ESSAYS Mousse 71

Transactional Objects Full of Contexts in Voided Sites

by Cédric Fauq


This essay—a development to a previously published article titled “Curating for the Age of Blackness” published in Mousse 66, Winter 2018-2019—departs from personal encounters with works by Carolyn Lazard, Ima-Abasi Okon, Cameron Rowland, and Abbas Zahedi. It attempts to draw relationships (from echoes to tensions) between the practices of these four artists. The resulting observations will enable to sketch out the contours of an updated conceptualism: one that is intimately linked to social justice but doesn’t try to “do justice;” one that embraces blackness without labelling it. That renewed conceptualism is concerned with the obsolescence of the concept medium, finds its value in transactionality, and is busy practicing unworlding.


During the summer of 2019, several cold things have been on my mind. Most notably a small empty bottle fridge placed in the middle of a room—Dwelling: In This Space We Grieve (2019) by Abbas Zahedi, presented at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, London; and eleven wall-mounted air conditioning units lined-up on one, long wall—(Unbounded [sic]-Vibrational [sic] Always [sic]-on-the-Move [sic]) Praising Flesh (An _Extra aSubjective p,n,e,u,m,a-mode of Being T,o,g,e,t,h,e,r (2019) by Ima-Abasi Okon I saw at Chisenhale Gallery, London. Both were not only (for most of the time) strongly vibrating but also emitting sounds, or rather music of sorts. The former is a mix of Persian grieving songs, electronic dance music, recordings of the artist’s own voice, and other fridges’ noises, devised in collaboration with Saint Abdullah musicians. The latter a slowed down instrumental version of Miguel’s 2013 hit Adorn titled alongside-ness without identification 1 + excess over the original value1 < (A——-d——–o———r——–n) (2019) by Ima-Abasi Okon.


DWELLING 2019 - Abbas ZahediAbbas Zahedi, Dwelling: In This Space We Grieve, 2019. Courtesy: the artist 


That same summer (I don’t remember whether before, after, or in between encountering the fridge and the air conditioning units), I also found myself bathing in a rain of white-noise in the exhibition Civic Duty presented at Cell Project Space, London. Supposedly, the work by Carolyn Lazard—composed of multiple Dohm noise machines placed on the ceiling of the gallery space—was also presented as part of Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon (2017-2018) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York. I had been to that exhibition on my first trip to New York; but—I must confess—I missed it then. I have no recollection of this work at all. It might as well be possible that I was under its influence without noticing as it was placed in the elevators of the museum. And—as a matter of fact—I surely did take that elevator. The title of this work, A Conspiracy (2017), only adds more mystery to my first inexperience of the piece: conspiracy, indeed, implies secrecy. The fact that the piece escaped my attention but was still in my presence (more than I was in its presence) challenge the power dynamics usually at play between a viewer and an artwork.


CL A ConspiracyCarolyn Lazard, A Conspiracy, 2017, Trigger: Gender as a Tool and a Weapon installation view at the New Museum, New York, 2017. Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York

CL_CellProjectSpace_2019_02Carolyn Lazard, A Conspiracy, 2017, Civic Duty installation view at Cell Project Space, London, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York

05__Ima Abasi Okon at Chisenhale Gallery_Photo Andy KeateIma-Abasi Okon, Infinite Slippage: nonRepugnant Insolvencies T!-a!-r!- r!-y!-i!-n!-g! as Hand Claps of M’s Hard’Loved’Flesh [I’M irreducibly-undone because]—Quantum Leanage-Complex-Dub, 2019, installation views at Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2019. Commissioned and produced by Chisenhale Gallery, London. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Andy Keate


Fast forward to January 2020, I went to Frankfurt, visiting a show titled Museum at MMK. One of the institution’s antenna space, ZOLLAMT MMK, hosts a project of its own: it’s Cameron Rowland’s D37, previously presented at MOCA, Los Angeles (2018-2019). Two leaf blowers—Stihl Gas Backpack Blower – Item: 0628-002765 (2018), and Stihl Backpack Blower – Item: 0514-005983 (2018)—are placed in the middle of the room. They look positioned like they ceased all activities but they’re not dead bodies, yet. Their origin is clearly detailed by their caption, written by the artist themselves.

The fridge; the air conditioning units; the noise machines; the leaf blowers: four works that crystallize interrogations I have about the relevance of art in the face of “our times”—while running away from me; while complicating what those times might as well be. All four (1) embody issues surrounding the readymade as a “medium;” (2) subvert the parameter “value” so prevalent in our neoliberal societies, inherent to the system that is contemporary art, its production, and circulation; and (3) entertain a close relationship to—and emerge from—what has come to be branded as “blackness.

These three terms: “medium,” “value,” and “blackness” are here the primary concepts I will use to delve into the works of Carolyn Lazard, Ima-Abasi Okon, Cameron Rowland, and Abbas Zahedi. If my aim is to highlight affinities in the strategies they adopt, I will also attempt to highlight dissent: in between each other’s as well as within their own bodies of work, since the cultivation of contradictions surely is a common denominator for the four artists.


CR Stihl, Stihl + TanakaCameron Rowland
Tanaka Hedge Trimmer – Item: 0628-002770, 2018
Tanaka Hedge Trimmer sold for $87.09
10 x 35 x 10 inches (25.40 × 88.90 × 25.40 cm)
Rental at cost

Stihl Gas Backpack Blower – Item: 0628-002765, 2018
Stihl Gas Backpack Blower sold for $206
18 x 25 x 43 inches (45.72 × 63.50 × 109.22 cm)
Rental at cost

Stihl Backpack Blower – Item: 0514-005983, 2018
Stihl Backpack Blower sold for $59
21 x 35 x 19 inches (53.34 × 88.90 × 48.26 cm)
Rental at cost

In the United States, property seized by the police is sold at police auction. Auction proceeds are used to fund the police.

Civil asset forfeiture originated in the English Navigation Act of 1660.1
The Navigation Acts were established to maintain the English monopoly on the triangular trade between England, West Africa, and the English colonies.2 As Eric Williams writes, “Negroes, the most important export of Africa, and sugar, the most important export of the West Indies, were the principal commodities enumerated by the Navigation Laws.”3 During the seventeenth century, the auction was standardized as a primary component of the triangle trade to sell slaves, goods produced by slaves, and eventually luxury goods. The auction remains widely used as a means to efficiently distribute goods for the best price.4

Police, ICE, and CBP may retain from 80% to 100% of the revenue generated from the auction of seized property.

Rental at cost: Artworks indicated as “Rental at cost” are not sold. Each of these artworks may be rented for 5 years for the total price realized at police auction.

1 Caleb Nelson, “The Constitutionality of Civil Forfeiture,” The Yale Law Journal 125, no. 8 (June 2016), https:// the-constitutionality-of-civil-forfeiture.
2  Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944), 56–57.
3  Williams, 57.
4  Brian Learmount, A History of the Auction (London: Barnard & Learmount, 1985), 30–31.

Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York



All the works mentioned above share a certain “air”: Abbas Zahedi’s fridge produces cold air thanks to its hot vibrating fan; Ima-Abasi Okon’s air conditioning units cool down the space; Carolyn Lazard’s white-noise machines sound like air; and Cameron Rowland’s resting leaf blowers are only waiting to be pulsating winds. These different “registers of air” could easily relate to the four seasons. They could also refer to certain vocal cords and, as such, to language. They certainly are part of what Christina Sharpe (Associate Professor at Tufts University, Boston) has called “the archives of breathlessness”1—which is both a repository for the ones who couldn’t breathe, as well as the air source from which we keep inspire. Sharpe writes:

“There is, too, a connection between the lungs and the weather: the supposedly transformative properties of breathing free air—that which throws off the mantle of slavery—and the transformative properties of being ‘free’ to breathe fresh air. These discourses run through freedom narratives habitually. But who has access to freedom? Who can breathe free? Those narratives do not ameliorate this lack; this lack is the atmosphere of antiblackness.”2

Ima-Abasi Okon’s air conditioning units aren’t functioning all the time: they too have to stop sometimes to take some air (rather than spitting it out). They are never on full power for long. And the noise they sing is devoiced from its lyrics; while the whole track has been slowed down. Miguel is no longer able to sing: only the phantom of the hit subsists. In contrast, for one of her latest projects in collaboration with Taylor Le Melle (Technical-Adjacent [2020]) at Turf Projects, Croydon, voices are echoing. You can hear Maya Angelou’s words; Brenna Bendhar lecturing; and—specifically—Whitney Houston singing I’m Every Woman (1993). But Houston is stuck on repeat on “It’s all in me.” Unable to take her breathe, she keeps repeating the same run, as if trying to get out of underwater.


Installation views of Technical Adjacent by Taylor LeMelle + Ima-Abasi Okon

Installation views of Technical Adjacent by Taylor LeMelle + Ima-Abasi Okon

Taylor Le Melle & Ima-Abasi Okon, Technical-Adjacent installation views at Turf Projects, Croydon, 2020. © The artist and writer. Courtesy: the artist and writer. Photo: Tim Bowditch


Abbas Zahedi’s Dwelling: In This Space We Grieve pre-sents another instance of breathlessness. Indeed, the small fridge unit refers to the potential origin of the sparkle of the 2017’s Grenfell Tower fire, in which Khadija Saye (an artist and friend of Zahedi), died, drowned in fires that also swallowed her screams. Emitting a green light from its empty inside, the refrigerator is at once witness, archive and shrine, singing in thrills through its cold surface. Both Okon and Zahedi’s works make me feel, deeply, the irrelevance of language to communicate longing, mourning, faith, and hope, showing me the horizon for a communicating otherwise, which involves many unarticulated vibrations. Carolyn Lazard’s A Conspiracy and Rowland’s leaf blowers aren’t singing: they maybe are more focused not on the possibility of breathing (and singing), but on the conditions of asphyxia itself; on asphyxia as the atmospheric condition of anti-blackness. Sharpe invoking Frantz Fanon quote:

“We revolt simply because, for a variety of reasons, we cannot breathe” and later adds:

“To explicate Fanon, it is not the specifics of any one event or a set of events that are endlessly repeatable and repeated, but the totality of the environments in which we struggle; the machines in which we live; what I am calling the weather.”3

In this sense, you could read Lazard’s gathering of white-noise machines as an embodiment of the daily oppression (call it silencing, call it choking, or call it drowning) experienced by black folks, and—more generally—the minors. Those who still find a way, under the deafening white noise, to sing, like Saidiya Hartmann writes, a “revolution in minor key.”4 More specifically, Lazard’s use of the Dohm noise machines hints at the pervasive nature of oppression, its invisibility and general silence. Rowland’s practice departs from the same structural observation—the soft pervasiveness of slavery’s afterlife—but tries to annihilate the ambient asphyxia. Hence the leaf blowers, seized by the police in an act of legalized dispossession, have been bought by the artist at a police auction in an act of repossession (which passes by the paradoxical freezing of the value of the items and its inscription in a rental economy, where it can never be “possessed” by anyone anymore, not even Rowland himself).



I would now like to turn to other works and gestures enacted by these artists to emphasize the importance of transactionality in their practices, a term here used to distance itself from the mere act of “transaction.” Indeed, this notion wants to refer to something more than the “exchange” as an act. It seeks to comprehend the conditions of transaction, as well as the power dynamics at play between the different agents involved. In a way, the simple act of breathing previously mentioned is a form of transaction; but its transactionality (the conditions that make breathing possible transactional) is what the four artists are somewhat focused on.

One work by Cameron Rowland (one of the rare pieces he actually “sculpted”), embodies multiple aspects of transactionality. The work is titled Pass-Thru (2014). Two identical versions exist (they are identical as far as one was put on the market for purchase, while the other one was for rental). The sculptures have been hand-made by the artist in order to reproduce the precarious plexiglas pass-through, that are themselves based on a higher-end version, in bulletproof glass. A copy of a copy, the Pass-Thru is, twice, trying to “pass.” It could thus be inscribed in the black counterfeit tradition.5 But pass for what? And pass what? Cash? For who?


CR_Pass-Thru_2014Cameron Rowland
Pass-Thru, 2014
Acrylic, hardware, 24-hour rotator disc
23 x 20 x 21 inches (58.42 x 50.80 x 53.34 cm)

In some places, businesses use a pass-thru to pass cash or goods back and forth; this could be at a bank or a liquor store. The highest standard of pass-thrus use bullet-proof glass, although this material is far too expensive to be used as a protective measure by those businesses where it might be most effective. Therein plastic is used in place of bullet-proof glass. They are made either by a manufacturer or by the shop owner. This pass-thru was made by Rowland.

Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York


I only saw this work once (amputated of its twin) in an exhibition titled Other Mechanisms at Secession, Vienna in 2018. In the press release, curator Anthony Huberman writes: “Machines are part of the air we breathe;” re-reading the sentence reminded me of the title of one of Christina Sharpe’s reference for her “Weather” chapter: Breathing Race into the Machine (2014) by Lundi Braun. At Secession, the work was simply installed on the floor, which both made it inoperative but also prone to surgical analysis. Such exposure of the apparatus created a fracture between the intention of the object (safety) and its material vulnerability. Ultimately, Pass-Thru couldn’t do the job. It was both a failing lung (missing her sister), and a failing oxygen provider. The title itself hints at a lack of air, an interruption.

Trying to look for early examples of transactionality, I thought of David Hammons’ Bliz-aard Ball Sale (1983). Elena Filipovic gives a great account of how transaction is at the core of Hammons’ practice. She writes:

“[…] whereas Marcel Broodthaers may have declared that the ‘definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution’, Hammons wagers that, more specifically, it lies in the transaction.”6

She also quotes him:

“There’s no object in the transaction.”7

And I started to think: What would happen if Hammons’ snowballs were to pass through Rowland’s Pass-Thru. What would be the result of such operation? Would it exhibit anything? Surely not. In effect, as much as the pass-through is see-through, the snowball is made out of a material that is meant to run through your fingers. So there is, indeed, no object in the transaction, even if you think that there is. Okon, Lazard, and Zahedi are also busy with transactionality: the conditions of transaction embodied in objects beyond objecthood.

We can summon Lazard’s performance Support System (for Park, Tina and Bob) enacted in 2016 for a day (from 9am to 9pm). For this project, that took the artist’s bed as performing site, Lazard asked visitors coming to experience the one-to-one performance to bring a bouquet of flower as “cost of admission”. Accumulated, the gathering of bouquets turns into a “collectively-produced sculpture.” Here the artist—blurring the lines between the private sphere and the public-facing, the art performance and the performance of convalescence—enhances the convergence of two worlds by requesting a labour of care to their audience: they are flowers for the sick, as well as flowers for the performer. Through this cycle, the artist manages to point out to both convalescence and emotional support as labour, and thus disrupts the terms of art production and art consumption.


CL Support SystemCarolyn Lazard, Support System (for Park, Tina, and Bob), 2016. Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York


The questioning of art production is one of Okon’s underlying but continued strand, manifesting in her practice in (at least) two ways: her Mahalia Jackson series (2014–ongoing), and her negotiations with institutions. The Mahalia Jackson OSB (Oriented Strand Boards) works embody transactionality in their multiplicity: they can be experienced as proto-monochrome pieces; plinths for other works; or pinning boards for some of Okon’s diagrams. All the Mahalia Jackson works I have encountered so far contained a secret I couldn’t unlock (and maybe I didn’t want it to be, unlocked). At the same time, in proximity to Mahalia, I always felt “welcome” to sit around the “table.” Here is an advice by Okon herself:

“Go and sit with Mahalia, everything you need to know about how these works operate or attempt to, is with her.”8

You could fantasize—as I did—about a recent release of a compilation of Mahalia Jackon’s songs titled Wood Love, or the fact that, as a child, she used to pick up drift wood in the Mississipi that she exposed to the sun to dry before bringing it back to her aunt, so it could be used as firewood. And the fact that one day, on the way back from the Mississippi to her aunt, she heard jazz, she felt it. You could rave about the fact that Jackons’ coffin was made out of mahogany. But you would have to quickly pause. One thing Okon plays with being the actual transactional nature of interpretation.

Now when it comes to working with institutions, she also disrupts the terms of the transaction between “the client” aka the institution, or other commissioning body and “the service provider” aka the artist. In an effort to think of the economy of artistic labour and the gap that exists between “labour” value and the value of the “work,” the artist has experimented with “terms and conditions,” “agreements,” and “contracts.” One recent example being the aforementioned Technical-Adjacent at Turf Projects with Taylor Le Melle. The press release mentions:

“The aim was to, based on the budget, determine and pre-agree on a set length of time that both Le Melle and Okon would work on the show together. In this case, what was agreed totalled ten working days. The agreement was to spend these ten working days developing the idea and making the work and no more. Thus what is presented at Turf does not represent a completion of the Technical <—> Adjacent inquiry but rather is a reflection of what has been completed thus far.”9

So the “final” result presented in the show was a work in progress that was also the work itself, but not yet completed. For the group exhibition there’s something in the conversation that is more interesting than the finality of (a title) which took place at The Showroom, London, in 2018, as an outcome of an artist associate program initiated by Teresa Cisneros called Holding Space (2017) at The Showroom too, the main component of Okon’s intervention was a “General Service Agreement” outlining the ways she would provide “The Service” (the delivery of homemade dishwasher tablets) to “The Client” (the institution).


There’s something in the conversation that is more interesting than the finality of-33Ima-Abasi Okon, Stacked Potential, 2018, there’s something in the conversation that is more interesting than the finality of (a title) installation view at The Showroom, London, 2018. Commissioned by The Showroom, London. © Ima-Abasi Okon. Courtesy: the artist. Photo: Daniel Brooke


The intricacies of the agreement are complex, but what struck me was the consequences of such a simple act on the institution’s day-to-day operations: indeed, the staff had to hand wash the dishes if the artist hadn’t made tablets available? (Which was contingent on the time she was able to perform artistic labour). Okon also had to nail down the formula for the tablets, since they were not as efficient as industrial tablets, which resulted in attempting several recipes.10 Yet again, here, in the transaction, the object (a sculpture?), also disappears.

If Okon pushes the limits of art production by way of questioning its conditions, Zahedi’s practice is of interest when it comes to approaching “consumption.” That Dwelling: In This Space We Grieve presented itself as an empty fridge wasn’t anecdotical. The artist writes:

“The premise of this work is to offer a libation, within a space where the serving and spilling of drinks if forbidden.”

Bottled drinks have been a fixture of Zahedi’s practice for several years now (since 2017). Their crafting summons the artist’s heritage of drink-making through his maternal lineage, as well as the independent drink making trend that took off this past decade (he himself started to work for a brewery in 2015); while their circulation hints at a specific art-world ritual. But the bottled drinks aren’t only one thing, they occupy several spaces: they can be found within exhibitions, centered or peripherical; at the cafés of an art institution, or the bar of an opening. Sometimes you would have to pay for them, some other times you could get them for free. As such, every time I was offered one, I was hesitating to open up the bottle, oscillating between the desire to keep the object and its content as a sacred object, or enjoy the beverage and its flavors.

For his latest project to date, How to make a How from a Why? presented at South London Gallery in 2020, Zahedi devised a bespoke fire sprinkler system that distributes rose water in hand-washing bowls made of ceramic. These ceramic bowls have been fired with the Shandy Saffron bottles that were devised and distributed at the Diaspora Pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale, (2017). So virtually, when the audience activates the sprinkle by pumping the cistern at the center of the space, they participate in the making of a cocktail that merges the Shandy Saffron and the rose water. The liquid transaction gives space for transactionality in time. It makes the bridge between the time when some people were still amongst us, and the time they are no longer, consumed by the flames.


Abbas Zahedi, How To Make A How From A Why, 2020. Installation view at the South London Gallery. Photo Andy Stagg (1)Abbas Zahedi, How To Make A How From A Why? installation view at the South London Gallery, 2020. Photo: Andy Stagg

Bottles in Diaspora Pavilion 2017 - Abbas ZahediAbbas Zahedi, MANNA: Machine Aided Neural Networking of Affect installation view at Diaspora Pavilion, Venice, 2017. Courtesy: International Curators Forum

IMAGE 2 - MORAVEK - VIDEO STILL - CREDIT Abbas ZahediAbbas Zahedi, MORAVEK / Me, Myself and A.I.I.I. (still), 2018. © Alex J Dunne. Courtesy: the artist


Voided Sites & Unworlding

The transactional vibe of Okon, Zahedi, Lazard, and Rowland’s works can now lead us to better problematize the occupation of the gallery space, the white shell. Under the guise of an aesthetic that could be deemed “neutral” and “minimalist,” whose codes often borrow to the legacy of the readymade, how do they manage to re-write, re-inscribe—or maybe even better—re-formulate the contexts in which they find themselves in? In which they present their works and “intervene”? To conclude this piece and offer a hypothesis to this question, I would like to pause on four final works.

They are an expandable and ever-changing stack of plastic chairs by Okon (Parables for the BLAZER: Mahalia’s EXISTENCEandEXISTENTS-HyPE fragrant stacking balm (306.HAL) Or Radical Hospitality in the a-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-o-r-y (2018); a cable-connected tv monitor hanging from a wall-mounted articulated arm by Lazard, the kind that are familiar to patients in infusion centers (Extended Stay, 2019); the singing and pulsating doors and shutters of South London Gallery’s Fire Station gallery by Zahedi (In This Space We Leave, 2020— another collaboration with Saint Abdullah musicians); and the four mahogany doors and handrail of the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, mortgaged by the institution to Encumbrance Inc. (Cameron Rowland, Encumbrance, 2020).


02_plazaplazaIma-Abasi Okon, Parables for the BLAZER: Mahalia’s EXISTENCE-andEXISTENTS-HyPE fragrant stacking balm (306.HAL) Or Radical Hospitality in the a-n-t-i-c-i-p-a-t-o-r-y, 2018, installation view at Plaza Plaza, London, 2018. Courtesy: the artist

CL_WhitneyBiennial_2019_02Carolyn Lazard, Extended Stay, 2019, Whitney Biennial installation view at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2019. Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York


Each of these works, I would argue, point out to the institutional shell that contain them while deserting it. I am speaking here of “deserting” in the sense of abandoning a place. Okon, Lazard, Zahedi, and Rowland operate in different ways: the chairs, borrowed to the artist’s local church and a catering company, direct towards these very places of congregation. If needed, their original owners can come and pick them up, resulting in the change of height of the stack (#transactionality). Lazard’s readymade television monitor brings us to the hospital, not only as a place but also in time (which the title emphasizes). But if Okon and Lazard’s works translate from the exhibition site to an elsewhere, the sounding surfaces of Zahedi and Rowland’s financial operation ground us to the institutions where they are presented, to highlight the original functions of the places they find themselves in, their material history, and who they truly belong to: a “fire station” for South London Gallery, a Crown Estate good for the Institute of Contemporary Art.


CR EncumbranceCameron Rowland
Encumbrance, 2020
Mortgage; mahogany door: 12 Carlton House Terrace, ground floor, hallway to gallery

The property relation of the enslaved included and exceeded that of chattel and real estate. Plantation mortgages exemplify the ways in which the value of people who were enslaved, the land they were forced to labor on, and the houses they were forced

to maintain were mutually constitutive. Richard Pares writes that “[mortgages] became commoner and commoner until, by 1800, almost every large plantation debt was a mortgage debt.” Slaves simultaneously functioned as collateral for the debts of their masters, while laboring intergenerationally under the debt of the master. The taxation of plantation products imported to Britain, as well as the taxation of interest paid to plantation lenders, provided revenue for Parliament and income for the monarch.

Mahogany became a valuable British import in the 18th century. It was used for a wide variety of architectural applications and furniture, characterizing Georgian and Regency styles. The timbers were felled and milled by slaves in Jamaica, Barbados, and Honduras among other British colonies. It is one of the few commodities of the triangular trade that continues to generate value for those who currently own it.

After taking the throne in 1820, George IV dismantled his resi- dence, Carlton House, and the house of his parents, Buckingham House, combining elements from each to create Buckingham Palace. He built Carlton House Terrace between 1827 and 1832 on the former site of Carlton House as a series of elite rental properties to generate revenue for the Crown. All addresses at Carlton

House Terrace are still owned by the Crown Estate, manager of land owned by the Crown since 1760.

12 Carlton House Terrace is leased to the Institute of Contemporary Arts. The building includes four mahogany doors and one mahogany handrail. These five mahogany elements were mortgaged by the Institute of Contemporary Arts to Encumbrance Inc. on January 16th, 2020 for £1000 each. These loans will not be repaid by the ICA.

As security for these outstanding debts, Encumbrance Inc. will retain a security interest in these mahogany elements. This interest will constitute an encumbrance on the future transaction of 12 Carlton House Terrace. An encumbrance is a right or interest in real property that does not prohibit its exchange but diminishes its value. The encumbrance will remain on 12 Carlton House Terrace as long as the mahogany elements are part of the building. As reparation, this encumbrance seeks to limit the property’s continued accumulation of value for the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate provides 75% of its revenue to the Treasury and 25% directly to the monarch.

Courtesy: the artist and ESSEX STREET, New York


The desertion motion goes hand in hand with the minimalist aesthetic embraced by the four artists as well as a process of “reformulation,” which can only happen when an object, a gesture, is being “isolated” from its original context. In this sense, the four artists use the white shell and the institution in their favor, evaluating its neutrality and employing it to better focus the attention on what they are trying to voice and recalibrate. These strategies also make obvious the impossibility for blackness to occupy the white gallery space. Rather, they point out to antiblackness as a pre-existing condition for these spaces to exist, so naturally blackness would rather undo and desert them, in an effort to imagine another world, in an effort to unworld the institution and institutionality.

Ultimately, Okon, Lazard, Zahedi and Rowland are all working towards the enactment of various politics of refusal to avoid for their work and practice to turn into “[…] form[s] of typographically optimized blackness on exorbitantly expensive white paper.”11 In the same movement, they put together what I would call an “updated conceptualism”: a conceptualism that helps reformulating systems of oppression while emphasizing the need for the adoption of a radical affective sociality; a conceptualism that gives new meaning to potential flight for  liberation and the beautiful crafting of strategies to refuse representational performances of blackness, in intersection with the abolition of labour as we know it. Or, simply put, a conceptualism that command us to take a breath.

Could this be the work of/for blackness?12
To desert race to get closer to blackness.

To desert to unworld. To reach “a black cosmos.”13


1. Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016), 212.
2 . Ibid., 217.
3. Ibid., 215-216.
4. Saidiya Hartmann, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate
Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2019).

5 . Kevin Young, “How Not to Be a Slave, On the Black Art of Escape” in The Grey Album, On the Blackness of Blackness (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2012).
6. Elena Filipovic, David Hammons: Bliz-aard Ball Sale, 2017 (London: Afterall Books, 2017), 76.

7. Ibid., 76.
8. Ima-Abasi Okon in conversation with Ellen Greig in the exhibition handout for Infinite Slippage: nonRepugnant Insolvencies T!-a!-r!-r!-y!-i!-n!-g! as Hand Claps of M’s Hard’Loved’Flesh [I’M irreducibly-undone because] —Quantum Leanage-Complex-Dub, Chisenhale Gallery, London, 2019.
9. See:
10. See the last pages of the publication related to the project: ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^, Press for Practice, 2019.

11. Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, 1999, 80.
12. For more on the relationship between blackness and labour, refer to: Ciarán Finlayson, “Perpetual Slavery: Ralph Lemon, Cameron Rowland and the Critique of Work”, PARSE “Work”, Issue 9, Spring 2019.
13. Kevin Young, “How Not to Be a Slave, On the Black Art of Escape”, 63.


Cédric Fauq (b. 1992) is a Paris–based French curator recently appointed curator at Palais de Tokyo, Paris. Previously, he worked as curator of exhibitions at Nottingham Contemporary, which he had joined in September 2017, developing exhibition projects (Still I Rise: Feminisms, Gender, Resistance; Sung Tieu: In Cold Print; Grace Before Jones: Camera, Disco, Studio), performances (Okwui Okpokwasili; Steffani Jemison; Lou Lou Lou Sainsbury) and publications. He also writes, and develops freelance projects [DOC, Paris (2018); Sophie Tappeiner, Vienna (2018); Nir Altman, Munich (2019); Cordova, Barcelona (2020); Litost, Prague (2020)]. He co-directed in London (2016-2018); and was a member of the Baltic Triennial XIII curatorial team (2017-2018).


Originally published in Mousse 71

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