If you want to do something, forget this debt, and remember it later


Lene Adler Petersen & Bjørn Nørgaard, Hannah Black, Paloma Contreras Lomas

Curated by Dana Kopel

February 10 – April 1, 2017

 

First, I want to note two things that might or might not be obvious:

1. That capitalism, or the debt that it runs on, demands fixed identities: you must remain the same person—with the same fixed and knowable name, race, gender, and so on—in order that the capital you owe can be extracted from a future you. Capitalism forecloses a future self that might differ from, or revolt against, its present.

2. That value adheres differently to different bodies according to these historically sedimented classifications of race, gender, class, and so on that capitalism demands in order to further its consolidation of wealth and power in the hands of a few, and to make this brutal consolidation appear just.

The artist and writer Hannah Black asks: “What happens when these principles of [capitalist] accumulation are given flesh and walk around?” (Artforum, October 2015).

If you want to do something, forget this debt, and remember it later. is an exhibition titled after a line from Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s The Undercommons. Works in the exhibition by Black, Lene Adler Petersen and Bjørn Nørgaard, and Paloma Contreras Lomas navigate the ways in which bodies are shaped by and resist flows of capital, determinations of value, and inescapable debt.

In May 1969, Lene Adler Petersen walked naked through the Danish stock exchange carrying a wooden cross in one hand. Her performance, entitled Den Kvindelige Kristus (The Female Christ), was documented by her husband, filmmaker Bjørn Nørgaard; the brief clip was included in a collaborative film he made the following year, from which the footage on view is excerpted. It’s often understood as a gesture feminizing the figure of Christ to confront rigid patriarchal capitalism with spiritual, feminine softness, logic with erotics. I want to suggest that the work allows for an infiltration to take place between the two sides of this (gender) binary, drawing out the ways in which all bodies are unevenly imbricated within the structures of capitalist exchange. More than this, Den Kvindelige Kristus attempts to navigate the deeply interlinked histories of capitalism and Christianity, and the gender norms they often violently enforce.

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Lomas’ ongoing project Fidel Velázquez No Esta Muerto traces the materiality of production, manifesting as a cloud of metallic dust on the bodies of laborers in Mexico’s national mint, as they in turn produce currency, value made material. Black’s sculptures, as well as her videos My Bodies (2014) and Credits (2016), similarly consider how bodies signify, circulate, and accrue or are denied power. The sculptures seem to accommodate the human body—draped with airline blankets, they slightly resemble chairs—but they travel much more freely than most people and, on display, they offer little warmth or comfort. Debt is central to Credits, which follows a masked fugitive through a wilderness both real and imagined, in a capitalist present that extends into the past and future, foreclosing alternatives.

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In The Undercommons, Moten and Harney seek instability or what they call fugitivity—a refusal of the imposed stasis of identity and the creditor/debtor relation with origins in Black radical thought, in the figure of the escaped Black slave. “Fugitive publics,” they write, “need to be conserved, which is to say moved, hidden, restarted with the same joke, the same story, always elsewhere than where the long arm of the creditor seeks them, conserved from restoration, beyond justice, beyond law, in bad country, in bad debt.” They insist on this bad debt, debt that gets forgotten and can’t be repaid, debt without credit, without creditors; they advocate survival through reliance on our unpayable debts to each other.

I’m not sure an exhibition can itself advocate bad debts, forgotten debts—the process of making an exhibition is too bound up in the exchange and accumulation of capital (financial, social, and otherwise), in affixing value to objects but also to identities along the same lines of white supremacy and patriarchy that structure the world at large. We shouldn’t forget this. Our shared bad debts, on the other hand—or as the narrator of Credits declares, “In a world exactly like this one, the indebted escape.”

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Lene Adler Petersen (Aarhus, Dinamarca, b. 1944) is a Danish artist living and working in Copenhagen, Denmark. She was recently featured in the exhibition What’s Happening at the National Gallery of Denmark, a survey exhibition of experimental art from the 1960s and 1970s. Adler Petersen is an important and influential artist on the Danish art scene and has exhibited extensively both nationally and internationally in her own name as well as in various collaborations, notably with the artist collective Arme & Ben (Arms & Legs) with fellow artists Per Kirkeby, Poul Gernes, and Richard Winther, among others. Her work has been widely exhibited within Denmark and is in numerous collections including the National Gallery of Denmark and ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum.

Bjørn Nørgaard (Copenhagen, Denmark, b. 1947) is a Danish artist and filmmaker recognized worldwide for his sculptures, performances and happenings with which he offers critical reflections on culture, politics and society. He studied at the Experimental Art School in Copenhagen in 1964. He was a Professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1985 to 1994, and has lectured internationally for over fifty years, including as a guest professor at the Art Academies in Oslo, Stockholm, and Amsterdam, as well as at CAFA Beijing and the University of Guangzhou. He is the recipient of the European Badge of Honor, Pro Arte (2000), Orden Ingenio et Arti (1999), and the Thorvaldsen Medalje (1996), among other awards. Nørgaard is married to artist Lene Adler Petersen, with whom he has an adult daughter.

Hannah Black is an artist and writer from the UK. She lives in Berlin. Her work in video and installation has been exhibited at a number of galleries including Arcadia Missa and Legion TV, London; Bodega, New York; Chateau Shatto, Los Angeles; and W139, Amsterdam, and readings/performances have taken place at the New Museum, Interstate Projects, and Cage, New York; the Whitechapel, the Showroom, and Cafe Oto, London. Her writing has been published in Artforum, The New Inquiry, Texte zur Kunst and Frieze (DE), among other magazines, and in her book Dark Pool Party (Dominica/Arcadia Missa). She completed her MFA at Goldsmiths in 2013 and was a studio participant on the Whitney ISP in New York from 2013 to 2014. Black has an upcoming solo exhibition at mumok, Vienna.

Paloma Contreras Lomas (Mexico City, Mexico, b. 1991) studied at the National School of Painting, Sculpture and Engraving “La Esmeralda” in Mexico City, and she is currently an active member of the independent art space Biquini Wax. Her work uses political irony as a field of action and resistance; and poetic humor as an emancipatory practice: a comic response to disaster, defying conformism and misogyny. Contreras Lomas’ performances and poems portray paradigms on women’s behavior built upon premises of power. Contreras Lomas currently lives and works in Mexico City.

Dana Kopel is an American curator and writer. She holds an MA from the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. She has recently curated exhibitions at the AA|LA, Los Angeles; the Hessel Museum of Art, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY; and Interstate Projects, Brooklyn. She was an assistant curator at the Maldives Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale. Her writing has appeared in Art in America, X-TRA, Modern Painters, and elsewhere.

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