Newsletter 02 : Curare-Curare
27 November 2008
Dear Barbara,

To BRUSSELS BIENNIAL - first edition

Please forward

To the Biennial Board of Trustees and the Biennial General Assembly
 To all in the Biennial Team, To all volunteers,

Thank you for your letter well received. In it you invite us, and sixty other artists, all of them participating in this biennial, to conceive of ten original art certificats, for the Brussels Biennial to put on sale. There’s no mention of any compensation for the artists. We formulated our response to your invitation in our second newsletter, Curare-Curare.

Though we definitely sympathize with this idea, designed to sustain a rising initiative in a difficult context, we are sorry to inform you that we cannot respond favorably to your question, and this for a number of reasons.

First there is the nature of our presence in this edition of the Brussels Biennial. The original condition of the exhibition space the Biennial assigned to Potential Estate, obliged us to transform it thoroughly, notably at our personal expense. As things are, we find that we already have been very supportive to the Biennial, not only offering the première of our film ‘The Crying of Potential Estate’, but also transforming a greasy technical room, into an intimate lounge situated between two spacious floors in the cold Post Sorting Center.

Furthermore, before your question reached us, we had already initiated ‘The Gift’ (a collective property sale), which offers 20 shares on our film at 500 euro. It creates the opportunity for collectors to actively participate in the creation of a new Potential Estate piece: the gift of their collective copy of The Crying of Potential Estate to the village of Belgium, Wisconsin. It is our actualization and experimentation of the potlatch, a ritualized form of giving practised in the past by native Americans in the North-West.

Fig 1. Members of a Tlingit Native American group of southeastern Alaska pose with costumes and masks worn for ceremonial dances during a potlatch. Northwest Coast Native American peoples held potlatches—large ceremonial gatherings involving dances, feasts, the exchange of goods, and the performance of sacred rituals—to honor the dead or affirm the high status of chiefs.

We intend The Gift to raise the complex issue of economic transactions in the field of contemporary art. Basically our project enscribes itself as a rupture into your invitation to support your ’decision to recapitalize the Brussels Biennial to the amount of 285.000 euro’. Questioning your invitation is in our view also questioning the forms of exchange in the art economy at large. Biennials producing art works on condition of their advance sales to collectors or private banks, as was the case for some works in this edition of Manifesta and the Brussels Biennial, seems more a unilateral redistribution of roles rather than a direct consequence of the current worldwide economic crisis.

Australian’s God’s Eye View
"And while the artists tried to be as geographically accurate as possible, they admitted that parts of the Garden Eden are from Belgium."
Potential Estate presented at the 1st Brussels Biennial, from October 19th 2008 till January 4th 2009. "The biennial represents a first step in a larger project designed as a trans-national endeavour that will unfold in two steps until 2010."

Fig 2. Kwakiuti potlatch at Alert Bay, British Columbia, September 1911.

It is said that nobody compared to the socio-anthropologist Marcel Mauss, the author of ‘L’essai sur le don’ (1925), as far as erudition was concerned. Instead of being complicated, his comments often had the deceptive form of common sense explanations. Finishing his early morning gymnastics on his balcony and having had breakfast, he could thus speak of the Belgians and their buttered sandwiches, and of a lot of other issues.

So do we calculate correctly? One third of the Biennial’s total budget will depend on the generosity of its participating artists, and your ability to capitalize on their efforts? Are we being invited to butter the Biennial’s sandwiches, as a bonus? However we have no intention to question the financial governance of the Biennial, instead we consider it more to the point to question the form and intention of the transaction in which Potential Estate is engaged.

The potlatch is that exchange and redistribution of property that Mauss has giving so much attention to. Usage that exceeds economy and that takes to a variety of materializations in all fields of life. Mauss has shown that the gift appeals everywhere and always to the obligation of a return. To wipe out the humiliation and compensate for the loss in rank caused by the gift, the donee has to render with «usury». In other words, he has to respond to the initial gift with a superior gift. It is, quoting Bataille, through the constitution of a positive value of loss, that this institution – the potlach – acquires meaning. The gift confers authority and it obliges the donee: so it is not only about economy, it commits to an art and a policy, to a diplomacy.

Mauss took note of the fact that in Germanic languages the word ‘gift’ is etymologicaly linked to the notion of ’poison’, and concluded that it rendered through the same obligation delight and death. Are not Biennials like some great ceremony living their critical hour as immense counterfeits of the potlatch that Bataille enounces? Questions. How to take care of their excess ? By entering a cure? Is the work of the curator not that of the one who takes care, of the work and consequently of its author?

Here we have to ‘complexify’ the Maussien idea of the ‘Gift-Gift’ and propose a ‘Curare-Curare’ of our own brew. Because ‘curare’, hence ‘curator’, does not only signify ‘taking care of’, but it is also names the poison that was used by the Indians in Guiana. This poison was discovered during colonial times in the XVI century, and its synthesized version is being used today as an anesthetic in all hospitals all over the world. The usage of this medicine is reserved to practitioners that have had training in anesthetics and reanimation. 

Dear Barbara, although we cannot accept your invitation we hope these few lines are able to annilihate the sedating effects of ‘curare’ and free the cherishing ‘curare’, the effects of which, if administered without moderation, could recharge our economy of affects.

No doubt this Biennial’s future has room for change.

Looking forward to your reaction(s), we remain

Yours Sincerely,

Potential Estate

Other articles in this chapter

"The Crying Of Potential Estate" DVD - synopsis - Draft for the synopsis (french version) to be published on the back of the DVD.
The road* - «In our eyes, a car club is an organization of friends ! A brotherhood ! A union of hard working blue collar laborers just building their rides with what they got and willing to help build each other cars, not buy them built!»
Rascals Car Club, 2001
Current roadmap of empowerment - Mapping us, time as neighbourhood, positions and statistics.
Collective Property Sale - A Gift : a transatlantic journey
Press Release - POTENTIAL ESTATE invites you to CABINET ANCIAUX presented at the 1st Brussels Biennial, Postal Sorting Center – Midi/Zuid Station.
Newsletter 01 : Show & Tell - Dear Barbara, Dear Philippe,
The distribution of The Crying of Potential Estate (Blank Version) - Potential Estate announces the distribution of The Crying of Potential Estate (Blank Version), a film of murder, money and multiplicity.

The Potential Estate website • • Confirm your interest here!