Fortleben: The Surviving Structure

                                   Fortleben: The Surviving Structure.

This summer intensive was the brightest and sunniest summit of the 2010-2011 year for me, no matter the actual weather in Vancouver that some called disappointing. For the sake of not uttering empty statements I could offer a brief review of it in a more or less chronological order: our group presentations were highly informative, provided many interesting vantage points into the discourses that started a year ago; we have held fruitful discussions of each others’ practices, learned how to organize critiques and offer judgements that “spring from a work of art’s logic and… go beyond and against its limitations” (Sven Lutticken, 53). We learned how to organize our work within a group exhibition, while making compromises and decisions based on the idea of best exposure for everyone’s work. We also enjoyed a diversity of visiting artists’ presentations and had a glimpse into their experience of the contemporary art contexts. My group and I enjoyed and ‘endured’ the visiting artists’ critiques and registered every piece of advice for immediate and future use. We roamed shows together and exchanged opinions on readings.

    I deliberately account for the Seminar in Dialogues and Interactions as undivided from the rest of the 2011 summer intensive because the seminar bears the name that could easily encompass the whole experience of the period since May 24 till July 30. That in my opinion, comprised what was the most valuable in the intensive – the dialogues and interactions with our instructors, fellow students, and visiting artists. The more focused outcomes and the more specific for my own artistic persona I dare put into the form of a hybrid between a credo and a ‘things to do’ list which might also resemble a manifesto:

  1.  Never send to know for whom they speak, write or toll. Peel your eyes, open your ears: they speak, write, and toll for thee.
  2. Travel light. Do not hoard. Shake off the unnecessary. (“Take away the elements in order of apparent non importance” (The Game).
  3. Be voracious in reading but … go back to #2.
  4. Pursue self-reflexivity and re-contextualization.
  5. If you are prone to crumbling under questioning – have no fear – crumble! You will rebuild yourself later. You will rebuild yourself stronger.
  6. Friendly critiques are friendly. Seek the ferocious ones: they will kick you off-balance. That is the best position for a new start.
  7. Do not dismiss aggressive critiques/ critics. They have a point/position. Find out what that is.
  8. Crisis is an inevitable step in critical and self-critical process.
  9. If you hesitate between a facade touch-ups and demolition in your practice – go for demolition: “deep inside you know you deserve it!” (Joyce Lindermulder, 2010, 2011)
  10. Embrace the idea of kenosis – self-emptying in the spirit of openness to signals from above. Remember: new truths can strike at any time. Be radically open.
  11. “Judgement needs a critical ethos beyond a friendly set of checks and balances. It needs to be repeatedly deconstructed from within” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 13)
  12. Never shy away from questioning the questions, critiquing critics, and judging judges. Make sure the feedback you receive is really useful.
  13. Dissolve sugar-coats. Get to the core.
  14. Eleventh hour aspect is a friend, not a foe. Under pressure – act, do not idle.
  15. Chat over drinks with those who read annotations only. Have long conversations with those who indulge in reading from cover to cover. Always take notes.
  16. Learn how to use your work as a conveyer, not as a container (Atom Egoyan, 26).
  17. Never start your statements with “I might be mistaken but…” Speak up only when you have something to say. Noise is a major pollutant.
  18. Re-evaluate you own position as often as needed. Never sleep on it.
  19. Admire great innovative projects of others. Spread the word. “Create new audiences” (Kristina Lee Podesva, 124).
  20. Count yourself in. Not only others put things on the map. You do too.
  21. Asap: Decide whether your research is practice-led or theory-driven.
  22.  “Welcome professional uncertainty, apprehension and interruption as good, clean, crazy fun” (Tirdad Zolghadr, 20).
  23. Self-centeredness is not self-indulgent: talk about yourself. “We have nothing but our better or worse selves through which to process the world” (Tom Morton, 35).
  24. Do not try to squeeze your life-story in a 15 minutes presentation. Describe a project instead. Let them ask questions.
  25. Follow the model of critique offered by Kristina Lee Podesva:

       a. Describe what you see/ experience in a piece

             b. Offer your interpretations of the piece

             c. Come up with questions clarifying the artist’s intentions

             d. Receive the artist’s answers; discuss them

       26. Go back to square #2. Often.

Works Cited:

  1. Egoyan, Atom. “Surface Tension”, Image and Territory, Toronto: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 2006.
  2. Lutticken, Sven. “A Tale of Two Criticisms” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  3. Morton, Tom. “Three or Four Types of Intimacy” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  4. Lee Podesva, Kristina, ed. “Panel One” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.
  5. Zolghadr, Tirdad. “Worse than Kenosis” from Khonsary, Jeff, O’Brian, Melanie, eds. Judgement and Contemporary Art Criticism. Vancouver: Artspeak and Fillip Editions, 2010.







                          Fortleben. The Surviving Structure. (From a Dialogue on the Way Home).

-          I am thinking of making a sculpture or an installation this fall.

-          Really? Like what?

-          Well, right now I see it as a structure made of wooden panels… maybe, 1/3 or 2/3-s; vertical structure standing 7’ or so high and about 3’ wide…

-          A door? Seriously? It has been done to death! Quite banal too, I would say. (With fear I notice a grin on my husband’s face)

-          Yes, I know. In my abstract sculpture class we had this assignment of starting with a door and making a sculpture around it. No, there will be no door – maybe just a doorframe or something that can be associated with a doorway.

-          And what will that mean?

-          Passages. Leaving. Also fear of unknown: if I found a structure like that in the middle of nowhere, I would be too superstitious to walk through it. And I was always scared to leave… But also an ‘opening’ – you know Chris said that by introducing lines, map elements and other signifiers I possibly “just cracked my method open” for others. I think by “method” he means my abstract print that I always think as ‘my landscape language’ or something that has survived from all the moving and fleeing experience. I believe he was viewing it as just as a mindless process.

-          Do you think a process – any process can be mindless?

-          Chewing? No, I know what you mean. No I do not think that painting process is just a mindless pouring or a mark-making. Not unless you close your eyes. Even so – you made a choice to close them, right? But I want my art to mean more. Or to convey more. I do not think I managed to do this too well up to this point. This structure will tell more, I believe.

-          How so?

-          It comes from theory. Jacques Derrida in The Ear of the Other speaks of the internal border that exists between the two bodies: the body of work and the actual physical border of the author. If you try to divide these two bodies the line is blurred and you can’t make sense of it any longer. That’s why my work is about my experience – immigration, mapping, re-building identity.

-          I know, but what with that door – ?

-          That is just a continuation of the same thought – for me at least – in the same book there is a chapter “Roundtable on Translation” where Derrida quotes Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Task of the Translator”: when you translate from other languages (and from several, too) and still want to understand a text as an original – you have to understand it independently of its living conditions – the conditions obviously of its author’s life. Here Derrida contradicts himself – he just said it is impossible. But he agrees with Walter Benjamin when the latter says you have to understand it instead in its “surviving structure” – he calls it Fortleben. So I thought: if you strip my work which is an embodied experience bare of all the junk, all the untranslatable “living conditions” – what skeleton will remain standing that will still signify the hardships of passages? – I thought of that structure – the doorframe…

My husband looks straight at the road ahead. He does not say anything. I do not ask for comments – I am still thinking. In the next half-hour when I am dozing off, I see that structure, exposed to the elements, surviving the summer thunderstorms, covered with ice in the winter, looking beaten and half-rotten by the arrival of spring 2012… Maybe fallen on the ground with some new arrogant spring growth all around. Still surviving…


Works Cited:

  1. Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator”, Illuminations. Zohn, Harry, trans. Arendt, Hannah, ed. 1968. New York: Schocken Books, 2007, Print.
  2. Derrida, Jacques. The Ear of the Other, 1982. University of Nebraska Press, 1988. Print




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