From February 14 to May 16, 2021, Eurropa, a solo exhibition by Liv Schulman, with the participation of Pauline Ghersi, curated by Elfi Turpin.
I write this text in the middle of installing the exhibition Eurropa. I was just making papier-mâché with Liv Schulman—we set up in the art center’s basement. We’re grinding away six months’ worth of newspaper headlines from L’Alsace and Les Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace which, after soaking for several days, turn into a pulp which is then strained and pressed into tiles to make the exhibition’s flooring. I dip the sieve into the mixture and Liv presses. This activity relaxes me, it allows me to take a break from managing the (sanitary, social, cultural) crisis in which we’ve been bathing for exactly one year. I still find it difficult to avoid reading the newspaper fragments I see floating in the mixture: cov, in, id, fure, al, con, anx, ard, ckdown, ar, ccine, pfi, brex, elec, confi, case, ospit, orde, ? , eath, urfew, ow, trans, urity. Liv doesn’t have this issue. She only sees colors. Like a painter. And so, in the damp repetition of these gestures, she takes advantage of the moment to banter and pick my brain about a variety of topics. She speaks about many things, translation issues, our lack of agency, before finally asking: What is metaphysics? I answer mechanically, like when people ask you for directions on the street. This happens often, I must look like I have a good sense of direction. I begin to answer like I would if someone were asking the way, straight ahead, take the first left, first right, go under the bridge, in front of the red storefront, metaphysics is something like a science of reality. Except the person to whom I’m speaking (in this case, Liv, in the basement of the art center) happens to have a very clear idea of where she’s heading and just wants to check which path I would choose to take, or see if I know the way, or simply to take pleasure in debating which way to go. I stop to tell her that she has a better knowledge of metaphysics than I do, that she’s a practitioner of metaphysics. She swears that no, no, in fact she doesn’t know. So I begin to describe what interests me in metaphysics, the way it enables me to expand the real and think about it without separating its various interlocking dimensions, such as the living and the dead—this is useful these days. But Liv doesn’t stop there, she asks me about phenomenology. I know she knows but I still play along and reply with a lazy definition, it’s the study of reality through its phenomena—wind, fear, anxiety, light, these sorts of things. She asks whether I know what Queer Phenomenology* is. I haven’t read it. She’s disappointed. I have the feeling that we’re going to discuss algorithms. But Liv surprises me and asks whether I’m familiar with Spinoza’s notion of Extension, which causes an instant revulsion that I manage to disguise as ignorance. I quickly switch topics and inquire about something that I often return to, its complex significance eluding me. I ask her about the Body Without Organs (Corps-sans-organes). She provides a beautiful, enlightening explanation, something along the lines of a world under the world, an infra-world consisting of piles of viscera traversed by flows, desires, affects. I’m not entirely convinced by the idea of an infra-world, so I start to confuse her with a longer, more muscular approach, an alliance with other bodies (with a horse’s body for example), until we have to stop pressing the paper: we’re running out of space on the drying racks and we no longer know what we’re talking about**. My question was clearly self-serving—I wonder whether her exhibition could be an experiment of the “Body Without Organs”*** kind. In other words, an adventure attempting to understand how the body could escape its modern definition and administration: an anatomical body, a body-object, a body organized by, and caught within, medical discourse. This is all the more terrifying in the current epidemic.
The basement conversation, in fact, started back in 2019 when I invited Liv Schulman to participate in the exhibition The knife without a blade that lacks a handle at CRAC Alsace. She exhibited A Somatic Play, which, continuing her body of work titled Goubernement, presented six stateless border agents interpreted by a single actress who performed the border through a series of questions, behaviors, and control techniques. A few months later, in spring 2020, governments kept us at home to face an uncontrollable coronavirus epidemic which jumped from one body to the next. Suspended free circulation, closed European borders, and a shriveling vital space. In France, this meant forbidding venturing beyond a one-kilometer radius and a one-hour duration. An experiment in self-coercion. Border agents without costumes but documents and forms.
Once the floodgates reopened, we (the art center’s team) invited Liv Schulman to spend time in Altkirch**** and explore this new transborder fate enveloping our daily lives. She wrote a script for a fictional film featuring a group of border agents in a Europe where the European Union no longer exists, where there are only seven countries—tax havens, principalities, or nation-states with opaque tax systems. She imagined two parallel filming systems resulting in two sets of images. She first organized a ten-day road trip during which she filmed mobile border patrols, mainly interpreted by agents Richard Neyroud and Guilhem Monceaux, who travel and discourse across Luxembourg, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, San Marino, Monaco, and Andorra. In parallel, Schulman worked with nine actresses living in these countries. The women filmed themselves interpreting an array of border agents each named after the country they represent. Andorra, Monaco, San Marino, Suisse, Liechtenstein, Lëtzebuerg, Guernsey speak about banking secrecy, tax schemes, flows, money, signifiers that they embody, objects and desires that enter a given territory but cannot exit. They narrate the invention of capitalism, speculation, colonization, the coffee monopoly, and the invention of taxes.
Richard, Guilhem, and the film crew’s trip through the flipside of the European Union constitutes the film’s shot, while the reverse shot is made of the self-filmed images remote-directed by Liv Schulman. During the film’s editing, shot and reverse shot are stitched together and put in dialogue. They don’t converse as in a linear film, where sequences are edited one after the other, but are in dialogue within the art center’s fragmented space-time. Each gallery corresponds to a country. We progress through the film by following the protagonists as they migrate from one screen to another, from one gallery to the next. The action begins with San Marino, on the upper floor to the right, and continues in the adjacent gallery, Monaco and Guernsey, then San Marino, Luxembourg. It picks up again on the lower floor to the right, in Switzerland, then Andorra to the left, concluding with Liechtenstein in the auditorium. The film’s dramaturgy composes the exhibition’s own dramaturgy. To watch the film is to visit it, to find direction in space.
Add to this the fact that Richard Neyroud and Guilhem Monceaux from the film are also Richard Neyroud and Guilhem Monceaux in real life, both curators for whom Liv Schulman specifically wrote the roles. Add to this the fact that Richard is Head of Education at CRAC Alsace and that his body and his voice, jumping from one screen to the next, might suddenly appear in the exhibition space. Add to this the fact that Guilhem Monceaux also acts in Les Radins by Pauline Ghersi (Eurropa’s co-producer), a film featuring stingy housemates and played on loop in an adjacent gallery. That these bodies, body-nations, body-borders, body-flow, body-artist, body-code, body-representation, body-feeling, body-language, body-archive, are all interlaced in Eurropa.
—Elfi Turpin, February 2021.
Liv Schulman received the support of the DAAD Arts and Media program with the participation of the Federal Foreign Office in Germany.
* Sara Ahmed, Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006).
** The Body Without Organs is a term borrowed from the poet Antonin Artaud by the theorists Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, in Anti-Oedipus (New York: Viking Penguin, 1977) and A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987).
*** «The body is now nothing more than a set of valves, locks, floodgates, bowls, or communicating vessels,” Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, p. 153.
**** The art center is located near the Swiss and German borders.