9 essays
Compiled by Gabrielle Moser and Helena Reckitt

Emphasising individual acts of retreat within the context of collective resistance, this reader begins with an account of subjective withdrawal: a strike against the self and its complicity with repressive institutions and systems. Understanding withdrawal to encompass rest, retreat, exile, and insurrection, the authors of the texts selected here reflect on the generative aspects of non-participation, opacity, disappearance, and slow down. Furthermore, considering the dark side of withdrawal, the reader ends with a caution against a libertarian free-market logic for which an exit from transparency and accountability entails an exit from the social contract as well.

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Claire Fontaine
We Are All Clitoridian Women: Notes on Carla Lonzi’s Legacy
Originally published in September 2013

Through feminism I freed myself from the inferiority-culpability of being clitoridian … and I accused men of everything. Then I started to doubt myself and to defend myself through every possible thought and inquiry into the past. Then I doubted myself completely in rivers of tears … After that I was no longer innocent or guilty.
Carla Lonzi, Taci, anzi parla

Anton Vidokle
Art without Work?
Originally published in November 2011

I recently recalled the precise moment when it first occurred to me that I would like to become an artist. I grew up in Moscow, and my father was a self-taught musician working at the circus. Circus artists work extremely hard physically: the amount of daily practice and physical exercise necessary to perform acrobatic acts or walk a tightrope is really enormous. They practice and exercise all day and perform by night—it’s nearly a twenty-four-hour-a-day job.

Françoise Vergès
Politics of Marooning and Radical Disobedience
Originally published in December 2019

The maroons’ story I was taught at home was my first lesson in creating spaces of freedom despite an ideology that reduced black bodies to commodities and rendered the logics of murder a rule and extinction politics. I also learned that creating spaces of freedom depended on patience and a kind of true but rare courage that black women have historically demonstrated. Their stories enlighten another temporality than the Western masculine one of progress, defeat, victory, and triumph over matter, all processes understood as enforcing submission, crushing all obstacles, laying to waste.

Jörg Heiser
The Great Escape: Adrian Piper’s Memoir on Why She Went into Exile
Originally published in October 2019

“Everything will be taken away,” depending on the context, takes on different meanings, but it is always with the same underpinning: loss is always occurring, but there is also a sense of relief at being able to let go of attachments. Piper’s memoir allows you to read very concrete meaning into this in regard to her professional affiliations in US academe and the US art world: being abandoned by all those depicted in the erased snapshots made it easier for her to leave behind the country from which she has taken exile.

Nana Adusei-Poku
On Being Present Where You Wish to Disappear
Originally published in March 2017

In 2009 the Centre Pompidou in Paris opened an exhibition called “Voids: A Retrospective.” Through works such as Yves Klein’s The Specialization of Sensibility in Raw Material State into Stabilized Pictorial Sensibility, it explored a tradition of radical curatorial and artistic interventions touching on the “art of nothing.” The exhibition consisted of empty spaces in which nothing was on display, apart from the white walls and wooden floors that constituted the architecture of the rooms. The decision to recreate the peak of minimal art and show nothing but emptiness or the absence of objects is intriguing. It can surely reignite discussions about the exhibition space as an artwork in itself, or, as in the example of Maria Eichhorn’s project Das Geld der Kunsthalle Bern, it can stress the economic dimension of institutions and the cultural practice of exhibiting.

Natascha Sadr Haghighian
What’s the Time, Mahagonny?
Originally published in June 2010

Franco “Bifo” Berardi
Exhaustion and Senile Utopia of the Coming European Insurrection
Originally published in December 2010

Figures such as Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, among many others, have stressed in the past that we need to create institutions for unified political decisions at the level of the European Union. In the aftermath of the Greek debt crisis, it seems that the Europhile intellectuals have gotten what they asked for. The EU entity has been subjected to a sort of political directorate that has unfortunately only served to reveal that financial interests lie at the heart of the Union’s priorities. The early stage of the European tragedy has manifested itself as a political enforcement of the financial domination of European society.

Mary Walling Blackburn
Sister Apple, Sister Pig: Speculative Annotations
Originally published in March 2014

Sister Apple, Sister Pig, a book of images and text by Mary Walling Blackburn, emulates a lost literary genre: photo-illustrated children’s books of the 1960s and 70s that cast the child as a protagonist, problem-solver, and model for action in the world. To use this genre is a radical gesture, as modern discourses on abortion have focused largely on the mother’s experience. Nineteenth-century patent medicine companies, for instance, advertised pills for “female irregularity” and “complaints incidental to the female frame.” In the late 1960s, Western middle class consciousness-raising groups sought to understand abortion as an opportunity for women’s self-knowledge. Later third-wave feminists countered this argument by honoring the traumatic aspects of abortion for the mother, seeking to establish “the death of the fetus [as] a real death.” Right-wing activists now concretize this “real death” in the form of bloody fetus photos. Children themselves, however—both living and dead—remained strangely voiceless.

Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Manal Al Dowayan, Parag Khanna, and Turi Munthe
Freezone: Dubai
Originally published in November 2013

The following conversation is excerpted from FREEZONE, a discussion organized by Shumon Basar and H.G. Masters for the Global Art Forum in Dubai, March 2013. Featuring commissioned projects and research, as well as six days of live talks, the Global Art Forum brought together artists, curators, musicians, strategists, thinkers and writers under the theme of It Means This.Words and terms known and unknown were scrutinized or invented as a way of gauging the relationship between reality and language.

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