2013 - 2015 Coco Duivenvoorde: "How do we rethink an ongoing social and political struggle within the safe space of a reading group?"

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

‘Rethinking Feminism’ Reading Group


Coco Duivenvoorde took the lecture-performance format as an opportunity to introduce her newly formed reading group, which will address the collective voice in activism and art, and the notion of becoming and the self in relation to the other and its environment. Duivenvoorde’s practice has been developing alongside her active involvement in the We Are Here collective, and this has strengthened her conviction to find a voice together, as articulated by Lucy Irigaray: “There is a necessity for women to find a voice together before going out into the world to speak. Because the place from which to learn to speak has not been available within the structures of patriarchal power.” Demonstrating how this reading group might look, Duivenvoorde invited two other artists in the room to read with her, in turns. The texts included a passage from “Switching” by poet Juliana Spahr in the collection “Fuck You Aloha I Love You”; Audre Lorde’s “Who Said It Was Simple”; and Kenrick Lamar’s “Mortal Man”. After the readings, Duivenvoorde brought the room to a standstill by playing a recording of “Strange Fruit”, a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, and in this rendition, sung by Nina Simone (written by Abel Meeropol as a poem and published in 1937). The reading group, which will begin in Fall 2015, will be a way of bringing different voices together in a “safe space” of questioning.

Maria Hlavajova responded with an anecdote, sharing a moment in her curatorial career when “everything changed.” She described how she had been speaking with the We Are Here group, how they had self-organized and set up their own academy, and had asked her to teach a course on art and immigration. As she stood before the group of refugees she became acutely aware that there was not a single work she could share with them without an accompanying feeling of shame. For Hlavajova, this was a wake-up call and made it clear to her how “we idle away our time in contemporary art social practices.” In the end, she says, the refugees ended up teaching her about art and immigration. Thus she asks us to consider shifts of thinking; one shift would be from community to collectivity, a kind of decentering. Considering how they can be linked together, she recommends that “[we] stop thinking ‘against’ something and think ‘in spite of’.” The most important thing to understand, she emphasizes, “is how the cultural infrastructure has been set up according to upper middle class desires.”

For Alena Alexandrova, Duivenvoorde’s reading group brought up the question of inclusivity vs. exclusivity. She suggests “constantly asking yourself to whom are you addressing yourself?” and rethinking the question: is it really a safe space? How is the line drawn from the poetic and the political – and which feminisms are you rethinking? Alexandrova asks, “which struggles? Why in this precise moment?” She remarked that a “reading group is a particular form that builds a community, unlike a lecture or a seminar. So you should consider your own entanglement in that history.”

Marina Vishmidt considered the reading group to be about “a question of assembly of materials and their absences.” She reflected that in the space of a reading group, “absences are negotiated or evoked”, and wondered if there was also a question of a project in the sense of it having a productive aspect. “Is the assembly of materials and articulation of materials an end in itself?” For Vishmidt, the selected texts brought up the question of the hyper-visibility of race, which prompted her to recommend the book “Citizen: An American Lyric” by Claudia Rankine. Curious about Duivenvoorde’s method, she wonders if she will take an activist approach towards the assembly of materials, and asks how assembling those materials would also be able to negotiate the inevitable absences.

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