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“Every human body is an old civilization”

Susanne Witzgall

“Every human body is an old civilization”
In conversation with Emine Sevgi Özdamar and Christian Kravagna

PDF, 15 pages


Susanne Witzgall: One common point in your texts in that both of you describe migration as an incomplete process, as a practice that is not completed with the arrival at the destination, but perhaps even only finds its starting point, its beginning, there. For instance, you Christian Kravagna, have written in your essay that many migrants develop a practice of travelling back and forth, almost like commuting, a process in which there is no definitive home that one can return to. And the protagonists in The Bridge of the Golden Horn often move back and forth between Turkey and Germany or commute within Istanbul between the European and the Asian sides. Do migrants develop more restless, mobile identities in general? This at least seems to pertain to yourself, Ms Özdamar. You have moved back and forth between Germany and Turkey several times.

Emine Sevgi Özdamar: In the 1970s, when I was working as a directorial assistant at the Volksbühne with Brecht’s student Benno Besson, I played with the idea of returning to Turkey after a year, that is, after I had finished studying – and for this reason I made drawings of the whole rehearsal processes. In Turkey, however, the killing and the military coup was continuing unabatedly. These were the unchanging circumstances. Then Besson asked me to come to Paris with him for a staging, and I went along. I didn’t speak any French, but since I could draw everything that happened on stage, he said: “You don’t need to. First just draw the whole rehearsal process and you can learn French along the way.” This third place helped me greatly, I didn’t have to choose between Germany and Turkey when I was there. It was like having a husband and a lover and thinking that you absolutely must choose between the two. But if you have a second lover, then you don’t have to make any decisions at all. What is there to decide then? That’s how it was for me with French and France. Later I even learned Spanish. At first I learned songs by heart, without understanding them, for instance Sara Montiel’s song Le vi por la calle pasó por mi lado. This is how I learned and it was like being at home. They say: “You no longer have a country, but the journey can also be a country.” And [Jean-Luc] Godard once...

  • gender
  • digital culture
  • politics
  • urbanism
  • identity
  • capitalism
  • queer theory
  • queerness
  • contemporary art
  • migration

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Susanne Witzgall

has been the academic head of the BMBF-funded cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich since 2011. She studied art history, theatre studies, psychology and art pedagogy at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and the University of Stuttgart, where she received her doctorate in 2001. From 2003 to 2011 she taught in the department of art history at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich. She has worked as a freelance curator, and was a curator at the Deutsches Museum Bonn and the Deutsches Museum München from 1995 to 2002. Susanne Witzgall curated or cocurated Art & Brain II (1997/1998), Das zweite Gesicht/The Other Face (2002), Say it isn’t so (2007), (Re)designing nature (2010/2011) and other exhibitions, and is the author and editor of numerous books and essays on contemporary art, the relationship between art and science, and subjects of current interdisciplinary debates. These include her monograph Kunst nach der Wissenschaft (Verlag für moderne Kunst, 2003) as well as the publications New Mobility Regimes in Art and Social Sciences (ed. with Gerlinde Vogl and Sven Kesselring, Ashgate, 2013), Power of Material/Politics of Materiality, Fragile Identities, The Present of the Future (all three ed. with Kerstin Stakemeier, diaphanes, 2014, 2016 and 2017 respectively) and Real Magic (2018). Since 2019 she is member of the advisory board of the Piet Zwart Institute/Willem de Kooning Academy Rotterdam as well as of the Institute of Modern Art Nuremberg.

Other texts by Susanne Witzgall for DIAPHANES
Kerstin Stakemeier (ed.), Susanne Witzgall (ed.): Fragile Identities

What is the current state of the subject and what about the status of its self-image? In contemporary discourses we encounter more and more “fragile identities,” in artistic works as well as in scientific theories, and those are today much less referring to a critique of the concept of identity, but much rather to the relationship those concepts of identity entertain with the overall precarious state of the subject in current social conditions that are characterized by political upheaval and change.
The book Fragile Identities investigates among other things the chances and also the possible endangerments of such a fragile self and asks for the resurging urgency of a contemporary concept of subjectivity. The publication combines international artistic and scholarly contributions, discussions and project documentations in relation to the second annual theme of the cx centre for interdisciplinary studies at the Academy of Fine Arts Munich.