Elena Agudio

28/09/2019 19:00

Mântuleasa 4, Bucharest, Romania

With this talk, I will engage not only with the concept of Ultrasanity, but also with some of the fundamental threads and preoccupations of my curatorial research. The possibility of challenging the alleged universality of the scientific discourse, of problematising and undoing its racist, patriarchal, Western-centred and individualistic agenda and infrastructure, and of unravelling disruptive narratives on forms of care and of community engagement.

If we understand curatorial practice as a form of troubling, a space fostering the insurgency of alternative epistemologies, it is maybe in madness that one can find one of the most heuristic spaces of disturbance. Madness is not a safe space, not a place to walk in for an elusive diversion. Madness burns. And it doesn’t burn, as the Amazon, only because of governments, of corruption, because of our insane societies and the violent actions of men since centuries. It burns also of its own fire, sometimes combusting everything in it and around it, crumbling any possibility of certainty and comprehension. But amidst smoke and flames, fire also produces light; and in the night it gives us the possibility of seeing through the thickness of the gloom.

As Antonin Artaud wrote in Van Gogh: The Man Suicided by Society, those having superior lucidities and luminosity, those with the gift of special faculties and spirits, those that have chosen to accommodate spaces we can barely imagine, they have been too often declared insane. But madness can be form of ultrasanity, a space that lies beyond the dualistic categories of sanity and insanity. “That space explored and inhabited by those that have broken out, that have delivered themselves from the ordinariness, as well as the staleness and sogginess of the norms of society”, as Bonaventure Ndikung – artistic director of the project – states.

Philosopher and thinkers, activists and practitioners have been writing and pondering on the violence of psychiatry, fighting for the dismantling of sites of contention and against the oppressive loops of normalisation and control. With this project – and this talk – we want to address and challenge the infrastructures that made and makes this system of violence possible, but we also want to engage with the heuristic lucidity of madness, cogitating about the value that madness assumes across societies and cultures.

Doing that we deliberate on different trajectories through which psychopathologies – especially but not limited to the non-Western – could be understood. We reflect on the construction of insanity and madness; on madness as a tool of suppression and on the systemic attempts to normalise those out of the norm, of healing the healed; on the entanglement between madness, colonialism and coloniality; on sanity and sanitation. But also on madness as a tool of resistance and of escape; on hysteria, tarantism and other disruptive behaviours catalogued with medical formulations and treated as illnesses.

Beyond a romanticisation of madness, with the collaboration and participation of patients, clinicians, artists, cognitive scientists, scholars and practitioners, we raises issues that question several grammars of violence, among them those inscribed in currently practised universal therapeutic models and the primacy of psychopharmacology which often deletes the significance of spiritual, systemic, intra-generational histories and community in formulating healing strategies. In addition it interrogates and involves recent international experiments addressing relational and psychosocial dimensions, such as community-based collaborative care, and reparation through experiments with arts-based and collective processes of cultural therapy.

Image credits: Pelagia Gbaguidi, La Mue II, 2018. Source: Sulger Buel Gallery.


Elena Agudio

Elena Agudio is a Berlin based art historian and curator. Her research is focused on the sharing and exchange of knowledge and skills across disciplines and cultures. She studied Art History at the University of Venice – Ca’ Foscari and in 2010 she received her PhD in Contemporary Art and Design.

She is artistic director of the non profit association Association of Neuroesthetics (AoN)_Platform for Art and Neuroscience, a project in collaboration with the Medical University of Charité and The School of Mind and Brain of the Humboldt University encouraging both a dialogue and lasting cooperation between contemporary art and the cognitive sciences, for which she has been curating projects at the Deutsche Guggenheim (Berlin), at the library of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (Venice), and more recently at the Roter Salon of the Volksbuhne (Berlin).

Since 2013 she is artistic co-director of SAVVY Contemporary, a non profit Berlin based art space founded and directed by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, where she curates and co-curating exhibition projects, discursive programmes and series, among which recently: Speaking Feminisms/We Who Are Not The Same dedicated to an exploration of current feminist practices and alliances, That, Around Which The Universe Revolves investigating ryhthmanalysis and the interrelations of space and time, memory, architecture and urban space, How Does The World Breathe Now, a film screening series critically reflecting on our now and the role of art in the society. In June 2017, together with Bonaventure Ndikung and Marcus Gammel, she curated the project SAVVY Funk, a radio programme and exhibition for Documenta 14.