Ofcourse, there are worlds to come: moments of learning

MAMA presenteert Angelica Falkeling ‘in gesprek’ met Jack Halberstam, samen met een begeleidend essay van Angelica Falkeling. Essay en podcast zijn in de Engelse taal.


At a round dinner table

  • A scientist I know in the field of renewable energy research told me that humanity has 100 years left on earth.
  • Time to make babies,says the woman next to us.

This all depends on how we are looking. A teacher and two friends of mine eat Rijsttafel (a Dutch word translated into English as ‘rice table’)at restaurant Indonesia in Rotterdam. White table cloth. Red soft chairs, almost arm chairs. The sentences above is said out loud in a tone of humour but contains modern Western rationale in a nutshell. Enlightenment has the answers, reproduction is a reason for life and white privilege can get and take everything, often all at once. Grab!

In a whatsapp chat after a seminar with a teacher who on equally terms as Halberstam embrace the character SpongeBob SquarePants, as a base to live life otherwise, to poke holes of the norms of success and competition by practice generosity. To grab for gaga, the phony. It’s the place and time when colour can be shared, to give and receive reciprocally.

  • How would you describe how we spoke about trade during this week’s seminar?
  • As an exchange without profit?
  • But obviously accountable, but on what terms?
  • What was the myth of merchandise?
  • A character in mythology?
  • I’m not sure.
  • I don’t trust my notes.

So I make up my own. I found Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism – Sex, Gender And The End of Normal and The Queer Art of Failure during a time when I tried to think through how to continue making work as a non-binary white person, artist, writer and thinker in relation to my trashy plastic costumes, temporary stage-sets, camp, messy greenscreen pop and speech improvisation, as love, art and performance?

In short and in general, how to continue to be visible on stage? At the time, I was based in Malmö, Sweden. I was exhausted by the criticism -articulated by a small circle of the political left and an exclusive academic elite – of queer entanglement in aesthetics, shapes and motions mirrored in neo-liberalism.

Grab, gaga!
Halberstam asks, Can we find an aesthetic that maps onto anarchy and stages refusal of late-capitalist logics? What is the erotic economy for such work? [1]

Grab gaga! Halberstam suggests, Lady Gagais positively Warholesque in her love of attention and absolutely masterful in her use of celebrity, fashion, and gender ambiguity to craft and transmit multiple messages about new matrices of race, class, gender, and sexuality, and even about the meaning of the human. [2]

When you hold gaga in your hand or can you keep it in your pocket, where do you get your pleasures from, Mr. Krab? What are the alternatives to ironic cynicism (which seems to lead to deep depression) on the one hand, and blind naïve enthusiasm on the other?

In a small town in the late 1990s white feminism was a practice before it was a word. I was around 10 years old and a student in a school which had just employed two energetic, freshly graduated female teachers in their early 30’s. By my late 20’s I, understood that these two women had taken part in courses in norm critiques, gender and queer studies from a slightly intersectional point of view in their University studies. What a relief!

I remember how one of them let my white blank A4 paper hang on the wall together with all the others kids’ fantastic drawings. She grabbed it from my desk without any judgement. I couldn’t move my colour pencils to music. Blocked brain. No fantasy. Can you imagine? How did this person end up as a visual artist? A white monochrome on 80 grams standardised paper. What the fuck?!

The other one let me visit her house. Did you know that arm wrestling is a technique and running is a practice? Me and my friend played football in her garden with her husband. Later on he happened to become our gym teacher. It was a time when I got muscles. When seen and defined as a girl, I only needed to enter sports hall, run a circle dressed in T-shirt and shorts doing some warm-up to get the highest grade. I was visible and never conformed to ‘girls-in-corners-spectrum’, instead I screamed, I’m behind, pass, front, left.Boom! I was totally unafraid of physical body contact and its aftermath. Brushes with pain. My short little light body was quick on the floor. I rehearsed, got the moves. So when boys pushed their hips towards mine, I flew metres before I hit the bouncy plastic carpet. I was back up on my feet two seconds later. Sweaty! Once some guys stole my sports bra so I couldn’t participate. I cried. The teacher cheered me on cause he knew that I could beat them all in individual tests of strength and endurance.

Listen to me, I have been educated[3]

Together the two teachers mentioned above organised a separatist hang-out-group for girls. We had an hour a week with an x-tra Pedagogue. We did talkative exercises in how to say nooooo, fuck off and in doing so map out how to be in solidarity with each other on the school yard. It was a time when all of us discovered our bodies in relation to sexuality. Don’t be shy, touch my feet! Boys ran after us with their dicks hanging out and made ‘camera holes’ in the showers.

We can not know where knowledge will hit us and it what form. We can never assume, what, how and when I became a dancing queen. Why do I tell you this? Because for one night only the whole school and parents became our separatist hang-out-groups audience. I was some sort of princess with glittery moustache and my friend some sort of red velvet royal. I want to think we made out on stage, but not sure if it actually happened. When the ‘female’ formations of young girls knew how to grab gaga we set up a theatre play in the gym hall. It was some sort of clash between Cinderella, Batman and Fantastic Mr. Fox, like a solo each but still on shared intimate common ground. For an hour expressions of masculinity and femininity were totally fluid. To grab gaga in a world of queens, kings, mice, horses and furniture. Water-colour our make-up. Drag a practice before it was a word so of course, there are worlds to come. It was punk and anarchy in an institutional setting before those were words in my life.

In What Matters To Me and Why [4] Halberstam shares, the first moments of learning. It is 1976, Sex Pistols had been on British Television for the first time.

In the classroom the next morning the teacher asks

  • What did you think about yesterday’s performance?
  • Baaahhhhh, this is pathetic screamed most of the them.

But from ‘nowhere’, a guy in the back row suddenly stood up. He had never said a word, didn’t seem to have anything to say in a class full of normative social rules for speech and behaviour. What we think about as nowhere is often situated in the belly. He had fed himself with music and made a statement on behalf of punk. For Halberstam anarchy and punk can be an education in how to become experts in performing refusal on stage. In the spotlight do we say nooooooo! Fuck off! Halberstam again: Can we find  an aesthetic that maps onto anarchy and stages refusal of late-capitalist logics? What is the erotic economy for such work? To grab, gaga?!

When the bullet of air hits you (in moments of learning) is it the first step to on your own terms carve space and time for things that in that particular space and time, might not seem to have time and space? How to make it move? Flow by scrreaaammm, bullshit! Spit! AAAAHHHHH!

Frisbee as roundtable
As lots amount of food digest in my belly I learn that Rijsttafel is a Dutch Colonial feast. A banquet as exotic snapshot in order to enjoy a wide array of small dishes in a single event. Why do we still think that something like overview exists? As if you could visit the Indonesian archipelagos all at once, grab, grab, eat, swallow! Noooooo, fuck off!

In one of the villages on the Palestinian West Bank not destroyed, depopulated and occupied by the Israeli army, there’s a man who hands out Frisbees every Friday during the protest. We walk down to the wall from the village after the prayer. If we don’t walk down to the wall, the military move the concrete wall a couple of meters in order to shrink the village. Nooooo fuck off! Grab, gaga! In the evening we speak about the chemical components of the teargas. How does it effect our bodies and brains? We watch the clips from the day and share food. On that particular day, I sat on top of a hill with a group of small kids, too young to breathe it, to be hit, but learning by watching. It was my turn to pretend to have imaginary overview, to call lawyers if anyone was taken away, to keep water, to run to the car with the stretcher if we need to carry someone. A body and voice between the women cooking for us and the men who protect land. Division. The frisbees handed out are made out of plastic in different colors. With black markers write people different messages, catch me if you can!

Most of what I learned from gay, bi, lesbian and trans people during my time in Palestine didn’t take place on the field of burning olive trees but on temporary dance floors. Neither did it happen in the car boots where you were hidden. I drove you over the boarder to let you fuck with men you had never met and would never see, touch or meet again. If they would have stopped our car, I would probably never see you again. The first time we meet, you asked

  • Where are you from?
  • Sweden.
  • I’m gay, nice to meet you.

This all depends on how we are looking. Me and my friends’ lesbian apartment became a secret scene of survival both ways. For me, to learn how to move my hips and shoulders in different directions was my main task. A lot of energy and fun without drugs while people looked me in the eyes. To the left, to the left. I didn’t need to be a shy dancer, as if, hey I’m dancing on my own, the Western European way of bouncing up and down, often with the gaze pointed down to the floor. The techno I was used to felt totally pathetic in a room where touch and gaze suddenly didn’t need to be sexual at first sight.


[1]Jack Halbertsam, ”No Church in the Wild” Anarchy Now, essay included in Pink Labor on Golden Street Queer Art Practices, Sternberg Press, 2015 p. 210

[2]J. Jack Halberstam, Gaga Feminism – Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal, Beacon Press Boston, 2012 p. 5

[3]Eileen Myles, Not Me, Semiotext(e) Native Agent Series, 1991 p. 16

[4]What Matters To Me And Why: Jack Halberstam, USCCollege, www.youtube.com/watch?v=h-TqxOU–eU2013, accsessed 2017-02-27

– Braid, screenshoot
– Frisbee as Roundtable, pvc plast, plate rack
– Screenshot from Lada Gaga, The Edge of Glory

Gelinkte tentoonstelling:
Is there any world to come?

Editor: Ash Kilmartin


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