Condition Report and Discussion Paper

11th June 2021
Clémentine Deliss

First concepts MM-U KW:
The MM-U’s concept, first drafted for KW in June 2019, then refined over the course of the following year, stressed several key factors. It is useful to list these again and to see where we have gone since this first concept paper.

The initial title was Institute for Concept-Work, with a play on Kunst-Werke. I proposed that the Institute would sit inside KW and effectively test the limits of collaboration and space. It was to be a work on infrastructure, both supporting KW and expanding it.

The style of research was described as conceptual, visually stimulated, sensorial, and inter-determinate. By that I meant that results reached would always lie between modes of interpretation, like a kind of Duchampian inframince generated by the assemblages of people, objects, media, equipment, experiences, observations, and affects. From the start, I stressed the value of engaging private collectors alongside various public museum and university collections in Berlin. A selection of private collectors would be invited to work with us, supporting us in different ways by giving us access to their collections, lending works, and potentially co-funding the project (in cash or kind).

Reflection 1: private investment in a public funded institution could prove controversial to the point that it affected all grant applications.

The Institute for Concept-Work would include a membership of circa 10 people and activities would mutate between internal meetings and a public Debating Chamber (DC). The members would be trusted interlocutors, and, where possible, all based in Berlin. There was also the suggestion of a rotating or expanding membership. The structure over three years was planned as follows:

Year one: development of this emergent infrastructure through the members who give public talks that are personal, vulnerable, and speculative. The Debating Chambers would be like a gathering of chairs. The Institute would redefine the concept of libraries by introducing different media all based on what was gleaned from the collections under scrutiny. The first year would conclude with a public presentation on our modus operandi, either at KW or at private collector’s.

Reflection 2: We would establish a new system for classifying what we had gathered together over the year.

Year two: we would send out a special call to students and researchers, who as associates (later renamed Companions), would begin to test out the tools of interpretation we had developed together. We would work out how to fund this expansion during the first year. Members of the MM-U would agree to mentor these Companions, who in turn, would do further research into collections in Berlin.

Year three: here we would aim to all work together on a common project, culminating in a mise-en-scène/exhibition at KW (and possibly at collectors’ locations in Berlin) based on our tests, pitfalls, errors, breakthroughs, all of which would be unfinished and subjective in quality.

One year later, and with the encouragement of Krist throughout, the name of the project was changed to Metabolic Museum-University (MM-U), making a clear link to my previous curatorial work. The original concept was extended by the following propositions and precisions:

The MM-U would be a venue in the making, growing organically and recursively over three years, adapting and transforming to the conditions it generated.
It would test out a new art analytical method of inquiry based on the observation of very heterogeneous collections. All these collections would be based in Berlin.
The MM-U would focus on recognized artworks as well as enigmatic debris.
The metabolic would indicate the vitality of relationships made across fields of knowledge – from art to law, reflected in the competence of the members.
The MM-U would aim to build a new contemporary research collection based on the remediation and reactivation of historical elements.
The new research collection would be the capital of the MM-U.
This process would hopefully energise debates on the role of collecting and how it could be directly connected to non-normative forms of research and education.
The decolonial aspect of the MM-U would be evoked through breaking down hierarchies and disciplinary divisions that had previously classified collections (e.g., art historical, ethnological, scientific, sociological…). These colonial canons would be clashed through new constellations created between collections.
The MM-U would challenge the museum and the university to control the development of new diasporic and creolised meanings.
The MM-U would develop real and online libraries.
It would produce a print journal: the Proceedings of the MM-U
It could record discussions/interviews with collectors, which would act as memory chambers for the collectors and for the MM-U.
The MM-U research collection would include all such documents.
Debating Chambers would squat shows so that the agency of the artefacts and artworks would be supplemented by an existing exhibition.

The competence of the MM-U members was defined as follows:
Four to six artists working in different media
An image theorist and historian
A novelist
A composer
An anthropologist
A designer
A publisher
A lawyer
An economist
A digital transformer
A therapist of choice

Reflection 3: Missing today are the therapist, the digital transformer, and the economist.

MM-U Developments and the Corona Pandemic June 2020-June 2021:
1) Research of collections in Berlin.
2) Two early meetings of the members at KW.
3) Bureau d’Esprit online meetings every three weeks.
4) Shifts in membership.
5) Funding exercises and grant applications.

1) Research into Berlin’s collections
With the dedicated support of Margareta and Krist, we began to access several collections in Berlin. To have a basic criterium for selection, we decided to search for potentially contentious materials.

Private collections:
Erika Hoffmann, plus meetings with Ivo Wessel, Feuerle, plus discussions with Axel Haubrok, and Julia Stoschek.

Erika Hoffmann:
NB: her visual inventory box to be understood as a speaker in our chamber.
Photographic inventory cards provide scenographic triggers: a card is pulled out and a member of the faculty or a guest engages with an imaginary recall. Plus, complex works from the 1970s and 80s, that might be read as contentious today.

Ivo Wessel: Jenny Holzer truism-boxes made from single moving letters.
Possible technological and electronic debris. Books.

Further private collectors need to be approached. Here is a rough list that needs sifting through and adding to:
Sammlung Boros
Sammlung Frieder Burda
Sammlung Conz
Friedrich Christian Flick
Kunstsäle, Bülowstrasse
Sammlung Wemhöhner
Wurlitzer Collection

Artists’ Collections:
This area morphed through our online Bureaux d’Esprit into the members’ collections and research methodologies: see below.
Still to be explored and expanded:
Matt Mullican collection
Ana Prvacki collection
Michael Oppitz and Lothar Baumgarten
Labour – Colin Hacklander/Farah Hatam sound recordings/drum collection/ colonial histories)
Satch Hoyt African musical instruments
Danh Vo
Wilhelm Schürmann
And others….to be suggested by members.

University collections:
Hanne Niehof Archiv, Humboldt University: Photographs (prints, negs) of folk festivals, group portraits, children playing games, scenes of various activities taking place, farming and cattle research.
Further university collections to be explored include:
Cast Collection of Antique Sculpture (FU)
Herbarium of Berlin’s Botanical Garden and the Botanical Museum (FU)
Archive of Alternative Culture (HU)
Collection of the Schwules Museum
Collection of Medieval Facsimiles (FU)
Computer Museum – Center for Applied Statistics and Economics (HU)
Fundus Media Archeology (FU)
The Archive of Animal Voices (HU, MfN)
Arthur Langerman Archive for the research of visual anti-semitism (TU)

Museum Collections:
Museum der Dinge
There is a lot of material, all the obvious culprits when it comes to contention. And a few gems: the travelling classroom on glass design. Ready to use for us – like a suitcase. And some particularly curious charred table lights which I didn’t photograph and that were somehow disturbing.

Die Brücke
A small selection of ethnographica and other personal souvenirs belonging to painters.

Neighbourhood Museums:
This ‘metastatic’ (Tom) extension is still to be investigated, but it opens the door to collaborations with local collectors, custodians, historians, and citizens, and by extension provides the MM-U with a ‘public’ dimension.

Reflection 4: The ongoing physical research into Berlin’s collections was stymied by the Corona pandemic.

2) Two early meetings of the members at KW
On 23rd June 2020 and 15th July 2020, two meetings of the MM-U were held at KW.

Key points evoked during the first meeting on 23rd June:

We need to let the project grow and consolidate along the way, like the rings of a tree (Krist)
We need to emphasise the educational dimension when speaking to private collectors in order to gain their support. (Krist)
A minimal structure is necessary for which CD is the curator of the MM-U and each member is responsible for a specific role, engagement, and authorship. (Krist)
What is the choreography of our sessions? Do we want an erotic, Sadeian salon, or should we follow Mallarmé and look at protocols and scenographies? (Tom)
We want to engage with moods in our DCs. (Ines)
We need to create connections, links, sequences between the objects and make this the subject of a film/document. (Desiree)
We need to recognize our responsibilities. Our individual research can help to define selection criteria for collections. (Iman)
We could create a new currency built from a social phenomenon that leads to a business model. (Matthias)

Test Debating Chamber, July 15th 2020:
Each member brings an artefact or element which is placed on a trestle table. The agent-objects are moved around as our discussion progresses. Nearly everyone speaks about the evocations produced by the various items and their assemblage. Straight contextual info is avoided. Agent-objects (a term which places artworks and artefacts on the same level and emphasizes agency and dialogue) include a musical score, a flag, coloured glass slides, a photocopy of the pages of open books, a small carved figure, an old plate, chains to be worn on the body, a video, a half cow’s liver, part of the skull of a horse, and the surrounding artworks of Hassan Sharif’s exhibition.

3) Bureau d’Esprit online meetings:
Due to the pandemic, we shifted our physical meetings to zoom. I named these sessions Bureau d’Esprit following the model of 18th century womens’ salons, which I had tested out previously through Metronome (No. 4-5-6, 1999). These meetings took place on the following dates with different members’ presentations:

28th October 2020. Clémentine presents the collections she and Margareta visited over the summer, and focuses on contentious aspects of certain artworks and contexts.
19th November 2020: Henrike presents her collection and a contentious artefact she is struggling with.
17th December 2020: Augustin and Matthias present the concept of Syncopation from two parallel perspectives.
7th January 2021: Invited by Manuel, artist Tarek Atoui presents his reverse collection and plays problematic recordings he has made, in particular in Beirut, and which he does not know how to deploy in his work.
4th February 2021: Luke and Krista Belle present their respective problematics and methodologies.
25th February 2021: Abdoulaye and Margareta present a legal/economic model for MM-U.
18th March 2021: BLESS present their archive and initiate a live performance with it.
9th April 2021: Iman presents her way of constructing and referencing a collection.
6th May 2021: Tom presents ways of listening to tracks and traces, and language.
27th May 2021: Matthias presents a visual mapping of political magnetism as an example of his teaching methodology.

While reduced to a frustratingly digital format, our Bureau d’Esprit proves to be successful. Attendance is nearly always complete. Only Iman cannot make Thursdays as often as she would wish due to her teaching commitments. There is a sense of collegiality and curiosity that is welcoming and proves to me that conceptual intimacy is beginning to develop between us. I hope to steer each person into revealing their own ‘research collection’, unresolved issues, and methodologies. This becomes an alternative way of getting to know each other. If we had been able to set up physical Debating Chambers with assemblages of agent-objects, then our specialisms and idiosyncrasies would have emerged through the interpretations and meanings each one of us would have produced in discussion. It might have been riskier as a process, like a cold shower rather than the gradual warm-up as we have experienced.

4) Changes in membership:
As a curator whose work focuses on artist-to-artist relationships and the formulation of collective research, I am aware of the dynamics that can affect an original grouping of people. As a project evolves, some are likely to move away, have other commitments, or become less interested in taking part as regularly as needed. I invite Matt Mullican and Ana Prvacki to take on a different role, that of being artist-collectors to whom the MM-U can turn for subsequent Debating Chambers. In December 2020, I decide to invite Luke Willis Thompson and Azu Nwagbogu into the MM-U. In both cases, I imagine possible future extensions of the MM-U reaching out to New Zealand and to Nigeria.

This condition report, and our next meeting on June 15th 2021 at KW, is intended to support the sense of community within the MM-U and confirm each person’s desire to contribute and take on responsibility for its growth. Our Bureaux d’Esprit have helped to solder the sense of a common project. My hope is that each member will assume and take charge of their respective competence thereby contributing to the further development of the MM-U in their own specific manner. This can enable us to act together without a script, in the knowledge that we can rely on each other’s competence be this through writing, composition, law, design, publishing, situation design, art practice, and more.

5) Funding exercises and grant applications.
As part of the arrangement with KW, it was clear from the start that funding would need to be raised for the MM-U. Krist and I spoke of how to engage private collectors. We thought of various options: for example, collectors pay for each Debating Chamber in turn. We estimated that a DC would cost between 8000-10,000 Euro. This is an enormous amount for one collector to agree to cover, for what is effectively an event of 2 hours. This includes all members’ fees, insurance and transport of agent-objects and artworks, scenography, documentation, recordings, technical equipment, guards, etc. Krist and I spent a lot of time thinking through different strategies. He was very relieved to be able to advance members’ fees for 2021, recognizing that you needed to be paid first and foremost. We put in extensive applications for 4 grants. To do this, the team at KW also provided essential support, working out the complex budget, and translating my texts. We received negative answers to all four applications, including most recently the KSB grant for Syncopations.

Fazit: the funding of the MM-U cannot and should not be its downfall! If the funding agencies do not provide reasons for the negative outcomes, then we need to be aware of – and address – the conservatism, consumerism, competition, and corona-generated restrictions of the current moment. In parallel, it is healthy for us to keep in mind the value of the MM-U as an artist-generated initiative, that cannot be about easy consumption. The more we wish for its on-going experimentation, the more we have to find alternative and ground-breaking ways of creating capital as a group. The politic of our project embraces every dimension.

Proposals and Plans for going forward 2021-23:
In advance of our meeting on Tuesday, here are a few markers:

1) Visit of Michael Stevenson’s install in progress:
This Tuesday 15th June 2021, Krist has arranged for us to visit the install of Michael Stevenson’s exhibition, where we shall be holding the first Debating Chamber in September. Please make sure that you are at KW by 18.30 – latest 18.40, as we cannot visit the space later when the alarm is set. There are two dates penciled in for the DC in September: Monday 20th September, the day after the closing of Michael’s show; or 8 days earlier on Tuesday 14th September.

2) Debating Chambers 2021:
We need to talk about what we shall bring to the first DC, and how we shall develop the second one on November 16th. My suggestions are skeletal, but I hope they find resonance with you.

I would like us to take the theme of the personal research collections, explored in our Bureau d’Esprit, to its culmination. If we could bring items that reflect our individual research positions, this might be helpful for framing a collective method. I would also like to suggest in addition to new artefacts, that we focus on the idea of a “Prototype Collection” (see below).
For November 16th, we can perhaps concentrate on the notion of contention and draw in some of the materials we found during our first search. In addition, there is Augustin’s research and performance on the musical Kanôn.
Krist has proposed that we do four more DCs in 2022 for which we need to find dates.

3) Documentation:
I have a suggestion for the recordings of our Debating Chambers. I would like to introduce you to three former students of mine. They are part of the artists’ collective Birds of Knowledge. Jakob Karpus would take on video, Ilo Tovio would care for audio, sound, speech recordings, and Asma Ben Slama would draw the proceedings as diagrams and choreographies, as well as join in the filming. They were all three involved in designing, which I co-directed last year for LagosPhoto. Recently, they took part in the online student Debating Chambers, which I ran with Luke for the HfBK. In this sense, they are part of the family. Moreover, they understand my notion of the document as independent fieldwork, and I would prefer to trust them then employ someone I do not know. It is vital for you to meet them before we begin anything with them. This can be done via Zoom. Jakob also said he would send me a proposal.

4) Prototype collection, working title “Reservoir”.
This is perhaps the most important and exciting development that involves each one of us. It was triggered by BLESS’s action in the spring and reflects Abdoulaye’s distinction between possession and ownership. I have been working on this idea since 2007 when I was invited by Lisson Gallery to write a concept for a new venue on Lamu Island, Kenya. It is based on the following key thoughts:
Backstage (non-public) communication between artists and researchers operates through a form of initiate, subjective and encoded shorthand. This is the language we have been using in our Bureau d’Esprit when we exchange ideas. It is is hard to classify or market. It is ephemeral, dissolving when the work enters the wider framework of public dissemination and evaluation. Critics may seek to restore the initial entry point of an art piece, but the resolution and presence of the final representation may intentionally obscure the original trajectory.

A prototype collection would be exceptional, drawing art out of the public loop of consumption. It would represent trust and conceptual intimacy, and reflect our personal forms of classification, our creative searches, our idioms, and become the organ that energises the formation of a new body of interaction and research. Each of the organs provided by you would together build the metabolism of our project, its running capital. If we want to invite other people to take part in the MM-U, perhaps they too could be invited to contribute a prototype – an organ?

Key to this ‘organ donation’ is the relationship of possession vs. ownership, which needs to be legally worked out. In this sense, the prototype is virtual capital, yet still capable of exploitation – in the best sense of the word – thereby generating a cycle of new inputs and outputs. Perhaps Reservoir can be launched in a secondary format, as an edition or facsimile to enable a wider public to engage with a collective artists’ library? It might challenge the conception of original, authored work by asking artists to produce variations of their contribution, not dissimilar to the dub plates of Jamaican recording studios that qualified one work into several versions, distinctive in their individual formulations yet all connected through a matrix of riffs, baselines or lyrics.

Our most tangible example is the action that BLESS performed during the Bureau d’Esprit. What if they had actually gifted their selection of historical prototypes to the MM-U Reservoir? Not to us individually, but to our common project? The organ is transplanted. What would this act imply in terms of possession and ownership?

Further, by transplanting these prototypes or organs from the BLESS archive to the guardianship and care of another body, Reservoir would promote a dynamic understanding of the archive, one that is not only post-coronial (Matthias) but, significantly, decolonial. In other words, a temporary body or ‘holding’ that suspends the insidious technologies of the colonial archive that permeate all our institutions, from museums to universities and more.

If we engaged in this act of radical generosity, we would be building a reservoir of remarkable virtue. Because, as BLESS have said, all prototypes can be re-edited and re-launched. Perhaps, the energy source, the ‘magic’ that holds our communal project together is less the prospect of future re-editions than this initial and very fragile investment. Artefacts, images, words, references etc, would be collected in an unfinished state. Henrike’s NS doll’s house is a good example; Tarek Atoui’s contentious recordings in Beirut, etc.

Such a Reservoir asks each of us to relinquish an organ that signifies the past embodiment of our individual ingenuity. This is, in and of itself, ‘unheimlich’: for we try to hold onto these things, our prototypes, as if they were magic effigies. They signify the realization – even the proof – of our ability to communicate with others. A collection made up from a set of such organs would be metabolic. It would emanate the vitality of initial desire and thereby become divinatory for others.