While we were Kings and Queens (2020)
Commissioned for an exhibition in honour of Anton Wihelm Amo (c. 1700-1753), who is considered the first Black academic and philosopher in Germany, Kaersenhout’s installation While we were Kings and Queen brings together twentieth-century German sources on Enlightenment; the text of a 1712 speech by slaveholder Willy Lynch; and tools recalling the traditional use of nkisi objects as a pledge or vow to banish evil. Here, as in previous bodies of work such as The Dream of a Thousand Shipwrecks (2009) and We Refuse… (2009, ongoing), Kaersenhout deploys historical materials to draw explicit connections between narratives of colonialism, and contemporary forms of education, resistance and solidarity.
“For the exhibition pieces I have printed images of proud and beautiful Black and Brown people on pages of a book called The European Enlightenment: Zeitalter der Aufklärung published in 1976. The book gives an overview of the European Enlightenment. This particular book was part of my 2017 performance Daughter of Diaspora at the Decolonial Summer School in Middelburg. As a result from the performance some of the pages contain angry remarks by the Black and Brown students whose ancestors are not considered here. A basic principle of the Enlightenment says that knowledge is more important than origin. Everyone is born a ‘tabula rasa’ and gains knowledge and experience during their life. Everyone has the same start; accordingly, everyone deserves the same opportunities for emancipation and democratic living conditions. In 1712 – the same year that Jean Jacques Rousseau was born – Willy Lynch gave an infamous speech to slave owners in the Colony of Virginia, sharing his methods of oppressing Black slaves. The term ‘lynching’ is derived from his name.
I am fascinated by philosopher Anton Wilhelm Amo’s ideas concerning the body and the mind where he says that the mind can’t feel pain. It’s only the body that can perceive pain. Willy Lynch’s speech shows how the brain can invent immense cruelties because it is decoupled from the body. With While we were Kings and Queens, I also want to show the white Psychosis in which Black and Brown bodies are trapped. A psychosis that on the one hand has promoted emancipation and equality, but on the other hand is responsible for terrible crimes. The sentences from Willy Lynch’s speech thus stand in sharp contrast to the Enlightenment texts and the philosophy of Amo.”
Regarding the performative element of the work, which invites viewers to hammer nails into Lynch’s text, Kaersenhout writes: “Nkisi or Nkishi (plural varies: minkisi, zinkisi, or nkisi) are spirits, or an object that a spirit inhabits. It is frequently applied to a variety of objects used throughout the Congo Basin in Central Africa especially in the Territory of Cabinda that are believed to contain spiritual powers or spirits. The term and its concept have passed with the Atlantic slave trade to the Americas. Minkisi are primarily containers - ceramic vessels, gourds, animal horns, shells, bundles, or any other object that can contain spiritually charged substances. The metal objects commonly pounded into the surface of the power figures represent the minkisis' active roles during ritual or ceremony. Each nail or metal piece represents a vow, a signed treaty, and efforts to abolish evil. Ultimately, these figures most commonly represent reflections upon socially unacceptable behaviors and efforts to correct them.
“Instruction: Please read the text carefully and whilst reading sense your body. Whenever your body gives a negative physical reaction to a word you are reading, it’s a signal to hammer a nail into that word. Try not to think. Try not to judge. Try to only feel the sensation of your body. By hammering a nail into the text you are making a communal vow to abolish evil and you are liberating the text from its initial destructive and negative message. You are releasing its negative energy and are creating space for positive energy. Together we are hammering for justice and equality for all people and by doing so we are connected. We become a communal body.”
Kaersenhout’s Aorta, an installation of violet-coloured Blacklight, invites reflection on the political meanings of the colour purple, while illuminating the passage between two culturally distinct neighbourhoods of Chemnitz.
In the human body, the aorta is the central conduit from the heart outward to every part of the system, supplying every organ and limb with oxygenated blood. Kaersenhout deploys the bahnholdunterfürung/rail underpass tunnel as a conduit between Sonneberg (a neighbourhood with a large migrant population) and Chemnitz-Zentrum (where the commissioning Kunstsammlungen is situated), a channel to pump new ideas into both the areas it connects.
The entire interior of the tunnel is painted violet, and lit with Blacklight. Kaersenhout chooses violet as a colour that is not associated with any one major political ideology - rather, as the combination of red (as used largely by socialist and communist organisations) and blue (as used by, among others, the AFD). If violet has any contemporary political association, it must be with anarcho-feminism, which see the struggle against patriarchy and oppressive gender norms as part of a wider, essential struggle of class conflict against state capitalism.
“Violet is the color of spirituality. It has the shortest wavelength and the highest vibration of the colors of the visible spectrum of light. Violet offers and inner sense of wholeness. With wholeness comes a sense of ending, completion of a process, and a promise of something new, illumination, rebirth. Violet connects with sadness of letting go and also with joy of transformation. There is peace and tranquility in the newfound knowledge of profound change. Violet color is cleansing and purifying. It is the color of magic, ritual, cleansing, purifying, connecting, mystery, and mysticism. It is a color that allows us to glimpse other realities, beyond our physical and material reality of this earthly existence. It is pure cosmic energy. Violet is a color of reconciliation. Of bringing together polarities - male and female, day and night, hot and cold, heaven and earth, right brain and left brain. In this state of balance, you feel the connection with other beings, with heaven, with earth, with all of Universe. There is no separation, no duality. As you unfold the petals of your crown chakra, you find the seat of your wisdom. You assimilate knowledge and integrate it. You know and you understand. You manifest divinity.…”
Mea Culpa (2020)
Patricia Kaersenhout is commissioned by the German Foundation for Art and Culture in Bonn (DE) to develop a new work for the international traveling exhibition Diversity United - Contemporary European Art. Shown from 12-11-2020 til 14-02-2021 at the New Tretyakov Gallery Moscow (RU) and afterwards in Berlin and Paris.
Kaersenhout’s proposal is based on an investigations into the legacies of power and wealth associated with slavery in the regions historically controlled by today’s European powers. Its title, Mea Culpa, refers to the traditional Christian practice of atoning for sins through enduring physical hardship during ritual pilgrimages. Kaersenhout brings this practice into the present day by suggesting the acceptance of guilt by figures representing today’s powerful elites, onto which the audience is invited to project their own understanding of the crimes for which they may wish to atone.