Lisa Vetten Mieke van der Voort  
Hilde de Bruijn Archive  
Dr Achille Mbembe
Zoé Inch

From: "gregg smith"
Subject: opening question

As an opening question it would be interesting to ask people in the group to respond to:

What sorts of 'habits of perception' and 'strategies of survival' affect (in either a positive or negative sense) the way they navigate society and public space, and their ability to move forwards in a meaningful manner?




Date: Sat, 25 Feb 2006 19:50:20 +0100
Subject: I see many things, many colours
From: "Mieke Van de Voort"

hi. I am writing to you from Amsterdam.
some thoughts I have concerning the struggle with possesion of objects
and illusions if you want.

in one of my artprojects I have searched for people that live isolated
from society. They have died in Amsterdam and had no-one to take care of
their funeral and other affairs that need to be sorted out after death.
Instead, a department of social services does the job. I took photographs of the interiors of their houses, more or less in the state they left it when they died. When one looks at these images it is easy to think that they have resigned from society and given up on order and structure in their own lives as well. The rooms certainly don¹t look like the inhabitants were expecting any visitors.
most of the houses were quite a mess. the messes differed in quality.
for example: many 'pretty' things like little sculptures and paintings
and furniture, nicely displayed though too many to be able to appreciate,
gathering thick layers of dust.

or: a mess of construction elements such as wood, paint, tools etc. at a
certain point in time the diseased had started to rebuild the interior
of his house (perhaps in a moment of excitement. a start to reorganise
life by making the personal environment look better, changing things beginning with the living room in order to have a more pleasant surrounding and to change one's inner life by changing the reflection of it in the way things are ordered). but somewhere the realization of good intensions had got stuck and what was first only a mess of transition became a permanent landscape. The new interior looked appocalyptic, so what did it matter if to this mess ashtrays and bottles and trash were added?. in the bedroom I found a walkietalkie on a blackened pillow, half-finished paintings and a
halfempty bottle of milk.

or: a house with 4 rooms each of them stuffed with things piled up in
mountains along the sides and in the middle. thousands of collected
items impossible to retrieve because they have disappeared under another
thousands of items.

sometimes my own appartment starts taking on similar features. too many
things inhabit my space. intimidating chaos. I start to sort them out
and strand in the process because I can't decide on what to do and because
the items bring on memories or trigger trains of thought that I can't stop
and I forget what I was doing. so many unfinished stories, where is the
beginning, what were my plans? the mess around me increases the mess inside my head. I forget who I am. how did these things ever enter my house? who was I when I brought them in? how did I become so fragmented?

some of the houses I photographed were very empty. on the wall only a
cutout newspaper photograph of the previous queen, nothing more personal than that.

I used to have a friend long ago who only possessed as many things as
she could carry by herself.

I once read an excerpt of a novel, I think it was Paul Auster's, where
the protagonist creates structure in daily life by organising things in
terms of colour. for example: monday's dinner: only green foods. tuesdays
dinner: only orange etc. limiting choice by colour. or is it 'directing' rather than limiting choice?

artificially setting preferences to have a basis to act on. what kind
of framework do you use in daily life? live by the rules of the Q'ran?
make art that cannot be sold? have seven sets of clothes that are identical so you don't have to think about what to wear? only travel to places that are in walking distance? never watch tv, only movies? etc

In one of the houses I found a Mount Everest on the kitchentable of
unopened mail and most rooms were inaccessibly stocked. It seemed as though this person had been living like a reckloose among remnants of the past and
was in denial of the existence of an outside world. But when I looked more
closely I found out he had all this amateur broadcasting equipment and
had kept a diary of whom he was speaking to in which part of the world.
Although he lived in a capital city with nearly one million people in his
proximity, it seemed he chose to have contact with people merely from a distance, in a non-physical reality. Or was it a choice?

I have a specific relationship with newspapers. I am never able to read
them for more than a few days in a row. but I don't throw them away because
I think I might still read the bits that I didn't cover and the ones I
didn't read at all beacuse I am sure there are lots of interesting things

by the time the pile grows larger than myself and falls over, I start negotiating to get rid of it because I get tired of restoring
the pile each time a tram comes by and not having read the papers and
adding more to it. the passing of time is manifested in the pile and I dont
find reconciliation. I end up throwing them away or making some silly
artpiece out of them, always with a sense of loss. the newspaper as a mirror of how I thought life would be and how it turns out to be. a collection of possibilities gone, of opportunities missed.

I once told a southafrican guy about the relationship I had had with my
South african husband. I told him why we broke up and that I couldn't
deal with his desillusions and that being desillusioned had broken him down
and that I was another contribution to the collection of desillusions. he
replied that it was the stupidest thing in life to be desillusioned
because one shouldn't have illusions in the first place. I felt upset.

in one of the houses I found a note on the wall, saying:

'and when I am dead
dont be sad
for I am not really dead
you should know
it is only my body
that I left behind
dead I am only
when you have forgotten me'

I wondered if anyone else but him had ever read that note and if there
was anyone to make sure he wasn't really dead.

up to here for now. I have to start tidy up things!

regards, mieke


Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2006 15:35:52 +0100
From: "hilde de bruijn"
Subject: contribution Hilde de Bruijn

Dear all,

My name is Hilde de Bruijn, and I am a freelance curator based in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Recently I have organised Hidden Rhythms, a contemporary art project in which 15 artists participated. The project looked at the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion from the perspective or ritual and ritualizing. You can find more info on this project at (under the archive button). At the moment a public programme of lectures, performances and screenings that I have organised for the MA Fine Art programme of the Piet Zwart Institute is taking place in Rotterdam, NL under the title Ritualizing (see

When I started working on the Hidden Rhythms project it soon became clear that the terrain of Ritual Studies is a heavily contested one. There is no concensus on the definition of the term ritual, nor on its function or meaning. To me, this makes it an extremely interesting but also extremely difficult subject to speak about. Since from a curatorial perspective the artisitic quality of the Hidden Rhythms project was likely to benefit from a more open and exploratory attitude, works have been included that relate not only to ritual but also to ritual-like activities and ritualisation, and there has been no attempt to come up with an over-all definition of the term ritual - although I tend to agree with those who state that ritual becomes a term devoid of meaning if it can include everything. The content of Hidden Rhythms eventually got more focused because of a growing interest in deconstructing ritual as a static and authorless phenomenon that naturalises things and by an interest in exploring what ritual actually does, especially in relation to the performing of boundaries. Here, the notion of ritualisation played an important role.

In his lecture for the Ritualizing series in Rotterdam Dr. Nick Couldry efficiently summarised anthropologist Catherine Bell’s description of ritualisation in her publication Ritual – perpectives and dimensions (1997)as:

“the mass of processes across private and public life that, if you like, form the background, hinterland to the specific moments of ritual, as the processes that generate the terms around which rituals are organised, that prepare our bodies for ritual performance, that already, as it were, give us a sense of what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’ in ritual action.”

In his lecture, Couldry then pointed at another aspect of Bell’s concept of ritualisation which links it to questions of power. He quoted:

“Fundamental to all strategies of ritualization . . . is the appeal to a more embracing authoritative order that lies beyond the immediate situation. Ritualization is a generally a way of engaging some wide consensus that those acting [in ritual] are doing so as a type of natural response to a world conceived and interpreted as affected by forces that transcend it” (Bell, p. 169).

He continued his lecture by asking how ritual performance then actually works, and drew on the French sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu who, returning to one of the founders of ritual theory, Emile Durkheim, emphasised how ritual is based on boundaries: “all rites tend to consecrate or legitimate an arbitrary boundary by fostering a misrecognition of the arbitrary nature of the limit [they involve].” (Pierre Bourdieu (1990) Language and Symbolic Power Cambridge: Polity, p 118).

I would understand ‘rituals of self-preservation’, and the ritualisation processes that enable their existence, as rituals in which these boundaries play a vital role as well. I would connect these rituals to the performing of those boundaries that establish or try to preserve (existing) perceptions of the self – always in relation to others, - understanding the ‘self’ not only in terms of individual identity but also in terms of collective identity.

Over the last couple of years the struggle with this sense of the (collective) self and the preservation of this has intensified in Dutch society (some have declared the multicultural society a failed project). Being able to deconstruct ritual, and being aware of ritual’s capacity to naturalise doesn’t make the boundaries less arbitrary but does allow using (or instrumentalising) ritual in a much more conscious manner in order to shift these boundaries. This way, one could consider ritual a potential dynamic and creative tool for change, as well as an even more effective political instrument then it already is and always has been.

In 2004 the Dutch Labour party (PvdA) seemed to have understood this really well when they altered the annual remembrance service for the commemoration of the victims of war on May 4th. That year, for the first time, (certain) groups of youth with a Moroccan background were involved in the commemoration – the same group that had heavily disturbed the service the year before. In 2004 one of their tasks was to read out the names of 64 Moroccans who had lost their lives in the Dutch province of Zeeland. In the run up to the remembrance service I guess what you could call a ‘ritualisation process’ had taken place: the youths and even some of their parents had been given a great deal of information about the Second World War (including a visit to the Anne Frank House) and what it means for the Netherlands. The now shifted boundary, between who is included or excluded from that ceremony, who is or is not part of a history that the Dutch identify with, served to bridge the gap between what has become the reality of the ‘collective’ self (heterogeneous groups that resist homogenising to a greater extend then expected) and the (ideal of) the collective self treasured by the Dutch Labour Party: a multicultural society.

Best regards,


Date: Wed, 8 Mar 2006 22:10:38 +0100 (CET)
From: "zoé inch"
Subject: Anti-ritualisation/de-ritualisation/re-ritualisation…

Hello from Paris. I’m a filmmaker working with fiction and documentary and wanted to make a quick and late contribution to this complex topic. It’s a difficult one to focus in on and really intriguing. From the angle of personal experience, here’s one reaction. There are many others and I shall take this as an opportunity to investigate them further. Mieke’s posting jogged off many thoughts re a contemporary environment so full of “things”.

As a child of the 1970s I am conscious of growing up in a somewhat de-ritualised background. I attempted to create my own customs inspired by those I perceived in a conventional society (Conservative Britain), exterior to that of my upbringing where official rituals were ridiculed, or ignored. I would thus draw up my own protocols. Taking my grandmother’s Queen Elizabeth style handbags down to my dungareed mother’s vegetable allotment where I would brood moodily, clutching the plastic wonder bag like an umbilical cord to normality. Arranging tiny collected toys and objects into housewifely neat groups and themes, including Royal Wedding ephemera.

Marriage, baptisms, Christmas trees, traditional gender roles etc defined the outside world, while the domestic sphere referred to an alternative system of anti-conformism with the intention of creating a free environment. I am trying to think of some of the rituals we may have had despite ourselves and am finding it difficult. One may be the organised paint stripping of all the wooden doors and floors in the house to give them a natural finish (this was in line with fashionable “Habitat” interior design of the time). Another could be the regular solo flights my parents arranged for me at the age of seven. These catapulted me into the very organised universe of the airport with its expensive perfumes, stylish uniforms and delightful etiquette.

Perhaps one of the reasons I became so attached to my Grandmother’s house in France was precisely because there were banal routines there and they fitted neatly into a cliche image of French extended-family life – wine in the wine cellar, cupboards full of handmade provisions, the floor swept thrice daily, the washing up done after a meal of traditional cooking, home grown green beans top and tailed in preparation for their garlic and parsley garnish, floral wallpaper in the bathroom. Above all, to my unconventionally experienced eyes, it seemed a respectable and presentable surface, and a constant unchanging existence.

I would disagree with my mother over these things. She seemed to be repeatedly attempting to turn rules and rituals around, exposing their underside. Thus, in her own way, she was paying them respect and certainly instilling in me a form of rebellious conservatism. Before their separation, my parents’ gifts of woodwork benches and footballs only reinforced my desire for high heels, dolls and miniature sets of feminine clothing to dress them in.

I would say that common popular rituals have provided me with certain stabilising references and I do not believe them to be trite. Rather, I see them as an attempt to classify and attend to human stress and difficulties, to provide a framework within which emotional needs and confusions can be considered communally. Quite a radical thing... Traditional customs can include throwing a large party, paying close attention and respect to the body, sharing states of embarrassment, grief, anger, happiness, fear. Although it may feel uneasy to fit these rituals into contemporary society, they often provoke events that leave a trace against which freer experiences can be calibrated. For me, a strategy for self-preservation could include an awkward reappraisal of the most traditional customs and rituals that have existed for aeons.



From: "Colin Richards"

Subject: RE: closing
Date: Thu, 9 Mar 2006 15:27:43 +0200

Hi Gregg
Colin here. I have just emerged from a rather nightmare of pressure. I would like to contribute still if I can… could you brief me a little about the texts that have come in? I will read some of the earlier stuff again to get my addled mind working.
Look forward to hearing from you.
All the best