Afterall Issue 36 Summer 2014
Afterall Issue 36 Summer 2014

Laboratoire AGIT’art and Tenq
K.P. Krishnakumar
Nilbar Güreș
Carla Zaccagnini
Andrea Büttner
Enquiry on the/our outside

Afterall is pleased to present issue 36, summer 2014, which features artists and artistic collectives that question the borders of the art world or exploit other possibilities within it. Within a homogenizing art world, how do you find a ‘without’ or a productive point of difference?

Clémentine Deliss looks at the collectives Laboratoire AGIT’art and Tenq that emerged in Dakar, Senegal in the 1990s, and which undermined common assumptions about the distribution of cultural capital and knowledge between perceived centers and peripheries. Writing a subjective history of these activities, she asks how groups who wanted to be only partially known can be fully historicized.

K.P. Krishnakumar was the lead artist in the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, a collective which tried to marry art and politics and look for a way for Indian artists to be part of the global art world without having to represent their national or regional identity. Anita Dube, who was a member of the group, writes on the tragic hero that Krishnakumar became, while Shanay Jhaveri discusses the collective’s impact within Indian art history.

Often showing Turkish women in elaborate camouflage, Nilbar Güreș‘s photographs, drawings, collages and videos also reflect upon questions of cultural identity. Mihnea Mircan argues that she is one of a number of artists who are shifting the notion of identity to one that exists between the margins, blurred in transit, while Lara Fresko considers the artist’s representation of identity within a globalized framework.

Louise O’Hare discusses Andrea Büttner‘s appropriated images of mentally handicapped boys looking at HAP Grieshaber’s woodcuts to elaborate a theory of embarrassment as integral to the condition of viewing art. The social and political uses of art are also examined in Emma Hedditch‘s study of Carla Zaccagnini‘s artist’s book, which explores the Suffragette’s campaign to destroy paintings and art objects.

This notion of an internal hostility to art systems and classic standards of aesthetic criteria is picked up in Alejandra Riera‘s collective projects, for which she renounces any authorship. Her ongoing investigation Enquête sure le/notre dehors (Enquiry on the/our outside), as Peter Pál Pelbart and Muriel Combes write, explores what constitutes the borders of our society—what we relegate, for example, to the peripheries of city centres or outside of sanity.

Already occupying a comfortable position in contemporary art history, Panamarenko defied the parameters within which the art world operates when he decided to retire from artmaking in 2005. As Hans Theys and Jeremy Millar remind us, working mostly in the solitude of his studio in Antwerp, Panamarenko has queried authoritative forms of knowledge through the building of impossible machines.

Finally, in their discussion of the actual experience of living and working in the art world, Zachary Cahill and Philip von Zweck address how artists—whom they dub ‘double agents’—live between structures, seeking to put their day jobs in art institutions at the service of their artistic ‘night job.’

This summer Afterall Books will present the fifth publication in its “Exhibition Histories” series, Exhibition as Social Intervention: ‘Culture in Action’ 1993, as well as the “One Work” title  Thomas Hirschhorn: Deleuze Monument by Anna Dezeuze. On 18 October, Hirschhorn will be in conversation with Dezeuze at the Platform Theatre, Central Saint Martins, to launch the book. The next guest in our “Exhibition Histories” Talks series, co-organised with the Whitechapel Gallery, London, is curator Helmut Draxler, who will be in conversation with Helena Vilalta on 18 September.

Afterall journal is published by Central Saint Martins, London, in editorial partnership with M HKA, Antwerp, and the Smart Museum of Art and DOVA OPC, University of Chicago, in collaboration with UNIA arteypensamiento, Seville, and in association with the University of Chicago Press.

To subscribe to Afterall journal, please click here. If you are already a subscriber, you can download the e-book edition of the journal here.

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 Visual Agency

Omar Kholeif on Shuruq Harb
Vanessa Joan Müller on Özlem Altin
Jens Maier-Rothe on Malak Helmy
Column by Alanna Lockward

The starting point for the current issue was initially summed up with the term “visual agency.” The increase in dissemination channels and the accompanying (at least potential) publicness of visual narratives has resulted in the fact that there is hardly any more control over the contexts in which images circulate and how they are perceived, interpreted, commented on, and exploited. In the (relatively new) mass media euphemistically called “social” networks, images in any case alternate unchecked between the registers of fiction, authenticity and fetish, between evidence and manipulation, criticism and affirmation, and pass through the most varied and contrasting contexts. How do matters therefore stand with respect to the agency of images under these circumstances of the unshackling of the visual? What strategies do artists select to produce a specific context, to occupy the specific site of a visual assertion? How do they react to the routes of appropriation and reinterpretation to which the images lose their title and credits? What is still suppressed so that it cannot become visible? Such questions lead to an idea—of any type whatsoever—of a “site” of images that might be constructed and from which they can be read. Yet, just as what can be seen and what can be said are linked by the boundary that separates them, the contributions in this issue are connected to the idea of their conception in that they oppose or at least, however, shift it.

Malak Helmy, Notes from the Carbon Coast (still), 2010. Video, colour, sound, 2:39 minutes.
Malak Helmy, Notes from the Carbon Coast (still), 2010. Video, colour, sound, 2:39 minutes.

Shuruq Harb’s The Keeper—which was published in 2011 as a limited book edition—at the same time also comprises an installation and a performance and makes use of the archive of Mustafa, a street vendor in Ramallah, who prints out images from the Internet and sells them in boxes. In the past, Mustafa’s family still imported images, for instance, from China, Lebanon, or Syria. In 2010, Harb acquired some 2,000 of such unsold images and sifted through and arranged them together for The Keeper. This archive documents a changing access to images and a change in how they circulate. Many of these images were at times officially barely accessible or even banned, which is why the archive traces the history of image regimes—public as well as private—and thus represents a specific form of distribution of the sensible.

The work of Özlem Altin is linked with that of Shuruq Harb by the work on or from an archive. Central motifs in her oeuvre are the human body and the codes that it emits. In this, Vanessa Joan Müller, however, finds a subtle moment of the uncanny in and between her images, in the sense of a relationship between the animate and the inanimate that has become blurred, between the body and its eidetic double, which has solidified into a nature morte. The frozen poses, mute gestures, and motionless individuals subject them- selves to the discriminating gaze as objects and yet escape it again and again. What might seem to be a system of ordering can instead be described better through a type of stream of images and image layouts, an ongoing constructing and deconstructing of meanings, references and aesthetics.

Malak Helmy’s contribution goes back to a co-operation on an exhibition between Camera Austria and Beirut last autumn. Unexpected Encounters focused on the translation errors in political and cultural transfer. Malak Helmy participated in this exhibition with a sound work that took the mimetic abilities of the lyrebird as its starting point for addressing questions of identity and subjectivity. In his text contribution, Jens Maier-Rothe also writes about birds, migratory birds and their navigation skills. They always follow the same routes, in which their flight also seems to be a surveying of historical space. The artist pursues these traces in Egypt, a land of change, in which channels of communication decay like the coordinates of everyday life.

Camera Austria International 
published quarterly, 100 pages, German / English


This open development of ideas and discussion is just one of the many reasons to love James Elkins. One of the most relevant and engaging cultural theory practitioners in existence, his work is operating on a whole other level – and it’s a joy to be part of the audience for his writing and ideas. The discussion about Artists with PhDs offers compelling and thoughtful explorations into the challenges and benefits of engaging in higher research as a creative practice, while the updated essay  Fourteen Reasons to Mistrust the PhD in Studio Art gives an extremely thorough run-down of the vagaries and misgivings round the artist-as-academic enterprise.

“Reason 2. It is not clear what kinds of art, exactly, are potentially improved by serious research.

PhD-granting programs still lack any extended analysis of what sorts of practices can benefit from the PhD dissertation. A satisfactory answer to that should also include an account of what kinds of art would not benefit….

Aren’t there art practices that benefit from a lack of clarity about their objectives, or a lack of understanding of historical precedents?

Here are some examples, just to indicate the kind of thing I have in mind. Any number of twentieth-century artists wrote manifestos that have little to do with the reasons their work is valued; if those manifestos has been written in contemporary academia, they would have been thoroughly criticized for overreaching rhetoric, lack of system, lack of argument, and lack of evidence…. Some kinds of art practice can benefit from the kinds of discipline involved in producing research proposals and working systematically: many others might not.

E. Questioning whether art research should be defined at all

Research in art is characterized by interaction with artistic practice: it is an inseparable part of the work of the artist. With research in art (as opposed to research about art, such as art history, for instance) there is no set goal or expected result, any more than there are predetermined general procedures. The outcome of the research is completely open. This openness is a condition for conducting research in art and design.”

Although I am in favour of artistic research and knowledge transfer in structured and informal means, as Elkins notes, this may or may not be beneficial to the artists practice when taken under the aegis of the academy. In my own experience, the newly – and forcibly – amalgamated Melbourne Uni Media Arts Department was far less forgiving of experimentation and liberties being taken by their students in formal writing than other disciplines, such as Geography, History or Social Studies. I am in the process of exploring other forms that will allow me to deepen my own research practice within a more flexible framework that can still provide rigorous critique and discipline. JR

These are his notes on the course material he is developing on critical and experimental writing on art.


Image from "How to Write an Essay in 10 Easy Steps"
Image from “How to Write an Essay in 10 Easy Steps”

What is an Essay?

This is a topic from the course “Experimental Writing on Art.” It is a draft; please post comments, additions, questions, etc. The image here (and in other posts) is only there for the sake of the internet: when files like this are posted on Facebook, Google+, Academia, etc., they look better if the software can find a thumbnail image.

The problematic

To raise the question of experimental writing on art, it is necessary to have a notion of what kind of writing is involved. Writing in the humanities is nominally nonfiction, although that term itself has long been problematic. Creative writing programs tend to use the expressions “creative nonfiction,” “literary nonfiction,” or “narrative nonfiction,” all of which imply that techniques are borrowed from fiction.

There are two problems with these expressions. First, many scholars who attempt unusual narrative forms borrow from fiction, but not all do: some are interested in developing the forms of writing they find in historical sources. And second, designating the kinds of writing that are involved here as “nonfiction” defines them by a negative, which limits the kinds of questions that can be asked and defers the question of what the subject is in itself.

David Lazar prefers the term “transgeneric,” which avoids the problem of assuming that something from literature is being imported; but it also defers the question of what genre is being transgressed or enlarged.

Of the candidates for defining “nonfiction” without a qualifier, and without a negative, the most prominent is the essay. The difficult here is that the term has been widely contested, and tends to be used as a placeholder for “nonfiction.”

What counts as conceptualizing the essay? Before the mid-twentieth century (I hope to make that date more exact) there were many texts offering to explain the concept of the essay. Essay writing, expository nonfiction, and academic scholarly writing were subjects of anthologies and textbooks. The advent of poststructuralism changed that, because—to condense a large subject into a phrase—it made scholars aware that all “philosophy” was “literature,” that all writing has voice, that it does not make sense to divide fiction from nonfiction as the academy had done. Books explaining how to write academic, nonfiction essays largely disappeared.

As a result there is little conceptual work done on what constitutes a viable, institutionally acceptable essay in a given field, and more generally there is little work on what a piece of nonfiction might be considered to be, in relation to writing more generally.

A preliminary bibliography

These are some sources for the theorization of the essay, in no particular order. They are intended as preliminary bookmarks; eventually I hope to rearrange them as patterns become more apparent.

(a) John D’Agata’s Lost Origins of the Essay, which is an idiosyncratic book; d’Agata’s recent debates about objectivity (and that book’s many negative reviews) make it even more problematic as a representative of contemporary thinking on fiction and nonfiction.

(b) Philip Lopate’s Art of the Personal Essay, which traces a particular trajectory of the essay. Again, Lopate’s subsequent books help to read this book, but also make it difficult to see how it could be an exemplar for contemporary thinking about the essay.

(c) Adorno’s essay on the essay is from a previous generation (1984, first published in New German Critique), and has a different critical trajectory, leading mainly through academic writing, sometimes identified as “critical theory.” David Lazar (see the entry below) is among the theorists of the essay who would like to merge some qualities of the Adornian sense of the essay with some North American nonfiction. Among the stakes here are what an author reads in preparation for writing her own essay: is there full bibliographic research on the subject? An awareness of the history of the essay? A sense of community with Barthes, Benjamin, Adorno, Lukács, and others?

(d) Max Bense, “Über den Essay und seine Prosa,” Merkur 1 no. 3 (1947): 414-24.

(e) Alexander Butrym,  ed., Essays on the Essay: Redefining the Genre (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989).

(f) Réda Bensmaïa, The Barthes Effect: The Essay as Reflective Text, translated by Pat Fedkiew (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

(g) Graham Good, The Observing Self: Rediscovering the Essay (London: Routledge, 1988).

(h) György Lukács, “On the Nature and Form of the Essay,”  translated by Anna Bostock, in Soul and Form (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1974).

(i) David Lazar, Essaying the Essay


(α) Truth in Nonfiction: Essays, edited by David Lazar (University of Iowa Press, 2008).

(β) Understanding The Essay, edited by Patricia Foster and Jeff Porter (Broadview Press, 2012).

(γ) Metawritings: Toward the Theory of Nonfiction, edited by Jill Talbot (University of Iowa Press, 2012).

(δ) Constructive Nonfiction, a series of interviews conducted by Andy Fitch, on Bookslut, 2012–.


Experimental Writing on Art

[Note to readers: this is a sketch for a syllabus for a course I will teach in autumn 2013. The full syllabus, with assignments, paper assignments, and all that, will be posted on the School of the Art Institute site, where syllabi are password-protected. This is the conceptual outline and material for the course. This was originally posted here.

I will be adding examples and links, and expanding the description, up until September 2013, when the final version will be posted on the password-protected site.

This is the first in a pair of course; the second will be held in winter and spring 2014, on the more general (and I think more fundamental) theme Writing with Images, meaning any narrative, nominally fictional, that incorporates images without captions. The topic Writing with Images includes the case where the images are art as a special case, and the narrative includes nonfiction as a special case within fiction. But more on that later. All comments and additions are welcome! Add comments here, or write me via the website.]


This is a writing workshop for art historians, critics, visual studies scholars, and art theorists. The motive for the course is that the three principal disciplines or fields that involve writing about visual art—art history, visual studies, and art criticism—are not centrally concerned with writing.A. Art history doesn’t teach writing beyond the basic criteria of clarity, institutional protocols, and a functional style. There is no theorization or critique of writing in art history. Innovative writers on art tend to be excluded from mainstream art history (Didi-Huberman, Damisch, Cixous, etc.). What counts as interesting writing in art history is belletristic (as in Alex Nemerov’s work) or otherwise disconnected from contemporary writing in other fields (as in Leo Steinberg’s writing). Conversations about writing in art history are impoverished and don’t benefit from conversations in literary criticism; there is no close reading in the literary sense; no discussion of voice beyond the choice of first person or confessional modes; no sense of art history’s places in the history of modernist and pre-modernist literature.B. The same is true in visual studies, despite its more intense rhetoric about the involvement of writing, observing, description, and history. Just as art history’s principal interest is fine art, and not writing, so visual studies’ interest is visuality and visual practices, gender, identity, politics, hybridity, visual regimes, and other subjects, not the medium of writing. There is no discourse in visual studies on writing: no one engages the last four decades of literary criticism, the idea of close reading, of voice, of the lyric, of the essay.C. Art criticism is much more variegated than art history or visual studies, and it doesn’t lend itself to a single description. Some art critics are interested in reviving consideration of the essay form, and a number are also poets or fiction writers. In addition there is a large and heterogeneous group of writers who are influenced by French poststructuralism, and write in experimental amalgams of philosophy and art criticism. There isn’t a way to characterize all these together, except perhaps by the rarity or absence of literary criticism in the reception or teaching of art criticism, and a concomitant lack of attention to writing per se.

The strategy of this course is to read innovative, experimental texts from each of these three fields as a literary theorist might read them, paying attention to literary precedents (in nonfiction and fiction), voice, belatedness, the effect of anachronistic styles, the effects of the assumption that writing isn’t important (or is transparent, or simply a vehicle, or simply needs to be logical and clear).

In this class writing is central, rather than peripheral: what matters is the quality of historical and critical attention we can bring to bear on the writing, and the expressive properties of the writing itself, rather than whatever we may learn about the visual art that the authors describe.





22. May 2013 – 15:00 – 18:00

Welcome to the future of publishing!

In this free workshop, Lisa Lang and Kristin Trethewey from Sourcefabric will introduce you to the Booktype software and showcase some of the exciting projects that can be published using this open source tool. Adam Hyde from Book Sprints will co-host the workshop. Adam is the founder of the Book Sprint methodology and will discuss the concept and projects produced using a Book Sprint.


Booktype is a free publishing tool that produces books formatted for either print, Amazon, iBooks or almost any e-reader. Learn to create books on your own or with others in a collaborative online environment via an easy-to-use web interface. Build a community around your content, sharing your work with co-authors, editors, designers or even a community of book lovers with social tools and the reach of mobile, tablet and e-book technology. Learn about different production models and workflows in the new era of distributed book production, delving into free culture economic models and sustainable practices.

The Masterclass will include a presentation and demonstration, followed by a workshop session where different publishing and book sprint ideas will be brainstormed, and can be brought to the table by participants, for discussion and feedback from the presenters and the group.


About the presenters: Lisa Lang has an extensive history in media organisations and publishing, and is the Head of Products at Sourcefabric. Kristin Trethewey works with Sourcefabric’s international community and events, and has been active in the media arts and as a journalist. Adam Hyde is the project lead of Booktype, and Open Source book production and publishing platform. He is also the founder of FLOSS Manuals ( and the Book Sprint methodology (

About SourcefabricSourcefabric is a non-profit organisation with offices in Prague, Berlin and Toronto. Since 1999 Sourcefabric has been building digital open source newsrooms for some of the world’s most innovative news organisations, in some of the worlds most challenging media environments. Booktype is one of four open source projects built by Sourcefabric to write and publish print and digital books.

Cost: This event is free but please email rsvp[a] to reserve your place
Language: The instructive language of the workshop will depend on the participants in attendance
Location: SUPERMARKT – Brunnenstr 64., 13355 Berlin (U8 Voltastr. or U8 Bernauerstr.)

Walking And Mapping

 Artists as Cartographers

By Karen O’Rourke

“Today, the convergence of global networks, online databases, and new tools for location-based mapping coincides with a resurgence of interest in walking as an art form. In Walking and Mapping, Karen O’Rourke explores …a series of walking/mapping projects by contemporary artists. Some chart “emotional GPS”; some use GPS for creating “datascapes” while others use their legs to do “speculative mapping.” Many work with scientists, designers, and engineers.”

From Leonardo Book Series

Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers by Karen O'Rourke
Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers by Karen O’Rourke


Contemporary artists beginning with Guy Debord and Richard Long have returned again and again to the walking motif. Debord and his friends tracked the urban flows of Paris; Long trampled a path in the grass and snapped a picture of the result (A Line Made by Walking). Mapping is a way for us to locate ourselves in the world physically, culturally, or psychologically; Debord produced maps like collages that traced the “psychogeography” of Paris.

O’Rourke offers close readings of these works—many of which she was able to experience firsthand—and situates them in relation to landmark works from the past half-century. She shows that the infinitesimal details of each of these projects take on more significance in conjunction with others. Together, they form a new entity, a dynamic whole greater than the sum of its parts. By alternating close study of selected projects with a broader view of their place in a bigger picture, Walking and Mapping itself maps a complex phenomena.

 This book sounds absolutely gorgeous – “subjective science” is my new faovurite discipline. Reminded me of A Field Guide to Getting Lost which I must also read someday… (Ed.)


Walking and Mapping is a veritable trove of generative ideas systematically unearthed as a ‘subjective science’ for inspired modes of engagement with the ground of everyday life. From Oulipian Pataphysics and Lettrist drift to Stalkers traversing the periphery of Rome, and from artists tracing Mexican and Moroccan border and immigration routes to microscopic landscapes and Intifada checkpoints, O’Rourke’s book is a landmark contribution to authentic countercultural thinking.”
Kristine Stiles, France Family Professor of Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Duke University

“Karen O’Rourke clearly has wide knowledge of the field and has provided a valuable and informative book. Walking and Mapping brings together, in an intelligent fashion, the state of the art in walking artistic practice. I am sure that for many readers it will be an engaging volume that will spark lots of new ideas.”
Martin Dodge, Geography Department, The University of Manchester, and coauthor of Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life

“In Walking and Mapping, Karen O’Rourke links the ‘territories’ of art and cartography. Other works have addressed this as a series of conference-delivered chapters, but Walking and Mapping provides a detailed investigation of the topic—from the artist’s perspective.”
William Cartwright, School of Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University


An intriguing venture into social media by Vibok Works – an experimental publishing micro-edition using facebook photos and an ambitious process of participatory co-authorship.

“Every November 21th Unface Book album will crystallize in a new edition, as long as it makes sense.”

Unface Book emerges from the eagerness to share and exchange our references and concerns although its ultimate goal lies elsewhere: To add a new “layer” to the obtuse reality of social-ludic actions and experiences on Facebook, forcing them to fit into an atypical artistic publishing project. Unface Book employs détournement, using Facebook’s memory to dislodge a part of our experience from its logic and reorganise it into one other project. See the EVOLVING BOOK here.

Unface Book® is an experimental publishing project aimed at using Facebook’s “Photos of you” tool and impact indicators to generate an accidental book.

The protocol is the following: At least every week over the course of one year, we will upload to the album a “micro-edition” consisting of an image and an associated quote. Every new micro-edition should be a reaction on the precedent material. Once this process has been completed, we will publish a book compiling a sellection of 30 image-quote pairs  minimum, including the 10 pairs with the greatest impact. Each pair will be published along with a report (visits, likes, shares and comments) and all the interactions that propelled it to leave Facebook and become part of the book. We will occasionally invite different authors and editors to create a pair for Unface Book. All participants will be included as co-authors and co-editors of the book.

Similar to Paula Álvarez’s other publishing experiments, Unface Book defies the distinction among the roles of publishers, readers and authors, making them interchangeable here, and visualises the creative and pragmatic limitations of the legal definition of authorship and the conventional management of authors’ rights in relation to technological capabilities.

Unface Book is the second title of Rewrite this book collection. It will be published under the ISBN of Vibok Works and a collective license. It can be obtained in print or digital format at a symbolic price to cover the cost of production and shipping.

If you are interested in editing a pair for Unface Book please contact us at, or just publish your pair in your wall and tag us.


Concept © Paula Álvarez.
Editors/Authors: Various.
Publisher: Vibok Works.
ISBN: 978-84-939058.
64 pages.
Size: 22x15cm.
Book Launch: November 20th 2013.
Safe Creatives © Vibok Works, 2012.