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Letter to Tino Sehgal

A Prior #23-24 / Renzo Martens

© Door to Tino Sehgal’s This Variation at dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel, 2012

Dear Tino,

Just a few days after the opening of documenta13, I was waiting on the banks of a tributary to the Congo River for guests to arrive in the Congo for the opening seminar of the Institute for Human Activities. This seminar took place on the edge of a former Unilever plantation some 800 km upstream from Kinshasa.

Founded in 1911 by Lord Leverhulme, these plantations lie at the basis of the production of Sunlight soap, and form the foundations of Unilevers business empire. Unilever sold the plantations for an undisclosed sum in 2009.

At the time, the wages for a full time job on the plantation were 10 USD per person per month. Thousands upon thousands of these workers have no electricity, no running water, no schools, no sanitation.

As a location for the seminar, the Institute built a bamboo settlement just outside this plantation. Here, our activists, critics and scientists, including Mumbanza Mwa Bawele, Eyal Weizman, TJ Demos, Réné Ngongo, Botalatala, Marcus Steinweg, Nina Möntmann, and Richard Florida joining through special satellite connection, mapped out the parameters for the Institute's planned 5 year Gentrification Program.

Our goal is to attempt to forge a site, both intellectually and physically, in which a radical acceptance of the terms and conditions of production do not undermine critique, but feed articulation.

It will also represent an effort to create a site where the potential fruits of criticality, connected to the potential of art to accumulate capital, can be connected to the critiqued realities. Or, if that proves to be impossible, at least a site that could take into account that the fact that art critiques in one place and accumulates in others.

A few weeks after the opening seminar, I visited documenta and read an interview with you in the German Magazine Monopol. I was deeply touched by the depth of your proposal to move beyond the production of matter, beyond capitalism, and create a space for deeper subjectivity.

I decided to visit your piece at the Turbine Hall in Tate Modern, also the final installment of the Unilever Series. A man in a blue shirt came to me and talked about a series of brief encounters he had with another person, only to be disrupted by a change in work schedule.

And then I knew your work is also connected to the plantations. I was wondering how you would decide to make a piece, or if there would even be one, if it were to take the terms and conditions of its own existence into account and the global segregations upon which these seem to be built. I hope you find this invitation and maybe find some time to imagine it?

My very best,

Renzo Martens