Contour biennale

Polyphonic worlds: justice as medium

Public Programme

Planetary Records: Performing Justice Between Art and Law

Opening Weekend Public Programme / DAI Roaming Assembly #12
March 11 and 12, 2017


As a system of rules constructed and enforced through institutions to regulate behaviour, negotiating legacy relations between particularity and general application, while being maintained through textual and oral interpretation, law is a space of great—if denied—aesthetic deliberation. Justice, quite differently, might be figured as an intractable entanglement of relations, intentions, affectabilities and adjustments between ever-moving, never-global, densely articulated bodies.

The law’s modernization in the colonial epoch consolidated limits for possible relations between justice and law, in its ontological set-up of male persons with base units and rights of property in contractual relation. Engendered and ethnocidally arranged through this fractal abstraction, juridical modernism foreclosed the order of land-based life and literacies. Its decrees of ‘right’ expansion continue to be built upon and innovated, while it secures and distinguishes only particular subjects, objects, and things, into investment-worthy relations.

When artists engage procedures of witnessing, testimonial production and the performativity of the trial, allegories of justice and modes of theatricality surface to haunt the past and present. These spectral zones must constantly be inspected and contested, just as ghosts must be evoked in order to deal with their unfinished legacy. Film and performance are vehicles among many that carve out alter-civilizational images and conceive legibility for eroding matters of injustice. Working from Mechelen, this co-curated programme invites artists, theorists and filmmakers to explicitly unpack the technicity and asymmetrical power of European legal infrastructure. Over two days the program examines artists’ role in challenging normative legal foundations while transforming our understanding of response-ability to double-meanings of law/lore, and tracing the inevitably formal dimensions of present day struggles.

How do ongoing planetary rebellions determined through existing value forms and categorizations, including the racial categorization of “no body / no thing” aim at legal rupture when placed before the courts, without falling into mimetic disfigurements within this very same insufficient order? What does it mean to take an eye or ear to scenes of struggle that reverberate well beyond as well as inside legal institutional terrains? How can artists’ own literacy in post-media conditions—very much at play inside the contemporary law court—make sense of possible realisms against and beyond juridical modernism’s reproduction of capitalism and its increasingly death-driven function?

The artists of Contour Biennale 8, Polyphonic Worlds: Justice as Medium, are connected through their attention to aesthetic contestations of the juridical beyond its present coding, their productive dealings with a planetary regime of impermissible evidence, and their ritualistic as well as counter-analytical engagements with an expanding, expropriated archive. The “record” here is often not data that can be positively marked up or collected in advance, but instead, what is lived while being judged to be outside of proper adjudication. To cultivate flexible imagination around these juridical-aesthetic impasses is to work through the persistent constraining of just realisms, where survival is constantly at stake. Here, justice itself becomes the medium through which we cannot avoid moving through, within and around.


Programme Schedule


Saturday, March 11

Venue: Holy Ghost Chapel and House
Onder den Toren 12, 2800 Mechelen


11:00 Mining for Ringwoodite

Screening by inhabitants

11:15 Trace Environments: Sovereignty, toxicity and the littoral

Panel discussion with Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, Susanne M. Winterling, Susan Schuppli, Elizabeth A. Povinelli, introduced and moderated by Natasha Ginwala

13:30 Lunch break

14:30 Performing the Trial: Re-enactment, Ritual, Remediation

Panel discussion with Ana Torfs, Judy Radul, and Sven Lütticken, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly

17:00 Council presents The Against Nature Journal

Contributions by Aimar Arriola, Buenos Tiempos, Int. (Alberto García del Castillo and Marnie Slater), Grégory Castéra, Carlos Motta, and DAI students. Design by Julie Peeters

19:30 Refracted Spaces: An Archaeology of Optics

Performance-lecture by Filipa César and Louis Henderson, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly


Sunday, March 12


Cultural Centre Mechelen
Minderbroedersgang 5, 2800 Mechelen

De Maan Theatre
Minderbroedersgang 3, 2800 Mechelen


11:00 Compost Archive

Screening by inhabitants made in collaboration with Filipa César and Louis Henderson

11:15 Notes Toward a Theory of Transformative Justice

Keynote lecture by Denise Ferreira da Silva, introduced and moderated by Natasha Ginwala

13:00 Lunch break

14:00 Hobby Lobby vs. The Allegory of Justice

Screening by inhabitants

14:15 Deceptive Authoritarianisms: Between Artificial and Discredited Personhoods

Lecture-presentation and panel discussion with Michel Feher and inhabitants, introduced and moderated by Rachel O’ Reilly

16:30 From Left to Night

Screening by Wendelien van Oldenborgh, introduced by Natasha Ginwala followed by a conversation with Wendelien van Oldenborgh and Denise Ferreira da Silva

18:30 Can You Make a Pet of Him Like a Bird or Put Him on a Leash For Your Girls?

Performance by Rana Hamadeh, introduced by Natasha Ginwala Venue: De Maan Theatre


Programme Description


Saturday, March 11



Mining for Ringwoodite (2016) 3’48’’, colour, sound

Mining for Ringwoodite compares the 2014 geological discovery of “fossilized” water found in the interior of a diamond-type mineral—termed Ringwoodite—in Brazil, with the prospects of mining on the moon or asteroids as announced by private companies in recent years. Ringwoodite is only found in the earth’s transition zone, between 410 and 660 kilometers below the earth’s surface. Given that water scarcity will only worsen throughout the twenty-first century, this episode speculates on a near future in which ringwoodite as well as rare minerals found in nearby asteroids will be the objects of a new mining economy. In this future, the earth’s deepest hydrological interior and outer space become paralleled capitalist frontiers.


Trace Environments: Sovereignty, toxicity and the littoral


The Littoral

If the law that defines the littoral (the in-between zone between land and sea) was ever appropriate to its materiality, it does not correspond to it now.  From where artist Beatriz Santiago Muñoz lives, this zone has changed physically, materially but also symbolically and its scope expands and contracts in the artist’s psyche. Sci-fi and the strangeness of plant-life help us to imagine a future law, malleable in the extreme, able to riff and improvise. The littoral may be a place but also perhaps a time, an image and an idea.


The Law of the Littoral

In response to the recognition of Indigenous ownership to intertidal waters in the High Court case, Blue Mud Bay (2008), an interim agreement was reached between the federal government and Indigenous owners that allowed non-Indigenous fishers a specific mode of access to the intertide—they could float on it but not disembark from it. This talk explores how, in trying to circumvent Indigenous coastal sovereignty, the late liberal government exposed itself to the law of the littoral.


Trace Evidence

Within environmental justice work, establishing the incontrovertible relationship between cause and effect has proven a difficult legal challenge. The spatial dispersion of contaminates and temporal latency of their material and biological effects, which may take years, even decades to emerge, has allowed global climate-change actors and states to operate with virtual impunity. But the nuclear isn’t like other complex, non-linear events. Despite its radical and covert nature, the unique signature and behaviour of radioactive isotopes allows its lethal traces to be tracked directly back to their source, re-connecting, in effect, the evidential links that planetary phenomena has seemingly torn apart.


The east wind and the bond we share with the tissue of the shellfish—strings, nodes and skin politics in the age of soft-war

A cyborg teams up with a microorganism perspective: recent global developments have created new species of algae whose bloom is toxic and trigger popular media presence called the red tide. The phenomena of bioluminescence, as such, can be connected to the planetary system for navigation, spiritual and emotional power. In expressing a form of “poetical ethics” that builds upon her installation for Contour Biennale, Winterling reflects on monitoring systems to anticipate climate hazards and focalize the many symptoms of systemic violence arising from ecocide.

13:30-14:30 Lunch break


Performing the Trial: Re-enactment, Ritual, Remediation


Putting on a Production

Sven Lütticken’s course at the DAI, “Legalize Everything,” deals with the law as an abstraction that—in cooperation with capital and technoscience—remakes reality. As a form of productive rationality, the law is enacted in court cases: it is here that the particular is subsumed under the supposed universals of the law, while in some cases, this operation relays a dialectic between the abstract and the particular.  “Putting on a Production” focuses on the trial as situation that is a production both in the sense of a theatrical production and of the production of new realities; the trial as both theatre and factory. What, then, happens when court cases are re-presented, re-enacted? Can such reenactments have a form of agency in their own right?


Bench, Bar, Body Cam

In Judy Radul’s artistic practice, courts of law are considered as a site for expression of aesthetic as well as legal constructs. For “Performing the Trial: Re-enactment, Ritual, Remediation,” Radul will reference her installations while focusing specifically on the interface increasingly arising between the court as a spatially static and bounded formation, and the erratic motions of first person point of view, hand held or body worn video, introduced as visual evidence into the primarily textual sphere of the trial.



During her DAAD residency in 2005, Ana Torfs researched the Freiburg Military Archive for its holdings of the trial in May 1919 of the ‘Case of the Murder of Dr. Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg before the Military Field Tribunal of the Cavalry Guard Rifle Division in the Main Courtroom at the Berlin Criminal Court’. The artist selected statements from this trial to compose ‘A Tragedy in Two Acts,’ the literary script for her installation Anatomy. The case files have been divided up by Torfs into short chronological scenes so that a tragic story emerges in which details from the same event are told from different angles. Torfs will read from the artist’s book published on the occasion of her exhibition at daadgalerie in 2006 contains text and photography by Torfs including the script of her Tragedy in Two Acts, and a personal text about the creation process of the installation, which she will do a reading of.

16:30-17:00 Coffee Break



“The Against Nature Journal”

“The Against Nature Journal” is a pluri-disciplinary programme of publications, exhibitions, and conversations on the many meanings and usages of ‘against nature’ in law. Gathering the work of people and groups working across the fields of legal theory, humanities, arts, activism, and science, the journal makes use of the space left for interpretation in the law to propose creative legal argumentations. The session includes an introduction by Council’s co-director Grégory Castéra and “The Against Nature Journal”’s chief editor Aimar Arriola, a screening of the film Deseos / تابغر  (2015) by Carlos Motta, and a performance by Buenos Tiempos, Int.

19:00-19:30 Coffee Break



Refracted Spaces: An Archaeology of Optics

Filipa César and Louis Henderson imagine the lighthouse lens as a departing point to unfold a critique of Western epistemologies informed by optical technologies, as military and colonial design. The projection of light and its Enlightenment(s) are embedded in the imperial and violent gestures and processes of discovering, shedding light, grasping, comprehending, framing, revealing and possessing. As counter-gesture, this research seeks lines of flight towards the shadows by upholding a politics of opacity. Expanding research conducted for their collaborative film, this lecture-performance maps a trajectory from historical methods of optical navigation to new algorithms of locating, from singular projection to multi-perspectival satellitic visions.

Sunday, 12



Compost Archive (2016) 6’59’’, colour, sound

“Luta ca caba inda” [The Struggle Is Not Over Yet] is the title of a documentary film on West Africa’s Guinea-Bissau’s post-independence, left unfinished in 1980. It has been archived alongside dense material holdings of a decade of militant cinema and struggle between 1963 and 1975—the year the country’s independence was internationally recognised—at the Instituto Nacional de Cinema e Audiovisual (INCA) in Bissau. From 2012-2015, artist Filipa César and curator Tobias Hering embarked on a project to affordably digitalise the entire archive in an unrestored state. Since, the “Luta ca caba inda” project holds public events dedicated to activating the archive. Upon inhabitants’ invitation, this short video by César with Louis Henderson came out of 4th Encounters “Beyond History: Luta ca caba inda – An Archive in Relation”, a conference in Portugal in 2015. ‘Compost Archive’ extends Henderson’s conference contribution, to propose a navigation through the materiality of the footage, sounds and accessing apparatuses, with excerpts from participant’s statements.



Notes Toward a Theory of Transformative Justice

Denise Ferreira da Silva outlines a plan for decolonization — or a draft of a thesis, a praxis, and corresponding figuration entwining juridic, economic and symbolic architectures that render racial (total, institutional, symbolic) violence pervasive in the global present and its attendant matrix of power. With a plan that acknowledges how the workings of raciality expose the limits of the liberal program beyond modern thought, da Silva contributes to the preparatory work necessary for figuring decolonization as the aim of a transformative theory of justice.

13:00-14:00 Lunch Break



Hobby Lobby vs. The Allegory of Justice (2016) 4’34’’, colour, sound

Set to the tone of feminist post-punk bands and composers, inhabitants draws on a recent US Supreme Court legal case that granted religious rights to a corporation called Hobby Lobby, allowing it to negate its federal obligation to provide contraceptive healthcare to its female employees. The case sets a jurisprudent record within the United States Common Law, which means that common law judges not only apply the law but also may expand the understanding of it in future cases. As such, the consequences of the Hobby Lobby ruling, which opens the way for corporations to practice a faith, may stretch well beyond this specific, alarming denial of women’s embodied autonomy and rights. 


Deceptive Authoritarianisms: Between Artificial and Discredited Personhood


Trumped Assumptions

Feher considers that the neoliberal era (1979-2016) has proved deceptive all along: while purported to have turned everyone into a profit-seeking entrepreneur, the character it has actually fashioned thinks and behaves like a credit-seeking asset manager. What kind of deceptions are we to expect now that the revamping of isolationist authoritarianism trumps the globalization of neoliberal “best practices”?


The Reproduction of Personhood

“The scale of an environment is tested in relation to the behaviour of its subjects. How far they can go, the reach and radius of their actions.” On January 1, 1993, following the Maastricht treaty, the European union channel Euronews was incepted. “Its impartial model of broadcasting included silent images, minimally edited, accompanied only by a discrete title;” feedback was excluded. ’No comment’ was at the center of the Troika; when ERT defaulted on its agreement with Euronews, and Brussels quickly threatened to withdraw further loans to the country, blame accrued to the apparatus. How do artists and filmmakers tarry with such post-human organizations of capital, within changing media landscapes and corporate authoritarian speech acts? With this in mind, inhabitants will discuss their latest Contour Biennale 8 episodes, including the US Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. court case, infamous for granting religious rights to a corporation, and video as evidence.

16:00-16:30 Coffee Break



From Left to Night (2015) 32’30’’, colour, sound

From Left to Night is an experimental film production in which a number of seemingly unconnected players, places, events, subjects and histories, drawn from a complex London neighbourhood—an area of deprivation bordered by the wealthiest sites of the city—meet through a two day film shoot: six people, three locations, and the different subjects and forms of knowledge, which they bring with them. Ranging from urban tensions—including unresolved histories of the 2011 London riots—to new feminist and racial theories, music, 1960s idealist architecture and the personal ways in which each of the protagonists relates to these.

18:00-18:30 Coffee Break



Can You Make a Pet of Him Like a Bird or Put Him on a Leash For Your Girls? (2015) 60’

Structured through the oratorical tradition of the Shiite ceremony of Ashoura, Rana Hamadeh’s immersive and cacophonous sound-play takes this ceremony’s political, military and legal expressions within the Lebanese/Syrian contexts as its field for commentary and research. An annual ritual during which mourners re-witness the slaying of al Imam al Hussein (626–80 AD), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and an allegorical reference to the ultimate figure of the oppressed, Ashoura proposes aberrant and conflicting understandings of the relations of legality, justice and theatre. A militant form of theatre that has undergone a major shift in the past three decades in Lebanon, this ceremony is addressed within the sound-play as a structural dramaturgical framework from which to imagine the emergent notion of testimonial subjectivity, both outside the bounds of the court of law and in place of the notion of the legal subject.

Dutch Art Institute’s Roaming Assembly is a recurring public symposium scheduled to take place once a month, functioning as it were as the DAI-week’s ‘centerfold’ event. This state-of-the-art speculative and hybrid program explores specific themes and topics of contemporary relevance to the thinking of art in the world today. It is considered a key part of the DAI’s (version of the) “Planetary Campus” – an affective community where caring for the earth goes along with the generous sharing of art and research, where complexity can be embraced and intellectual intra-actions are fostered, aiming to endow our praxes, wherever they are operational. Although closely interlinked with the DAI’s academic program, Roaming Assembly editions are not conceived as plain extensions of the regular DAI classes and seminars, but rather envisioned as sovereign happenings, designed to mobilize our bodies, our intelligences.


Contour Biennale 8: Natasha Ginwala
DAI’s Roaming Assembly #12: Rachel O’Reilly

Project Coordination:

Contour Biennale 8: Sofia Lemos
DAI’s Roaming Assembly #12: Nikos Doulos

Design: Studio Remco van Bladel

Communication: Katelijne Lindemans

Online Media Partner: Ibraaz


Special thanks to e-flux conversations:


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Public Programme