Pauline Curnier Jardin, ‘Qu'un sang impury’, Screening, Not Yet Shebang, Amsterdam, 26 October 2019. Photo: Marcel de Buck
As the summer slowly comes to a close, we have been reflecting on the precarity of these last months. We begin today with a note of gratitude to the Amsterdam Fund for the Arts (AFK), which has generously extended our subsidy for the next four years and ensured that we can continue working with our communities here in the city. It has been a particularly difficult time for arts landscapes – we are acutely aware of this and of the privilege we have in having secured this support. Indeed, we began to write these letters in March, during the lockdown, in what felt like a moment of temporal spasm. As the pandemic proceeded to surface around the world and across, our words continued to flow. In some ways, they have been a gesture toward holding onto our present condition as present, rejecting the all-too-familiar attempts to make it a past or an ordered series of waves upon which we can gaze with critical distance. In them – and in the words you are reading now – we have maintained a commitment to bearing witness to the magmatic matter of these times. As the number of infections continues to rise worldwide (Netherlands included) and the brutal asymmetries that mark livability therein continue to unfold, it becomes ever clearer that this is not past nor “post-.” The experience is ongoing, multiform, and exacerbated by concurrent movements and tragedies to such an extent that the meaningfulness of this event that we call the corona pandemic is yet to be grasped. Its contours are, we think, as yet undefinable.
From within the condition of being ‘in the middle of,’ we have been attempting to score our time outside, or alongside, the parcelized chronopolitics of “a before and an after.” In particular, and following the lead of the artists and researchers we work and have worked with, we have been thinking quite a bit about what constitutes an event. Does it have edges? If so, where are they? When are they?
Through the notions of ‘event’ and ‘duration’, the question of time and its edges was at the center of the If I Can’t Dance Edition VI biennial programme (2015-2016). To accompany this open enquiry, three sister reading groups in Amsterdam, Toronto, and São Paulo engaged in a practice of collective reading in and around these notions with articles drawn from the fields of performance studies, anthropology, sociology, literature, philosophy, and the visual arts. As with last month, here we are excited to offer you a peek into those readings, which are currently being compiled into our Edition VI Reader by editors Susan Gibb (former If I Can’t Dance curator) and Becket MWN (artist and writer). To extend and continue the practice of text circulation and collective reading, Gibb and MWN have selected three pieces for us to share with you, including: “A Time Apart” by artist Paul Chan; an excerpt from queer theorist Elizabeth Freeman’s Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories; and Octavia Butler’s short story “Speech Sounds.” From Chan’s careful articulation of the differences between the potentialities embedded in Kairos versus the clockwork of Chronos, to Freeman’s unpacking of the heteronormativity of linear time and her propositions toward a “deviant [queer] chronopolitics” of pleasure, the cluster of readings closes with the eerily resonant “Speech Sounds.” In this science fiction story, Butler imagines the aftermath of a pandemic that has left the human population without words to speak or write. Instead, we have only simple bodily gestures. From this space of gestures, the landscapes she sketched out transport the reader into the space of a “post- '' that is not an end or an after but, instead, a diffraction of an existing order.
Each of these texts has caused us at If I Can’t Dance to pause and take stock of how we are making sense of these times. Indeed, in Butler and “Speech Sounds,” as well as in the texts from Chan and Freeman, we have found kindred spirits, attuned to the same relational forces and counter-disciplinary approaches to time that we have taken up. We have also felt a perhaps unexpected resonance with the work of one of our current artist commissions, artist and filmmaker Pauline Curnier Jardin. In the research for her project with If I Can’t Dance, Curnier Jardin has over the last years been attending festivals devoted to the veneration of saints and martyrs from across Catholic lore. In opposition to the disciplined time of a before and an after, the footage collected by Curnier Jardin has recorded the mélange of biopolitical forces that continue to inform the cyclical, atavic rituals enacted around Southern Europe for hundreds of years. In these major cathartic events, pagan and Catholic influences meet to celebrate the mystery of life.
As Chan’s “A Time Apart” reminds us, the pre-Platonic connotation of Kairos designated “a vital or lethal place in the body, a place that demands special protection. It is, in a sense, the place where mortality resides.” According to Chan, art is that contradictory space. As such, it is “the simple reminder of all that has been lost, how close it all is from disappearing, and what it takes to go on.” Curnier Jardin’s images of life and death, and their excessive, almost anachronistic, celebrations, disclose this place of fragility, desire, melancholy and pleasure. In this 2020 of cancelations and postponements, the embodied time that these processions and gatherings have kept alive has come to a halt, making the dialectics between art and disappearance all the more resonant and reverberating.
In closing this communiqué, we would like to share some reliable relief funds and crowdfunding campaigns for the city and the people of Beirut after the disastrous explosion on August 4 that caused at least 177 deaths, left over 6.000 people injured and has terribly devastated much of the city, displacing something like 300.000 individuals.
Lebanese Red Cross
Beirut Art Fund, organized by the non-profit association Mophradat
Assabil Association’s crowdfunding campaign for the reconstruction of Beirut municipal public libraries
Anti-Racism Movement Lebanon, emergency relief for migrant workers in Lebanon
Offre Joie Association’s crowdfunding campaign for the reconstruction
Beirut Welfare, a funding campaign for the displaced people of Beirut organized by the Hope/Al Amal Institute for The Disabled which supports disabled people and disabled farmers
Stichting Friends of ALPHA (Lebanese Association for Human promotion and Literacy), fundraiser for the reconstruction emergency, donation can be made to a Dutch bank account.
Baytna Baytak, for the relocation of displaced individuals .
Team If I Can’t Dance
Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé
First published: Friday 25 August 2020
Featured artist: Pauline Curnier Jardin