From April, 2013 onwards, writer and curator Christina Li (HK/NL) takes up the role of a designated Witness to Moderation(s) as it unfolds between Witte de With in Rotterdam and Spring in Hong Kong. As such, Li is invited to post regular blog entries responding to the multi-faceted projects part of Moderation(s).

Li has been a part of Moderation(s) since its inception, and participated in the research and development workshop that took place at Witte de With in October 2012. Li was one of the four curators –together with Lee Ambrozy, Amira Gad, and Xiaoyu Weng– organizing the day-long conference Stories And Situations: The Moderation(s) Conference which took place on 5 October 2013 at Witte de With.


Nadim Abbas (NA) spoke to Christina Li (CL) two weeks before the installation of his piece Holy Mt IV for The Part In The Story Where A Part Becomes A Part Of Something Else, on view at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art from 22 May to 17 August 2014.

CL: For the exhibition, you are showing Holy Mt IV (2014), a pyramid of Tetra Pak beverages, which was part of a larger presentation Tetraphilia that you made specifically for the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès in Singapore.[1] In your practice, you often create a mise en scène composed with individual works. How do you usually extract works out of a cluster to be presented as a stand-alone fragment, or for this exhibition, in particular?

NA: There were a lot of back and forth conversations with the exhibition curators Heman Chong and Samuel Saelemakers. In the beginning, I thought what I would do is to think how the pyramid would work in the context of the exhibition. I thought of a bunch of other things that could be shown alongside it to create a context around it. At one point, I also wanted to make one pyramid out of cat milk. It exists in limited quantities for fancy pets, and the other pyramid I would be made out of non-dairy creamer. The thing about cats is that even though everyone thinks they like milk, when they are adults they cannot digest lactose, so cats can’t actually drink milk. It is a total fallacy. If you buy milk for cats, it is special cat milk. It is lactose free. I have been drinking lactose free milk lately. It’s actually made with lactase, which is this enzyme that digests lactose.

Wilko cat milk.

CL: What kinds of drinks did you use to construct in the pyramid in Singapore?
NA: It was location specific and the main point is that it has to be Tetra Paks. I had four different kinds of drinks in the pyramid, and everything was in multiples of four.

CL: How did you perceive or relate to the context that was offered to you in the exhibition in Rotterdam? The show’s premise could sound very enigmatic and open. There isn’t a context per se, nor are you familiar with the city of Rotterdam.

NA: One of my first responses was to make two pyramids. I would do one with a drink from Hong Kong, and one with a European one. The form will stay the same but the content in the Tetra Pak is different. But then the reply from Samuel and Heman was that they wanted to avoid this obvious East-West binary in the exhibition. I thought about it more, and that’s what shifted me to cat milk. I thought of Valentin Vadimovich the cat that I wrote about in my story Boquerones en vinagre for A Fictional Residency (a sub-project of Moderation(s), Hong Kong, 2013) and I thought it would be nice to bring in two very odd artificial beverages: one of them is for cats, and one of them is for humans. I also wanted to have a coffee station next to the pyramid. After a lot of discussion with Heman and Samuel, we sort of whittled it down to one pyramid with one thing, and it’s not going to be milk anymore.

CL: When you mentioned cat milk, I immediately related it to Valentin Vadimovich the cat; in a way it could be seen as a framework and a reference point you created for yourself to follow through within Moderation(s). When you say now you are not planning to use the cat milk anymore, what other references are you using for your decision on the choice of beverage that construct the pyramid?
NA: It’s really difficult. The reason why we are not using cat milk in the end is because they have changed the packaging of the cat milk all over the world. Before it was in Tetra Paks, and now they have these spouts and screws, so I cannot make a pyramid out of these spouted Tetra Paks. I am still in the process of selecting and looking at different things. Now we have gone back to products that are available in Chinese supermarkets in Rotterdam, and we’re looking at Vitasoy, a soy drink and other drinks within the Vita brand[2] again. We haven’t decided yet.

Various packaging of different flavoured soy drinks produced by Vita company in the Vitasoy line.

CL: How do you think by changing the beverage changes the work or diverts from your original intent? Do you have a different way of thinking about the piece now, after realizing that your initial idea isn’t going to work out practically?

NA: I think the connection between the two presentations is the transportability. This is the one work in the show that is something that could exist in multiple time zones. It’s like a little time machine, like the “Pyramid Time Machine” from that cheesy sci-fi film Stargate.

CL: Can you elaborate more on this idea of the time machine? Are you referring to the form and function of Tetra Paks?

NA: What I am stuck with now is to strike a balance between the visual element and the content of the packages. I really like this Stargate thing. I didn’t think about that before. Tetra Paks are like the transnational corporate version of a time machine.

I don’t know if this makes any sense at all, but nowadays, you can fly something to the other side of the world really fast. But in shipping, they time all of the shipments, so something that might take a few days by air, would be extended to three weeks instead by slowing everything down. So there is a kind of control of time here, which is kind of unusual. I am quite fascinated with the whole global manufacturing process that is represented by the Tetra Pak.

CL: How big will your pyramid be?

NA: I think as big as we can make it. We ordered 2500 packs and the audience can take one if they like and it will deplete over the days. Everyday or every week it gets replaced and gets restores to its’ original state. So it gets regenerated.

Cyprien Gaillard’s The Recovery of Discovery during the opening night.

CL: When I first saw this work, it reminded me of Cyprien Gaillard’s work The Recovery of Discovery [3], which he showed in 2011 in KW Berlin. That of course has a very different meaning, while also dealing with the notion of the social gathering, and the work became a functional sculpture and a site where people can sit on the structure. For your piece Holy Mountain IV, is it more about a person’s individual interaction with the sculpture?

NA: In this case, there’s more an awkward thing I am thinking about. That’s why I wanted to choose artificial and heavily sweetened drinks, which are familiar to Hong Kong people, and would be mysterious to the Dutch audience. It’s like when you eat spam, you think, which part of the pig did this come from? With these drinks, it’s the same thing; you’re drinking this suspect juice. You look at the ingredients and they’ve got all these strange words in it, maybe it’s not even juice.

CL: Since you are one of the few participants who has actively participated in multiple segments of Moderation(s) starting from the first event, Guilty Pleasures by Ang Song Ming (Hong Kong, 2012) up till the epilogue of the project here in Rotterdam, when you first got this invitation to be part of Moderation(s),what were you expecting out of it? What thoughts do you have now about the project after being through different stages of Moderation(s)?

NA: I think right in the beginning there was no expectation. It’s like travelling to a foreign land with no expectations of what that place is going to be like, which is the most fun. This is what I did when I went to England for the first time.

CL: What prompted you to say yes to an invitation for a long-term project like this? Of course you know Heman and some of the people in it but there is a lot of trust involved as well, as you are taking a risk in entering someone’s structure, even though the structure is very loose. By saying yes to this invitation, were you mostly interested to see what you could produce during the process or the premise of this form of working?

NA: I think it’s the friendship. It’s almost like having this conversation and there’s no intended outcome, and yet you make a commitment to this extended conversation that is sort of partly prescribed and totally open. It’s not a means to an end. There’s a sort of freedom to this situation, which is nice.

Nadim Abbas (center) with Ang Song Ming (left) and Magdalen Wong, another artist participating in The Part In The Story Where A Part Becomes Something Else (right) presenting music at Guilty Pleasures.

CL: This freedom comes with the fact that you know this person, because sometimes having freedom could be scary if you might not know what the other person might want. In this project, Heman calls himself the Moderator, but in a sense he’s the host, and you’re more like a guest that he extends the invitation to. As a guest, you need to evaluate or get a sense of the kind of freedom that could be put forward by this person.

NA: I think Heman is the one who brought all these people together in different situations. It’s like being in someone’s kitchen standing around doing something, but then not feeling like you’re obliged to do anything. It is pretty much a reflection of what I would be doing anyway but by myself. I think there is a lot to be said about engineering these kinds of situations that makes it easier for people to relax and put their guard down.

CL: For example, in A Fictional Residency which is a very specific situation where all the participants have to write a story in four days, and everybody trusted him and decided to go on this social experiment. Going back to your involvement with Incidents of Travel (Hong Kong, 2013) with Latitudes (Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna), you had to design and lead a tour in Hong Kong. It seems like your roles change in different situations, and I wonder what do you find most interesting for you after being in all these different circumstances, or by taking up these positions? You were talking about the notion of freedom and being comfortable, did you ever have a sense of unease in adopting these roles?

NA: I think there is a conscious desire on Heman’s part to push us to do things that we don’t normally do. I don’t write and I don’t do tours either. So there’s this thing where we move out of our normal comfort zone and I think that is one of the defining characteristics of Moderation(s). It opens up these boundaries a little bit; somehow they become and start to relate back to what I normally do in my practice anyway. It explains everything.

It’s like things that I do anyway. In this case, it gives me an excuse to manifest these parts of what I do. I think if I wasn’t writing, I would be reading something and if I wouldn’t be leading a tour, I’d probably be walking around anyway.

[1] The entire exhibition departs from and tells the multiple stories of the word “tetra”, through constellation of works that deals with objects, images, tastes and sounds.
[2] The brand Vita and the company’s drinks are from and commonly found in Hong Kong.
[3] For his exhibition, Galliard constructed a monumental pyramid of hundreds of cases Efes beer (72,000 bottles) shipped from Turkey where audiences could take and consume throughout the duration of the exhibition. Efes relates Ephesus in Turkey, the country where the beer is produced.


A variation of George Rickey’s Two Turning Vertical Rectangles stood in the campus of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, NY between 1972 and 1984. The work’s removal is rumoured to be related to the unsucessful financial negoitations between Rickey and the Institute to acquire it. Nicknamed The Chrinitoid, Two Rectangles, Vertical Gyratory Up, Variation III was returned to Rickey’s studio.

RPI alumni, and Chrinitoid fan Tom Payne started an internet search tracking the whereabouts of the work. It has been bought by UBS in 1990 and now stands in front of their headquarters in Zurich. Payne’s ongoing Chriniblog is a repository of stories of other Chrinitoid devotees as well as images of the sculpture in its’ new location.


Interview with Bik Van der Pol (Liesbeth Bik and Jos van der Pol) (BvdP) with Christina Li (CL) about their work up close (2014) which is a new commission for The Part In The Story Where A Part Becomes A Part Of Something Else at Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam.

The work departs from the partial removal of George Rickey’s kinetic sculpture, Two Turning Vertical Rectangles in Rotterdam due to a series of changes done to its’ site and surroundings. These major adjustments consequentially affected the the wind velocity and narrowed the gap between the spinning panels and the ground, posing a safety hazard to the passers-by on the square.

Two Turning Vertical Rectangles on the Binnenwegplein, Rotterdam.

CL: As one of the artists who are producing new work for the exhibition, perhaps we could start by talking about how you decided to respond to the invitation and started developing this project?

BvdP: When Heman Chong invited us for the exhibition one and a half years ago, he said he wanted to show The Bookshop Piece (1996) [1]. We still had the piece at the time since we had used the structure in our studio as storage for the past year. We thought that it was not a good idea, because we couldn’t think of anything else without being nostalgic somehow. The Bookshop Piece is a complicated piece. You have to show it with the books, not just the empty shelves. It felt like a hollow echo; there were some other pieces that we could re-enact, but as we were thinking further about Moderation(s), the show and the meaning of moderation, some definitions and associations came up, such as to mediate, the interlocutor, representative and so on.

Jos is part of the committee of Sculpture International Rotterdam. We knew of George Rickey’s Two Turning Vertical Rectangles that was taken away a year and a half ago, because it became a threat for public safety. We wanted to do something with that and started investigating where it was stored and in what state it was, as well as the plans for its reinstallation. We thought working with this was really good for this show, because Moderation(s) deals precisely with mediation between positions. We decided that we could take that (mediating) position in the show and between the city of Rotterdam and the sculpture, in thinking about a work that is taken out of public space and all of the processes and dynamics that are involved.

CL: What was the eventual solution for the piece? Was the removal meant just to be a temporary one, and to bring the piece back in a later stage? Or was it supposed to be kept in storage outside of the public domain?

BvdP: Yes, it was meant to be reinstalled but it took longer than expected because of some issues Ideally, it would go back to the initial place, with some modification with the height. It’s not that simple. If they make a new and longer pole for example, this means you have go through a administration process. You have to consider the increasing winds. Replacing the work has to comply with current restrictions.

CL: In a way, would you see yourself as a caretaker of the sculpture? I know the word, ‘caretaker’ implies a lot of responsibility and a specific relationship to the work, but there is a notion of care or even attention involved in your gesture.

BvdP: We don’t see ourselves really as caretakers, but I think the discussion is interesting when we consider a public sculpture that everybody takes for granted. Nobody thought about the sculpture when the city refurbished the square, or when someone decided to build a tall building next to it. When the building was built, they then realized that the velocity of the wind doubled, causing the kinetic sculpture to move in a frantic way. Everyone started to panic and then the sculpture suddenly became a problem. The problem, at least to me, is actually the city itself.

But the removal caused a lot of discussions and that is interesting, as well as all the effort that is being, and still being made, to accommodate it again. What emerged were issues that needed consideration (but were ignored) such as public safety, the question of ownership, liability, and who has a say as to what should happen to the sculpture. For instance, the city decided to contact the estate at the very last moment to tell them that they might need to cut 30 cm off the blades, and whether they would mind. The estate responded by saying, of course they would mind, because it will change the whole sculpture. So I would say it’s very interesting to see what could happen with a public sculpture if people don’t know what the work is about.

Early model of Two Turning Vertical Rectangles, George Rickey, date unknown

CL: When researching Rickey’s sculpture on Sculpture International Rotterdam’s website, I saw a model of multiple blades, almost like a stage set, which is an early prototype of this sculpture. It prompted me to think about how one could look at a public artwork, not only as one thing, but also as part of a larger stage set.

BvdP: What you saw on the website, with all the different layers, is something different. Rickey designed this piece initially in the 60s for the Hofplein.[2] In the end the city of Rotterdam decided, in collaboration with Rickey that only the top part, which the estate calls the ‘pinnacle’, would become a new sculpture. Then, Rickey had a solo-exhibition in the Boijmans Museum in 1969, and the ‘pinnacle’ was shown in front of the Boijmans. The city liked it and wanted it as a public sculpture. Rickey remade the pole and the panels, and it was installed on the square two years later, where the pole still remains now. So the sculpture went through all these different stages.

CL: To bring this back in relation to the exhibition which is curiously called The Part In The Story Where A Part Becomes A Part Of Something Else, this sculpture was a fragment of the larger constellation, and at the same time, you take the panels, fragments of that sculpture itself and recontextualize it in a white cube exhibition space. What kinds of discussion would you like people to engage in with this action? How do you see the frame of the exhibition or the context of the institutional space in relation to these two panels?

BvdP: Maybe you can look at it in two different ways, aesthetically and formally. One thing when it’s installed in public space is that everything – the wind, the sunlight, and the rain – will influence the movement of the sculpture. When you take the blades down and have them installed in an art space, the scale becomes obviously very different. You are able to take a close look, zoom in on the skin of the metal, the structure of the material, how it is constructed and how it is screwed together. Maybe people will knock on it to hear how it sounds; usually one cannot touch works in art spaces but this is a public sculpture, isn’t it? The weight is totally different as well. The scale of the space is totally different of course, so at Witte de With it might feel a bit like Richard Serra sculpture, while in the public space, it’s a kinetic object.

CL: What kind of decisions have you made in treating the blades as material for your work that is in a state of repose and outside of its usual active function in public space?

BvdP: We’ll be placing it horizontally which is a totally different experience than what it would be than it would be in the square. While we don’t think we are the caretakers, we are a mediator of the sculpture in this situation at Witte de With. I won’t say as a display of remnants but as a temporary stage for a sculpture. It’s having a soft landing in Witte de With, before it returns to the public space.

Tilted Arc, Richard Serra, aerial view of Federal Plaza, New York, 1981 (removed 1989)

CL: When we think about the destiny of public sculpture, there is still the notion of impermanence that isn’t really addressed in the public art discourse. Of course, we already mentioned Serra, and in his case of the infamous Tilted Arc[3], it became an obstacle and opened up a debate around an artwork’s function in relationship to the site it is on. Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory has a different reason as to why it was removed from public space. With up close, were you thinking about the longevity or the life of a public artwork?

BvdP: Yes, perhaps. There is this sense of public sculpture seeming to be eternal but it’s also precarious in a particular way. We also had to think about an article that Camiel van Winkel wrote in the first Cahier Witte de With published in 1993. He wrote about Joseph Beuys’ Tram Stop (1976), which the Kröller-Muller Museum bought, and it was stated that the piece should never be erected. The work comprised of a couple of railroad tracks standing up, dealing with the Holocaust. Beuys said that they can buy it from him, but they will never be able to show it like how it was installed in German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1976. They can only show the work lying down. Camiel van Winkel calls it “Afgelegde beelden” (“cast-aside works” in English) which is something like a dead body, prepared for the next journey. Even though a little bit dark somehow, this also has something beautiful to it. With Tram Stop, let’s say, it’s irreversible, because Beuys defines the state the sculpture is in now and you can never change it, maybe as a way to tease the museum. With Rickey’s sculpture, it’s in a temporary stage right now, through this you can shed light on all the aspects of the sculpture that will never be visible again when it’s installed back in its right place.

Installation view of Tram Stop, Joseph Beuys in the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 1976

Installation view at the Kröller-Muller Museum

CL: When you were talking to Rickey’s estate, were they opposed to you using the panels as a readymade and recontextualising the work? Did you have to ask permission from the estate, and how did they perceive your action?

BvdP: Not at all, they were very generous. The estate were asked quite late, and were put in front of a fait acompli, so then the Sculpture International Rotterdam had to renegotiate with the estate because they of course had some rights. We’re taking parts of the Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratoryinto the show, so we’re not showing the whole work. In one way, the estate would like to have seen George Rickey’s name in the list of artists, but that would be countering their own arguments. Let’s say if you change the sculpture, for example by chopping off 30 cm from the blades, then it’s not the George Rickey sculpture anymore, because this jeopardizes the integrity of the sculpture. So if you put two blades next to each other in an exhibition space, it is no more or no less than the blades of the sculpture. But it’s not the sculpture.

CL: I am interested in how people take custody or active responsibility about something that marked their spatial experience. Since there were many people writing blog posts about the removal of the panels, do you think that for Rotterdammers, your action will stir up emotions in regards to the removed fragments?

BvdP: On YouTube, you can find some interviews of people in front of the pole that is left, but I think that was also done with other sculptures in Rotterdam. There is actually also this other sculpture that is activated daily at 12 o’clock, a guy was commissioned to shout into the speaker right in front of the City Hall. It is a work of Elmgreen and Dragset, called It’s Never Too Late to Say Sorry, and the guy did it for 365 days. It is still there, but not activated daily. They are in the process of publishing the book of 366 pages – because it was leap year – with all these notations and remarks, like a live report of a public sculpture over a year. It’s an interesting viewpoint, because you never hear or see the reactions on public sculptures in that sense.

CL: People do fail to pay attention to sculptures on their own outside of a blended backdrop, I suppose.

BvdP: Or they never realize that sometimes it is complicated to keep something somewhere, or that it takes efforts or maintenance, that it takes care to have it somewhere. Even a lamppost needs to be cared for, in a different way.

But I think the position of the sculpture at Witte de With, the fact that it raises questions on why is it there, would be interesting as a gesture. You don’t always have to explain everything literally. The sculpture’s original site is 5 minutes away from the space. Why is it in an institution, on the second floor, away from the street? Of course, it’s quite bizarre there, and to consider all the extra efforts put forward to show this in an institution.

Installation view of The Bookshop Piece at Museum Boijmans van Beuningen during Manifesta 1, 1996

CL: As you said, it’s a transitional space, and there is a notion of safety that is implied with this static sculpture inserted in an art space, where it isn’t a threat to anyone. Going back to the dead corpse that Liesbeth was talking about regarding the Beuys’ project, when Heman was asking you to re-show The Bookshop Piece and you said you were not sure about it. I am curious how you as artists deal with requests to re-show works. It’s not directly similar to the situation Beuys created for Tram Stop but relates to how many times you can show the work in the same or different configurations.

BvdP: We showed The Bookshop Piece first in the Boijmans during Manifesta 1. The work functioned like bookshop. It was successful and a great project. When we were dismantling the whole piece, a director of a neighboring museum came by and he said he really liked this piece and would like to have it for his museum. We thought, that’s great, finally this piece will have a next life. But he then explained that he only wanted the shelves, so he didn’t need to design a new bookshop in his museum. We thought it was like wanting the Richard Serra piece for a partition between one’s own garden and the neighbor’s. If you would reinstall the piece without all the books and without all the content, you don’t consider it’s relation with time, its activation, and its curatorial framework. If you would install it as an empty shell, it has a different type of functionality. That maybe answers your question.

It’s not that we don’t like to show the piece, but when you do, you have to look again at the content and you build onwards with the stock of the books and actualize them into the now. So reactivating the piece means to spend money on it, which is somehow against the idea of conserving, no? There has to be a will for a museum or an institution to do that. It is a complicated piece to be remade. I would agree you can only do that piece for so many times, because this is a heavy piece that takes a lot of care, and a year of your life.

CL: If you set The Bookshop Piece side by side with Two Rectangles Vertical Gyratory, both imply the need of maintenance and the energy in doing so. Perhaps it’s not something you want to talk about intentionally, but up closereveals these concerns and questions how many lives an artwork can have?

BvdP: Well, it is something that is very important to talk about. Somehow there’s always a piece that is ‘on the shelves’, so to say, that you can take out and just show, and then there are these kinds of other difficult pieces that put these questions in the center of the arena.


[1] The Bookshop Piece is a recreation of the theory section of the ICA Bookshop (London), in collaboration with Peter Fillingham, which was first shown in Museum Boijmans van Beuningen during Manifesta 1in 1996.
[2] George Rickey was invited by the city to develop a proposal a different project for a different location in Rotterdam which was not realized due to issues of feasibility.
[3] This work, a classic case study of a failed public art project, was installed in Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981. It was commissioned by the Arts-in-Architecture program of the U.S. General Services Administration. The work was removed after a series of debates and a lengthy court case in 1989. It is currently kept in a storage space in Maryland.

AMBIVALENCE. 25.03.2014


A Constructed World is a collaborative project with Geoff Lowe (G) and Jacqueline Riva (J), and we had a chat before the opening of the The Social Contract at Spring on 1 November 2013.

C: How would you say this version of the project differed from the other times you have implemented The Social Contract?

G: In the past, the project has in a way been more remote, in that, it was just something set up and performed on the night itself, and that was it. Our work isn’t very minimalist or very conceptual. It’s more about what we do with people. And so, because there has been all this, the three times we did it before was in a group show, and it’s never been shown as the work.

C: It’s a situation you created within a group exhibition context.

G: Yeah, and everywhere we went, a lawyer would be contacted by the gallerist or the curator, and then this contract would come back, and we get one question or something like that. Often, the questions relate to regional specificity, and that will be that. And we would do it. But in Hong Kong, it is very different. We really had many meetings. Everything has been gone through with the team, Heman, about what the network would be, and what the repercussions will be. So it’s much more fully a work now than it has ever been before.

J: Yes, so when I think of the contracts of the previous lawyers have prepared, they have been pretty slap dash.

C: I was wondering about Roger’s (Roger Ouk, the lawyer who provided legal advice for the Hong Kong version) extensive contribution, was it something that was expected or welcomed in that way? Or were you expecting a different conversation and involvement with Roger who basically added much more complexity to the project in terms of the way the contract was drafted this time round?

G: I guess the thing is, it’s also part of our work, as lots of people touch the work, and they change it. That is how we have worked a lot generally, and we anticipate that. You know, in some ways the work has somehow already been contributed to by the audience before you have started it. That’s how A Constructed World has always worked. It’s definitely changed, and it has brought up a lot of issues that we hadn’t thought of before. One of them being, that’s come out more and more is the idea of Facebook. I also think that X-Factor is also very interesting, because it plays on embarrassment, all variegations or variations of embarrassment, of this person who is singing the wrong way. And it’s really botanical, the way it’s got all these types of embarrassment, and then now you have selfies, Facebook, and showing everything. So when we’re developing this project this time and thinking about that a lot, it becomes an alternative possibility to not reveal, and not say, and hold it.

C: It’s interesting on one hand, you can talk about Facebook being a place of disclosure, and you talked about embarrassment which is something negative. And of course, there are people who are living vicariously through other people’s social media feeds, and those who are happily sharing their life stories in this kind of YOLO (You Only Live Once) attitude… There are two spectrums of that sharing, the embarrassment that you talked about, but also this celebration of sharing everything. But I guess I would be interested to see how you see this idea of embarrassments within this context.

G: Embarrassments have in fact always been a big part of our work. I was kind of wondering whether this kind of embarrassment is being colonized or gentrified or something like that by being digitized so much and by being represented in a number of pre-formed kinds of ways. In some way, I think we were really interested in people doing things that they didn’t know how to do, like write, sing, dance; that includes a certain type of embarrassment as a revealing of something that you perhaps didn’t know. Like something related to the unconscious, using the unconscious in an effortless way, by being embarrassed. But now, it does seem that there is something else going on that it’s being so identified and used, you know like this lady singer (Susan Boyle) that wins the X-Factor, and has been going around, over and over. It’s being played out in a fairly manipulative way, as we are working through a normal kind of consumption I think. So that is what we are thinking without necessarily taking these things on, but just as an urge to think about how you could update that space. You know, how would you update that original feeling of doing something badly, and that being just doing it badly, whereas now, it’s become a kind of trope or something like that. So not speaking seemed…. I mean we’ve just gotten into this really.

C: Would you also say that within this version of the project, it becomes so professionalized, that you get all this help and knowledge and are dealing with all aspects of an institution, and the legal side and press side of things… Do you find it interesting to define yourself, or not define yourself within this structure?

G: It’s a good question.

J: It’s a little bit unusual in a way, as you were saying, when we were doing the project in the past, it hasn’t attracted so much attention, and you know, we’ve set it up, it’s in a group show, people went in, and as far as we know, nothing came back to us. And it’s a different situation here, perhaps because of the context in Hong Kong; and also in Australia, we’re well-known artists, and people know that we’ve made a lot of works where we want the participants to participate in the works. So maybe the context here is quite different because what Mimi (Brown, Director and Founder of Spring) is saying is that they want people to participate and want to have projects where people come here and that they are attempting to attract other audiences, people who may not necessarily go to contemporary art. So they are doing a wider kind of call for media, so this is something that we haven’t set up. We’ve found ourselves in this situation, and I guess because of that we get different sorts of questions, and some of them are things that I haven’t really thought of in the previous machination of the work.

C: Spring is also a very unique sort of institution in a way, it deals with contemporary art, yet it does not purport to possess or require the audience to necessarily have this kind of art world professional jargon-y knowledge. Mimi and Spring’s staff ask genuine questions like, “Oh what happens if that happens,” or “What should we say? Do I misinterpret your work?” So I don’t know if this creates a kind of space, where you can look at the project again through different lenses?

G: The thing is, I sort of thought about this a lot in the past few days, usually you know that a lot of the institutions, the people we’re working with will be like, “Why would you do that?” or “Why are you doing that?” And that’s how we work, you know? We only find, until recently, that with this kind of work, the people who inserted professionalism didn’t really like the project because it was too open-ended. We used to find that it’s easier to find collaborators to collaborate, because you only find the genuine ones. In a way, it’s sort of changed now, it’s become the mainstream, and so whether this is the sign of that now, it’s hard to tell, but it’s certainly much more professional. It’s almost like in the past, these things kind of slipped through because someone asks, “What do you want to do that for?” But for instance, there was this time where we did a project about masturbation in CAPC in Bordeaux, and it was about the idea –not unrelated to this –of the production of images, it’s about people producing images and whether you had the idea to produce an image or whether it’s the image speaking you, and that kind of ground in between. So that was what we were thinking about, when you do this kind of hidden activity, when you fantasize or think about something, is it simply the society speaking you, or are you able to produce something in privacy. So we did this show, and the curator, in particular the curator’s husband, were going, “Oh my god, everyone’s going to go crazy about this show.” And “We will get so many complaints and all of that.” But the thing is we are not interested in controversy.

J: Of course, nobody said a word. There were sort of elderly people going to the show saying, “Really interesting show, there should be more of this kind of shows.” In particular with the education department, they were like…
G: … off their heads.

J: They would also ask, “How would we speak about this?” I think they were feeling a lot of embarrassment as to how they were going to explain and talk about this show, which is about masturbation. So they put up a sign with a warning for people under 18.

G: But nothing happened at all. There were few bits of video, a lot of them talking about masturbation. They were sort of fragments, and paintings of people masturbating, and it just didn’t hit that kind of level. I have been thinking about this idea for a number of times, because we’re going to do a big project in Brogues, in France, there are going to be 52 performances. So somehow it’s become part of what we’re doing here. I think what we’re interested in is instead of producing something new, like a scandal or a controversy, or some sort of prompt, is try to recover the value of what people already know. So rather than saying something new, a prompt of action such as, “Let’s do something, and that is something that has never happened before.” But it’s to try and say that usually the art world defends itself by excluding, quite insidiously, the behaviors and thinking, and ways of saying, and stuff like that. So the idea is to let those ways of saying get back into the conversation. So it’s got nothing to do with making a new event, or a controversy, because everybody knows about masturbation.

J: And I think the thing about this work is that, just because I am trying to think it, it does have something to do with the social media era. And maybe it’s that there’s just so much of things such as, “What you had for breakfast” sort of thing put on the Internet. Sometimes when I look at some people’s posts, I think, “Do I need to know this?” or “Does anyone need to know this?” The thing about the contract is that, we’re making a little kind of trust with someone. It’s a kind of situation where you stop for a minute and say to each other, “Can we have something together”, that is based on trust, but not in a hippie sort of way.

G: The first time when we did The Social Contract in Milan, it was because we were fascinated by our experience in Italy. If you go to Naples, and people all drive through red lights, and if you were waiting at the red light when nobody is crossing the road, the drivers behind will beep you.

C: So this lawlessness, in a way.

G: Yeah, and we became fascinated with the idea that everyone is breaking the law all the time, jumping queues and all these sorts of things.

J: Everybody breaks the law.

G: So we thought what we would do is to make a prohibition or a law and more or less, and watch how people broke it. But then the funny thing was nobody broke it, as far as we know. And there was a really memorable thing, we got to know a little bit about this husband and wife who lived together and slept together and all that, and we said to them, “So?”, because we had no experience in doing this. They said, “Well, we haven’t spoken about it to each other.” That was two weeks later or something like that.

J: So they had a feeling to really honor the contract.

C: I think it has to do with them knowing they are making the contract with you and it’s different from making this abstract contract with the state of which you can say, “I didn’t sign it. I didn’t agree to not cross the red lights. You told me not to, and I don’t want to follow the rules.” And in this case, the audience knowingly enters into a situation of trust.

G: With regards to what you brought up, the specific thing that he said and was so true in Italy. In Italy, everyone breaks the law, and if you go into the immigration office or if you go into a bank, you have to make a personal bond with someone, otherwise… So the thing that we realized, when we did the perfomative part of standing outside the space with the contract, we spoke to everyone. One of us, or both of us, made eye contact with everyone and said, “ Well, you realize if you do this…” and if they said they didn’t want to sign, and we said “It’s fine, it’s reasonable. I’m not sure if I would do it myself” or something like that. So we went right through all those things with them, and Roger said that maybe that’s why in Italy they followed it! And recently I was on holiday in Italy, and in two different museums of Greek and Roman art, and they had “Don’t photograph” signs, and I had a phone and the guy went, “No, no, no.” to me, and of course, I walked to the corner and started photographing again.

J: There’s no guilt.

G: Or whatsoever about what I did. But this time, what I am trying to point out to every single person is that they are signing a contract and they are agreeing not to do this and that. It’s not a prohibition in that way, and they had agreed that they are not going to do that what we agreed upon.

C: It’s more along the lines of, “We are not forbidding you, but you agreed to not disclose it.” From a legal point of view, I am sure that Roger must have asked you both about what happens if someone breaks it, and how you would like to administer the penalties…

G: We want to try to emphasize the creation of a space against prohibition, so we’re trying to emphasize that this has the potential to produce something, and this idea of being in a group without knowing the other people in the group, and without having to make other avowals than not to speak. It’s not about, “I’m interested in art. I want to protect A Constructed World.” None of those things are really implicit, yet you do end up in a group of a hundred or so who might sign it, and we think that is super interesting.

C: Have you had people who refused to sign the contract?

G: Yeah, and I quite respect that.

J: Yes, I remember there were a couple of people in Australia who out of principle would not sign it, because they do not want to provide their documentation. So that’s fine. Or occasionally someone doesn’t have their documentation on them, and then it’s like, “Well I’m sorry, we can’t let you go in.” But going back to what we were just talking about, if people don’t speak about what they have seen for up to three weeks, what would there be then? Would it be interesting to talk about it, or would there be no interest to talk about it, or it would it be kind of dissipated….

C: It’ll probably fall into the gaps of information, because if you don’t tweet about it, you just move on to the next thing.

G: But maybe that is what we are trying to start to think about, to think about a sense of probability, alone or with others that is not spoken about, but it doesn’t defy it’s existence, and doesn’t prove it’s non-existence or something like that.

C: In this case, I suppose one could think about some sort of expiration date of people wanting to talk about things, or if it’s still relevant. It’s an experience at the end of the day; sometimes you don’t need to talk about it.

J: You know what is funny about all the press is that in one way, to make this work that people cannot talk about, it means the press can’t really write about it. This was what I was thinking initially. It’s a bit contradictory but for us the contract is the work, but people put so much emphasis on what’s inside the room and they cannot write about what’s inside. It means in a sense your exhibition doesn’t get reviewed. It has the element of that it might just pass by, and it might not even be discussed at all in the period of time that it is happening here. And by the time the project ends in Hong Kong, it’s almost Christmas and people are not going to talk about it anyway, so who’s going to stop and write about it in a year, and write a review.

C: There might be people tweeting after 5 pm on the 15th December…

G: They can do that, but we don’t want to make a scientific evaluation.

J: Thinking about it, maybe that’s kind of okay, so many things in the art world are about being reviewed. So what happens to a show that doesn’t get promoted in that kind of way, or you don’t know what the artwork is?

C: Then it might become part of art history I suppose, and someone will write an essay about it much later on. It becomes this kind of dormant knowledge.

G: I’m interested in the reader who might encounter the press or writing about the project twenty years later, and how they might understand it temporally where there could still be this sense of immediacy for the work, and that it is still present.

C: It becomes very ephemeral, no? The thing is that the people who have seen it cannot talk about it, and who knows when they might talk about it in their lifetime, if at all. And then there’s the possibility of the work becoming reactivated in a text later on, it’s always somehow a missed moment.

G: Yeah, the thing that has been in my mind since last night is that, you have to keep in mind the impossibility of speech, because we always talk as though we know what we are talking about, but we are going down pretty straightforward roads all the time, of objecting and all that stuff. And so, to me, what you were just saying a minute ago opens up that space, where you can’t really know and it’s dangerous to know. You’re going to find out something you don’t want to find out. So hopefully it will bring that to mind, I haven’t really thought of that before, because we have done a lot around this idea of not knowing, not knowing how to sing, not knowing about contemporary art, not knowing how to write…. And we interviewed Bruno Latour once in this video, and we kept sort of saying to him: what about this, and what about that, and he gets to this bit that Jacqui often impersonates and goes, “Well of course the real thing about knowing is that we do not know.” It’s not a game.

WORD OF MOUTH. 25.11.2013

In the age of over-sharing, excessive communication and inordinate amounts of knowledge (or information) on the Internet, as ever, the space of silence and secrecy becomes a cogent site of contention where meanings are being re-claimed and produced anew. Is it possible to still retain private thoughts in the marketplace of information circulation and relay, especially within a society where experiences and personal activities are continuously disseminated and mediated through real-time photo uploads, status updates, and tweets? Wrapping up the Hong Kong segment of Moderation(s), artist collaborative duo A Constructed World’s project at Spring Workshop, The Social Contract rests on non-disclosure as a guiding principle, as an attempt to pry open these concerns immanent in contemporary art and society.

All images are from Ulises Carrion’s “Gossip, Scandal and Good Manners” (1981); Carrion defines gossip, rumour, scandal, and slander (exerpts) as follows, “Gossip is born in daily life, it is related to concrete facts, to exact dates and places, even if these are false, it refers to our basic activities and interests…”; “Rumour is a collective creation; rumours are by definition, partially or totally inaccurate information.”; “Scandal is sort of like gossip but with wicked intention, like rumour, scandal is a collective experience, but loaded with moral judgement.”; “Slander is a direct attempt on someone’s reputation, slander is usually false. Slander is an open lie.”

Don’t ask don’t tell

Upon entering the main space of Spring Workshop, one is met with a gallery attendant at a desk with clipboards and contracts (at the opening night, artists Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva were present to explain the contract), and only by signing this agreement, the visitor would gain access into the room behind the desk to view the artwork. What the audience relinquishes by agreeing to the artists’ terms is this: in exchange to see the artwork, they will not speak about (or take photos of) the room’s contents for a month and half, or they will be liable to unspecified damages.
This third presentation of The Social Contract in Hong Kong, is by far the most professionally executed version, enlisting help from lawyer Roger Ouk in thinking through the legal aspects and potential consequences within the agreement itself (more than a dozen of contracts were signed by external and related personnel of Witte de With and Spring Workshop in preparation for the production, and communication of this project). According to A Constructed World, “The contract is the artwork.” and by following this logic: what is ‘it’ that we see in the space? Where does the boundary of the artwork start and end? What is the value in the resulting speechlessness the audience as a whole is asked to observe?





“If this is gossip, information chain [1]; then this is rumour, multiple movement [2]; then this is scandal, growing intensity [3]; and then this is slander, definite target [4].”

The dance of minced words

At the opening night, standing outside the patio of Spring Workshop over a selection of specially made and themed cocktails dedicated to the project (perhaps unintended but serving as some sort of truth serum, in my view), the crowd was separated into two groups, those in the ‘know’, and those who are not – mostly comprised of latecomers.
Some conversations I overheard often started with “Have you seen it yet?” or “Did you sign the contract?” and if the answer was affirmative, as an attempt to skirt the confidentiality agreement, talks transformed into cryptic meta conversations, inevitably shifting to exchanges of banalities, such as the evening weather, drinks and topics entirely unrelated to what they saw. As for those who had not seen the piece, there was a playful dance of probing and evading with the signees, where both parties try to creatively extract and steer clear of disclosing details of what is locked behind the signed pact. In this self-imposed, and somehow collectively respected code of silence, floating in the air that evening was a strange sense of being alone, yet being together as a community sharing knowledge of an unspeakable secret. And as expected, there was a handful of renegade “what ifs” and “so whats” heard repeatedly in the room, challenging the project’s legal authority and the contract’s vague course of retribution: in the agreement, the participant gives rights to both A Constructed World and Spring Workshop to “commence any action for damages, injunctive relief and/or specific performance” in the occasion of a breach of confidentiality. Not to be blindsided by the legalese constituting the project, in fact, the core of The Social Contract lies in the establishment of personal trust being made with the artists, a bond that most people are inclined to upkeep through good faith in a society that is otherwise governed by social codes, and state enforced discipline.





“If this is gossip, free evolution [5]; then this is rumour, chaotic progress [6]; then this is scandal, intense radiation [7]; and then this is slander, concentrated effort [8].”

Through the looking glass, and what they found there

While the work is a revelation as to how we choose to conduct and maintain our social relations, it also is critical of the modes of engagement within the art world itself. Regularly managed through inclusion and exclusion, be it through social status or education, what A Constructed World attempts is to unravel the intrinsic qualities and benchmarks that most art professionals (un-)consciously participate in perpetrating and reinforcing within the field. The privileged moment of being present at an art event, or for some, understanding the point of what is being shown is encompassed in what may seem to be a straightforward set of circumstances that A Constructed World has cleverly engineered through The Social Contract. By barring the possibility of speaking of what one has seen, bound by the terms and timeframe of the agreement, what kind of utterances around this project could be traced and disseminated through time, especially in the cult of instant information consumption? Will the fortunate few who have witnessed the project, still be interested in talking about it, after the contract’s expiration date at 5pm (Hong Kong time), 15 December 2013? Or will it be old news, deemed uninteresting and banished to the black holes of art history, only to be excavated and re-discovered years later by curators and historians? Only time will tell.





“If this is gossip, undulating reference [9]; then this is rumour, rotating joint [10]; then this is scandal, positive weight [11]; and then this slander, precision bomb [12].”

Gossip, scandal, and good manners

Thinking in line and in response to the information blackout put in force, perhaps rumors and hearsay could become productive means in sidestepping, yet engaging directly with these stringent rules. In 1981, Mexican artist, writer and publisher, Ulises Carrion enlisted 10 friends to spread gossip about him, recording what they told and whom they spread it to, while another group of participants were asked to write down each piece of gossip whenever they heard them. As part of the his project, the resulting filmed lecture he gave, Gossip, Scandal and Good Manners dissected the nature of social behavior and the different categories of falsities and its’ negative power to both individuals and group dynamics. For the participants of The Social Contract, it might not be good manners, which compel us to keep our mouths shut, but rather good faith or simply, the lack of urgency in making known what is present behind those four walls. After all, The Social Contract might only be a proxy for us all, regardless if you have seen the work or not, functioning as a reminder that in spite of everything, there will still be moments where personal thoughts and individual experiences cannot be shared and are bound to remain one’s own.

DONORCARD, CAREY YOUNG, 2005. 18.11.2013

Donorcard, Carey Young, 2005


Artist Project / Contract for a Never-to-Be-Seen-by-the-Patron Artwork, Luis Miguel Suro and Mario Garcia Torres for Cabinet Issue 14, Doubles (Summer 2004).


Earlier this month, during the Moderation(s) conference Stories and Situations organized at Witte de With in Rotterdam, language, objects, and organisms took the center stage through the interrogation of the precision of ideas and words and their inherent mishaps when transposed across histories, locales and tongues. Invited speakers, acting as would-be ventriloquists and at times, translators, engaged in animating and decoding the possible intentions, and desires of these otherwise mute and static things. Using language as a starting point, the four curators of the conference, Lee Ambrozy, Amira Gad, Xiaoyu Weng, and myself conceived speculative micro-universes probing the intricacies and entrapments in which is inherent in articulation. In each session, the lectures, and performances pried open the cracks and loopholes in how we use language as a medium of communication, and in turn, circulate stories and concepts whilst traversing linguistic worlds, representation and temporalities.

The cabinet of curious objects

When we think of language and the act of speaking, it is inevitable to associate these to the interaction between peoples. However, in the individual sessions curated by Ambrozy and Weng on the issues of objecthood and parasitical speech acts respectively, they both contemplated the notion of speech and communication in connection to otherwise muffled artifacts, animal specimens and hosts. Ambrozy’s session Dynamic Objecthood, with invited guest conservator Brian Castriota, put the focus on the intention of things, and objects, as new human subjects and their importance in helping us produce new experiences of modernity. Nevertheless, as we interact with objects out of their context, and when they enters a museological setting, the question rises how the integrity of an object can be upheld in resistance to the passing of time? Patina, a substantiation of time’s course, can be then seen as an added value by some, but for others as a diminished value. Patina often results from the (un)intentional manipulation of objects, and is as such either a result of natural forces such as decay, or of the ensuing human palliation that takes place under the guise of conservation or restoration. Can we think productively about such acts in conjunction with questions of fidelity?

The categorization of knowledge as demonstrated by Vincent Normand’s lecture To the Planetarium (the mute things speak to me) in Weng’s session, extends the morning session’s conversation on objecthood, and propels the discussion further by illustrating the oppressive forces in play within the politics of display through a profusion of examples from the history of natural sciences. Provocatively coining the term “purification machine” with regards to the processes of exhibiting objects and knowledge, Normand propounds that in framing objects and natural specimens within the system of categorization and contextualization, bringing about a violent undertaking that ultimately strips away any possibility for the object to speak for itself. What happens when heavy-handed gestures inflict onto the object, and its intention and context within a system of display? How can we decipher the true intentions of objects without stifling the meanings and utterances they may carry?

Speaking in tongues

Throughout the day’s sessions, there was a lingering sense of frustration with the pitfalls of language while being mindful of its power, and inadequacies in conveying thought and meaning. In the session A Mind of Two Tongues on language and translation, Vincenzo Latronico tackled the impossibilities of translating, and attributed such failings and resistance to differences in intellectual style, which prevails over the shifts in linguistic syntax and its implied meanings. Continuing on the subject of (self-)translation in the art world, Latronico spoke extensively about the politics of Native English, and the stakes which non-Native speakers have in participating in the use, and circulation of International Art English, the accepted lingua franca of the art world today.

Whose tongue does Native English belong to, and who is there to uphold the standards of an English, which is getting increasingly morphed and expanded through an accumulation of cultural exchange? Shifting the discussion slightly, and attending to the materiality of language, the tongue – the organ of speech, and words, Arnisa Zeqo’s reflections on the subject drew examples from the bible and early religious drawings on the ingestion of words. Reflecting further on the contamination as well as the ecstasy of eating words, and its’ physicality, Zeqo cites the schizophrenic autodidact, Louis Wolfson and his peculiar relationship to words, and his attempts in get rid of English, his mother tongue, in his daily life and surroundings. Language while offering a mode of communication, finds its dominance in how we think and write, and in Wolfson’s case, becomes a prison from which he needs to break free in exasperation.

James Tilly Matthews, ‘Air Loom’, 1810, Bethlem Royal Hospital Archive

“It’s not what they tell me to say, but how I say It.” said the voice of the louse.

In charting the possible interdependence between language and its influences, and the subversive power (and inherent tensions) in tampering with language, these discussions prepared the ground for the latter part of the conference to explore the possible deviations within speech. In the following session, the motif of the tongue came back in the form of a foreign intruder of a different kind, Cymothoa Exigua (the tongue-eating louse). Entitled The Intestine or the Tapeworm?, Chris Fitzpatrick appeared as a stand-in for a mouth-piece, while an uncanny female voice filled the room re-telling mish-mashed tales of infiltrations in natural history, recent artistic gestures and institutional communiqué, playing out a layered interpolation of the entangled relationship of reciprocity and abuse between the parasite and the host. In summoning a number of (un)invited artist interventions in various structures, such as Dexter Sinister’s interception in the 2008 Whitney Biennial, by means of expropriating its dissemination and circulation of discursive and promotional texts; the performance elicited the multiple ways in which one could still imagine the institution as a fertile site for interruption during a time where the term “institutional critique” has become threadbare in contemporary artistic practice. The covert parasitic act here becomes one of value and political aptitude in claiming autonomy, thus making available pockets of maneuvering outside the traps of systematic instrumentalisation.

Lies, non-truths and tall tales

The final lecture of the day by Professor Rosemary Orr, Truth and Stories, part of the fourth component of the conference, focused on the locality and temporality of message reception through the faculty of language. A befitting comeback from the multiple speculative discernments in the day, Gad’s session, How do ideas travel? Lapsus of communication within a time/space conundrum, brought the focus back to language as a vehicle of interpersonal communication, where the achievement of common understanding comes to be the prerogative. Orr, in her talk, approached the question from the field of cognitive science, linking the theory of mind to our ability to tell stories – a reminder for us all that humans are inherently drawn to fiction and that our personal experience of the world is shaped by stories built around facts. Observing the absence of the word “truth” over the day’s proceedings, she continued to demarcate the boundaries among fact, personal truths and fiction, through the figure of the seanchaí, the traditional Irish storyteller. As custodians of old lore and laws of the community, these storytellers, share a corpus of common folklore orally and are seen as bearers of wisdom and judiciousness through time. While this character is undeniably bound to a specific culture and geographical locale, it could be translated into a metaphor in thinking about how we impart knowledge, and share our personal views and readings of the world with one another through communication and narrating stories.

Somewhat unintentionally, it seems as though we came full circle over the course of the day, in the midst of loopholes, displacements among language, misunderstandings, and mistranslations; storytelling, rather than the transmission of concrete “truths” are sites of potentially interesting slippages and exchanges of our understanding of the world. It is precisely by not trying to use language as a map for the physical territory (following Borges’ oft-used metaphor), that these productive dislocations that divert from the paths of fixing definite meanings of things. In making room for equivocacy in between languages, as well as our relationships with objects could shed further light onto how differing readings of the world and ideological frameworks could converge with multiple new stories and under vastly different situations, emerging anew through time.


Prince Albert v Strange was a court decision made by the High Court of Chancery in 1849, and began the development of confidence law in England. The court awarded Prince Albert an injunction, restraining Strange from publishing a catalogue describing Prince Albert’s etchings. Lord Cottenham LC (Charles Pepys, 1st Earl of Cottenham) noted that “this case by no means depends solely upon the question of property, for a breach of trust, confidence, or contract, would of itself entitle the plaintiff to an injunction.” (From Wikipedia)

Paragraph from The Jurist Vol. XIII (1849), discussing the opinion in Prince Albert v. Strange. The decision itself speaks of privacy as a right that has been invaded. (Albert, in the case, is Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria; the courts sometimes treat the privacy of public figures differently from that of ordinary folk.)

Paragraph from The Jurist Vol. XIII (1849), discussing the opinion in Prince Albert v. Strange. The decision itself speaks of privacy as a right that has been invaded. (Albert, in the case, is Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria; the courts sometimes treat the privacy of public figures differently from that of ordinary folk.)


Carey Young, Declared Void, 2005.

Preparatory reading for The Social Contract, by A Constructed World coming up 1 November, 2013 at Spring Workshop: The Artist’s Contract / From the contract of aesthetics to the aesthetics of the contract by Daniel McClean.

TIP OF THE TONGUE. 13.10.2013

Post-conference further reading: Tip of the Tongue by Vincenzo Latronico.

“Language differences are often understood in terms of translation and its difficulties. But, in this case, the problem actually runs much deeper. It’s not a matter of a text losing references to its cultural conventions and background when shifted to another language (things getting lost in translation): What changes is the set of standards and parameters used to evaluate what is worth saying and how.”


Cymothoa Exigua (The Tongue-eating Louse), Max Smith.

Reading A Productive Irritant: Parasitical Inhabitations in Contemporary Art by Post Brothers & Chris Fitzpatrick in preparation for Stories and Situations, a daylong conference at Witte de With this Saturday.

Chris Fitzpatrick will be speaking in the session, Cymothoa exigua or how is discourse constructed through the grafted tongue? curated by Xiaoyu Weng.


Page from “Molla Nasreddin: the magazine that would’ve, could’ve, should’ve.” by Slavs and Tartars. It features a selection of the most iconic covers, illustrations and caricatures from the legendary Azeri satirical periodical of the early 20th century which was read across the Muslim world from Morocco to Iran.

Students: “Mirza, we also have our own tongue. Let us study it a bit also.” Teacher: “No. Azeri Turk is forbidden. I need to stuff this language into your mouth.”

Though it is not made explicit, the language the students are forced to learn is Russian. From the 19th century to the fall of the USSR in the late 20th century, the Russian language was used not only as a means of colonisation but also as a tool of education across the Caucasus.


Virgil Partch, 1961.

SPEECH CLOUDS 02.09.2013


Looking back on the first six months of the long term project, Moderation(s) at “halftime”, so to speak, as the end of the summer break approaches, the contours of the entire project are slowly coming to view. Heman Chong, upon taking on his role as Moderator, brought together a number of artists, writers and curators for a string of standalone events, performances and residencies (not to mention the ever-expanding Biblioteek (Library)) that transpired in Rotterdam and Hong Kong. These happenings became situations where knowledge, and experiences are generated, circulated, and transferred through the written and spoken word. Concurrently, these undertakings scrutinized the potential short circuits inherent within language in representing our realities, and at moments, our imaginations.

Rather than specifically nailing down a thematic, Moderation(s) as a whole is characterized by the common desire for a mode of working (and living) where participants function as mediating agents anchored within their own locales and practices, whilst developing a common language of concerns. Invited contributors embraced the project’s preconditioned malleability and open-endedness, all the while relying on the generosity of project participants and audiences in inhabiting the multiple spaces of exchange created across both continents. Be it local tours conceived by invited artists (Incidents of Travel by curator duo Latitudes in Hong Kong), a catastrophe collectively re-experienced in a different time and location (Precarious task #6 going up to a city building taller than 16.7m by Koki Tanaka during A Thing at a Time in Rotterdam), or a gathering of six non-professional writers with novelist Oscar van den Boogaard to write a book of short stories in four days (A Fictional Residency in Hong Kong); as individual episodes, they become sites in which temporary communities come into being, tied together by shared affinities and experiences, and connected through mutual dialogue.

Speech clouds

In comic books, speech clouds are repositories of thought and speech of characters, facilitating the story’s narrative over a succession of multiple frames. When asked to reflect on the past events within the project’s framework, as well as to look ahead to the upcoming events this year: Stories and Situations (a conference focused on the language as means of communication and it’s numerous nuances and ruptures) in Rotterdam this October, and A Social Contract (an art project developed by artist duo, A Constructed World) in Hong Kong in November (a concluding exhibition is scheduled to happen next year), the motif of a speech cloud inevitably comes to mind.

In so far, Chong has devised a program of structures and scenarios, where individual utterances and collaborative dialogue could emerge in the various formats, or if one is to consider the metaphor of the speech cloud, where ideas and conversations materialize within its outlines. With language as one of the core concerns and binding threads in the overarching project, the forthcoming months’ programming will build on previous proceedings and delve deeper into various facets of words and speech, namely the pitfalls of the translation, the fractures of language systems, as well as how speaking (by humans, objects, and at times, hostile parasites) could inform or complicate discourse and our modes of thinking. The November commission in Hong Kong, in the meanwhile, will challenge the tensions between what could be said and what should remain unsaid, dictated by an agreement of secrecy between the visitors and the artists. What can be said and how we can say things, and the ensuing meanings produced within these empty speech bubbles will offer us much thought in the various conditioned scenarios that Chong and the contributors will collate. In these instances, we all become characters, summoning manifold thoughts and speaking in countless tongues, and providing multiple possible storylines in this open sentence called Moderation(s).


H: Heman Chong – the Moderator

O: Oscar van den Boogaard – the Writer-in-residence

C: Christina Li – the Witness

H: Tell us your name.

O: Oscar. Oscar van den Boogaard. Van den Boogaard. It’s a Dutch name. I am Dutch.

H: What do you do Oscar?

O: I am a writer, a full time writer.

H: What else do you do?

O: I live. I live my life. I am very interested in visual arts. I like to work with young artists. I write.

H: What do you write?

O: I write fiction. It’s mostly very autobiographical. It’s all about a higher reality; I like to describe life as a super intense experience.

H: What did you do before you became a writer?

O: I studied law. I was a lawyer. As soon as I started to work, my first novel was published and then I could go on writing.

H: How many novels have you published?

O: 14?

H: 14.

O: 14. Yeah.

H: It’s quite a lot.

O: Yeah, I am a writer. It means I write and it’s very important. It’s the act of writing. I write in Dutch, so it means that you cannot read it all, but there are translated books, and now I wrote this story in English. It needed some editing, but it’s great. Yeah, it’s good. It’s very strange to be writing in a marginal language like Dutch, and at the same time feel very universal. When I was young I wanted to become a visual artist, so I didn’t need any translation, but now my experience is that everybody needs translation. Even an artist needs translation. Even you, Heman, you need translation.

H: Especially me.

O: No…

H: Where did you grow up, Oscar?

O: I grew up in Suriname, which is a colony in South America. While I was writing, I was thinking of our flag, and the flag consists of five stars. We had a black star. It was for the Africans. We had a red star. It was for the Indians. We had a brown star. It was for the Hindustani. Then we had a yellow star, it was for the Chinese. And then we had a white star, and then my nanny was asking me, ‘Oscar, what is the white star?’ I would answer, ‘The People!’

H: And in this point in time, where you desire to live the most?

O: I live in Belgium. I live in Berlin. I would love to live in Hong Kong. Hm, really.

H: Thank you Oscar.

Fig. 1 Old flag of Suriname, introduced when their status was changed from colony to Dutch overseas territories (in 29 December 1954) and abolished after independence, in 25 November 1975.

C: What kind of expectations did you have when you were invited to come as a resident writer in this project? Have you had similar experiences?

O: I knew that this was special residency in a sense that I am working with other writers. So I was expecting something that I didn’t know beforehand. I didn’t make too many expectations, I just went, and then it started.

C: Is this the first time you had the experience of writing with a group of other writers?

O: Yes. I have never written with other people. Every writer writes solo. I think this is in general a very unusual situation.

C: Do you think the story that came out of this process was a bit different than the stories that you would have written alone?

O: I guess so. I am very sensitive to the environment that I am in. It surely influenced me. We read aloud during the process of writing, which means that we were influencing each other several times a day. There was high concentration involved. For me it meant for example that I didn’t know that I was working in the middle of some building construction work. I read it through your text1 but I didn’t notice it myself.

C: What is your usual writing process and environment? Do you have a given situation that you put yourself in?

O: No, the most important thing for me is the deadline, and then it’s all about all the experiences that I have during the act of writing. So everything that happens around me plays a part in what I am writing, and you can say a novel is a diary in that sense. It’s about everything that I lived in that time, although it’s putting it in a story with characters.

C: It’s autobiographical.

O: Always. Autobiography is a very important thing; it’s a real experience that you cannot invent. You have to go for the real.

C: I think you also mentioned that during the residency that personal anecdotes come out through story writing.

O: It’s very important. I go for the higher reality, that’s my goal as a writer. I want a sort of intensity to add more intensity to the things that I experience, that I have described. I go for the real life and life is always something very personal, and it’s always something very real.

C: Is this the shortest time you have taken to write a story?

O: Yes. I have never done it in such a short time.

C: Is it an experience you want to re-do again in the future?

O: I only would like to do it with other people, well, with the same people perhaps, in another time. It’s a lot about bonding, it’s like when you smoke a joint together, or your first drug experience, you are also very close, and I think for this, it’s the same thing.

Fig. 2 Tattoo (for Reflection), Douglas Gordon, 1997.

H: I wish to discuss the word ‘sensations’.

O: Sensations for me, are experiences that I write down. I call them sensations. They are things that are bigger than life, and truly you and you need to find the words for it to share it with people. Sensations are like those experiences.

H: What about the word ‘realism’?

O: Realism is something I don’t believe in. People share the idea of realism, or realistic, that’s what they share, but things are more real than real. It’s always like that. And I feel it’s a big denial to talk about reality and believe in it. Politicians say, for instance, ‘This is our program,’ and they live it. And most people say, ‘This is reality,’ and they live it. Reality is much more dubious. Reality is much more profound and ungraspable, that’s why I don’t believe in it. That’s why I believe in a more metaphysical language and I try to write that.

H: And the word ‘intimacy’?

O: Intimacy is… I think to be a person is really intimate. I mean it’s really intimate to ask the question, ‘Who are you?’ Then you have to say, ‘Oh, who am I?’ It’s almost too intimate to be a person. It’s very intimate to live and not know why you are here, and what you can share with another person. And what is love, so it’s all intimate. Intimacy. Life.

H: The word ‘guilt’.

O: Guilt is something you want to get rid of, at least is something I want to get rid of. As soon as you start having relationships or friendships, the word guilt starts playing a role. Because when you can imagine the pain of somebody else, you can easily feel guilty because you cannot take the pain away, or sometimes you cause the pain. Guilt is really difficult. In 1996, I bought an artwork of an artist called Douglas Gordon. He made a tattoo for reflection, and it was the word ‘Guilty’, but in mirrored writing and it had to be placed on my left shoulder. And I have it. It’s a work of art, but for me it’s more like a work to throw guilt back to the world, just not to have it in me. So ‘Guilty’ in the mirror, is more like to reverse it and get rid of it. I don’t want to be guilty. I’m not guilty. No.

H: And what about the word ‘escape’?

O: Escape. Most people think that I always escape reality, because they say, ‘This is reality and you’re not here! You don’t do (things) like we do.’ But no, I think escape is one way to see it. You stay here and you see a person escaping, but when you stay on the other side, you see me coming to you. Escaping is always going somewhere else, and that somewhere else could be something really beautiful, and super real and important.

H: What about the word ‘unknown’?

O: Unknown. Everything is unknown. Everything we try to do is to try to get to know something, but it’s always this moving towards the known, you’re always moving towards it, but you’re never there. As soon as you want to grasp something known, then it’s already gone.

H: Thank you, Oscar.

Fig.3 La conquête de l’espace. Atlas à l’usage des artistes et des militaires (The Conquest of Space. Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military), Marcel Broodthaers, 1975.

C: I wanted to go back to the Marcel Broodthaers’ work that you brought as a prompt for the writing sessions, can you maybe explain a little bit why you wanted to respond to the residency or open it up with that?

O: I knew that it was workshop with visual artists; it’s in an art space. I knew it was about boundaries between writing and literature, the book of Broodthaers is of course the most beautiful example of where the boundaries between literature and the object of an artwork don’t exist anymore, so it makes sense to me. It was this atlas of the world, we’re all inhabitants of the world, and travelers, and coming to Hong Kong. All these silhouettes and the things that you don’t know the form. I knew where Hong Kong is, I knew it was an island, I know a bit of the history of Hong Kong, but still it was a black silhouette, and it’s also the way we were for each other, like in the workshop we were like silhouettes for each other, so it makes sense as a metaphor to start with.

C: And I know you also used this metaphor, and the same work in another project…

O: I used it the first time when I made a show with the artists of the HISK (Hoger Instituut voor Schone Kunsten/Higher Institute for Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium) because their building used to serve as military barracks, and the title of the work is La conquête de l’espace. Atlas à l’usage des artistes et des militaires (The Conquest of Space. Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military), and then I got to know the book, I held it in my hands, and I had it in the show, so for me, it was familiar to me, and it made sense to use it again in this contexts.

C: I thought it was quite interesting that you have this object that you were extremely inspired by, and it comes as a thread in the different works that you are doing.

O: I don’t know if I would use it again but you can use a trigger several times in different contexts, and then you get to know more outcomes. It’s interesting in that sense. But then we started to talk about another silhouette: it was the silhouette Heman made, and I think it really brought it to another level, and we started there.

C: And I like the fact that it is so abstract that, everyone could fit their content within that silhouette.

O: It’s full of content and black. But it’s also a very honest work in a sense that we know objects, but it’s always about what is in the object. It’s all about interpretation and that’s where the freedom is involved. That’s why visual arts and literature are so important because they give us the freedom for our own interpretation and also responsibility to give it meaning. It’s not per se in the artwork; it’s in the observer. We have to do it as observers. And then you are in real communication when you talk about it, or you are in communication when you talk about the artwork, but it’s still there. And that’s why good art is so alive, also literature, because it’s new for every single person, and in every single new context.

C: It’s like a good book that you re-read, and you see new things.

O: What all these stories have in common is that they are high in density. They are all dense; they are all full of meaning. I think you can re-read them and find new meanings, and also see them in the work of the different artists and give a sort of place in their work. It’s very dense. It’s a small book with short stories, you can also say it’s an enormous book with long stories.

C: But do you usually write short stories?

O: No. Sometimes in my columns, I write short texts, but these are not stories. I call them sensations, short experiences in dense text that I do. But this time, I really put them together, so for me, it’s really a new experience.

C: At the same time, your short story for the book is made up of many different fragments; you are almost constructing a universe through all these interwoven stories within a larger story. We’re in that crystal egg.

O: The crystal egg thing for me, I could write it down in this context so clearly, for me it makes sense. I learnt from this experience, it brings it to a different level, for me to take the next step. It made it clear that I have to get out of this crystal egg, and Heman showed me the way to the explosion through the silhouette he drew.

Fig. 4 Lucia smelt/Lucia Melts with original actors Sara De Roo and Steven Van Watermeulen.

C: Lucia Melts was first premiered in 2001, and the presentation of the play here in Hong Kong is a bit different in length, what is the difference in the first original premiere and this presentation here?

O: Heman made a choice; he picked out certain scenes which he wanted to interweave an interview with me. So it’s a deconstruction and something else. It was my first play, I wrote it after I met Steven (the lead actor of the Lucia Melts) on the train between Brussels and Amsterdam and he was like, ‘I’m an actor,” and I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a writer,’ but we didn’t know each other, so I said, ‘Okay, actors are people without texts, and now finally you have text in your life. I will write this play for you.’ And it was about my own experience, because of Steven I had to end another relationship and I was already thinking about it and living in a bit of the finalization of this twelve-year relationship. I could put all my experiences in it, and it was also a cooperation of two actors that I really liked. And it was my first play and I have written seven more since, and this one I really like.

C: It’s also kind of therapeutic for you.

O: Yeah, but that’s such a negative word to me, because I think, ‘Jesus, all these people who do things out of therapy!’ Of course everything for me is therapy, but it’s about overcoming all these things you don’t understand. But it’s also a generous thing, because I share it with other people.

C: Did you just give Heman free reign and let him do whatever he wanted as a director of this play?

O: I met Heman several times, and he’s the perfect outsider for this play, and he has his own agenda, I understand. So yes, for me it works. It’s very beautiful. It will be staged in the studio that I lived in with Steven last week (in the residency), and it’s about a real conversation and at the same time you see real human beings playing lovers, what I think is the content of Lucia Melts, it’s about people as lovers, you are actors playing the play of love, playing the model of love that we get from each other, I guess, and the problems that come with it. It’s always about reality and a model that you are forced to live in and other things you say, because you say this, and I have to say that, and it develops. It’s horrible, the roles that we are forced to play in a relationship.

C: You mean it’s very much fixed by all the imagery, all the books we read and the idea of romance itself?

O: It’s true, and Lucia Melts is about two actors. They are both actors in my play with their real names. Everybody who plays it will have their own names, and then you look at the actors playing, and you think whether it’s the actor playing? That is exactly what I want to tell.

C: Now that it’s been so many years ago since it was being premiered and then now it even inhabits your temporary personal and private space that you are living in with Steven…

O: And it’s emotional. You see people being those actors, and at the same time being real people. It’s very emotional. When you see a Tino Seghal piece somewhere in the Biennale in Venice, you think, ‘Intense!’ But this is even more intense, we are all there as individuals, but they (the actors) have texts and the others have questions, and at the same time they are real people, so these are anti-actors also.

1 The PDF version of the book A Fictional Residency in which stories written by the participants (including my witness account) could be downloaded HERE.

The interview between Heman and Oscar were interwoven within the presentation of Lucia Melts directed by Heman Chong. The conversation between Oscar and myself were recorded hours before the play.

SALON DE REFUGE 26.06.2013

E.B. White once said,“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.” As I write this, I am surrounded by the participants of A Fictional Residency at the large metal table sandwiched between the Skinny Terrace and the Fire Escape, diligently churning out their short stories in spurts. On day two, work patterns and routines start to surface, and are adapted to the designated writing space of the four allocated days. Some writers require being encircled by a customary fort of reference books for inspiration (which came from their own bookshelves or were picked out from the array of books in the Moderation(s)’ Bibliotheek (Library)); for some, a specific working spot or chair shifts on a daily basis (today I joined everyone at the writing table, while yesterday I nested myself on the office couch), others choose to camp out at the kitchen table, or in one of the spare studios at Spring; a handful of writers listened to music on their headphones, hoping to forge and replicate makeshift familiar configurations in order to start typing. One-hit wonder F.R. David sings, “Words don’t come easy.” Truer words have never been spoken indeed.

Brian Dillion’s book I Am Sitting in a Room, the inaugural volume in Cabinet Books’ 24-Hour Book series, was created from start to finish in one day at the Cabinet’s Brooklyn event space. The book is the outcome of an experimental process of writing within a compressed time and space under imposed constraints. While the setting of this four-day writing residency is nowhere as draconian as the conditions in which Dillion’s book was produced (we sit in climate controlled rooms, with food and drink taken care of, and one night the writers even went for a foot massage after a long working session), the question arises: in what way does the immediate reality of the undertaking find its way into the fictional universes the authors construct? Is writing just a matter of dedicated labor and intense concentration? What kind of stories could emerge under such circumstances? Will the reader be able to chart or decipher the individual writing processes, through the fictions composed within the walls of the same room?

The writers convene daily in the cocoon of Spring Workshop in Wong Chuk Hang. The interior recalls a generic white cube gallery easily found in any warehouse-cum-art space in Berlin, New York or London. In spite of being sheltered from the heat, humidity and other palpable sensations of the city, there is an acute sense of awareness of where they are working from. The incessant clamor of a nearby construction site and constant traffic, adjacent sky rises and reclining cranes function as constant reminders that we are nowhere else but in Hong Kong. It is perhaps no coincidence that Qiu Zhijie’s sprawling mapping project “The Universe of Naming” is on view, providing an unintended backdrop for the working sessions. Scrawled on the ground are his ‘concept maps’ of real and fictive places (and utopic ideas), accompanied by movable metal, wood and glass balls spread out all over the space; it challenges viewers to re-orientate themselves in this improbable amalgamation of the imagined and real, as well as in the political and mental locations. In this hothouse of ideas, Oscar, the writer-in-residence, shared an aptly chosen prompt to start the sessions with other invited Hong Kong-based writers: Marcel Broodthaers’ La conquête de l’espace. Atlas à l’usage des artistes et des militaires (The Conquest of Space. Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military). As the contours and geographies depicted in Broodthaers’ work merged with the combustion of territories outlined on the floor, an ambivalent place formed, setting the inner scenes where these newly written fictions played out.

As part of the introductions, Nadim chose to read a passage from William S. Burroughs’ Junky which he found fitting for the occasion: “There is a certain kind of ghost that can only materialize with the aid of a sheet or other piece of cloth to give outline. Gains was like that. He materialized in someone else’s overcoat.”Perplexed by these sentences, the group toyed with the task of finding words to define ‘silhouettes of something inexplicable’, an underlying thread for the five stories. A printout of an abstract monochrome shape quickly put together by Heman, the moderator, was circulated around the table, vaguely forming each author’s mental landscape. Like a Rorschach test, the writers came up with a number of different associations and images, formed by their own interests and backgrounds. “Psychological disorder,” one said. “Explosion,” said the other. Retreating into their individual writing bubbles, the authors worked in ninety- or one hundred twenty-minute-intervals, reading their pieces-in-progress aloud to the group after each session. Slowly, in multiple stories, there appeared a cat reincarnated as Cleo, or Valentin Vadimovich; a glass surface multiplied itself into a chandelier, a looking glass painted over and a crystal egg; nameless formations of landmasses and bodies of water are represented through volcanoes, islands, deserts, swimming pools, a blurred map, seas and rain showers; a rug laid across different living rooms is transformed into a third- (or perhaps fourth-) hand Persian carpet or an IKEA synthetic grey-blue high-pile rug; and lovers’ quarrels found words in a pile of jumbled retorts of he said, she said, dotting a cobweb of intertwining story lines.

Towards the end of the third day, the collection of stories seem to become a strange mélange of thoughts and realities, as though phrases and metaphors have been transferred from one head to another. The storytellers work side-by-side, (un-) consciously appropriating each other’s fragments; and when read altogether they could be patchworked to tell a combined story. Outside, the weather is glorious (a long-awaited change from two weeks of torrential rain); everyone is gradually drawn into the pace and rhythm cooped up in these long days of writing, exchanging ideas, and eating meals together. In the third or fourth draft, Valerie and Laurent’s blue rug becomes the place marker of a swimming pool, to which Oscar said, “We write what we desire in reality.” The writers continued with their laborious process of writing and editing, as the erratic weather (the beginnings of the first typhoon of summer) unfurled outside. Existential moments and personal anecdotes surfaced and found places within these chronicles, no longer excluded from these fabricated fictions. Other things also became visible: metal spheres from Qiu’s installation crossover into one story, the scenery of an exploratory walk in the neighbourhood blends into another one, while a fight over a turn of speech and scientific facts crop up like ghosts here and there. These tales were filled in unhurriedly with textures, colours, and layers, further expanding the initial abstractions, propelled by the speed of time.

On Saturday, the rooms are pristine no more, left with laptops, traces of notes on print outs, and personal belongings, taken over by the writers’ presence. With the end of the residency in sight, Enoch, Nadim (and even I) spend the night there, inhabiting the space in order to finish up the final sections of the pieces due to go to the printers. Doretta finishes her story first on Saturday, and Enoch has ample time to write a second vignette. Mindful of the time pressure lingering in the air, and with plenty of mutual input, the rest of us immerse ourselves in refining the architecture and interchanges of storylines. The last writers submit their files to the editors, and celebrate their feat with a couple of triumphant Hendricks gin and tonics with cucumber (the signature drink during the residency). The participants leave the provisional pocket of elastic time and fictional space bit by bit, emptying Spring of their own personal effects. The rooms slowly return to their usual states, and what is left of this intensive experience will now find an afterlife in the readers’ minds.

The next day, as expected, the tables have been cleared up, and the glasses washed. The writers have relocated back into their actual lives and customary patterns. And the weather reports were right, the daylong rainstorms have returned again.


Benjamin Franklin’s daily working schedule, date unknown.

Day three of A Fictional Residency at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong. All writers are hard at work, aiming to finish their stories for the book by the end of the day tomorrow.


Bibliotheek (Library), installation shot at Spring Workshop, Hong Kong

Christina Li: I participated in one of the first meetings of Moderation(s) last October 2012 at Witte de With, where you devised an exercise where we all had to suggest book titles and share with all the attendees, which became the foundations of Bibliotheek (Library). It’s quite an undertaking to start a long term project with an attempt to build a library, what are your intentions in doing this? How do you see this specific facet of Moderation(s) informing or shaping the project as a whole; or do you see it as something semi-autonomous from the larger project?

Heman Chong: Bibliotheek (Library) grew out of a simple exercise that a number of the core participants of Moderation(s) took part in. It was an important exercise in that it allowed the group to understand that each of us has immense resources emanating from our individual practices and that this material could be brought to the table and shared. And possibly, to be used in some future part of Moderation(s). Or outside of the project. For me, it doesn’t really matter. Moderation(s) is not a branding exercise where we have to enforce an identity. I generally find these exercises pretty boring which can be easily achieved with one single e-flux announcement. At this point, I still find it difficult to describe what Moderation(s) actually is, other than it being a kind of loose institution that wraps itself around the two existing structures of Witte de With and Spring Workshop. But perhaps, Bibliotheek (Library) can represent a structure in which I gain a clearer picture of what it is that it is becoming, rather than having this absolute idea of what it already is. As it is, I have played so many roles in this project that it seems redundant to even mention what it is that I actually do in Moderation(s).

CL: This common library of shared knowledge has not only a virtual presence on both Witte de With and Spring Workshop’s websites, but it also is physically present in both venues and cities. I know that since the October meeting, you have invited others to contribute further in expanding this library in terms of the disciplines and the respective local and regional discourses it encompasses; can you talk a little bit about this on-going process and your approach in your selection of contributors?

HC: Most of the contributors to Bibliotheek (Library) are artists, curators and writers who are friends that have, at some point or another, come into a working relationship with my work. Some of them know of each other, but some contributors are pretty isolated from the rest. It’s all very social in a way. What binds us all into this system is the fact that we have all taken time to read through the list of books and have come up with a series of recommendations that are reactions to this list. There are some very surprising recommendations which have already triggered off certain conversations amongst the contributors, which is already very telling of how this system can function both as a site and a tool. Another very pleasant thing about this library is that we can engage with say, both directors of the two spaces in a very intimate way, instead of only focusing on fund raising issues or what goes onto the website, you know the nitty gritty stuff that needs to be done, but totally completely boring shit. Between Defne (Ayas, Witte de With), Mimi (Brown, Spring Workshop) and I, we have had such great conversations about the books, how it forms the projects, and in a way, its kind of like a muscle relaxant of Moderation(s), that we can fall back on and read some stuff, and then have it play out as material for our future projects.

CL: At present, the library presents a rich and diverse body of interests and concerns from the array of people you have chosen to involve in building this library. What would you identify as central topics and themes that have emerged from this endeavor so far?

HC: Woah. Big question. One that I’m not sure if I should answer at this point, because its still pretty much in the process of being formed. But I guess, there are certain threads that are obvious, for example, you have geographically specific literature and material like ‘Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance’ by Ackbar Abbas, ‘ISTANBUL: 59 Locations. A Format For Nightcomers’ by Bik van der Pol, ‘The New York Trilogy’ by Paul Auster, ‘Ruins in the Netherlands XIX-XXI’ by Lara Almarcegui which tends to want to define space in relationship to personal identity and how we monumentalize our memories. I think this somehow reflects Witte de With’s and Spring Workshop’s concern with the idea of developing relations between two different sites and two different cities, something that I don’t quite resist, but at the same time, I am not interested in a project that talks about cultural tourism. I think Moderation(s) can be much more than that. I am trying to define it as a kind of floating point where we can take one step at a time, to think about a thing at a time. Having said that I am very pleased that we have ’The Book of Scotlands’ by Momus in Bibliotheek (Library), simply because this book is such a great reflection of how I think about Rotterdam and Hong Kong when I work on the project, that they are situations which can be easily reconfigured via fiction.

CL: Out of this vast collection of titles, are there some that you would highlight from the library?

HC: can only speak for myself, and here are the books that I have been reading on my own. It is based on my own personal inquiries for my projects that I am working on this year. In a way, I feel that this is also a strength within Moderation(s), that the participants and audience of the process can take whatever they want from the project and use it in their own work. Ackbar Abbas, Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance (Christina Li) Alex Ross, Listen to This (Mimi Brown) Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun (Ang Song Ming) Thomas Bernhard, Old Masters (Robin Peckham) J. G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition (Xiaoyu Weng) Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star (Tim Etchells & Vlatka Horvat) Kenzaburō Ōe, A Personal Matter (Lee Ambrozy) Osamu Dazai, No Longer Human (Pages) Vincent J. Cheng, Inauthentic: the Anxiety over Culture andIdentity (Samson Young) Michael Haneke, 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (Yung Ma) Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Joan Kee)

CL: The library in both venues take different physical manifestations: by the end of the week a specially made set of shelves designed by Map Office will be installed at Spring Workshop in Hong Kong, while you created a very mobile set-up for the books at Witte de With on the occasion of A Thing At A Time in April. Do you see ways in which this library could connect these two different locales within the project? I think it would be interesting to see how the visitors to either library interact with the material on offer; do you envision specific tactics or activities in bringing attention to the library itself? Or do you prefer to keep it quite open as to how people chose their mode of engagement?

HC: Again, I think it’s too early to say, and I haven’t really thought about what kind of public programs that can come with Bibliotheek (Library) yet. Personally, I’m drawn to small sized private libraries, and I find them to be very endearing and at the same time, perfect for certain kinds of workshops to occur. But I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Right now, I’m quite happy that it’s a library that has public access. People do come and read, which is already very fulfilling for me.


La conquête de l’espace. Atlas à l’usage des artistes et des militaires (The Conquest of Space. Atlas for the Use of Artists and the Military), Marcel Broodthaers, 1975 An atlas measuring just 38mm x 25mm, consisting mostly of a series of uniformly small icons of national territories, yet depicting no cities, rivers or mountains.

A prompt from Oscar van den Boogaard, writer in residence at Spring Workshop next week, in preparation for A Fictional Residency with Hong Kong artists, writers and architects including Nadim Abbas, Enoch Cheng, Doretta Lau and MAP Office (Laurent Gutierrez and Valérie Portefaix).


Koki Tanaka, Precarious task #6 going up to a city building taller than 16.7m, performance during A Thing At A Time, 19 April 2013, part of Moderation(s)

During the evening talks of A Thing At A Time, a weekend (19-20 April 2013) of performance events at Witte de With, Anthony Marcellini outlined the context of his work, Slowly Breathe in…and Out…Through the Object, centered around Richard Sierra’s Tilted Arc(1). To finish his presentation he posits, “What kind of relationships do we form with artworks that we no longer see or experience? What is the lifespan of an artwork?” A deliberation of these could be seen, carefully woven throughout some of the performances which happened that weekend: dealing with speech acts that function as tools for communication, embodiment and transferal of fleeting experiences. As the witness of Moderation(s), faced with the task of performing my role while physically absent over the course of this particular weekend, Marcellini’s questions seem particularly pertinent. How can one write or reflect on bygones produced within a specific time in history without having the privileged moment of being present? Moving back to the example of the Tilted Arc, how do we form ties to objects, performances or events that have been mediated to us, as second hand materials and oral accounts?

Close your eyes.

Earlier in the evening, Performa director RoseLee Goldberg repeated the above instruction as she recounted her first hand experiences of being in New York in the ‘70s. She guided audiences through the streets of New York’s SoHo district, from Gordon Matta-Clark’s restaurant FOOD, to La MaMa and various conceptual and Fluxus artists’ lofts and studios. For most audience members (and for myself, who experienced the talk much later watching the recording online, somewhat further removed from “the moment”), who had no first hand experience of sitting with Philip Glass at FOOD, or hanging out with Laurie Anderson discussing music – these dots of information set off a loose lattice/web of our individual imagination of New York in that period, held as repositories within personal stories and memories.

I have never seen the Battle of Waterloo either…

Last week in Venice, I saw Koki Tanaka’s presentation at the Japanese Pavilion, which willfully embraces the fragile potential that emerges within temporary communities. Among the videos documenting such moments which he calls ‘precarious tasks’, on recycled walls leftover from the last Venice Architecture Biennale, hung a series of images of his performance Precarious task #6 going up to a city building taller than 16.7m which took place in Rotterdam’s Bilderberg Hotel as part of A Thing At A Time. Drawing from the 2011 catastrophe in Fukushima, Tanaka asked a group of audience members to share thoughts on this major event as experienced on varying scales, depths, and geographies. In choreographing a collective situation rather than re-enacting it, the audience was invited to take joint possession of other people’s experiences of one event, Tanaka establishes these moments as departure points where our experiences could intersect (across geographies, from Fukushima to Rotterdam to Venice, for instance) in re-imagining the possibility of seeing the world differently. In response to the question if it is necessary to have been there in order to speak about a specific object or event, during her talk Goldberg jokingly remarked, “I have never seen the Battle of Waterloo either…” Perhaps the way in which events can be experienced does not require a physical presence. The gathering of different performances within A Thing At A Time suggests that there is another possibility of accessing these instances. In a time where almost everything is available online through a plethora of live streams, image feeds and document archives, what might matter the most is, in fact, our desire to make meaningful connections with such moments and works of art across temporal and spatial distances.

(1) This work, a classic case study of a failed public art project, was installed in Federal Plaza in New York City in 1981. It has been commissioned by the Arts-in-Architecture program of the U.S. General Services Administration. The work was removed after a series of debates and a lengthy court case in 1989. It is currently kept in a storage space in Maryland.


We are all astronauts – a short story by Oscar van den Boogaard.

On my inflight playlist en route to Hong Kong for the upcoming Moderation(s) module A Fictional Residency at Spring Workshop in June.


Figure 1. Showing convergence accommodation – a way to stimulate accommodation (focusing power) for presbyopic eyes to see near objects. The word presbyopia comes from the Greek word presbys(πρέσβυς), meaning “old man” or “elder”, and the ancient greek word ops (ὤψ), meaning “eye”.



– “Incidents of Travel” in Hong Kong is a second iteration of a project that you started in Mexico D.F for a project in 2012, could you talk a little bit about how the idea of inviting artists to plan an itinerary functioning as both an artistic encounter and alternative studio visit came about?

The idea of the tour guide is of course not new. Back in 2009 while we were doing a year-long project in the Port of Rotterdam, we organised a series of bus tours to the port where we would present projects by Jan Dibbets, Lara Almarcegui or Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller, etc. Listening to the feedback of the group that took part during those tours, we realised there was something very valuable about the idea of being (kindly) trapped in a bus for a day and to be taken around with a group of people whom you shared interests or even friendship with. Some were co-workers and took the day to talk about non-work related issues, to admire the landscape, to listen to the soundtrack that accompanied the bus tour and basically to enjoy a day away from the keyboard. We wanted to repeat what we thought was a successful format and thought our trip to Mexico DF was a perfect occasion for that. While preparing a small exhibition of our eight years of practice for Casa del Lago in Mexico DF, we felt we needed to add a ‘here and now’ contribution, and suggested inviting five artists (Minerva Cuevas, Tania Pérez Córdova, Diego Berruecos, Terence Gower and Jerónimo Hagerman) to develop a day-long tour for us.The choice of artists was mixed, some we had met before (Jerónimo or Terence) but didn’t know their work in much detail, and others (Tania, Minerva and Diego) we had been following their work for a while, but never met them in person. Our invitation was very open, our idea was for them to develop an itinerary that helped us understand their creative world, and that included them taking us to their favourite (or hated!) museums, libraries, markets, monuments, housing states, shops, restaurants, etc. that were special to their lives or to their artistic practice. We offered all artists a fee, covered all food and tickets-related expenses and had a car to take us around 9am–6pm, after that we used public transport. Experiencing any city accompanied by a local friend always offers a much deeper insight into any city, but navigating it with an artist whose work you admire, is even more meaningful as each site amplifies a personal connection.

Jan Dibbets
Incidents of Travel in Mexico Roman & Christina
Lara Almarcegui / Roman & Christina
tours in Mexico City

– Did you choose to adopt a different approach in your invitation to the artists in the Hong Kong edition? As far as I understood, Nadim Abbas’ tour was open to the public, while Yuk King Tan’s, Ho Sin Tung’s and Samson Young’s were conducted in a more intimate manner within a smaller group; what was the reason behind this decision? What were the responses to Nadim Abbas’ tour?

No, the invitation was the same in both occasions, though in Hong Kong we mostly used public transport. We also had more time to prepare and digest information, as were a month in residence at Spring. In the end it worked out as one tour per week as that suited best the artists’ schedule. Nadim’s tour was the first and was indeed open to the public, it has been the only tour so far with this aspect, although it was still a small group, initially of around fifteen people. We were interested in pushing the format and of course this meant that Nadim had to consider practical issues like distances and locations more carefully (ie. avoiding long walking distances, accessibility for groups, food availability…) in order to be realistic with the timings. A few people joined on and off, some engaged more actively than others. It was wonderful to see that Hong Kongers were also discovering sites they had never been to, like the Waterfall Bay Park or the nearby Waterfall Bay. Somehow we were all tourists for a day.

photos of hong kong tours
blog post of Nadim’s tour blog post of Sin Tung’ tour

– Since these tours have always been meant for you both to converse privately with each selected artist and to get to know their practices and the city, has opening these tours up conjure a different perspective of how these tours could function for you both initially? How has this attempt challenge your thinking in mediating and presenting the immediate experience and documentation of these tours to a larger audience?

The tours were conceived from the point of view of research, and we haven’t wanted to necessarily burden the artists or the format with the expectations that they were participatory performances or some kind of touristic spectacle. We’ve tried to keep them quite casual and inconspicuous in this sense, and to respect the notion of hospitality in the same way that if we came to your house for dinner, you wouldn’t expect us to bring a group of strangers with us! Indeed this was literally the case in the day with Yuk King Tan, which concluded with a household of Filipina domestic workers making dinner for us – women whose trust and friendship she had earned through her personal affiliations and the concerns of her art. It is really not a question of us making the tours exclusive or private – we have not actually prohibited anyone else from coming along if the artist suggested it or was anyway okay with it. Yet it somehow seemed important to be able to commit to spending an entire day with them, and as soon as there is definitely something like an audience present (that might expect to be entertained or decide to leave) the dynamics and the logistics change. The tours in Mexico took place during five consecutive days right after our arrival, so the way we shared the photographic material was more direct via our Facebook at the end of each day. The exhibition at Casa del Lago opened only two days after we concluded the last tour, so had to come up with a fast solution to present our explorations: we projected a selection of 200 images as a slideshow, and displayed a selection of printed photos on the wall alongside a large map of the city with pins that located the sites we visited and the actual itineraries we followed written by the artists, which contained short descriptions of each site (we printed extra copies of these and made them available in the exhibition so one could pick them up and follow the route. These are now available to download from our website.) In Hong Kong we were able to tweet during the tours, so it was an interesting process of documentation-on-the-go, of keeping a live diary of one’s journey, and to receive real-time responses from colleagues all over the world – the tweets have now been archived alongside some thirteen sound recordings, Facebook and blog posts. We also published blog posts of each of the tours which include extensive photo-documentation (by us and colleagues who took part) of the day interconnecting each photo with paragraphs of the itineraries written by the artist and our own impressions.

Storify archive of HK sound archive
post of Yuk King’s tour show in Casa del Lago
Mexico Itineraries to download
HK itineraries to download

– You also have been to some other more specialised tours on offer during your stay in Hong Kong, were there more specific aspects of Hong Kong you were hoping to explore which guided your choices in attending these tours as a sightseer and a cultural tourist?

We were interested in studying what kind of readings the city offered away from the usual tourist sites (the Tian Tan Buddha, Victoria Peak, shopping tours, a day in Macau,…). We wanted to see if we could find more ‘marginal’ sculptures or sites that presented vernacular displays far from the polished and pre-packaged tourist experience. We picked up hundreds of leaflets in the information office and found a couple interesting ones offered by the Walk Hong Kong company we thought were somehow out of the usual menu. We have always been interested in environmental issues and wanted to approach the high density of Hong Kong from another angle, from its relation to the surrounding nature. We visited the Mai Po Nature Reserve in the New Territories, a wetland on the Australasia migratory route, and ended the day in Long Valley in Sheung Shui, observing birds and farmers collecting large amounts of lettuces and watercress. This also tied in with another wetland we visited later with Ho Sin Tung, the Nam Sang Wai area, in the northwest of Hong Kong. This is to say that our own interests ended up tying in nicely with the sites we visited with the artists. Samson Young took us to a nearby area on his tour, to the border fence that separates Hong Kong with mainland China were we listened to “Liquid Borders”, a soundtrack he has been recording placing contact microphones in the wired fencing and mixing it with the sound of water of the Shenzhen River. Another tour we joined was the Feng Shui tour led by Susan Braun. We started visiting Norman Foster’s Hong Kong HSBC building in Admiralty, built according to strict Feng Shui principles, and finished at the Chi Lin Nunnery. The final one was with Martin Heyes, a former British Army officer and passionate World War II specialist, who took us to Devil’s Peak at the eastern extremity of Kowloon and to the Museum of Coastal Defence, to learn everything about the 1941 Japanese invasion of Hong Kong.

Post of Samson’s tour First week in HK, includes Mai Po marshes
Feng Shui
WWII tour

– As a whole, what would you say about the kinds of insights you have gained about the city from these tours, which might be seen as complements to the knowledge produced from the more casual encounters you have had through “Incidents of Travel”?

The Walk Hong Kong tours were an opportunity for us to specifically learn about birds, marshlands, Feng Shui and the 1941 Japanese invasion, but most importantly it was an opportunity to discuss with our tour leaders issues that went beyond the tour script so to speak, issues like immigration, recent historical events such as the 2003 SARS outbreak, the current economic climate, the relationship to mainland China, etc. Curiously, all of the tour leaders were expats that had lived in Hong Kong for many years, so for us it was very interesting to hear how it was to live there today. The same goes for the artists, we absorbed a great wealth of information from each other beyond discussing the sites we were taken to. We talked about books, films, about the art world, what it is to be an artist and a curator today, etc. ‘Incidents of Travel’ and our residency was very much in line with what Heman Chong, moderator of the ‘Moderation(s)’ program, explained during the January press conference: ‘Moderation(s)’ is about stretching time. Not surprisingly, the image he chose to illustrate the long term collaboration between Spring Workshop and Witte de With was a clock. That image stood out very clearly during our time there. The offered time gave us the chance to generate conversations with the artists, to find a common ground, to generously share and exchange some kind of knowledge, and to engage in multiple and repeated dialogues with locals and expats, a rare luxury one is not often given.

Presentation of our tours and our practice at Spring


How far can we, as participants in this project, and as agents of the structure we call “the art world”, use the opportunity of this project to provide a space and further to breach the binary conventions frequently referred to in other operations within such transnational collaborative projects?

What does the act of moderation entail? Can we think about it as a subjective way to intervene in another’s thinking processes?

How can we use the potential for misunderstanding as a productive space that is constantly being reformulated through the process of moderation and through the fractures that are intrinsic to language and communication?

What is the space within which Moderation(s) operates: is it a disenfranchised space or a fragmented space? Can we produce new meanings through reclaiming and constructing a profound space of exchange?

In adopting the metaphor of satellite geography—not unlike how we are operating as nodes of transmission—could we imagine a form of global circulation and cultural production that is not merely circulatory, but rather a mode of life that is based on transnational mobility, anchored in our regional practices?

Can we picture Moderation(s) functioning like a third institution between two existing institutions, artists and curators? Additionally, could we think of it as an open-ended sentence where thoughts and objects could be generated out of this mode of working?

Is it useful to think about the notion of the anamorphic gaze, a sideway glance which is not in a linear perspective, as a methodology in establishing our subjective relationship with ideas?

Can we collectively embrace the ‘not knowing’ and engage with the potentials of contingency within this project?

How can we retain this repository of ideas and shared affinities?

19th and 20th October 2012 marked the first informal gathering of the core members of the long-term project Moderation(s) by Heman Chong, the moderator of the entire project. A series of common concerns and aspirations were generated over discussions on each participant’s understanding of the term “moderation” in relation to their own research and practice. These points became multiple points of departure in which the group convened over and shared their motivations in participating in Moderation(s). Without providing answers to the questions outlined, they instead underpin the project’s ambitions that will be addressed and unfolded over a number of events to take place in Hong Kong and Rotterdam within the span of the project. In the course of the two-day meeting, Chong devised a series of exercises pertaining to the same subject—a writing session over an encounter with an artwork as well as the construction of a common library of shared knowledge, resulting in an ever-expanding Bibliotheek (Library) (which is available for perusal at Witte de With, Rotterdam and Spring Workshop, Hong Kong) forming an important pillar of this project. The participants of this meeting include A Constructed World, Nadim Abbas, Defne Ayas, Mimi Brown, Heman Chong. Amira Gad, Latitudes, Michael Lee, Christina Li, Samuel Saelemakers; with guests Nastasha Ginwala, Pages, and Vivian Sky Rehberg.