Softening Time, Touching Textuality (for LB)

Naomi Collier Broms and Amalia Calderón, ‘The Witch & The Siren: Deviant Archival Cosmologies’ (2021). Photo: Temra Pavlovic

Naomi Collier Broms and Amalia Calderón, ‘The Witch & The Siren: Deviant Archival Cosmologies’ (2021). Photo: Temra Pavlovic

After a long winter that blurred into spring, the Netherlands is re-opening. Social interactions are intensifying, and museums, theatres and cultural institutions have been allowed to welcome visitors again after a six-month hiatus. In the last weeks, Amsterdam has been in an extended Art Week, stretching from the usual four days into a ten-day marathon that in many ways inaugurated the ending of lockdown measures. We at If I Can’t Dance had a full schedule through this marathon, and we thought to share with you some reflections on all that we opened up...

As other If I Can’t Dance exhibitions have closed – Giulia Damiani’s From the Volcano to the Sea: The Feminist Group Le Nemesiache in 1970s and 1980s Naples (Rongwrong, 23 October 2020–1 May 2021) and Sands Murray-Wassink’s In Good Company (Horsepower): Materials from the Gift Science Archive, 1993–present (mistral, 6 March – 23 May 2021) – another has opened, this time drawn from the newly inventorised library inside our production studio at Westerdok. Inside the Bark of the Tree, composed by If I Can’t Dance archive and research curator Anik Fournier together with assistant Naomi Collier Broms and on view through September 2022, explores the library itself, proposing it as a generative site of haptic and material encounters that grows not (only) through accumulation of new materials, but, primarily, through transmissions of meaning across bodies and via encounters with its users. Grounded in the etymology of the word ‘library’, which refers to the bark of a tree, the display furthers the notion that knowledge and meaning often emerge beyond normative discursive registers. In Tao G. Vrhovec Sambolec’s artistic research project Reading Reading and Lisa Robertson’s audio piece Disquiet, for instance, understandings of ‘legibility’ are reconfigured, drawing attention to the affective layers of the material worlds we inhabit – for Sambolec as morphology of text on a page and Robertson as sonic textures of an urban landscape. Alongside works like these that Fournier culled from our collection, the display also presents a new artist’s book, The Witch and the Siren: Deviant Archival Cosmologies, which quite literally grew out of the inventorying process. Over months of cataloguing and structuring, Collier Broms and intern Amalia Calderón became ‘composting archivists’, harvesting fragments from our holdings for their personal archives and assembling them into a publication that perpetually shape-shifts, revealing the library – and its repository – as a polymorphous body constituted by infinite worlds.

The materiality of the text and its chimeric potential for enfolding and unfolding articulations of time, movement and stories, also became a red line in Research and Performance, our most recent Radio Emma broadcast, which aired in the closing days of the Art Week. The show coupled the opening of the If I Can’t Dance library with the launch of our two new Readers: Event and Duration (edited by Susan Gibb and Becket MWN) and Social Movement (edited by Anik Fournier), sharing research outcomes from both through guest contributions by Collier Broms and Calderón, as well as Amelia Groom and M. Ty, Becket MWN and Reza Mirabi. MWN’s live reading of his Fragments figured rocks and fossils into malleable textual forms, bringing past and future into a loop of mutual definition; Groom and Ty’s reading from ‘Enduring Ornament’ offered ruminations on rust as that which threatens iron and, with it, the notion of time upon which modernity is built; and, finally, the excerpts shared from Mirabi’s Time Will Tell revisited the term rehearsal from a choreographic perspective, remembering its root in the word ‘hearse’, a garden tool that opens up the rigidity of the ground to allow for movement and the resurfacing of a revolution that is always already present.

Outside our Westerdok production studio, Sands Murray-Wassink’s collaborative ‘monumental’ eighteen-month performance, Gift Science Archive, had its final public moments in the frame of the Rijksakademie Open Studios. Unlike with In Good Company at mistral, which transformed exhibition visitors into active researchers in the artist’s archive, Murray-Wassink’s Without You I’m Nothing (Blue) at the Rijks highlighted key aspects of the artist’s working processes, namely his feminist citational practice (one could see works by Senga Nengudi and Carolee Schneemann, as well as an homage to Félix Gonzáles-Torres, Dan Graham and Adrian Piper, in the display) and his conceptual-compositional painting practice. In the hang of forty works from the ‘Working 2010s’ series, open studio visitors were able to enter into the artist’s theoretical world, where text becomes figuration and the sensuousness of language takes haptic form. The collective proposition of the broader Gift Science Archive also made an appearance when Murray-Wassink and collaborators Amalia Calderón, Megan Hoetger and Radna Rumping closed their archiving experiment with Process Event #3: COLLABORATION. How to work together?, a live-streamed lunchtime talk led by If I Can’t Dance’s Anik Fournier at the Rijks. Over the course of the discussion, the group shared insights into their respective roles in the project, as well as the feminist demand at the core of their Gift Science Archive: a shared performance of history-making.

Such a demand echoed the at once affective and infrastructural call of the Neapolitan feminist group Le Nemsiache to ‘build a city with a women dimension’ – a phrase some of you may remember as the mantra in Giulia Damiani’s presentation in our live-stream series Mythologies/Methodologies: Approaching Feminist Collectivities of the 1970s and 1980s, which inaugurated the Edition VIII – Ritual and Display final programme last fall and is now available online. Across a month of weekly sessions, Damiani and other series presenters Ros Murray, Chandra Frank and Gloria Wekker shared insights into the performance-based, feminist methodological strategies through which each has softened the boundaries of what we understand as ‘historical time’ and, in the process, allowed herself to touch and be touched by the material and psychic moments of the archival encounter.

As we move towards the closing activities of our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display programme, which will unfold this coming fall, it feels important to keep in our minds – and on our fingertips – these strategies of softening and touching that carry through our edition-under-pandemic-conditions, as well as through the If I Can’t Dance projects produced across the 2021 Amsterdam Art Week as our little corner of the world has with trepidation, if not also with hope, began to open back up.

Team If I Can’t Dance

Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé

First published: Thursday 8 July 2021