Higher than History
Public event and film, Gent, 2021. Produced by 019, stunt with FMX Forever, flag by Anthony Ngoya, texts by Lindah Leah Nyirenda and Harun Morrison, supported by SIGN Groningen, Young Friends of the S.M.A.K, Camuse, Citadel Park and the Flemish government.
For the figures in these statues, staying still is hard work.**
These two naked white men were sculpted to hold a street light.**
Electricity – power – was a symbol of socialism, **
and the sculptor, Julius-Pierre Van Biesbroeck made work for the socialist movement. **
When the sculpture was completed in 1902 Van Biesbroeck received a message:**
A mistake had been made! A light post was infrastructure not art,**
and was not eligible for the public funds for monuments.**
Yet if it was holding a flag**
he could be paid more than the regular cost of a lamp post.**
Did the people behind the scenes conspire to replace a symbol of socialism with a
symbol of colonialism. **
Julius-Pierre Van Biesbroeck was furious but said yes. **
He needed the money.**
In 2009, the Standard Newspaper said the sculpture represented the planting of the Belgian flag in the Congo **
The two figures in this statue throw their weight in opposite directions.**
If one of them were removed the statue might fly off sideways.**
When we tell the next generation what the statue means maybe it’s better to lie?**
Like courts and news outlets, Wikipedia rates the reliability of frequently used sources. They are normally looked up one at a time, but here are all of them, for your perusal, mapped according to some popular metaphors for truth. NB: The tongue taste map model is now disputed by scientists, but fiction is needed to depict facts.Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reliable_sources/Perennial_sources
A stage adaption of a Herman Melville story, where performers – some who are professional spokespeople and coaches – sell the book’s ideas about new types of social relations, the way they might sell a new type of software.
The Confidence Man: His Masquerade was Herman Melville’s final novel. Maybe it was bad sales, disappointing reviews, but there’s a pattern in these late works, the novels adding up to a deep suspicion of storytelling. Causality, the cornerstone of narrative, never ended well for the men in Melville. Now it was 1857, public moods floated down from the markets and the xenophobic ‘Know Nothing’ party was emerging. Melville’s plan, was to plot a novel from fluctuations in market weather and the relations they produced between people. The moods are relayed through ghostly reappearing archetypes, stories never experienced first hand, maybe not even believed, nonetheless they carry us along.
The Trial II
Speculative Facts Book
The Department of Speculative Facts connects two seemingly contradictory approaches: Speculation which attempts to think and act beyond existing knowledge and structures, and fact checkers in search for a solid consensus on which our reality can be built. When stretching knowledge and speculating with fiction, what sense of responsibility is needed in times of democratized opinions and fake news? Learning from the other SF—Science Fiction—we think of speculation through facts, and facts through speculation, to situate ‘truth’ culturally.
The backbone of this book is an e-mail exchange between two fact checkers from the New York Times Magazine, which we handed over to artists to re-write, re-perform, and re-design. The publication includes the original letters, workshop scripts, as well as additional texts by philosophers, journalists, writers, and artists looking at new social contracts, with which we can anchor ourselves in the present.
“A fact, at its base, is a kind of social contract.”
** Or so concluded one contemporary expert on facts—professional fact checker Alex Carp.
** Reviewing factual claims by journalists on a daily basis for The New York Times Magazine,
** he saw cracks in the once-held belief in facts, as an objective, rock-solid ground on which our political, scientific and social reality can be built.
** To tease out this alleged social nature of facts, we asked Carp and his colleague Jamie Fisher to discuss their profession,
** which took place via an e-mail exchange.
** Weren’t fact checkers supposed to be the rational answer to irrational times?
** What can we learn about the politics of facts when such apparent guardians of truth flirt with post-truth ideas?
** We observed that many artists and writers working with similar questions about the social nature of facts tend to a more speculative approach.
** By including contingency and the unknown, it becomes possible to construct alternative futures that are more emancipated than our current present.
** Yet as much as speculation is necessary for producing new political strategies and imaginaries,
** beyond Western-centrism and knowledge that suits the powerful,
** it also has the potential to erode even more trust in institutions, governments, and perhaps social life itself.
The Department started out of the neologism ‘Speculative Facts’
** to express our concern about this friction between two separate terms
** that seem both loaded and at times contradictory.
** We decided to think speculation through facts, and facts through speculation, by bringing them together in one concept.
** Firstly, we invited four (performance) artists to re-write, re-perform, and re-design the e-mail exchange between the two fact checkers.
** Triggered by the questions raised by their interventions,
** we continued by inviting writers, philosophers and artists to speculate on facts, to fact check speculations,
** and look at forms of agreement or facticity,
** with the idea of finding new types of ‘social contracts’ with which we can anchor ourselves.
** As a ground to work from, we proposed the following working definition of what a speculative fact could be: Speculative fact
** 1. A contract about proof with stakes in the futures it enables and the experiences it comes from.
** 2. A non-anthropocentric fact, allowing for complex stories and collective types of causalities.
** 3. The tension field between building trust, and stretching or questioning what is proved or taken to be true.
A series of performance-viewings where groups simultaneously watch and mimic the gestures of a protagonist in action films, shifting the attention from the action to reaction. Across multiple iterations this performance has gone into cold war thrillers, neo-realist dramas, fantasy and DW Griffith’s war reconstructions. A silver bullet, coming from the silver screen, is the only thing effective against werewolves, witches and other fairytale figures.
Thatcher & I
I’ve been having discussions with Margaret Thatcher impersonators and actors who played Margaret Thatcher in plays and films. Some started out parodying Thatcher and after buying a house, leaving the arts to ‘join the real world’, or discovering ‘a feminist icon’ became more ambivalent or event pro Thatcher.
These interviewees speak both as themselves and as Thatcher, exploring the entanglement of synthetic and real memories in method acting, the magical ability of the arts to pre-imitate something into being. The project is structured around the story of St Genesius – the patron saint of actors – who after parodying Christians in anti-Christian satires converted on stage (before eventually being executed for these new found beliefs).
These meetings with the Thatchers are a way to debate and argue with the residual parts of a historical figure. Some parts of people die, other non-sentient parts live forever and I join them for a cup of tea.
A drawing of media in the play Medea **
Leading to the following productions of the play: **
Sweatshop labourers make a poisonous coat **
Litigators' speeches in lawsuits **
against the makers of various Pocahontas adaptions **
and the actors' mothers have dinner **
I am the owl**
watching over the forest at night.**
I keep seeing, hearing, maybe even repeating.**
At night everyone begins to repeat the past**
as if they might forget who they are**
I repeat lies as if they were eye tests.**
An introduction to an argument
What thoughts are set in motion by the expectation of death?
Emoji Library part 4
Here I am writing you a letter
Here I am, writing you a letter. **
Thank you for the flowers. **
The whole room is saturated with their fragrance; **
I hated so to leave them that I didn't go to bed. **
In this absurd room with its columns, its weapons and its stuffed owl, **
I feel at home. **
The warmth, the smell, the peace and quiet belong to me. **
I take them with me like a reflection in the mirror: **
When I leave, they leave. **
When I return, I look—and there they are. **
I can hardly believe that they live in the mirror only through me. **
Now I wish most of all that it were summer, **
that everything that has happened had not happened. **
That I were young and strong. **
Then, perhaps, of this cross between crocodile and child **
would remain only the child and I might be happy. (VS) **
They started when I was having memory problems while writing literary criticism , the drawings that map out relations and tensions between “characters”. These proposed frameworks for life are probably the crux of what I produce as a writer and director, and probably also what I produce trying to survive as an artist, playing politics between actors, technicians, institutions, individuals and their multifarious interests.
Yet when making abstract sets of relations between characters, which are derived from concrete lived situations, there is by no means a 1:1 relation. When drawing up a chart of who reports to who on an issue, scripting the plot between actors, or in it’s more profane form nominating a vague series of crushes a love triangle, you produce and abstract shape of relations that speculative theorists would call hyperstitions, or business consultants would call self fulfilling prophecies. These shapes have a magical effect as they move to and fro between lived situations and abstractions.
In this particular one I’m mapping the (ultimately fatal) tensioning of powers between characters in the novel by Stendhal, The Red and the Black, as well as the “characters” in an alleged sexual assault by a star academic, who also happened to be the most influential person in the making of these diagrams. This star academic, also the brother of one of my favourite filmmakers, used modern computing to revive and rethink the project of literary formalism: A movement in Russia that looked at literary structures with mathematical clarity. But he was not cautious enough, I argue elsewhere, with the way he moved into and out of abstractions, and fell into a plot he was attempting to map in graphs, maps and trees.
“Plotting” often means giving tension to a tale by arranging events, ** after the fact. **In a secondary definition, **“plotting” characters make monstrous or at least sinister-vibed schemes, ** in advance of the action. ** Together plots are themes “warped with various situational motifs… ** placed in tension like yarns on a loom before the weaving begins.” ** Like in a love triangle, plots make shapes and structure relations. **Yet because they get their momentum from lack **(of money, love, evidence, et cetera), ** this does not end well. **This DNA of doom travels through time, **from place to place, where “labyrinths of linkages reemerge in the same old place, **after the disintegration of old ways of life.” **3 Plots are spells, with actualizing effects, **and must be handled with care—or else! ** What follows are some cautionary tales, **about stories and life plotting against each other…**
On the right side of the diagram ** up the top is Mathilde de la Mole and Julien Sorel
characters from Stendhal’s novel The Red and the Black (1830) ** Julien is the handsome son of a carpenter who after landing a job with the local Mayor ** (bottom right) ** he seduces with the deeply religious mother of the family, Madame de Rênal. ** the rumours mean he has to leave ** but through his new connections he goes on to work for powerful Marquis de la Mole. ** and seduces the Marquis’ daughter Mathilde, ** for his personal advancement ** when their marriage is about to go ahead **
a letter from Madame de Rênal arrives, **addressed to the Mathilde’s father the Marquis. ** It calls Julien Sorel opportunistic, ** and between the lines calls Julien back to his old lover. **
The Trial Film
“The Trial” is based on an interview using literary devices, with a woman from the International Criminal Court’s Investigation Division. Within the court’s structure, the investigator cannot control the way the research she produces will be read, which is done by a separate legal department acting within a jurisdiction that’s often an instrument of colonialism. The film consists of voice, subtitles and soundtrack, reconstructing memories and spaces, in the first person, present-tense, a soundtrack added in post production. The memory of a professional observer, is stretched and a game emerges between speaking and editing in the realm of law and cinematic imagination. Viewers can enter a screening room with or without wireless headphones to experience the film differently.
Inside the commerce of an art fair with its poverty (mostly artists) and wealth (mostly collectors) another exchange takes place: An unidentified pickpocket is hired to move through Art Rotterdam, taking visitors’ wallets. The wallets were taken to a redistribution desk, where small amounts of cash were redistributed according to an algorithm and estimated demographics. The wallets are of course returned with an Art Edition: A customised certificate of the secret exchange. The work was a collaboration with Ilke Gers and a pickpocket who cant be named.
It is a little-known psychological rule that we can only concentrate on one thing at a time. **
The desultory pattern of our thoughts often gives us the illusion **
that we are cognisant of two distinct thoughts simultaneously, **
but it is simply not true. **
That is why the “accidental” collision perpetrated by the pickpocket goes almost unnoticed. **
Haven’t you experienced this “tunnel vision” at one time or another? **
Haven’t there been times when you are suddenly awakened **
from an almost dreamlike trance, **
to find yourself back in reality? **
This is the cover the pickpocket operates under. **
In Victorian England, pickpocketing was declared a capital offence, **
and it was hoped that public executions would dissuade young and hopeful pickpockets. **
Scotland Yard soon abandoned this initiative when the spectators at these events **
complained of missing wallets and watches. **
If the mark is allowed to naturally take their mind off their wallet **
– if only for a few seconds – **
they will be astonished to find themselves robbed **
without the slightest disturbance. **
Athens Biennale, 2018
A growing collection of interviews with Marxists ranging from academics to dentists, looking at death through Marxism/Materialism, and Marxism through Death. It began with an ad in the London Review of Books, asking readers who considered themselves Marxists and dying to get in touch for a film – not really knowing if I’d get a reply.
For the Athens Biennale I created an outdoor ad campaign for Dying Marxists, leading to a dinner that was documented by a journalist, and a publication and installation with the previous interviews and correspondence. I continue to run this group and make memorials.
The most beautiful way of dying you find in the history of Marxism ** is the love letter of André Gorz. **
So he writes a novel-ish little book about his love to his wife, Doreen, ** when he is 83 and she is 83, **she is seriously ill, so she’s a Dying Marxist, ** and they commit suicide together ** so that none of them has to live without the other, **and it’s quite a moving book. **
The idea of consciously publicly committing suicide ** and to also publicly signal or to make public one’s commitment to one’s own love ** is quite beautiful.
The book was published a few weeks after.
A news source reporting nightly from the Design Museum Gent
Quenton Miller is an artist and filmmaker whose work experiments with format and modes of address, often incorporating non-human narrators and unfamiliar paths into historical and journalistic material. He studied at the Jan van Eyck Academy in Maastricht, the MAR, and co-founded When Site Lost the Plot, an art space in Amsterdam.
His work has been exhibited in group and solo shows including at the Athens Biennale, the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam, apexart New York, 1646 the Hague, & West Space Melbourne, as well being published and distributed by by The Believer, NOON, Unformed Informed, McSweeney's, Smoke & Dust, Archive Books, Video Power, Guernica, Channel 31, and The Minus Times.