Funded by the TURN Fund of the
German Federal Cultural Foundation
and Ernst Schering Foundation
UNTHINKING THE CHIMERA
Neuer Berliner Kunstverein, (n.b.k.)
Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc, Fayçal Baghriche, Neïl Beloufa, Lerato Shadi,
Virginia Chihota, Mounir Fatmi, Adelita Husni-Bey, Bouchra Khalili,
Mwangi Hutter, Alexandre Singh
Mathieu Kleyebe Abonnenc
“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs? Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,?in that grey vault. The sea. The sea?has locked them up. The sea is History.”
Derek Walcott, The Sea is History from Selected Poems
History with the capital H is a fire-breathing Chimera. Just like the mythological being, a totalizing and triumphant vision of History as a linear, and teleological process is not only a dangerous entity but even a wildly imaginative and implausible concept, a “fantasy of the West.”
“Unthinking a Chimera" is reminiscent of Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s same-titled chapter in "Silencing the Past"1. Trouillot argues that the ontological foundation
on which preponderant Western historical narratives were built, hardly has space for any other narratives. Picking up on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of the ‘unthinkable’, i.e. “that for which one has no adequate instruments to conceptualize (...), that which one cannot conceive within the range of possible alterna- tives, that which perverts all answers because it defies the terms under which the questions are phrased,” Trouillot offers a compass to navigate through the sea of History.
The artists in this exhibition chapter at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein confront the predominating narration of History and the construction of a single historical canon with a multiplicity of histories, giving contours and voices to those hidden positions, facts, structures, and connections that normally remain invisible and silenced. By placing a spotlight on dis- continuities, ruptures, and varying time-scales, the works offer visitors tools to “unthink the Chimera” of History. The contributions favour an archipelago of histories, personal and individual histories, where adaptation and intersection are the prevailing forces. With this chapter, the proj- ect aims at reconceiving an ontology that fosters multiple perspectives of histories that go beyond a linear genealogy, and promulgate rhizomatic concepts.
1 Trouillot, M-R: Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. 1995. P. 82
Jelili Atiku, Halida Boughriet, Em’kal Eyongakpa, Badr el Hammami / Fadma Kaddouri, Kiluanji Kia Henda, Ahmet Ögüt, Emma Wolukau-Wanambwa
Fadma Kaddouri, Kiluanji Kia Henda
Sequestration in law is the act of appropriating or seizing something from the possession of its ‘owner’. In this exhibition chapter, mainstream History is interrupted for a second, put into parentheses, and suspended. Its ownership is questioned, its crimes, its abuses and offences, are kept in check. The intention is neither to judge the iniquities of a certain non-objective historical narration nor to accuse the abuse of power exercised by the winners. To avoid the danger of becoming hostages of our own history, Sequestrating History is instead an occasion to reflect on the ‘liaison pornographique’ between power and knowledge, on the destiny of an orphan history, on the renewed contemporary and directionless recounting of past, present, and future. As historian Dipesh Chakrabarthy stresses: “E. H. Carr’s question What is History? needs to be asked again for our times. The pressure of pluralism inherent in the language and moves of minority histories has resulted in methodological and epistemological questioning of what the very business of writing history is about.”2
In his Philosophy of History, Hegel claimed that Africa was not a “historical continent” because it showed no development, no progress: it is “no historical part of the World; it has no movement or development to exhibit.”3 This exclusivist assertions continue to be referenced and proliferated in the academia and popular culture alike. Disavowing the aspiration to provide a judgment of history artists here question diverse epistemologies of history-making, researching into forgotten archives, oral traditions and bodily language.
2 Dipesh Chakrabarthy, “Minority histories, Subaltern pasts” in Postcolonial Studies, Vol 1, N.1, pp.15-29, 1998
3 Hegel, G.W.F. (1821–31), The Philosophy of History, trans. J. Jibree. New York: Dover, 1956, p.99
Neïl Beloufa, Wanuri Kahiu, Kapwani Kiwanga, Otobong Nkanga
“Histories are fictions – something made of the past – but fictions whose forms are metonymies of the present. Histories are metaphors of the past: they translate sets of events into sets of symbols. But histories are also metonymies of the present: the present has existence in and through their expression. The present – social reality, the structures of our living – has being through re-presentation of the past in coded public forms. We read or hear histories in this double way. We know in them both a present and a past.”
Greg Dening, A Poetic for Histories4
If there is a general consensus that History with a capital H cannot be re-written, as this implies an ideological rettification, then an option one is left with is to look at the history of the present and the future. As the future is known to bear the insoluble characteristic of embodying the unknown, a possible history of the future might entail mathematically extrapolating the past and present or simply constructing a future. Taking into consideration the questionable nature of historical narratives’ verisimilitudes, pre-writing histories comes in handy as an alternative possibility of narrating. This chapter looks at works that translate ideas into a fictional form of expression, and whose symbolism is emblematic to metonymies of the future. As Jacques Rancière rightly put it in The Politics of Fiction “the question of fiction contains two questions interwoven with each other. Fiction designates a certain arrangement of events. But it also designates the relation of a referential world to alternative worlds. This is not a question of a relation between the real and the imaginary.”5 Pre-writing histories is an effort to investigate the aftermath of these interwovenesses of ‘a History’ with ‘other histories’, a possibility of structuring, shifting and shaping existing narratives, the past and present into a future conditional, or at least future perfect tense.
4 Greg Dening, A Poetic for Histories, Transformations That Present the Past, page 349, 1996
5 Jacque Rancière, The Politics of Fiction, lecture held at the University of Toronto, September 27, 2013.
PERFORMING AND EMBODYING HISTORIES
(Maxim Gorki Theater)
Màrcio Carvalho, Serge Olivier Fokoua, Kapwani Kiwanga, Ato Malinda, Lerato Shadi
Serge Olivier Fokoua
“They got there because the body is a site of discourse.
And just as some cultures privilege the dissemination of information and
knowledge through writing, oral cultures of the world privilege the encoding
and decoding of precious information in the body and the expression
of these knowledges through performance.
That is why our people were able to survive spiritually
and artistically in the new World.”
Esiaba Irobi, The problem with post-colonial theory:
Re-Theorizing African Performance, Orature and Literature
in the Age of Globalization and Diaspora Studies, 2009
In concordance with the general concept of the art and research project Giving Contours to Shadows, the performance arm Performing and Embodying histories tackles performativity and performance practice in general as a medium or vehicle through which history can be articulated. Some of the questions that take centre stage within Performing and Embodying histories will focus on how history can crystalize in corporeal and non-corporeal forms of performativity. As much as historical accounts can be formulated and transmitted in written and oral forms, historical narratives can also be transmitted by incorporating events in bodily patterns, gestures, body languages and postures that are passed on upon generations. As Nigerian poet and scholar Esiaba Irobi stressed: the body is a site of discourse. The artists in this section of the project already reflect on and incorporate the embodiment and enactment of narratives within their performative practice.
Using visual, olfactory, acoustic and tactile elements, the artists will literally manifest historical, contemporary and future narratives, i.e. in an effort to understand, translate, transform and transmute these narratives in practice. The performance series is not to be considered a collateral event of the exhibition but a very central moment of reflection and expression within the project, and will happen in the course of the opening week, for a duration of three days.
WANDERING THROUGH HISTORIES
(Gemaeldegalerie and streets of Berlin)
Màrcio Carvalho, Chimurenga, Donna Kukama, Hank Willis Thomas
Hank Willis Thomas
The mere act of wandering, be it through histories or something else, is in itself a great act of endurance filled with temptations, joy, sadness and other extreme emotions. Associations with wandering range from the Old Testamental example of Moses wandering in the Wilderness with the Israelites from Sinai to Kadesh for 40 years, to contemporary understandings of flânerie as a form of leisure or freely pushing oneself to experience one’s limits.
In these extremes, the performative act of wandering has to do, on the one hand, with the act of experiencing, of using all the senses to encounter history and nature, and on the other hand wandering through histories implies a cognitive encounter with concepts and ideological constructs that have framed historical narratives. Reminiscent of Francisco Varela’s concept of the “embodied mind” , “the phenomenological approach starts from the irreducible nature of conscious experience” 6, whereby “lived experience is where we start from and where we all must link back to, like a guiding thread” 7. Michel Bitbol endorses Varela’s integration of the physical and the psychical: “Indeed, the starting point of Varela’s neurophenomenology is no abstract internal realm, but lived experience in its entirety, human life in its full depth and extent. The starting point of neurophenomenology is embodied human life, embedded in an own-body which is both seeing and seen, and is thereby inextricably connected to an environment made of alter-egos and inert objects.”
Wandering through histories is a possibility of physically and psychically linking to history through a lived experience of walking, seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling and encountering histories.
6 Varela F. J. (1996) Neurophenomenology. Journal of Consciousness Studies 3: 330–349.
7 Varela F. J. (1999a) Dasein’s brain: Phenomenology meets cognitive science. In: Aerts D. (ed.) Einstein meets Magritte. The white book. Kluwer, Dordrecht: 185–197.