Initiative & Institution Symposium

Friday, 07.03.08, 17.00
‘speech as political act’, nicoline van harskamp

Nicoline van Harskamp

proposal for ‘Initiative and Institution’ by Nicoline van Harskamp

In my work I look at existing formal and informal structures of control, governance and resistance. As it relies on a survey of social and political phenomena, my art practice can be described as a research intensive one. During and after investigation, my projects materialise in installations with audiovisual, textual, photographic and live elements. Some projects are commissioned by (local) authorities or institutions and take place in public space. These projects can have an operational character, for example when working on (architectural) consultations. They are spatial in nature but always rely on verbal interaction and the exchange of (political) opinions. In 2007 I started a residency at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam, aiming to revisit the notion of authorship in public practice and the notion of the political in art.

‘Initiative and Institution’ addresses paradoxes between the informal and the formal. Since all my current projects deal with the development of individual political convictions and different modes for practicing politics, this proposal relates to such paradoxes within the political. It applies to several of the issues and areas mentioned in your invitation, perhaps most strongly to ‘Negotiation and Fragility’.

For the project ‘Amateur Politics’ I scanned my archive of video and sound material for moments where connections between personalities and politics manifest themselves. Looking up to 5 years back, I revised and transcribed interviews with, amongst others, a Catholic Anarchist from Canada, the director of the Stasi Museum in Berlin and a Dutch anti-psychiatry activist. None of the interviewees practice politics or political theory professionally. All of them directly or indirectly express anti-étatist (i.e. anarchistic or libertarian) ideas. I wrote theatrical stage instructions to the transcripts, thus quite literally becoming the author of a past existing situation. The result is a series of 15 theatrical scripts, free-distributed in exhibitions. Because I am an agent in the interviews myself, I appear as one of the characters in each of them.

One of the scripts is based on an unmediated public debate between rightwing and leftwing anarchists in the Netherlands, held a Casco Projects in Utrecht in april 2007. During the Critical Legal Conference at Birkbeck School of Law, London, in september 2007, I invited a panel of five academics to read the script out for an audience. I authored the debate that evolved afterwards and added it as a new act to the script. Subsequent readings with groups of actors, free speech activists, young students and art professionals followed the same procedure, causing a snow ball effect and resulting in a series of video registrations and an eight act script entitled ‘Speech as a Political Act’.

In the project, momentary, voluntary exchange collapses with structured, professional exchange by way of a détournement: it turns unmediated spoken language into written language, compressed in the set system of a script. The script itself offers an inversion of both the political pamphlet and the Platonic dialogue that it recalls: it is inconclusive, inconsistent and open-ended. It demonstrates the impossibility of finding definite solutions or blueprints for societies and structures. As a result, it addresses the need to use paradoxes and tensions between the ustructured and the structured; the uninformed and informed; the initiative and the institution within the political.

I would like to contribute to ‘Intiative and Institution’ with one or more elements of ‘Speech as a Political Act’: presentation of video registrations, destribution of the script, live reading of the script (or part of it) by conference members or visitors. It takes an hour and a half to read the full script and about twenty minutes to present a summary of the previous acts and to read out the last act. A post-reading discussion, preferably not mediated, can be held afterwards. An English version of the full script is attached as a pdf to my email. The final act has not yet been translated and will be forwarded to you as soon as possible. A full set of the 15 ‘Amateur Politics’ scripts and a DVD with video registrations of previous live readings will be sent to you in the post this week.


Categories : /presentation, archive, contributions, symposium