What Could an Activation Look Like?

Brigitta Kuster


Tu peux faire le noir s’il te plait! – Oui. Je l’affirme. / J’étais là-bas. / Et j’ai souffert. / Et je maintiens mon témoignage, / bien que personne ne se souvienne. / Et même s’il ne reste plus Dieu sur terre, / moi, je regarderai. / Et leur sang restera écrit / ici. / Et leur amour aura ici / la même flamme vive. / Je suis celui qui remémore. / L’oubli n’existe pas, Mesdames et Messieurs ! / Par ma bouche blessée / leurs bouches continuiront de chanter.

Toto Bissainthe, Monologue, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epCJKLzmOKk

When we see an object’s shape we are not seeing around to the other side, but what we are seeing, in a real way, is our capacity to see the other side. We’re seeing, in the form of the object, the potential our body holds to walk around, take another look, extend a hand and touch. The form of the object is the way a whole set of active, embodied, potentials appear in present experience […]. The potential we see in the object is a way our body has of being able to relate to the part of the world it happens to find itself in at this particular life’s moment. What we abstractly see when we directly and immediately see an object is lived relation – a life dynamic. […] With every sight we see imperceptible qualities, we abstractly see potential, we implicitly see a life dynamic, we virtually live relation. It’s just a kind of shorthand to call it an object. It’s an event. An object’s appearance is an event, full of all sorts of virtual movement. It’s real movement, because something has happened: the body has been capacitated. It’s been relationally activated. It is alive in the world, poised for what may come. This is also “seen” – there’s a sense of aliveness that accompanies every perception.

Brian Massumi, “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens”, in: Inflexions 1.1 “How is Research-Creation?” (May 2008), p 4-5



In the context of what we came to understand as artificial facts (and this includes also the ‚we‘ speaking here) an activation can be understood as an examination of the re-producibility of certain facts. It is “a move from the object as a passive given fact, i.e. a ‚givenness‘, to a counterpart invested with agency” (Kuster / Sarreiter / Schmidt 2013). An activation prompts to the habitual understanding of what is conceived of as a fact, its naturalized conditions or its supposedly inherent coherence, lodged in the iconographical, cultural, post/colonial ordering of things and beings: What has been attributed a fixed place, ossified as it were, or buried, to some degree forgotten, and in consequence collected (objectified and as an abjection) and subtracted (exploited) as difference, will be activated. Thus, the matter and materiality of an activation might consist of what Stefano Harney and Fred Moton (2013) call the undercommons, “an experiment with and as the general antagonism, a kind of being with others” (ibid.: 112). For them, the undercommons is the space of unconditional cohabitation of maroons and of the shipped “that must be thought outside to be sensed inside” (ibid: 39). It is about the flows of an unpayable debt (in contrast to the instant of rights and the regulatory purpose of the commons), about a prophetic-like underground zone of the social (and against the social) that has always already been there.


Within the three activations curated by the artist-group Artefakte in collaboration with the artist-group Burning Museum, Khoesmology (Memory Biwa), the Ecole du Patrimoine Africain and the art historian Didier Houénoudé and further participants subject matters, relations and challenges such as > de-accession > human remains > the future of the museum > restitution and repatriation > cultural heritage and valorisation > absent objects and looting histories > cultural dispossessions and appropriations > commodification & commons > the politics of the location of culture and art > contemporary art as universal problem solver in the field of the historical tradition of ethnographic collections shall be raised.


The stuff from which history is made is bodies. History is not a text or a subject to be mastered, but a force that consumes the body and those who speak it in taking meaning from and giving meaning to semiotic and historical fall-out. Within such acknowledgement of the power of history and memory to transform our bodies and senses we position what we aim at with our concept of an activation. Thus, whatever is a part or a partiality but has not yet been assigned a meaning how to function or to be coordinated in relation to a whole shall find its place within an activation. An activation is the attempt to mutually bring into appearance and motion. An activation is an occurrence in the sense of relations in the making. It is an opening of the object world and of entities towards uncertainty in status, meanings, and uses.


THE SPACE/TIME OF AN ACTIVATION is self-sufficient and self-fulfilling. An activation is a transmutation following the call for an invitation to join and to stay within a specific set – in short: to be co-present and ready to become. Rather than to perform one particular task for a production to come or for a product to be appropriated an activation is a move towards re-creating what was common.

An activation does not promise anything outside or beyond the space of its own enactment, since it aims at the possibility and the potential of dwelling in a common world, encompassing the needs, thoughts and intimacies of everything and everybody feeling involved in such world. In so far an activation develops a particular politics of rhythm.


THE RULES OF AN ACTIVATION  are based in an ethics towards what comes from abroad, from a foreigner (xenos) respectively in the legacies of hospitality. Recalling Derrida’s reference to the paradoxical filiation of the ‚hostis‘ (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 1997: 45) – guest, enemy – we comply with the aporia of unconditional hospitality1 and thus in danger of being taken hostage by the other (ibid.: 111). In this sense, to respect the terms of an activation means agreeing with being at risk. This idea might be related to trembling though / thought of trembling (“la pensée du tremblement”) as discussed by Édouard Glissant and Jacques Derrida.2

To open up an activation always means to get to do with a set of basic conflicts, tough controversies, and deep social struggles, which trigger at the same time historical and epistemological questions. But an activation is also an enunciative proposition. Rather than within the realm of a liberal-political imaginary on the spatiality of negotiations or of the calculated agency of gatherings or assemblies an activation is polyphonic and seeks heterogenesis. It backs assemblages, amalgams, and other chemical processes aiming at producing radical difference. However, an activation does not assume that it was simply possible to withdraw from representation. It does not start from the idea that no one and nothing represents a clue or position in the eyes of the other. Quite in contrast, an activation seeks post-representational experiences of taking a stance, of alteration, to a change in materiality on a metabolistic rather than on a distributive level only.


THE ‘OUTCOME’ OF AN ACTIVATION, however, is not immediately recognizable as something ‘other’ than its own process of enactment – to be with and for. An activation is not so much a trans-formation but an improvisation; it does not necessarily result in a new form. Though it cannot be ruled out that it leads to assuming differences in shape and substance, this will occur through processes, that have to be distinguished from the enactment of an activation. Therefore, more accurate than calling an activation an occurrence it would be to designate as an activation that which lies inside of what occurs. This is why the re-appropriation of an activation is rather doubtful and certainly not its own business. In this manner, we would like to consider an activation in accordance with an art of suspension to be able to ship between two poles: on the one side musealization and on the other commodification.


TO INITIATE AN ACTIVATION is something similar as an ignition or an event in the Deleuzian sense. In this way, an activation is neither an updating or actualisation nor even a mobilization. Rather it is an operation that tries to open onto possible actualisations of the infinite differential of which the virtual consists. Thus, an activation is never a realization of something pre-formed and it has nothing to do with the possible. An activation takes place on the level of the virtual, i.e. that which has not (yet) been actualised and in this respect it is asubjective and universal.


TO PARTICIPATE IN AN ACTIVATION means accordingly, to immerse oneself in the multiplicity of the virtual, and in doing so modify and become modified by portions and particles. Similar to swimming, it is not about the mechanical repeating of certain movements, but rather about the connection of your own movements with those of the water. Thereby an activation opens itself up to the question of determining an accountability that extends beyond its usual attribution to subjecthood. To take responsibility for an activation implies the decision to enter into a commitment for the undercommons and for companionship with the abject.3

B for Artefakte

This is a draft, we are happy to receive your suggestions and comments!

E-mail: artefakte.aktivierung@yahoo.de


Dufourmantelle, Anne invite Derrida, Jacques à répondre, De l’hospitalité, Paris: Calmann-Lévy 1997.

Anne Dufourmantelle invites Jacques Derrida to respond, Of Hospitality, Stanford California: Stanford University Press, 2000.

Harney, Stefano & Moton, Fred, The Undercommons. Fugitive Planning & Black Study, New York: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Kuster, Brigitta, Sarreiter, Regina, Schmidt, Dierk, “Fait accompli? In Search of Actions for Postcolonial Injunctions. An Introduction to the Special Issue ‚Afterlives‘ edited by Artefakte//anti-humboldt, 2013, online: http://www.darkmatter101.org/site/2013/11/18/fait-accompli-in-search-of-actions-for-postcolonial-injunctions-an-introduction/.


1The law of hospitality according to Derrida is “La loi, dans sa singularité universelle” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 1997: 73) / “The law, in its universal singularity” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 2000: 79), “une loi sans impératif, sans ordre et sans devoir. Une loi sans loi, en somme. Un appel qui mande sans commander.” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 1997: 77) / “a law without imperative, without order and without duty. A law without law, in short.” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 2000: 83) Elsewhere Derrida states: “ (…) l’hospitalité absolue exige que j’ouvre mon chez-moi et que je donne non seulement à l’étranger (...) mais à l’autre absolu, inconnu, anonyme, et que je lui donne lieu, que je le laisse venir, que je le laisse arriver, et avoir lieu dans le lieu que je lui offre, sans lui demander ni réciprocité (l’entrée dans un pacte) ni même son nom. La loi de l’hospitalité absolue commande de rompre avec l’hospitalité de droit, avec la loi ou la justice comme droit. L'hospitalité juste rompt avec l'hospitalité de droit ; non qu’elle la condamne ou s’y oppose, et elle peut au contraire la mettre et la tenir dans un mouvement incessant de progrès ; mais elle lui est aussi étrangement hétérogène que la justice est hétérogène au droit dont elle est pourtant si proche, et en vérité indissociable.” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 1997: 29) / “(…) absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (...), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names. The law of absolute hospitality commands a break with hospitality by right, with law or justice as rights. Just hospitality breaks with hospitality by right; not that it condemns or is opposed to it, and it can on the contrary set and maintain it in a perpetual progressive movement; but it is as strangely heterogeneous to it as justice is heterogeneous to the law to which it is yet so close, from which in truth it is indissociable.” (Dufourmantelle/Derrida 2000: 25, 27)
2 “ La pensée du tremblement s'accorde à l'errance du monde et à son inexprimable. Elle n'est ni crainte ni faiblesse, elle n'est pas irrésolution (…), mais l'assurance qu'il est possible d'approcher ces chaos, de durer et de grandir dans cet imprévisible, d'aller contre ces certitudes encimentées dans leurs intolérances, de 'palpiter du palpitement même du monde' qui est à découvrir enfin. Nous répéterons souvent cela, imitant nous aussi l'obstination du monde à se répliquer. ” (Édouard Glissant (2005), La cohée du lamentin. Poétique V, Paris: Gallimard, 25-26.) The inscription on his gravestone quotes Glissant with “Rien n’est vrai, tout est vivant” / “Nothing is true, everything is alive”. The exchange of ideas and understandings between Jacques Derrida and Édouard Glissant about the “tremblement” as a thought that doesn't know, can be found under the title “Fragments d’une discussion: Derrida, Glissant.”, in: Annali: Fondazione Europea del disegno (Fondation Adami), Ed. Amelia Valtolina / Bruno Mondadori, 2006, p 105-112.
3According to Julia Kristeva the abjection is produced through a failure to recognize its kind; an abject is neither an object nor a subject, but always opposed to the ego.