IMAG-E-NATION the political & philosophical arts initiative blog

(re)imagining the political and philosophical in the 21st century

The Political & Philosophical Arts Initiative is interested in the ways in which people interact with and compose political and philosophical ideas and actions through the various, diverse media of technology and the arts. Participants in PAI seek to explore the ways in which poetry, literature, music, photography, performance and other creative arts interleave with the political and philosophical life, either as vehicles for criticism, elaboration, theorization, intervention or activism.
The Imag-e-nation blog is a forum for interested parties to share stories, images or other contributions. Contributors range from students and faculty to artists and musicians to professional and casual commentators. Pieces can be short opinions, re-postings of appropriate materials, or original compositions. In addition, the PAI at LUC will make a selection of relevant or provocative news items each week for (re)publication here.


Drawing home: (be)longing and (dis)place(ment)

In anticipation of's one-day manga exhibition on 6 December 2014 (the proofs of the Virtual Ninja Manifesto, in the form of a graphic poem, look spectacular--grab your complimentary copy at the event!), here are some pictorially compelling moments from the not too distant past which invoke senses of home, as a physical and geographical location, a spatial and emotional concept, and a socio-politico-cultural need.

Exhibition poster by Reza Abedini

Locus: Upcoming Iranian Artists Abroad, a multi-faceted exhibition at GEMAK in The Hague, closed this past weekend but continues to resonate in the international city of peace and justice, especially given the transient population in this cosmopolis.  In the words of visual artist and curator Pendar Nabipour:

For socio-political transitions to happen process is required, and this continuing process creates the space to acquire collective experiences for people who are dealing with this process of transition.  The Iranian younger generations forming 2/3rd of the whole Iranian 75 million population have experienced a post-revolutionary period, war, and many other uncomfortable, uneasy changes during their lifetime.  This package of collectively and commonly shared experiences also creates unique opportunities for Iranian young artists to narrate stories and suggest ideas that explain a number of reasons for an ongoing transition which is not only local, but also global in many ways. 
[Left] Stages to the Constant Longing by Pendar Nabipour
[Upper right] Omnigaze by Joubin Zargarbashi
[Lower right] Obsession by Mehregan Kazemi

Various constructive tensions are brought home beautifully in this exhibition, such as in Arefeh Riahi's video of the deliberate labour of writing English and Persian in simultaneous but contrary motion and Mehregan Kazemi's wall of photographs, juxtaposed with textual translations of the visual odyssey in English, French, and Persian to mark a young woman's psycho-physical-linguistic quest for belonging.  Particularly striking is the graphic design of Farhad Fozouni, manifested in two large-scale images from his Tehran 000 series, both feats of visual poetry auguring a new narratology.

Map of Iran by Farhad Fozouni [video]

Right-to-Left by Farhad Fozouni

Meanwhile, in London's South Acton, once homeless street artist Stik has been busy painting his latest commentary on the paucity of affordable housing on a council-owned tower block.  

Big Mother, with its clean aesthetics and simple graphics, speaks loudly and clearly for our common human need for shelter and protection, as well as our longing for warmth and hospitality.  See further coverage and more photographs of this project here.

Fashion House: the wearable architecture of Marga Weimans

The delightful polychromatic palace that is Groninger Museum, in addition to featuring the best of De Ploeg and choice canvases by Abe Kuipers, has been housing the first large-scale solo exhibition of Marga Weimans, an artist who is redefining fashion design and wearable culture in the 21st century.  As the exhibition comes to an end this sunny Sunday (23 November 2014), here is a visual celebration of the rich aesthetic and social experience afforded by Weimans's imagination.

Entering the east wing of the museum, a monumental instance of Weimans's Debut collection (upper right image below) greets visitors with a pall-like austerity in its thick, black grandeur, punctuated by exaggerated fragments of decorative detail which trickle viscerally amongst the folds of mountainous fabric.  What lies under the voluminous skirts remains a secret; so fashion, in its dark, heavy playfulness veils and shields the female form in all its shapes and sizes.  

The refraction of reality through which design captures beauty, identity, and technology is conceptualised in Weimans's creative process.  Her installation Atelier showcases her usage of grids, rather than the human body, in her systematic, if not necessarily methodical, experimentation with material and colour.  The extension of each pillar and the crease of each sheet as they interact with light and movement inform structural foundations, of clothing as of buildings.              

Weimans's striking combination of contemporary architecture and material science with colours, textures, and media takes queues from cities and fantasies alike, as in her abstract Spring/Summer 2015 collection:

her 2012 collection City Life:

and her 2009 collection Wonderland:

Meandering through the various dresses on display, visitors marvel at cutting-edge fabrics made of fiberglass while overcome by layers of felt which invoke comforting childhood memories of arts and craft experiments.  A multi-coloured rain projection adorns the scrim-panel of one dress as soft billows of digitally-printed silk fall into a full-length gown, altogether encapsulating Weimans's vision of an expressive politics where gender, race, and culture meet industrial design, architecture, and fashion in creative and imaginative synthesis.  

A final stroll into, around, and through The Ultimate Dress, a cavernous space shaped by graduated sheets of heavy, ceiling-to-floor paper, wraps up Weimans's exhibition.  At once stiff and structured but soft and shifting as visitors find respite from the inundation of futuristic dynamism outside the translucent retreat, this fashion-architecture moment is an invitation to peek under the skirts of sculptural fashion, frolic in the frills and thrills of architectural design, and contemplate urban and natural representations of the beautiful and the sublime.       

Fashion House is beyond perfection--it is alive with concrete ideas which colour and illuminate the 21st century.  


Washington D.C. – the World’s Political Playground

A guest commentary by Sien van der Plank, who is enjoying her semester abroad at the University of Richmond and extending her spatial explorations of politics as play in the United States.

Tourists are often reprimanded for gawking, photographing and getting in the way of business and ‘normal’ life wherever they wander. However, in their clumsiness lies their skill: they don’t see normal life as normal, and hence have an uncanny knack for noticing things everyone else wanders by.

Washington D.C. hits daily news, hourly news, and the news being released every minute in today’s internet and media society. It is the political capital of the United States, and no doubt many consider it the political capital of the world. Yet even if most tourists flock to the National Mall to see the White House, there’s more than just formal politics flowing through the streets of Washington D.C.

Even the birds play with the Politics in Washington D.C.

One way in which informal politics can be manifested is through claiming power and control over particular spaces, and these claims can be witnessed in all sorts of groups and individuals along National Mall. There is the claim of the D.C. authorities with their security cameras, their dictating where there are walking paths, seats, rubbish bins and lighting, but there are so many other ways to play with what is left. There are the many flag football groups, who demarcate their space through cones and equipment, then claim it in their physical numbers and presence. Even the birds play with Politics in Washington D.C., taking over the security cameras on traffic lights.

Spaces are defined by written and instructed rules and regulations as well as social norms and expectations. Whereas in some cities playing flag football on green space may be considered ruining the grass or not ‘normal’, in Washington D.C. it elicits little surprise from locals. 

Space on the National Mall grass set out for games of flag football

Sometimes there is also simply a contradiction between what regulations dictate is ‘proper’, ‘required’ or ‘socially acceptable’ in places, and in what is considered so by the people occupying those spaces is. At the foot of Lincoln’s statue in the Lincoln Memorial there is a sign reading “QUIET, RESPECT PLEASE.” No, there is no shouting going on, but turn the other way and there is a mass of people who create the rumble of voices filling the cavernous space. Is this disrespect, or IS this respect? –Millions of people flocking each year in their interest and/or honour to this place, filling it up so much that it is nigh impossible to keep quiet.

Lincoln Statue and all the people in its presence

At the WWII Memorial there are multiple signs with “Please Respect the Memorial – No Wading, NO Coins” in serif fonts. In the hot sun there were adults and children alike dipping their feet. This, apparently, is disrespectful behaviour. Did these people see the signs and actively choose to do it anyway – and was this choice because they did not agree with the sentiment of it being disrespect, or because they knew it was but didn’t care enough to ‘obey’? Or did they not see the signs and did not feel disrespect in their peaceful behaviour which, considering the context and behaviour of others around them, suited the situation well? Though probably not meant as any active protest against the suggestion that such behaviour is disrespectful, simply by acting as they do, these people illustrate how one group’s attempt to empower their ideas on a space are:
            a) Not the only way to interpret that space,
            b) Not always/often successful.

Wading in the hot sun at the WWII Memorial

Finally, this playing with space and different ideas of what is appropriate in certain spaces is tinkered with inside the buildings in D.C. too. The different Smithsonian buildings around the National Mall are known for their massive displays and highly interactive exhibits. It’s not just those museums that are playing with traditional “look-but-don’t-touch” attitudes though: at the Corcoran Gallery of Art it was the art piece Loop that was most impressive.

Loop was designed and placed by Jennifer Steinkamp and Jimmy Johnson in the Corcoran Gallery of Art – specifically created for the exact context of its room in the Corcoran Gallery of Art. It is not a static nor silent piece of art. In the centre of a circular room stood a marble Venus after Antonio Canova, on the walls seemingly hand-drawn coloured loops swayed as though in a breeze (but actually projected from 6 projectors), and audio looped in the background. Still, the piece was not complete until YOU, the viewer, stepped in and became a part of it, projected in parts or in extra-large size on the walls. Steinkamp and Johnson turned a museum room into a small playground, even if only for the time their exhibit occupied the space.

Steinkamp and Johnson’s Loop, on display in September 2014 in the Corcoran Gallery of Art

Who are you, the tourist? Are you the other, or is the other all around you? Does the space around you dictate what you can and can’t do, or is it inviting you to interact with it and decide for yourself? Too often do we walk into space and see it as fixed and decided, but the next time you travel, or walk out in the street of your own town, look twice and check which rules are there for perpetuity, if any, and which to be played with.


Rebooting the Bard: Shakespeare Fringe shakes up The Hague this 21 - 23 November

STET, The English Theatre of The Hague, presents "Rebooting the Bard": 

This will be the first of the Shakespeare Fringe Festival performance weekends which bridge the biennial Hague Shakespeare Festival, presented by STET, The Hague’s English language theatre. We are delighted to announce for this weekend a collaboration with the Spui Theatre’s exciting venue Zaal (Room 3) at de Constant Rebecqueplein in The Hague where you will be able to experience everything from Hip Hop sonnets to a comic re-examination of Hamlet.

We all pride ourselves on our knowledge of Shakespeare, but why not look again? Like a painting in close up, the companies are re-examining the text and presenting fresh interpretations of Hamlet, The Tempest, Richard III and the Sonnets, proving once and for all that Shakespeare is a poet for all times.
For programming and booking details, visit

Not a mere player on the world's stage?  Then play along, against Jaques, and join in shaking up Shakespeare this coming weekend!


The changing city: creative spatial analytics and dynamics

Celebrating human interaction in the built environment and pondering the future of cities, here are some recent activities and analytics from various corners of the world:

LONDON: As part of the Constructing Worlds event series, the Barbican Centre challenged a group of photographers earlier this month to capture parkour enthusiasts in action against its Brutalist architectural backdrop.  Take a closer look at the winning entry above by Chris Orr, alongside reflections on other dynamic shots in this urban playground, in Run, Jump, Shoot.

From NAIROBI to BOSTON: 'Tis high time to rethink predictive cities, warns Dan Hill.  The way in which data have been collected and analytics have been used to solve Chicago's rat problem is unlikely to match the much more dynamic, crowd-sourced, start-up systems composed of reference points arising from informal urban environments, where "[t]he sheer unpredictability of cities is not only part of their charm, but a vital lesson" for difference and the possibility for change.

5 new spaces for peace in VENEZUELA: In lieu of gentrification fiats via institutional politics, art and architecture collective PICO estudio--with the support of local communities, international firms, students, and volunteers--is transforming abandoned urban lots and junkyards with structures that openly connect citizens, foster non-violence and responsibility, and encourage peaceful community-building. Marvel at the first results of this initiative in Petare, Los Mangos, El Chama Abono, Capitan Chico, and Pinto Salinas!


Art takes the witness stand! Film and debate on 16 November

An event quizzing procedural and substantive justice, with various material and immaterial performances and implications, brought to us by See You in The Hague and Stroom Den Haag:

Sunday November 16 2014, 16:00-17:30
Screening of Susan Schuppli's Material Witness and final debate
Location: Stroom Den Haag, Hogewal 1-9, The Hague
Free entrance, rsvp at 
English spoken 
On November 16 art itself takes the witness stand. The afternoon marks the end of Susan Schuppli's presentation Evidence on Trial at Stroom Den Haag. It starts with the screening of her film Material Witness, an examination of a series of media artefacts that emerged out of situations of contemporary conflict. "What kind of ethics are required," Schuppli asks, "when acts of violence recede into bandwidth and code?" 
In our public we welcome Wouter WernerMarieke de Goede and Cissie Fu, political and philosophical scientists who will critically question the role of art and artists in the domain of international law. Is it possible to think like an artist in a domain that isn't artistic? Moderator is Natasja van den Berg.

Click here for more details, and see you in The Hague!


Remember, remember, the fifth of November...

A burning reminder for artist Florian Göttke's lecture on political effigies--with an interactive discussion of political dissent, legitimacy, authority, and freedom of expression with curator Brigitte van der Sande and philosopher Cissie Fu--on Guy Fawkes Night this coming Wednesday!

5 November 2014, 18:00 - 20:00
The Living Lab @ Schouwburgstraat 2, The Hague

Register here, and see you there!


Invitation: Manga Extravaganza on 6 December @ Pulchri Studio warmly invites you to a demonstration of the power and potential of manga as a medium for political and philosophical expression in contemporary societies.  This unique one-day exhibition will feature prize-winning, original manga from emerging artists, accompanied by a specially commissioned series from established professionals, including our Political Artist-in-Residence 2014 Dr. Lien Fan Shen--join us in celebrating pictorial storytelling and sequential art!

Saturday 6 December 2014
Pulchri Studio in The Hague
Free and open to the public

11:00 - 12:00 Exhibition opens, with coffee

12:00 - 12:45 Seminar by Chris Goto-Jones and Florian Schneider, including the European première of the Virtual Ninja Manifesto

12:45 - 15:00 More browsing of the exhibition over refreshments, with free manga to take away



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