Somatic Experiences and the Future Museum – on performativity, phenomenology of the embodied mind, and the postcolonial body as site of discourse
4th of February 2015
18.00-21.00, EMMA – Espoo Museum of Modern Art

The debates on the museum of the future and the future of museums have become even more virulent in the last years. It seems to be a consensus that the concept of the museum has to be redefined, rethought, reframed, and the museum itself has to be re-institutionalised and the institution re-mused.

In a recent podium discussion I had with Simon Njami and Chris Dercon, the latter asked in relation to Meschac Gaba’s Museum of Contemporary African Art what I thought was the future of the museum? In one of those impromptu answers, known for traversing the shorter neural pathway of the reflex arc, and synapsing in the spinal cord rather than the brain, I mumbled something about a museum of performativity and the importance of putting a spotlight on somatic experiences in a cyber age and the necessity to step back from understanding the world through materiality.

This paper is an effort to put some flesh to the skeleton sketched in the aforementioned podium discussion by imagining a future that builds on a solid past. In one of his seminal papers THE PROBLEM WITH POST-COLONIAL THEORY: Re-Theorizing African Performance, Orature and Literature in the Age of Globalization and Diaspora Studies, the late Nigerian thinker Esiaba Irobi argues on the importance of performativity in the African and African Diaspora context, especially referencing the middle passage, when he wrote “They got there because the body is a site of discourse. And just as some cultures privilege the dissemination of information and knowledge through writing, oral cultures of the world privilege the encoding and decoding of precious information in the body and the expression of these knowledges through performance.” If a museum is that space where knowledge in the form of artistic, scientific or other cultural objects is collected, preserved, contextualised and displayed to an audience, I would like to take up Esiaba Irobi’s concept of the body as site of discourse, a site of encoding and decoding information and the expression of knowledge through performativity as a starting point towards a reflection of a museum of the future that might be based on performances and performativity in general. In another paper The Philosophy of the Sea: History, Economics and Reason in the Caribbean Basin Esiaba Irobi stressed that “the discourse of phenomenology offers us the latitude to compare the European understanding of the somatogenic capabilities of the human body with an African and African Diasporic episteme of the same phenomenon.” It is against this backdrop that I will take a look at Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s derivative of the concept of phenomenology of the lived experience and its connections to an “African and African diasporic epistemic and performative perspective.” To understand how the body and the lived experience could play a role as the museum of the future, it would be important to venture into Francisco Varela’s seminal concept of the embodied mind, whose core concepts stem from non-Western philosophical traditions like the Asian concepts of mindfulness and awareness. It is this paradigm of embodiment which brings together phenomenology, cognitive science and psychology that has paved the way for further thinkers like Thomas Fuchs. A future museum of performativity and immateriality will be a meseum of consciousness, and as Thomas Fuchs put in The brain – a mediating organ “Consciousness is not a localizable object or state at all, but a process of relating to-something: a perceiving-of, remembering-of, aiming-at, grasping-for, etc. In short, it is something that we live and enact.”

How can this museum of the lived and (re-)enacted be applicable, realised or recognised in the post-colonial body (a term I will like to re-read in this lecture)?

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (PhD), born in 1977 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, is an independent art curator and biotechnologist. He has been living on and off in Berlin since 1997, where he studied Food Biotechnology in the University of Technology Berlin, did a doctorate in Medical Biotechnology in the Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and a post-doctorate in Biophysics in Montpellier. He currently works, parallel to his activities as a curator, as a scientist in a medical device company.

He is the founder and art director of the art space SAVVY Contemporary Berlin, where he has directed and curated exhibits with more than 60 artists from 5 continents. He has worked as independent curator, art director or adviser for several international exhibition projects or festivals in Germany, France, England and Cameroon and has published more than 20 exhibition catalogues.

He is also the initiator and editor-in-chief of the journal SAVVY|art.contemporary.african., the first bilingual e-journal on contemporary African art. He has presented in or cooperated in different projects with institutions like the Berlinische Galerie, Tensta Konsthal Sweden, Goethe Institute, Institute für Auslandsbeziehung (ifa), Kunstraum Kreuzberg /Bethanien, Arsenal Berlin, 7. Berlin Biennale, dOCUMENTA 13 / Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, District Berlin. Upcoming presentations are in the KfB Bank Stiftung and Akademie der Künste Berlin. He was a fellow of the 2013 Einstein Foundation’s Berlin der Begegnung.