hallucinating and exhausting production
The Blackmarket of Useful Knowledge and Non-knowledge
There are projects that inaugurate or respond
to a curated topic, and they act and are being looked upon as
the curatorial markers of a period, for instance, the upcoming
Documenta or the cancelled Manifesta exhibitions.
And there are projects that develop an autonomous practice over
a longer period of time, and though they are not conceived in
reaction or anticipation of a trend, their appearance seems to
be amplified at times by a current curatorial interest. Such is
the Blackmarket of Useful Knowledge and Non-knowledge, emerging
from a series of projects, which Hannah Hurtzig created since
1995 to experiment with the forms of knowledge production and
transfer in constructed public spaces.
For a brief account of the history of the Blackmarket
should be mentioned the Mobile Academies (Bochum, 1999, Berlin,
2001 and 2004, Warsaw, 2006). Even if they are now lumped together
with other summer schools and academies burgeoning all over, they
were the first to hybridize (in-)disciplined workshops and lectures,
cultural fieldwork and political activism in an event that creates
its own imaginary community.
Out of "Fakelore" Academy that took
place in Berlin in 2004 the first official "Blackmarket for
Useful Knowledge and Non-Knowledge" as "The Hallucinated
Community College of the Mobile Academy with 100 experts from
Berlin" sprung. An attempt at an encyclopaedic systematization
of "terms and topics that played an important part in the
past Mobile Academies" was a wild taxonomy of cultural, artistic,
scientific, jargon, practical and common-sense based, disciplinary
and non-disciplinary, acknowledged and clandestine areas of knowledge
- forty-two topics from A for 'Aeronoutics' to U for 'Urbanism'
in Arabic, Bangla, Chinese, German, English, French, Greek, Hindi,
Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Low German, Portuguese, Russian, Swedish,
Urdu and Viennese languages (or dialects).
Out of three elements set out in already the first
edition - one-on-one talk between an expert and a client for one
euro, thirty minutes long, with an audience offered to listen
to it in headphones - a model crystallized that could be the object
of discussion on several agendas. The reasons why I would like
to talk about the Blackmarket is to analyze the specifics of its
format and effects vis-à-vis new forms of knowledge production
and their politics, and the roles theory has taken in an age of
its performance. The particularities that produced the Blackmarket
as a new autonomous model - I will observe element by element.
Machinizing a public space
What distinguishes Blackmarket from the artistic interventions
that critique public spaces as being closed, controlled, and dominated
by the marketplace consumerism is its proactive approach: not
to discover, display or import the ready-made of a museum, theater,
or academy but to construct in the city a public space that is
not authorized for the production of knowledge.
Hurtzig explains that her resources were "archives and reading
rooms in libraries, the stock-market and rooms with a special
function in non-European countries, for instance, in Zimbabwe,
where illiterate persons come to speak to a writing person in
order to have their story or knowledge written down, the purpose
could be a letter, an add, any written information to be stored."
The type of public space the Blackmarket is aiming
for is a ''Benutzerraum'', a user-oriented space. What it shares
with theater is the reference to the antique public forum and
a mixture of performance and event. It is a performance in so
far each expert takes the position of a knower=performer, self-authorized
by the speech-act, and deploys all techniques of performing, and
I hereby mean not the acting techniques but the linguistic craft
of issuing, fulfilling or betraying a promise of knowledge.
Blackmarket is less a performance than an event
inasmuch as it does not present itself in confrontation with an
audience that seeks consensus in reception. There are no spectators
to observe and receive a performance, but all participants - experts,
their clients and the just-listeners - are users involved in shaping
the event to a varying degree. The intimacy of the encounter at
each table-unit requires a low volume - whispering and maybe even
stuttering - so the view from above at hundred tables in one room
bears very little representation, in the sense of resembling or
standing in for or speaking in the name of something/someone else.
Therefore, the Blackmarket is only an installation in technical
terms, in its set-up, rather than in its genre of display. It
is more a self-sufficient machine that operates a space in an
open, uncontrolled, uncontainable production, dissemination and
infiltration of knowledge. For now I use "knowledge"
in the lack of a more adequate term, and I will further specify
the difference in this notion.
Is the technology that explicitly distinguishes knowledge transfer
in the Blackmarket from all other learning situations. Telling
a story immediately undoes the object of transmission from a discipline
with a history. That is furthermore why the Blackmarket is an
event: its taking-place has nothing to do with the inscription
of difference (the political mission of inscribing a different
knowledge), with tracing or archiving the traces of erased traces.
Even if it does have the economy of excess, of dépense
or expenditure as the surplus of signification, it still is a
trade and not a matter of gift and exchange. Selling one's story
unmasks a fundamental social contract: it puts the storyteller
in the blatant position of "perform or else" and the
client in a position to demand the supply. Narration leads away
from the academic methods of analyzing, contextualizing, commenting,
and verifying information. It actually undoes knowledge from information
and defines it halfway between what one knows as an object of
knowledge, study, discipline (savoir) and what one is subjectified
by as experience or acquaintance (connaissance). The knower here
is not someone who has a love for knowledge and whose knowledge
is necessarily legitimated by an institution, but the knower can
be a trickster, who not only betrays the dominant regimes but
also takes the possession of territories that do not belong to
her, or do not exist yet and are, therefore, invented.
Subjectification and expertise
If subjectification is not just identification, or interpretation
of something from one's own experience, but always already a transformation,
making something one's own by bastardizing it, "fucking"
it up, giving it one's own body, then expertise implies honouring
a general condition, or a condition for a general intellect: there
is always something one knows. It is not so much about what one
knows, but how one knows, what one's ability to know and pass
on that knowledge to someone else is. Subjectification is all
about partiality and partial insights which, in fact, enable participation
on a contingent basis. Partiality should also be read in opposition
to "being impartial", i.e. objective, unbiased or dispassioned.
Now, the Blackmarket's mission is not to empower humankind by
making it realize its own capacity, but to unravel potentialities
that make up uncertain and less visible circulation of that which
makes up knowledge: assumptions, beliefs, opinions, habits, facts,
information, techniques etc. The talk is an encounter that puts
in relation knowledge and non-knowledge, activates learning and
unlearning, explores the difference and the distance between ignorance
and opinion and what is idealized as its opposite, namely, knowledge.
In Hurtzig's own words, the Blackmarket should be understood pragmatically
as a "tool to find problems for the already existing solutions".
Topics and experts
In the first Blackmarket there were a hundred talks featured under
the following headings: Accidents, Activism, political, Aeronautics,
Animals, Architecture, Cartography, Choreography, Communication,
Customs, Dilemma, Ecotrophology, Education, Ethics, Games, Language,
Media, Memory, Meteorology, Millinery, Music, historical stringed
instruments, Music, listening, Music, composing, Music, noise/sound,
Music, song, Money, Nirvana-Principle, No Headword, Orientation,
Poetry, Quantum mechanics, Sex, Somatology, Space, Sports, Techniques,
arts, Techniques and body, Techniques, crafts, Text,Theatre, Tourism
Translation, Urbanism, Work.
Listing all topics serves to show that the heterogeneity
was not choreographed from above, as a pool of themes to choose
from and respond to, but the themes were a result of an aposteriori
grouping of the talks, as they were formulated by experts. The
formulations range within a variety of strategies and tactics
of self-determination: from a straitforward understanding of one's
own professional knowledge (e.g. Timan Muthesius, violin-maker,?"Historical
stringed instruments before 1800. The Viola da Gamba and the Viola
da Braccio"), through politically edgy propositions (e.g.
Katja Reichard, co-initiator of the bookstore pro qm, artist,
collective projects on urbanism, gender, work, "Forms of
self-exploitation: working life in times of difference capitalism"),
unexpected mismatches between profession and proclaimed expertise
(e.g. Quantum mechanics, Alexej Kairetdinow, poet, translator,
The uncertainty principle does (not) work without formulas. A
philologist explains an experiment from quantum mechanics., or
Percy McLean, judge at the Administrative Court, expert for human
rights, honorary president of the organization for holistic medicine
Der Weg der Mitte ?Face- and neck massage. Theory and practice)
to characteristically humorous or bizarre inventions (Christof
Kurzmann, musician, "Learning Viennese with Asterix",
Carmen Bruder, Psychologist, phD TU Berlin, men-machine-interface
"Why it's not your fault if your computer goes nuts?On the
psychological background of technical system development. And
what you can contribute").
After the first Blackmarket, which obviously grew out of the assemblage
of invited experts, i.e. persons that hitherto contributed to
the community of the Mobile Academies, Hurtzig conceived the following
editions of the Blackmarket around a cluster of topics. The principle
of not assigning an overarching topic in order to curate knowledge
according to artistic, cultural, social or political interests
still remains in the ethics of the Blackmarket.
However, there are certain procedures and aims to pursue in preparing
a topic as the area of research. However not imposing a particular
theme for a particular context with the interpretative arrogance
of "this is good for you", Hurtzig does account for
a certain telos, or at least, a set of preferences and criteria:
"As I'm not a talented person, I work on the basis of ''deficit
and deficiency''. I search for what I think we're in lack of."
For instance, in the Blackmarket held in Warsaw in 2005 the topic
of ''ghostly or invisible knowledge'' made connections between
people, knowledge and experience from before and after the regime
change in Poland, and presented different ways of deciphering
and reading the process of political and economic transition and
its ghostlines. The thematic guideline for this Blackmarket was
a quote by Heiner Müller : "Ihe phantom of the market
economy has replaced the ghost of communism".
Another example illustrates how Hurtzig proceeds
when nowadays, after the model became popular, she receives commision
or invitation on particular topic. Recently asked to make a Blackmarket
on the topic of aging in Germany, she says: "Searching for
what could be interesting apart from old people speaking about
their life, which isn't particularly interesting, I came across
a curious phenomenon of aged ''researchers'', people who after
their professional career specialize in "small" topics.
For instance, someone who spent 15 years since her retirement
on researching the pit in the cherry fruit. They were the people
who decided to do something they couldn't do before, being self-determined
and non-institutionalized, these researchers are driven by a passion
towards a knowledge not knowing who would use it."
The process of research likens a "rehearsal
process identical to the result - a communication process of two
to three months, where you consult different sources that help
you rehallucinate a context." To do that, Hurtzig, together
with her collaborators, performs a certain cutting through the
society, which is entirely different from what is referred to
as interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary approach presupposes
that a topic arises as an event in the surplus effect of joining
and mixing respectable disciplines. The mixture in the case of
Blackmarket is along the lines of monstrosity: composing something
known, established or reliable with something that is less all
that; so, mixing disciplined, alternative, parallel, lay, practical,
pragmatic, technical, experience-based etc. registers of articulating
knowledge as something one has, one is capable of, one uses, one
can teach, one can learn or one can only name. In short, this
means "combine a scientific person with your neighbor".
First, in this way you avoid "the usual suspects" or
the discourse leaders ("Diskursstatthalter") and, second,
the outcome is never one, one difference to what is established
or dominant, and certainly not a coherent, unified or homogeneous
set of expertise, but always an irreproducible connectivity between
people, places, memory and interests.
Where to go and what to do
Some aspirations this project has: "I am interested in the
situations where there is a collective moment of learning that
people aren't aware of and which, potentially, could lead to action,
arousing enthusiasm and hallucination with the impossible."
Maybe you noticed, "hallucination" is a recurring description
Hurtzig uses here. I am trying to understand what she means by
it, if it is located in perception or participation of the users
or in a social significance of the event.
Today, when theory has become yet another superstructural development
of late capitalism, featured both in the rhetorics of the arts
as well as in creative industries and business management, it
takes actually some art to de-instrumentalize it from producing
the intellectual surplus value. The Blackmarket is not expressly
a pro-theoretical project. However, it does conceptualize knowledge
production, not by a critical interpretation of its place in contemporary
society, but through experimentation which operates with possibilities
and potentialities of concrete situations.
*All quotations of Hannah
Hurtzig come from a conversation that took place in March 2006.
Published: 31 Institut für
Theorie der Gestaltung und Kunst, No. 08/09 (Dec. 06), Zurich