IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


Surviving Pathos: Diaspora and Displacement

Slavoj Žižek, in his new book Against the Double Blackmail: Refugees, Terror, and Other Troubles with the Neighbours, tackles another controversy head-on:

From within the safety of Europe, we face two versions of ideological blackmail—open-door solidarity with refugees and drawbridge-minded protectionism. Both prolong the problem—so, confronted with this double blackmail, we find ourselves back at the great question: what is to be done? The refugee crisis offers to Europe an opportunity: a unique chance to redefine itself. The only way to truly get to the heart of one of the greatest and most urgent issues confronting Europe today is to insist on the global solidarity of the exploited and oppressed. Maybe such global solidarity is a utopia. But if we don’t engage in it, then we are really lost. And we will deserve to be lost.
As political polemics and policy debates continue, two current art exhibitions offer fresh perspectives on the accommodation and integration of migrant communities. While one focuses on the Irish diaspora to explore multiplicitous translations of identity and belonging, and the other invites creative responses to illustrate empathy for Syrian refugees in The Netherlands, their respective curatorial concepts call for critical engagement in unusually effective ways.

The Survivors, which opened on 15 April in the Atrium of The Hague's City Hall, challenges the public of the international city of peace and justice to consider the daily realities of displaced peoples. This crowd-funded event, organised by The Hague Peace Projects and realised with the support of VluchtelingenWerk Nederland, gathered 16 local artists to respond to the drawings of Taim Safar, an 11-year-old who fled Damascus with his family when war broke out in Syria.

[Clockwise from top left] Castle in the Sky by Taim Safar; 8x12cm and 8x40cm by Malou Cohen;
Flags Flying by Leonard van de Ven; The Survivors by Bassam Alkhouri

Through the looking glass of Taim’s fears and dreams, the artists created individual works across a range of media and disciplines: from sculptures to collages, paintings to prints, video to embroidery, the rich array of artistic expression embodies the opening sentiment of artist Bassam Alkhouri, Taim’s art teacher in Syria and a close friend of Taim’s family. Violence is more insidious than war, he warned his audience; only those who refuse the language of violence and resist retaliation as a means to end wars truly survive political conflicts and involuntary displacement. Lamenting those who escape from war zones but perpetuate violence in word and deed in relative safety, Alkhouri collected Taim’s imaginative drawings to inspire artistic answers that can interrupt these cycles of violence and revive hope for peace.

[Clockwise from top left] Broken Family by Helen Hintjens; detail from Memoria City by Rik Smits;
detail from tribute to a city by Hanna de Haan; when reality unfolds by Wouter Willebrands

To be a survivor, then, is to seek a new direction out of difficulty and to find an alternative way to be in the world. How the 16 featured artists—Bassam Alkhouri, Alexandra Arshanskaya, Saskia Burggraaf, Malou Cohen, Hanna de Haan, Helen Hintjens, Jakob de Jonge, Eva Murakeozy, Robert Roelink, Rik Smits, Suzanne Somer, Rutger van der Tas, Leonard van de Ven, Wouter Willebrands, Albert Zwaan, and Airco Caravan—figure this concept of survival will accompany the figurative architecture of Taim’s experience in Syria until 4 May.

Two islands away from The Hague is Pathos of Distance in Dublin's National Gallery of Ireland. This art installation by Sarah Pierce results from her collaboration with the Centre for the Study of Irish Art to visualize the Irish diaspora through two central themes: displacement and hybridity. Tracing the history of Irish emigrants and immigrants with carefully selected images from 1813 to 1912, digitally photographed from around the world and reproduced to their original scale, the exhibition boasts ceiling-to-floor theoretical ruminations about diasporic identity inspired by, among others, Salman Rushdie and Judith Butler which flank assemblies of second-hand domestic furniture on and against which the historical and artistic images hang and lean.

The three rooms of the Print Gallery are thus transformed into a narrative of mixed forms and unexpected functions, an adventure in spatial and visual adjustment, and an experiment in transposition and translation. The artful juxtaposition of word and image, argument and affect, interpellates visitors from their geographical, ethnic, and cultural affinities and immerses them in a sense of longing for a concrete and abstract home. "Moved from source to source, each belonging to an original elsewhere", the reproduced images range from popular posters to portraits and paintings, "exceed[ing] their location, extracting from the limits of an original medium to reappear (everywhere, anywhere) as a digital copy". 
Emerging from the movement of people, ideas, and technology in the 21st century, global diasporas, displaced and distanced, appear and stand in their own right. This is perhaps the surest spring of solidarity as the ground shifts under all of our feet.

Reading Bodies, Moving Words: Invitation for 8 March 2016

Following ORACLE in 2015, join us on Tuesday 8 March at Dansateliers in Rotterdam to celebrate International Women's Day this year!  Get ready to experience language and movement in the context of contemporary feminism (for everyone and everything) from 18:30 - 21:30 that evening, with conversations to continue afterwards over drinks.

Here's a taste of what's in store for us:

Reading Bodies, Moving Words: A Celebration of International Women's Day 2016
Tuesday 8 March 2016, 18:30 - 21:30 @ Dansateliers, Rotterdam [directions]

18:30 Introductions & warm-up (collective listening exercise with Cissie Fu).

19:00 Public reading of original feminist manifestos by their makers:
            + Elske Toot, Let's Be People Instead of Genders
            + Marije van Maaren, You Are What You Eat 
            + Sanne van Driel, A Critical Anorectic Girl's Manifesto
        followed by collective discussion.

20:00 Dance workshop, incorporated with intuitive writing, by Lana Čoporda.
        Bring or wear comfortable clothes plus a change of socks...and be prepared to shake!

21:00 Inconclusions & cool-down (collective speech experiment with Cissie Fu).

21:30 Off to drinks in the canteen!

Whoever you are(n't) and however you identify, whatever your background and whichever your orientation, wherever you hail and whenever you become...join us for a playful exploration of 21st-century feminist concerns.

Participation is free and drinks are easy on the pocket, but space is limited, so do reserve your spot sooner rather than later.  We look forward to celebrating with you on the 8th!


Finding Stillness: On Somatic-Informed Movement

Mens sana in corpore sano, pre-Socratic philosopher Thales reminds us.

To kick off 2016, let’s find stillness through somatic-informed movement with Natalie Heller, a dancer-choreographer who specialises in a variety of movement techniques in her practice-led research. Ahead of her five-week movement course at LAK in Leiden later this January, Natalie has found a moment to introduce her exploration of somatic principles with PAI. We are delighted to share a glimpse into Natalie’s theory and practice, especially in case her public workshops have piqued your interest.

[PAI] What is somatic-informed movement, and how does it differ from the way we move in everyday settings?

[Natalie] Somatics was a term first coined by Feldenkrais practitioner and philosopher Thomas Hanna in 1986. He made a distinction between the human body and the soma. The body, he defines as a phenomenon perceived from the outside. This is what we attend to when we are deciding what to wear or manoeuvring through a crowded city street. Whereas the soma, is the body as perceived from within, from a first-person perspective. We commonly talk about our experience of the soma as ways of feeling. For example, when you walk into a room full of unknown people, the sensation of tension you may feel would be an experience of the soma. Somatics has now come to incorporate a wide range of diverse approaches to the body that all aim at developing body awareness, attuning apprehension of sensation and augmenting perceptual experience. In my classes, I draw from a variety of somatic techniques aiming to bring together experiences that evidence a bodily way of knowing. 
[PAI] How does a heightened awareness of embodiment enhance education?

[Natalie] Becoming aware of the self as an embodied, moving phenomenon opens up a whole new dimension of knowing. It’s not so much about what you know but about how you know. You become aware of layers of sensations and of ways of perceiving that are made available to you through the practice. You begin to pay attention to ways of knowing and understanding the self-world relation through and with the moving body. One of the benefits of somatic work is that it helps us to recognise muscular tensions in the body. Being able to release this tension can lead to a realignment of the bony structures (feet - pelvis - ribcage - head) which in turn facilitates a shift in movement patterns. After a series of Feldenkrais sessions, for example, you may notice you are walking differently, or holding your head differently. This difference is a new way of experiencing your physicality. At first, the newness feels unfamiliar and unsettling as we are drawn out of our experience of our own corporeality which is what grounds us. Our corporeality is the sense of certainty from which we evaluate and interact with the world, so having this challenged feels uncomfortable. It's a bit like having your opinion changed about something you've stood by all your life. This type of work is fundamentally a critical and reflective practice. The reflection is happening in the fluid processes of the 'body-mind'.
[PAI] Beyond the studio and the classroom, what are the wider social implications of somatic principles and related movement practices?

[Natalie] The founders of the various somatic approaches always speak in some way about their work effecting behaviour and thinking patterns. Ida Rolf (founder of Rolfing) for example, would look at how repositioning the fascia tissue effects perception and thinking.  F. Matthias Alexander (founder of Alexander Technique) spoke of breaking habits that 'feel right´ through renegotiating the balance of body parts. There is an assumption that the way the body functions is linked to the way it perceives and acts. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen (founder of Body Mind Centering) alludes to this when she asserts that our movement patterns are formed in the first year of life. “This is when the relation of the perceptual processes (the way one sees) and the motor processes (the way one moves and acts in the world) is established.” (Bone, Breath and Gesture, Johnson (ed.), 1995: 192). Working through and with the body to find new  movement patterns involves the breaking of habits both physical (how we act) and mental (how we think). Once we are able to recognise our automatic movement and thinking patterns the next step is a re-evaluation of  morals and a shift in ethical outlook.
[PAI] How do different movement methodologies inform your practice-led research, and how does this research support your creative practice?

[Natalie] My creative practice is the meeting point of my thinking and movement processes. My starting point is a philosophical curiosity with how we are in the world. It is this curiosity that brought me to somatic movement practices. Rather than approaching the body as an object that needs to be moulded and shaped into perfect forms, somatic practices view the body as an integrated entity that is a tool for understanding. In my research, I draw from different techniques with the focus of better understanding subjectivity and how the self is in relation. I select exercises, notions, movement ideas, approaches to the body from many different somatic techniques so as to build up a practice that is reaching towards an understanding of how we are in the world.
 An excerpt from Natalie's First Impressions which premiered in Istanbul in 2013.

[PAI] What motivates you to engage in this type of artistic research?

[Natalie] I guess I am motivated by my curiosity to understand. And also of course by my desire to share what I find on the way. I encountered this type of work by chance and it opened up new ways of thinking and sensing that drew me deeper and deeper into the work. With this type of work the deeper you go, the more it becomes an addiction. Eventually you end up feeling so much better when you are doing it than not doing it, that you need it. It is a little like practising yoga or going for a jog. Once you have experienced the sense of well being you get from it, you are always craving to re-visit it. 
[PAI] Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

[Natalie] The practice. :)

A lot of what happens in the studio--or in our bodies outside of the studio--is difficult to articulate in language. I believe that to grasp a sense of  the ways of knowing that come from the practice, we need to experience the practice itself. It is for this reason, that along side my creative work, I also teach workshops for amateurs and professionals.

I am teaching a workshop where beginners are welcome at LAK, and also a weekend workshop for professional performers at Cloud in the Hague in February.

I also hold regular Movement Labs where thinkers and movers are invited into the studio to experience the practice and share their own research questions. More info about participating in these sessions can be found on my website.
To experience Natalie’s creativity and pedagogy in action, participate in her course at LAK this winter, starting on 22 January for five weeks on Fridays 18:00 – 20:00 in Leiden.  To learn more about Natalie’s artistic research and practice, visit her website.

The Political Arts Initiative wishes everyone a happy, healthy 2016!


What a colourful world...

To wish you a bright start to June, PAI brings you a collage of colours from different disciplines in various media around the world.  Click on each image for visual feasts to unfold!

From Mons, France:

"RGB Trattoria" by design duo Carnovsky 
for a trip(pi)ly luminous dining experience.

From Milan, Italy:

House of Memory, a civil rights centre designed by
architects collective Baukuh, features a bright yellow staircase
connecting visitors with cultural archives.

From New York, USA:

Yayoi Kusama's interactive installation The Obliteration Room
+ paintings from My Eternal Soul = a delightful Give Me Love.

From Sichuan, China: 

Hues of Buddhism through the lens of photographer Colin Miller.

And from the world wide web:

Colour-happy DIY from webmaster Grant Thompson's "The King of Random".

Nearly half-way through 2015, let's continue to stay on-theme: *PLAY*!


REVOLUTION! this Thursday

A reminder to start bookmarking your favourite passages of radical philosophy and revolutionary poetry, for 'tis time for REVOLUTION!

Join PAI and the international MA students of Leiden University's Institute for Philosophy for a night of revolutionary thought and poetry at De filosoof in The Hague.  Bring your philosophical and/or poetic weapon of choice to share over blood red wine on 4 June 2015 to commemorate the 1989 Tiananmen Square Protests, celebrate the current New University movement in The Netherlands, and much more.  Doors open at 19:30 and reading starts at 20:00.

Get ready to translate power:

Góruje nad doliną Pewność Niewzruszona. 
Ze szczytu jej roztacza się Istota Rzeczy.
~ Wisława Szymborska, Utopia

~ Bei Dao, Go

Tickets are priced at €5.00 for unlimited tea/coffee/soft drinks and 
€8.00 for three glasses of wine. Register via e-mail and secure your spot in the intimate cellar of Papestraat 5 by paying in advance to De filosoof (IBAN: NL52INGB0006748829 | Reference: REVOLUTION! + your name).

Movers'n'Shakers of the world, unite--you have nothing to lose but scientific rationalism (and sobriety, perhaps). Until Thursday the 4th, keep up the good fight.



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