Almost exactly a year after their first collaboration in 2009 (Episode 0), EzaOKUP (re-)assembled in June-July 2010 in pursuit of new site-specific interrogations on the nature of neoliberal vocabularies (based on Alain Bihr’s book Neoliberal NewLingo: the Rhetoric of Economic Fetishism).
The backdrop, once again, was the Lingwala neighbourhood of Kinshasa, home base of the Eza Possibles collective. This time, the EzaOKUP team counted not four but eight members:
• Ivana Cerovic (OKUP),
• Carole Dentenre (OKUP),
• Méga Mingiedi (Eza Possibles),
• Freddy Mutombo (Eza Possibles),
• Cédrick Nzolo (Eza Possibles),
• Pauline Squelbut (OKUP),
• Marie Storup (OKUP),
• Pathy Tshindele (Eza Possibles).
Over the course of the residency this core expanded to include Androa Mindre Kolo (performance artist), Widjo Wiyombo (marionettist / performance artist), KiripiSiku (photographer) and technical enhancement by Jimmy Mutombo (video) and Eric Okele (photo, technical direction, sound).
From 27 June to 29 July, this gathering of creatives generated a rich cluster of inter-connected public interventions that took place throughout the neighbourhood.
If Soccer = Then Neolibarilism
The 2010 chapter of the neoliberal machine coincided with the 2010 FIFA soccer World Cup. This provided fertile ground for the EzaOKUP team to further question the nature, form and goals of neoliberal rhetoric. The crew decided to create its own take on neoliberal lingo(s) by way of an invention/ translation practice centring on futbol: to create what they dubbed a “footballistique” language:
In this language, the market (or wenze in Lingala) = the stadium, capital = a soccer ball, the State = the referee.
The final matches of the World Cup provided an ideal opportunity to present this new neoliberal lexicon to large groups of people living in and moving through Lingwala. Despite chronic electricity shortages, EzaOKUP managed to arrange for the matches to be projected on a large screen in a public space, la Place Comet, where people gathered to watch. During half time, the EzaOKUP team interrupted the broadcast. Advertising was replaced by the crew’s “footballistique” translations written on cardboard signs and paraded, in carefully choreographed sequences, in front of the projector light. Here are some examples of what the signs read:
These interruptions prompted audience questions, discussions, dialogue about the economy, politics and social developments.
In Kinshasa, streetside vendors are referred to as “établissement” [establishment]. EzaOKUP appropriated / countermanded this concept and created an establishment of its own, a loosely assembled shopping-cart-type construction, with the aim of further plumbing, questioning and highlighting analogies and contradictions between artistic and neoliberal practices. Their “établissement néolibéral” cruised through the streets of Lingwala: engaging, exchanging, talking…, making “artistic commerce”.
For example: The neolibral establishement sold lipa metiola (“mixed tart”), a slice of bread slathered with alternate stripes of brown and white chocolate cream. At no financial benefit to the merchant, for no money was exchanged in the transaction, people “bought” the bread together with the idea of mixing/ cultural cross-pollination that it (ironically) proclaimed.
The Questions Corridor | Mituma
The Question Corridor functioned as a metaphor for the neoliberal concept of “human capital”. Large sheets of canvas were suspended to form a passageway, the corridor. On the canvas, viewers could read an imaginary and unfinished dialogue between Papa Mbongo, AKA Mr. Cash, and Papa Mutu (AKA Da Man). The two-dimensional discussion, rendered in writing on the canvas, extended into 3-D reality inside the corridor, via conversations between the public and the artists.
Door-to-Door | Porte à Porte
Door-to-Door was an installation that questioned the porosity of boundaries between public and private space in Kinshasa. Doors function as boundaries, as markers that can be crossed – or not. In this intervention, on the streets of the capital, the door has morphed into something quite different. It became a free-standing public object, estranged form its initial purpose. The title of the work, “Porte à Porte”, refers to a political-economic practice that Mobutu Sese Seko deployed in the waning days of his reign: dispatching diplomats to “knock at the doors” of the “great” neoliberal powers in hopes that they would help him salvage “his” foundering Zaire.
Here Today | Lelo Awa
Payé Merci (“Paid Thank You”) is a phrase found on official invoices. Repeated over and over in an economy where payment proves increasingly difficult and the relationship between objects / services and their value seems increasingly fluid, the expression takes on a kind of accumulative thickness – something akin to an echo chamber – and coalesces into a manner of mystic neoliberal prose. A stand was set up where posters were created, covered in this mystic prose and, from there, the posters travelled from wall to wall, gradually covering wide swaths of public space. On the stand, a megaphone was available for pronouncements to be made by any and all who wished to express themselves.
Real Estate Agency for a Neoliberated Kinshasa Habitat
This one-of-a-kind real estate agency was made for head portage. Its staff (the artists) carried it on their heads, much as shayers (itinerant merchants) carry their wares through the streets on Kinshasa. The agency’s wares were properties: tracts of land and models for houses that could be built on these tracts. The properties on offer were both private and public, underscoring, once again, how thin the line can be between these two domains. Each house model bore the colours of a wax cloth currently in fashion among the ladies of Kinshasa and/or referencing a saying common on the city’s streets (“to every man his woman” and “to every woman the business of keeping the home fires burning”). The houses on offer were signified by small cardboard models, which could be moved around to construct each client’s ideal homestead. The act of “building” the dream homestead was akin to a sentence, with a distinctive vocabulary (the houses) and grammar (the client’s take on putting them together). The sentence, and the agency more broadly, functioned in direct response to Alain Bihr’s critique of neoliberalism’s “new/lingo”. They underscored how much there would be to gain – what the profit margins would be – were the city remodelled to match the dreams of its inhabitants, enhancing their ability to live well together. At the same time, they posed a question: might the art of living together developed here, in this African city, be exported to Europe?
Modeled on the practice of itinerant photographers, present in most neighbourhoods of Kinshasa, this photo studio moved around. Instead of inviting itself into people’s living rooms, however, a common approach in this particular business, the studio temporarily installed itself in public spaces – in the city’s living room, that is: where its dwellers gather to comment on the state of the state. On demand the studio’s personnel took pictures of people who wished to be photographed and then offered a follow-up portrait with “caption”, a word drawn from popular national mottos (“State”, “Work”, “Justice”, “Liberty”…) In a country still violently scarred by the colonial and Mobutu regimes, both of which used photography to nefarious ends, taking pictures remains a highly charged practice in Kinshasa. The photo studio project sought to shift the boundaries of suspicion surrounding the photographic act by focusing on the desire of individual sitters to create personal memories for themselves, while simultaneously questioning the impact of social norms on practices of representation.
Bokutani ya Bolingo
“Tournez Manège” (“Merry-Go-Round Spin”), a French game show seen on TVs across the Francophone world, brings together single men and women to play a public speed-dating game watched by millions of viewers. The contestants do not see each other, but they hear and ask one another a series of questions, most of them provided by the programmers, and the couple whose exchange works out the best then goes out on a date. Ya Bokutani Ya Bolingo took the same approach, with a rather different set of questions: “What is your first recollection of freedom?” “Do you feel protected by the law?” “Do you believe that men and women have equal rights?” Or, for a twist, “Has anyone ever told you you have bedroom eyes?” The wining couple was invited to share a drink at a nearby outdoor bar.
Paintings in Black and White – Symbolic Constructions
The goal, here, was to foster dialogue. The focus was a series of paintings, all rendered in black and white, on walls and facades throughout the Lingwala quarter. Unsigned, the paintings were like an anonymous language – letters making up a new and peculiar idiom. First there were a few and then the number started growing; a slow but steady invasion was underway. Each “letter” had a symbolic meaning of its own; together, they spoke of fragments: a sliver of colonial history, a slice of White on Black and Black on White relations brought into being by that history, a sense of the role artists might play in shaping the social order.
The model for the paintings was a Rubik’s cube. You know the game: the trick is to align a series of squares, all in the same bright colors (blue, red, yellow, etc) and in perfect linear order. Here, colour exited the equation: black and white were the only hues and and they were arrayed in no particular order. The goal was to find and define another kind of order, born of mixes and matches and métissages: to refuse dichotomies, to reject a social order built on oppositions and strict demarcations.
The End of Merchandising
In this intervention by the EzaOKUP crew, the repetition, over and over, of the phrase “non commercial” created an image that resembled a bar code. The artists replaced numeric code by this one phrase, referencing entities that, in their view, should never, under any circumstances, be commercialised, that should exist wholly and exclusively outside of the context of trade: physical entities – air, water, the human body – as well as immaterial entities – health, education, love, justice, power. These “anti bar codes” were printed on stickers and distributed to passers-by, the curious, children, anyone and everyone interested in sharing with the artists a piece of the Neoliberal Machine. The goal was to offer one point of view – the crew’s – that, the artists hoped, would prompt discussion and encourage those who now carried (or wore, or gave away) the stickers to position themselves, and possibly to act, in response to processes of neoliberal merchandising that seem to be taking over more and more aspects of daily life.