Excerpt from Sebastian's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2016
Chairs were arranged around the room in back-to-back pairs. The artist sat near the center of the chairs, and once everyone was seated, began to read a letter. Sebastian De Line’s lecture performance took the form of an intimate, personal conversation that lived and breathed over correspondence by mail. Far from the high-speed of an email exchange, this dialogue seemed to have been carried out over years, a sense that was heightened by the artist’s calm, even, and confident delivery. Although the audience may not have been entirely sure who the artist was writing to, it was fairly certain that these were Sebastian’s own words: he voiced his questions, ambitions, disappointments, doubts and fears with directness and sincerity. Perhaps he was writing to his artist-mentor (in real-life or in fantasy), Louise Bourgeois. The dialogue with an absent and unknown ‘other’ (“Louise”) is reflected in the suggested seating arrangement in the room. Here we can’t face one another directly, leading us to either form an imagined image of the other, ignore him, or break the rules and turn to face him. In the text, Sebastian questioned his practice as an artist, in particular the way his work has been interpreted on the basis of his ethnic identity. If othering involves a rather blunt way of naming or being named, the artist aims to analyze and rewrite the methods for (self-) naming and defining. He looks in detail at the places where personal life intersects with an image or artistic persona made for market consumption or artistic legitimization.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung found Sebastian’s way of presenting “strong and beautiful”. Starting again with the space and how the chairs were set up, he had to ask himself why the artist chose this structure and why people should sit back to back. This question came up because he observed that many people in the room were eager to see Sebastian talk and had to reposition themselves because the sound did not suffice. He also remarked that the format of the letter-conversation “and the way it is read takes away the distance of the letter.” In terms of content he found it very. It recalled for him the book by Chinua Achebe called “Integration of a British-Protected Child”. Bonaventure noticed that there seemed to be a need for a middle ground. “There were at least two or three points where you mentioned certain extremes: voicing or not voicing your oppression – is there a middle ground?” The same goes for the reference to Documenta – “can it be only the possibility of decentralizing? Is there something in between? We in the art field are looking for a middle ground.” Regarding naming, Bonaventure asks “what are names?” and says that the fate of the post colonial spells out a certain “destiny for some of us” – that is, the experience of carrying names. The power of names, he says is described by a certain situation such that, “you not knowing my name takes away your power actually.” As for the precarity of art, Bonaventure would prefer not to talk about it.
Ekaterina Degot found something violent about the format since there is such difficulty in listening to it and then having to immediately react to it. She said that she hoped this would not be how Sebastian would plan to present this work in the future. “The text is very precarious,” she said, touching on what was talked about the previous day. This work should be available to be read by the reader, not the artist, in order for the reader to have a deeper understanding of it. “But these are the conditions [of the performance lecture format]”. She found the letter format impressive. The “turn towards literature in art is striking because maybe we can still find complexity in literature.”
As for “performing embarrassment and class”, she remarked, “this is something artists often do, and there is also often a mention of a kind of embarrassment of being an artist”. Degot asks, “how is being an artist connected to class? It there some sort of moral judgment emerging in this field?” Relating this to her experience teaching in Moscow in the school of photography and new media, she explains that half of the students come with an artistic background. “From the beginning the half that knows begins with institutional critique. The other students are just not getting them – ‘why they are critiquing themselves?’ I wonder if we are overdoing this self-deprecation.” Much of this depends on social conditions: cultural commons used to include Shakespeare and Dante, among others. “What sort of social class are we performing here as artists and curators?” On a final point, Degot disagreed with the statement that Documenta is the Olympics of the art world. “It is not. The Venice Biennale is.”
Rachel O’Reilly responded by saying that the further Sebastian went, the more connected she felt to the content. “The question you are asking is more specific and possibly more interesting than the universality of the question you posed initially. In creative writing, they talk about the difference between showing and telling – and this difference was reflected in the first and second part of your text.” She noted Lauren Berlant’s work on slapstick and contemporary political negotiations, in relation to Sebastian’s narrative, “the more invested you are in the concept of getting (the political) right, the more you look like you are in a slapstick routine.” O’Reilly was interested in the way that the story exposed how family deaths can turn inheritance into a volatile question. Speaking to Sebastian directly, she said, “the element of decision in your negation of history makes it more interesting than a memoir.”
Marina Vishmidt said that the “vertiginous, deeply felt and precisely articulated modalities” made her think about “implicit relations that were emerging that could not be spelled out.” She was interested in the question of class and how it came through in the story of the artist’s sculpture – how it was “handled with more care than the human who produced it.” This made her think in terms of questions about different levels of material in Sebastian’s work. In the narrative there are many strands: one is the “production of art objects treated so delicately”; another is the labor in factory; a third is Sebastian’s artistic practice at DAI; and yet another is the artist’s (future?) practice as an academic. Vishmidt was interested in “the relationship between the kinds of narrative investigation and the kinds of objects that are delicately packed and carried and how that is expressed through class and the social contract.” She suggested that “perhaps the addressee is a gateway to an answer.” She was left the question of how the different strands addressed in the narrative will continue in the work Sebastian does after the DAI.
About: Speaking Without Thumbs
Sebastian De Line's website