First Letter to a curator

Talking about live art in public always makes me feel so serious about myself, or at least it
gives me the feeling that the topic must be serious otherwise there would be absolutely no
point talking about it. The very fact that I’m talking about live art makes it serious: It’s a
simple self-reflexive gambit that reveals more about contemporary art discourse than it
does about me. Along this line of thought, I would even say that the raison d’être of art and
its discussions must be defined within terms of materialisation and not some higher insight.
As if artists (at least the interesting ones) have ever known what it is they are doing.

What we all do know, however, is that there is absolutely no external justification for the greater
part of what we do. This might explain why designated purposes of artistic intervention,
from social benefit to strategic marketing, have always failed to prove a point in trying to
justify artistic production. In contemporary times of general overproduction where
consumption is the most prominent form of social interaction, we face audiences that apply
selection and editing (Duchamp’s ready-made technique) as their own means of production.
This social transformation runs parallel to a flood of performance art variations (lecture
performance, performative installations, sound performances, etc.), which tackle this social
interaction most directly and move towards the formation of what I call publicness.
Talking about art is one thing, but of course we all just want to see good performances. The
visibility of the Berlin Month of Performance Art has been enormous, considering the fact
that the platform was organised by a handful of enthusiasts on a minimal budget.
Nevertheless, because of the field’s expansion an open dialogue is urgently needed to
develop the curator’s position as central focal point for MPA-B2013. This might explain the
reason for writing this letter.
This curatorial focus is not a theme for the next MPA or some kind of programmatic
agenda but actually a precondition for generating a discourse on live art’s specific qualities
and values. To me, the one thing that makes live art unique as a cultural phenomenon is its
moment of production. This moment is a so-called spatiotemporal event that is always
public and therefore needs to be dealt with by the audience and the artists as well as the
curator. In terms of curatorial importance, the power of each performative gesture thus lies
in this public moment of appearance; an appearance with a distance, similar to the
photographic moment of capture. Capturing the moment means pushing the button, and for
the performance artist this means entering a particular constructed space and doing
whatever it is he or she needs to do. However, it is not solely the artist building his or her
subjective environment it is simultaneously the moment of the audience – an audience
which is prepared and expecting to be challenged. For MPA-B2013 it is therefore important
to charge curatorship with a particular responsibility regarding topographical
acknowledgement of performative art.
Before continuing I want to make it clear that I’m not in the habit of writing letters to
curators, and that this text is probably just one more piece of information in the enormous
sea of mass media that needs to be dealt with every day. There are most certainly loads of
other curatorial items worth discussing, but I hope that this letter will trigger the open
dialogue the MPA-B2013 is aiming for. Writing this letter is therefore an attempt to
formulate a statement for starting such a debate on curating live art. As an initial opening
statement, I would flatly propose that the job of the curator is to enhance the artists’
subjectivity through the production of distance. A distance that would prevent the artist
from becoming one with the public, and that would hence allow the artist to retain
subjectivity. After all, artists must continue to create their own platforms and not allow
themselves to become puppets in one or another commitment show. But what kind of
performance artist doesn’t want to be interacting with the audience and finding out who he
or she is communicating with? This legitimate question makes it clear that the above
statement is at least problematic, if not altogether wrong.
Essentially there is nothing wrong with being wrong, but we have been living far too long
with such lies as: art is good for you; human beings exist independently from societal
contexts, etc etc. Notwithstanding the kind of subjectivity the artist is looking for (i.e.
individual versus common subject), the question remains: for whom does he do what he
does? And more accurately, on what level do we as curators and artists hope to meet a
public expecting to receive that which we cannot offer (knowledge) or which we are not
prepared to give (our subjectivity). This means that the curator might need to rephrase the
opening statement, with a focus on the actual production of publicness in the sense of a
common, dematerialised space. Publicness is not some kind of relational aesthetics that
uses groups of people or social systems as its medium, but rather constructs modes of
public assembly and forms of address. Producing publicness means to acknowledge the
public as a construction in and of itself and as something which produces in its own right,
and is not just an instrument.
The endeavour of the MPA-B platform in assigning live art curatorial praxis with a
responsibility towards public acknowledgement stems from a desire to disencumber artists
in whatever it is that they do. Public acknowledgement means in this case to place artistic
production within a social context as a social context, and to respect the public as a
productive partner. So, the curatorial question of how we want to live a public life is not
just spatiotemporal (contextual) but should be placed within existential ethics (individuals’
consciousness of their own possibilities of existence). This makes curating live art both
complex and very rewarding. It also shows the need for a dematerialised and empty space, a
constructed void.
To recapitulate the above, if the public is both productive and constructed, curating live art
needs to be focussed on the installation of open, dematerialised space for the shared
production of publicness beyond the constraints of the white cube or black box. This might
already come closer to an understanding of producing the distance mentioned above. So, as
an opening statement, I would finally say that producing publicness developed through the
economic activity of artists is the core business of live art curatorship.
When the curator has nothing to offer but a void, when the artist has no external
justification and the public has become a producer, it is clear that we are all totally
interdependent. A framework for potential publicness sounds like a gesture without
consequence, but in fact such a structure could provide the distance needed to maintain the
necessary subjectivity of all parties involved in the production of meaningful artistic output.
Do the premises of this framework mean that what we do only makes sense as long as we
don’t know who it is we are talking to? Anyway, the question still remains how to produce
this publicness? Publicness has no fixed architecture, no ground but pure presence and
appearance. It is therefore clear that we’re not talking about the provision of a free space
but rather a kind of service. General overproduction and the unstoppable stream of mass
media have killed the possibility for pre-set, given artistic value. Creating value through
situational context is only possible if somebody provides the conditions for engagement
with dematerialised space. In my view, this somebody could be the curator. The created
value can then best be understood as the shared production of a common reality, in statu
…and they all lived happily ever after.
Verlegt on October 21st 2012.

Second Letter to an Author
(mise en cause)
viens, oui, oui (come, yes, yes)
(“I”)… It’s good to see those green ends emerge again. Ends that point out towards a future
they can only hope for. Just like every tree, these ends have a history that is dominated by
nature and inscribed in time, circulating. It’s also not the first time that I’m writing to you
but this time it feels a bit different. For about six months now, we are quite successfully
writing a book that is called an autobiographiction and isn’t really written but rather
performed and exhibited. Anyway, a biography’s medium is information, and information
consists of reporting through the use of verbal and visual language on something that has
taken place somewhere else, in other words the practice of making visible. This strategy
also pertains to our practice and culminates in the writing sessions embodying its public
life. Already our other publication with VerlegtVerlag, the Coyotl Yournal was based on
the idea that texts elicit other texts – responses, echoes; links which make up a history of
effects. The narrative efficacy of both journal and Yournal is based on the notion of belief –
for the former this consists of the trust we have in the degree of truthfulness that the
journalist can achieve, while in the latter something makes sense as soon as the whole set of
additional elements that form the inter-subjective art discourse is activated by the piece.
During the past few days I’ve been thinking about the economy of speech gestures, the
diversity of formats and methods that could be used in the writing of this letter. Last year
we had difficulties signing the contract for the Belluard festival in Fribourg and in the same
way this text isn’t free of negotiation tactics – its main goal serves a similar purpose in
setting some parameters for our collaborative working structure. There’s no contract here,
no bureaucratic record attached to this text. At the same time or even for this reason the
existence of the text itself makes the content binding, although unnegotiated. However,
unlike the Swiss government, I’m not saying a-DIEU nor farewell. I’m not leaving you in
the hands of God; not commending you to God’s loving care while I’m gone like the
Belluard contract is implying, making God responsible for our mischief. On the contrary,
(“I”) wish you a very good journey at the Freies Museum.
The third autobiographiction event is a worksession as part of the first month of
performance art, hosted by the Freies Museum, Potsdamer Straße 91. The book begins with
the description of a shadow cast by one of the Freies Museum pillars and then moves to a
description of you and your activities, then to a railing, then back to you, then to the general
physical surroundings of the Museum. The tone of the book is now set; a calm, detached,
almost scientific description of what the narrator sees at the museum concerned with the
displaying and archiving of objects —– Creativity and economy go hand in hand. —– The
museum is open Monday through Saturday from midday till 9pm and on Sunday from 3pm
till 6pm. —– The Organisation Lawyers for the Arts e.V. manages the museum, which also
supports the idea of social sculpture as a specific example of the extended concept of art
that was advocated by the artist and politician Joseph Beuys. The goal of the Museum is to
give space to creative producers and if the artist notes that there is an audience for his
product, he or she can rent a permanent studio at the Museum. This allows the artist to
become a professional merchant. This simplistic idea, which is based on a belief in
synergetic effects and a creative economy for artists, forms the physical surrounding of this
autobiographiction writing performance. As such, the Freies Museum is an awkwardly
strange setting, for as we know from previous VerlegtVerlag events there is no creativity,
just appearance.
Unnegotiated, I want you to need me for our journey at the Museum, since there is no sense
collaborating if there’s no need for it. During the most recent autobiographiction event at
the Burning ice festival, we saw a shit load of red lines, boundaries and margins in red tape,
marking potential activity like an architectural map on the floor and on the roof of the
Verlegtverlag tent. In times of globalisation and nondiscipline we have to create our own
borders. The first two hours of the autobiographiction at Freies Museum could be a kind of
metalogue research, a communication about the communications that have taken place in
previous autobiographiction events. Although the term “metalogue” doesn’t seem to be in
the dictionary, it nevertheless has a place in artistic discourses as a site where boundaries
are debated. The situation for working at this metalogue as a starting point for the
autobiographiction should be such that not only do the participants discuss the existing
material, but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same
subject. Research by means of performance thus shares characteristics of other experiment
based research, in that ‘actioning’ the research question involves the elaboration of
methodical practices by means of which the enquiry can proceed. When I write it down it
sounds really anal, but I just want to tell you here that I don’t always know what I’m doing
in the course of a Verlegtverlag event. Otherwise it would be senseless for me trying to
figure it out, and somehow I hope that the same counts for you too. As the infamous
Wernher von Braun used to say: “Basic Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what
I’m doing”.
Verlegt as in VerlegtVerlag comes from complicity, just like the Coyotl, a wild dog
penetrating his host. Hospitality in this context is a second yes (“oui, oui”): coming as it
does in response to the first yes it enacts a tactic of hospitality in which a subject promises
to welcome any other, no matter whom. It is not (“I”), the host, it is the other, the proactive
guest that can say this second yes. To say yes to this yes, to pronounce this second yes, that
is hospitality. Accordingly, the (“I”) always comes as reflux, passive in response to the
other and ready to run the risk of receiving more than one can contain. A danger that isn’t
too hard to imagine, being penetrated by a wild dog. Instead of plot, I therefore propose the
autobiographiction writing performance be propelled along by the compulsive energy to
observe and examine without personal preference. In the usual understanding of the term, I
expect no story in this Hi-story. Your method of narration could, as always, be deliberately
designed to challenge conventional reader expectations.
Since we are staging a trialogue between three accomplices [Artist – Public – Guest], the
book creates a public space for artistic research while opening up artistic research for public
use. The guest usually adopts a rather passive attitude, but should attempt to transform the
linear, two-dimensional plane of conflict into a three-dimensional, triangular situation,
becoming proactive by putting forward answers to questions we have not yet asked. Events
in this autobiographiction writing performance do not follow in a straight line from
beginning to end; the pattern is more a convolution of episodes repeated again and again
with minor variations, out of which there emerges a partially realized story in an attempt to
create an empty centre, dislocating the “host”. This first-person accomplice installs us in the
‘hole’ that he occupies in the centre of the book, much like an incidental person, avoiding
the “you vs. me” disposition typically adopted to resolve differences.
Every autobiographiction session works on a micro level. Working in a place like the
Freies Museum makes it feel like a double dialogue rather than a triangular set up. When
we see complicity as a sort of interdependent micro-community alliance operating along the
border of existing structures, where then is the effect of our individual behaviour on societal
structures and vice versa? Is it possible to structure our shared, “Free” micro-interactions
and to use this reciprocal relationship as a medium? Perception, affect, thought, expression
and relation: a space or situation like autobiographiction may be translated into a location
from where other stories are transmitted. The initial artistic act consists of establishing this
environment (meta situation) and setting the parameters for a larger inquiry. The inquiry
becomes expressive, multiple and overflowing the initial frame, opening up unexpected
possibilities. What emerge from this kind of practice are elements of an agencement
(Anordnung), or a ‘device’ for the articulation of collective speech. (Korrektur der Realität)
I need you to help me build these situational structures, connecting political and artistic
agendas. I need you for this agencement, for amorphous authorship and for doing things –
things that would otherwise not be possible to do individually. I need you to help me find
experimental forms of structure that develop in precarious micro-situations for a limited
period of time, testing new modes of organization and interplaying with other experiments.
The event I’m looking for here is not a presentation on paper like conventional books, but
rather like a brochure, set in the ad hoc language of pamphlets and posters “made for the
moment”; a responsive writing project undertaken in the hope of avoiding tolerance and
neutrality by eschewing the limits of complicity. This I understand as passivity in the sense
of seemingly doing nothing while in fact doing precisely what it takes to hold someone’s
Be my author and restate the beginning. Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any
determination, before any anticipation, before any identification, Unnegotiated.
Verlegt on May thirteenth 2011.

Third Letter to an Author
VERLEGT, It-self
PERSON – (to give a text an author is to impose a limit on that text).
We find ourselves in a situation where the division between researcher and institution or
production has been completely abandoned. Verlegt, meaning: been put away, at another
place. Such a research frame is thus one where the engaged is continuously shifting from
being a researcher and representing an institution or product, a receiver and producer, a
staff member and guest. The common mode of engaging in this artistic research is behind a
closed door, where a multiplicity of orientation is possible as long as the engaged is willing
to negotiate the validity and ontology of each and every decision and its process of
emergence, i.e., according to what mode of production a decision can be taken. Since about
two decades a heterogeneous group of independent players appear on this marketplace with
new needs and desires, players that to a higher or lesser degree do not wish to be inscribed
in the established market or simply are not welcome. Today, process orientated research on
the basis of ad hoc structures still appears to be an attractive mode of production. This is
where we are now and you are, another.
As I pass the other in public, our eyes meet briefly, saying yesyes and no at the same time.
The whites of your eyes are fringed with egg-yellow shading to red along the lids. For a
vertiginous moment I feel myself bound, as though on a seesaw with you, pinned to an axis
that could tip us into each other€s life. On one side of the axis sits this very generous,
unprecautious man who still carries the wild flair of his youth in his eyes. He€s modest and
opulent, eminent and yet mundane at one. Above all, he possesses the necessary amount of
humbleness that is needed to twist reality. And I? Standing on the other side of the seesaw,
I want to jump on and become an accomplice in tilting reality but intriguingly, I don€t know
(yet) how to acknowledge the other man.
I don€t know. It is not often believed that participants are keen on keeping their innovations
to themselves but an allowing climate where sharing knowledge is stimulated instead
creates responsibility for the situation€s or product€s quality, status and place on its market.
So, what is the lack that needs to be fulfilled by VerlegtVerlag, what is there to know and
what is this lack nourished by? Which, I assume, to be a deterritorialization of the research
playground for a more progressive future. When research findings are presented as
performative utterances, there is an articulation that brings into being what, for want of a
better word, it names (without knowing). Such research process inaugurates movement and
transformation: it is not qualitative, it is it-self. But how then does artistic research identify
its user if not through acknowledgement? Or, does the field itself actually need users, and if
so, how can it be its own client without becoming a self-indulgent territory which produces
closer and closer family relations? In short: it is time to look into what responsibility the
field€s researcher€s claim. Therefore, the question is not if I need a position such as
researcher and institution or product, but how it is possible to produce an interdisciplinary
frame in which engagement in any position is the result of a particular negotiation (as in
complicity). How else can I, standing on the other side of the seesaw, know how to
acknowledge the other man? As a prerequisite to engagement I must know this. Only then,
can this research claim for liability (I acknowledge, therefore I am responsible.)
With both process and interdisciplinarity it is awkward to realize that its manifestation, as
with collaboration and research, seems to have been formalized to include only a process
just prior to a finished product, but is rarely considered to include any other frame of time
or space. Never mind any interdisciplinary attempts which often sound great on the level of
application but seldom offer any further production of knowledge in its presentation. An
activity, whatever process is involved, necessarily will be represented by or through
somebody, and it is therefore important to address, not what process is implied, but what
differentiation of ownership a given process provokes. To what extent and in respect of
what mechanisms are, or are not, also processes owned by somebody, or some entity?
Corporate research for example, is naturally dependant on the economic expansion of a
representative body, placing the researcher under the oath of efficiency. Seen in this
perspective, it is only if the artists produce a demand based on engagement and
argumentation for its share in the budget that artistic research can grow and own its place in
society. So, matters of ownership and representation are intertwined and must be placed at
the heart of any process-orientated work: complicity to a process is a form of liability.
The political questions inherent in claiming one’s own space – inviting or excluding the
outside, the formation of groups and production of locality and culture – constantly question
the conceptual structures of VerlegtVerlag UG (haftungsbeschrnkt) itself. It is therefore
important to raise these questions on responsibility that necessarily occur in respect of
process and production. The VerlegtVerlag practice actively searches for both, spatialised
production methods and the dissemination of models by engaging in complicit work
processes. The practice of building and thus situating oneself in such a collective space
evolves through asking questions based on repetition and contingency. One of these central
questions that I want to pose is: how can what I assemble become the entry point to the
practice-knowledge that I use in such a way that anybody can invest in learning it, resuming
the work where I have left it off and evolving it further? Here, it is important to realise that
the responsibilities of hospitality are individual and not institutional. Reflective space is
thus not the precondition for performative action. On the contrary; performative action is
the precondition for reflective space ‚ or, more appropriately, space and action must be
coproduced. Artistic researchers can therefore not rely on the capacities of institutions and
platforms (at least not without them being an accomplice).
A conceptual work, as inscribed in art history, is protocol based. In respect of this it is
important to properly negotiate the differentiation between conventional business models
and the protocol of collaboration and/or collective/collectivity in use at VerlegtVerlag. It
seems to me to be a bad omen when simple teamwork and collaboration is intermixed.
Collaboration needs to be the topography of a work or works to qualify as relevant, in front
of groups and constellations that announce their method as collaborative. Therefore, any
collaborative method should be understood as an extended business model. Most artists,
however, perceive business organisations as just an element of the broad economic system
instead of living entities one can engage with. That is why business organisations are often
just sought by artists to be a source of income beyond the art market. Here, the organisation
itself is of no interest for the artistic practice. VerlegtVerlag envisions the organisation
(business as well as any other, including its own) as part of the content and resource of our
research praxis. This means, introducing artistic discourse into the organisation. The current
VerlegtVerlag draw-up should be seen as a scenario that needs to be tested and most of all,
as a performance that can and must be affirmed. Any conceptual organisation (like
VerlegtVerlag) refers to objects (societal as well as personal protocols) that can serve as an
interface between different communities of practice, i.e., these protocols (plans, photos,
CV, etc.) can be shared by several different communities but viewed and used differently
by each of them. Photographs, plans and initial observations are collated by VerlegtVerlag
in scene of crime books which allow successive investigators to orientate themselves at site
and to ƒrelive€ events. This is a process of speculative modelling which demands no
hierarchy between empirical attention, analysis and leaps of the imagination. The aim,
whether it is recognized or not, is to construct something new out of old, to connect what
may appear dissimilar in order to achieve new insights and understanding. This emergence
of new meaning depends on the perception of instability, of retaining energies of
interruption and disruption. Encounter movement and incoherent babbling, as a chorus of
conflicting voices, as a way of telling. In a relationship based on complicity, every partner
is liable (through being engaged) for the whole but dependant on his autonomous strategic
action (engagement) in time and place. Or, to put it differently, life is more than it-self.
So please, tell me how I can make use of your practice even when you aren€t there.
Verlegt on September eleven 2011

Fourth Letter to an Author
1ère visite, Eglise Saint Julien le Pauvre by Tristan Tzara, 1921
Workers’ Club by Aleksandr Rodchenko, 1925
Mythic Being by Adrian Piper, 1972
Writing sometimes has a Brechtian “Verfremdungseffekt”, it creates a certain DISTANCE.
This is especially true of autobiographical writing, where history can actually be assembled
without verity (which is an apt paradox in the context of Verfremdung). Perhaps, each
person should write down a history of something at least once in their lives. It helps to
redefine the apprehension of DURATION, but also it’s so much fun to do. Apart from
merely writing, some artists also author history – as seen in: First woman on the moon by
Aleksandra Mir, performed in 1999; camel arriving by Marcel Broodthaers, 1974 and the
even older Rose petal jam by Harry Partch, 1969. These performances have shown that the
fundaments of performance art are radically non-theatrical and non-poetic even if Tristan
Tzara did actually speak as a “tourist guide” at the church in 1921. Against general belief,
the fundaments of performance aren’t to be found in the work of Rodchenko either. Not
even in the stunning 1518 Renaissance performance parrot room by Raphael. Fundaments
are actually of little importance in performance art because the power of each performance
resides in the now and its subsequent re-perception through accumulated action, as
exemplified in “being” Adrian Piper from 1972, the year I was born.
An event for the Post Office, the Police, and the Occupants of no.26 Vaclavkova Street by Milan Knížák, 1966
One year performance (time clock piece) by Tehching Hsieh, 1980
250cm Line Tattooed on 6 paid people by Santiago Sierra, 1999
When I speak of performance art in this story, I speak of reality as it is practised (in a space
towards the performative). As a cultural phenomenon, performance art doesn’t relate to
anything but only manifests situational behaviour in its moment of appearance. Looking at
recent history, one can say that the artistic presentation of let’s say “the politics of
immigration detention” in Please love Austria by Christoph Schlingensief, 2000 has the
above mentioned clear-cut correspondence (reality) to for example the state of democracy
as it is practiced. Of course this can be done poetic or through visual presentation and play.
However, performance art is not a medium, form or genre for the simple reason that it is not
a tool. Yet, my experience is that people-together-in-a-room is a medium in itself. A
performance is thus an act without formal qualities, something you do in the presence of
others, not to achieve something else but rather the act in itself. Like any other media,
being-with-other-people-in-a-room has the simple potential to change the way we think.
This is not as easy as it may sound. Older examples in my little historical outline still show
a preoccupation with the so-called loss of meaning in societal life (which derived from
general commodification in all parts of society and made sense in their context and time of
production). Contemporary performance art has largely freed itself from such a praxis
rooted in 19th century artistic critique. The widespread tendency for artists today is to adopt
a paradoxical position in which affect is both rejected and reclaimed: they both, insert
themselves into a social network and celebrate the universe of art as such. This new won
“freedom” has the potential to DISTANCE the artist from affective labour and the
dominant narrative of negation, allowing him or her to play (Brecht upside down).
Action for the experimental art cycle by Graciela Carnevale, 1968
Untitled (Go-Go Dancing Platform) by Félix González-Torres, 1991
No man’s time by Eric Troncy, 1991
Something can be mine only if it excludes others who might otherwise own it. This
conceptual framework based on negation is called private property. The logic of ownership
and DURATION that has guided our understanding of the world of things and relationships
no longer answers to the challenge. Most commodities live longer than their creators and
consumers alike—for even a simple plastic bag will outlive us all many, many times over.
As commodities ourselves, even our bodily organs can outlive us. Therefore, as all objects
that enter into this world are commodities (including the body and its kidney stones), we
must realize that this is not our world, but rather theirs. We dwell in the world of
commodities. For reasons of normative self-understandings of the author, three US events
are missing in this story without further explanation: Meat Joy by Carolee Schneemann,
1964; Conversation at the Castle by Mary Jane Jacob, 1996 and It’s an Earthquake in My
Heart by Goat Island, 2001.
Just-In-Time Workshop & Occasional Bookstore (DDD15) by Dexter Sinister, 2007
300 by Florian Feigl, since 2009
NATURE FETISH Episode One: Laws & Logic of Nature by Panoply Lab, 2012
And, and, and….double, triple ontology, both….and, also…a book, a film and an evening
meal all produced live on the spot, simultaneous. In this way, lots of contemporary
performance artists reconfigure the notion of time and DURATION from an identifiable,
single matter to the common matter of dissemination, presence and resource. This
conceptualisation of performance into a “publication” of ensemble, affect and event seems
to gain more and more strength while the individual work recedes. Taking this situation one
step further is to understand art as an open form that can never be finalised or brought to a
definite materialisation. Integrating such an indefinite void into ones artistic praxis
facilitates a permanent reappropriation of cultural production. By subscribing to this notion
of lacunae, one thus acknowledges every art work as being part of the general commons:
reappropriating the commodity, personal and metonymic. (Bye bye negation, hello
HAPPSOC I by Alex Mlynánčik, 1965
In search for the miraculous by Bas Jan Ader, 1975
Pictures by Andrei Monastyrsky, 1979
In the 1970s it was not yet possible to conceptualise public discussion as an artistic activity
(Joseph Beuys and the Artist Placement Group have both tried it but their actions where
never received as such). Today, the production of a dynamic experience for participants has
developed into discursive situations where everyone is a producer. General dissatisfactory
outcomes of these events are ascribed to endless processes without meaningful
materialisation and the lack of disruptive events that could challenge consensus.
Dealing with this problem of DURATION, some artistic situations are deliberately
constructed as “Too big to fail” (a colloquial term in describing certain financial
institutions). This is a very questionable strategy for economics but it might be a good one
for art, especially for the MPA-B. At least some marvelous performances have tried to use
it, albeit with uneven success: FOOD by Gordon Matta-Clark, 1971; The Battle of
Orgreave by Jeremy Deller, 2001 and The Bijlmer Spinoza-Festival by Thomas
Hirschhorn, 2009. These projects make reality look strange again, aesthetic (one more
Brechtian twist). Such large scale activities are very hard to organize. For most of us this
could work out maybe once or twice in a lifetime. Alternatively, performance artists
working in non-democratic regimes have shown that performance art can also do without a
shared experience of authentic presence and immediacy. Somehow I really like that too.
Subscribing to the notion of lacunae, these letters are intended as shared privatised
experiences (a collective space amongst mutually trusting colleagues) in which I can freely
publish some of my performance art favourites. It is the physical act of publishing (the
making of public) – where presence itself is commodified into a “living” object – that grants
a space performativity. When the commodity is first and foremost a presence – a mode of
being – then, contemporary performance art is affirmative by nature and based on aesthetics
of emergence [in the present].
I will start this final list which should exemplify this convergence of DISTANCE and
DURATION with three performers each holding a “living” object: Consider the Lobster
(Performance Interrupted by Other Artists) by Anya Liftig, 2012; Le saut dans le vide by
Yves Klein, 1960 and La Monnaie vivante by Pierre Bal-Blanc, 2006. Three New York
ladies sitting in a bar under the sea: Notes on camp by Susan Sontag, 1964; Complete
untitled film stills by Cindy Sherman, 1977 and Museum Highlights: a Gallery talk by
Andrea Fraser, 1989. Last but not least, three “bad communists” celebrating idiosyncrasy
with a handful of friends longing for some privacy: Albums by Ilya Kabakov, 1976; Classic
escape by Jan Mlčoch, 1977 and Poliscar (testing) by Krzysztof Wodiczko, 1991. Of
course no history of performance art can end without at least mentioning Oscar Masotta to
who I dedicate this letter.
Verlegt on April sixth 2013

First letter to a Collector
Can it survive under the sun
Is it alive or is it dead
If it’s fresh will it burn
Can it feel the threads of time
Does it leave a trail of slime
I can’t put my finger on it
In thinking about what a collector is, I’m interested in the use of the word
‘action’ as a term that is often employed in performance art discourse as a
referent to content, regardless of form. A collector is a person of action; he’s
not the mere proprietor of a physical object, but rather positions himself as
the possessor of an artwork’s content. Taking this idea a step further, one
should therefore expect a collection such as the Sammlung Maria de Robe to
enhance the Museum’s function as an institution that takes on a possessive
voice within discussions on wider societal issues. A practice that swings
between renarration,
speculation, subjective account and politics of
memory. Collecting, in this sense, means to actively try and challenge the
notion of objective truth. The MdR collection only presents itself through
commissioned solo performances in cooperation with museum collections. It
is thus best understood as a practice of active installment: each new
“acquisition” consists of a performative gesture within the framework of an
ongoing exhibition at the host museum. A kind of discursive revisit to the
museum collection allowing
the museum to question historical,
perceptions of cultural objects, which still hold sway.
The basic idea is to connect performative art praxis with a public museum
collection, evoking what can be called “ephemeral reenclosing”
of the
museum’s collection through the presentness of a performance artist.
Performance art is widely regarded as events that cannot be archived – its
presentness appears to be at odds with a museum’s quest for permanence.
What, then, is the relevance of performance within the museum structure?
How can performance art as a cultural phenomenon penetrate archival
practice? Performance, as its name indicates, is an activity; it involves
“doing” something. What is more, it declares itself as an activity. Museum
objects are by definition embedded within particular ‘historical’ narratives,
but they can also always be interpreted according to more subjective,
unmediated readings. Assigning the performance artist and institution with
an equal authority confers an equivalent value to their respective approaches
to the museum object. In such a way, museum collecting is given agency to
evolve and mutate in a continuous state of becoming.
The contents of material records depict human beliefs, and are generally
acknowledged as the product of human action or agency. Despite their
insentient nature, museum objects have the ability to act upon humans and
generate experiences and understanding. A performance in which objects
play the lead role next to the performer, and in which the standard
interpretation of these objects is put into question creates an environment for
experiment, an environment stripped of its socalled
normality. Such an
environment challenges the economies that generate desire for precious
original objects and their presentation as didactic sources.
Similar to organisms, a performance art collection has the need for growth.
The MdR collection can be seen as a constant flow of knowledge, a
continuous process of common creation. The author, by writing a book or
doing a performance, then, merely moulds that collective knowledge. The
field of art is not that of knowledge per se, nor that of arbitration between
statement and referent, but rather one of transformation. The very event art
designates is either felicitous or infelicitous, where the value of satisfaction
replaces that of truth. This implies a social context. All artistic outcome is
part of the common heritage and culture of groups, and is produced for the
purpose of transformation; it is a resource. MdR aims at finding an
alternative understanding of these records of human belief by means of the
situational qualities of live art, and seeks to view the performance as a
moment where the museum artifact becomes enriched, expanded and
infested by the performance adding
one more layer of meaning and reality.
This means that the artifact becomes more relevant and meaningful, both as
an object as well as an artwork infused with qualities that were not
previously present. This entails addressing art in an extremly functional way
the notion of use supersedes that of historicaly assigned value.
Performance art is rooted within the deep modernist desire for presence,
moving towards a congruence of representation and what is to be
represented. This is one of the reasons why performance work complies
neither with the accepted rules of the art market, nor with those of
institutionalized venues. However blurred its boundaries might be,
performance presents itself as a phenomenon of singularity; a practice of
that which by definition cannot be pigeonholed in unversal terms.
Contemporary performance art is always, in the first place the production of
a specific space, which is a result of the interplay between multiple bodies
such as artefacts, sounds and “knowledge”. Within such a perspective, it is
necessary to understand “specific space” as the result of performativity not
as a selfcontained
entity, but a priori relational. Moreover, as an act, the
performance is defined by its property of being selfreferential,
a reality that delineates its own extents.
The act of presenting things, naming them and conceptualizing them, calls
them into existence. A performance, as such, is nothing but a selffullfilling
promise. The notion of the performative in relation to art actually points to a
shift from what an artwork depicts and represents to the affects and
experiences that it evokes. Understood in this way, there is little sense in
refering to performance as an art “form”. MdR aims at adopting the notion
of a collection as interplay a
mesh of interdependent “becoming” objects
that constitutes the performed.
Most performance artists work with objects, but these are usually very
as wood, foodstuffs or tape, and due to their practical
and supportive role, after being utilised they are generally discarded or
become relics for documentary purposes. The MdR collection aims to work
with everyday objects, artworks and artefacts that are imbued with the very
distinct quality of belonging to a museum collection. These objects need to
be preserved in their original state, but it is in fact the “handlung”, or gesture
towards the object which implies collectability in
other words, the original
object remains the point of reference rather than becoming a mere relic.
Instead of aiming for a classical archive (i.e. the archiving of objects), MdR
archives only through performance using
the museum artefact itself as an
archival structure, which thereby becomes enriched. Not because this is the
only or necessarily a better way of archiving present day performance art,
but because it is one way of collecting that we, as artists, can employ — out
of love or of pollination.
The encounters at stake in a performance are therefor not only encounters
between the people involved (performer and witness), but are also to be
considered as encounters between composite bodies, consisting of socalled
human as well as nonhuman
composites (as evershifting
constellations of
bodies acting upon one another in relation to objects, expanding the
Spinozist notion of composite bodies). With every new performance, a new
composite of bodies is generated, always in a perpetual state of being not yet
consolidated, or no longer complete. In other words, always in a state of
In the end, it is the collection that matters: its ensemble as a possible trigger
for publicness the
way of making public. By practicing performance art
that proceeds through engagement with material culture, a series of
expectations become pertinent in relation to the space brought into being by
the museum and by the performance – the museum as site of permanence, a
series of artefacts, a historical record; the performance as a site of
impermanence, an ephemeral event, a limited duration. Certain
contemporary museum practices, as well as tendencies to intermingle
performance and installation, subject these notions of permanence and
impermanence to radical scrutiny through the particular situations they
instantiate. The MdR collection will continue exploring these composite
bodies during the following years in different museum collection in Berlin
and beyond inviting
and commissioning leading performance artists to
engage with local museum settings for the sole reason of “becoming
Verlegt on November, twelfth 2014

First Letter to a Lover
Now that we are engaged, we have the opportunity to relate. Dear lover, I
want you to need me for this ICE HOLE but, who are WE? In our present time
of increasing “selflikeness”
— that is, perceiving ourselves as being digitally
affirmed by one another — our self seems to multiply into oblivion. Although
I know that it is possible to lose one’s self, the human survival instinct
typically only strives for the continuance of the self, the prolonging of an
individual life. Maybe LOVE is such an instinctual excuse to keep going; to
sustain engagement, even when all systemic justifications and rhetoric have
failed. LOVE is the word we use to explain our unreasonable and illogical
loyalties, unfounded respect, and the assigning of value to acts which have no
apparent support. To me, this sounds like freedom; petitioning you to undo my
self — releasing myself from being the centre. LOVE is the answer!
Every day people say that they LOVE each other again and again, and believe
want to believe this
means they feel the same about one another.
Individual LOVE, that which everyone either gives or demands for themself,
is not measurable: w e will never feel the same for each other. Our additional
problem as artists is that we have too much LOVE. We LOVE things that
don’t exist. With every new video, a new composite of bodies is generated,
always in a perpetual state of being either not yet consolidated, or no longer
complete. In other words, in a permanent state of contingency. In the believe
that the relations emerging from our “being engaged” (which also sustain the
engagement) are multiple as opposed to being reducible to one ultimate form,
are we as performance artists merely preventing the “ultimate” from emerging
and in so doing, keeping our work within the safe structures of the process,
validating recursion? LOVE is an energy!
However blurred its boundaries might be, performance art presents itself as a
phenomenon of singularity; a practice of that which by definition cannot be
pigeonholed in universal terms. A s an act of LOVE, this ICE HOLE edition is
defined by its property of being selfreferential,
constructing a reality that
delineates its own extent. To me, this means that LOVE just functions as a
generator of affirmative belief structures: transforming a shed into a boat and
then rebuilding the shed. But, in applying the principle of LOVE as a tool or
resource for moulding our work relations, we fail to recognize that rather than
being the shed, LOVE is the soil in which we dig the grave to inter our values
of life, and then we refill the hole with shovelfulls of LOVE. When we treat
art as a resource, it is abused into efficiency. We must secure our unproductive
madness in order to stay sane. LOVE is the question!
All artistic outcome is part of a common heritage, an undeniable resource for
the production of intersecting transformations. This ICE HOLE edition is
compiled from such moments of LOVEmaking
that do not follow in a
straight line. A conglomeration of episodes unfolds repeated
again and again
with minor variations out
of which emerges a partiallyrealized
story, one
that is never fully consummate. The very event this story relates can be either
felicitous or infelicitous, where the value of potentiality replaces that of
finality. LOVE this
us into the ‘HOLE’
and/or ‘grave’ that we occupy in our video conversation. The result of such
submissive relationship is that the self always comes as reflux and the
performance, an sich , is nothing but a selfgratifying
delusion. At the end of
the day, nothing else matters: only the ensemble as a possible trigger for
publicness the
notion of making public for the sole reason of “becoming
public”. LOVE is a joy!
Verlegt on November, 29th 2016
Special thanks to Carl Whetham

First Letter to an Artist
[Lan] as a Political Institution (freely adapted and decontextualised from a
text by Georgios Papadopoulos and appropriated for Lan Hungh in the
SERIES: CLOSING THE CIRCLE, curated by Ilya Noé.)
[Lan] condenses a series of ontological questions that are shared
by neighboring disciplines of economics, social ontology, and
performance art theory. At the same time, it falls victim to their
compartmentalisation sanctioned by the societal division of
labour, where the nature of [Lan] is delegated from one
discipline to the next only to remain unaccounted for and
therefore mysterious. The strong neglect of the nature of [Lan]
and of its contribution in social interaction is unfortunate; its
emergence and its reliance to social attitudes, both individually
and collectively held, raises important questions that are not
limited to the ontology of [Lan].
The dual character of [Lan], as an art work and as a system of
social practices that can be codified in formal and informal rules,
is relevant for the more general relation between objects and
their social significance. This letter attempts to contribute to the
conversation on [Lan] by proposing an institutional, white cube
account. I will do so by addressing questions referring to the
causal powers that objects assume when they get socialised in
human interaction.
There are three questions concerning the identity of [Lan]: the
mechanism that regulates its social “time” constitution, its
introduction in the economic system and its relation to value.
Such questions are considered to be conclusively resolved in a
mainstream economic analysis. Reducing [Lan] to just another
commodity, allows mainstream economic analysis to integrate it
easily in economic models for (performance) art: as a transaction
saving medium of exchange and finally as a convenient store of
value. Ignoring the preconditions for the existence and the
identity of [Lan] by defining it as a commodity simplifies many
of the institutional complexities that constitute it, but cannot
answer all the relevant questions about the existence and the
operation of [Lan].
The existence of [Lan] is here discussed in the context of an
institutional framework comprised of social rules and relations,
based on state authority (the way, art is supposed to function).
The relational character of [Lan] is central in the argumentation
and so is the claim that [Lan] is constituted on the basis of
shared representations, defined as collective intentionality.
Individual attitudes provide the foundation for the existence of
[Lan], but the ontology of [Lan] is safeguarded with the
introduction of an authority that represents and regulates society.
The collective is both the condition, predominantly via language
and culture, and the outcome of individual intentionality. The
mutuality that defines the relation of the individual with the
community is crystallised in institutions, the most powerful of
which is the gouvernance apparatus of the state. Social
institutions both enable and constrain individual behaviour,
giving structure, duration and meaning to social interaction. The
compliance to the institutional rules, normative and constitutive,
is primarily the outcome of the feedback between the individual
and the collective attitudes and only subsequently the outcome
of enforcement and coercion. The same applies, of course, to
[Lan], which is the result of relations of interdependence
between individual and collective representations about what
[Lan] is and does.
In this context, linguistic and iconographic representation of
authority, value and community are employed to support [Lan],
communicate its social significance and contribute to its
acceptance. Collective acceptance of [Lan] is thus conditioned
by its usefulness, by the power of socialisation and the
consequent acceptance of the linguistic and iconographic
representation of [Lan], by the coercive force of social
institutions, and by the psychological attachment to [Lan].
The de-politicisation of [Lan] is neither possible nor desirable.
[Lan] exists on the basis of a relation between state and society,
which presupposes legitimacy and solidarity. Principles that are
profoundly political and cultural. The role of [Lan] in the social
antagonism for economic existence indicates that social
negotiation rather than scientific objectivity should guide the
management of the art system. Scientific analysis can inform the
decisions on art policy but cannot relieve us from the
responsibility of deciding on the terms of the distribution of
aesthetic welfare as they are conditioned by [Lan] and the battle
for economic existence.
A more socially and politically informed understanding of [Lan]
based on community, institutions and authority can be more
constructive in addressing the current challenges. The art system
relies heavily on the state and its ability to levy taxes and
regulate the art system. So, if the authority of the state is eroded
by violent deregulation and austerity, the repercussions on the
stability of the social edifice can be devastating. In such case,
when capitalism encloses the state and destroys the art system, a
commons economy based on associated labour needs to be
adopted to secure [Lan] and its dignity.
Verlegt on May 12th 2015.