November 3, 2022

Songs to Sound Worlds, Stories to Rewrite Them: On Gender, Storytelling, and Myth

Institute Art Gender Nature, FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel

Design: Studio Ana Domínguez.

With contributions by Jumana Emil Abboud, Bani Abidi, Ruanne Abou-Rahme and Basel Abbas, Christian Campbell, Astrit Ismaili, Saodat Ismailova, Acaye Kerunen, Tessa Mars, Marie Hélène Pereira, Sheelasha Rajbhandari and Hit Man Gurung, Tracey Rose, Kara Springer, and Françoise Vergès. Moderated by Chus Martínez and Quinn Latimer. Research associate: Marion Ritzmann.

On-site, FHNW Academy of Art and Design in Basel, and livestream. The symposium is open to the public and will be held in English. More information on the program available online. As part of the symposium series Gender and Equality in the Arts.

In memory of Etel Adnan.

Etel Adnan once wrote, spectrally and spectacularly, “Mountains are spaceships.” And: “Mountains are women.” What else are mountains? What else womxn? Whose spaceship? And why collapse them into one story? To critically and virtuosically address the world—that is, to narrate and thus create it—from such mythic and counterhegemonic positions means to face colonial histories and neocolonial realities, as well as their denial of ancestral and speculative ways of perceiving and shaping that very world. The autumn Master Symposium at the Institute Art Gender Nature HGK FHNW, in Basel, is devoted to artists and thinkers whose work addresses the importance of retelling and reinterpreting stories and myths that regard identity and gender with all their ecological and spectral entanglements intact. Such myths—narratives we might variously call mytho-historiographies or critical fabulations—often transcend colonial binaries, offering life-generating languages that employ fiction and fantasy, poetry and song. Many of these myths predate the systems imposed by hetero-modernity and its patriarchization of our most foundational stories.

There are myriad reasons why storytelling about identity and its many avatars has become increasingly theorized again. Consider the autofictions that dominant both contemporary literary and moving-image practices, or the digital technologies that have us performing ourselves every day, writing ourselves down for some desired audience, all economy; consider, much earlier, the invention of the printing press and all of its economies. Each of these technologies and their specific narrative possibilities have fostered, explicitly or paradoxically, certain fictions of the self, in which one might reflect on one’s radical subjectivity in a collective world where space for real resistance, experimentation, collectivity, and non-normativity are rare. Perhaps, too, storytelling has reemerged as an important form and gesture because it resists the endless contemporary performance of the solitary self, instead situating the protagonist in a communal world of older entanglements at once social, political, and ecological. Finally, storytelling always implies an audience, a receiver who, in their listening, allows the narrative to be rewritten in their reception and memory of it.

If storytelling is an act of connecting through the materiality of the voice—its character, its expression—that expression might, sometimes, become an anti-colonial force. It is one that stresses the common feeling of the collective, acting against the systemic isolation imposed by capital and its racial-patriarchal orders. Listening to that voice is an active act of co-imagining and remaking the world with the storyteller. In this symposium at the Institute Art Gender Nature, we would like to stress the political and gnosiological importance of the production of storytelling, and mythological narratologies. In this way we might surpass Northern ways of codifying gender as well as the many hierarchies it intersects with and the oppression and marginalization it is made to support. Equity and equality depend on legislation, yes, but in legal systems built on such vast disenfranchisement, a more just society also must be capable of connecting to the past through language—so often patriarchal and restrictive—with an eye and ear toward a more nonbinary future. So much depends on language. So much depends on being able to narrate nonhegemonic worlds in which we might relate, might identify, instigating the desire that could lead to a necessary transformation of how we live together and how we tell (yes) that story.

Songs to Sound Worlds, Stories to Rewrite Them: On Gender, Storytelling, and Myth continues our semiannual series of master symposia at the Institute Art Gender Nature, begun in 2018 with Promise No Promises! and whose most recent iteration, called Ages of Receivership: On Generous Listening, was held in spring 2022. In each of the symposiums thus far, current artistic practices are examined and articulated within the framework of questions of contemporary import, be they political, theoretical, ecological, emotional, linguistic or other.

The symposium is supported by SüdKulturfonds.

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