Yoeri Guépin

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Symposium and performances

• 30 09 2018 •
Floraphilia Botanical Garden as a Colonial Site



Venue: Flora Köln, Am Botanischen Garten 1a, 50735 Cologne
In English and German
Simultaneous translation into English and German will be provided for all symposium sessions

This symposium of the Academy project Floraphilia: On the Interrelations of the Plant World, Botany and Colonialism takes place at the Flora building, a palace-like conservatory made of cast iron and glass built in 1864. The design of the building by Cologne architects Max Nohl and Joseph Felten was modelled on the Crystal Palace in London and the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. In a setting appropriate to the topic of the event, artists and scholars of various disciplines expand on the theme of the exhibition at Academyspace from historical, aesthetic and philosophical perspectives. Botanical gardens collected not just rare and beautiful plants for study and display, but also specialized in cultivating crops that were decisive in European settlement in tropical regions. Government subsidies supported scientific research, and botanical gardens repaid these national investments many times over in the form of new plantations and improved yields in the colonies.

Specific reference to Cologne and its environs plays a special role in the symposium. Closing the event is the performance The Jaguar and the Snake by AMANDA PIÑA, which imagines new spaces in which to experience plants, animals and people.

11:00–11:30 Introduction by Madhusree Dutta and Aneta Rostkowska
11:30–13:00 Keynote address by Shela Sheikh
13:00–14:00 Break
14:00–15:30 Session on botany and botanical gardens in Cologne and Berlin by Marianne Bechhaus-Gerst and Katja Kaiser
15:30–16:00 Artist talk of Maria Thereza Alves
16:00–16:30 Plantifesto, a reading by Mark von Schlegell
16:30–17:00 Break
17.00-18.00 Performance White-man’s foot by Yoeri Guépin
18:00–19:30 Break
19:30–19:30 Performance The Jaguar and the Snake by Amanda Piña

MARIANNE BECHHAUS-GERST is professor of African studies at the University of Cologne. Topics of her research include the history of people of African descent in Germany and German colonial history. In addition, she works as a curator and is chair of the KopfWelten association, a local history project that critically engages with the colonial and neo-colonial history of Cologne.

The artistic practice of YOERI GUÉPIN comprises installations, (lecture/) performances and collaborative research projects in which various archival material is recontextualised. His work has been exhibited at ENSAPC YGREC in Paris, at Ormston House in Limerick and at TENT Rotterdam. He has also given lectures at various institutions.

Historian KATJA KAISER conducts research in the areas of colonial history, museum and exhibition history as well as gender studies. Currently she works for a research project at the Centre of Natural History, Hamburg; she previously worked as research associate at the German Historical Museum in Berlin. There, among other things, she took part in the exhibition project German Colonialism: Fragments Past and Present (2016).

AMANDA PIÑA is a choreographer and dancer. Her works address the mechanisms of exclusion and employ non-Western cultural perspectives in contemporary performance. Since 2005, she has collaborated with visual artist and filmmaker Daniel Zimmermann under the label nadaproductions. Their collaborative production WAR – ein Kriegstanz (2013) attained international attention. Amanda Piña lives in Vienna.

SHELA SHEIKH is a lecturer and convenor of Postcolonial Culture and Global Policy as well as Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Previously she was research fellow and publications coordinator on the project Forensic Architecture, which was funded by the European Research Council. Recently she co-edited the book Uriel Orlow: Theatrum Botanicum (with Uriel Orlow).

MARK VON SCHLEGELL is a science fiction author and cultural critic. His publications include, among others, the novels Venusia (Semiotext(e) / Native Agents 2005), Mercury Station (2009) and Sundogz (2015, both at Semiotext(e) / Native Agents). In addition he has written various theoretical works, including Realometer: Amerikanische Romantik (Merve 2009) and Dreaming the Mainstream (Merve 2013). Mark von Schlegell lives in Cologne.

Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation

Opening:6.28, 18:00
Performance starts at 19:30
Time:2018.6.28 - 7.7
Address: 13 Heizhima Hutong, Chaoyang District, Beijing

In the exhibition Afterlives, Yoeri Guépin investigates the afterlives of various aesthetic forms and objects that were initially appropriated from the European cultural tradition then re-contextualized in different moments within the narration of China’s national history.

The public image of Yuanmingyuan is static like a photograph.

Beginning with the ruins of Xiyanglou – a part of Yuanmingyuan  often discussed in history textbooks, knowledge regarding Yuanmingyuan has been tightly wrapped in a reductivist historical narrative that contrasts the emergence of modern China with its shameful subjugation under imperialism, to the extent that the drawn-out degradation of Yuanmingyuan as a farmland, collective production field, cemetery, and landfill site in the 150 years after its initial destruction has totally been covered over. The very idea of a ‘ruin” is a modern invention; one may say that the modern fascination with ruins (fluctuating as it might be) precisely coincides with their unprecedented production. Before Yuanmingyuan became a cultural signifier, it was simply a site of indifference.  Arising out of a heated debate among archeologists, urban planners, architects and government officials regarding its restoration in the 1980s, Yuanmingyuan was formally established as a public park designed to provide visitors with patriotic history lessons packed with emotional, aesthetic, and moral experiences of China’s checkered past.

The theatricality of Yuanmingyuan - more specifically, its mise-en-scene -rarely occurs to tourists who are inculcated by its established narrative. But for more curious observers such as Yoeri, things appeared under a different light: during a visit, he spotted an obvious mismatch between a pillar and its foundation in the Dashuifa ensemble; it resembled more of a stage than a historical remnant. This mismatch led him to an investigation into the very idea of a historical act - who laid the stones? Who installed the setting? More broadly, how was the image of the West transferred, translated, and reactivated?

The original concept of Dashuifa came from Western paintings brought to Emperor Qianlong by the Jesuits. At the height of Yuanmingyuan’s grandeur, Xiyanglou (designed by Giuseppe Castiglione) only amounted to about 2% of the overall architecture, but it is now used to represent the whole estate as a whole. Similar operations in history also occurred in Chinese art education. Since the 1980s, art education gradually switched from socialist realism to more a “liberal cannon” where Greek, Roman, and Renaissance sculptures were adopted as pedagogical tools. As a result, long before knowing the historical and cultural contexts from which these sculptures emerged, art students have been sketching Michelangelo’s David for years.

As the central component of Yoeri’s 6-month residency at the Institute for Provocation, ‘Afterlives’ presents his research conducted at two different locations in Beijing: Yuanmingyuan and the CAFA Art Museum; the former is in the west (of the city) while the latter is in the east. Looking at how Western classic images become hollowed out, condensed, and reactivated throughout Chinese history, Afterlives touches on the subtle dynamic between China’s modernity and the acts of history that constitute it.

text: Jiahui Zeng

made possible by: Mondriaan Fund & Institute For Provocation

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