The Itinerant: On the delayed arrival of images from International Solidarity with Palestine that resonate towards a geopolitical exigency in exhibiting processes under globalising conditions

Mende, Doreen. 2015. The Itinerant: On the delayed arrival of images from International Solidarity with Palestine that resonate towards a geopolitical exigency in exhibiting processes under globalising conditions. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

No full text available
[img] Text
VIS_thesis_MendeD_2015.pdf - Accepted Version
Permissions: Administrator Access Only until 18 April 2026.
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (5MB)

Abstract or Description

This practice-based PhD, titled The Itinerant, proposes a concept for exhibiting processes, detected along a route thought through various frames of geopolitical relations. Its point of departure is framed by a declaration of solidarity via statesocialist institutions, of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), in particular, with revolutionary independence movements, such as the P.L.O. (Palestinian Liberation Organization), manifested in educational collaborations around image production.

The project is built around the micro-political potency of a non-institutional archive of photographic images arriving from the GDR and P.L.O. in the 1980s, and therefore intends to enact the emergence of a vocabulary for deconstructing macropolitical narratives of global Cold War histories. The work of deconstruction thus begins within the micro-political dimension of an archive whose mode of existence may even be limiting our ability to speak of an 'archive' in the common sense. Hence, the inherent archival function of the photographic image transforms the materiality at stake; it may decompose itself, or end up working against itself. Such work is absolutely necessary for the possibility of undoing the exhibition as a territorial and synchronic entity, as a major responsibility in exhibiting making in the early 21st century, when globalisation takes place in capital and data.

The focus of investigation inhabits the actual working conditions of making and exhibiting photographs as rehearsed in a series of educational gatherings around photography, which unfolded throughout the 1980s in Beirut, East Berlin and Tunis between the East German photographer Horst Sturm and former fedayeen / then photographers of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (P.L.O.), and which helped place the call for the liberation of Palestine on an international and public display. The Itinerant is the first project attempting to complicate the support for the Palestinian liberation movement by discussing image/exhibition production based in geopolitically defined ideologies of a socialist internationalism during the global Cold War. The collapse of the socialist project in 1989 that spilled into world-fracturing events demands that we situate ourselves within the changing geopolitical and economic order of the world. This project resonates deeply in an intergenerational contract along the continuities and discontinuities of that kind of internationalism, and thus takes a position within the realms of knowledge embodied by members of societies that experienced and are experiencing in everyday life the collapsed or as yet-unfinished project of becoming independent in relation to globalising powers of capitalism or from Western narratives of history.

Such investigation results in the necessity to conceive photography as a network of practices, which activates a spatiality between ‘here and elsewhere,’ the two being, simultaneously, the conditions of production. In other words, photography can be mobilised here through a deep questioning of its entangled practices, processes and conditions: firstly, as the continuation of a militant struggle by other means including a discussion on the question of solidarity, violence and economics; and secondly, as complex exhibiting processes in geopolitics, which demands to take position, not on-behalf of, but to speak from one’s own position for a Cause emerging today out of the problems of exhibition making in the field of contemporary art. I speculate about this network of practices as being constitutive of a concept of exhibiting in the geopolitics of the 21st century.

The thesis is repeatedly framed by a single sentence by Jean Genet, whose book Un Captif amoureux (1986) has provided a crucial resonating body and interlocutor throughout the entire research process. The multiple returns demonstrate a possibility to labour the complex set of layers that such geopolitical relations constitute. In my attempt to dedicate the practice-based and theory-driven research to anti-colonial thinking, the thesis takes distance from producing a ready-to-use or copy/paste manual for ‘curatorial practice’ commonly understood as placing objects and/or images on public display. This contextualisation demands situating this research within a trans-disciplinary setting, i.e., The Itinerant entangles concepts from theory, lived experience, living memory, from travelling and teaching, from academia, the means of art, and from the militant struggle. My approach wishes to open up towards a thinking that affords the possibilities of transversing disciplines, regions, geographies, time-zones, borders, generations and economic systems from which a geopolitics emerges. Such possibilities shift from space to spatiality in exhibition-making. This geopolitical concern implicates us today in the prolonged conflicting wills in the Middle East, in which taking a binary position would perpetuate two strong forces of European enlightenment: representation and individualism. In this frame, an exhibition can only be a symptom as it insists on being interpreted, this being, in itself, a symptom of the limits of European modernity.

The thesis discusses in seven chapters and two inserts (Transit A and Transit B) the projects, practices, proposals and positions by Ariella Azoulay, Bruno Barbey, Heike Behrend, Berthold Beiler, Jacques Derrida, Richard Dindo, Dziga Vertov Group, Tarek Elhaik, Okwui Enwezor, Kodwo Eshun/Ros Gray, Frantz Fanon, Subversive Film (Reem Shilleh/Mohanad Yaqubi), Mark Fisher, Jean Genet, Iris Gusner, Joachim Hellwig, Tariq Ibrahim, Youssef Khotoub, Armin Linke, Achille Mbembe, Reinhard Mende, Heiner Müller, The Otolith Group, Griselda Pollock, Evelyn Richter, Irit Rogoff, Suely Rolnik, Abderrahmane Sissako, Terry Smith, Susan Sontag, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Hito Steyerl, Horst Sturm, Clemens von Wedemeyer, a.o.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


East Germany (GDR), Palestine, Beirut, solidarity, socialist internationalism, incurable image, archive, photography, geopolitics, economics, violence, exhibiting processes, space, unedited histories, contemporary art, globalisation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


28 February 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Mar 2015 11:49

Last Modified:

18 Apr 2023 08:08


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)