Blue Moon halo on 31 October 2020, Amsterdam, de Wallen. Seen at about 1am, after a ‘rose-zombie’ escaped from the Palazzo della Malinconia. Photo by René Boer.
After many days of sun, winter is at the door in Amsterdam. A cold wind is blowing, pushing away the leaves, with their brilliant hues and warm glow. Since our last letter, the leaves have indeed reddened and fallen. With them, corona cases have once again been spiking in the Netherlands, as well as in most of all our neighbouring countries. Different measures have been implemented again, making the future even more uncertain; and, as the situation drags on, we are feeling the effects (and affects) of normalization that become possible and, indeed, somewhat necessary even in these exceptional times. The United States has a new president and vice-president elect – the first woman of colour in this office in the country – leaving cautious hopes for the future there and elsewhere around the world. Such room for optimism, however, still seems quite distant, as the gross inequities exacerbated by the pandemic surge along with the virus itself.
Amidst all of this, and after months of preparations and re-schedulings, the opening activities of our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display final programme at last arrived. In this past month, we didn’t manage to write to you our usual letter, but you may have heard from us nonetheless.
On 24 October we inaugurated the exhibition From the Volcano to the Sea. The Feminist Group Le Nemesiache in 1970s and 1980s Naples curated by our 2019–20 Research Fellow Giulia Damiani at the Amsterdam art space Rongwrong. The exhibition is the result of seven years of research and engagement between Damiani and the group. The exhibition presents the group’s multifaceted body of work for the first time, gathering materials from the different homes of Le Nemesiache’s members, including those of Silvana Campese (Medea), Fausta Base, Conni Capobianco (Nausicaa), Bruna Felletti (Karma) and Maria Matteucci (Marea). We are immensely grateful to each of them for having trusted Damiani, Rongwrong and If I Can’t Dance with their precious memories. Following a trip to Naples where Damiani collected these materials together, she joined us here in Amsterdam. This was exactly the day that the current partial lockdown measures first came into effect. The install period that followed was, thus, a delicate choreography of proximity and distance, and the ritual of the vernissage was reimagined as a slow-time long-stretch unfolding over three days rather than three hours. In these three days the brief and informal sociality of chit-chats and toasts was transformed into an almost durational performance of intimacy. In fact, focussed energy and deep conversations are still permeating the experience of visiting the show – a pleasant side-effect of the situation we are living in.
This kind of protracted event temporality coupled with explorations of feminist legacies is how we could perhaps also describe the other opening activity of our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display final programme, Mythologies / Methodologies. Approaching Feminist Collectivies from the 1970s and 1980s. Originally conceived as a one-day live-stream symposium, Mythologies/Methodologies turned into a four-part live-stream series. The decision came just a few days before the symposium’s planned date, when COVID-19 numbers far surpassed the 5,000 per day expected by the Dutch government. With this in our minds, we decided to forego a gathering of around 30 people for an 8-hour day and, instead, to embark on a different journey: a month of live-stream sessions, each gathering together no more than four people and spread out across four Saturday afternoons. As our Director, Frédérique Bergholtz, aptly put it in her introduction to the final session: ‘being prompted by the pandemic to take this series of presentations online but [nevertheless] insisting on presenting them live, we wanted to try to stay close to this sense/configuration of “keeping company with”.’ And so, we did just that, broadcasting each of the sessions from our office at Westerdok, attempting to really root our online participants in our space in Amsterdam, and, for the first session, also in Damiani’s exhibition, From the Volcano to the Sea, at Rongwrong. The series was an experiment, and, as with all experiments, it had its risks.
The complexities of transmission – one of the key thematics of the Mythologies / Methodologies series – ended up being mirrored to an extent in the practical questions of connectivity in the live-stream. If you followed the series, you likely felt the pas de deux of connections and disconnections at play. At times, we felt at the mercy of this dance. At other times, we found our tempo and danced along. The making of the series taught us a lot about the performativity of technological bodies and transmitters, and the urgency of integrating these infrastructures into our ways of thinking about ‘making’ events. More importantly, though, the powerful contributions of the series participants, including Damiani, Chandra Frank, Ros Murray, Elize Mazadiego and Gloria Wekker, offered a much needed outlet to talk about the power of storytelling, the politics of archive access and the critical role of methodological positionality in feminist and queer historical praxis. As Wekker described, we should not underestimate the importance of ‘kitchen tables and fancy cigars’ for intergenerational solidarity-building, locally and transnationally.
And one last note on transmission, this one in relation to Maquillage as Meditation, the project of our current research commission and colleague Sara Giannini. In the late hours of 31 October, following the second session of Mythologies / Methodologies and on a night that in many traditions opens the portal with the other world, Giannini sent out a call via our newsletter. In it, she attempted to establish contact with a ghost that she has been chasing for a long time, Carmelo Bene. That night, a Blue Moon shined over the Earth, its halos amplifying the reverberations of Giannini’s call. Transmission here was taken up as an intentionally elusive framework, casting ‘togetherness’ as an action that binds us across different modes of presence. Sara hopes that you found the Palazzo della Malinconia that night.
More transmissions will come your way soon: next month the Mythologies / Methodologies series will be available to revisit vis-à-vis recordings of each session; and, also next month, the final presentation of another of our current research commissions will begin to unfold, this time over the audio airwaves. Beginning 16 December, Derrais Carter will present Black Revelry Quiet Storm, a three-part radio broadcast series, which weaves music from genres of jazz, soul and R&B together with Carter’s readings of Black critical theory and his own personal memories. With Carter’s project, our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display final programme continues, and we continue our explorations into the power of storytelling and the modes of gathering engendered by the technologies of transmission that constitute life today.
Team If I Can’t Dance
Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé
First published: Thursday 26 November 2020
Featured researcher: Giulia Damiani