The human zoo, Kongolandsbyen, originally created in 1914 by the entertainment company European Attraction Limited, was rebuilt 100 years later by Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner.
Centred around the make up and build up of Scandinavian style superiority, it was a project that was done with a very literal reading of what the public is. During several years created in, and in large part, by the public, whatever direction that would take.
Since most of you who are reading this and most of you who will see this piece of shit show also make unnecessary and useless art I might as well get right to it. At the time of writing this text I have no idea what this show will consist of or be about, but rest assure it will be an extraordinary aesthetic experience delivered by exceptional objects. Or not. Who cares? Probably not actually. I just found out that I am doing this show and it has to be ready in one week. Not only that, but the text has to be ready tonight. And it’s not like I have a studio filled with brilliant artworks just waiting to be exposed. In any case, your expectations are most likely unproportionately low or unproportionately high.
What is it about? Take your pick. It’s either about some psychological oddity that I read about in Cabinet magazine or some historical-political-unres
“Lars is a parasite that doesn’t actually do anything himself but gets noticed because he never leaves the party…”
from “Lars Cuzner’s Conversational Ghosts” by Kjetil Røed, 2014
Whatever Kjetil! The whole premise for this critique is based on something I supposedly said at some early morning after party. And saying that I don’t do anything myself is low – what do critics do if not exactly nothing themselves? Granted, bringing this up in a text for an exhibition might seem misplaced, but so is publishing personal attacks that rather than addressing the work simply critiques the lack thereof (and it’s not the first time he does this to me either). Just focus on the work, ok?
Sure, I didn’t paint the painting; it’s by Leonard Rickhard and belongs to the Department of Cultural Affairs, as does the furniture. But I still had to do things myself to get it over here. Among other things, the wall colour had to match and it all had to be transported. Well, actually, I got lucky with the wall colour, they still had a bucket of the same paint at their office, and to be fair, Cultural Affairs did cover the whole transportation bit themselves, but that’s only because the work is very valuable and has to be transported with official Fine Art movers.
In their ongoing project European Attraction Limited, Lars Cuzner and Fadlabi present Forensics of Attraction (2013). It is part in their research into the phenomenon of the “human zoo” in European and particularly Norwegian history. For Bergen Assembly, as part of their research they made, as they put it, “a pointless trip to Thailand” to find evidence on the so-called Long-Necked Tribes, the Paduang (aka Kayan) women, who, since the 1980s, have been displaced to ethnic villages built for tourists, which generate massive revenue and have become the raison d’etre of the Thai state. Using the device of “conspirative narrative,” Cuzner and Fadlabi are exposing mechanisms of the spectacle and the complicity it coerces from its viewers.
My neighbours changed their wi-fi network name to STOP PLAYING SHITTY PIANO (in upper case). This was clearly directed at me since I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in the building who demonstratively can’t play the piano. But I persisted, feeling that I had been called upon through some divine intervention to learn contemporary Christian pop songs from Mega Chords. Mega Chords has the latest in Christian pop and rock, no doubt because religion is bigger today than ever.
This unprecedented emergence of religion in our times can also be detected in the vast amounts of nothing-believers who also doubt truth in evidence. Finding it hard to identify a Messiah for this nothingness you find yourself accepting conservative values inside structures that romanticize meaninglessness. This rejection of meaning is unsettling for you, and your fundamentalist belief in non-fundamentalism has you demanding revelations and importance only from that which you recognize as unimportant, something you feel is banal enough to escape purpose – like a Star Trek movie – where Spock recently re-popularized the phrase – “When you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” (which Trekkies will tell you comes from Sherlock Holmes, and Sherlockians will tell you comes from some other origin, but I don’t really feel like sitting here googling forever about things that only reinforce your thirst for post-purpose purpose).
The two day conference European Attraction Limited attempted to put to the table a non-parochial view on the relevance of a proposed project to recreate a human zoo that occurred in Oslo in 1914.
Prior to the exhibition European Atraction Limited, art theorists and academics create a narrative around possible approaches to understand a project that had not yet been done. In May 2011 Fadlabi and Lars Cuzner received funding from KORO/URO to commence the three year project European Attraction Limited. The rebuilding of Kongolandsbyen from the 1914 world fair in Oslo.
Will Bradley, The Revolution Performed by the Workers Themselves
Elvira Dyangagani Ose, Historical Reenactment
Rikke Andreassen, Human Exhibitions. Race, Gender and Sexuality at the Turn of the Century
Tejumola Olaniyan, The Misconception of Modernity
Bambi Ceuppens, Whose Museum is it Anyway?
Walid al-Kubaisi, Racism Embedded In The System
Geir Haraldseth, The Terrible Beauty of Hindsight
Sandy Prita Meier, The Imaginary Other
Tobias Hübinette, Contemporary Racial Stereotypes in the Nordic Countries
Susan Buck-Morss, History as a Gift
Nina Witoszek, The Origins of the ‘Regime of Goodness’
Fatima El-Tayeb, Colour Blind Europe
-Salah Hassan, The Darkest Africa Syndrome: the Idea of Africa and its (Re)presentation
by Will Bradley
The challenge in thinking through Lars Cuzner and Mohamed Ali Fadlabi’s proposal to recreate the Congolese Village exhibit from Oslo’s 1914 centenary exhibition is to escape the straightforward statement that it seems to offer. This short text aims to reexamine the starting point, to question the ready-made terms of the debate, to look beyond the instant ideological meaning and break open the polarised imagery, in order to escape conclusions that otherwise might seem natural and obvious.
We should begin with the facts as they are recorded. London-based, Hungarian-born impressario Benno Singer was engaged by the Oslo 1914 exhibition committee to produce an amusement park as part of a large-scale outdoor international exhibition in Frogner Park celebrating the one hundred-year anniversary of the Norwegian constitution. The Congolese village was in turn part of Singer’s fairground, alongside a rollercoaster and a pantomime theatre among other attractions. Eighty people, apparently from the Congo (no certain confirmation of their country of origin has yet been found, but a visitor reported conversing with them in French), performed some version of their imagined daily life for the Oslo public in a setting built to resemble an ‘authentic’ African village. The reactions from the Norwegian press were overtly racist: ‘exceedingly funny’ wrote Norway’s newspaper of record, Aftenposten; ‘it’s wonderful that we are white!’ wrote a now-defunct magazine called Urd. But as an attraction the village was great success, and it was credited with drawing a significant part of the 1.4 million reported visitors to the exhibition.
Oslo was late when it came to staging an international exhibition, behind even Bergen which had held an International Fisheries Exhibition in 1898. The genre was, of course, pioneered in France, and in general was dedicated to showcasing the wealth accumulated through the two central methods of capitalist expansion, industrial organisation and colonisation. The Oslo exhibition was atypical in that it celebrated neither industry nor colonial expansion, but rather a political moment that must, in practice, have referred more directly to Norway’s recently-gained independence. Still, for reasons a future historian must elucidate in detail, it took the 19th century exhibition model as its blueprint, and so participated in the projection of a capitalist and colonialist state image modelled on that of its European neighbours.
The primary precursor to the Congolese Village in Oslo is the 1897 exhibition at the Brussels International Exhibition, which explicitly celebrated Belgium’s brutal African conquests; several of the 267 Conglese citizens transported to Brussels for the occasion died during the exhibition period, and were buried in a common grave. Despite this early setback, in the following years it seems that the pantomime African village became a regular feature of the international exhibition circuit, a modern extension of the carnival freakshow married to a colonialist ideology of European domination.
At this point the situation might seem clear. A naive Norwegian public are faced with an African other created by Belgian colonialism and presented as a carnival freakshow by an entrepreneur who knows how to create a sensation that will draw the crowds. And to self-consciously re-present this situation now, as Cuzner and Fadlabi plan to do, is both to point to historical Norwegian racism, and to ask what has changed since then, or even to suggest that some of these historical racist attitudes have survived.
This looks like an eminently reasonable conclusion, perfectly compatible with a contemporary liberal worldview, but it’s also a trap, constructed in part from the racist ideology that framed Singer’s own plans for a European Attraction. Looking more closely at the production of the Congolese Village, it is easier to see other political dimensions that might alter its contemporary interpretation.
Even from the very incomplete public records of the exhibition, two things stand out.
First, it seems that the Congolese Village was initially conceived as a Sami Village. In a Norwegian context, the Sami people are of course the proper colonial other, Norway’s unspoken conquest, and as such their representatives might well have have played the same uncomfortable role in the Oslo exhibition that the inhabitants of the Congo played in Brussels in 1897. But the exhibition committee rejected this idea on political grounds, since the Sami people, in the new settlement of Norwegian independence, were considered Norwegian citizens. «Tanken om at la stemmeberettigede norske borgere fremvises for penge er for usmakelig. Vi har derfor sløifet denne del.»
So already there is a political distinction made between the supposedly primitive lifestyles of Norwegian citizens, which cannot be displayed, and the supposedly primitive lifestyles of people from the Belgian Congo, which can.
Second, available sources indicate that the group who played the Congolese villagers in Oslo were a travelling troupe. They were not assembled specifically for the Norwegian centenary but were established performers on some kind of European circuit. Slavery having been abolished in Europe several decades earlier, it seems probable that some kind of symbolic contractual relationship existed between the performers and their management, which would have mandated some kind of recompense, most likely, but without evidence not necessarily, at an absolute minimum, for their services.
A third, and perhaps most important, consideration concerns the way in which the Congolese Village was established and represented. Though it seems that some small communication was possible across the language barrier, the form and means of the Congolese representation in Oslo was determined by the organisers of the exhibition. The villagers were not only on display, but on display within a set regime, obligated to play a passive role in which their interactions were tightly controlled. Though there is no record currently available of the contractual restrictions under which they appeared, the fact that contemporary reports only describe encounters within the Frogner Park exhibition suggests that their freedom of movement was restricted. And though this fact in itself does not constitute firm evidence, it seems altogether likely that, altough they were resident in Oslo for several months, the ‘Congolese Villagers’ were prevented from exploring the daily life of the city.
With these three adjustments to the initial image of the Congolese Village in mind, we can perhaps begin again to think about its significance now.
The power relationships at stake, even in 1914, were not only those of now-departed cultural prejudice or European imperialist oppression, but also the political and economic realities of emerging capitalist globalisation. What made Benno Singer’s Congo Village possible was not only the racism of its intended audience, but the formalisation of a decidedly unequal relationship within the structure of global capitalism. If not for the political intervention of the exhibition committee on the grounds of Norwegian citizenship, there might have been a Sami village on display in the 1914 exhibition. Similarly, it seems likely that the performers who did populate the Congo Village were what in the contemporary euphemism would be called economic migrants, their subjagation not a matter of pre-modern enslavement but a rational consequence of the socio-economic relationships established by force between European capital and African land and labour. The Congolese Village was a profitable attraction because of its perceived exoticism, presented in such a way as to manipulate the cultural attitudes of the Oslo audience. But its creation was also a consequence of the political rights of citizenship, or their absence, and the economic subjagation of a group of performers proletarianised by the imposition of capitalist social relations following their colonialist expropriation.
In other words, it seems possible to map significant elements of the material conditions that made the production of the Congolese Village possible directly onto current conditions in the global capitalist labour market. People dispossessed by the force of capitalist imperialism, people whose unchosen nationality does not give them the same rights accorded to, for example, Norwegian citizens, are remade as unrealised potential workers, impelled to leave homes and families and undertake precarious journeys in search of some imagined marginal economic benefit, which ultimately can be found only by accepting working conditions which deny them the basic human freedoms granted in full to those who take the profits from the enterprise.
With this reading in mind, the significance of Cuzner and Fadlabi’s project is both historical and absolutely contemporary, since it has the potential to once again address the same, unresolved and still modern questions of the political and economic rights of all people, including, but not limited to, those colonized and oppressed by the European adventures in Africa.
A continuing prosyletizing performance that attempts to convert people to christianity despite the message being brought by an atheist.
“We thought capitalism would create the conditions for perfect happiness by destroying every sense of belonging, by the nomadism of the rootless individual that results from the “deterritorialization” intrinsic to the development of the global economy. Now we have reached the apex of globalization and capitalist “deterritorialization,” and everything is returning: the Family, the nation state, religious fundamentalism. Everything is returning—but in a perverted, reactionary, conservative way, as the philosopher predicted.”
Blind Carbon Copy presents 3 days of events Curators Go to The Bar
Participants: Joachim Hamou (DK), John W. Fail (EE/USA), Maria Arusoo (EE), Lars Cuzner (NO), Institut for Colour (NO), Maija Rudovska (LV) and Juste Kostikovaite (LT).
Curators: Juste Kostikovaite (LT) and Maija Rudovska (LV)
I’m sending you a box with everything you need to assemble my sculpture. It turns out I can’t send it assembled in the mail. It will just fall apart. The instructions that follow are as thorough as I could get them. Please send me photos of the process. We can also skype anytime. My skype name is larscuzner.
Before I get in to the installation process it will be of some use to know how the sticks are categorized.
Moses Harris, who discovered petrified wood, used the work of Isaac Newton to reveal the multitude of objects that can be created from three basic ones. (The ten commandments were, coincidentally, written on petrified wood, but that has nothing to do with this.) Moses was a naturalist who wished to understand the relationship between objects and how they are coded. He attempted to explain the principles of materiality and how further objects can be produced from three basics.
As much as his theory seems to simplify an argument for the purpose of fitting it in to an existing diagram, it does make some valid points. For one, there should have been twelve commandments, not ten, primarily because it makes more sense that three primary commandments times four stages of relations to the other commandments would allow for social life to develop in synchronicity with the natural world. Twelve is a superfactorial, being the product of the first three factorials.
Instructions for installation:
1. Place the sticks on the floor exactly as shown in the image below.
2. Put your hands on either side of the sticks with your left hand at A12 and your right hand at L1.
3. Anchor your right fingertips just below what will be the centre of gravity for the standing sculpture.
4. Your right hand should be curled into a backwards C. Do not curl your left hand.
Now you will plot the x-axis.
5. Drag your left hand towards your right hand while slowly letting your right hand push the bottom of the sticks towards the centre of the X-axis.
Make sure A12 and L1 enter X-axis as headers.
6. Drop your right hand slowly towards you as the sticks gather in you cupped hand.
(B11 and K2 should almost stick to the headers.)
6. Anchor your left fingertips on the floor directly below the centre of gravity.
7. With your right hand cupping the sticks, but the bottoms of the sticks against your left fingertips.
8. Curl your left hand into a C with the fingertips anchored.
9. Move your right hand up towards the centre while simultaneously sliding your left hand up, with the centre of your palm towards the centre of gravity. Don’t worry about how the sticks move now, just make sure the middle finger on your right hand meets the middle finger on the left and that your thumbs meet up in the same way.
10. You should now be holding the sticks in the centre of gravity, just below the centre point, between your fingers, which form a circle.
11. Ask your assistant for a 7 3/4 inch piece of packing tape (included in the box).
12. Ask your assistant to place one end of the tape directly under the protruding branch of J3 (this will be just above the thenar space of your right hand, the area with webbing between the thumb and index finger) and wrap it counter clockwise along the horizontal axis.
The equation for a rotational transformation (in counter clockwise
direction) is x’ = xCos(A12) – ySin(A12)
So now, A12 should be the only stick on a perfect 45º angle, point to point, without touching the floor. Both A12 and L1 will be off the floor. The tripod touching the floor taking the weight of the sculpture should consist of – H6 (running parallel with L1and crossing A12), F7 (running parallel with A12 and crossing L1) and I4 crossing both A12 and L1. Everything else should fall into place accordingly, but double check. It should be right, even if it is rotated. Any use?
All this might be a bit esoteric so if you want to skype that’s OK with me.
Done. Use the image as reference.
I really hope you want to put this work in the show. I love your work. Did you know that to conserve metal during World War II, Oscar statuettes were not made out of wood as many think, they were made out of plaster. The only Oscar statuette ever made of wood was presented to the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy in 1938. Before Edgar’s dotter, Candice Bergen, had established a public identity of her own she was often referred to as Charlie McCarthy’s sister. But it was difficult for Candice to be the sister to a piece of wood. It was hard to make sense of because you knew he wasn’t real and yet he was treated like a living bigger brother, he had his own room, got presents on his birthday and so on. It was sometimes painful for her, because she felt she had to compete with this puppet for her father’s love and she resented it.
Ventriloquism entails the effacement of the speaker while the speaker pretends to listen. It’s not an issue of who gets to represent whom and to what end, but what our role is in its construction of what we are willing to believe, internalized self-deception or externalized self-plagiarism.
The Mormon Church still uses the Quorum of the Twelve and receives revelations from its prophets; it’s a highly secretive process. The famous prophet, Wilford Woodruff, is well known for having received the revelation that prohibited plural marriage, mind you, at the time when the government was penalising the church for practicing polygamy.
In 1913 Woodrow Wilson became the 28th president of the United States. It was a common misconception that Woodrow Wilson and Wilford Woodruff were the same person. Many Mormon children grew up thinking that the U.S. once had a prophet as a president, which isn’t true.
This children’s song was written to help clarify the issue.
our latter-day prophets are number 1, Joseph Smith, then Brigham Young, John Taylor came 3rd we know, then Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, remember the F. , Heber J grant, then George Albert Smith, David OOOO Mccay was followed by Joseph Fielding Smith, then Harold B. Lee, Spencer W. Kimball, Ezra Taft Benson, Howard W. Hunter, Gordon B. Hinckley LED THE WAY, “WE HEAD AND FOLLOW PRESIDENT MONSONS WORDS TODAY” (you need to sing that last part kind of fast because new prophets get added to the song. Right now I think it’s kind of out of synch.)
In 1919 Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke, His wife, Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, spoke on his behalf as he sat alongside. But people didn’t buy that Woodrow was the one speaking. Edith was called “the secret president” or “the first female president”.
You can still get Moses Wood apples named after Sgt Moses Wood who died in 1915 in Wilson’s war.
Don’t hesitate to call or skype or anything if you run into problems.
At the top of his career, from 1936 to 1956, Edgar Bergen, a celebrated ventriloquist, performed with his magnetic dummy Charlie McCarthy, on radio. His illusory talent for appearing not to be speaking while speaking captured an audience that could not see him.
Bergen, the son of Swedish immigrants in Chicago, taught himself ventriloquism at the age of 11. As a teenager he was working at a silent movie theatre and giving performances at a nearby church. Lars and Steven Cuzner, as children in Sweden, grew up listening to recordings of Bergen. They would take turns to practice channeling two voices from a single source, alternating between using the other brother as the dummy. Thereby projecting themselves outside of the self and entering the other’s body, the other’s character. Broadcast through a Brother is the speech of a figure that has manifested over time in suspended ventriloquism throughout their lives, allowing one brother to imagine what the other is prepared to do, or say. Today they share an encoded relationship that is preset with cues, not only to what the other might say, but also to the tone and the style of its delivery.
Video documentation from Based in berlin. link Vimeo
Link: based in Berlin
Fully confidential, one-to-one conversations, teetering four meters above the gallery floor, at UKS. Six participants signed up for conversations once a week for a full year. The conversations were not documented.
The box ended up staying there for 4 years cuz it was too fucking expensive to take down. It became a part of every show at UKS. I saw some documentation though, from some shows, that had photoshopped out the box.
Since everyone who participated in the project signed a confidentiality agreement (a contract which of course was destroyed after signing), it was difficult for critics to attain any real content information about the going-ons in the box. Art critic, Kjetil Røed, did however write a 60 page essay, “Lars Cuzner’s Conversational Ghosts”, which can only be described as bitter character assassination of me. Luckily no one seems willing to publish this piece of slanderous garbage.
The piece was quietly commenced April 16, 2010 during the Oslo Speculations seminar at UKS, and ended April 16, 2011 without ceremony.
Four years later, finally, an artist demanded the removal of the box for his show in February 2014. Here is a text and first documentation without the box “Plutselig utslett” by Line Ulekleiv.
Participants in project:
Per Platou, Client, Artist and curator. Co-ordinator for PNEK
Victoria Stewart, Client, Psychologist
Serina Erfjord, Client, Artist
Suzana Martins, Client, Program co-ordinator for 0047
Magnus Oledal, Client, Artist
Anna Ring, Client, Artist