesn’t work any more. I think we need to be activists for something, like the universal conception of human rights, or individual liberties. [...] My biggest question, thinking about all the revolutions Tunisia has had since the mid 2000s, is that the country itself is resilient, but each individual/institution is not resilient enough. It’s interesting to apply this resilience to cultural projects and art projects, because there is lots of funding but the projects are unsustainable. How can we apply large-scale resiliences to smaller scales?”
Aylime Asli Demir: “I’ve been thinking about predictability and unpredictability. [...] Our enemies can change in five minutes. Our friends can change in five minutes. The whole atmosphere can change – especially after the state of emergency in Ankara. We have to find new ways, aside from all the predictable methods of activists. I want to think of unpredictability as a method or aesthetics.”
Martha Luisa Hernández Cadenas: “I’m from Cuba, and I’ve grown up with all these revolutions. How we can radicalise these revolutions, and how we can transform this paradigm of the Fatherland with its focus on heroes and men all the time? [...] I believe in change produced in a micropolitical space. It’s inspiring to be here – I want to learn about another kind of activism.”
Donna Miranda: “I’m from the Philippines, I’ve never lived anywhere else, just in Manila. I think I will remain there and die there. I want to experience the revolution. [laughter] I’m a choreographer, I’m interested in movement but I don’t work with movement in theatre/dance, my interest in movement is in political action as movement. I do volunteer work for the peasant sector in the Philippines, as part of a collective that supports genuine agrarian reform. I want to echo this idea of the activist – you are at war, this is important, you need to know who your enemies and friends are and use different ways of relating to them. We are professional activists and professional revolutionaries. [...] How do we use our roles as artists, cultural and knowledge workers in realising the radical transformation of society? I want to push this concept of the crisis, that in crisis you find a solution. We have the whole of world history to remind us that every crisis is a stage for the world to change. It always begins with crisis - how do we use the crisis, and turn crisis into the advantage of the democratic majority. The revolution starts the day after we win.”
In taking down all these tiny pieces of much richer, complex practices of the incredible group of practitioners who have gathered here, I realize I’ve neglected my own – but already I can feel these parts of myself finding alignments and affinities from unexpected locations. As a writer and critic I tend to observe, to embed, to sit with and alongside and then produce what I witness in a writing that I also hope is a kind of doing. I feel like everyone is collectively making sense of their practices, and testing out how to articulate them in this specific context. I hope you’ll spend the next ten days with Ida, Chepkemboi and myself as we attempt to chart these new waters – but also leave room for them to astound and affect the parts of us that we cannot commit to writing.
Corrie Tan, 25.10.2019