Report: How to create, and archive resistance?
On the 8th of March 2017 – International Women’s Day – Framer Framed organised a discussion evening together with Atria – Institute on gender equality and women’s history and Amsterdam Museum. This event, named Imagining and Capturing Resistance, was part of Meer dan Muze; a joint initiative led by Mama Cash that aimed to highlight female makers on International Women’s Day.
The discussion, which was introduced by the director of Atria – Renée Römkens –, focused on activism, its links to art, and the politics of representation and archiving. By calling on the recent Women’s March of the 21st of January 2017 as the event’s point of departure, Renée Römkens remembered the enormous amount of creativity that was present in the march; for instance, in the banners and protest signs that demonstrators made, and in the noteworthy pink pussy hats that became a – nonetheless debatable – symbol of the march.
To hold a dialogue on issues of activism and creativity, the event was framed in the following way: after Renée Römkens’ brief preface on the subject – in which she narrated her personal experience at the Women’s March in Washington, and the importance of the march considering Trump’s attacks on organisations focused on gender equality and gender violence –, moderator Seada Nourhussen took the floor to open the evening. The speakers in this debate would be artist Gluklya (who gave a short presentation on her work), curator Imara Limon, activist vreer verkerke, archivist and activist Tashina Blom, and journalist Clarice Gargard. By raising questions such as the (im)possibility of merging activism in institutions, and questioning the dynamics of image-creation, archiving, and representation, in her introduction the moderator appropriately brought up several topics that would continue to appear throughout the evening: whose voices get to speak louder than others, and what are the hidden politics behind the creation and representation of images?
The first speaker to ponder on these questions was Russian artist Gluklya, who presented her work briefly in order to constitute the foundations of the discussion. Gluklya, who is well-known for her pieces on conceptual clothes – objects that link back to both art and everyday life –, as well as for co-founding the collective The Factory of Found Clothes (in 1995) and being an active member of Chto Delat?, began her presentation by reading from her Manifesto of Found Clothes (written in 2002, shortly after Putin’s election). The manifesto strikingly reads, “the place of the artist is on the side of the weak”.
The artist then engaged with her work Demonstration Against False Election of Vladimir Putin (2011-2015), which was exhibited at the 56th Venice Biennale. Gluklya showed the audience images of the 2011 protests that took place in Russia against Putin and his Party – which she compellingly described as an emotional encounter, “like a piece of art” –, in which she took part by using clothes attached to poles as demonstration banners. For her installation at the Venice Biennale of 2015 the artist installed similar clothes-banners and aligned them one after the other; transforming these – otherwise personal – pieces into “public and political weapons”. As Gluklya explained throughout her presentation, much of her work is inspired by a certain Utopian drive and imagination; as some of the slogans she sewed onto the clothes exhibited in Demonstration Against False Election of Vladimir Putin were real slogans taken from the demonstrations against Putin (such as: “Movement for Fair Elections”) – and others, such as “Gays of the World Unite”, were not. In a similar style to Mocumentaries, the artist then asked the audience to guess which slogans were real and which weren’t.
Gluklya ended her presentation by recalling another one of her projects, Debates on Division: When the Private Becomes Public (2014), a two-piece performance curated by Anna Bitkina. The first part of this performance, which was staged inside a space and was quite like a “parody of a talk show” (quoting the speaker), evolved around the creation of a new institution: The Museum of Utopian Clothes. Throughout this performance, a committee judged which of the garments carefully presented – together with the clothes’ own history – should enter the museum, thus staging the process of selection and competitiveness that takes place in real institutions. The second part of the performance was a performative demonstration; as the actors and participants involved took to the streets and marched along Nevskiy Prospekt to the Gogol Monument in St Petersburg; actively engaging with the reality and unreality that seems to underline much of the artist’s work.
Once Gluklya’s presentation ended, the moderator – Seada Nourhussen – asked both the artist and Imara Limon to join the stage to start the discussion. Imara Limon curated the exhibition Black Amsterdam in the Amsterdam Museum, as part of the Netherlands first Black Achievement Month. On the topic of resistance and the institution – a topic both speakers are well acquainted with –, Gluklya wisely mentioned how resistance can take place within the institution – but it is very rare. As an example of an institution that supports and embraces defiance from within, she explained how she is currently collaborating with TAAK on her new project, which involves working with the refugees that live in Bijlmerbajes (a former prison in Amsterdam) with the aim of creating a performative demonstration that will take place in October 2017 – on the 100th anniversary of the October Revolution.
Upon discussing this same topic, Seada asked Imara Limon how she created resistance from within the institution (in her case, the Amsterdam Museum). By questioning what it means for black people to go to a museum and not see themselves represented, or not represented in the right way, the curator illustrated in what way one can challenge the museum’s display. For instance, through her New Narratives tours – that focus on the narratives of misrepresentation and exclusion of a museum space –, visitors of the Amsterdam Museum are invited to discuss, together with the person who is giving the tour, the (lack of) presence of an object or text in the museum. As Imara explains, these encounters are more than a tour; as they create a dialogue that substantially changes the way something is displayed (for example, the wording in a particular text of an exhibition can be altered as a result of the New Narratives discussion).
When asked about the Amsterdam Museum’s relationship to undocumented migrants, Imara pointed out that refugees will also be invited to give tours of the space. These tours, which are – in the speaker’s own words – based on the interaction created by inviting someone to the museum, and asking the person to react to what is on display, seem to manage to question the institution immediately; bringing debates into the space and creating a direct connection between what is exhibited and how it should be contested.
Before inviting the rest of the speakers on stage the moderator allowed a few questions from the audience. These touched on the possibility of creating a similar strategy of struggle and support in other museums, and on Gluklya’s use of humour in her artworks. When asked about how to relate to resistance – particularly given the current situation –, Gluklya wonderfully illustrated how (quoting her answer) “resistance is the only beauty in life”. She explained her ongoing – and life-long – dilemma in finding a balance between the achievement of a “universal language” that supports defiance and opposition, and the fulfilment of her practice as an artist: in what manner can one’s subjective individuality merge with collective forms of protest and resistance?
Once this discussion ended – with Gluklya narrating how she will use furniture in her October demonstration, particularly chairs, as a way of bringing the mundane into the protest –, Seada Nourhussen introduced the rest of the speakers: vreer verkerke (activist and initiator of Queer Collective De Noodles, founded in 2001), Tashina Blom (student of Cultural Analysis, research assistant at the University of Amsterdam’s Committee of Diversity, and currently working on an archive of the Maagdenhuis 2015 occupation), and Clarice Gargard (journalist, presenter and publicist; known as a presenter for AT5 and currently working for Joop).
Interestingly, of all the speakers, Clarice Gargard was the only one who went to the Women’s March of January 21st 2017. After discussing the importance and meaning of the march, vreer pointed out that, in their opinion, the organisation of the demonstration was not inclusive enough (as it seemed to be organised by mainly white and cis-gender people) – although it is the participants at the demonstration itself that made it inclusive. As a response to this, vreer organised a queer block for the march that would happen a few days after the event (on March 11th 2017). In discussing the importance of including transgender people in these marches, vreer pointed out how “being trans gives you a unique perspective of the world” – and as such, the queer block is essential.
When asked how they would make demonstrations more inclusive, vreer answered that it is necessary to have a collective, progressive consciousness of the existence and participation of queer people – which is something the Netherlands often lacks. The discussion then steered towards the audience, as those present were asked what their thoughts on the march were. One member of the public interestingly pointed out the problematic aspects of the organisation in charge of putting together the first Women’s March in Amsterdam, as they seemingly did not want to take a clear political stance against Trump or Wilders. After briefly discussing the controversial aspect of the pink pussy hats – that became a symbol of the protests –, at which point Clarice Gargard aptly mentioned that not all pussies are pink, the moderator introduced the question of archiving into the conversation.
To do so, Seada asked Tashina Blom how one would go about archiving an event that has so much media coverage as the Women’s March. As a reply, the speaker accurately illustrated the importance of involving the voices of all the event’s participants to counterbalance – what she called – reductive media narratives. For this to happen, institutions and activists need to work with each other to make sure certain information is archived. As an example of this, Tashina mentioned how the University of Colour did not get much media coverage during the 2015 Maagdenhuis occupation (which they were part of); and how activists counteracted this by actively including their slogan (“no Democratization without Decolonization”) in the Maagdenhuis archive (that is part of the Stadstarchief of Amsterdam). At this point, vreer rightfully pointed out that when gathering such vast amounts of material, data will, at some point, need to be turned into information – thus implying that there will always be political choices involved in the process of archiving.
Whilst answering a question from the audience related to the Maagdenhuis occupation activists’ way of filtering the right information through the media, Tashina Blom illustrated how the “freedom of information” request allowed the activists to find out, after the occupation, that the damage they supposedly made to the Maagdenhuis building (worth €500.000) was not real. Through this request, they learned that reputation managers were hired by the ones in charge of the space, one month before the eviction, to come up with the fictional story and disseminate it through the media. This fact surprised everyone present; as the speakers agreed that this information should not only be archived – but also be presented as news.
Towards the end of the evening the discussion returned to the topic of the Women’s March, as those present discussed how the lack of inclusivity of these events goes down in history; for instance, how women of colour and trans women are almost never credited for their role in the Stonewall riots of 1969. This goes back to the question of who is creating the information; as the voices of those who have the power of writing history will always mirror the history that is being written – and will therefore affect how information is presented in the news and the media. As Clarice Gargard explained, it is adamant to uncover the stories that are silenced by the Western scope of news media and history; as there is much work to be done in disclosing and divulging the movements and struggles that have happened – and are currently happening – throughout the world, and we are not aware of.
After an audience member indicated the possibility of making room for scholarships and research that reflects on these issues; the moderator marked the end of the event by asking the speakers how collaboration between those present could be made possible. To this, Imara Limon answered that solidarization and an active initiation of collaborations is needed; and vreer called on those creating an archive to be attentive to its co-creation from the beginning – as one needs to be careful, and ethically responsible, when constituting such a tool. Tashina Blom mentioned that archives (such as the ones concerned with protests) must relay responsibilities, as they can help envision different futures, thus calling for a collaboration between artists and archivists to make this possible; and Clarice Gargard delegated her answer to visual artist Alexis Blake, who was in the audience. By explaining her work, Alexis Blake highlighted the importance of collaboration and co-creation between different people when building archival projects – such as hers, that focuses on the female body and its representation “within dissonance” (quoting her words), originating from an open-source online archive she created. The last to answer Seada’s question was Gluklya, who reminded us that – as her Manifesto for Found Clothes reads – the place of the artist is with the vulnerable. Tying into this, Gluklya aptly questioned the place of the vulnerable within the archive; and encouraged the materialization of a collaboration between the speakers present at the event. After delivering a few timely closing remarks, the moderator concluded the discussion.
Some of the speakers and audience members present at the event later coincided at the Women’s March of Amsterdam on March 11th, 2017. Throughout that day, there was an element of astonishing beauty and awe-inspiring strength in seeing so many different people come together to march. Nonetheless, as a recurring banner at these demonstrations reads, I can’t believe we still have to protest for this – and, adding my own commentary, a protest alone will not suffice. Let us apply the remarks of each one of the speakers of the event discussed in this report to our own, everyday lives, retaining a sense of insistency, collectivity, and care; to unearth the stories of those who aren’t privileged enough to be archived – and defend the refusal to be silenced.
Text: Iona Sharp Casas Interview with Anna Battista, 56th Venice Biennale, 19 May 2015.
The living archive / Feminism / Queer /