Ghost Reading at West / The Hague

Ghost Reading / curated by Haris Giannouras

Laszlo Goudman, Megan Hadfield, Marcos Kueh, Lennart Lahuis, Kenneth Moreno Kiernan

26.05.2023 — 25.06.2023

West in the former American embassy
The Hague
all works courtesy the artists, West den Haag; Photos: GJ.v.Rooij

“There are periods when tales of the imagination burdened with supernatural horror are more popular than cheerful tales of love and adventure”.

In the midst of a growing obsession with the supernatural, a 1904 issue of the New York Times Book Review published a short appreciation of Henry James’ “The Turn of the Screw”, calling it “one of the best ghost stories ever written”. Several days later, one reader (under the pseudonym ‘Librarian’) wrote a letter calling for more recommendations of stories containing “some old-time ghost dragging chains through corridors”. Subsequently, a plethora of enthusiastic responses flooded the Book Review section. Not only did they send their favorite tales of terror, they also presented edited versions of original stories, maximizing their potential for a frightening experience. These letters went as far as to provide explicit instructions on where and how to read a ghost story. This phenomenon reflects literary tastes leading up to the early 20th century, which saw a rapid rise in ghost literature, neo-gothic novels, and horror stories. But the publishing context of these letters can also be seen as an early form of open-source text, as a form of collective writing. The authors of the above-mentioned ghost stories, instructional guides, or personal testimonies of ghostly appearances, were often shadowy, veiled, and hidden behind a pseudonym. It is not always an easy task to figure out who or where the ghost is.

Perhaps this peculiar history contributed to the idea of ghostwriting. Ghostwriting, the practice of standing in for someone else, is an act that destabilizes the classical notion of authorship, in which the readability of information can be traced back to one person whom one can hold accountable or who otherwise offers a way to understand a text. In the case of ghostwriting, on the other hand, the author has become an escape artist. The obscurity of the author can be traced back a long way, most famously since the mid-1960s, claiming criticality through death and abstinence. But the above-mentioned ghost stories can also be seen as a precursor to the wave of unanimous authors and content that floods the internet nowadays. In the digital sphere, most, if not all, content becomes material to distill profit from. The distinction between reading and writing has been dissolved in this sense because the primary goal is to use both for targeted marketing, contributing to improving algorithms, or feeding machine learning.
So, the important thing today isn’t the silencing of gods but the awareness of complicity in reading and writing. Becoming aware of one’s complicity when it comes to generating content might prove helpful in understanding the new situation in which reading and writing, consumption and production converge. In short, there is something to be learned from ghost stories and their ghostly writers, about the shifting agencies in the making of art that doesn’t belong to anyone.

The works in this exhibition seem to follow this shifty tradition of ghost-reading/writing and the destabilization of authorship. Words in water escape through the window, surfing along a kite in the wind, or disappear into the cracks of dried clay. Self-portraits are morphing into alien creatures generated by AI, bats are flying on, and off-screen, and other ghostlike creatures are made in threads that remind one of the colors of fog. All the objects that are on offer here seem to mediate an awareness that communication is always stuck on a messy, slippery slope.

Marcos Kueh works predominantly with textiles. Implementing traditional weaving techniques from Borneo, where he was born and grew up, his works are made using digital printing technologies. Questions of labor, craft, its’ symbols, as well as the power structures and imbalances that arise, come at play whilst spending more time with Marcos’ works. Reacting to the building designed by Marcel Breuer the artist produced window works imitating stained glass that is reflected upon a textile work in white hues titled Hunger. The imagined mythologies appearing on the surface of his tapestries are linked to the storytelling techniques of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia, which he seeks to transform into his own speculative narration.

An intensive inquiry into language, its forms, imprints, and poetics, appears quite important when spending time in Megan Hadfield’s works. The artist and writer, based in Amsterdam, uses fiction, poetry, and scenography to create often immersive contexts that require the viewer to enter. Operating as an active agent, implicit, even if just for a moment or by accident, the human factor activates and renders Megan’s works visible. It might be a simple discovery of a broken text, made of clay (Ruderal Thinking) and an audio work filling up an empty space (Unreliable Signals), or walking through a corridor covered with monitors used to detect and document moving patterns of bats’ populations (Plenty to suck). Semantics and fiction as medium gradually come into the foreground as soon as the door is closed behind her.

Working as an artist through the modalities of material research, Kenneth Moreno Kiernan investigates the limits, movements, and interactive properties of machines: blueprints, models, prototypes, maps, test shoots, calculations, all the necessary particles of the scientific apparatus are present. However, these forms converse with their conceptual, and in that sense political, impact. Posing questions of site, where, when and on what occasion is the work activated? Is it only on the pages of the blueprints for a speculative machine (Rotor Kite), the moments the kite flies through the sky over a field famous for hosting political rallies in the Netherlands (Box Kite trial documentation Malieveld), or whilst these things are kept all quiet and enter the institution? Kenneth’s works operate and meander between presentations and representations, signaling a constant transition between object, science and art-making.
Collective student debt, the power of speculation in the financial markets, or the human factor hidden behind retirement plans and modern-day union contracts; all these situations and phenomena form the building blocks that Laszlo Goudman works with. These are not necessarily a “starting point” to be transformed through media and art but are part of an inquiry into the problem of rendering life readable and information digestible. For (untitled, Self-Portrait 1) the artist used a technique of manipulating paper onto the wall surface to disform and rework a pie chart with all the sectors he invested in. This work is accompanied by a transparent plexiglass panel providing further information on his investment portfolio, which is mounted in front of a worn T-shirt (On the whim of things). In untitled (Self-portrait II) Laszlo used AI as a tool that results in another form of abstraction and estrangement. He allowed his passport photo to slowly merge into some alien creature. In other recent work, he made digital renderings of the exhibition space and inserted a giant, glowing sun, perhaps as a way to slowly expand the notion of estrangement and to ultimately render it inescapable. In this exhibition the artist engaged with works and media inter-splicing the concept of a self-portrait: in pictorial, fiscal and moral terms.

For Lennart Lahuis, implementing different processes and techniques to manipulate, disseminate and destabilize information often entails contaminating the histories of science and technology. He renders texts and images unintelligible; he shifts and destabilizes their inner logic to such an extent, that they melt away, ferment, evaporate or burn out. Attempting to decipher the information that confronts the viewer of his work is a task that often remains unfulfilled. This makes one wonder; What are the material processes that enable knowledge? What are the steps and protocols that humankind has put in place to make sure the collective body of knowledge will remain whole and intact for perpetuity? And what happens when those same gestures of maintenance and care, are used to destabilize the same solid politics and mechanics of knowing it sought to safeguard? In any way, breaking texts and reducing images to smoke appears a beautiful thing to do when faced with the power and astonishing magnitude of information.

Lahuis, who was involved as a mentor for the entirety of the program that was the starting point for this exhibition, presents two small-scale video works shown on two iPhones. The works seem to be casually laying around in the exhibition space. They are plugged in and will remain charged throughout the duration of the show. In addition, he has shared the tools and techniques that he uses in his practice with the other artists who have become the ghostwriters of his work.

Kindly supported by West and Kunstpodium T