Stories and Situations: The Moderation(s) Conference

How do minor histories and non-heroic gestures transpire over time and across geographies? Can language transform and influence our understanding and perception of (works of) art? And how do ideas travel?

A day-long conference right at the heart of Moderation(s), a long-term and multifaceted program between Witte de With and Spring Workshop in Hong Kong, Stories and Situations is a platform where the multiple motifs of Moderation(s) are discussed and debated: the notion of speech in relation to art / the slippages of transmission via literary devices / distance as a tenuous concept / processes of art historicization are problematized from multiple angles ranging from linguistics, archeology, to philosophy.

For this conference, Amira Gad (Managing Curator, Witte de With) has worked closely with three other critics and curators, including, Lee Ambrozy (Art critic and Founding Editor of, Christina Li (Independent curator and writer) and Xiaoyu Weng (Curator, Asia Programs, Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco) in order to develop a series of conversations with guests including Brian Castriota (archeological conservator, New York), Chris Fitzpatrick (Director of Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp), Vincenzo Latronico (writer and critic, Berlin), Vincent Normand (writer and curator, Paris), Rosemary Orr (Senior Tutor and Lecturer Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences, University College Utrecht), and Arnisa Zeqo (art historian and co-founder of Rongwrong, Amsterdam).

Part I – Dynamic Objecthood

Material records are evidence of human beliefs, innovations, creativity and progress, and contemporary material culture likewise demonstrates our technological and social achievements. Objects can help us orient ourselves vis-à-vis geographic place, social class or gender, although the term “objecthood” promises a degree of inertness. They are typically conceived as products of human action or agency, but are they always passive? Despite their insentient nature, lifeless objects have the ability to act upon humans, to mediate understandings or experiences. To what extent do objects possess this power? How has human intent been inscribed onto them? If images have a semiotic agenda, what do objects want?
The goal of this session is to examine how things moderate the human experience, and how art mediates knowledge. Using a blend of anthropology, sociology, art history, archaeology and conservation theory, case studies will be used to explore how objects— from everyday objects to artworks, ancient and contemporary— dynamically influence our consciousness.

Part II – A mind of two tongues

“Since English has become the lingua franca, what has happened to art— and to language?” In spring 2012’s issue of frieze d ⁄e, Vincenzo Latronico started his article “Tip of the Tongue” with that question. Within this article, he suggests that when writing gets shifted into another language, the set of standards and parameters of how and what is worth saying changes or in Hans Belting’s words “resists any meaningful translation”. Can ideas resist translation? Could ideas indeed be attached to a specific language, or bound to the language it was conceived in and spoken in?

This session draws attention to the liminal zone where concepts get altered through the act of translation, in which the materiality of words and tongues get lost in-between linguistic ‘trafficking’. Speakers are invited to provide insights to the mishaps of linguistic relativity and at times, language learning, to open up the implicit complicities present in our entanglements in multiple tongues, where in extreme cases one lets slip their own mother tongue.

Part III – How to graft a tongue and subsequently disown it (or perhaps even cook it)

Cymothoa Exigua, the odd crustacean parasite or the tongue eating louse is known to be the only parasite that can replace an entire organ: it enters through a fish’s gill and then hooks its claws at the base of the fish’s tongue to interrupt the blood flow. Due to the lack of blood, the fish’s tongue ultimately falls off, allowing the parasite to effectively replace it.

Using the parasite as a metaphor, the session itself can be considered as a parasitical practice, a para-narrative that penetrates into the body of the conference. It starts with examining how modern epistemological mechanisms endowed the natural world with the power of speech. It is like a process of obsessively seeking for objects behind the lost tongue of its invisible author. However, the original tongue can never be reversed and objects finally withdraw their appearance, replaced by the layers of significations. They do speak now but perhaps with a grafted tongue, or rather, a hybrid tongue-like organism.

Part IV – How do ideas travel? Lapsus of communication within a time/space conundrum.

Language is both a facilitator and an obstacle: It can help and fail us at once. It enables the bridging between different contexts but also creates great distance. The driving question of this session is: How do ideas travel? During this part of the conference, language is seen as a form for ideas. But also, as a movement that leaves room for possibilities of failure, misunderstandings and miscommunications. Also explored through- out are questions of synchronicity and overlaps, stipulating for a circular movement whereby ideas repeat themselves.

Within this framework, time is seen as an underpinning element for the travel of ideas—not excluding an investigation into how ideas survive throughout time—where they are shaped by space and contexts. These reveal themselves to be ultimately guiding our understandings and function as the driving sources of human relations and the way histories are narrated.


11 am – Welcome by Witte de With

Part I – Dynamic Objecthood

11.30 am – To what extent do objects mediate understandings and our experiences
Lee Ambrozy (Editor-at-large of Artforum’s Chinese website, New York)

11.45 am – Plastic Integrity: Shaping the Conservation Object
Brian Castriota (archeological conservator, New York)
followed by a conversation between Lee Ambrozy and Brian Castriota

Part II – A mind of two tongues

12.45 pm – Can ideas resist translation?
Christina Li (independent curator and writer, Amsterdam and Hong Kong)

1 pm – A mind of two tongues – Linguistics and politics of the international art lingua franca
Vincenzo Latronico (writer and critic, Berlin)

1.30 pm – The flesh of words
Arnisa Zeqo (art historian and co-founder of Rongwrong, Amsterdam)

(2 – 2.30 pm – Break, soup served)

Part III – How to graft a tongue and subsequently disown it (or perhaps even cook it)

2.30 pm – Cymothoa exigua or how is discourse constructed through the grafted tongue?
Xiaoyu Weng (Curator of Asia Programs, Kadist Art Foundation, San Francisco)

2.45 pm – To the Planetarium (the mute things speak to me)
Vincent Normand (writer and curator, Paris)

3.30 pm – Reading of The intestine or the tapeworm?
Text by Chris Fitzpatrick (Director of Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp)

(4pm – Break)

Part IV – How do Ideas travel?

4.15 pm – How do ideas travel? Lapsus of communication within a time/space conundrum.
Amira Gad (Managing Curator / Publications, Witte de With, Rotterdam)

4.30 pm – Truths and Stories
Rosemary Orr (Senior Tutor and Lecturer Linguistics and Cognitive Sciences, University College Utrecht)

(5.15 pm – Break)

5.30 pm – Roundtable discussion moderated by Heman Chong (visual artist, writer and Moderator to the Moderation(s) project)

6.30 pm – Drinks



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