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Date: Sun, 26 Feb 2006 15:35:52 +0100
From: "hilde de bruijn" <> View Contact Details Add Mobile Alert
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,