Venice, February 2019Dear visitor,
We do not feel represented by our governments and do not agree with decisions taken in our name. We witness European nations building giant walls and fences around borders that already didn’t seem useful in the first place, rejecting rescue ships at the harbors. Philosopher Achille Mbembe speaks of the “Society of Enmity.” Queer scholar José Esteban Munoz calls the here and now a “prison house.” People stop using gender neutral language and move from their polyamorous groups into traditional families. Hate speech not only seems acceptable, but becomes a motor of aggressively arresting us into what is considered a normal life. Do you sometimes feel as if you are massively being forced to move backwards?
We have, of course, no recipe. But after taking a deep breath we are up for turning disadvantage into a tool: Let’s collectively move backwards.
Women of the Kurdish guerrillas wore their shoes the wrong way round to walk from one place in the snowy mountains to the other. This tactic saved their lives. It seems as if you are walking backwards, but actually you are walking forwards. Or the other way around.
Let’s take this story as a starting point for the project: Can we use the tactical ambivalence of this movement as a means of coming together, re-organizing our desires, and finding ways of exercising freedoms? Can its feigned backwardness even fight the notion of progress’s inevitability?
We will move backwards and think about the ways in which we wish to live with loved but also unloved others. We will move backwards, because strange encounters might be a pleasant starting point for something unforeseen to happen.
Yours, Renate and Pauline
Letter by Azar Mahmoudian, Teheran
Teheran, February 2019Dear visitor,
During the massive suppression of leftist political dissidents in the early 1980s in Iran, “Moon Walking” became a thing. It was stunning and fulfilling to watch. Pretending you are walking ahead, but actually moving backward, as if the ground under your feet were slipping back, or a storm were irresistibly propelling you... You know, there was also another popular move while you were breakdancing: you encounter an imaginary wall and feel it with your hands. The advanced version was to pretend you are trapped in a glass box.
Stuttering bodies, flows, break beats, pauses, and locks.
I still wonder if they were part of a ritual for coming to terms with the state of minds at the time... with glass boxes not being prisons, but protecting cells, what we nowadays call bubbles.
We move backwards. We do so in response to the specific contours and rhythms of our specific struggles. Some of us step back because we still can, some because we have no choice. It could be a provisional plot to recover force, or a gesture in saying no to compliance. Yet sometimes it’s a matter of sheer survival. No elegance in the acts of withdrawal. No stage and no trace. You are violently pushed back.
Part of our mind says, let’s not romanticize much about the potential of this backward move. After all, we are losing the ground! But perhaps the desire to move backward is caught in the contradiction that it both affirms and breaks with the idea of defeat...
Ten years ago in post-2009, thirty years before that, in post-1979, twenty-six years before it in post-1953, in post-1911 and post-1905, they are standing at our back... among all those lunar tides.
To communally place trust in the move, we need spirits as much as plots.
We are so afraid of cycles and spirals. We think they are haunting structures. We try to “move on” from the mistakes and failures of our parents, their blockages and the irresolvable moments of their struggles. Yet when our turn arrives, we surprisingly end up with same blockages, restraints, and moments of speechlessness.
But don’t you think it is exactly at these moments that the haunting ghosts turn into friends for us?
Letter by Judith Butler, Berkeley
Berkeley, January 2019Dear Visitor,
Do you know in what time you are living? Is it a time that is better than the one you once knew, or is it much worse, filling you with pessimism? We know the homilies that claim that this is the best and worst of times, but the fact is that we cannot really answer this question. The reason for that is that the world as we know it exists in several temporalities at once. I am not saying that there are backward societies and forward ones. That framework of time belongs to a colonial order that imagines itself to be the end of all historical striving. No, there is no reason to return to that kind of colonial framework of time in which the so-called backwards people are cultivated to become part of a proper modernity. That was the strategy of the “whitening” practices of Australia as it sought to “modernize” the Aborigines, and it has always been the strategy of colonial education that seeks to impose its own norms on the societal norms of the Global South. If we resist these strategies, we are surely “backwards” from the perspective of that developmental story. So, if our resistance is “backwards” then we can have cross-regional alliances that are, yes, backwards from one perspective, but opening up a new sense of future from the perspective we affirm——and so, also, forwards.
We do live in a world in which there are several temporalities, some of them converging, and some of them parallel. It depends on whether you belong to a nation emerging from dictatorship, or slavery, or still struggling to become free of colonial rule. The timeframe for history is then full of pasts, presents, and imagined futures that belong to specific histories of oppression and striving. We go back along the routes of many paths toward greater freedom and equality to understand how people resisted under conditions of severe oppression. Those stories remain our stories, even though our stories will be different. But no story that leads toward a greater sense of equality and freedom, a more acute sense of justice, will proceed without history.
So in the best of times our historical struggles are inter-connected. If many temporalities register with us as we form solidarity and undertaken action, then we no longer live only within the time of the nation, or the time of our language, or the time of our own history. We are transported by the time of another struggle, and so it is a good sign if we do not know what time it is. For there is, in the world of struggle, not simply the now or the future, but the convergence of distinct historical temporalities into a struggle that we then may call “global.”
Letter by Fouza Al-Youssef, Qamishli
Qamishli, February 2019Dear visitor,
A salute to those who seek a life of justice, equality and freedom.
Women all across the world suffer from great injustices. But women in my homeland, Kurdistan, are faced with a double injustice. For one, our Kurdistan remains under the occupation of four countries, Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, in addition to our struggle against an oppressive patriarchal society. In our struggle, we have had to choose either to surrender to occupation and patriarchy, or mount a resistance movement against all forms of injustice. Many of us chose to fight for our freedom and for the liberation of our society. Fortunately, the Kurdish liberation movement that emerged in the 1970s paved the way for women’s participation, thousands of whom joined the Kurdish political and military struggle. For the first time, women left their homes and faced towards the bigger struggle. In 1993, the first steps towards establishing a women’s army was taken in the mountains of Kurdistan. Heroines were born among our ranks, women who defied tyranny in the Turkish fascist state prisons, like Sakine Cansız, who lost their lives in battle, and who partook in organizing and raising awareness among women. A powerful women’s movement had been established in Kurdistan. It was truly a women’s revolution that renounced backward traditions and customs, and defended the causes of national and gender liberation.
In Syrian Kurdistan, we built on this revolution’s legacy, operating secretly while preparing and organizing women. These activities condemned tens of us into incarceration and death at the hands of the Syrian state army. But we never faltered. When the popular uprising broke in 2011, we began to work openly in the name of Kongra Star (a women’s organization) and we founded women’s academies with the aim of building women’s revolutionary awareness. Later, due to the attack on our territories by anti-democratic and anti-liberation forces, women participated actively in all aspects of political, social, cultural, economic and military life to defend their fellow citizens. Within a few years, we managed to save thousands of women who were victims of domestic abuse by establishing the Women’s House associations, which defended women’s rights and helped them solve their social problems.
Also for the first time, women have established the Women’s Protection Units appointed to defend women against extremist attacks and to guard their freedom. The Women’s Protection Units have liberated the Kurdish Yizidi women who were detained by ISIS in Sinjar. During those years, world’s first academy of Jineologi (Women’s Science) was established, and the women’s village was built to house the hundreds of women who had been subject to injustice and who are socially and economically challenged. Tens of academies have followed since, seeking to raise awareness among women. Furthermore, we have developed women’s cooperatives, which have secured women’s financial independence. We have laid the foundation for a system of justice that supports the rights of women, and thus have accomplished in eight short years what otherwise would have required eighty years.
Yet the reactionary forces, led by Turkey and ISIS, never cease to attack this democratic project. They have occupied the Kurdish Afrin territory, where they have systematically committed ethnic genocide and demographic resettlement affecting more than 400 thousand civilians who are now condemned to living in refugee camps. This is exacerbated by the Turkish forces’ raping of women, the imposition of the wearing of the veil and forced marriage, along with the perpetual threat to assault other self-governing territories in north-east Syria. All of these actions have aimed at casting women and multi-ethnic groups into a fundamental dictatorship based on fanatic ideologies which deny women and peoples their legitimate rights. The hegemonic forces joined against humanity spare no effort to drag us backwards; to hinder any attempt at democratic progress, in order to sustain a state of backwardness and slavery to which people, women and the poor are condemned.
The women’s revolution has inspired and attracted so many women from across the world. Tens of them in the ranks of the Women’s Protection Units have died fighting ISIS. Therefore, we believe that our accomplishment belongs to them, to all the women of the world. It is a value that has been attained through collective efforts. And so, our call is for you to stand in solidarity with us against the warfare of the Turkish state and ISIS attacks, and to pressure the international community to impose an air embargo on our territories for the sake of ensuring security and stability. We have defended the world against ISIS and now the Turkish state along with extremist forces that seek to exterminate us just as they did in Afrin.
In the end, we await your visit in our territories to witness what we have accomplished in those years, and to exchange experiences, because we believe that if we unite in mind and heart, we can create a divine power that can defeat the most brutal forms of injustice.
My greetings to you, and let us raise the slogan: In this general movement backwards, let´s move towards a democratic, ethical and free society.
Your friend, Fouza Al-Youssef
Letter by Antke Engel, Berlin
Berlin, January 2019Dear visitor,
“Let’s collectively move backwards.” Such a simple assignment. I’m happy to embark. And I’m looking forward to you joining in. However, in trying out some first steps, questions start puzzling me. Can we figure this out together, please? Are we, am I, are you moving backwards in time or in space? How are we, am I, are you embodying this movement? How are those various embodiments (each singular_plural) oriented? Are they facing a past? Are they facing a future? Facing a site of atrocities? Facing a utopian vision? Facing with their toes? Not facing at all? Wearing a mask? And are we, am I, are you moving barefoot? ...wearing shoes? ...using a wheelchair?
Moving backwards in space entails a defensive moment of retreat: backing off, stepping back, hoping one will not end up in a ditch or with the back to the wall. Moving backwards in time means facing historical atrocities. Or utopias. Depending on our biographies and social positions they might paralyze us or spur us to action. They might enrage us and call forth resistance or revolt. They might foster regret or shame. Yet I am not sure whether those who embark on the journey of appropriating the backward move are actually ready and equipped to acknowledge our heterogeneities. We do not and never will share the same h*stories, visions, desires, values, or needs. Maybe we need to learn solidarity before we can move collectively?
“Let’s collectively move backwards.” Do we need to move forward, when we are moving backwards in time? Yet, then we have the future in our backs. Can we design a future without facing it? And doesn’t it need a lot of trust in the future? Trust that not another atrocity will get you from behind. Trust that you may take a step back and be caught in caring embrace. To move forward into the past may only be possible if there is a future horizon of queerness at your back, as José Esteban Muñoz suggests. Then you may turn around and be nourished by a queerness yet to come, and turn back and project the queer glow from your face into the past. What’s the turning point, where your heels twirl? You, me, us——what is it for each of us that inspires a collective desire for change? Does it add up? In conflict?
“Let’s collectively move backwards.” Wearing a pair of shoes the wrong way around. Why would you pretend to move forward while moving backwards? This might most obviously be a survival strategy, deceiving your enemies about your direction. But could it also be a tactical move that suggests being loyal to a future while searching for a queer escape? Feigning loyalty to a future which is a war machine that imposes the normative, and many other forms of violence. Why presume to be loyal? Why not take off the shoes? Too risky? Or is it because you assume, because you know, that queerness can be a war machine, too? Yet, while many would say that they don’t trust the future, only some of us are in a position to give up on the privilege of believing in the future. Who can turn around, face the future one doesn’t trust, enforce an open confrontation? But, of course, there are always more than two directions. There is a wider range of moves. What if we’d actually like to sneak away rather than endure ongoing hardship or face new attacks? While some might feel that they are losing hard-won ground (gains in rights and freedoms and opulence), others might question that there has ever been any progress. The vast majority of people are sustaining lives under unbearable conditions.
Yours, Antke Engel
Letter by Patrisse Cullors (co-founder of Black Lives Matter), Los Angeles
Letter by Trajal Harrell, Sao Paulo
Letter by Marwa Arsanios, Berlin
Letter by Mirkan Deniz, Zurich
Letter by Treva Ellison, Hollywood, Florida
Letter by Ahmed Refaat and Andrea Thal, Cairo
Letter by Charlotte Laubard, Geneva
Letter by Nikita Dhawan, Mumbai
Letter by Eve Tuck, Toronto
Letter by Francoise Verges, Paris
by Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz, curated by Charlotte Laubard
Starting with the feeling of being pushed backwards by recent reactionary backlashes, Moving Backwards explores resistance practices, combining postmodern choreography and urban dance with guerrilla techniques and elements of queer underground culture. A film installation with five performers from diverse dance backgrounds complicates the notion of backwards movements and their temporal and spatial meaning. Parts of the walks, solos and group dances are carried out backwards, others are digitally reversed, creating doubt and ambiguities for the installation on the whole. In an environment that the artists call an abstract club, the uncanny experience of temporal and spatial insecurity is complemented by a moment of reflection on the planetary politics of Moving Backwards with letters written to the audience in a newspaper by a number of artists, choreographers, activists and scholars.
Partendo dalla sensazione di essere spinti all'indietro dai recenti contraccolpi reazionari, Moving Backwards esplora le pratiche resistenziali coniugando coreografie postmoderne e danze urbane a tecniche di guerriglia ed elementi della cultura underground queer. Un’installazione filmica con cinque performer dal background coreico eterogeneo rende più complessa la nozione di movimento a ritroso e il suo significato temporale e spaziale. I passi e le danze singole e di gruppo in parte sono eseguiti all’indietro e in parte risultano invertiti digitalmente, creando una sensazione di dubbio e ambiguità che pervade l’installazione nel suo complesso. In un ambiente definito dalle artiste come abstract club, l’esperienza ribelle di incertezza temporale e spaziale è completata da un momento di riflessione sulle politiche planetarie di «retromarcia», che, sotto forma di lettere al pubblico scritte su un giornale, propone contributi di vari artisti, coreografi, attivisti e studiosi.
Das Gefühl, von den gegenwärtigen reaktionären Backlashes rückwärts gedrängt zu werden, ist Ausgangspunkt dieser Arbeit. Vor diesem Hintergrund erkundet Moving Backwards Praktiken des Widerstands und verbindet dazu postmoderne Choreografie und urban dance mit Guerillatechniken und Elementen der Underground-Queer-Kultur. Eine filmische Installation mit fünf Performer*innen mit unterschiedlichem Hintergrund in Tanz/Choreografie verkompliziert die Idee der Rückwärtsbewegung und ihre zeitliche und räumliche Bedeutung. Teile der Gehbewegungen, Solos und Gruppentänze werden rückwärts ausgeführt und andere digital umgedreht, was die Installation als Ganze mit Ungewissheit und Mehrdeutigkeit versieht. In einer von den Künstlerinnen als abstract club bezeichneten Umgebung wird die unheimliche Erfahrung zeitlicher und räumlicher Unsicherheit durch einen Moment der Reflexion über die planetare Politik des Moving Backwards ergänzt. Im Zeitungsformat zusammengebracht, richten eine Reihe von Künstler*innen, Choreograf*innen, Aktivist*innen und Wissenschaftler*innen Briefe an das Publikum.
Partant du sentiment d’être poussé en arrière par de récents contrecoups réactionnaires, Moving Backwards explore des pratiques de résistance, combinant chorégraphie postmoderne et danse urbaine avec des techniques de guérilla ainsi que des éléments de la culture underground queer. Une installation filmique, avec cinq performeur·euse·s issu·e·s de différents milieux de la danse, complexifie la notion de mouvements en arrière ainsi que leur signification temporelle et spatiale. Une partie des déplacements, solos et danses de groupe sont effectués à l’envers, d’autres sont inversés numériquement, créant ainsi des doutes et des ambiguïtés quant à l’installation dans son ensemble. Dans un environnement évoquant une boîte de nuit qualifiée par les artistes d’abstract club, cette expérience, troublante à cause de l’incertitude temporelle et spatiale, s’enrichit d’un instant de réflexion sur les politiques planétaires de « marche arrière », avec des lettres adressées au public par divers artistes, auteur·e·s, chorégraphes et universitaires dans un journal.
During the preview days performances by Marbles Jumbo Radio and Werner Hirsch will take place in the garden and sculpture hall of the Swiss Pavilion:
10 am – 1 pm and 3 pm - 5 pm
More performances TBA
Biennale Arte 2019
58th International Art Exhibition
Swiss Pavilion, Official Opening
Thursday, May 9, 2.30 pm
Latifa LaâbissiMixing genres and redefining formats, Latifa Laâbissi, choreographer and dancer, brings onstage multiple off-field elements channeling different figures and voices, vehicles of minority states. Since 2011, Latifa Laâbissi has been artistic director of the Extension Sauvage Festival artistic and pedagogical program and festival in rural Brittany. During 2019, Latifa Laâbissi is an associated artist at the CCN2, Grenoble and Le Triangle – Cité de la danse, Rennes. In July 2019, she is creating WHITE DOG, a piece for 4 dancers.
Werner HirschWerner Hirsch was born in 1968 and grew up in West Germany. Shortly before the High School Diploma, he emigrated to the USA to set up a ranch. There he fell in love with the Drag Queen Agnes B., with whom he still lives together. Since 2005, he occasionally works as a dancer. He has starred in eight Boudry / Lorenz film-installations since 2007. In his spare time, Werner Hirsch occasionally appears and performs as the choreographer Antonia Baehr, the composer and ex-husband Henry Wilde, among others.
Julie CunninghamJulie Cunningham has worked professionally as a dance artist for fifteen years, performing both nationally and internationally, for instance with Merce Cunningham Dance Company and Michael Clark Company. Julie was the inaugural Leverhulme Choreography Fellow at Rambert and was part of the dance artist / curator mentorship program through Siobhan Davies Dance. Julie Cunningham & Company was launched in 2017 and became associate company of Rambert in 2018.
Marbles Jumbo RadioMarbles Jumbo Radio is a choreographer, performer, and visual artist currently based in New York
NachNach first came across Krumping by chance at the age of 22 in front of the Lyon Opera House after seeing Rize, David Lachapelle’s documentary film about this urban dance. The street was Nach’s first school. Nach created her first solo, Cellule, in December 2017. She is currently preparing her new piece Soleil levant d’une érotique (working title), which will be created in October 2019 at L’Échangeur CDCN (Château-Thierry, Fr) and working on a video-dance project Instantané de désir.
CatalogueThe official catalogue of the Swiss Pavilion will be published by Skira Genève in June 2019.
The catalogue comprises video stills, exhibition views, as well as letters on moving backwards by Pauline Boudry/Renate Lorenz; Azar Mahmoudian; Judith Butler, Fouza Al-Youssef, Antke Engel, Patrisse Cullors, Los Angeles, Trajal Harrell, Marwa Arsanios, Mirkan Deniz, Trefa Ellison, Ahmed Refaat and Andrea Thal, Charlotte Laubard, Nikita Dhawan, Eve Tuck, and Francoise Vergès
It will also include an introductive essay by Charlotte Laubard with an extended description of the experience of the pavilion and an essay by Andre Lepecki on queer temporalities and politics in relation to the notion of «moving backwards»
Find out more at
- Curator: Charlotte Laubard
- Artists: Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz
- Commissioners: Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Marianne Burki (Head of Visual Arts), Sandi Paucic (Project Leader), Rachele Giudici Legittimo (Project Coordinator)
- Project assistants: Martina Lughi, Jacqueline Wolf
- Pavilion manager: Tommaso Rava
- Architectural supervision: Alvise Draghi
- Exhibition executive production: Azad (Aivazian / Gohy)
- Collaborators: Francesco Citterio, Riccardo Clementi, Pieter Jurriaanse
- Architect for outdoor space: HEAD – Genève, Valentin Dubois
- Painting: Atelier Marie Duval
- Fundraising: Patricia Hartmann, Manuela Schlumpf
- Press office Switzerland: Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia. Marlène Mauris, Lisa Stadler
- Press office international: Pickles PR. Caroline Widmer, Camille Regli
- Directors of photography: Bernadette Paassen, Siri Klug
- Sound: Johanna Wienert
- Grip: Camilo Sottolichio
- Lights, stage: Riccardo Clementi, Pieter Jurriaanse
- Assistants: Lore Rinsoz, Neige Sanchez, Am Ertl
- Hair costumes: Héloïse Mantel, Dürtal Leathers
- Sequence programming: Sander Loonen
- Sound design: Rashad Becker
- Colour grading: Waveline
- Music: Hard Ton, Food of Love (Sprinkles’ Dubberama remix)Publishing by Hard Ton, T. Thaemlitz (BMI)
- Contributors to the newspaper:
- Fouza Al-Youssef (Kongra Star Rojava/Northern Syria)
- Marwa Arsanios
- Judith Butler
- Patrisse Cullors (Co-founder of Black Lives Matter)
- Mirkan Deniz
- Nikita Dhawan
- Treva Ellison
- Antke Engel
- Trajal Harrell
- Charlotte Laubard
- Azar Mahmoudian
- Ahmed Refaat and Andrea Thal
- Eve Tuck
- Françoise Vergès
Pauline Boudry / Renate Lorenz
Content responsibility: Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz
Email: boudry-lorenz (at) snafu.de
Web design: Timo Hinze ( ), Stephan Müller (Müller & Wesse, )
Web development: Timo Hinze ( )
© 2019 Pauline Boudry, Renate Lorenz. All rights reserved.
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