Dreams of a Sovereign Citizen

Annotations for a City of Joy
Brandon LaBelle

October 24 – 27, 2017
Various sites, Budapest

In dialogue with the history of the Children’s Republic instigated by Gábor Sztehlo and forming the basis for the OFF-Biennale in Budapest, a series of annotations will be marked and written out across various streets and buildings in the city. From historical references and instructions for playing to personal memories and reflections on childhood, the annotations unfold as an expanded diagram turning the surface of the urban milieu into a creative texture for working through loss and memory, and for tracing outlines to what a city of joy might be.

Of running, and teaming up,
with rags and flags, crayons in the pocket,
and kicking stones or bottles against
and through, this or that, he shouts –
and he misses and he dreams,
falling onto the concrete ground and bringing home
the dirt of this or that tree, under the nails and in the hair,
she with mittens of yellow and racing to beat the others,
hiding and laughing, collecting matters and bugs,
lining them up for all to see, and seeing and believing
and kissing and giggling, these lines and secret paths
like a map of tender-hearted time.

Mutual Aid Society (Josiah Warren survival kit)
Brandon LaBelle

Public interventions: Downtown Cincinnati / Utopia, Ohio
Friday, August 25, 2017 –

Labor and love, equitable commerce and mutualism, the project of cooperation and profit for everyone: what Josiah Warren described as the problems of labor and wealth, and the freedom of the individual in society. Here in Cincinnati, Warren would work out his theories of economy through the Cincinnati Time Store which, between 1827-30 provided a unique alternative model against the expanding system of industrial capitalism at the time. Mutualism and “cost for labor” led to other perspectives onto value and profit, contributing to what Warren would understand as the inherent cooperative potential of wealth: the sharing of the benefits found in labor and the resulting spirit of neighborly love.

Mutual Aid Society (Josiah Warren survival kit) takes form as a performative homage to Josiah Warren and his anarchic principles, appearing as an intervention at the original site of the Store, on the corner of Elm Street and 5th Street in downtown Cincinnati. In conjunction with the installation of a set of historical markers at the site, a related “survival kit” is installed in the town of Utopia, Ohio, a settlement initiated by Warren in 1847. Utopia was based on Warren’s cooperative theories, and was an attempt to manifest his Time Store model on a larger scale. Over the years, the settlement resulted in an assemblage of domestic and industrial buildings, a number of time stores, and agricultural projects.

The Fire Seminar (recordings from the black and blue library)

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mamuta Art and Media Center, Hansen House
Gedaliahu Alon 14
Jerusalem, Israel

Staged as a collective listening session, The Fire Seminar takes place in the back garden of the Hansen House and is centered on the building of a fire. Utilizing a modified oil drum along with prepared and found materials, The Seminar is a performative situation aimed at reflecting upon states of dispossession and creative survival.

Guiding The Fire Seminar will be the playback of a collection of audio recordings and documents culled from the Black and Blue Library and amplified through a sound system. From Blind Willie McTell and Ella Fitzgerald to Memphis Slim and Louis Armstrong, the project of the Blues can be heard as an audible catalogue of the beaten, the forlorn, the libidinal and the resilient, forming a rich and complex narrative of lyrical redemption and threadbare celebration. As Fred Moten suggests, the black poetic tradition is one of deep resourcefulness and creative improvisation, which mobilizes the logic of loss toward new states of self-possession and collective determination. By punctuating the night with a blaze of fire, The Seminar draws out the Blues as a particular audibility, one flushed with traditions of oral culture, musical soul and sonic intensity, and that may compel a passionate listening.

The Backroom Community (sings for the shaken)
May 1 – 5, 2017
Collective listening session: Friday, May 5 / 13:00

Halka Art Project
Caferağa Mah. Bademaltı Sok. No: 24/1
Kadıköy 34710 Istanbul

Brandon laBelle in collaboration with Jeremy Woodruff and the Istanbul Technical University.

What type of acoustical force can be heard against and above a prevailing system of silencing and censorship? How might one shift the tones of domination, which work to capture the multiplicity of social becoming within its frequency?

The counter-tonalities of escape, and of refuge;
And the orchestration of alternative volumes;
Around which they and them may tune to other social constructs.

Based on an audio diary in which all sounds are recorded continuously over the course of five-days, the work takes shape as an amplification procedure: a room fitted with loudspeakers that play back the daily accumulation of audio. Including the input from a diversity of participants who record everything they do and everyone they meet, the work performs as an auditory assemblage of life lived.

As a sound system, the work aims to perform an interruption onto the invasive silences derived from principles of domination and that work to draw closed one’s lips, reducing the joyful expressivity of life and the erotic sharing of togetherness.

The Sonic Agent / meet me in the sonic commons
April 20, 2017 / 18:00
Ε.Δ.Ω. / EDW cultural center
Profitou Daniil 18

Brandon LaBelle in collaboration with Achilleas Chariskos, Myrto Grapsa and Ioanna Apostolou.

The opening that listening provokes; the pause, the gap between – this sound that passes by and through, that causes things to vibrate: the shimmering and the agitation that moves over and through the body.

It is always expanding and contracting, this sound, sending one’s listening toward distances and horizons, and then back, to those that speak, or these things that touch and are felt.

Might listening create the conditions for common territories? For communities in movement?

The movement that sound is, and that moves this listening; movements over movements, and that opens toward others, things, myself, this self: relations – this sound that puts things into relation. In listening, I am no longer only myself; others move in, to inhabit the opening listening creates; to inhabit this body, as an expanded sharing, an oscillation: listening is always listening to someone or something, the making of: a vibration, an echo, an interruption – for entanglement and intermingling, for shared breath and erotic frictions.

The listening that moves me, and that moves things toward me.

The work considers sound as the basis for new social formations, reflecting on listening as a means for supporting contemporary political struggle. This is developed through speculations on the topic of sonic agency and the acoustics of resistance. What kinds of coalitional frameworks and social solidarities might sound and listening enable? Are there specific insurrectionary modalities to which sound is particularly conducive? Sonic agency is deployed as a speculative guide for imagining forms of emancipatory practices. This is elaborated through considering The Invisible, The Overheard, The Itinerant and The Weak as sonic figures enabling interruptions, secrecy, withdrawal and co-sounding. These figures, or agents, are used to deepen sonic thinking and imagination, especially for moving us from the major narratives of political crisis and disenfranchisement toward new expressions of public power and earthly responsibility.

The work is based on audio-video recordings produced on site in Athens in collaboration with participants. Exploring sound and movement, listening and location, the recordings capture “situational choreographies” undertaken in response to specific sites. Integrating portable projectors, participants search for ways to gather in the city, throwing images and sounds across its social milieu and opening up vistas onto a sonic commons.

The Night Birds
March 17, 2017 / 21:00 – 24:00
La Virreina Centre de la Imatge
Palau de la Virreina La Rambla, 99 08002 Barcelona

A collaboration between Luis Guerra and Brandon LaBelle

The night is a zone of fragile bodies and fragile identity; in the dark one may disappear or take refuge, finding solidarity through shared passions or loss – sudden communities and collectivities emerge from within the shadowy territories of the night. The trembling conditions of the nocturnal act as a primal scene of the imaginary: forms shift under the dreamy pull of moonlight, and behaviors are overturned, leading to erotic, criminal, and monstrous sensibilities and sensations. The night is not only this particular time of day, but equally a type of logic, one that specifically infuses reason and rationality with the spectral and the evanescent, loneliness and the possibilities of a dark magic.

Extending from the logic of the nocturnal, The Night Birds is a performative event that meditates upon the deep and complicated richness of night identity and night knowledge. Appearing as an ambient lounge and haunted archive, for drifting off or delving in, the event poses the night as the basis for rethinking citizen practices. What kinds of civic relations may be crafted from the logic of the night? Is it possible to construct from the shady thoughts of night birds and night crawlers a new sense for city life, especially for new formations of public power? If, as Ada Colau suggests in her mayoral manifesto, it is time to take back the city through forms of citizen participation, what might the logic of the night offer in terms of constructing new resistances to the neoliberal city? In what way may politics be enacted through the poetic identity of night citizens?

The Church from Below
February 4, 2017 / 19:00

Festival of Original Theater
The Luella Massey Studio Theatre
4 Glen Morris Street

Brandon LaBelle

Drawing upon histories of peace movements in East Germany, the work takes the form of a performative installation housed within a former Lutheran Church, now The Luella Massey Studio Theatre. It draws out questions of resistance and emancipatory practices, staging a set of materials, recordings and documents that act as a greater scenography of the hidden and the dispossessed. In particular, the work considers how “the underground” performs to nurture the formation of a parallel polis, one that enacts an overall art of survival. From such actions, particular discourses and cultural productions are generated, from illegal publishing to a lyrical poetics of secret messages. In the case of East Germany, peace workshops and environmental protests found support through a network of socially engaged churches, which acted to camouflage dissident work. What might such histories and productions suggest in terms of contemporary crises and the desires for a new social body? How might the art of survival provide a guide for an aesthetics aimed at redistributing the sensible?

Curitiba / Oficina de Autonomia
January 9 - 23, 2017
Public and private locations / Ybakatu Gallery /

Brandon laBelle in collaboration with Octavio Camargo.

With the recent cancellation of the Oficina de Música de Curitiba, after 34 years of active work, questions about culture and politics are brought forward, and how citizens may enact forms of resistance and autonomous projects. Through public actions, collective meetings, and creative manifestations, we’re interested to counter the cancellation through a spirit of festivity and critical celebration. This will take the form of an alternative workshop, under the heading Oficina de Autonomia. The Oficina is posed as an open and free situation, without a strict center or form of authorship, and from which to demonstrate an autonomous sensibility in support of imagining beyond established structures. How might musical knowledges be directed toward questions of social composition? Are there new understandings of public life to be found in experiences of the musical ensemble? If public life and relations with others are deeply shaped by listening, education in music is equally an education in tuning the ear toward those around us.

In conjunction with the Oficina, a presentation of documentations and objects will be presented at Ybakatu Gallery. Focusing on autonomous struggles, the exhibition acts as a point of reflection onto issues related to cultural politics, and also captures the spirit of what it means for a group of people to join together and create a space of free thinking and listening.

The Oficina de Autonomia focused on questions of autonomous culture and how sound and listening act as means for resistance and public solidarities. In particular, the group set out to approach “music” as a vocabulary for relating to and intervening in existing power dynamics. Concepts such as tonality of place, sonic commons, and the freedom of listening were expanded on as a creative framework for nurturing social sharing. This resulted, after two days of discussions, in a public action of collective listening at particular sites in the city. These included: Palacio do Governo, Prefeitura, Boca Maltida, Capela Santa Maria, and Atilio Borio, 603. At these sites, we gathered as a group and listened silently for ten minutes. The action of listening created an interruption onto the sites and performed to counter the cancellation of the Oficina de Musica by mobilizing the listening sense as the basis for cultural freedom.

Chisinau / The Hidden Sphere
November 29 - December 5, 2016
Chisinau Moldova, various venues

The figures that hide, and that disappear into the night; the figures that seek shelter through temporary constructions, hand to hand and undercover; the figures that unfurl threadbare cloths to capture the wind; the ones that disappear, unrecognized, and the ones that drive forward the possibility of future homecomings; the figures that may form into sudden crowds to give way to new formations – of hidden cultures, deep echoes, and that give voice to the making of new languages.

This event considers the precariousness and vulnerability of being a body, and the joining together that may take place undercover. Taking its cues from recent writings by Judith Butler on the performativity of public assembly, are there other ways of constructing forms of being together, other methods of enacting a social body? As Butler suggests, the frailty of bodies out of place may provide a base for new formations of association and solidarity, particularly through gestures of hospitality and compassion.

Following these questions, the event is an open gathering for posing ideas and performing the formation of a temporary collectivity. Might the experience of collective listening provide the basis for reflecting upon the weaknesses that bind us together? Can the invisibility of a sound assist in nurturing a deep ethics, as well as a social imagination around what it means to be a subject with others?

Berlin / The Magic Block
November 25, 2016 / 18:00 – 21:00

Errant Sound
Kollwitzstrasse 97
10435 Berlin

Brandon laBelle in collaboration with Soledad García Saavedra.

The withdrawn, the disappeared, the secret and the invisible: these are carriers of ghostly histories and collective memories – territories that require another type of orientation and navigation. Developed from an interest in aesthetic operations and strategies that negotiate the presence of what has gone missing, the installation “The Magic Block” is a proposal for a haunted poetics: a black art by which to follow in the steps of phantom figures and narratives – the citizens that form a shadow nation.

In conjunction with the installation, we are pleased to present the publication Magic Block: Contemporary Art from Chile. Stemming from two exhibitions and seminars held in Bergen, Norway, and Santiago de Chile, curated and organized by Soledad García Saavedra and Brandon LaBelle, the publication underscores the processes of appearance and disappearance, memory and forgetting, writing and erasure as social and psychological intensities. It focuses on the creative and critical strategies at play in works of recent Chilean art that emerge from a reflection on the politics of invisibility: how the operations of the seen and the unseen are understood to perform equally within the material realities of Chilean society. Through the works of Chilean artists and writers, Magic Block highlights art as a powerful platform for working through the political structures that hold the body in a phantasmic grip, and which can be traced and appropriated through unsteady acts of magic. Expressions of secrecy, camouflage, forgetfulness, dematerialization and covert occupation thus enable a giving narrative to those memories that are often subordinated by history.

Zagreb / The Hobo Subject
Event: October 27, 2016 / 17:00 – 22:00
Exhibition: October 28 – November 7, 2016
Gallery Forum
Teslina 16, Zagreb

You've paid the going wages, that's what kept us on the bum.
You say you've done your duty, you chin-whiskered son of a gun.
We have sent your kids to college, but still you rave and shout.
And call us tramps and hoboes, and pesky go-abouts.
But now the long wintry breezes are a-shaking our poor frames,
And the long drawn days of hunger try to drive us boes insane.
It is driving us to action-we are organized today;
Us pesky tramps and hoboes are coming back to stay.

Drawing upon histories of migrant workers in the United States in the early part of the 20th century, and the culture of the Hobo, this durational performance work is presented as a series of actions that attempt to engage notions of transience. The conditions and experiences of itinerancy are adopted as a material and discursive vocabulary from which to consider what Vilém Flusser terms “the freedom of the migrant”: desperate measures and meager hopes, fantasies of the open road and experiences of exile, the lost and the newly arrived – these suggest a constellation of scenarios by which borders are put into question and alien formations of languages, materials and encounters are generated. Might hobo subjectivity act as the base for the tact and tenderness such encounters may foster? The seeking out of an alternative logic by which to construct new formations of thought and togetherness?

Developed within the framework of the larger project, Dreams of a Sovereign Citizen, the performance is an invitation to enter into an open space of experimental thinking and making, a “research action” that moves through a set of concepts and that seeks to stage a process of make-shift production. Following the performance, the left-over constructions and material remnants produced on-site will remain as an exhibition.

Curator: Evelina Turkovic.

Utopian visions, hopes for the future, dreams of solidarity, or of standing alone, withdrawn; organizational principles, creative instituting, formations of tribes and festivities, and the desire for togetherness, especially that which may unsettle or renew the inherent insurrectionary drive at the heart of the imagination.

I dream, I imagine, I work with materials, and I reach out, toward others, and toward potential forms and expressions; I am restless, I am dissatisfied, I am haunted by the not yet, and driven toward a production and poetry that may hint at forms of inhabitation, structures of living, that may already suggest, through its temporary construction and performativity, a future to come.

The project sets out to dialogue with questions of democratic crisis and the realities of loss, disenfranchisement, precarity, and insecurity that shape contemporary life. In response, the project unfolds as a series of Dreams – scenarios, actions, meditations, and material expressions produced on site and in places around the world. Over the course of one-year, I will create a Dream Diary, with each entry constructed around a set of historical and cultural references (of past solidarities and resistances, of cultures of dissidence and hopeful imagining); these will inform the particular presentations and scenarios, while also functioning as raw materials for realizing “anarchic manifestations”.

By physically traveling and working within a range of global locations, confronting situations, collaborating and exchanging with individuals and institutions, I intend to act as a “global citizen”. I will attempt to perform conditions of citizenship by entering these contrasting and complex locations, dreaming aloud and creating situations that may refer us to a notion of “direct relationships” at the heart of anarchic principles. In response to democratic crisis, I’m interested to pose and embody an anarchic theory – a citizenry from below; through self-organization, shared resources, deep care and radical imagining one may realize a citizenry of the anti-political.

Brandon LaBelle , October 2016


Brandon LaBelle
Octavio Camargo
Ybakatu Gallery, Curitiba
Soledad García Saavedra
Errant Sound, Berlin
Evelina Turkovic
Gallery Forum, Zagreb
Jeremy Woodruff
Diego Rotman
Luis Guerra

External links