Sarah Demoen (DAI, 2015) & Julieta Aguinaco (DAI, 2015): "We don’t have a question, but a sentence that you can question: You don’t find a new paradigm, we make it."

28.12.15 | tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Sarah's and Julieta's 20 minute presentation for Do The Right Thing ! ~ DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2015.

The limits of my language


In a joint presentation of their collaborative work, Sarah Demoen and Julieta Aguinaco offered a performance making heavy use of text fragments and passages from their own work and the work of others, together with videos by Aguinaco. They consider the possibility of friendship as a community, all the while dealing with questions of language, withdrawal, naming, and positioning within the art world, asking, in more ways than one, what can be named and known?

Demoen muses, “there is an abundance of art practices, spaces…Where is the absence? Where is our desert?” Reading together at times and taking turns at others, the two artists read parts of their non-linear text, and set up the entire performance in the loose structure of a play in three parts: a head without a world (dealing with the theory of exit); a headless world where Julieta Aguinaco read the text “Almost No Memory” by Lydia Davis; and a world without a head (focused on the attempt to find a desert, a quest for an absence).

In the third act, Aguinaco presented three of her videos, all of which follow a similar pattern where the viewer trails behind the protagonist of the film (the artist) who is walking in various settings in Bolivia: a market at night market, a cemetery, and around natural geysers. In the videos, the artist-protagonist is naming everything she sees and points at in an almost manic, high-speed manner; she seems to be talking as fast as she can. “This is a shop it’s open, this is a shop, it’s closed, etc.” The naming goes on for a few minutes until the sound fades out, leaving only the silent image. This gives the viewer the sense that the act of naming could go on forever. In the last film, Aguinaco narrates her films in an especially unenthusiastic and detached voice, “welcome to the Andes. Welcome out…Welcome home. Where? We have to look elsewhere,” tying back to Demoen’s questions related to exit theory and withdrawal. Both artists’ work asks the audience to question whether the attempt to name things only show the limits of our perception and our knowledge, or rather addresses more complex issues and questions related to belonging to a community, and the set of relations described by being and knowing?


Maria Hlavajova responded by saying that having two presentations bleed into another destabilizes our understanding of how the format functions. In light of that, she chose to look at this as one work, and while doing so, questioned whether the artists intended to destabilize the “modernist edifices of the authorship of a work”? Hlavajova was interested in the makeshift, DIY qualities of the presentation and the use of stage. “I read the first part of your presentation as a manifesto”. Regarding the limits of language she kept thinking, “what on earth do they mean by contemporary art?” Contemporary art, she says, is propaganda to neo-liberal capitalists, so “what do we [really] mean by all these popular terms?” She recalls Agamben’s questions about the role of poetry - to recharge language; to withhold language from its daily use. Thus, vocabulary is crucial and Hlavajova asks whether we are “going to make neologisms or instead reclaim terms that could help us?” In defense of institutions, she asks us to remember that they are places of interlocutions between politics and power.

Bassam el Baroni considered this work to be about the crisis of meaning (a term which in itself is in crisis). “It’s very difficult to attain meaning in the way that we used to.” At a certain point, he began to understand Julieta’s performances in the videos as a kind of madness, showing someone driven to the edge (“we are all in this situation in many ways”). He tells her, “you've developed a way of crafting meaninglessness” which paradoxically, begins to mean something. “Julieta’s performance was kind of a symptom of the structure [Sarah described].” Bassam el Baroni suggests shedding the “angel of history”, and the “desert” because they belong to a theoretic symbology that no longer works. Finally, as a side comment seconding Hlavajova, he also appreciated the meaningless gesture of moving the large projection screen across the space.

Alena Alexandrova considered the work in terms of friendship and thinking – that this comes from a terrible paradoxical desire to think and create and negate/criticize constantly. In this restless state, she says, “There is a danger of losing one’s grip on the texture of what they are tackling.” Speaking about contemporary art, asking where it lives and what it does, caused Alexandrova to read this as a work as opposed to a critical commentary. Finally, she praised them on the success of the performative structure of their performance, which was adeptly used the “fragment” as a form of theater.

Marina Vishmidt picked up on the previous responses, following Maria Hlavajova’s implication of poetics as a way of productive withdrawal from the world; Bassam el Baroni ’s way of seeing potentiality as derangement; and Alena Alexandrova’s interest in the philosophical form of theater. Vishmidt took an interest in the world of narrative, which came up in the story by Lydia Davis, the ways that it was configured with the rest of the performance. She asks about the role that narrative played, and was also interested in the quotes preceded by “the man says…” The way these fragments are repurposed or negated was particularly interesting to Vishmidt, and brought her to consider this work as way of questioning the immanence of utopia and the immanence of resistance. She concluded by saying, “derangement also needs to include a notion of reconfiguration somewhere.”

About Do The Right Thing !

Julieta Guinaco's website

Sarah Demoen's website