September 15 -October 2. The Bob Dorsey Project, in partnership with Kasper Theatre, Rixdorf
The Bob Dorsey Project
Participants: Artur Albrecht, Stefan Aue, Ann Cotten, Clémentine Deliss, Christian Filips, Lama El Khatib, Lee Plested, Vincent Sauer, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Alper Turan, and Scott Watson
Dates: Various Dates from September 15 to October 2, 2022
Locations: The Institute for Endotic Research, Donaustr. 84, 12043 Berlin
Kasper Theatre Rixdorf, Böhmische Str. 46, 12055 Berlin
Presented by The Institute for Endotic Research and Kasper Theatre Rixdorf, and organized by Lee Plested and Alper Turan, The Bob Dorsey Project is a unique investigative program on the artist Bob Dorsey (1932-1994). Initiated to frame the production of this little-known African American painter, the project conceptualizes the organization of the artist’s estate, resurfaced now nearly three decades after Dorsey’s death. Life partner of Fassbinder actor Volker Spengler, Dorsey moved to Germany in the 1960s and produced extensive visual material. As of yet dates and titles for these works remain obscure to history.
Structured as a pre-encounter with this enigmatic artist and his legacy, this program consists of lectures, readings, and workshops intended to both contemplate methods for approaching his body of work and to make initial steps in engaging with this estate responsively. The Bob Dorsey Project is aiming to collectivize the knowledge production around artist Bob Dorsey while testing an open methodology to engage responsibly with the legacy of artists whose identities were historically marginalized and whose works, so far, have existed largely in the dark.
Dorsey died of AIDS in 1994, and the accumulation of his paintings & drawings were left untouched in their apartment for years until finally stored in the shipping container inherited by Artur Albrecht, the adopted son of Bob Dorsey & Volker Spengler, who brought this massive estate to his puppet theatre, Kasper Theatre Rixdorf, last year. Formally expressionist abstractions composed through hermetic mark-making, Bob Dorsey’s unexhibited and uninventoried works do not immediately provide meta-information on his practice, nor help viewers to any ready interpretation. His early instruction at The Art Students League in New York, under George Gross, led to an informed understanding of line and proportion which underlies these briskly handled contortions where forms often emerge from the tangles of suggestive pigment. Except for the scattered bits of biographocal information (i.e. his nationality and race, his relationship with Spengler and sexual orientation, and his premature death due to AIDS), Bob’s life narrative remains essentially as abstract as his works, full of expressive gaps.
Can we see Bob through his paintings? Can we find his story there, and what is the value of examining his life’s work? What tools are useful to tell his story? Can we see his racialized and sexualized body in this art? Can we read the sheer obsessive volume of the discrete production, in tandem with the fragility of his entropic materials, as charging these works with the anxiety of the AIDS crisis? And will investigating his life reveal the power of these paintings?
To create a space for contemplation before action, the project is conceived as a speculative opportunity to reflect on curatorial approaches and examine myriad modes of engaging with the unexamined works of an ‘unknown’ artist. Through the example of Bob Dorsey’s estate, we may be able to ponder upon questions intrinsic to the curatorial process. How do you approach an artwork before there is specific meta-data and potentially eschew traditional modes of evaluation? How could one contextualize how to engage with it in an expansive, essentially social, way? Does an artwork really speak for itself? How is it possible to look at an artist’s whole career as a disrupted but unified whole? What are the ethics and politics of engaging with the artworks of an artist who showed no real interest in exhibiting his works and may have been intentionally circumnavigating the art market?
On September 15, the project will host a panel discussion with Clémentine Deliss, Lama Khatib and Stefan Aue, and Scott Watson. Moderated by Lee Plested, the panel will consist of presentations by these curators and researchers whose practices seek out answers for organizing queer, metabolic, or weird archives to ask how are specific materialities from the past (re)connected to the present? Through comparative, speculative, and fictional modes of meaning-making, these researchers will posit terms and means which may further inform paths for encountering and organizing the estate. The event will be presented in English.
Independent researchers have been engaged to do the actual work of ordering the estate and will draw terms and concepts from this initial discussion. Developed in close conversation with the organizers, from September 22 to 25, they will actualize the accounting and initial organization of the estate, taking on the marathon task of sketching an inventory of Bob Dorsey’s works and papers. Their discussions and processes will be documented and gathered. Over the afternoon of September 25, and conducted on the last day of the inventory process, we will have an open house at the Kasper Theatre Rixdorf for people who knew or knew of Bob to collect oral histories. These documents will become a part of the estate and may facilitate future scholarship on the artist.
September, 29, TIER will host a conversation with curator and writer Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Bob Dorsey’s estate-owner and puppeteer Artur Albrecht. These two close friends will discuss narratives that emerge around the investigation of Bob Dorsey’s estate through sharing the personal memories of Artur Albrecht and reflecting on contemporary issues of representation. By presenting this discussion publicly, we seek to ask who has the access to memories and how do they form narratives? Who determines what will become shared memory and how does this process work? This event will be in German.
— THURS 29TH SEPT PUBLIC CONVERSATION CANCELLED —Due to unforeseen circumstances, the conversation scheduled for Thursday September 29 between Artur Albrecht and Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung has been cancelled. We are working to arrange a future date and will keep you posted.
Amongst Bob Dorsey’s drawings, paintings and photos were found a small notebook, actually a “Schulheft” (exercise book), which has been transcribed by literary critic Vincent Sauer. On the evening of September 30, acclaimed poets and translators Ann Cotten and Christian Filips will read passages from texts found in the estate, including an extended monologue by Dorsey from this notebook, addressed at Spengler, reflecting on their relationship over the years and accusing Volker of a lack of empathy. They will also read from Volker Spengler’s diary as a young ambitious student of acting and short-time sailor, as well as his notes from the later hospital decades, ordering “Gin Tonic durch die Nasensonde” (gin tonic via nasogastric intubation). This event will be in both German and English.
October 1 and 2, Rixdorf Theatre will host a collective speculation workshop on Bob Dorsey, his works and his personal history together with a composed group of contemporary artists whose practices are informed by fiction and speculation. Initiated by curator Alper Turan, this open-ended workshop entails focused time spent collectively with works of Bob to generate alternative narratives in relation to larger societal conditions, to fill the gaps of Dorsey’s biography with fictional stories, and potentially formulate new artworks that are born out of or in response to Bob’s works, created individually or within a group. Interested artists are welcome to participate! Please apply until September 18, with a short introduction of your practice to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Through a series of public gatherings around and within Bob Dorsey’s enormous body of works, The Bob Dorsey Project will collect some critical perspectives on Dorsey’s life experience and bring the work into conversation with cultural practitioners and artists who will guide these initial encounters with the Dorsey corpus. Through speculating on the politicization of this body of art production, we seek to understand the modes through which we encounter artists, their processes and products, and the potential of their creativity for social transformation. The documentation of this research project will be developed into an artist-driven, digital testament by Berlin-based Andreas Villareal, who will be an active viewer of the entire encounter.
- Thursday, September 15, 19:00 @ TIER
Don’t Tell a Soul: Approaches to an Estate
Panel discussion with Clémentine Deliss, Lama El Khatib and Stefan Aue, and Scott Watson; Moderated by Lee Plested – In English
- Friday, September 22 – Sunday September 25, 12:00 to 17:00, @ Kasper Theatre Rixdorf
Counting the Estate, Making an Inventory.
- Sunday, September 25, 12:00 to 17:00, @ Kasper Theatre Rixdorf
- Thursday, September 29, 19:00 @TIER
Conversation with Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung and Arthur Albrecht – In German
- Friday, September 30, 19:00 @ Kasper Theatre Rixdorf
Reading from Dorsey and Spengler texts by Ann Cotten and Christian Filips, presented by Vincent Sauer – In English/German
- Saturday, Oct 1 – Sunday, October 2, 12:00 to 17:00, @Kasper Theatre Rixdorf
Workshop: Fictionalizing Bob, Collectivizing a Legacy
Initiated by Alper Turan. Open to artists & practitioners whose work involves fictional world-making and/or collective speculation. – In English
Limited to 6 participants, please send a short introduction of your practice to email@example.com by September 18th.
Artur Albrecht is a theatre and film actor, director and theatre teacher. He has run K&K Volk Art and been owner operator of Kasper Theatre Rixdorf since 2007. He has also developed many programs for children’s theatre, including RIXDORF SAGA PART 1 and 2.
Stefan Aue is project leader at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin. He is
currently realizing the collaborative program The Whole Life. An Archive Project (2018-
2022). He holds a masters degree from the Cultures of the Curatorial program, Leipzig, and studied sociology, psychology, and media studies. He is co-editor of ArteFakte: Reflections and Practices of Scientific-Artistic Encounters (Transcript, 2014) and Dictionary of Now (Matthes & Seitz, 2019).
Ann Cotten is a writer and translator from Vienna, Austria. Recently she has translated books by J. Wenderoth, I. Waidner, R. Waldrop, L. Russell, A. Green. Cotten’s English language work is published by Broken Dimanche Press (I, Coleoptile, 2013; Lather In Heaven, 2016). Her most recent book in German is the SF prose collection “Lyophilia” (Suhrkamp 2019). She is currently working on her PhD “Aesthetics of Misuseability”.
Clémentine Deliss works across the borders of contemporary art, curatorial practice, and critical anthropology. She is Global Humanities Professor in History of Art (2021-2022) at the University of Cambridge and Associate Curator at KW Institute for Contemporary Art Berlin, where she is currently developing the “Metabolic Museum-University” with a peer group that includes BLESS, Matthias Bruhn, Iman Issa, Augustin Maurs, Tom McCarthy, Henrike Naumann, Margareta von Oswald, Manuel Raeder, El Hadj Abdoulaye Sène, Krista Belle Stewart, and Luke Willis Thompson.
Christian Filips lives as a poet, director, and music dramatist in Berlin. Between 2000 and 2007 he studied philosophy, musicology, and literature in Brussels and Vienna. In 2001 he received Austrian Radio’s Rimbaud Prize. Filips has been the program and archive director of the Sing-Akademie in Berlin since 2006. His works are characterized by an expanded notion of poetry that also integrates musical theater and social sculpture, as exemplified by his productions for the Volksbühne Berlin and the Berliner Ensemble, amongst others. His texts have primarily been published by the Swiss publisher Urs Engeler, with whom he has jointly published the series “roughbooks” for contemporary poetry since 2010, the most recent being Heiße Fusionen: Beta-Album; Gedichte und Analysen zur poetischen Ökonomie, 2007–2018 (2018).
Lama El Khatib writes, draws, and makes objects. Her practice examines spatial relations along/as aesthetic, political, and cultural lines. Since 2018, she works at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin.
Lee Plested is from Vancouver and based in Berlin, and has made contemporary exhibitions of art in a variety of historical and institutional contexts. His writing has appeared in Artforum, Canadian Art, and Art21. He is currently working on a project to animate documents of conceptual art from the archive of the Western Front, Vancouver, for their 50th anniversary next year.
Vincent Sauer works as an editor for the journal „Sprache im technischen Zeitalter“ (based at Literarisches Colloquium Berlin) and at the publishing house Schlaufen-Verlag. He regularly contributes articles for the newspaper „neues deutschland“ and is currently translating poems of the francophone egyptian surrealist Georges Henein.
Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung is an independent curator, author and biotechnologist. He is founder and artistic director of SAVVY Contemporary in Berlin and is the artistic director of Sonsbeek20–24, a quadrennial contemporary art exhibition in Arnhem, the Netherlands. He is professor in the Spatial Strategies MA program at the Weissensee Academy of Art in Berlin. Curator of Dark’Art Biennial 2018 in Dakar, Senegal. He is the Artistic Director of Rencontres de Bamako (2021-22), Mali. From 2023 he will take on the role of Director at Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) in Berlin.
Alper Turan is a curator and researcher based in Istanbul and Berlin. His current research and curatorial practice focus on queer strategies, methodologies, and languages, which include but are not limited to abstraction, collective speculation, appropriation, and anonymity. His recent curatorial projects include Smoothing (lines into circles) (A Tale Of A Tub, Rotterdam, 2022); How does the body take shape under pressure? (Queer Museum Vienna, 2022). He is a Ph.D. candidate at the College of Fine Arts in Hamburg (HFBK) and works as an assistant curator at Protocinema.
Scott Watson is former Head (2012–2018) and Professor (2003–2022) in the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory and Director/Curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery (1989–2021) at the University of British Columbia. Distinctions include the Hnatyshyn Foundation Award for Curatorial Excellence in Contemporary Art (2010), Alvin Balkind Award for Creative Curatorship in British Columbia Arts (2008), and the UBC Dorothy Somerset Award for Performance Development in the Visual and Performing Arts (2005). In addition to his extensive writing on art, Watson’s fiction includes Platonic Love, Three Tales (1981) published by New Star Press and was anthologized in Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative 1977-1997, edited by Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian.
Andres Villarreal is a Swedish-Colombian artist, filmmaker and writer. Andres received their MFA from the Berlin University of the Arts and has previously studied Gender Studies and Sociology and has attended the Whitney ISP in New York City. Andres’ practice interrogates how discourses emerge and are cultivated within society; explores the relationship between representation and the production of reality; and deals with questions relating to time, narration, and memory. Their work is often situated in the borderland between fact and fiction.
Eine Aussage von Bob Dorsey (english below)
Der Grund, dass ich 1932 in Philedephia/Pensylvania, USA geboren wurde – ist: um zu malen.
Mein erstes Meisterwerk war ein Frachter – diesen Frachter portraitierte ich als ein Detail innerhalb eines monumentalen Aquarelles, das man mystischerweisen den “Philadelphia Navy Yard” nannte. Dort arbeitete von Zeit zu Zeit mein Vater, wohingegen meine Mutter 6 tage in der Woche als Sekretarin für einen entsprechenden Lohn schuftete: für den geringsten – den Hunderlohn.
Also mein restes Meisterwerk war jener verrostete Frachter. Meine erste interessierte Kritikerin – meine Mutter – fragte mich angesichts dieses Bildes, was dieser markwürdige senkrechte Strich, der sich seitwärts aus dem Schiff ins Wasser, dargestellt als eine Linie von sich aneinanderreihenden Suppentassen – ergross, bedeuten solle? Meine Antwort was: Das Schiff muss mal: Da knallte sie mir eine.
As war mein erstes Meisterwerk, fast als stünde Pavlow dahinter.
Meine Mutter, sie war somit auch meine erste Leherin – korrigierte einmal die perspektivische Haltung des Fusses meines überdimensionalen Nicolaus. Und vor dieser nostalgischen Autorität wurde ich bis heute seitdem nicht mehr heimgesucht. George Gross, mein Lehrer an der “Art students League” in New York machte schon mal unangenehmere Bemerkungen über meine Zeichnungen – Don’t tell a soul.
A statement by Bob Dorsey
The reason that I was born in 1932 in Philedephia/Pensylvania, USA – is: to paint.
My first masterpiece was a freighter – this freighter I portrayed as a detail within a monumental watercolor, mystically called the “Philadelphia Navy Yard”. There my father worked from time to time, whereas my mother toiled 6 days a week as a secretary for a corresponding wage: the lowest – the dog’s wage.
So my remaining masterpiece was that rusted freighter. My first interested critic – my mother – asked me, in view of this picture, what was the meaning of this striking vertical line that extended sideways from the ship into the water, represented as a line of soup cups lined up next to each other? My answer was: The ship has to go. There she slapped me. As was my first masterpiece, almost as if Pavlow was behind it.
My mother – she was thus also my first teacher – once corrected the perspective posture of the foot of my oversized Nicolaus. And before this nostalgic authority I have not been haunted since. George Gross, my teacher at the “Art Students League” in New York made more unpleasant remarks about my drawings – Don’t tell a soul.