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Katinka Simonse on Tue, 22 Apr 2008 20:08:48 +0200 (CEST)

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Public performance ?Her name is Sarah? by Katinka Simonse
?The Barack Obama Project? by Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei en Jonas Staal

April 19th ? April 20th, 2008.

Chicago, IL ? Project space InCUBATE (Institute for Understanding  
Between Art and The Everyday), located in Chicago, presents a series  
of exhibitions, performances and lectures by three Dutch artists,  
Vincent W.J van Gerven Oei, Katinka Simonse and Jonas Staal. Together  
they form the artgroup EMPATHY?.

EMPATHY? focuses on the ?market surrounding empathy?. They analyse the  
use of empathy as one of the most important products in today?s  
exchange of goods, taking place on both the level of commodity and  
morality of consumption. By their use of public interventions,  
pamphlets, exhibitions and lectures, the group became known by a  
growing audience in The Netherlands. Exhibitions and symposiums like  
the ?US Army Torture Devices? (Masters Gallery, Amsterdam - 2007) and  
?Al-Qa?ida Torture Devices? (Roodkapje Gallery, Rotterdam - 2007) by  
Van Gerven Oei and Staal, opened up discussion on a broader scale on  
the ?export of democracy? and the involvement of the Dutch government  
in this practice. The diptych provided an analysis of different  
social/economical phenomena within democracy that can be  
recontextualized as torturing methods, both in Guantánamo Bay and  
Iraq. Other known events, such as the ?Save the Pets I? (Platform 21  
Gallery, Amsterdam - 2007) and ?Save the Pets II? (Masters Gallery,  
Amsterdam - 2008), happenings by Simonse, directly confronted  
audiences with the mass killing of male chicks and the excesses of the  
pet entertainment industry, among others by presenting one hundred  
hamsters running around the exhibition space in neon coloured plastic  

During the month of April, EMPATHY? has implemented its public  
practices in the city of Chicago, continuing their investigation which  
clearly balances on the edge of artistic and theoretical practice, and  
the use of strategies rooted in politics and activism.


In the public performance ?Her name is Sarah? by Katinka Simonse, the  
artist-designer takes a dead dog dressed in pink clothing named Sarah  
for a walk in downtown Chicago. When asked what she is doing while  
dragging the animal over the streets, she consequently answers by  
saying ?Her name is Sarah?.
The performance undoubtably refers to the meaning of the animal within  
upper (middle) circles, in which much more then a living being, the  
animal is used as a commodity article: as part of an individuals  
carefully build image and ego, rather then being acknowledged as a  
being with own needs and characteristics. The oblivious character of  
the ?answer? that she provides her public with in this work, relates  
to the detached, fully commercially appropriated significance of  
animals in our present society.

Simonse performs by her alter-ego ?TINKEBELL.?, a lady completely  
dressed in pink, referring to a completely innocent, sweet, naive  
girl, inflicting these symbols of friendlyness with acts of a violent  
nature. It is not only the performance itself that generates a  
reaction of shock, but especially the lines of text spoken by her  
alter ego 'TINKEBELL., for not only is the act of walking a dead  
dressed dog shamelessly executed, within the act itself, this is above  
all not acknowledged as such.

At the manifestation VERSION08 / Dark Matter, Simonse will present  
Sarah within an appropriate living room setting featuring the  
documentation video of the performance ?Her name is Sarah?.

In the installation, intervention and lecture series ?The Barack Obama  
Project? by Vincent van Gerven Oei and Jonas Staal, the artists  
investigate the role of photograpic representation within the  
Democratic race for the presidential candidature. The political  
dimension of the photographic representation has become poignant in  
the candidates? efforts to obtain the nominations from their party,  
generating excesses like the controversy concerning the print of a  
photo of Obama by Clinton?s campaign, presumably showing him ?more  
black? then he actually is.

These issues raise fundamental questions on the standards maintained  
in the discussion on race and its representation in a mediated  
environment. The ten-step gray scale that was standardized during the  
early stages of black and white photography for example, was based on  
pure light and pure darkness at both ends of the scale and the the  
color of a white male?s palm as the ?neutral? centre point. Since all  
photographic technology that has been developed since was based on  
this practical, apparently scientifically ordened scale, it is would  
be theoretically impossible to create a representative photograph of a  
black man. Thus, even on the most fundamental level, photography as a  
technique is not neutral.

At the VERSION08 / Dark Matter art manifestation, Van Gerven Oei en  
Staal elaborate on these issues presenting the first stage of their  
investigation, entitled ?The Barack Obama Project / A More Perfect  
Union ? Study?: A video with one thousand continuously merging skin  
fragments taken from photographs of Obama, buttons showing the Obama  
campaign logo placed on 250 skin fragment buttons of Obama and a light  
box presentation, accompagnied by the soundtrack of Obama?s ?A More  
Perfect Union? speech, form the basis of the different actions  
planned, among which an intervention in the Obama volunteering  
headquarters in Chicago.

Van Gerven Oei and Staal raise a disturbing question that has to be  
faced in the current discussion surrounding the ?race-issue?: even  
though Obama is literally represented in a grand variety of  
differentiated aspects, still a choice has been made, a choice to pick  
one thousand apparently random photographs, a choice to pick a  
apparently random square selection of the photograph, a choice to  
compose, organize the selection in an apparently random composition.  
It is this choice that, in itself, can not be included in any  
'objective' representation. A comparable choice is presented in a  
recent remark that was noted from an Obama event coordinator,  
organising the audience behind the main speaker, Obama's wife, saying:  
"Get me more white people, we need more white people", in order to  
balance the amount of African-Americans in the audience. The  
representation of unity, in this respect, entails including,  
excluding, adding or substracting individuals according to the same  
characteristics that have to be canceled out in the main picture.


EMPATHY? - http://www.empathy-research.com/

Vincent van Gerven Oei ? http://www.vincentwj.nl/
Katinka Simonse ? http://www.tinkebell.com/
Jonas Staal ? http://www.jonasstaal.nl/

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