School of Anxiety – First Iteration in Johannesburg and Upcoming Event in Nairobi

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Awuor Onyango, Participant of the School of Anxiety within the 10th Berlin Biennale
Photo: Mal Muga

10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art

The School of Anxiety is a project by curator and critic Moses Serubiri within the framework of the 10th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, funded by the Kulturstiftung des Bundes (German Federal Cultural Foundation). Moses Serubiri is a curatorial team member of the 10th Berlin Biennale.

The School of Anxiety (SoA) is an (un-)learning environment focused on subjective anxieties. While anxiety is often defined as a psychological condition, this workshop format aims to address anxiety by blurring the lines between artistic practice and an investigation into social and historical forms of anxiety. The project is oriented towards conversations about concepts of “unlearning.” Søren Kierkegaard’s book The Concept of Dread (1844), in particular the chapter on “subjective dread,” functions as an initial reference of the SoA.

The first meeting of the School of Anxiety took place in Johannesburg (ZA) from September 4 to 9, 2017, preliminary to the 10th Berlin Biennale’s running time (9.6.–9.9.2018). The workshop featured writer and media artist Awuor Onyango (KE), media artist Nyakallo Maleke (ZA), and playwright Sanyu Kiyimba-Kisaka (UG) and was led by Moses Serubiri. Stemming from different disciplines—literature, theater, contemporary art, and criticism—the participants presented a range of positions during the workshop.

By engaging the fields of fiction, literature, and psychoanalytic theory, the workshop expanded and complicated the notion of anxiety. The participants raised questions such as: Can I transgress what I have acquired and what is anticipated? How fast can I unlearn in order to become present again? What do processes of “becoming” someone entail? How do you become? How can you learn new possibilities of becoming? Can hyper-surveillance simultaneously eradicate my voice? Can I retrace shared experiences from individual ones and vice versa? How do I negotiate the option of refusal?

Over the five-day workshop, the group met with artists and curators around Johannesburg and engaged in a series of critical debates emerging from the topics of the workshop: unlearning, autopoiesis, mourning, and becoming. Walks through the city of Johannesburg and excursions to museums, galleries, and independent spaces accompanied these discussions.

At ROOM gallery, the group met with Johannesburg-based artist Kitso Lynn Lelliott, whose solo show I was her and she was me and those we might become articulated ideas of subjectivity through the motif of the “ghostly” and explored notions of becoming through making erasure visible. At Keleketla! Media Arts Project, an institution concerned with pedagogical processes, the group held discussions with cofounders Malose Malahlela and Rangoato Hlasane on the topics of mourning, learning, and self-preservation. At the Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, the group met with curator Khwezi Gule and reflected on the history of Soweto and ways of working with the archive.

The workshop culminated in a public panel discussion titled What to do with anxiety? with the participants and the curatorial team of the 10th Berlin Biennale. It was featured within the FNB JoburgArtFair 2017 as part of the Berlin Biennale’s public program I’m not who you think I’m not. The panel generated questions from the audience about anxiety within education systems and the anxiety of how others deal with one’s own complex identities.

The next iteration of SoA takes place in Nairobi (KE) in February 2018 and addresses the anxieties of mourning and ethnic subjectivity that have colored recent memory in Kenya. Like the inaugural edition, also the Nairobi edition consists of an internal workshop with Awuor Onyango, Nyakallo Maleke, and Sanyu Kiyimba-Kisaka, led by Moses Serubiri, followed by a public presentation that this time has the format of a performance within I’m not who you think I’m not on February 15, 2018, at Uhuru Park.

A third iteration of SoA takes place in July 2018 during the running time of the 10th Berlin Biennale.

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