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JAZ MORRISON | June 2023
first featured in publication 'disagreements as domains of nausea & elation' (2023, Nimco kulmiye hussein)

‘The settler’s work is to make even dreams of liberty impossible for the native. The native’s work is to imagine all possible methods for destroying the settler. [...] The practice of violence binds [the natives] together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards in reaction to the settler’s violence in the beginning.’

–– Ute Meta Bauer & Ana Salazar

 

Disagreements as Domains of Nausea and Elation is a phrasing that implies a duality of artistic ‘shadow work’. By this I mean working through the landscape of our society and identifying the origins of what we now consider ‘normal’. This act of relative British politeness – to simply disagree with the status quo – provides an accessible point for building solidarity, negotiating solutions, and restoring our sense of ownership over the communities we exist in.

Political thinker Hannah Arendt argued that some of the most imminent problems we will have to face this century are that of ‘statelessness’ and ‘political evil’. That is, an ongoing tampering of human rights in the political sphere, with implications that the individuals making up a society are ultimately less than, and thus expendable. To be marginalised is to forgo benevolent expectations of those in power. Britain, where Disagreements is situated, wears this reality well. Revoking citizenship from former colonies; from the ‘Windrush Generation’; and from groomed minors like Shamima Begum demonstrates that British interests do not prioritise people. The state is willing to withhold “Britishness”, erasing citizens from its own imagination to justify this.

For Disagreements, Curator Nimco Kulmiye Hussein asked their exhibiting artists ‘What makes you practise?’ Many responses spoke to an ‘anxiety’ or ‘radical unease’ in everyday life, and some had no idea how to tackle the question. Nimco suggested I keep the question in mind as I respond to the show. In many ways, this question concerns apathy. With ongoing systemic factors forging a clear path to destruction, what makes us go on? 

The deconstructionist Book of Ecclesiastes opens with a lament: ‘Everything is hevel, completely hevel! [...] History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before.’ The writer – a Qoheleth (a gatherer of listeners and of knowledge) addresses societal paradoxes: why do the innocent suffer, and why do their oppressors continue to thrive? Such is hevel (smoke, vapour in Hebrew); paradoxical, meaningless. Thousands of years later, the emergence of thermonuclear weapons and surveillance technology in the hands of world powers are described by Bauer & Salazar as ‘an operation of absolute violence’ and an ‘inversion of the power of life.’ This too, is hevel. 

Disagreements is an anthology of similar reflections, and another site of lamentation. This collective authorship challenges the validity of mediated reality; explores memory and trauma; deconstructs signs; seeks out community; forges alternative timelines; and disrupts existing narratives, revealing the rooted lie within normalised motifs. 

Exhibiting artist Tiffany Wellington notes that time can both gain and forget meaning; it is important to remember that every systemic issue has an origin. But a concept seen as ‘objective’ can short-circuit the ability to adequately critique it. Certain ideas and ways of being can be lost to time due to the colonial destruction of knowledge, but also trauma. Exhibiting artist Rosa Knecht highlights this in their performance UNSCHARF, where memory is positioned as hevel as it mixes with external factors before becoming opaque and veiled with trauma. From this we see that at least one purpose of the artist is to stoke at the fires of remembrance. Writer Clare Bishop defines this as a ‘pedagogic project’, converging art with the goal of education. But art is a site of experimentation that overlaps with the world at large, and cannot necessarily be collapsed into an educational project, which would require new models and frameworks beyond vaguely defined anti-capitalism. This would be a political project that expands beyond the art world, and beyond artists. 

The show has been imbued with the artists’ dissent and distress, creating a discomforting pocket universe for these nauseating truths; a necessary space designed to hold the collective lamenting of our current state. The Qoheleth from Ecclesiastes was not the first to critique society, and we will not be the last. Laying bare our joint struggle validates our feelings of otherness and promotes the case for solidarity. But this work can be thankless in a vacuum as it involves engaging with the very situations that ground our macabre reality. Matthew J Wolf-Meyer warns us of this in his introduction for Theory for the World to Come:

‘Those apocalyptic Saturday films seemed to suggest that my forebears were resigned to the future that was coming to meet us. [...] Resigned imaginations and catastrophic speculations tend to materialise their worlds through inaction – or rather, actions that are too modest to affect a different future. Resignation makes sense of modest action, of being comfortable, of being maybe a little outraged, but not outraged enough to make a difference.’

Stagnating apathy can emerge from constant lamentation, where it becomes complicated to imagine or negotiate a better world. Wolf-Meyer goes on to explain the importance of the theorist working in tandem with the artist to speculate on what Nimco Hussein refers to as ‘postcolonial utopias’. Just as it takes an ensemble of relations to preserve the status quo, effective resistance will also require the amalgamation of people from varying backgrounds and perspectives. Art – and Disagreements more specifically – can provide a meeting point for this speculative work.

‘In plain words, the colonial power says: ‘Since you want independence, take it and starve’.’

Bauer and Salazar remind us that Europe has ‘been built up with the sweat and dead bodies of Negroes, Arabs and the yellow races,’ as well as its own white underclass. It is necessary to be intentional about the language we use, as our concepts of dystopia and utopia will never be articulated in the same way as those we resist against. The utopian ideals exposed to Wolf-Meyer were that of ‘1980s American consumer capitalism’ which ‘overwhelmingly favoured decently educated, suburban white people.’ These concepts obfuscate most of the planet by design, and are vulnerable to disruption. 

That being said, what served our ancestors may not serve us either. We are in a new context with differing catastrophic manifestations. The idea that we are passively moving towards progress is what Indigenous writer Stephen Graham Jones calls a ‘colonial artefact’ bolstered by the hegemony of Eurocentric historical retellings. In order to bring new futures into fruition, we must acknowledge today's context. Davidson and da Silva call attention to the African American theoretical and cultural tradition of ‘endurance and escape’, that is, enduring the ‘hostility of the current social order’, and escaping ‘the cycle of apocalyptic endings’ by developing ‘partially autonomous’ paths. Some artists in Disagreements provide a starting point by offering parallels between the reality of the state and the reality of the proletariat, like Fritjof Krabbe Norretranders or Tiffany Wellington. 

Exhibiting artist Joshua Woolford offers a more personal view, conducting their own self-actualisation – at least partially – through splitting homogenous society into clashing ‘worlds’ in order to understand them. Situating their practice in their body via performance, Woolford’s hijacking of existing narratives taps into the explorative nature of somatic movement; which focuses more on process than result, allowing the body to retain new information. Likewise, when utilising collective authorship to prescribe new futures, it is important to challenge our metrics of success if we are to respect the process. This involves contributing to a tangible, radical political project in solidarity with other ‘violent links in the great chain’ of resistance. It involves artists stoking the remembrances and imaginations of the public. It involves new, collective rites of passage that elate and upskill. It involves ‘a real perception’ of the social, economic and political conditions that affect people.

As artists, we have the ongoing opportunity to manifest the future. Disagreements provides one of many gathering spaces to lament, imagine, negotiate, and rehearse a hybrid culture that emphasises our commonalities and enables us to navigate the post-apocalypse of modern society.

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REFERENCES

Barradale, G. (2021). Plans to remove British citizenship without notice ‘would repeat Windrush mistakes’. [online] The Big Issue. Available at: https://www.bigissue.com/news/politics/removing-british-citizenship-without-notice-would-repeat-windrush-mistakes/

Bauer, U.M. and Salazar, A. (2020). Why Is It So Difficult to Love the World? [online] Afterall. Available at: https://afterall.org/article/why-is-it-so-difficult-tolovethe-world.

Bible Society New Zealand (2018). NLT Bible: New Living Translation. Wellington, Nz: Bible Society New Zealand.

Bishop, C. (2012). Artificial Hells Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship. London: Verso.

 

Braden, S. (1978). Artists and People. Routledge & Kegan Paul Books.

 

Davidson, J.P.L. and da Silva, F.C. (2021). Fear of a Black Planet: Climate Apocalypse, Anthropocene Futures and Black Social Thought. European Journal of Social Theory, 25(4), p.136843102110679. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/13684310211067980.

 

Green, A. (2019) ‘Why practice?’, in P. O’Neill, S. Sheikh, and L. Steeds (eds) Curating after the global: roadmaps for the present. Feldmeilen, Switzerland : Annandale-on-Hudson, NY: Luma Foundation ; Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. Available at: http://pi.lib.uchicago.edu/1001/cat/bib/11951190.

 

Hussein, N.K. (2023). On Disagreements as Domains of Nausea and Elation. Exhibition Essay.

 

Lee, G. (2018). FactCheck: who destroyed the Windrush landing cards? [online] Channel 4 News. Available at: https://www.channel4.com/news/factcheck/factcheck-who-destroyed-the-windrush-landing-cards

 

McDonald, A. (2023). ‘ISIS bride’ Shamima Begum loses appeal over loss of British citizenship. [online] POLITICO. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/uk-isis-bride-shamima-begum-loses-appeal-over-loss-of-british-citizenship/#:~:text=When%20she%20was%20discovered%20alive

 

National Archives (n.d.). Naturalisation, registration and British citizenship. [online] The National Archives. Available at: https://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/naturalisation-british-citizenship/#2-what-is-naturalisation

 

Wolf-Meyer, M.J. (2019). Theory for the World to Come: Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology. Minneapolis University Of Minnesota Press.

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