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Interview with Artist Franck Leibovici

Vue d'exposition "Dreams & dramas", ngbk, 2017, Berlin, de l'installation "muzungu"

Following his "Etant donnés" residency at triple canopy in 2017, Franck Leibovici discusses his experiences and project about the design of low-intensity conflicts in relation with the contemporary international justice system.

Franck Leibovici has explored the intersection of environmentalism and art with (des formes de vie) - une écologie des pratiques artistiques (2012) and des récits ordinaires (2014); has attempted to describe so-called "low-intensity" conflicts using notation systems derived from experimental music, dance and linguistics with his des documents poétiques (2007), portraits chinois (2007) and un mini-opera pour non musiciens (2017); has published spam correspondences and 70-hour speeches (lettres de jérusalem, 2012 and filibuster, 2013); and is currently working on a new cycle of exhibitions and publications pertaining to a contemporary international justice system.

Following the publication of bogoro and the installation muzungu, as part of the "Étant donnés residence,” Leibovici created the New York component of the law intensity conflicts in collaboration with the editorial and curatorial platform of triple canopy. A series of public presentations mixing artists, poets, social scientists and jurists will also be organized during a second phase.

- What was your initial plan for the residence?

triple canopy (abbreviated as tc) is an editorial platform that focuses on the digital aspects of contemporary art and literature. Tc pinpoints the modes of production, circulation and publication of the internet, contributing to the direct effect it has on civil society. Our collaboration began thanks to a connection via Commissioner Virginie Bobin, who had been following the project law intensity conflicts since its beginnings. I have been developing this project for several years with Julien Seroussi, a research scientist and former ICC analyst.

Our project consists of bringing certain measures originating from the fields of art, poetry and social sciences to the judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague. These measures can process, blend and rearrange the masses of materials the judges otherwise have to deal with during a trial. It allows the judges a way to extract information otherwise left invisible by their purely legal tools. To test these measures, we used art spaces (exhibitions, performances, conferences) to develop prototypes. It was during a test before a member of the ICC when we were told that a digital version of these measures might interest the ICC, since our installation (entitled muzungu—ceux qui tournent en rond) was able to show the constraints that restrict judges during a case and during the moments of deliberation. This idea eventually converted muzungu into a serious game, and therein, triple canopy presented itself as a candidate that was interested in thinking about this kind of conversion and in developing a beta version.

- In which way did the residence help you to progress in your work?

triple canopy is a flexible group; it consists of a core of permanent workers and many contributors, which allows tc to mobilize different people who can act as resources for each project. The editor responsible for my project was Alexander Provan, one of the founders of triple canopy. Several semi-public meetings were held to identify the conceptual and artistic concerns of the project as narrowly as possible, to evaluate the financing possibilities, and to determine the contacts to be developed to allow the formation of a public of the "concerned" (researchers, jurists, artists, curators, writers, designers, developers), who were likely to contribute to the project by bringing it into their respective professional worlds.

Our first set of questions concerned the recordings of knowledge that such measures could produce: if users spent time playing the serious game, we would have to record the new hypotheses these users released. How would we then take these back to the ICC to ensure that the game was operating efficiently? But, above all, how do make the serious game accessible to a public beyond those who are directly involved with the trials in question? For a website, this question can be formulated in terms of design and ergonomics, but the same question arises for “physical” exhibitions. Behind this idea, there is the attempt to move past an exhibition model that one could classify as a “receptacle for contemplation,” to an exhibition conceived as a “training course” that creates awareness.

- What could you produce in this context?

The thing that interested me most about tc was the invention and establishment of standards, calibrations and benchmarks in this 'new international justice system.' But everything that related to the concrete production of the serious game was dependent on finances to be raised at a later stage, which have not yet arrived. During our last conversation, Alex Provan suggested that we should not produce a full beta version, but a more modest version, a blueprint or prototype, that others will be able to produce in the future.

Coincidentally, I had just published a series of posters, entitled on displays [here and here], in the form of assembly plans or exposure arrangements dealing with large masses of documents: therein are reconstructed assembly plans of El Lissitzky’s scenography, of Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne, of Eames’s Glimpses of the USA, of Walid Raad’s pieces, of Armin Linke, of G-U-I, and the assembly plans for the exhibition muzungu itself. This last poster can be a starting point for the blueprint.

- What are your prospects after this residence?

The cycle of law intensity conflicts has continued to develop: in the form of meetings between members of the ICC, social science researchers, and artists and poets (at the Quai Branly Museum, in Paris in December 2017); in the form of exhibitions (at the Hear - Strasbourg in September 2018, and in Paris in November 2018, during the 20th anniversary of the Rome Statute, which created the ICC) or publications (a preface to the 2nd edition of the Rome Statute that highlight the place that art and the social sciences can play in the institutions of international justice; and a forthcoming book that will report on the project as a whole). The collaboration with tc is currently pending, but nothing says it will not resume soon.

This stay has also allowed me to develop other links: for example, with the Kadist Foundation of San Francisco and with a whole bunch of American academics (like David Kim or Michaël Lynch). But there were also unexpected encounters: with the musicologist David Gutkin, for example, who, learning that I had composed a mini-opera for non-musicians, invited me to participate in his series experiments in opera today, at Columbia University in May 2018, where composers and musicologists brainstormed ways to renew the operatic form. This series will produce a publication, and some of the guests have already planned to develop their reflections into exhibitions and performances in Europe.

This stay in New York has allowed me to develop the potential of other works, even if they were not my primary reason for being here. Residences like this are a unique opportunity because they allow the unexpected to emerge from any program.

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