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1080 Brussels

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Blood and Guts in Grad School
Kathi Hofer
23 September - 31 October, 2022


Recently, in the New York Times, an article claimed the resurgence of the ‘conversation pit’ — a soft and sunken living room structure synonymous with the 1960s and 70s. If it is true that the conversation pit is making a comeback, we want to know: what is it about this particular relic of mid-century design that speaks to the current moment? The article makes the suggestion that the conversation pit is an antidote to an atomised society: conversation pits mean face-to face interaction, unmediated by screens and satellites. But this neat, quasi-conservative, back-to-the-good-old-days thinking sits uneasily against the article’s other key observation: that is, conversation pits are mostly consumed as images. Indeed, the lush colours and geometry seem to circulate seamlessly via social media platforms. Our own design process for this exhibition began the same way: a stream of drooled-over images traded back-and-forth over phone screens. Desire thinly veneered as research.

Together, these two observations suggest the conversation pit as a curious kind of hybrid object, both a physical rejection of contemporary communication technologies and a virtual space remotely inhabited via the very technologies it would seem to refuse. Is a conversation pit better to look into or to look out from?

This exhibition began as a plan to build a full-scale, useable model of a conversation pit in the tiled space of Winona, to test the online and offline dynamics of this architectural feature in contemporary Brussels. Gradually, that hollow form got filled up with contributions from artists who lent or fabricated works for the setting. By happy coincidence, many of these works were collaborations. The invitations also turned into a program of talks, readings, and concerts that will take place in the coming weekends. It got filled up too, or will, with the slumped and lounging bodies of visitors. Put basically, the pit is a container in which to collectively experiment with how those elements will collide and interact and (ideally) generate pulsing, hallucinatory conversation.

The works included oscillate similarly between the onsite and the remote. The red vinyl pattern which covers two walls was sent as a vector graphic by Jim Isermann, from his chosen home in Palm Springs, California. For decades, Jim has been making radically decorative work that traffics between minimalist aesthetics and the functional utopias of design. Nina Canell and Robin Watkins sent their work as a sound file to be played through the pit’s quad sound system. On September 2, we will sit and listen to it together. Shirin Sabahi’s work is a window vinyl from an iterative series, scaled to fit Winona’s street facing window. What appears as decorative, abstract geometry is in fact derived from patterns of tape used to secure windows from bomb blasts or earthquakes in unstable environments. Simon Denny leant us a set of custom postage stamps, produced collaboratively with the stamp designer Linda Kantchev, each of which commemorate one of the companies that in 2016 (the year
of the work’s making), were designing the infrastructures and vectors of decentralised currency trading. Miles Huston’s work takes the form of a set of remote-viewing tools. On three paddles are three altered reproductions of paintings by Arnold Clapman produced for Paul Lafolley. Clapman’s paintings are themselves reconstructions based on descriptions of an earlier set of paintings by the Boston artist Richard Upton Pickman, who (Pickman) claims to have based them of live drawing sessions with a number of demon children living in the sewers under Boston’s North End. By holding the paddles at arm’s length and staring at the three coloured dots for 30 seconds, viewers can summon spectral hallucinations of Clapman’s now-destroyed paintings of Pickman’s lost works. In contemporary architecture, the stakes of the there-and-not-there dilate along axes of supply. What is remote can be brought closer. Brianna Leatherbury arranged her contribution as a set of dispatches of non-functional buttons from Amazon which will gradually populate the space of Winona over the course of the show. Of all the artists included, only Cecilia Bjartmar Hylta worked on-site, installing a discarded and inverted steel bollard from the streets of Brussels as a subtraction from the volume of the pit’s structure.

The experiment of the exhibition will be cast against the next 4 weeks of its showing. As an experiment, its aims are open ended, its metrics for success or failure unclear. Life gets lived below floor level.



"Sometimes, when a man is holding a pencil, his hand won’t release it no matter how badly he wants to let go. Instead the hand tightens rather than opens."


There’s a passage in a book by Maurice Blanchot which describes the writer as a man with two hands: The right hand writes, wants desperately to write, while the left hand cannot or chooses not to. The right hand holds the pencil involuntarily, like an addict following a desire that is neither properly outside nor inside of them. The left hand doesn’t write but it can reach out and take the pencil, to interrupt what is being written. “Mastery,” Blanchot concludes, “always characterises the other hand, the one that doesn’t write.”

There are 4 or maybe 5 sculptural works in this exhibition, which Benedikt calls Essays zum Stand der Dinge (“Essays on the State of Things”). A car was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a fire has burned to the end, a man is running late, a pig considers its reflection, a building will soon be built. Like the left hand’s intervention, all of these short stories relate to time in complex ways. They are generic in the way that an allegory should be and they are specific in the way that an allegory should be. (Open enough. Closed enough). The fruit gets boiled down to its sugars to make jam. Like most art and story-telling, this is a question of economy too, about big returns on possible meaning for small expenditures on time and materials. (“And what was Marx’s left hand doing while his right wrote Das Kapital?”)

If we accept that writing is a negotiation between two desires that map onto the two hands, then writing is also a negotiation of two times: A right-handed time that is continuous and horizontal and a left-handed time that is discontinuous and vertical. The right hand desires the infinite pro- longation of time, the deferral of judgement or conclusion. The left hand insists upon the break, the full-stop, the deadline about which meaning will have to organise itself. Time is suddenly coming down. What is left is left. Both of these times are part of writing, or maybe writing is just a plane on which these times have to get negotiated. The cosmic nature of this negotiation is equaled only by its banal everyday-ness. This is often how it happens and it happens very often.

For many of us, the central allegory of this show will be the wild boar who enters into the mirrored room, into language, into culture. When the animal sees itself in the mirror, does it see itself as a beast?


All photos by Silvia Cappellari.
(c) Benedikt Bock and Winona.


All photos by Nikolaj Jessen.
(c) Francesca Hawker, Theo Livesey and Winona.

All photos by Nikolaj Jessen.
(c) Mekhitar Garabedian, Margaux Schwarz, Emile Rubino and Winona.