Night of Ideas is an annual event propelled since 2016 by the Institut français in Paris and occasions a reflection on the major challenges of our times. The sixth edition of the event in 2021 is held under the title Proches (Close) and sets out to rethink the relations between living beings and new forms of solidarity. As a result, the Institut français in Madrid and Museo Reina Sofía have organised a programme which unfurls in different formats and lays out different approaches, from philosophical thought to artistic practice and collective endeavours.
In Emanuele Coccia’s The Life of Plants. A Metaphysics of Mixture (Polity Press, 2018), revisited in his lecture in the Museo Reina Sofía, the philosopher suggests that if it is from plants that we ought to enquire what the world is, this is because it is they who “make the world”. In a presentation around “making place”, Alejandra Riera advocates reconsidering, more mindfully, the relations between human and non-human beings, as sets that are linked, composed, at odds and in dialogue; the result of mixing. “To notice”, writes the artist, “the existence of this place, in this seesaw of exchanges between things-beings-worlds, feels poetically urgent. Incidentally, ‘mixture’, Coccia reminds us, is the common name for what we call, in its proper name, World”. The programme also includes a workshop run by the Torta Collective, a public debate moderated by María González Reyes and a performance by artist Itziar Okariz.
Retiro Park, Palacio de Cristal, and Sabatini Building, Garden
Activity canceled due to temporary closure of the Retiro Park
4:30pm Entering Through the Window. A New Drift for Travelling Through a Museum, a workshop led by the Torta Collective.
In the Museo some spaces and doors are open to insects, birds, fungi, yeasts and algae, yet they all pass through cautiously and with trepidation; although they are all invited, we rarely see them. In this workshop, run by the Torta Collective, a walk is put forward through which to build devices to welcome these “beings that protect other beings” who have exited museums swiftly, no longer daring to enter. To enter through the window.
Starting in the Palacio de Cristal, which has opened its windows to allow birds and insects in as part of Petrit Halilaj’s exhibition To a raven and hurricanes that from unknown places bring back smells of humans in love, the expedition includes the making of a house of insects in the Retiro Park and the exploration of the so-called “garden of mixtures” in the Sabatini Building, to finally leave out the back of the Museo, via Calle Hospital. Therefore, the workshop is an incursion with which to create an experience and, like barely visible insects, to leave an almost imperceptible trace.
*Attending the workshop with a flask or small bottle of water is recommended.
Nouvel Building, Auditorium 400
6:00pm Making Room. (Inherent) Possible Transformations, presented by Alejandra Riera.
In the words of Riera: “This proposal involves jointly addressing a reflection around making, inventing places, making place, making room, reconsidering, with greater focus, the relations between human-non-human beings, as sets that are linked, composed, at odds and in dialogue; approaching the question of the ‘here’ in which we find ourselves, as a carrier of narratives and different forms of being. Taking into account life and the uses of places, their forms and potential transformations, and remembering that the point of view is in the body, we will attempt to reflect on what we produce and sketch out differences and places of convergence between landscape, place and environment. Thus, perhaps we can try to imagine how to make place, make place-walkways collectively.
In view of where we find ourselves, where we are going, we always make place and the idea is that ‘encounter has a place’ and that this place is necessary for the encounter to
be as open as possible. Ultimately, there are enough of us interested and ready to re-enliven places in which our lives don’t do anything, when all is said and done, more than pass by, but which we also inhabit in the present. Singularly and collectively, through yet-to-be-found gestures, will we manage to transform issues of so-called ‘ecological transition’ in an issue that has always affected relations, the forms of relation or separation with a still sensitive world around us?
The world of sensibility, that which touches us and through which, like plants — those beings of such eloquent mutism and diversity — we learn that, occasionally, ‘there is no greater proximity than assuming the distance of the other’, as anti-concentration camp psychiatrist Jean Oury said upon describing his mode of relating to people whose form of acting and whose language are hard to comprehend, the mad, but with whom he had decided to closely forge his path.
Emanuele Coccia acknowledges that plants are the only things that, through photosynthesis, do not need to feed off other living beings to survive, while all other organisms live exclusively by incorporating the lives of others. Coccia does not tell us what we must do or no longer do, what we must think of and about beings. More accurately, his ethics seems related to not enclosing, neither closing nor establishing closed categories, nor favouring nor exercising condescendence, which is so widespread, but rather inviting ourselves to doubt any account (both of origin and evolution) that does not recognise the ‘mix’ that exists in us. A mix with no fusion. Not a summation or juxtaposition, not a total integration-fusion, but a mix that already takes place within us. Understanding the existence of this place, this seesaw of exchanges between things-beings-worlds feels poetically urgent. Incidentally, ‘mixture’, Coccia reminds us, is the common name for what we call, in its proper name, World”.
7:00pm The Life of Plants. A Metaphysics of Mixture, a lecture by Emanuele Coccia.
“We barely talk about them and their names escape us. Philosophy has customarily relegated them; even biology considers them as a simple decoration on the tree of life. Yet plants give life to the Earth: they produce the atmosphere that surrounds us; they are the origin of breath that animates us. Plants embody the closest and most elemental link that life can establish with the world. Under the sky and clouds, mixing with water and wind, their existence is a never-ending cosmic contemplation. The Life of Plants is situated from the point of view of plants — leaves, roots, flowers — to understand the world not as a universal space that contains everything, but as the general atmosphere, the climate, a place of true metaphysical mixture,” Emanuele Coccia writes.
7:45pm Public debate, moderated by María González Reyes
8:15pm The Ocean Breath, performance by Itziar Okariz, in a collaboration with Izar Ocariz, presented by Isabel de Naverán.
This work is built from a chorus of breathing. Ujjayi is a breathing technique used in yoga, whereby the artist is the instructor. The word ujjayi means “one who is victorious” and is normally translated as “the ocean breath” because it is the image it evokes. The piece is figurative in nature, between the abstract space of the sound of breathing and the image that generates, as though sign and meaning were separate, fractures.
Emanuele Coccia is a philosopher and associate professor (maître de conférences) at the School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris (EHESS). He also holds a PhD in Medieval Philosophy from the University of Florence and has served as adjunct professor in the History of Philosophy at the Alberts Ludwig University of Frieburg, in Freiburg im Breisgau, and Art History at the Duperré School of Applied Arts in Paris. His books, translated into various languages, include Filosofía de la Imaginación. Averroes y el averroísmo (Adriana Hidalgo, 2007), Sensible Life (Fordham University Press, 2016), El bien en las cosas. La publicidad como discurso moral (Shangrila Textos Aparte, 2015), The Life of Plants. A Metaphysics of Mixture (Polity Press, 2018) and Métamorphoses (Payot & Rivage, 2020).
María González Reyes is a professor of Biology in Secondary Education and an activist with Ecologists in Action, where she participates in the sphere of environmental education and eco-feminism. She is the author of numerous books of short stories and co-author of Cambio climático (Litera, 2019), among others. She has written numerous articles related to social environmentalism and contributed to different publications, for instance El Salto, Revista Papeles, Cuadernos de Pedagogía, Graó, La Marea, Revista Ecologista and Pikara Magazine.
Isabel de Naverán conducts research at the crossroads between art, contemporary choreography and performance in projects of curatorship, publishing and writing. She holds a PhD in Art from University of the Basque Country and is part of the research group Artea. In 2010, she founded, with Leire Vergara, Miren Jaio and Beatriz Cavia, Bulegoa z/b - Oficina de arte y conocimiento in Bilbao, a project she was connected to until 2018. Since 2017 she has been in charge of curating live arts (dance-performance) in the Museo Reina Sofía’s Public Activities Department.
Itziar Okariz works in the sphere of action and performance, questioning ways of regulating language and the production of signs that define us. Her most recent projects include her participation in Las estatuas (Museo Jorge Oteiza Foundation, Alzuza, 2020), 13th Shangai Biennale (2020), Perforated by (for the Spanish Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, with Sergio Prego, 2019), I Never Said Umbrella (Tabakalera, San Sebastián, 2018), Una construcción, es decir, una jerarquía de momentos, expresiva de cierto concepto grande o pequeño, abstracto esotérico (CA2M, Móstoles, 2018), Itziar Okariz (Kunsthaus Baselland, Basel, 2017) and Dream Diary (Ars Parcours, Basel, 2017). Izar Ocariz likes to read, write, draw and do karate. Both live in Bilbao.
Alejandra Riera, born in Buenos Aires, has lived and worked in France for thirty years, where she is a professor of Documentary and Transversal Practices and Poetics at the National School of Art Cergy-Paris, and previously taught Film and Documentary Practices at the National School of Art Bourges over an eleven-year period. She upholds a sustained and focused practice on plants and the practice of writing and photography and film (films-documents). Her endeavours and research set forth questions that surface between images and texts as they drive forward the realisation of situated poetics of gestures that join diverse forms of knowledge, knowledge that interrogates the ways we read history and geography.
Her efforts have often fuelled thinking, gestures and collective writings, while her research and plastic and filmic endeavours have been presented on numerous occasions inside and outside of spaces devoted solely to disseminating art and film productions. Since 2017, she has prepared and made a place for, in a collective endeavour, the Garden of Mixtures in the Museo Reina Sofía.
Torta is a collective, made up of Tom Cano and Marta Pérez, which puts forward organic modes of production with the aim of placing value on the links between nature and sustainability, fostering a distancing from neoliberal formulas of competitiveness and efficiency and taking up art and food as research tools. The Collective’s practice is defined as a mode of weaving ties and discourses that help to understand present-day conflicts. During the 2019/2020 academic year, Torta have designed and accompanied the programme of equipo1821 in the Museo Reina Sofía.