Still Afraid of All of You MFA class of 2017 with Liesbeth Bik, Bernd Krauß, and Katarina Zdjelar

PZI MFA Studios

Rotterdam, 22 May 2017

Liesbeth Bik, Katarina Zdjelar, and Bernd Krauß in conversation with 
Connie Butler, Tor Jonsson, Ash Kilmartin, Nicholas Riis, Erika Roux, Viktor Timofeev, Angelica Falkeling, Anni Puolakka, Eothen Stearn, and Daniel Tuomey, in more or less the order stated above, on: producing space, relationships, bodies, conditions for practice, responsibility, collaboration, improvisation, and material.

Edited by: Nathalie Hartjes, director Showroom MAMA.

PZI MFA Graduation Ceremony

Connie: Can you close the door?

Eothen: It feels like the first day of the year [laughs].

Connie: Yeah [laughs].

Dan: I’m still afraid of all of you.

[group laughs]

Viktor: That’s a good starting point.

Tor: We wanted to talk about shaping space, and having to move from the courtyard to the project room seems a natural way to introduce this. The number of people, the activity, such as moving away from the sound of the truck, all these things help to make the space.

Ash: It’s about how much attention we want to pay to one another.

Liesbeth: We’re discussing the question of “How do spaces produce particular subjectivities?” That is such a broad question! To answer it we should link it to friendships, relationships, improvisation, and trust. Spaces do not miraculously emerge by themselves: they are always designed by architects, urban planners, or others. But even then, you still have the performance, let’s say how they plan the movement of bodies (or citizens) in relation to that space. Spaces can only exist if there are relationships between people who circulate within those spaces. Friendships and relationships are really important in producing space, otherwise the spaces are not being produced at all. Then it’s just space.

Tor: How might that apply to the MFA course? We meet in here or outside, in a café for example. There aren’t any workshops at the Piet. Well, there are studios, but it’s not like Willem de Kooning [Academy, Piet Zwart’s parent institution], so it becomes very clear that space making here depends on relationships and conversations, rather than [workshop] skills.

Liesbeth: You work together, you eat together, you hang out together on an almost daily basis, right? You have to cope with each other space-wise and personality-wise, for example, one person likes to cook something, while another can’t stand the smell. It really has an impact. I bet the mundane, everyday stuff actually plays a big part in the experience of space for you, no?

Ash: That shared experience means not just thinking about how to make space for your studio mate in your studio, but also how to make space for other people’s work in a radio show or publication, and of course how to make space for the viewer in an exhibition. The question of who you make something for, and how you invite them into the work, has been a constant question for me during the past two years. How do you make space for them and how do you want that space to feel?

Liesbeth: Without being able to speak for them, right? The space we have during assessments and studio visits is in some way a counterfeited, artificial space. It’s based on trust, a mutual understanding—a will to share—being built in a bubble, somehow. So how do these things we share in more or less intensive ways relate to the outside—to the moment of making things public?

Connie: I wonder if the degree show is a moment when the terms of that invitation change. We’ve had so much control over how we’ve managed our practices in this building, inviting people to speak to us, or to do a workshop on “Priorities.” This show is a moment where it’s not really about inviting somebody into our space, we’re just there showing stuff and people are gonna come. That’s a more conventional experience for an artist. Having had so much control over our audience, we now have to relinquish that.

Angelica: What sort of spaces do you try to create when your practice appears in public?

Tor: I have been doing art events on a more person-to-person basis, such as music workshops, or organizing a painting show. Then that relationship itself forms the white cube. The television studio we did in Stockholm served a different kind of attention. I really enjoyed forming space in that sense, like with the radio show. The open day is really about the bubble meeting the outside.

Liesbeth: So having little or no control over the audience is the conventional process of exhibiting, but it’s also clearly an invitation, right? At least, people feel invited, whether it’s an open day, a birthday party, or perhaps a shop.

Ash: Is the distinction perhaps whether the invitation is to a long-term conversation or a one-off experience? Just by entering an exhibition, you have an expectation of a limited time spent with the work, whereas here—in the bubble—that conversation can take shape in different forms over an extended period. Ultimately these conversations are not the things that get exhibited, their traces are.

Liesbeth: It’s one of the disadvantages of art exhibitions. I know an example of an art residency on a secluded Finnish island, which came under the leadership of a theatre person who became very, very frustrated with the focus on “working towards the opening” in the art world. This differs greatly from the practice of theatre. You have a try-out, maybe another try-out, and then you have the premiere and everybody comes and then after the premier everything changes again. Well, not everything, but there’s a lot a lot of space to change things—just think about the role of the understudy. This was fifteen years ago, and there are exhibition practices that test this condition of finality.

Angelica: Why might it be impossible to change the conditions of making?

Liesbeth: Of course it isn’t, but it’s still more the exception than the norm. That finality—it also contributes to the art object manifesting itself as a universal truth. That’s also a market concern.

Ash: Holly Pester mentioned how she really enjoyed the form of the live poetry reading, because when you read aloud, it doesn’t have to be finished. For her, a piece is finished when it’s printed. In an exhibition, I feel I have a responsibility to present the audience with something considered and finalised. But this rubs against my feeling that “This is not the real thing, the next one’s going to be the real one! This is just a try-out!” So how do you balance that responsibility to “finish” something?

Liesbeth: Hm-hm. Maybe we should just define finished differently. The moment other insights come to a finished thing, it generates a next step.

Ash: When Tor and I started doing the radio show a lot of people, including ourselves, found it easier to conceive of something for that project knowing that whatever happened was live and would not be broadcast at any other time. That unrepeatability allows a certain looseness and fun: it doesn’t matter if the thing doesn’t come off perfectly, what matters is that you do it.

Tor: As Holly Pester said, it’s finished when it’s printed. With radio, you could say it’s finished when it’s recorded and put in an archive. Allowing for change after the opening could combine both, having the certainty of the exhibition as well as the looseness.

Liesbeth: It’s great if an exhibition can be understood by its players, let’s say in a similar way to an instrument. When we exhibit, many things actually depend on forces outside ourselves. At the Gwangju Biennial, where Bernd was also exhibiting, we organised everything in a way we thought would work out and then Jos and I were called on the morning of the opening with the news that the work had disappeared. So you realise you’re not the only players. So then we just said “Okay, well let’s see if we can find it … no?” [laughs]. While I’m interested in these dynamics, it’s also challenging, right? But is what is set in motion interesting?

Anni: Connie has set up reading rooms that operate as art spaces and allow visitors to enter the assemblage, touch the objects, and to move and place their bodies within the space. Is the opportunity to touch things within your space—be they publications or furniture as sculptures—part of your current project?

Connie: Yeah, just as this creature that has no name at the moment: there’s going to be a table-top part of the show where I will be showing a publication and other objects. A table invites the possibility of taking something. A stack of publications is a cue that tells you you’re allowed to take one. So now I’m thinking about what kind of status the other objects on that table are going to have, how to negotiate what can and what can’t be moved, and how much you can control that with the cues you give.

Eothen: There are always loads of things happening at the same time, or spaces within spaces in your work. You also make text function as space. For example, in your thesis, you had an additional story in a separate space in the publication’s jacket. I am very impressed how you constantly make space within space within space.

Anni (to Ash): I see this in your sculptures as well. You somehow force viewers’ bodies to adapt to the work. In your group critique, we tried to seek positions and movements that would make us feel we were getting the most out of the work.

Ash: Yeah, I’m often aware of my own body walking down the street and seeing junk I want to pick up, like a magpie. So I find an excuse to: a) pick the object up, and b) continue its life somewhere else. And maybe I’m just a bit of a manipulative person who wants other people’s bodies to go through different registers of height, and to have to compact them in different ways to be able to see things. I haven’t quite worked out how to make the materiality [of my work] juicy enough for people to touch, to pick up.

Viktor: How do you cue someone to touch something?! I don’t ever do that! Or maybe [if I do it’s because of] a thought like, “Fuck this! I can touch this.” Unless there’s a sign or something, which ruins it, because you’re being forced and then you think, “Fuck you, I’m not going to touch it.”

Angelica: For his group critique, Tor created a situation where he built shelves and installed a desk. In terms of display, that was a moment of uncertainty. I don’t think artists who work with tactility and the sense of touch are necessarily writing signs—it depends on the mode of presentation.

Tor: I was thinking about form and interaction, and certainty. With a stack of books, you know you can probably pick one up. If you go to a theatre, you sit down and look towards the stage. What do you do in an installation? Do you go inside it? Do you lie on it? There’s not the same level of certainty.

Ash: But Viktor, you answer the question about participation and social space in two really distinct ways. For example, in the listening events you’ve been holding since we started, which are very generous and very open, everybody comes around and listens in the dark to the same album at the same time. Almost in contrast, in your virtual reality (VR) environment, you demand that the viewer plunge in with their whole body.

Bernd: These are overlapping spaces; the space where you are invited to prolong your practice and the space where you invite the audience. If there is authority present, it’s a hope for prolonging. The institution promises continuation. And I think that’s a guarantee when, how can I not? I trust the Gwangju people to find my bloody sculpture. Each occasion is a particular economy, in which it’s important to think about who will guarantee the prolongation of my practice, under which conditions, but in a way in which I don’t trust hope too much. That’s the thing. I hope my sculpture is still there [group laughs].

We have a congregational space, that’s the church—that’s not the church [group laughs]—it’s the Piet Zwart. And with that invitation you suddenly don’t have to care about your audience any more. There is a promise that our space, this institution, has an audience. That’s a promise of attention. Yes? [turns to Viktor] Viktor, there is no promise. Viktor has to do everything by himself [group laughs]. No, but this is important! Attention is one of the biggest currencies in our cultural industry. I believe a lot of problems can be understood through the non-fulfilment of attention. For example, they take the sculpture away, or nobody comes, or people just come to drink. The institution comes up with social promises to cover that clash, it involves the artistic understanding of the continuation of the practice. The body becomes a kind of Mother Promise that enters into that space, that can be dealt with as a currency: it’s the form of payment. Without the body, the whole currency doesn’t work. But then the question becomes: so if that’s the body of the audience what are the other bodies in that economy? It’s the body of the artist that becomes part of the work. It’s the projected body, yeah? The body of the community I speak to: I make art for you people outside. And then there’s a body that is maybe fragmented, taken apart, the forms. The body is the material.

Liesbeth: There’s a collaborative body too, I would say.

Bernd: That would be the fourth, then, where I see Angelica.

Liesbeth: Or the instigated.

Bernd: Yeah, the body as the place of practice as the instigator.

PZI MFA Classes of 2017 and 2018 in Venice

Katarina: So there have been terms like place, space, and maybe non-space emerging as something that was very physical, that touches upon materiality, and the materiality of the social, of social constructions but also the work itself, no? So we talk about the distribution of attention, where I imagine the provocation of practice actually happens. This brings me to another word that I didn’t hear mentioned, which is “site”: when space or social context or work become a site. A place that is charged and perhaps is conditional for all these complex ways of being together, for making work and play.

Nicholas: For me, this relates to a solo show in a gallery last year. At first I believed it to be very much a non-space, white walls, but then you realise the work of fifty people has hung on these walls before yours. And another show will follow yours.

Katarina: Do you feel there is a certain sense of genealogy in the work? Does it open up this question with the choices you make, when you make or show the work, does it bring an entire family history …

Angelica: Can you sense that in the space as well? Materially? Not only via “I can feel the artists who stood here before me.” But also materially, what are the tastes and interests?

Nicholas: Of the others? Hm, you’re quite aware of what the others are doing and that definitely influences you. But that’s also a good thing. It means being part of a community without talking. I really like that. So I give a nod to someone else through material: “Look, now I’m working with wax, what do you think?”

Katarina: It’s a question of representation, no? How much of your work is given to somebody else—not to a gallery in particular. Of the various galleries I’ve worked with, I stuck with the one I feel represents my ethics or attitude best. The gallery supports (the production of) the work in a way that supports my practice in the long term. To me, that representation has to be an extension of my practice. It’s always about meaningful relationships between a gallerist and an artist, or an institution and an artist. And an institution is often a person who moves from one institution to another, so it’s about having long-lasting relationships with particular people.

Viktor: Can I state my ideal situation here, just for the record? I would ideally like to work with a gallery that gives me—something like health insurance, or a salary-based exchange. I know that there is a gallery “bleep bleep”—I’m not going to mention which [group laughs]—that basically had to do this because they were making a lot of money with a lot of young artists who were all spending the money on drugs and things, and it was rapidly putting the gallery in a position where half of those artists would not be around in five years’ time. So then they said: “We’re not going to give you this money right away.” They would deal with it in a way that would—I guess what you are saying—promote a long-term relationship.

Katerina: Yeah.

Viktor: Rather than saying “here’s your hundred grand at once.”

Katarina: It comes down to a question of need. This exists alongside your wants, and that goes for art education as well. It’s not about what you want, but what you need to sustain a practice.

Anni: But that boils down to particular practical needs. Making certain works public requires special conditions, or facilities, which you must have yourself, or live up to. You have to consider particular display formats, or if a work has already been shown in that exact place before.

Bernd: It’s the industry, it’s the cinema, it’s the sculptor, it’s the artist. I find it problematic if these practical issues are always made the responsibility of the other. Can’t you locate that in your practice? How could you locate it? What would you call the territory where these decisions are made?

Nicholas: To me, it’s about how much I can show work, or when I can show work again.

Angelica: So quantity?

Bernd: So it’s just a question of attention?

Nicholas: Yeah, I guess.

Eothen: But Nicolas, you told me the other day you were frustrated because you get asked for old works, and you want to develop themes—or make other things. Those requests for a particular original [work] and [being asked to] live up to an expectation, make you into this performing …

Nicholas: Performing a brand.

Eothen: Performing yourself, yeah. It’s a form of branding.

Katarina: But nothing is set in stone when you are invited, right? Even if you are presented with a contract. It really is necessary to create a dialogical space if you want to nurture your practice. Practice has to have life and it can only have life if flow is enabled. If there is not a certain sense of flexibility, then it means the relationship is not meaningful.

Angelica: We are now projecting things very far from the everyday reality of most artists who graduate. My practice doesn’t exist on the basis of invitations. Almost everything on my CV is things that I asked to do on my own or with others. Idylllimbor, which was mentioned earlier, is a good example. What conditions do you already have? It comes back to a question of what kind of space you want to create, and that’s the first step. Part of these conditions would be language. During my thesis supervising with Steve Rushton, we talked about finding your own terms, inventing your own dictionary while borrowing from others as an ecology of conversation. A good example where friendship, art, education, social, professional, and thinking practice interlaced with contracts would be MFK—Malmö Free University for Women. This was a DIY space ran by Lisa Nyberg and Johanna Gustavsson from 2006­­­­–11. It seems they understood the importance of establishing formal agreements between each other when they put their individual practice aside for the first two years. Each year they renegotiated the conditions they both needed to sustain themselves, depending on time, energy, money, love, etc. And such a structure might help you understand when it’s a good time to finish, right?

Tor: As Katarina said, you set up the word “site,” which I wrote down incorrectly at first, because I thought you meant eyesight. That’s interesting, because in my understanding, in politics you say optics for negotiating territory. I like that analogy: what you literally see will be different, depending on the conditions of the “site/sight.”

Anni: That makes me think about the conditions for involving other people in your works—what kind of relationships do you enter into and how do you make them constructive for all parties? I’m thinking about, for example, Erika when she asks other people to appear in her videos and they might have questions for her such as: “How are you going to use this material?” and: “What’s going to happen with the finished video? And when is it going to happen?” I often found that people are quite relaxed about it but sometimes …

Eothen: Anni shot me acting in a video last year, right—and now I just want to know [laughs]: “Can I just see this thing? I’m in it! Show it to me!”

Anni: Yes, no, but it’s not ready!

[group laughs]

Anni: Yeah, so these expectations can be a constructive force that makes you finish the work. I feel like the work needs to be ready one day, not only for myself, but because other people are involved.

Erika: To me it’s important that the people I film trust me and don’t ask too much during the process … and I am very thankful to them for this. I really need them to have no expectations, because my work is experimental and intuitive. The chances are that what I am shooting doesn’t result in anything. Or that the shots themselves are really bad. And this is hard to negotiate because you ask a lot from them and they arrange a lot for me. I count on people to host me, or to arrange participants, even if I’m not sure the project will turn into something concrete. The process itself is meaningful to me, but if they expect to be featured they may be disappointed. I know I am asking them a big favour. Ethically I find the issue of if there is a fair exchange of investment very challenging, more problematic than the matter of how to represent them. It is about actual experience, relationships, exchange. This is maybe even more important to me than the meanings the work can carry, although these two things are always strongly connected. In general, the works I find most meaningful are those where the shooting becomes an interesting experience for the participants.

Angelica (to Anni): What do you think about responsibility in relation to this?

Anni: I believe it’s often about constant communication—about saying what you want and asking and listening to what other people want. Because as Erika said, plans often change and what comes out in the end might be very different to the initial idea. So I agree with her that it’s important to be clear about it and, yeah, keep communicating. I mean, many of us invite others into our practice in different ways and thus have different situations of responsibility in respect of other people who are involved. This applies to you too, Connie: you made that publication with writing by the Piet Zwart student body and I remember feeling really excited and curious about it coming out.

Eothen: I don’t really mind about the video not being ready yet.

Angelica: No, no, I’m just asking because I know you have another way of doing this, like when you collected all the group’s CVs and they became a song. It’s just different strategies.

Eothen (to Anni): I guess if there were actors involved, the relationship may have been more formalized with some kind of agreement, but now we’re in a friendship situation.

Bernd: But what do you think the videotape says? Isn’t there a responsibility to the material you have invested in?

Eothen: Anni’s process and my own are so different, so it’s hard to compare. I make a lot of stuff with my hands. You see the process unfolding, the editing is visible and it’s also quite physical. Angelica is referring to the work I did for Vivian [Sky Rehberg]’s seminar, which looked into autonomy. I collected people’s CVs containing a mixture of menial jobs they’ve done during their lives, in combination with their art CVs. I was looking into language and professionalization, and then I burnt them all.

Connie: We burnt them together.

Eothen: We burnt them together! Yeah, it was only last week. It’s still pretty fresh [group laughs].

Connie: A fresh burning.

Eothen: I saw this as a way to look into how knowledge is validated and under which terms. Why and how we value some things over others. On a separate note, I was thinking about acknowledgement in terms of dedication. Maybe we should take a look at Tor’s work, at how he dedicated certain pages to certain people—that was Kate, Ash, and was it Will Holder? So, you made your own terms and credited the people in your work, which gave it a really nice weight. Who was the fourth person? I’ve forgotten.

Tor: Lucrezia.

Anni: And your work links to that as well, Angelica.

Connie: It’s as if you’re exposing your intellectual neighbourhood or artistic community.

Angelica: Well, it was prompted by an event when I was a very fresh art student. I made the mistake of thinking out loud in front of a teacher that I was alone in doing “this thing.” The next day that teacher gave me a whole PowerPoint on the “artistry of enlargement” [laughing]. But it included a local artist whom I could talk with. Thinking takes place with the people you are surrounded by. Art making and writing is part of this, and it includes a lot of conversations. It takes time. I find it interesting to formulate answers to questions that stay with you and to see questions as invitations that sometimes take time to reply to. I sometimes relate to it in public through performances, videos, or writing, but it is not necessarily visible for anyone except me. But then the work can be a nice way to get back in touch with the dialogue.

Anni: Are you always in touch with the artists, or do you sometimes just …

Angelica: Most of the time I am, but there is a fine line when I also play with some of the content in the form of gossip.

Documentation ‘Priorities: The Talk Show,’ 2016

Anni: What about that project, Connie showed it to me, Alex Martinis Roe’s proposal for letter writing?

ConnieRepublic of Letters. Yeah.

Anni: If you think about post-Piet Zwart life … and how we might be scattered across different countries or continents. We won’t have the infrastructure of a school, which supports our practices directly and by providing time(tables) and space for us to work, close to each other and in an enabling way. An important part of this is that we have different kinds of discussions, some of them more and some less formal, focused, or moderated. So, I felt that letter writing could be a way to keep in touch and continue exchanging ideas and worries and whatever. And a way to keep reflecting on each other’s work and practice.

Katarina (to Eothen): You made this a very material point in your thesis, you seemed occupied with establishing particular proximities in relation to others who are leaving, but also friends and the departed.

Eothen: I’m glad that resonated, thanks Katarina. In my thesis I wrote a sequence of containers, which evolved out of a diary recorded during a period of one month. At the time I was thinking a lot about what the narrative of one body could be. Where it begins and ends. Is it the people around us who make up our narrative? I became fascinated with Céline Condorelli’s writing on friendship, and how she claims that as political territory. I began questioning how we form our friendships, kinships and or with lovers. Whose narratives do I inhabit? Who inhabits mine? Also, I ask myself how text interrupts and influences our physical bodies and transforms our thoughts into actions. I take friendship seriously as a political act. It is a relationship that I can use to generate work or think about politics that exist within everyday transactions.

For my thesis, I also invited ten women to read my words out loud, which co-existed with other female writers who often speak about embodiment. And then an amazing thing happened when I invited people from the school to read the texts out loud. I could really hear them, those other women whom I had been researching deeply. Our existences met on the page.

Katarina: Can you speculate a little bit more about the politics of friendship as a strategy for participation in a kind of power structure?

Eothen: I think of groups of women who enable one another, and empower each other through necessary support. How so often friendship is an invisible entity that prevails through all aspects of life, gives confidence and actually saves individuals. In how smaller relations can relate to larger contexts. It’s being together and how that can be mobilized, or it’s how things can be put into a flow. Yeah.

Ash: I think part of the politics of it is acknowledging what contributes to how you are perceived as an artist or individual, acknowledging so many practices that become part of your own. In an art system that seems to prefer the contractual form of individual practice—because that’s very understandable and very easy to promote—a lot of the input from outside gets lost. You challenged this by offering your thesis with the words of others.

Eothen: Bottom-up politics and non-hierarchical systems are important here. I became interested in questions around relatability and difference. Is my loneliness the same as your loneliness, or my joy, etc., and how a person is filled with other people’s voices constantly, and how you channel them all the time [pauses]. I’ve taken over.

[The whole group is laughing]

We’re all here with you.

Panharmonicon Audio (01:19:36) Featuring voices of Sophie Bates, Shraddha Borawake, Katharina Cameron, Marta Hryniuk, Johanna Kotlaris, Kari Robertson, Erika Roux and Jessica Timmins.

Angelica (to Viktor and Nicholas): There is a whole different scope involved if we look at your practices. Do you feel you have things in common with Viktor, in terms of your studio practice?

Nicholas: Well, I am fascinated that Viktor seems to have switched entirely to painting, after doing all this VR.

Viktor: This is about figuring out how to make work that you want to make, versus the things that you actually enjoy doing. The process of making some things is just very fun, but then I doubt their existence in the world. What’s the value of anything … at the end of the day it feels nice to have an object that’s physical, that I’ve had a really good time making, instead of spending months on a project that I feel quite good about when it’s finally finished but I’ve had a really terrible time making. I guess I just want to have fun doing this if it’s the thing I’m sacrificing my life for.

Nicholas: Totally agree, I want to be able to really love what I do. But I want to balance it with rigorous, critical attention. In these two years I figured it’s a matter of lifestyle. I did a lot of video before I came here, just sitting in front of the computer for ten hours a day. It’s not the life I want in the end. There is that. Somehow, I think of relevance. Does this concern you, you doing these paintings now and on the other side VR? Do you think of relevance, to others or to culture?

Viktor: Yeah, I dunno, that’s a really tricky thing because relevance is something that can change. In six months you can think “wow, this isn’t relevant to me (or anybody else) anymore.” I guess it’s more important to maintain an urgency of creation, that it’s okay to interrupt your trajectory because you’re pulled toward something that might not be relevant but really interesting.

Nicholas: During these years at the Piet Zwart, I realized I was trying really hard to be relevant before. I was stressing about it and now I’m just really enjoying making what I make. If I can just somehow continue to do that, and with a lot innovation. Something will come out of that, instead of trying so hard to, you know …

Ash: Do you mean you want to be relevant to yourself, rather than some projected audience?

Nicholas: Yeah, but I always wonder if I’m making something related back to culture or am I just, you know …

Dan: I relate to what you’re saying about enjoying painting. One of the big things I’ve learned and come to terms with during these two years is creating a life I enjoy, but also folding my interactions with the world and what I do into my practice. While collaborating, I feel much more comfortable and free to make projections of a better world. I think the collaborative works are often more fun for other people and that they create more enjoyable situations. And then when I return to myself I feel like I have to deal with this chore again. This fucking guy who doesn’t go away! [someone laughs] And I’ve learned to better engage with that as a problem: “Well, I’m not going away.” So while the work has a responsibility to an audience and to the world, I also have the responsibility of dealing with the fact that one of the things in the world is that this guy doesn’t go away.

Anni: It’s easy to end up in your own head when you work by yourself, but if you collaborate, you have to be able to articulate what you want to do …

Dan: I feel the exact opposite.

Eothen: Really?

Dan: When I collaborate, this thing always happens where we start and someone says “we should do this,” and I think “yeah!” and no one ever stops to explain, but there is a collective “this is probably a good idea” feeling building up as things get thrown in. Whereas when I am by myself I’m like …

Eothen: But Dan, you use characters a lot in this way, when you are working alone. You create these relations between fictional and non-fictional characters and they are maybe other guys that you can reveal things about.

Dan: My mantra for last summer, when I was making the show in Dublin was “cheat on yourself.”

Eothen: Cheat on yourself? [laughs]

Dan: Yeah, like: what are the relationships that I already have within myself and how can I be unfaithful to them, disrupt or change them through the work? And I guess that is a way of dealing with this problem person who’s always there.

Connie: There have been quite a few encounters during the two-year programme that have challenged me to rethink my accountability, such as Vivian’s seminar on artistic welfare, Alex Martinis Roe’s two workshops, Nana [Adusei-Poku]’s approach to accountability and positioning, and Katarina’s earlier points about actually being very discerning about the relationships and the infrastructure you create in your practice. I’ve understood that I need to look for strategies for how you can actually incorporate your ethics into the infrastructure when you put yourself in situations or are working with people. What I mean is, rather than making your politics your subject matter directly—which can be more attention-grabbing in the short term, where people can go: “Oh [clicks fingers] you’re the one who does that political thing”—in the longer term you want that approach to run through your decisions from the ground up. So, you start thinking about how you actually want to live, as Viktor and Nick were saying, about spending ten hours a day in front of a computer, or becoming caught up in the immediate concerns of branding or relevance or something like that. If those are the actions you are practicing, then that becomes your practice.

Viktor: Collaboration may allow you to step away from the burden of your own history, right? Like when I make gifts for people, for my mum or whoever. I make a drawing or something, and it’s always free of that, right? And then I end up doing the best things and I think, why can’t I channel this?

Dan: I once tried to write about this, about all the people who own works of mine that I’ve given as gifts. Something about love, and how they’re somewhat unburdened things because they’re usually a “real” thing. For example, I gave my dad a lamp that I made. But when I tried to write I realized that there’s nothing to write about, because those people still have those things and I still love them. And that situation has its own integrity.

Ash: Thinking of the gift works I’ve made reminds me of something I learned from Bernd on our Stockholm journey: how much “not art” has to happen, before a “real” artwork can happen. And that makes me think of the role of performance and improvisation in our group. Anni, Eo, and Angelica doing Dear Fear seemed to be an improvisational structure that allowed you to collaborate on stuff you didn’t feel comfortable doing, or wouldn’t do in another situation.

Anni: It says a lot, to me at least, because fear and embarrassment play a strong role in making art for me. They are a type of navigational tool to dig where it hurts, because there’s something there, a bit like when you go to the dentist. Pushing yourself onto the stage and taking decisions spontaneously in front of a public forces me to trust in how my body and mind operate. When what they do is not predetermined I can’t, in that sense, play safe. So, we created a decision making structure, but we tried to minimize decisions beforehand.

Angelica: Yes, and to collage things live and see what happens without knowing how they will relate to each other, but instead to be with one another. We usually do costumes and makeup together, as a preparatory gathering. We know how long we will be on stage, and usually there is some sort of sound in the background, or we pick a text that one of us is gonna read. It’s as if part of our own individual practices also become part of it.

Eothen: To me it’s really scary, but rewarding as well.

Angelica: In Athens, we took part in an improvisation workshop with dancers and poets and we realized afterwards that all three of us had just been terrified the whole time! To recover we talked about it for a long time, which prompted the Dear Fear constellation.

Dan: I wonder if you could say anything about how you arrive at characters and figures in your improvisations?

Eothen: It’s like an accompaniment to our practice. These embodied states, eh, I dunno how to describe this, you were very sick once, weren’t you? And Angelica was drunk one time. And I was very anxious [laughs]. So, it was like these kind of characters we were …

Anni: Amplifying the states we were already in?

Angelica: Clothing is a medium I work with, as a language and carrier of stories on its own terms. By wearing things on your body you can easily move between situations. If you carry your props with you it creates space to decide when to perform as part of an improvizational structure.

Eothen: It also kind of emerged through the Michael Portnoy comedy workshop, where we were forced to do these five-minute body … you remember them? They were like these body … they were scary, right?!

Viktor: It was horrible.

Eothen: Doing something with your body that sort of portrayed some element of humour. It’s like slapstick comedy.

Connie: There wasn’t really any attempt in that particular workshop to do anything to stop us being terrified. It’s like the terror was part of the …

Ash: The structure [laughs].

Connie: … the strategy!

Anni: Pedagogy!

[group laughs]

Anni (to Erika): Do you find improvization an appropriate word for making videos in the way you do? In an unconventional or non-industrial way, trusting the sensation and the people you’ve invited to the shoot?

Erika: Yes, I guess a lot of my work is about improvizing. From the content that the work will eventually carry, to the shoot being mostly unscripted, to the method of performing in which the participants (I wouldn’t call them actors) are acting, or not. It’s a matter of using spontaneity and intuition to reveal meaning and new questions. I just find it very odd to invent stories from my own imagination, or to put my own words into someone’s else mouth. The honesty of all the participants, and not controlling what will be said or left out, is much more interesting. And my work is about finding ways to frame these improvisations, to direct them. And then in the edit I offer my own understanding of what happened during that particular moment.

Dan: And I felt you also spoke, in a slightly Portnoy-ish way, about persuading people to take actions they might not be comfortable with in the beginning, but that you have a hunch that they will like the result.

Anni: They secretly want it.

Erika: But I don’t know! I wish I was able to reassure or give more directions to people I film, or work with people keen to perform, professional actors. At the same time, it’s these uncertainties that interest me.

Eothen: Angelica, does your work with costumes relate to this matter of being given a certain stage or staging?

Angelica: Part of my practice is an everyday practice of dressing, planned or unplanned. Some clothes will later end up in the studio, where the activity of wearing them beforehand is a way to sense and to get to know them, and to try to figure out where and when they can be suitable as part of a performance or in a video. Like a live collage.

Connie: What? Collage …?

Angelica: Where will the materiality end up in terms of context and content? I don’t know. It’s like a composition. On stage in a performance, or in front of the camera, the clothes become costumes, and when that has happened it is often impossible for me to wear them as everyday clothing afterwards. As if they find their place in relation to other materials, such as sound or movements. So, there are also moments when they’re sort of bouncing around as a kind of intermission. This maybe relates to a feminist art practice, or maybe more to thinking about events from a queer point of view and the politics of narration of bodies, happenings, and events. Does a performance change clothing into costume, and therefore change the work? And the status of intermission is something that has the stage as the centre without that traditional centre of attention, but still with attention, I guess.

Eothen: Did you curate your outfit today? [laughter]

Anni: Connie and Dan, you also work with clothes. Do you consider the activity of wearing part of your practice?

Ash: The T-shirts, jackets, and the scarves.

Connie: The scarves?

Anni: [laughter] Or do you call them something else?

Connie: I’ve never really thought about the silk scarves as costumes or even … clothes. I was thinking about them as a distributable form of image, that sort of alludes to different locations and situations.

Eothen: That sounds like experimental publishing.

Connie: Expanded publishing! [group laughs]

Dan: Or what about your painted jacket?

Connie: (hushed) Oh, yeah … [group laughs] I completely didn’t think about this. I don’t know if I can talk about this! The jacket was painted with a protest slogan in a way that was quite meticulous and not necessarily how you cobble together a poster or a placard for a protest. I was trying to figure out different spaces where those ideas could be. It’s quite an expensive leather jacket [laughter]. But I haven’t actually worn it. Does that make it an art object? Does it have the status of sculpture? I don’t think I actually know how to activate it beyond that at the moment. That’s why it’s stuck in the studio and hasn’t really gone anywhere.

Eothen: So what translates between the status of an art object or the idea of a costume wardrobe? For example, I have a cloak that I wore for a performance and now it has just sat there for couple of months.

Dan: The wooden things I make, when they have holes in them, I often call them costumes. I like that it doesn’t have anything to do with distribution: you arrive at the costume and the costume is already the stage. But then when you said wardrobe, I sometimes think of it like getting inside the wardrobe, the structure that holds the clothes then becomes the clothes.

Eothen: And what about the candles?

Dan: Um, I like them because they are performers, in a way. A candle can burn for a couple of hours and I don’t have to be there. It starts as one thing, which is a sculpture with a shape, and then it leaves a mess, which is another thing. They’re a way for me to approach volume, thoughts about three-dimensional volume rather than accretions of planes. And atmosphere obviously.

Eothen: The morphing element is really powerful. Anni deals with this in human-animal relations. How do interspecies and art making meet?

Anni: Yeah, I guess it’s about how to make art that opens up the chance for the makers and others to try to enter other perspectives and positions than our own, or those we are used to. And since it’s an impossible thing to do, it’s really more about curiosity and attempting to have a rapport with others. So different tactics I have tried include building—through costumes, choreography, etc.—characters that shapeshift from a human figure into an animal and back to human, but a different one from the first. Or going to places where others live, for example cows, and shooting video of the interaction between them and robots and having my body absorb the smell of cow excretion. Well, I just had an idea at the Idylllimbor yesterday. Because the music made me imagine other things I could perform in my project besides human bodies, and if they could be objects that were not inanimate props or props that humans animate, but yeah, I just thought about this kind of mechanical sculpture and a character, where soya milk would be poured into a latex udder that would have holes you could suck.

Dan: From the perspective of the audience, this is seeing someone sucking rather than sucking yourself. We were talking earlier about engaging bodies, about how getting someone to stand up or crouch down isn’t the only way to engage an audience’s body. Nicholas, your works are very tempting but I don’t know how to sit on them or deal with them. There’s also something bodily about a visceral reaction, the creation of desire or disgust.

Viktor: I confess that when I was in Nicholas’ studio and he wasn’t there, I really caressed a lot of his works.

[group laughs]

Connie: Busted!

Viktor: It felt nice. It actually was, it felt like I thought it would feel. It was really good.

Eothen: On my God!

Connie: How do you feel Nicholas?

[group laughs]

Nicholas: No, no, that’s great! Did we already mention the image? There must be a difference between the image doing this and an actual thing doing that.

Tor: It’s a different material. An image is a different object.

Nicholas: Absolutely, it depends on how you use it.

Connie: Tor should talk about this, how to understand a photograph as a material object.

Tor: Can I just … there was just a really lovely sequence of things starting, with Ash talking about how a lot of non-art has to happen for art to happen. Then you were talking about wearing things as clothing and somebody, maybe Dan talked about a wardrobe which is always a funny word to me, or this English word of a robe warden, somebody who guards the robes …

Viktor: [laughs] Wow! I never thought about it like that!

Tor: [laughs] And I’m thinking about that in relation to what we spoke about in terms of contracts. You could discern the ability to guard the robes so to say, or to hold open the door for an encounter. Because we are describing various kinds of encounters, getting into things which resonate with the listening event, and finally wearing these things as clothes, or as practice …

Angelica: But can you speak about images or materiality?

Tor: I don’t think that photographs are indexical. So, if you take a picture of a bottle with the intent of communicating its bottle-ness, a straight up picture won’t do it, because that’s not how photography works. And that’s what Roland Barthes wrote about, that’s what punctum is. For example, he asks: “Where do I recognize my mother? Not when she’s 45, not when she’s 25, I recognize her in this photograph when she’s six. It’s so long before I was even born, but there’s my mother.” So, he talks about the sting of how to read images, not indexically but to find the punctum. And you have to define the materiality of the photographs in order to decode them, but they’re very difficult to decode.

Nicholas: But then where do we put abstract painting in that?

Tor: Well, abstract painting is much less abstract than a photograph.

Connie: I feel like it would be really nice to have a separate conversation where Tor and Nick talk about Nick’s catalogue and Tor talks about it as photography.

Tor: Yeah, like I can really do this for far too long! [group laughs] It’s a good subject.

Dan: This question of bottle-ness and image, we talked about it during the desk installation you made. You had an index that you’d remade of the shelf in the paper factory, and the photographs of that shelf, and there was paper from that shelf on your remade shelf. And it was quite complicated. Often, when people make claims like the one you just made, it can turn into some fairly cynical statement such as: “Everything is meaningless and dead. Throw away all your images, they’re just lines on paper.” But we were grappling with …

Tor: Oh, the desk installation was like a family Christmas! Things co-existing and coming together with their very own materialities. Nicholas was talking earlier about inheritance and inheriting a space. We grappled with how the things in the desk installation relate to their index, their inheritance, how to make room for their subjectivities, a space-making which is somehow unequal, because there’s a lot of ground for misunderstanding and conflict. But maybe it’s good to facilitate that conflict somehow, yeah.


Priorities: The Talk Show was a three-day symposium and exhibition held at the Piet Zwart Institute in May 2016. It was organized by the class in place of a first-year interim show. The guest speakers were Alex Martinis Roe, Louwrien Wijers and Egon Hanfstingl, Jan Verwoert, Sofia Stevi, and Florian Cramer. The programme also included a PMS screening and the third “Two Yeahs!” radio broadcast.

For Lodgers #4 (4–16 January, 2016), the School of Missing Studies organized a seminar with reading, scriptwriting, and performance workshops, departing from the harbour as a plethora of disparate languages. Lodgers was a collaborative project organized by M HKA and AIR (Antwerp), which hosted artist initiatives on the sixth floor of the M HKA.

Stocksund Explorer was an excursion to Stockholm that took place in late 2016, during which the MFA programme developed presentations and performances for “Nobody owns me” (Mig ägern ingen by Åsa Lindeblad) at Konsthall C, and “I broke the ice and find bread” at Tensta Konsthall.

Speech Commands was a writing programme at the Piet Zwart Institute hosted by Kate Briggs and Steve Rushton.

Idylllimbor is a monthly listening event organized by Viktor Timofeev in his attic in Charlois in the south of Rotterdam. The event involves a specially prepared meal (usually mashed potatoes), a dark, light-free environment filled with pillows, and a two-hour-long curated playlist calibrated for a unique, transcendental aural experience. idylllimbor.info

Sometimes a nicer sculpture is to be able to provide a living for your family was a year-long seminar (2016–17) led by Vivian Sky Rehberg, which examined questions of aesthetic value and artistic welfare. It drew on the history of contemporary art in order to develop notions of autonomy and access in an age of economic austerity and political crisis.

PMS is a platform for watching and discussing videos and their making, organized by Anni Puolakka and Erika Roux. It operates both online and through screening events. In January 2017, PMS organized a satellite event during the International Film Festival Rotterdam: a screening of video and film works from the PZI and the Royal College of Art’s Sound and Moving Image department.

I Have Witnessed First Time Experiences is a publication of artists’ writing by PZI students and alumni, coordinated and edited by Connie Butler and launched at San Serriffe in Amsterdam in February 2017.

The Practice Of Authority was a seminar led by Alex Martinis Roe in December 2016, using her exhibition Our Future Network at Casco, Utrecht as a meeting point for artists from PZI and the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. The seminar engaged artists in practical experimentation with shifting agency within the group. The aim was to rework the politics of authority and authorship, specifically with a transgenerational feminist background.

The Art of LookingDescription, Analysis, Interpretation, Judgement? was a seminar led by Nana Adusei-Poku between January and March 2017. It discussed the dispelling of the universal through exercises in critical analysis of contemporary as well as historical artworks, in order to question the limits of our gaze. It also gave a historical perspective on how identity politics have shifted from a focus on representation in art to institutional diversity politics.

Dear Fear is a performance project by Angelica Falkeling, Anni Puolakka, and Eothen Stearn. It is based on improvisation and on not being afraid of fear when on stage.

Nomadic Reading Room is a project set up by Connie Butler in 2012 to make a claim on public space for the enjoyment and distribution of artists’ publishing in its many forms. The project now commissions artists’ writing and operates as a small press and research project on the overlap between artists’ publishing and zine culture in a fine art context.

Two Yeahs! is an ongoing online radio project initiated by Ash Kilmartin and Tor Jonsson for the PZI open day in February 2016. Each episode is conceived as a live event for a studio audience, with an open call for live or recorded material from PZI artists, friends, and strangers. The show is broadcast online and is not archived.

The improvisation workshop When I woke up, my fingernails were cut, was organized by Dimitra Aggelou, Giorgios Euthimiou, Kostas Tsioukasa, and Mary Tsoni on 8 April 2016 at Circuits and Currents, a project space of the Athens School of Fine Arts.

Devastatingly Experimental Sketch Komedy TV Ob-Pilot (DESKTOP) was a thematic project led by Michael Portnoy at the Piet Zwart Institute in October 2015.

Positions; Strategies for Artistic Accountability was a symposium concluding “The Art of Looking,” a seminar led by Nana Adusei-Poku.

The Women’s Republic of Letters was referenced by Alex Martinis Roe during “The Practice of Authority.” “A Women’s republic of letters has been in existence since the early modern period. This practice is both a form of publishing and a way of creating a network. The way of becoming a part of it is to write letters by hand to those whom you have important encounters with and to reply to any letters you receive. Correspondence is a way of inventing oneself through relation, and it is a way of creating a new language, which is independent of the institutions that usually determine what becomes public.”—Alex Martinis Roe.