(Un)Commoning Voices & (Non)Communal Bodies – Exhibition
Zbyněk Baladrán, Željka Blakšić, Marco Godoy, Mikhail Karikis, Tali Keren, Rory Pilgrim, Jack Tan, and Katarina Zdjelar
Exhibition opening: Friday 26 April 6.30 pm
Opening hours: Thursdays to Saturdays 3 pm – 6 pm
26 April – 2 June 2019
(Un)Commoning Voices & (Non)Communal Bodies is a series of workshops, performances, and an exhibition, interrogating the relationship between artistic practices and protest movements via the performative scores of collective bodies and voices. The interdisciplinary program was inspired by the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp which was active from 1981 to 2000. It was established by women to protest nuclear weapons being sited near Reading at RAF Greenham Common.
In an era of democratic decay, we look again towards the ‘commons’ as the ubiquitous space where the multitude of voices and bodies can appear as performative ensembles to protest hegemonic power structures and negotiate the differences between “language – an abstract socializing apparatus – and our embodied, sensual experiences” (1). The ‘common(s)’ in art – the general interrelatedness of human realities (2), the ‘performative (un)common(s)’ – generative destructive dynamics (3), and the ‘(under)common(s)’ – the less socially visible aspects of organization and interaction (4) all offer different ways of working and being together that constitute the social condition as the conflictual realm of a reimagined ‘us’. We are interested in this ‘us’ as the moment when we turn our bodies towards each other and listen collectively. We believe that by doing this we complicate an easy understanding of power and agency and create spaces for negotiating nuanced differences.
We therefore ask; how do we participate in reiterative collective acts and what political impact (if any) is gained? What do hegemonic scores look and feel like, and what would alternative or activist scores sound like? How can voices and bodies undermine fear and invite empathy? Can the repetition of darkness ever create light? How do we, as individual subjects, participate in these collective acts, or resist them?
- Brandon LaBelle. Lexicon of the Mouth: Poetics and Politics of Voice and the Oral Imaginary, 2014. Bloomsbury Press.
- (2) Bojana Cvejić, Bojana Kunst and Stefan Hölscher. COMMONS / UNDERCOMMONS in art, education, work. TkH no. 23 Journal for Performing Arts Theory, 2016. Published by TkH (Walking Theory)
- (3) Alice Lagaay and Michael Lorber. Destruction in the Performative, 2012, Rodopi: Amsterdam & New York.
- (4) Fred Moten and Stefano Harney. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study, 2013. Wivenhoe: New York & Port Watson.
Other participating artists, speakers, and writers:
Susan Gibb, Marco Godoy, Chto Delat/Dmitry Vilensky, Noam Inbar and Nir Shauloff, Jamila Johnson-Small/Last Yearz Interesting Negro and Fernanda Muñoz-Newsome, Mikhail Karikis, Tali Keren, André Lepecki, Florian Malzacher, Public Movement, Michal Oppenheim, Rory Pilgrim, Yvonne Rainer, Edgar Schmitz, Jack Tan, Nina Wakeford, Catherine Wood, Sara Wookey and Katarina Zdjelar.
Curated by Maayan Sheleff and Sarah Spies.
Supported by Artis Grant Programme and Reading Buses.
Tali Keren – The Great Seal (2017)
Interactive Multi Media Installation
Courtesy of Il Collection, Luxemburg
The Great Seal is an immersive installation that investigates the intersection between art, propaganda, religion, and politics. The piece invites viewers to step onto a fictitious stage at the annual Washington D.C. Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and assume the role of keynote speaker. CUFI mobilizes millions of American Evangelical conservatives who view Jewish rule over the land of Israel/Palestine as a precondition for Christ’s Second Coming and the imminent Battle of Armageddon. By using a presidential teleprompter and a karaoke “sing-along” machine, participants are invited to perform speeches compiled from those delivered at past CUFI summits. By assuming the role of the preacher, the participants are confronted with the power of public speaking.
Throughout the interactive performance, visitors stand on a rug emblazoned with the design for the original Great Seal of the United States, proposed by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in 1776 and subsequently rejected by Congress. Franklin and Jefferson’s Great Seal reimagines the biblical story of the Israelites exodus from Egypt with America framed as the “New Zion.” The myths linking the United States and Israel as two settler colonial projects are thus embodied in the seal, raising thoughts about the movement of people through history, it’s role in creating empires and nations but also in creating counter waves of refugees, and of the relation between the power of the voice to freedom of movement or the lack thereof.
The work was shot and completed in 2015 and 2016, before Brexit and the Trump presidency, yet it sheds a light on the power of populism and propaganda and their role in the development of nationalistic sentiments and isolationism.
Tali Keren is a media artist ( born in Jerusalem, lives and works in Brooklyn, NY). Her works focus on the formation of ideology, violence, and political identity. Keren’s recent solo exhibitions include ‘The Great Seal’ at Eyebeam, New York and at the Center for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, and ‘Heat Signature’ at Ludlow 38, MINI Goethe Institute, New York. She exhibited and performed her work in venues such as; Anthology Film Archives, New York; Museum of Moving Image, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Socrates Sculpture Park, New York; Times Square, New York; the Jewish Museum, New York; Museum Quartier, Vienna; Kunsthal Charlottenborg, Copenhagen; The Israeli Center for Digital Art, Holon; Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. She is currently an artist in residence at The International Studio and Curatorial Program (ISCP). Keren received her B.F.A. from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Jerusalem (2009) and earned an MFA from Columbia University, New York (2016).
Marco Godoy – Krolowa, 2019
Single Channel HD video, 4:56 mins
The work was commissioned for this exhibition and was shot during a workshop for Reading-based choristers and singers. The participants were invited via an open call to sing a new version of the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen”, in the Polish language. By shooting the process along with its inherent failures, Godoy was interested in the re-examination of national symbols and sentiments through the act of translation. The Polish language was chosen as Polish immigrants were the last community to immigrate into the UK after Poland has joined the UN, and one of the communities who were often negatively targeted by Brexit endorsers. Godoy is performing what he calls “hacking” the national anthem, an opposite process of what is usually expected from an immigrant- the identification with national symbols and rules foreign to him/her. The act of translation here, when performed by British singers, involves an embodiment of the experience of non- belonging through language, via an estrangement of something well known and taken for granted.
The work is part of Godoys continuous research into the voice and its inherent physical aspects. He believes that what emerges in a choir’s performance can have a transformative capacity for participants and audiences, a counterpower to the way nations and religions have used the human voice throughout history as part of their systems of legitimization. Godoys works attempt to deconstruct current political affairs as a scenography, a ‘theatre of the present’ in which we participate. Rituals of validation through which authority is legitimized are exposed through the use of displacement and camouflage.
Marco Godoy is based in Madrid. He has recently exhibited his work at Matadero Madrid, Centre Georges Pompidou, Liverpool Biennial, Stedelijk Museum ’s-Hertogenbosch, Edinburgh Art Festival, Dallas Museum of Contemporary Art, Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art, Lugar a Dudas in Cali, Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, Palais de Tokyo in Paris, and Whitechapel Gallery in London. He has an MA from the RCA, London, where he lived and worked for several years.
Rory Pilgrim – Software Garden (2018)
Single channel HD Video, 50 minutes
Courtesy of Andriesse-Eyck Gallery
Nurtured over 2 years of collaboration, workshops, and live concerts, artist and musician Rory Pilgrim presents his debut music video album Software Garden. Unfolding over 11 tracks, Software Garden cultivates influences of pop, electronic and techno with lush string and choral arrangements to explore how a music album can be used to bring people together.
Responding to recent complex global shifts that highlight increasing polarities between people that have led to increasing nationalism and desire for isolationism, Software Garden asks how we meet from both behind and beyond our screens from across generations and different backgrounds. As digital and robotic technologies change the fabric of human systems, is it possible to create spaces that unite the human, ecological and technological with basic principles of empathy, care, and kindness?
At the heart of the album is a series of close collaborations in which the contributors orbit and make contact with one another from across different generations. Like a central sun, Software Garden is narrated by British poet and disability advocate whose words reflect on her experience of catastrophic reduced access to care and her wider desires for robotic and digital technologies both personally and globally. Interweaving with the voices of others, Kallend’s words further unfold as lyrics through collaborations with others including singer Robyn Haddon, singer/rapper Daisy Rodrigues and dancer, artist and choreographer Casper-Malte Augusta.
Rory Pilgrim (born in Bristol, lives and works in Rotterdam and Isle of Portland). Centered on emancipatory concerns, Pilgrim’s work aims to challenge the very nature of how we come together, speak, listen and strive for social change through sharing and voicing personal experience. Strongly influenced by the origins of activist, feminist and socially engaged art, Pilgrim works collaboratively with others through different methods of dialogue, collaboration, and workshops. Creating connections between activism, spirituality, music, technology, and community, Rory works in a wide range of media including sound, songwriting, film, music video and live performance. Recent Solo Shows include: Between Bridges, Berlin (2019) Andriesse-Eyck Gallery, Amsterdam NL (2018), South London Gallery (2018), Rowing, London (2017), Plymouth Art Centre, Plymouth (2017), Flat Time House, London (2016), Site Gallery, Sheffield (2016) and sic! Raum für Kunst, Luzern CH (2014).
Jack Tan – Hearings (2016)
Multi Media installation
Live performance at the exhibition opening at 7.30 pm
Performers: Kate Smith and Nuno Veiga
Hearings is an installation comprising 8 graphic scores and audio recordings. It is part of a wider collaborative project between the artist and the Community Justice Centre(CJC) called ‘Voices from the Courts’, including an artists’ residency at the State and Family Courts of Singapore. During his residency, Tan listened to the soundscape of the courts, paying particular attention to the experience of the litigant-in-person, and documented what he heard as drawings. The artist then turned the drawings into graphic scores which have been interpreted and performed by the ACJC Alumni Choir.
For this exhibition, the scores are shown on notation stands alongside their respective short musical compositions sang by the choir. The audience can follow their route and listen to what comes together to a sort of litigative opera. The scores and musical pieces relate to emotional states, moments of anticipation, the rhythm, and sounds of judicial language and the movements and halts of bureaucratic forms and processes, and attempt to deconstruct and humanise this ordering machine.
Jack Tan is based in London. He uses law, social norms and customs as a way of making art. He creates performances, performatives, sculpture, video and participatory projects that highlight the rules that guide human behaviour. Jack trained as a lawyer and worked in civil rights NGOs before becoming an artist. Recent projects include Karaoke Court (2014-ongoing) a singing dispute resolution process, Four Legs Good (2018), a revival of the medieval animal trials for Compass Festival Leeds; his Singapore Biennale presentation Voices From The Courts examining the vocality of the State Courts of Singapore (2016), Law’s Imagination (2016) a curatorial residency at Arebyte exploring legal aesthetics, his solo exhibition How to do things with rules (2015) at the ICA Singapore, and Closure (2012), a year-long residency and exhibition at the UK Department for Health looking at the liquidation of their social work quango. Jack was the 2017/18 Inaugural Art & Politics Fellow at the Dept of Politics and International Relations, Goldsmiths College, and has also taught sculpture at the Royal College of Art and University of Brighton.
Željka Blakšić AKA Gita Blak: WHISPER – TALK – SING – SCREAM (2012-2013)
Single-channel video, 8 min
The work was commissioned by BLOK (curatorial collective) for the Urban Festival 2013 – Festival of Contemporary Arts in Public Space, Zagreb
Exploring the ways in which class and gender divisions in the society can be articulated by means of music, the artist collaborates with local activists, independent journalists, and artists in order to compose protest songs disclosing the minority positions in the society. She endorses various aspects of the same struggle – including disfranchised workers, young people who have lost their right to education, and persons who do not fit the heterosexual normativity – using music for new waves of mobilization and for expanding the horizon of political struggle. In a performance using the form of child-play and children’s song, girls aged 10-12 perform in public space, breaking the common stereotypes according to which children are unable to grasp what goes on in their surrounding and girls should conform to the traditionally female (pre)occupations, linked to the private, never to the public sphere. The artistic procedure in which the weak – children, moreover girls – represent the weak, manifested in the choice of subject, form, and the performers, subverts the usual positions, tackling the issues of the established yet often invisible mechanisms of dominant ideology to which the youngest members of the society are permanently exposed. The performance also has an outspoken educational character, since the preparation process involves girls with a different view of the society, in which various forms of repression are publicly condemned. In this way, the artist promotes equality and encourages public participation in making decisions concerning public issues.
Željka Blakšić AKA Gita Blak ( Zagreb) is an interdisciplinary artist who works with performance, 16mm film, video and installation. Her practice is often inspired by the sub-culture of the 1990s-era in Croatia, when punk, anarcho and eco movements were having a renewal. Resistance manifested itself through the cooperation and gathering of different alternative social groups. This experimental environment became a university of rebellion, giving voice to new expressions of democracy, justice, common values and free speech. She explores the politics of lived time through the perspective of particular societal conditions. Blakšić has exhibited extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe. Her recent performances and exhibitions were presented at Filmwerkstatt Düsseldorf (Germany), Framer Framed (Amsterdam), Museum of Modern Art (New York), Herzliya Museum (Israel), Gallery Augusta (Helsinki), Los Sures Museum (New York), Recess (New York), AIR Gallery (New York), Offenbachplatz, (Cologne), BRIC Contemporary Art Gallery (New York) and many others. She was a recipient of the 2017 Residency Unlimited & National Endowment for the Arts Award for NYC based artist, 2016 Recess Session Residency and Via Art Fund Grant; 2014/15 AIR Gallery Fellowship in New York, 2012 The District Kunst und Kulturförderung Studio Award in Berlin; 2010 Paula Rhodes Memorial Award in New York City etc. Most recently she was a resident at Fondazione Pistoletto in Biella, Italy and MuseumsQuartier in Vienna, Austria. Currently she is working on a project at Alserkal Avenue in Dubai, UAE.
Zbyněk Baladrán – To Be Framed (2016)
Single Channel HD video, 8 min
The short film was shot on the premises of a former military base, not far removed from the building of Open hand Open space, where the exhibition takes place. In it, children are seen playing in a way which implies hidden violence. They speak and read words that appear to have been written for them by someone else, asking questions involving representation and visibility.
The work asks how it is possible to organise life without repeating and reproducing violence in a violent world. Is violence simply a part of dialectic cycle of life and thus it’s impossible to avoid? In a reflexive look on artistic practices of participation, the artist looks at his own role in reproducing violence through seemingly naive actions such as the articulation of his ideas. He is examining to what extent we use behavioural patterns of symbolic violence as part of our speech, when we try to represent someone who is misrepresented or unheard.
Zbyněk Baladrán ( Prague) is an author, artist, curator and exhibition architect. In his works he is investigating territories that are occupied by that part of civilization, which we call Western. Using methodology similar to those used by the ethnographer, the anthropologist and the sociologist, this post-humanist “archaeologist” is digging up the remnants of the not-so-distant past, looking particularly at societal systems in relation to the heritage of the political left. He studied art history in the Philosophy Department of the Charles University (Univerzita Karlova) and in the studios for Visual Communication, Painting and New Media at the Academy of Fine Arts, both in Prague. In 2001 he co-founded Display, a space for contemporary art, which in 2007 was transformed into Tranzitdisplay. Together with Vit Havránek he curated “Monument to Transformation”, a three-year long research project on the social and political transformations. He was a member of the curatorial team (through tranzit.org) of Manifesta 8 in Murcia, Spain (2010). He took part in the 11th Lyon Biennial, in Manifesta 5 in Donostia / San Sebastian (2004), in the 56th La Biennale di Venezia (2013) and in MoMA (2015). He is represented by the Jocelyn Wolff Gallery in Paris, Gandy Gallery in Bratislava and Hunt Kastner in Prague.
Mikhail Karikis – No Ordinary Protest (2018)
Single Channel HD video, 7.48 min
Commissioned by MIMA, the Whitechapel Gallery and Film and Video Umbrella
Can sound mobilise socio-political and ecological change? Working across film, sound and performance, Greek-British artist Mikhail Karikis adopts the children’s science fiction novel ‘The Iron Woman’ (1993) by British writer Ted Hughes (1930–98) as an eco-feminist parable in which communal listening and noise-making become tools to transform the world.
In this story, a female superhero gifts children with a mysterious power: a noise. Transmitted by touch, it resonates with the collective howl of creatures affected by the pollution of the planet. As the children take matters into their own hands, they infiltrate factories and ‘infect’ adults with their demand for immediate action. Karikis engaged over the course of a year with a group of seven-year-olds from a primary school in East London to create a film that reflects on the environmental themes of the book and imagines the enigmatic noise that assists the protagonists’ protest. Improvising with vocalisations, musical instruments and toys, the group conduct cymatic experiments whereby a sound or vocal utterance takes on unique visual forms. Creating landscapes that transform with sound vibrations, the results echo the power to mobilise change through ‘noise’.
Mikhail Karikis is a Greek-British artist based in London and Lisbon. His work embraces moving image, sound and other media to create immersive audio-visual installations and performances that emerge from his long-standing interest in the voice as a material and a socio-political agent. Developing large-scale projects in collaboration with different communities, over the past decade, Karikis has focused on legacies of post-industrialisation, human labour and the use of natural resources. Often featuring groups that have been geographically or socially marginalised, his works highlight alternative models of human existence, solidarity and action.
Karikis was shortlisted for the 2016 Jarman Award and the DAIWA Art Prize 2015. Group exhibitions include Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2016, IN; British Art Show 8, UK (2015-2017); 19th Biennale of Sydney, AU (2014); Mediacity Seoul, Seoul, KR (2014); 2nd Aichi Triennale, Nagoya, JP (2013); Manifesta 9, BE (2012); Danish Pavilion 54th Venice Biennale, IT (2011). Solo exhibitions include Mikhail Karikis, MORI Art Museum, Tokyo, JP (2019); Children of Unquiet, Fondazione Sandretto re Rebaudengo, Torino, IT (2019); No Ordinary Protest, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK (2018-2019); Love Is the Institution of Revolution, Casino Luxembourg Forum d’art Contemporain, LU (2017).
Katarina Zdjelar – The Perfect Sound (2009)
Single Channel video, 14.30
In The Perfect Sound a grey-haired man is chanting monosyllables, over and over, and a young man mimicking him simultaneously. What we see is an accent removal class for an immigrant conducted by a speech therapist in Birmingham (UK), a city which is paradoxically known for its strong accent. In the UK language and speech reveal not only one’s status as a foreigner, but also the last remaining, almost impenetrable traces of the class system. Zdjelar looks at the phenomenon of cultural integration through the erasure of difference in pronunciation and the production of neutrality; obtaining the (voice) mask, which allows a misfit to shift between different modes of appearances and enables him or her to blend into the environment–to become unnoticeable. As Mladen Dolar notes in his text on this work in the catalogue for Zdjelar’s participation at the Venice Biennale: “It inevitably brings to mind the tribulations of Eliza Doolittle and the haughtiness of Professor Higgins, transposed into an aseptic environment of a rarefied abstract space, with the colourful Covent Garden flower girl now replaced by a host of nameless immigrants.”
Katarina Zdjelar (born in Belgrade, lives and works in Rotterdam) is an artist whose artistic practice encompasses video and sound works, publications and the creation of platforms for speculation and exchange. Zdjelar represented Serbia at the 53rd Venice Biennale and has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions internationally at such venues as Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam; Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo; Frieze Foundation, London; Casino Luxembourg; The Chelsea Art Museum New York; De Appel, Amsterdam; Hartware Medien Kunstverein, Dortmund; Museum of Contemporary Art MACBA Barcelona; MCOB Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade; Museum Sztuki Lodz and Powerhouse, Toronto. Most recently she was awarded the Dolf Henkes Prize 2017 and was won the Kinderprijs for the Dutch Prix de Rome Award 2017. Zdjelar teaches internationally and is a core tutor at Piet Zwart Institute (MA Fine Art), WdKA Rotterdam and MAR (Master Artistic Research) at the KABK, Den Hague; she is also a board member of Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam.