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I have been experimenting with the newly installed exhibition apparatus (dispositive) Palaver developed by artist Eran Schaerf and Professor Florian Dombois and installed by the Y-Institute at Berne University of the Arts. The occasion for the experiment was enabled through HKB’s open house (Oct. 2010)  and the desire to develop strategies for the use of alternative exhibition models with a wider public.

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In a nutshell: Palaver is an assemblage of a wall, two screens and two cameras. A space can be divided by a mobile wall, one screen is attached to each side of this wall and each side is equipped with a mobile camera. The idea is to exhibit an artwork or a performance or anything on one side and project it to the other side where the audience is. Through such an arrangement the audience as well as the object/performance are put into a mediated relationship. With the help of the camera, the screens and the separation a process of negotiation and estranged, mediated contact is facilitated. A palaver in its original meaning is the week-long political negotiations in a public space in African native cultures. The idea for such an exhibition apparatus is the change in roles and time that might accompany the experience of art. In other words, the role of the spectator, the work its reception and the way to think and talk about it discursively might be transformed through such a renewed assemblage. The palaver centers the art object but at the same time mutually positions spectators, art critics, art historians artists and curators on a plane of negotiation. Instead of unfolding each ofthese participants into his/her discipline and mode of reflexion, Palaver aims at an intense engagement with the object, modes of representation, ways of speaking and sensing, the refomualtion of space and the role of speaking in formal and informal ways.

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What I have been trying in this particular occasion of experimentation was to undermine the conception of the object or the subject by becoming a non-subject and a non-object. The creature that lives at the interstice of non-subject and non-object is McGhille (see post below). McGhillie is neither a thing nor a person. McGhillie rather melts with its environment to liberate the one inhabiting the suit to become pure (in)difference and therefore not being accountable by vision or speech. McGhillie is perceivable but one cannot know it nor can one interact with it. I aimed at rendering McGhillie’s movements the least possible anthropomorphic. McGhillie was supposed to become a pure presence therefore demonstrating its disappearance. The visitors on the other side were estranged and curious. I aimed at a long duration not allowing for any interaction but forcing the audience to turn onto itself and initiate any kind of intercourse. The situation was at times uncomfortable due to its indeterminacy and at times charged with excitement when something happened. At one point I was compelled to end the performative situation but didn’t preclude how to go about it. The people in the room were already at the margins of the wall separating the spaces. The screens mediating the situation became fairly obsolete, live experience seemed to be more attractive. Hence, McGhillie was bemoaning the annihilation of the mediation by a screen and longed for its re-installation. Finally approaching the door to leave the room in a crouching way, a participant had blocked it to not allow for any escape. This provocation to leave the state of non-subject-object forced me to imagine what it means to be kept in a cell, to be considered outside of the general discourse and therefore being regarded as free to be subjugated. The liberating and almost powerful feeling of a Becoming-McGhillie shifted towards a Becoming-Animal with all its negative attributes in relation to the human master and the animal-slave. Finally forcing the door open, still being follwed by the crowd I managed to leave the situation and to allow McGhillie to become free for a future becoming.

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In sum, I can say that the attempt to undermine the dispositive of Palaver only partly worked. One of the main concerns that remain after the experience is the question of how a situation can be generated where one can feel the potential forces towards negotiation. In other words, is the apparatus as it is right now providing the right port of entry into a self-generative process of negotiation. In other words, are the enabling constraints given to allow the object/subject to speak in its own right or is Palaver just another discursive tool that hovers on the surface of representation and language.

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