13 February till 26 March 2013


Tanja Baudoin

This text was written after exchanging our thoughts and texts and those of others through e-mail correspondence and Skype. I wasn’t present at Marnie’s public presentation on 16 March 2013, but with this text I hope to contribute to making my engagement with her research public.

I can imagine Marnie in the house in Beetsterzwaag, the house that frames her daily activities for a six-week period. I’m not exactly sure what she gets up to every day, but I think that she writes, reads and makes notes. Perhaps she sketches a little as well. I hope she goes on walks, even though it’s cold and rainy. The Friese Wouden are nearby.

Marnie initially plans to invite a number of artists during her stay. Her work often takes shape in dialogue with others. As it turns out, these artists will only join her at the end of her working period for a day of presentations and performances. I think that the temporary isolation that Kunsthuis SYB in Beetsterzwaag offers Marnie, is a fitting situation for her research into ‘unspoken language’ and the political power of silence. She explains to me that silence doesn’t have to mean that there is no sound, and that she wants to approach language in a performative manner in order to arrive at new ideas.

The notion of performativity is often understood as a lingual action, in which ‘saying something is doing something’ – like declaring war or taking your wedding vows. The choice not to say something, however, can also be a performative act that possesses a great power of expression. It makes me think of the silent march, which in my mind is particularly connected to Friesland, to the tragic deaths of Meindert Tjoelker, Marianne Vaatstra, Manuel Fetter… The silent march is an assembly of bodies that starts to move collectively. By silently completing a walking route, these bodies communicate a powerless anger that cannot be expressed in words.

Whoever speaks or writes isn’t necessarily heard or understood and that’s why it can be necessary to break through the structure of language. Marnie says that poets have this skill. She reads many books by feminist writers who analyse language as a system that constructs and maintains  normative thought processes and power relationships within society  – which once more has to do with the performative power of statements. Authors such as Luce Irigaray and Monique Wittig question the neutrality of language and attempt to come to a materiality of language in their own theoretical and literary writing.

Marnie shares a number of texts with me that she has recently written. Tonight I am Everything Else Which is Dancing is a collection of micro-stories, sometimes only consisting of one sentence, sometimes of half a page, combining poetry and prose. In several passages an instant is stretched out to a vast experience of time. A moment of indecision in the supermarket, closing your eyes whilst dancing with a girl you like and a pause during a telephone conversation, each have the effect of stagnating the story, but also draw you deep into the thoughts of the ‘I’ that is the narrator. They are moments of silence that open up a  space for the narrative to move into another direction – but before that can happen, a new story already begins.

We meet each other briefly in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where the writer/film maker Chris Kraus reads from her own work. Her novel Summer of Hate, like her other books, is a blend of fiction and autobiography. Kraus’ literary voice not only pertains to her style of writing, but also to the simultaneous construction and undermining of her position as author of and character in the text. Marnie and I talk about how difficult it can be to find your own voice when writing a text. I explain that I see my text as the outgrowth of our dialogue, and not so much as a review, because the critical distance that would imply is already gone.

Marnie sends me photographs of her presentation at SYB on 16 March, for which she invited artists Louise Menzies, Liz Allan, Emile Zile and curator Laura Preston. Among other things, the photographs document a work of Menzies that was incorporated in the newspaper stand at the newsagents in Beetsterzwaag. Another photograph gives a distorted view of Laura Preston reading out a text. Various photographs show that Marnie has carried out interventions in books. In the book Female Brain Gone Insane – An Emergency Guide for Women Who Feel Like They Are Falling Apart, Marnie has added a blank page at the front with a small image of a strap-on dildo in the centre. Another book is a guide with tips for girls to learn how to catch a bus when wearing heels and what to do during your first dinner date if you’re on a diet. On an inserted page Marnie gives a sharp analysis of the way women are represented in this book. One of her criticisms is: “The Young Girl never creates anything: she re-creates herself.” [1]

On her blog, Marnie places photographs of women (celebrities?) covering their faces whilst venturing out onto the street. I think of the book Heads by the American artist Jeanne Dunning, which I flicked through last summer. The only text in the book is an incomplete quote from Michel Foucault: “The agency of domination does not reside in the one who speaks (for it is he who is constrained), but in the one who listens and says nothing…” The book is filled with black and white photographs. In each photograph, printed full page, the back of a woman’s head can be seen. They are abstract passport pictures, a variation of short and long hairstyles, supported by shoulders. I realise that, seen from this angle, the heads are still unmistakably portraits of the women. It is not that they refuse to be portrayed, but they’ve chosen for a specific kind of representation. I believe that the turned bodies have a kinship to the choice of saying something with silence. This is also something I encounter in Marnie’s work. Not only does she explore the performative potentialities of silence, but she also approaches silence as a notion that could, in itself, pose the question of what is im/possible within a phallocentric order.


[1]  This quote, as well as the rest of the text in the book Swell, was transposed by Marnie from the text Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl by the French collective Tiqqun.