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Live Coverage: "Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law" at Contour Biennale 8


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Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law

Opening Weekend Public Programme / DAI Roaming Assembly #12 at Contour Biennale 8 in Mechelen, Belgium

March 11–12, 2017

DAI’s temporary editorial office: Florencia Almirón, Alaa Abu Asad, Sara Benaglia, Luca Carboni, Clementine Edwards, Sonia Kazovsky, Wayne Lim, Ines Marita Schärer, Isabelle Sully and Wilfred Tomescu. Editor-in-chief: Federica Bueti

The Dutch Art Institute’s Roaming Assembly is pleased to present live coverage of the public program on the occasion of the opening of Contour Biennale 8. The two-day symposium will include presentations, talks, and performances by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Susanne M. Winterling, Susan Schuppli, Elizabeth A. Povinelli; Ana Torfs, Judy Radul, and Sven Lütticken; Aimar Arriola, Buenos Tiempos, Int. (Alberto García del Castillo and Marnie Slater), Grégory Castéra, Carlos Motta, and DAI students; Filipa César and Louis Henderson; Denise Ferreira da Silva; inhabitants; Michel Feher; Wendelien van Oldenborgh, and Rana Hamadeh. With moderation by Natasha Ginwala, Rachel O’Reilly, and Denise Ferreira da Silva.

See the full program and synopsis of each presentation here

*Introduction to Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law

As a system of rules constructed and enforced through institutions to regulate behaviour, negotiating legacy relations between particularity and general application, while being maintained through textual and oral interpretation, law is a space of great—if denied—aesthetic deliberation. Justice, quite differently, might be figured as an intractable entanglement of relations, intentions, affectabilities and adjustments between ever-moving, never-global, densely articulated bodies.

The law’s modernization in the colonial epoch consolidated limits for possible relations between justice and law, in its ontological set-up of male persons with base units and rights of property in contractual relation. Engendered and ethnocidally arranged through this fractal abstraction, juridical modernism foreclosed the order of land-based life and literacies. Its decrees of ‘right’ expansion continue to be built upon and innovated, while it secures and distinguishes only particular subjects, objects, and things, into investment-worthy relations.

When artists engage procedures of witnessing, testimonial production and the performativity of the trial, allegories of justice and modes of theatricality surface to haunt the past and present. These spectral zones must constantly be inspected and contested, just as ghosts must be evoked in order to deal with their unfinished legacy. Film and performance are vehicles among many that carve out alter-civilizational images and conceive legibility for eroding matters of injustice. Working from Mechelen, this co-curated programme invites artists, theorists and filmmakers to explicitly unpack the technicity and asymmetrical power of European legal infrastructure. Over two days the program examines artists’ role in challenging normative legal foundations while transforming our understanding of response-ability to double-meanings of law/lore, and tracing the inevitably formal dimensions of present day struggles.

How do ongoing planetary rebellions determined through existing value forms and categorizations, including the racial categorization of “no body / no thing” aim at legal rupture when placed before the courts, without falling into mimetic disfigurements within this very same insufficient order? What does it mean to take an eye or ear to scenes of struggle that reverberate well beyond as well as inside legal institutional terrains? How can artists’ own literacy in post-media conditions—very much at play inside the contemporary law court—make sense of possible realisms against and beyond juridical modernism’s reproduction of capitalism and its increasingly death-driven function?

The artists of Contour Biennale 8, Polyphonic Worlds: Justice as Medium, are connected through their attention to aesthetic contestations of the juridical beyond its present coding, their productive dealings with a planetary regime of impermissible evidence, and their ritualistic as well as counter-analytical engagements with an expanding, expropriated archive. The “record” here is often not data that can be positively marked up or collected in advance, but instead, what is lived while being judged to be outside of proper adjudication. To cultivate flexible imagination around these juridical-aesthetic impasses is to work through the persistent constraining of just realisms, where survival is constantly at stake. Here, justice itself becomes the medium through which we cannot avoid moving through, within and around.

Public Program Schedule:

Saturday, March 11

11:00 Mining for Ringwoodite, screening by inhabitants

11:15 Trace Environments: Sovereignty, toxicity and the littoral

Panel discussion with Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Susanne M. Winterling, Susan Schuppli, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, introduced and moderated by Natasha Ginwala

13:30 Lunch break

14:30 Performing the Trial: Re-enactment, Ritual, Remediation

Panel discussion with Ana Torfs, Judy Radul, and Sven Lütticken, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly

17:00 Council presents The Against Nature Journal

Contributions by Aimar Arriola, Buenos Tiempos, Int. (Alberto García del Castillo and Marnie Slater), Grégory Castéra, Carlos Motta, and DAI students. Design by Julie Peeters

19:30 Refracted Spaces: An Archaeology of Optics

Performance-lecture by Filipa César and Louis Henderson, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly

Sunday, March 12

11:00 Compost Archive, by Filipa César and Louis Henderson made for inhabitants

11:15 Notes Toward a Theory of Transformative Justice

Keynote lecture by Denise Ferreira da Silva, introduced and moderated by Natasha Ginwala

13:00 Lunch break

14:00 Hobby Lobby vs. The Allegory of Justice, screening by inhabitants

14:15 Deceptive Authoritarianisms: Between Artificial and Discredited Personhoods

Lecture-presentation and panel discussion with Michel Feher and inhabitants, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly

16:30 From Left to Night

Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh, introduced by Natasha Ginwala followed by a conversation with Wendelien van Oldenborgh and Denise Ferreira da Silva

18:30 Can You Make a Pet of Him Like a Bird or Put Him on a Leash For Your Girls?

Performance by Rana Hamadeh, introduced by Natasha Ginwala Venue: De Maan Theatre


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The day begins. We are kicking off the live coverage on Day One from the Holy Ghost Chapel and House in Mechelen with the screening of a short-video by inhabitants titled Mining for Ringwoodite (2016). inhabitants is an online channel for exploratory video and documentary reporting on economic, political and social questions of the day. It was launched in 2015 by the joint effort of artists Mariana Silva & Pedro Neves Marques.

In collaboration with Contour Biennale 8 inhabitants is publishing a multi-part video series exploring the subject of social justice and the curatorial premise of ‘Justice as Medium.’

Mining for Ringwoodite(2016) is a digital montage made of rotating, stone-like objects and visual patterns. Do you know what ringwoodite is? It is a mineral discovered in a meteorite in 1969, and it is inferred to be present in large quantity in the Earth’s upper mantle. Ringwoodite was named after the Australian earth scientist Ted Ringwood (1930–1993), who studied polymorphic phase transitions in the common mantle minerals olivine and pyroxene at pressures equivalent to depths as great as about 600 km.
About the video, inhabitants writes:

This episode speculates on a near future in which ringwoodite as well as rare minerals found in nearby asteroids will be the objects of a new mining economy. In this future, the earth’s deepest hydrological interior and outer space become paralleled capitalist frontiers Here’s a link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBL-0bdVESk


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Mariana Silva and Pedro Neves Marques, Beams of Cathodic Rays Shooting, 2013, HD, video, sound, dimensions variable.


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Sci fi and strange plant life help us to imagine a future law, malleable in the extreme, able to riff and improvise. The littoral may be a place but also a time, an image and an idea. Curator of Contour Biennale 8, Natasha Ginwala, cites Beatriz Santiago Muñoz in her introduction to the first panel discussion > Trace Environments: Sovereignty, toxicity and the littoral.


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inhabitants, video still,Mining for Ringwoodite, 2016

Here’s a link to their website: http://inhabitants-tv.org


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The first intervention for this morning session is by artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz on the Littoral. By referring to her video _Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/ Forces (2016), one of the two films shown in the exhibit, she speaks evocatively about the environment to describe an island that was used as a bombing range by the US Navy for sixty years, and that for the past ten years has been fighting for its decontamination.

The artist says: ‘If there is a perfect path – it is a dry river bed. Deep in the mangrove, crab fishermen wait for crabs. Lovers live in a truck nearby…No insects, ants will approach a fallen mango on the farm. The artist and her group are hungry so collect them to eat regardless, but the things don’t ripen for two weeks… Be careful as the boat slides under the bridge, watch for the fishing lines coming over the top… Many animals that have disappeared have returned, along with a strange new ecology: wild dogs, iguanas, ornamental fruits.’ About the two films, Black Beach/Horse/Camp/The Dead/Forces (2016) and Matrulla (2014) the artist writes: “I made these films in order to think with and through the people within them.”
And, for you who cannot be here with us, here’s a excerpt of the video Black Beach/…:https://vimeo.com/165326156

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Panel discussion: Trace Environments: Sovereignty, Toxicity and the Littoral

Beatriz Santiago Muñoz during her presentation


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Elizabeth A. Povinelli


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Killer presentation from Elizabeth Povinelli, who was talking about forms of life beyond the human, and what she describes as geontopower, a mode of power which operates through the regulation of the distinction between life and non/life. She spoke of a kind of "decapacitation of law and justice" in the current moment in the context of indigenous land rights. She refers to the High Court case Blue Mud Bay (2008). On 31 July 2008 Australia’s High Court decided that it was illegal for the Northern Territory Fisheries Act to allow licenses to be issued for fishing in waters that fell within the boundaries of land covered by the Aboriginal Land Rights. The Blue Mud Bay decision granted traditional owners exclusive native title rights to the intertidal zone. It means that it's the Aboriginal Land Council that is entitled to grant fishing licenses. By using this case as example, Povinelli describes a form of power, geontopower, which is becoming soggy in the space of the littoral; by trying to circumvent Indigenous coastal sovereignty, the late liberal government exposed itself to the law of the littoral.

Povinelli also addresses the failure of western epistemology to recognise and address non-human existence. However, she says that pressure is being put, as the Blue Mud Bay case demonstrates, by different human and non-human agents, to redefine what we describe as “existence” and how we see agency. According to Povinelli, two kinds of pressure are being put on Western epistemology; one has to do with the question of scale. If you scale all the way up from earth, then there is no difference between the sand and rock etc — they all make up what Povinelli describes as “the organs of the earth.” Second: The entanglement of existence. All forms of existence are inside of and outside of each other at the same time.

‘Where is the existence of the tide? The beach? That which subtends it? Is it in the sea, the sand, the chemicals that move across the water. Is it in the mangrove that sticks to our feet when we go in and come out and sticks to our feet? As we piss into the ground, the chemicals that we take for our high blood pressure?
For Povinelli, the question is not so much, where is existence?, but rather how do we get away from the political and ethical imaginary that Western discourse has developed, and that gives us discourse of autonomy, solidarity. Instead, she suggests that we think about creating something that “can hold.” For, every embankment that we create leaks on both sides.’

Povinelli is here with members of the Karrabing Film Collective. For the Contour Biennial, the collective is showing Windjarrameru, THE STEALING C*NT$ (2015), the second of a three-part film exploration of what the collective calls “Living in Intervention Times” — the condition of life during the Australian state’s neoliberal experiment on Indigenous people.
Here’s the film’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjqBuqaVWvs.
Here’s a link to Elisabeth Povinelli’s discussion of the film for e-flux Supercommunity: http://supercommunity.e-flux.com/texts/windjarrameru-the-stealing-c-nts/

Here’s EP talking further on Toxic Sovereignties in Geontopower https://vimeo.com/156853738


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Susan Schuppli presented a film and talk called _Trace Evidence._ More on this later but in the meantime, a quote and a preview of the material she's been working on: ‘Legal rights for nature objects, like forests, should be taken seriously as legal objects.’ https://vimeo.com/194153862

  Here's a short description of the argument at the heart of Schuppli 's research project _Trace of Evidence_:

Within environmental justice work, establishing the incontrovertible relationship between cause and effect has proven a difficult legal challenge. The spatial dispersal of contaminates and temporal latency of their material and biological effects, which may take years, even decades to emerge, has allowed global climate-change actors and states to operate with virtual impunity. But the nuclear isn’t like other complex, non-linear events. Despite its radical and covert nature, the unique signature and behaviour of radioactive isotopes allows its lethal traces to be tracked directly back to their source, re-connecting, in effect, the evidential links that planetary phenomena has seemingly torn asunder.

More later now :wink: :

Schuppli began the talk by outlining her interest in non-human objects that take the place of evidence within court trials and testify to historical events. She unpacked this question by using the example of a tree and a film shot by an alleged Bosnian war criminal in November 1991. The defence team submitted a home video shot by the defendant as evidence that he didn’t participate in the massacre for which he was on trial. Allegedly the video demonstrated that he was on the other side of the country. From here, Schuppli spoke of how a tree might become a forensic evidence. Are two trees identical in form? The forensic expert argued that no tree can be the same, as they are physically affected, literally, by the conditions in which they grow. For instance, even if two trees have the same DNA and have been planted alongside each other, it’s extremely unlikely that they could have the same form. Following this logic – trees should therefore be considered individuals in the face of the law. Niiiiice. [insert tree emoji blowing in the wind].


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Susan Schuppli, Trace Evidence, videostill, HD video, colour with 4-channel sound, 53 mins., 2016


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Now, artist Susanne Winterling is speaking about her ongoing research project on the phenomenon of marine bioluminescence. She links bioluminescence to “the planetary system for navigation, spiritual and emotional power.” She takes as example a new specie of toxic algae to trace the relationship between ecology, political unrests and neoliberal societies. In an associative manner, Winterling uses her intervention to reflect on motoring systems to anticipate climate hazards and focalize the many symptoms of systemic violence arising from what she calls ‘ecocide.’ She also called for the necessity of indigenous forms of knowledge to merge with Western scientific epistemology.

Here’s a recent interview with the artist:http://www.kunstkritikk.com/artikler/ten-questions-susanne-winterling/

Here’s a link to a panel discussion with Susanne Winterling, moderated by curator Natasha Ginwala on the occasion of the exhibition Shadow Scenes curated by Ginwala as part of the Cinnamon Colomboscope 2015 Festival: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjqD0OQLrlk

Susanne Winterling, Ecologies (microlevel solidarity lab), mixed media 2014

Susanne Winterling, Vertex Still, digital print on plexiglas, 2015


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Artist Ana Torfs discusses her work Anatomy (2006). The talk itself is a theatricalisation of an essay, which has been transformed into speech and footnoted by a looping slideshow. Torfs’ work is one of many contributions within the biennale - weI think here of Rana Hamadeh and Judy Radul - which work with modes of theatricalisation in relation to the law. Or, to put it another way, which take as a premise the notion of the court as theatre. From this position it comes possible to question the fiction of judicial processes themselves - something taken up earlier in the day by Susan Schuppli when she interrogated who it is that is considered as a subject in recourse to the law.

The talk focuses on Torfs’ research around the Case of the Murder of Dr. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. During her DAAD residency in 2005, Torf researched the Freiburg Military Archive for its holding of the trial in May 1919. The artist selected statements from the trial to compose “A Tragedy in Two Acts,” the literary script for her installation Anatomy.

The talk moves on to discuss the differences of the Russian and French revolution in relation to the German one. Using the case of Luxemburg and Liebknecht, Torfs demonstrates how the German Revolution merely melted in the leader and could not really make any change on a social level. The government worked to suppress the revolution in Germany using different means, such as military commands and private founders, which were instrumentalised in the murder of Luxemburg and Liebknecht.

Torfs poses the questions: How can buildings and textual records (documents) play a role of evidence? How does their materiality, in a conversational sense, pretend the role of justice taking form? This was particularly well articulated by Torfs when she outlined her difficulty in viewing the archive. She retold how some of the documents literally fell to pieces on the table. Under these conditions, how can such documents be an evidence of history, but also, in the same time, a means of erasing that same history? Torfs’ concludes the talk by drawing a connection to the anatomical theatre and the law - of which “subject dissection” is central to both.

Here’s a link a conversation that took place over e-mail in 2006 between art historian Els Roelandt and visual artist Ana Torfs, on the occasion of the first exhibition of Torfs’ installation Anatomy at daadgalerie in Berlin, and republished in the Contour Biennale 8 journal Hearings: http://hearings.contour8.be/2016/09/30/a-tragedy-in-two-acts

Ana Torfs, Anatomy, Slide photograph, 2006


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Great presentation by artist Judy Radul, who uses her time to verbalise her ongoing interest in the technologization of the courtroom. Her practice unpacks how surveillance technologies operate within the actual courtroom. Radul notes that there are several levels for considering camera in courts; from pre-testimony and courts cinematography to the framing produced by the camera’s position within the court. She underlines the significance of this through discussing the orientation and disorientation that a moving camera can provide.

Radul frames the camera as a tool which can be easily manipulated by the human operating it. This is an important note as it reveals the overarching question of Radul’s research: the contradiction between the importance of video-evidence but also its potential misuse. Radul articulates this as being the paradox of forms where the aesthetic is not considered in relation to beauty, but instead as a space for experimentation and declarations of authority.

Judy Radul, World Rehearsal Court, Installation view, 2009


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Sven Lütticken’s talked seemed to summarise key points that were brought up during the day. He mainly took up the question of personhood in relation to the theatricality of law. He pointed out that trials remake realities. He frames this as the trial as being both theatre and factory - the production of realities materialising in the process of giving evidence and the real world ramifications this may have. Essentially, he addresses the role that fiction plays in judicial arguments.

Lütticken’s inference on the natural order having recourse to the law produced a series of questions. To what extent can, say, a natural instance like a tree, have personhood in the law? This connected again to Susan Schuppli’s talk, but moved on from just proposing, to attempting to articulate the limitations of this in action. He framed this with noting that the notion of subjecthood has never been universal in relation to the law, so it is not about making it universal but contesting subjecthood altogether. As raised in one of the questions during the panel discussion, would it get to the point that a human can sue an ocean for drowning another human? This limitation to the argument seemed relatively unanswered. Can art perform or reenact the theatricality of law and use the specific speech to act or reproduce the real? Can such productions of reenactments give agency to the public?