Traces of the next
Jan Schuijren, Angela Plohman
We are all searching for those singular moments of belonging and recognition, those moments that affirm the purest parts of ourselves and intensely express that which we often struggle to articulate externally through language or gesture. These moments of openness intensify our unique sense of self and ground us in a society in which we have become increasingly anonymous and detached. However, at the same time as we need to affirm our individuality, we yearn for communal understanding of this singularity and a confirmation of our belief in the world and our role in it. The difficulty however lies in the meeting of these two zones of experience; in the complex interplay between inside and outside, and in the manner in which we live and express it.
Philosopher Brian Massumi highlights an ethical (as opposed to theological) statement about belief in relation to intensity and affect, in particular inspired by a phrase by Gilles Deleuze that says: “What we need is to be able to find a way to ‘believe in the world’ again.”1 For Massumi this is directly linked to the intensity with which we live our lives and our true engagement with our daily actions and to the objects, events and experiences that form the essence of our existence. “What it is saying is that we have to live our immersion in the world, really experience our belonging to this world, which is the same as our belonging to each other, and live that so intensely together that there is no room to doubt the reality of it. The idea is that lived intensity is self-affirming. It doesn’t need a God or judge or head of state to tell it that it has value.”2 ‘Happily believing’ is therefore related to the value we give our existence in the world and the intensity with which we live it. The works in the exhibition confront us with the struggles we have in finding and expressing this intensity, but also play an affirming role in recognising our depths of experience while granting us space and time to contemplate it.
We are constantly testing our own limits, to concretise and negotiate our bodily, mental and emotional relationships with the world around us. Israeli artist Yael Bartana’s Wild Seeds examines this experimentation through the eyes and bodies of adolescents who have created their own game based on a real altercation between Israeli soldiers and Jewish settlers. Bartana filmed the game in which a group of 18 year olds (some of whom were actually about to be drafted into the army) lock arms, legs and bodies while two others play the role of soldiers trying to break the chain. On one screen we witness the game, hear the laughter and see the physical struggles. On another, the words of the youngsters are transcribed (into English) and convey the alternating shift between play and aggression. Through this compelling moment of community, the girls and boys gain strength, literally clinging on to each other and expressing instinctual reactions to the reality associated with the game. While the power of the specific political undercurrents of the game cannot be ignored, the more general potential of play is here strongly felt, as it opens up a space for the intense experience and expression of relationships these young adults may otherwise not have had the freedom to negotiate.
The complexity and sometimes frustrating ambiguity of our relationships to the world around us are illustrated in the works of Kuang-Yu Tsui, a Taiwanese artist who explores our struggle to fit in, and sincerely interact, with the setting and meaningful props of everyday life. In his series Eighteen Copper Guardians in Shao-Lin Temple and Penetration, we are confronted with Tsui’s various attempts to forcefully integrate his body into society. In The Perceptive Tsui takes on the task of identifying and verbally naming the objects that are thrown at his head. As he gets hit by pots, gloves, a television set, books, a vacuum cleaner, wine bottles and other paraphernalia, his limited ability to name the objects decreases, and we are left with a helpless but firm “I don’t know”. The more that is thrown at him, the less he can identify. In The Penetrative we see Tsui absurdly throwing himself headfirst into a range of common objects and structures, ranging from a television screen to a cow in a field. The obvious shock and pain of these acts exemplify both the imprinting and affect of the world on our bodies, and our struggle to close the representational distance between our internal and external existences. The final act of vomiting in a variety of settings in The Spontaneous responds to these borders and culminates in him leaving his most internal of traces on the world around him.
Our internal struggle to engage meaningfully with the world around us and leave our mark, as witnessed in the work of Tsui stems from the difficult relationship with our own true self, or the purest core of our being that remains largely unseen and untranslatable to most people with whom we connect or interact. Goh Ideta’s overwhelmingly sublime structure, insideout, offers a representation of this dichotomous relationship between that which we know is our purest sense of self and that which is projected onto us, layered onto us in ways that construct a superficial, yet readable, sense of our individual selves. The beauty in Ideta’s meticulous wooden construction lies in its transparency, in the clear view of the core from which light emits and casts a shadow on the wall of the space, creating another layer we acknowledge but can also permeate. In the moment of experiencing Ideta’s installation, there is quiet comfort in witnessing the strength of the inside and conceding the fragility and intricacy of the outside layers by which it would normally be concealed.
What exists behind these layers is often (and can sometimes only be) interpreted through a rigorous lens of black and white. We can convey that we are happy or disappointed but the true reasons why, including the layers of memory and experience that influence the ‘why’, are only graspable with extended and often impossible explanation. Mike Marshall’s minimal video work Exploring a Small Canyon conveys the complexity of the most simple of concepts with which we must deal regularly and imperceptibly. Standing in a small canyon, the artist yells out “Yes”, which returns in an expected echo. Eventually the “Yes” is countered with “No” and the two words become intertwined. The same occurs with “Hello” and “Goodbye”, and before we are aware, these basic concepts are engaged in a complex struggle that would normally remain hidden from the outside, but that we all recognise as common occurrences in our quotidian thought processes. The intensity of the simplest decisions we make is often taken for granted, and Marshall’s work literally liberates these processes and reveals the limited power of language in our noble attempt to communicate ourselves to others.
But as Massumi states: “There are uses of language that can bring that inadequation between language and experience to the fore in a way that can convey the ‘too much’ of the situation – its charge – in a way that actually fosters new experiences.”3 Belgian artist Tom Hillewaere exemplifies this unique attempt in the most delicate of ways in his installation Valse Sentimentale. Set to the haunting sound of Tchaikovsky’s Valse Sentimentale, interpreted by Clara Rockmore on the Theremin, Hillewaere’s piece offers a white balloon attached to a simple black marker on a string. Surrounded by fans, the balloon oscillates lightly across a large white surface upon which the balloon traces simple lines as it traverses the space. As we watch the movements of the balloon, we soon become aware that we easily invest in its quiet communication on paper and the balloon is soon personified as we wait anxiously for its next stroke of the pen. This poetic expression, one of the forms of language to which Massumi refers as potentially transformative, leaves trails of existence, those small signs of our personal convictions that can be beautiful markers of our engagement with the world. In this case, the joy we feel in seeing someone’s (something’s) personal experience being left behind, marks us and goes beyond the introspective, distanced approach to the aesthetic moment.
Our personal narratives are built by the moments that affect us and the memories we carry with us thanks to the intensity of experiences. Affect connects us to other people and other places. It heightens our sense of belonging. Investing in something, believing in a moment, however short it may be, and the lingering consequences of these moments, form our core belief systems and affect the potential of all subsequent moments of our lives. And as Massumi proposes: “Maybe if we can take little, practical, experimental, strategic measures to expand our emotional register, or limber up our thinking, we can access more of our potential at each step, have more of it actually available. Having more potentials available intensifies our life.”4 And these critical instances of deeply experiencing an experience commit us to the moment, asserting a sense of belonging in the present and a strong feeling of connection to the potential of the next.
1 Mary Zournazi, Navigating Movements: An Interview with Brian Massumi , 2003,
21 C Magazine. Retrieved 8 June 2006, from www.21cmagazine.com/issue2/massumi.html
My drawings look spontaneous but are not.
For each project I draw 2–3 note-books. In each notebook I do 150 drawings. Out of 150, I select 30 to be transferred onto the wall. From the 60 new drawings 5 will enter the repertoire. The repertoire drawings are the drawings that always fit the universal stuff. Everybody will understand them, like them, rely on them. I re-draw them for new circumstances. Redrawing new drawings. Sometimes they constitute the majority (if the situation is not challenging enough, I do not have time or I’m implying too lazy). Other times they create the structure for new images to be taken in. The repertoire drawings are my stabile factor. The rest will go away as the stories that generate them go away. Some of the drawing I did is incomprehensible to me now. I forgot the plot, I forgot the names. I don’t know what all is about.
A new show will generate 20% of the next show, and so on. Permanent black marker, white chalk, delicate pencil, floor, walls, ceilings, windows, newspapers. ... I keep moving drawings from one context to another. Same images different audience. A new wall drawing to be made here, another to be repainted there. Lyon on, Paris gone. Goodbye Lisbon, welcome Santiago de Chile. The repertoire is vague and virtual. Fresh drawings enter, old drawings fade away. A sort of vocabulary of the memory.
If I can remember I talk.