Publications

2019/10/30: Book Publication: Research/Practice 01: Michael Rakowitz: I’m good at love, I’m good at hate, it’s in between I freeze (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)

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Research/Practice 01: Michael Rakowitz: I’m good at love, I’m good at hate, it’s in between I freeze (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)

Editor: Anthony Downey

Michael Rakowitz’s project I’m good at love, I’m good at hate, it’s in between I freeze (2009–ongoing) charts the historical context and aftermath of a concert that never happened. In 2009 Leonard Cohen was scheduled to perform in Israel. Because of increasing pressure from pro-Palestinian voices to dissuade Cohen from performing in Israel, a twin event in Palestine was organized. Amid protests and claims that the latter concert was a token show of solidarity and a hollow attempt to appease demonstrators, a cultural boycott of Israel was put in place and the concert was canceled. But the story, as Rakowitz’s work demonstrates, did not end there. Conjoining the cultural histories of Palestine and Israel with the ethical dilemmas faced by performers under the conditions of a boycott, this volume, the first in the Research/Practice series, brings to light the research that went into this multifaceted work and plots the future arc of its trajectory.

Edited by Anthony Downey, Research/Practice focuses on artistic research and how it contributes to the formation of experimental knowledge systems. Drawing on preliminary material such as diaries, notebooks, audiovisual content, digital and social media, informal communications, and abandoned drafts of projects, the series examines the interdisciplinary methods that artists employ in their practices. Each volume endeavors to ask: In their often speculative and yet purposeful approach to research, what forms of innovative knowledge do artists produce?

For full details of the volume see here: MIT Press: I’m good at love, I’m good at hate, it’s in between I freeze

 

2019/10/30: Book Publication: Research/Practice 03: Larissa Sansour Heirloom (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)

Larissa Sonsour Heirloom Cover
Research/Practice 03: Larissa Sansour Heirloom (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)
Editor: Anthony Downey
This volume includes an essay by Nat Muller and an in-depth interview between Sansour and Lindsey Moore.

 

Heirloom documents the development of the artistic research for Palestinian artist Larissa Sansour’s project for the Danish Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale. It explores how recurrent notions in Sansour’s oeuvre, such as memory, trauma, identity, epigenetics, and belonging, intertwine with the discourses of science fiction and environmental disaster narratives. The volume also examines what it means to produce work from within contested geographies, specifically considering how, through research and the process of production, the artist grapples with complex issues of national representation. In keeping with the focus in this series on the research that informs the elaboration of an artist’s work over time, the material for this publication has been collated in parallel with its development over the past year.

Edited by Anthony Downey, Research/Practice focuses on artistic research and how it contributes to the formation of experimental knowledge systems. Drawing on preliminary material such as diaries, notebooks, audiovisual content, digital and social media, informal communications, and abandoned drafts of projects, the series examines the interdisciplinary methods that artists employ in their practices. Each volume endeavors to ask: In their often speculative and yet purposeful approach to research, what forms of innovative knowledge do artists produce?

For full details of the volume see here: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/heirloom

For full details of the book launch see here: https://copenhagencontemporary.org/en/event/cc-opening-larissa-sansour/

 

2019/10/23: Book Publication: Critique in Practice: Renzo Martens’ Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)

 

 

Enjoy Poverty Cover

Critique in Practice: Renzo Martens’ Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (Sternberg Press: Berlin and New York, 2019)
Editor: Anthony Downey
Associate Editor: Els Roelandt
 
Investigating the economic value of one of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s most lucrative exports (namely, poverty), Renzo Martens’ provocative film Episode III: Enjoy Poverty (2008) remains a landmark intervention into debates about contemporary art’s relationship to exploitative economies. Throughout Critique in Practice, contributors explore the work’s legacy and how it relates to the politics of representation, uses of the documentary form, art criticism, the deployment of humanitarian aid, the impact of extractive forms of globalized capital, and the neoliberal politics of decolonization. The unconventional representation of acute immiseration throughout Enjoy Poverty generated far-from-resolved disputes about how deprivation is portrayed within Western mainstream media and through global cultural institutions. Using a range of approaches, this volume reconsiders that portrayal and how the film’s reception led Martens to found a long term program, Human Activities.
 
Contributors: Ariella Aïsha Azoulay, Eva Barois De Caevel, Pieter Van Bogaert, Jelle Bouwhuis, JJ Charlesworth, T.J. Demos, Angela Dimitrakaki, Anthony Downey, Charles Esche, Dan Fox, Matthias De Groof, Xander Karskens, J.A. Koster, Kyveli Lignou-Tsamantani, Suhail Malik, Renzo Martens, Nina Möntmann, René Ngongo, Paul O’Kane, Laurens Otto, Nikolaus Perneczky, Kolja Reichert, Els Roelandt, Ruben De Roo, ka˛rî’ka˛chä seid’ou, Gregory Sholette, Sanne Sinnige, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Emilia Terracciano, Nato Thompson, Niels Van Tomme, Frank Vande Veire, Eyal Weizman, Vivian Ziherl, and Artur Zmijewski, among others.
 
This volume is co-published by Human Activities, KASK / School of Arts (Ghent), Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven), and Sternberg Press (Berlin). It is supported by Galerie Fons Welters, KASK / School of Arts, Mondriaan Fund, and Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.
 
For full details of the volume see here: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/critique-practice

Book Review: Future Imperfect, ed. by Anthony Downey, Third Text, April 2018.

 

Future Imperfect

Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East (2017) edited by Anthony Downey

Rawan Sharaf Khatib

This volume is an extensive anthology that investigates the history and current politics of cultural institutions and production in the Middle East. It is the latest addition to the series ‘Visual Culture in the Middle East’ published by Ibraaz, and was preceded by Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in North Africa and the Middle East (2014) and Dissonant Archives: Contemporary Visual Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East (2015). The series, which is based on questions raised in Ibraaz’s ‘Platforms for discussion’, attempts to interpret and comprehend how the accelerated regional upheaval, with the social and economic breakdown caused by revolutions, counter-revolutions and civil wars, has echoed in visual and cultural practices in terms of responses to the specific antagonisms, and the developing of alternative structures and models of production while operating in precarious political conditions. And how, simultaneously, cultural production in the region is influenced by the global cultural economy, and perhaps even co-opted, or at least driven by, the politics and parameters of a globalised art market.

For the full review see Third Text online review here.

Catalogue Essay: “Transposing the Vernacular: Moving Images in the Work of Akram Zaatari” , 2018

 

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“The internet has effected an unprecedented historical instance of accelerated image production that has fundamentally realigned the way we view, understand, and disseminate moving images. This may appear to be a truism of sorts but it is currently estimated that over 400 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every minute. Although it is the second most popular website in the world, this still needs to be put into perspective: if we extrapolate, this means that 24,000 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every hour which is the equivalent of over half a million hours of footage being uploaded every day. Although it is the second most popular website in the world, this still needs to be put into perspective: if we extrapolate, this means that 24,000 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube every hour which is the equivalent of over half a million hours of footage being uploaded every day.”

To ready the full essay, please click here.

“Transposing the Vernacular: Moving Images in the Work of Akram Zaatari”, is catalogue essay published on the occasion of Akram Zaatari’s touring show, The Script, launched at the New Art Exchange (13 July — 9 September 2018). It toured to Turner Contemporary (19 October 2018 — 6 January 2019), and Modern Art Oxford (23 March — 2 May 2019).

Essay: “Where to Now? Imminent Impermanence in the Works of Sheela Gowda” (November, 2017)

 

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“On 2 March 2012, the precincts of the City Civil Court in Bangalore, erupted into mayhem as a pitched battle broke out between members of the judiciary and local media groups. These skirmishes quickly degenerated into acts of vandalism and the local police force waded in with a lathi-charge — or baton charge — to restore order. Three months before these events, the same judicial advocates had staged a boycott of the courts, following an unprovoked attack on one of their members by police. This attack was part of a pattern of intimidation and harassment that, as far as the judiciary were concerned, was impeding their ability to carry out their duties. Infuriated by police harassment and, at the time, the adverse media coverage of their strike (which they considered both legitimate and necessary), the judiciary turned their anger towards the media”.

To read full essay, please click here

“Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, is a catalogue essay published on the occasion of Sheela Gowda, Ikon Gallery, November 2017.

An edited version of this essay, also titled “Where to Now: Imminent Impermanence in the Work of Sheela Gowda”, was included in the exhibition catalogue for Sheela Gowda’s retrospective show, Remains, at Fondazione Pirelli HangarBicocca, Milan, April 4th to September 15th, 2019, with other critical essays by art historian Geeta Kapur and writer and curator Pablo Lafuente, a text on the show by the curators as well as well as contributions by Roger M. Buergel, Grant Watson, Abhishek Hazra, Jessica Morgan, Zehra Jumabhoy, Marta Kuzma and Tobias Ostrander.

In October 2019 an adapted version of this show will travel to Bombas Gens Centre d’Art, Valencia.

 

Book Publication: Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K (Walter Koenig Books, August 2017), Documenta 14, Kassel

May 2017

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Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K
Edited by Anthony Downey.
Contributors: Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Aneta Szyłak, and Bakir Ali.
Publisher: Walther König Verlag.
Publication Date: May 31, 2017.
244 pp.
Colour illustrations.

Last time I saw my mom before my farewell, I said, “Mom, I am leaving for good.  I don’t know… maybe I will not make it like the other 28 people who got shot last week” . She said “Son, if death comes, don`t panic. It is just death”. 

Hiwa K, “Don’t Panic”, 2016

Covering over decade of projects, Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K provides the first comprehensive account of the artist’s practice to date. Edited by Anthony Downey, with a foreword by Heike Catherina Mertens and Krist Gruijthuijsen, the volume includes essays by Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Natasha Ginwala, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Aneta Szyłak, and a conversation between the artist and Bakir Ali. A series of texts have been prepared and revised by the artist, and he has also included a collection of anecdotes that recount gossip, stories, jokes, personal insights, conundrums, and aphorisms garnered from multiple sources. These have all been translated into Kurdish for the first time. The volume is fully illustrated and will contain extended notes on the works.

To read Anthony Downey’s essay, “Unbearable States: Hiwa K and the Performance of Everyday Life”, see here

 Don’t Shrink Me to the Size of a Bullet: The Works of Hiwa K was launched at KW (Berlin), 31 May, and Documenta 14 (Kassel), 11 June, 2017.

Buy the book here.

ISBN 978-3-96098-160-2

 

 

 

Essay: “Scopic Reflections: Incoming and the Technology of Exceptionalism” (February, 2017)

February 2017

Richard Mosse In Conversation with Anthony Downey

 

‘I see only from one point, but in my existence am looked at from all sides.’

– Jacques Lacan

“From the opening of Richard Mosse’s film Incoming (2016), it is evident that we are looking at something disturbingly vivid. Abstract images, grounded in a resounding radar-like echo, give way to the supersonic pitch of a strident, purposeful engine. A tenebrous image of a fighter jet strafing a town with laser-like intensity, its nose incandescent with heat as it fires round after round of needle-like missiles, appears almost languid and disconcertingly graceful in its livid ambit. An anti-aircraft gunfires back, no doubt in vain, at this incredibly fast moving object,while explosions are registered as bleached out columns of billowing phosphorescent light. Subsequent images show a ship boarding people from a rubber dinghy, their forms bleached out and spectral. Moments later, we see the irradiated deck of an aircraft carrier complete with fighter jets undergoingpreparation for imminent attack. This could be a video game or hell incarnate – or, potentially, both”.

To read full essay, please click here

To listen to Richard Mosse in conversation with Anthony Downey, Barbican Centre, 2017, please click here.

To purchase a copy of Richard Mosse, click here.

Book Publication: “Future Imperfect: Critical Propositions and Institutional Realities in the Middle East” (December, 2016)

December 2016

Future Imperfect

There is a momentous process happening across the Middle East and North Africa today. It is an insidious development, partly surreptitious but mostly blatant in its operations. It is an evolving phenomenon that affects numerous people and communities, albeit to different degrees, and yet remains, with a few exceptions, unobserved. This development, if allowed ascendancy, will present an insurmountable obstacle to social, political, economic and cultural progress across the region. It will also hinder and obstruct relations between individuals and within communities for generations to come.

Future Imperfect: Contemporary Art Practices and Cultural Institutions in the Middle East launched on 22 February 2017 at Delfina Foundation, London.

Read the full essay and introduction.

To read the introduction to Volume 01 in this series, Uncommon Grounds: New Media and Critical Practices in the Middle East, see here.

To read the introduction to Volume 02 in this series, Dissonant Archives: Culture and Contested Narratives in the Middle East, see here.

To purchase a copy of Future Imperfect please follow this link.

Foreword: Qalandiya International Catalogue, This Sea is Mine, 6 October 2016

6 October 2016

Tarek Al-Goussein, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa. Copyright the artist

Tarek Al-Goussein, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa.Copyright the artist

 

Read original publication here

 

In 2005, the Palestinian author, activist and academic Ghada Karmi returned to Ramallah to work as a consultant for the Palestinian Authority’s ministry of media and communications. In her recently published memoir covering her extended time there, Return (2015), she recounts the travails of that role alongside her all too potent memories of places and towns she had not seen since her childhood. Exiled from Palestine in 1948, and thereafter settling in Britain, Karmi describes herself as a ‘full-time Palestinian’ – an activist dedicated to the one cause that has given her life meaning: redressing the historical dispossession endured by the Palestinian nation.  Despite the sense of occasion and expectation engendered by her return, Karmi’s journey was a less than triumphant event. Finding herself bogged down by the internal politics involved in her new role, and by what she views to be counter-productive defeatism in some quarters and narrow opportunism in others, she resorts to a view that the overarching narrative of historical dispossession has been reduced, by the pervasive influence of the Israeli state, to a day-to-day struggle for survival. This struggle, for her, has effectively usurped any unified sense of a national struggle, or indeed any prospect of a resolution to the abject reality of living under occupation. At one particularly low point, Karmi goes as far as to question her own motives as a returnee, so to speak, and states the following: ‘Flotsam and jetsam, that’s what we have become, scattered and divided. There’s no room for us or our memories here. And it won’t ever be reversed.

Karmi’s Return raises countless questions, and does not make for comfortable reading for all concerned. There is no sense of the catharsis associated with insight; nor is there any sense that the traumatic acknowledgment of historical loss holds out a remedial degree of reconciliation. On the contrary, Karmi find herself doubting the very possibility of representing the reality of modern-day Palestine in all its logistical complexity and all too resonant state of exceptionalism. The conundrum of representation – under the historical conditions of occupancy and the looming exigencies of the present – is a significant and far from resolved feature of Karmi’s book: how do you represent a reality that has been not only sundered by historical forces but remains subject to the fluid and all too fractious, if not arbitrary, demands of an occupying force? What is it, moreover, to engage with the legacies of occupancy and dispossession in the present moment through the rhetoric of individual involvement? This question, of course, is central to any consideration of how contemporary culture engages with and attempts to define the realities of modern-day Palestine. In a milieu defined for many by ascendant forms of political exceptionalism (where the reality of the camp, the refugee and the dispossessed have all become the exemplary, rather than exceptional, symbols of late modernity), how do you, furthermore, represent a state of being that is often denied legal, political and historical representation?

These questions remain central to any over-arching consideration of how contemporary visual culture engages with and represents the exceptional state of being that is day-to-day life in Palestine. There are no easy answers here and, given the fact that Palestine is both a heavily militarized zone and yet remains for many a relatively indistinct one (positioned as it is outside of international law and the sovereign forms of self-governance associated with a state), the politics of representation needs to be consistently articulated here within a series of self-reflexive questions. How do you represent, for example, that which remains suspended within legal and political forms of representation? How do you avoid over-aestheticizing the reality of living within, say, the West Bank or Gaza, so that it becomes symbolic of suffering in general? If Palestine, moreover, is indeed indicative of a prevalent form of strategic spatialization and the quartering of social, political, ethnic and economic relations, then to what extent do strategies of representation need to fully explicate the specificity of this condition and conditioning rather than merely reify it as a form of spectacle?

 

Sophie Shannir, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa. Copyright the artist.

Sophie Shannir, from the exhibition The People of the Sea, Haifa. Copyright the artist.

 

These are, amongst others, the challenges faced by artists in relation to Palestine today and we could further observe here the need to consider the means of production and the form the work takes (what does context do to an image); the context of spectatorship (who is looking and why); the institutional infrastructures involved in the dissemination of images associated with Palestine (who benefits from these images); the means of display (where is it shown and how); and the role of the artist as a quasi-ethnographer-cum-witness in an economy of images that looks at the politics of ‘return’ and the modalities of being that underwrite (and sometimes undermine) the diasporic condition. All of these elements need to be taken into account if representation is to offer a productive and interrogative means for representing such an exceptional reality.

We turn here to a broader concern and a vital element in any consideration of cultural production today: the vectors of association to be had between recent conflict and upheaval within the region and the demands placed upon artists and cultural institutions to ‘report’ these events for global consumption. This is an essential consideration when it comes to understanding why a significant number of international institutions now profess to ‘represent’ conflict, and how the artistic, critical and curatorial legitimacy conferred on these works is often part of a broader continuum of global commodification. Moreover, the ‘value’ associated with images of conflict and dispossession is rarely accrued by the subjects depicted therein, which leads us to the all too pertinent question of agency: who gains from a work of art that purports to represent conflict? Is it the subject of conflict – the migrant, the refugee, the dispossessed, the disappeared – or the artist, gallery, sponsor, non-governmental agency, investor or institution producing and showing the work? This concern may be more institutionally problematic than it initially sounds if we enquire further into the nature of how institutions benefit not only in terms of capital when they invest in artworks, but also politically and socially from their association with images of conflict. The question, simply put, is straightforward enough: who benefits, institutionally, financially, socially, politically and historically, from the work of art when it purports to engage with the realities of Palestine today?

Nida Sinnokrot, Flight - Jalazone, 2016. Part of the exhibition Sites of Return, Ramallah. Copyright the artist

Nida Sinnokrot, Flight – Jalazone, 2016. Part of the exhibition Sites of Return, Ramallah. Copyright the artist

 

Needless to say, these issues are all the more attenuated when we consider the broader representational conundrums associated with Palestine and the extended region of the Middle East. We could note, for one, how the region is currently undergoing a significant degree of political upheaval and social turmoil.  Revolution, uprisings, internecine warfare, civil conflict, and human rights, all of these points of reference have been deployed in an intensification of interest in the region and the coextensive demand that culture either condemns or defends such events and notions. Again, this is an international rather than provincial concern, inasmuch as there remains the ever-present interpretive danger that visual culture from the region is legitimized through the media-friendly symbolism of conflict – the latter rubric being redolent of colonial ambitions to prescribe the culture of the Middle East to a set of problems that revolve around atavistic conflict and extremist ideology. Such concerns, voiced in the wake of uprisings across the region, remind us that colonial paradigms are not only far from defunct, but easily resuscitated through an evolving neo-colonial preoccupation with topics such as an (apparently) irresolvable form of atavistic conflict brought about by an equally irredeemable strain of dogmatic extremism.

Apart from the imminent need to consider the historical contexts out of which this current state of affairs has emerged, and how cultural production has engaged with these frames of reference, the unrelenting instrumentalization of cultural production so that it answers to a global cultural economy must be likewise investigated. Increasingly, and nowhere more so than in an age of deregulation and the dominance of the global culture industry, contemporary art institutions have become more and more involved in forms of promotion, marketing, merchandising, entrepreneurship, sponsorship, community-based programmes, educational courses, expansionism, and the development of transnational networks. This would seem to be a structural necessity in a period defined by hyper-capitalism and the demands of a neoliberal, global economy. Globalization, in this context, and in conjunction with the neoliberal policies that enable its dominance, not only produces rampant forms of ‘uneven development’ but also co-opts cultural economies into the realm of a privatized, overtly politicized ethic of production, exchange, and consumption.

 

Santiago Rizo Zambrano, Democratisation of the Land. Copyright and courtesy the artist

Santiago Rizo Zambrano, Democratisation of the Land. Copyright and courtesy the artist.

 

Given these conundrums and ambiguities and, frankly, the far from resolved issues around representation, it is all the more gratifying to see the 3rd iteration of Qalandiya International (Qi) in place and how it confronts, rather than avoids or abnegates, precisely the terms of these debates as points of departure. This is a brave undertaking and it is, if I may say, an honour for Ibraaz to act as the international media partner for such an important and self-reflexive event that refuses to shy away from, nor disavow, the complexity of representational strategies when it comes to the reality of Palestine and the broader Middle East. It is, moreover, precisely the role that Ibraaz was set up to perform by our parent organization, the Kamel Lazaar Foundation, in 2011 when we endeavoured to initiate a platform that would be solely dedicated to producing critical knowledge, free for all who visited our website, about the politics of knowledge production and the challenges faced by cultural institutions across the region. We are, and remain, fully aware of the logistical problems associated with bringing institutions, cities and people to together in Palestine and it is a substantial achievement to not only bring together 16 art and cultural organizations from within and beyond Palestine but to have them communicate with one another. I hope, on an albeit modest level, that Ibraaz‘s publication of the online catalogue for Qalandiya International will reveal some of that ambition and communicate it, across our digital platform, to an international audience and cohort of supporters.

 

There is a sense, as noted by the organizers in their introductory text, that we must acknowledge the extent to which the so-called ‘return’ project has been diminished to the symbolic realm of visual culture and, thereafter, reassert the degree to which art as a practice is always a social act – a practice that is indelibly imbricated within and often evolving alongside social and political concerns. This is not only evident in the curatorial remits presented here in this online catalogue, but also in the sense that culture has a part to play in defining the terms of the debate about political self-determination and history rather than occupying, so to speak, a position outside or alongside them. This is not, finally, about art practice as a form of political protest (an all too easily co-opted cultural paradigm), nor is this to confuse the artist as protestor (or vice versa). Rather, as we can see throughout the 2016 iteration of Qalandiya International, this is about the potential of art to open up horizons of possible engagement with the politics of return and the complexities associated with the diasporic condition. It is to the credit of Qi that, rather than elide or fetishize such concerns, it embraces the very problems in hand and offers creative forms of exchange and contact to more fully understand and engage with issues that can often appear intransigent, if not interminable.