Thursday, November 25, 2010

Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Ashkan Sepahvand's project at casco

"Unlike a work of literature, translation does not find itself in the centre of the language forest but on the outside facing the wooded ridge; it calls into it without entering it, aiming at that single spot where the echo is able to give, in its own language, the reverberation of the work of the alien one."
- Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator

Casco is pleased to present 'seeing studies', a long-term project by the institute for incongruous translation, . The institute for incongruous translation was founded in order to support discord and negotiation in translation. The institute sees translation as a polyphonic reverberation of voices that cannot be set into accordance, yet still speak to one other by means of reflection. An incongruous translation starts not from the centre of meaning, but from the margins of association.

This project, developed by Natascha Sadr Haghighian and Ashkan Sepahvand for the institute for incongruous translation, engages with formations that constitute how we perceive, read, draw and depict the world in order to investigate the ways we learn 'to see'. Departing from a schoolbook – a textbook published by the Iranian Ministry of Education used to teach art in the first year of Iranian public middle school – the project takes shape in three overlapping chapters.

A facsimile reproduction of the schoolbook is the basis for a bilingual publication (Farsi/English) that researches 'schools of seeing', from Ibn Al-Haytham's 'Book of Optics', the 'period eye' of the Italian Renaissance to mechanical drawing in late-19th century France and photography in Qajar Iran. Operating as editors of the book, Sadr Haghighian and Sepahvand will also give shape to a spatial arrangement at Casco's project space, involving a series of overhead projectors and selected material from the publication. The material is applied to the overhead projectors in various ways resulting in partial projection. This method creates a simultaneity of perspectives, restricts visibility and sets viewpoints into motion. Addressing conventions as well as boundaries of perception and depiction, the arrangement varies three times over the course of two months. In the third chapter, the space will serve as a setting for a four-day workshop session. These sessions offer opportunity to discuss the propositions in 'seeing studies' together with some of the collaborators and contributors to the institute's activities.

This investigation moves beyond art instruction and takes a polyphonic look at the existing interpretations and depictions of the world in its globalised state, questioning the ways in which we perceive. It further explores approaches for us to destabilise presumably fixed viewpoints and weave an open history that 'sees' knowledge re-circulating, re-interpreting or re-applying. The audience is welcomed as study companions, fellow readers and interpreters to set up a temporary study room at the Casco space.

4 December 2010-13 February 2011

Book release: 19-22 January 2011

The book is designed by Farhad Fozouni and image-shift and co-published by Hatje Cantz Verlag, dOCUMENTA (13) and Casco.
The publication contributors include: Nazgol Ansarinia, Homayoun Askari Sirizi, Mehraneh Atashi, Mahmoud Bakhshi, Daniel Berndt, Binna Choi, Media Farzin, Shahab Fotouhi, Farhad Fozouni, Reza Haeri, Zoya Honarmand, image-shift, Hatem Imam, Mehdi Navid, Molly Nesbit, Oya Pancaroglu, Tina Rahimi, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Ashkan Sepahvand, Setareh Shahbazi, Zeinab Shahidi + Reza Abedini, Jana Traboulsi and William Wheeler. The publication is made possible with additional financial support of Fonds BKVB for electric palm tree, Hessische Kulturstiftung and Extra City Kunsthal Antwerpen.

Workshop sessions: 19-22 January 2011

You are warmly invited to join a four-day workshop with some of the contributors to the publication. The detailed programme will be available on our website ( from mid-December 2010. The workshop is organised in partnership with Extra City.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Open Call

Within the framework of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art in 2012, curated by Artur Żmijewski, artists from all over the world are requested to send in their artist material for a research investigation, following the conditions below.

We accept artistic material in hard copy formats not bigger than A3 (297 x 420 mm or 11.69 x 16.54 in.), printed images, digital data, as well as DVDs.
PDFs in A4 (297 mm x 210 mm or 11.7 x 8.3 in.) or fax will also be accepted.
Please do not send any original artworks.
We welcome all possible languages of your artistic comments and explanations. However there should equally be an English version.

As the research also focuses on the question whether artists consider themselves to be political, please inform us about your political inclination (e.g. rightist, leftist, liberal, nationalist, anarchist, feminist, masculinist, or whatever you identify yourself with) or whether you are not interested in politics at all.

Please send your artistic statement or presentation as a hardcopy via regular mail, via e-mail or fax to the following address or number before January 15, 2011:

Berlin Biennale
– Open Call –
KW Institute for Contemporary Art
Auguststraße 69
10117 Berlin/Germany

fax: +49. 30. 24 34 59 88

This open call is not guarantying that you will be invited to take part in the 7th Berlin Biennale. Please be aware that your submission might be used and published within its framework. Please also consider that the 7th Berlin Biennale is not able to send back any received material, but that everything will be integrated into the public research archive of the Berlin Biennale.

The open call is available for download in various languages (Arab, Chinese, English, French, German, Hebrew, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Span
ish) on the website

“Usually, artists are not asked to identify their political positions. But this time it's different. In my opinion, all artists represent particular political standpoints, even if they don't want to identify them clearly. There is this invisible rule for artists to produce so-called “political art” from an unidentified political position and to keep neutrality, even if it is obvious that they are not neutral.

Our reality is structured by politics; this means that art is also structured by them. Let's present this invisible/hidden structure, this obscene background of art. Politics are not, as politicians would like to convince us, fights for power or dirty games. They are the language of our collective needs which people share.

We are not only human beings, we are also political beings, as Hannah Arendt said. Let's describe what we are doing as artists also in pure political terms. That's why I ask about this “secret” and “private” information. Let's give it a public body.

It doesn't mean that the curatorial choice will be based on preferred political identity—no, it will be based as always on intuition and ambiguity. But this time intuition and ambiguity will be a little deformed by this over-obvious political element. So, we will see what happens.”

Artur Żmijewski

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

some images from another country @ ifa berlin, more will come soon

photos by dubravka sekulic

soon in berlin, texte zur kunst discussing art criticism

Where do you stand, colleague?
Art criticism and social critique

Symposium on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Texte zur Kunst
December 11, 2010, Hebbel-Theater am Ufer (HAU 1), Stresemannstrasse 29, Berlin

Conference organizers: Isabelle Graw & André Rottmann
Conference language: English
Tickets available at:

On the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the renowned Berlin-based journal for contemporary art, this symposium investigates art criticism's potential to become social critique. When the journal was founded in Cologne in 1990, returning to the methods of social art history promised to link current artistic production to larger economic and ideological frameworks. Even if this approach has remained an important touchstone in the critical work of the journal and its most frequent contributors, new models have emerged: discussions around biopolitics and immaterial labor under post-Fordist conditions have radically questioned long-held methodological assumptions about the visual arts' potentially antagonistic role in the capitalist societies of the West. Moreover, the notion of the aesthetic, which had for many years been utterly dismissed due to its association with idealist concepts of autonomy, has returned in unforeseen ways—by way of a recourse, for instance, to an emphatic and ethically motivated defense of aesthetic experience and an immersive attention to formal detail.
The symposium takes this situation as a point of departure in order to reflect on the role and potential of art criticism as social critique today.

Program, Saturday, December 11, 2010

4 pm:
Official Welcome
by Arend Oetker, Berlin

by Isabelle Graw, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin & André Rottmann, Berlin

4:15 pm:
Opening Statement
by Diedrich Diederichsen, Vienna/ Berlin

4:30 pm:
Panel I: New Spirit of Criticism? The Biopolitical Turn in Perspective
Like no other field of theoretical investigation, studies of biopolitics and related discourses around immaterial forms of labor in post-Fordism have come to inform recent art criticism and history. This sort of approach to art allows us to revisit historic as well as contemporary artistic practices in terms of their complicity with an economic and political regime that seeks to produce social life and to control subjectivity by way of internalized notions of productivity, creativity, and individual freedom. These notions, still so dear to art-historical discourse, appear more problematic in a perspective informed by the discourse of biopolitics than repressive structures of authoritative interpellation. Yet the urgent question arises and needs to be addressed: does not this new master trope of (art) criticism itself amount to a totalizing gesture that subsumes all aesthetic phenomena to the insurmountable grasp of an omnipresent but elusive regime of power? Is the recourse to biopolitical thought maybe even part and parcel of the notion of life it wishes to analyze critically?
Franco Berardi, Milan
Luc Boltanski, Paris
Sabeth Buchmann, Vienna/ Berlin
André Rottmann, Berlin
chaired by Martin Saar, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin

6:30 pm:
Panel II: Between Specificity and Context. Social Art History Revisited
Social Art History, as it had been rediscovered and expanded as a methodology in Anglo-American art history in the early seventies, once provided the privileged critical model of how to align supposedly autonomous aesthetic phenomena with the specific historical, discursive, ideological, and economic conditions that shaped their production and the subjectivity of both artist and beholder. However, this approach was deservedly contested for its tendency to interpret works of art in a rather schematic fashion as mere illustrations of social conditions, ultimately neglecting the genuine logic of artistic phenomena. Are there theoretical models today that, while staying true to Social Art History's methodological insights, can lead a way out of this theoretical impasse? Is there a way to reconcile formalist or phenomenological approaches with an attention to social and historical factors? And how can we write a contemporary social history in a non-reductive way, given recent shifts in media culture and forms of immaterial labor?
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Cambridge, Mass./ New York
Andrea Fraser, Los Angeles
Gertrud Koch, Berlin
Isabelle Graw, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin
chaired by Sven Lütticken, Amsterdam/ Utrecht

8:30 pm:

9:30 pm:
Panel III: From the Anti-Aesthetic to Aesthetic Experience?
In recent years, art criticism has witnessed a complete re-evaluation of the validity and reach of the notion of the aesthetic. Whereas postmodern theories of artistic production of the 1980s were largely determined by an anti-aesthetic impulse in their attempt to contest idealist tenets of the bourgeois appreciation of art, today's debates are shaped by a return of the aesthetic in terms of a new valuation and conceptualization of the beholder's experience of artworks, even if the latter defy modernist ideals of autonomy and self-sufficiency. This panel sets out to explore the implications and repercussions of this paradigm shift: Is the notion of aesthetic experience inadvertently championing an individualistic idea of the beholder? To what extent can it provide a model that would do justice to the specificity of a work in terms of its form and content as well as its social context, rather than explicating a universal mode of perception? Might the aesthetic be reliant on an emphatic idea of "Art" that, for many good reasons, had been challenged—if not utterly shattered—by critical art practices ever since the avant-gardes and the new spirit of capitalism, which is to a certain degree based on the recuperation of artistic critique?
T.J. Clark, London
Helmut Draxler, Stuttgart/ Berlin
Jutta Koether, Hamburg/ New York
Juliane Rebentisch, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin
chaired by Christoph Menke, Frankfurt am Main/ Berlin

learning zulu

image: mary sibande

text from

The plane hits the tarmac with a brief thud. I have landed in South Africa, for the first time. As I exit through the sliding doors of the baggage claim area, an elderly woman is waving at me. She works with Amnesty International, one of the organisations I have come to volunteer for, and she has kindly offered to host me for the first couple of weeks of my stay, until I find a place of my own.

She is talkative. On the way from the airport to C.’s home, I am told a variety of colourful and impressive stories about her life. I presume they are meant to give me a) an introduction to my host and b) an insight into the recent political history of the country. C. is not shy to talk about her achievements as a liberal white in the anti-apartheid struggle. And she has every reason not to be. She was a member of the Black Sash and had many black friends, who she didn’t hesitate to drop off in townships after curfew, when demonstrations ran late, even though her husband thought it too dangerous. To defy segregation and unfair apartheid laws, she also went swimming with black friends on a whites-only beach, risking arrest. According to her husband J., the apartheid regime soon took such a strong interest in C.’s political activities that its spies rented the house opposite their home to be able to watch her every step.

As we pull into the driveway of their simple face-brick single storey in an upper middleclass neighbourhood, I am made aware that C.’s house is the only one in the area that is not surrounded by a fence. One can walk straight up to the front door. C. and her husband make a point not to be one of those post-apartheid whites who lock themselves in … and others out.

Needless to say, I am impressed and feel blessed to have found a host with such an impressive life story. These first weeks as C.’s guest will be an incredible opportunity to get to know South African life from a critical, politically aware point of view, I think to myself.

C. shows me to my room and after I have dropped off my luggage gives me a quick tour of the house so that I can make myself comfortable. Room by room, she explains where I can find what and about the daily routines of her household. I quickly gather that C.’s life is organised down to the tee, according to a well thought out system and schedule. And I am expected to quickly catch on so that I can make sure to fit in. From 12h00 to 13h00 every day, for example, is J.’s “sacrosanct hour”, I am told, and during this time, no-one is allowed to speak to him. Not the domestic worker, not me, the guest, and not even his wife. It begins to dawn on me that this stay will be an interesting one from more than just a political perspective.

We proceed to the kitchen, where I am shown how to find my way around. C. explains based on what system the fridge and the scullery are stocked. She also shows me where to find glasses, plates, cutlery and so on. Then, she opens the cupboard underneath the sink. Next to neatly stacked cleaning paraphernalia is placed a lonely, chipped set consisting of a plate, a mug, a fork and a teaspoon. The teaspoon is important because ‘they’ like to drink their tea with lots of sugar. C. is speaking about her domestic worker, who, she explains, does not eat from the same crockery and cutlery than the rest of us. I am a little shocked but say nothing, only too aware of my role as a guest, who has come from another continent, who knows nothing about how life is lived in the New South Africa and who better be grateful for the generous hospitality offered. How dare I question or criticise?

I go to my room and lie down on the bed to rest from the long flight. My first impressions and experiences of this country so different from anything I know float through my head until I fall into a deep, exhausted sleep.

I am awoken two hours later by a gentle knock on the door. “Dinner is ready,” says C., popping her head into the room. When I walk into the dining room, I am introduced to J., an elderly gentleman with refined features and a welcoming smile. A black woman is carrying bowls of food from the kitchen and places them onto the elegantly laid-out dining table. I am briefly introduced to S., the domestic worker. Then, we sit down to eat, while S. retreats to the kitchen. I imagine her sitting all by herself on a wooden chair with her chipped plate on her lap.

After we have dished up, J. notices that salt and pepper are missing. He opens a little drawer next to his place at the table and takes out a silver bell. Ding, ding, ding it goes and a few seconds later, S. emerges from the kitchen to inquire what is needed. Apologetically she scurries back into the kitchen, to re-enter the dining room with a set of salt and pepper shakers. For the second time in the day I am flabbergasted. For the second time, I don’t say anything. Is this really the house of the liberal anti-apartheid activist who risked arrest by protesting discriminatory apartheid law?

The next morning, I am awoken by the warm rays of the sun that shine through my bedroom window. Even though it is winter in South Africa, it is nice and warm. T-shirt weather. When I step out onto the veranda to breathe in the fresh morning air, I come upon J. who is reading the newspaper in a wicker chair in the shade. We get to talk about this and that, the news of the day, the quality of South African newspapers and how I am planning to spend my time in this country. “If you truly want to understand this country and its people, you should learn isiZulu,” J. suggests. That’s a good idea, I nod. J. gets up to search for an English-Zulu phrasebook he would like to lend me. Five minutes later, he is back, holding a thin book in his hand. “Here you go,” he says as he hands it to me.

I only get to sit down for my first isiZulu ‘lesson’ in the evening, after a day of taking in the sights of the city and familiarising myself with my new surroundings. I open the cover page of the book and see that it is divided into several chapters around the home: the kitchen, the garden, the garage and so on. I turn to the first chapter: the garden. “Fetch the watering can” the first sentence reads. “Don’t dig here” the next follows. “Clean your boots” reads the next one. I can see where this going. It suddenly dawns on me that what I am reading is not a Zulu phrasebook to understand a culture and a people but rather a tool for a white baas to give orders to his staff.

With a sigh, I close the book, realising how many shades of grey there are between black and white.