I want to share this open letter from VERSAL – THE LITERARY & ARTS JOURNAL FROM AMSTERDAM to POETRY INTERNATIONAL ROTTERDAM.
Dear Poetry International Rotterdam,
In your own words, the Poetry International Rotterdam festival brings together “the most noteworthy poetry of the groundbreaking great masters, alongside that of new and original poetic talents from around the world.” It is clear, however, that your mission statement applies mostly to men.
In the ten festivals between 2006 and 2015, only 26% of the featured poets have been women, dropping as low as 16% at both the 2013 and 2014 editions.
Looking at the festival’s poets from the United States specifically, the exclusion is even more stark. In the last 10 years, only 1 woman has been featured from the US, and only 1 gender queer poet — the remaining 11 are all men. Only 2 of those 13 poets have been people of color. Considering the vibrant and expansive diversity of US poetry today, this exclusion exposes a bias towards a network of the “old boys” — a network which has controlled the infrastructures of the literary community, worldwide, for far too long.
In her introduction to the 2012 anthology I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing By Women, Laynie Browne writes:
“This book began for me with the problem of the under-representation of women, particularly in key moments when movements begin to take shape and crystallize and are documented by gatherings, public events and anthologies. And while perhaps few would argue that women are not writing and publishing in [conceptual poetry], it is often at the stage of anthologizing that numbers start to shift so that women are not adequately represented.”
Like the anthology, the literary festival is a canonizing act. It is also a celebration of writers and one of the few instances when we receive direct payment for our work. The problem of underrepresentation is a problem that your programming leaves unquestioned. At the Poetry International festival each June, the representations of our world’s literatures are best manifested in white, mostly straight, men — that is where your programming choices lie, and that is where your festival money goes.
At best, the vast discrepancies in your program denote a sexist curation of the Poetry International festival; at worst, the sum total of a patriarchal, white supremacist, heteronormative culture. That Kenneth Goldsmith is featured at this year’s festival, then, sadly comes as no surprise. Goldsmith’s appearance at the Interrupt 3 conference at Brown University on March 14, 2015, wherein he “remixed” the autopsy report of Michael Brown, cannot be ignored. Michael Brown was an 18-year-old black man shot and killed by police on August 9, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. Though Goldsmith claims that he did not intend to enact white-on-black violence, that is exactly what he did. Goldsmith is an exemplar of white male privilege and colonization, and is therefore perfectly aligned with the Poetry International festival’s oeuvre.
Poetry International is funded in large part, directly and indirectly, by the Dutch Ministry of Culture. Many of us at Versal are Dutch taxpayers, and Versal itself is a taxpaying entity in the Netherlands. We believe Poetry International’s funds should be directed towards a much wider, inclusive array of poets if you are to fulfill your aim “to present quality poetry from the Netherlands and worldwide to an international readership, encouraging poetry translation, stimulating the international exchange of knowledge about poetry, and facilitating an international community of poetry readers.” While we recognize that there are limited financial resources in the arena of poetry, the Poetry International festival’s continued support of those who are already and historically well-funded only serves to perpetuate our community’s significant inequalities — and it brings the exclusions and biases of the festival’s programming in sharp light.
We call on Poetry International Rotterdam to redistribute your public funds to the full array of poets engaged in our art, in line with the Dutch Cultural Policy Act’s stated intention for cultural diversity. In addition, we call on you to rectify your festival programming which excludes women, people of color, and the LGBT community in large and unconscionable measure.
To personify our concerns, we will not be attending this year’s festival, and we invite others to join us in this protest.
We hope that this open letter serves as the beginning of a much-needed public conversation. We will count again ahead of next year’s festival, and we sincerely hope to see considerable — not just token — improvement.
Previously on WeAreNotSisi: Gallery life in the Vondelbunker not also meant interacting with the guests dropping by to see the show but to keep working on the exhibition. To remind you, the concept was to Kick Off on Day 1 and than develop the exhibition until the Opening Night on the last day. This meant constant hanging, re-hanging, painting, building to complete the show for the last day. Gottfried Haider dropped by to finish off his „UCLA Memories“, Terry Vreeburg used the strange acoustics of the bunker to make sound experiments and I was joined by Nirva who brought a piece he was working on to finish it off live in the Bunker. Many thanks to Gernot Höll for his patience while re-hanging the difficult pieces. Apart from that there were a couple of young men who used their free time after school to hang out in the Vondelpark. They visited the show and because they settled down after that, I took Garaceks mould and we made a PU-Schaum Chicken together. No need to say that what we produced in the end was not like the original pieces produced by Garacek himself but only happened to be a green chicken without a head. We could not have been more pleased.
Needless to say that we managed to prepare everything on time for the opening and closing on October 4, with ödögidöggö rounding it all up with a late-night-performance. It was raining outside and apart from the ones that came to visit the exhibition there were those who just looked for shelter in the shelter and ended up in an art exhibition that had no intention to do so. What a success!
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Previously on WeAreNotSisi:
The first edition of A Sound Night was the last event in a serious of happenings at the show. Apart from the few hours of sleep every day at night, I had been in the bunker almost constantly for 14 days. People talk about health risks if you are in the bunker for one full day, so I do not know what it has done to me – maybe if you stay there long enough it’s menace transforms into some kind of cure and the bunker thus into a sanatorium?
What if Hans Castorp had spent his 7 years together with all his fellow patients in a city-bunker? (Any novelists with too much time out there?) This question does pop up because what happened is that WeAreNotSisi de-activated time and space, it became another planet with it’s own flow. There were many ways how this became manifest, as in the way I did things and how people reacted on them. You are in an own universe and you are in there fully and so convinced, the even people outside think „This is the way it has to be.“ When you are in such a state you can do marvellous things, you have super-powers and who does not want to have super-powers once in a while? The important thing about it though – and this is what makes it a very personal challenge – is not to lose track of reality completely, to find your way back and in the best of all worlds even recognize what you see, hear, smell, feel on this way back. And to see how this way changed you. (This approach or mission was also formulated in the concept and this documentation became to be one of the central parts of that.)
But let’s talk about the positive flow and one of the many more easy to grasp hands-on examples of what I am talking about: When we needed a music stand for A Sound Night, it was obvious that I would just go to the Concertgebouw around the corner (I needed to get toilet paper from the supermarket anyway) to fetch one. And of course, after a few phone calls with the internal concertgebouw-landline in the friendly porters’ lodge at the stage door, a lady came along to give it to me, without asking any questions. She did ask me to bring it back at night though, as there is always somebody in the Concertgebouw to open the door for you. We did of course, we couldn’t wish for a sweeter end of A Sound Night than dropping by at the Concertgebouw to give back a music stand at the back door.
After „A Sound Night“ no more special events where planned and 6 days of usual gallery work lay ahead of me, open daily from 13:00 – 19:00. I had no idea what this means. When I was beginning my research for WeAreNotSisi in Amsterdam I had to start from scratch in every sense. Not only did I not know the city at all one and a half years ago and was my dutch still a bit tipsy, I also did not have any clue about “the art world”. As I wanted to organize an exhibtion though and as the timeframe was quite short, I made up a crash course for myself, where I would have all at once – improving my dutch, getting to know the city, learning about “the art world”. So I made a map with 20 galleries on it and took some spare days in autumn 2013 to visit them and ask some naive questions, where I honestly did not know the answer to. Questions like: What is a gallery? How do you make money? What do artists do apart from making art? What are “independent art spaces? What are “project spaces”? What are art fares? … You get the point. The crash course worked out – I refused to speak English, so my dutch improved, I asked stupid questions – so I learned a lot, I was cycling and walking all around the city, from heart to periphery and back – so I got to know a better feeling for Amsterdam.
„What is usual gallery work now?“, you, dear reader, are asking? Well, let me answer this question with a little story:
In my crash course I already observed that first of all gallery-life means sitting in front of the computer. We know from office jobs that this does not automatically mean that something is actually happening, so I wanted to find out more about it. When I asked gallerist Oeke Witteveen about it, he as asked me to sit down. I took the chance to bum a cigarette and he was telling me, that he was doing nothing, just clicking around randomly. Around the corner in another gallery, somebody about 40 years younger than Mr. Witteveen reacted rather differently on my question. Without offering me a seat, the chance was not missed, to underline how annoying it is, that gallery visitors so often do not understand that the people in galleries and in front of computers are ACTUALLY WORKING and do not have time for random chitchat for everybody that is dropping by in the opening hours.
That’s all I needed to know. After the big flood of building up, kicking off and hosting events, I was ready to go and to do everything right. I was looking forward to open my laptop, sit in the corner, look very busy and unapproachable and at the same very open for guests to have a chat. No need to to note, that with this air of professional ambiguity I fit the space and the expo perfectly.
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Previously on WeAreNotSisi: On the evening of September 26, we were honoured to host the closing event of the Parallel Forum of the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples which was taking place on September 25 and September 26 in Amsterdam.
Quote from the organizers: In conjunction with the World Conference on Indigenous Peoples being held at the United Nations in New York City on 22-23 September, we are proud to present a parallel forum in Amsterdam. Over a two-day period, we will host conferences, foster debates, give workshops and screen segments of the official New York conference, seeking to reflect the discussions taking place right now about the rights of Indigenous Peoples worldwide. We aim to bring those issues into the public debate and, moreover, to raise awareness of the parties involved in decision-making processes. Our full program is listed here.
A SOUND NIGHT. Actually the title and the program of the evening says it all. Many thanks to the STEIM|Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music for connecting us with Dan Gibson and thanks to Wally B. Fonseca for being all sound!
1. das Punkt, ComanDante, Wanorde, MR Awkward do it loud and speedy.
2. Dan Gibson will explore the dualism between precision and ambiguity and the intermingling of intentions and presence between the cello, computer and performer.
3. fri_bar (Friedrich Neubarth and Barbara Haider) take music from the 13th to 17th century as basis for improvisation, while Bernhard Loibner transforms, complements and augments with live electronics.
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Previously on WeAreNotSisi: As usual, we did cook too much for the “Club Dauerwurst”, as we called the evening in the Bunker on Wednesday, September 24 and as usual this was exactly what we wanted…
The next day was the second day the exhibition in the bunker was closed. This did not mean, naturally, that we did not go there. After a relaxed first half of the day in the city, Götz and me went to the Vondelbunker to get the food that was not eaten the day before. Luckily Maks gave us a golden hint on where to deliver it, so in an again adventurous way we fixed the bowls and casks on our bikes and off we went to the Spinhuis, a space within the premises of the University of Amsterdam that has been occupied by students since September 09 – as can be read in this article in HetParool. As it turned out, we just arrived while a meeting was going on, so it was a good moment to bring an unexpected load of delicious food. We had a last drink in the former meeting place for students of anthropology, sociology and the rest which turned into a kraakpand and headed off for more quality time outside the bunker.
Previously on WeAreNotSisi: We opened the gallery as usual on time at 13:00 and while the first guests where coming in we were getting rid of the Molton to open up the room again for a normal exhibition day. Lia of Autonomia Promotions was somewhere in Amsterdam Noord to prepare wonderful spinach+tofu pasties with tabbouleh salad and pack the ingredients for the coconut, curry and lentil soup to send over to the bunker in the afternoon. So while the soup was sizzling in the pot, we took Götz’ two rubbish bins out of the storage room, unpacked the trophies he sent over from Austria to present them, and he started preparing for his show.
This is what I wrote about Götz Bury to convince people to come: “The one and only chance to see Götz Bury in de Vondelbunker with one of his fantastic culinary performances. At the beginning it appears to be harmless; you think you are safe and feel relaxed. Then, Götz uses this state of being to hit you in the most humorous and non-violent way you can ever imagine. It’s unforgettable…”
And this is what he said about his performances himself in the interview next day: I make performances where I pretend to be a double of Paul Bocuse and where I pretend to be cooking. But of course I am not cooking. And I tell everyone, you can’t talk with me about recipes, this doesn’t make any sense, I don’t care about that. Because it is sculpting, the performance is sculpting as well, extended sculpting, experimental sculpting. There might be as a highlight a juicy sawdust-bread, but basically there is no cooking or eating, it is about the facilities and how they develop in an adventurous manner.
And unforgettable and adventurous it was!
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Previously on WeAreNotSisi: The Vondelbunker is a shared space. So when We Are Not Sisi got the permission to use the Bunker for 3 weeks (which is unusually long), it was clear, that this wouldn’t go without sharing. As we never wanted to not-share, this fit into the concept perfectly. The idea was to find a space that made it possible to interact with the scene in Amsterdam, amongst other things to make people see the show that would otherwise never end up in an art-exhibtion. This meant that a mellow version of the usual program set up by collective Schijnheilig in the bunker was going on while We Are Not Sisi was on. So on Saturday, Edwin Suer and Sander Veenhof came along to pick up several interested people that met at the Vondelbunker to go on a Amsterdam Augmented Tour as one event of the Amsterdam Pop Up Week. They had a look at the show, sat together in the sun to built their devices to enjoy virtual reality in the open space – sitting in a tram or on a bike.
But the collaboration between Not Sisi and Schijnheilig went beyond that. There was obviously program going on inside the bunker and also stuff that was not especially created for fitting an exhibtion space or gallery. Well, actually, in an exhibition space you would not want any program to happen at all, don`t you? In this case you do, but this meant constant adaption of the space, constant change for a short periode of time and of course – re-creating the original exhibition after that, because the gallery had to go open again and it had to be as if nothing ever happened.
What did it mean for the evening of September 21? Just after Julia Seyr and Michael Bürgermeister were finished with making almost every sign of their performances disappear in the bunker, the guys of Great Communicators, of Slow Worries and of Apneu began to come along to prepare for their performances that evening as another Live Clash was programmed for that night. For us it meant to think of a way to protect the art, to make the exhibition space into the “real bunker” again, but at the same time give the possibility for everybody to see the expo – in a different light. And as everybody knows from theater, there is nothing Molton and Gaffer can`t do and so we created a fine concert space with an extra-inspiring backstage area exactly in the corner where Julia Seyr and me conducted the interview a couple of hours before.
It was a fantastic tranformation that was born out of our imagined necessity to “protect” the art (from whom? Bad Ass Anarchists?) but went far beyond that without us realizing it at the beginning. At this point it became obvious, that this project was evolving in something like a controlled chain reaction. A reaction that was dependent on so many variables that it was impossible to predict what would happen next. Nonetheless – and only because of the trustful people involved – it was clear that it would just work out right, no matter how daring this balancing act was executed on the edge of catastrophe from time to time. While the bands where playing you had the chance to sneak behind the curtain and suddenly you were completely cut off from the rest of the room, even though just a few millimeter of Molton were seperating you from the concert taking place “outside”. You found yourself in a fantastic space (see secessionist artspace on the map above), alone with and literally very close to … art! And if you were brave enough to follow the path around the corner, into the dark room with the three TVs, the fresh-air-chamber and the motor-room in the very back…. ach, you just can`t describe it, but it was fabulous. I made pictures of some of the pieces of art with my mobile (to be found among other pictures of the exhibiton here on the website) and Kasper Vogelzang made some real photos. I hope to be able see them one day.
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