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Archive: Essay


Performing Human Rights | Liliana Gómez (ed.)

The invisibilization of political violence, its material traces and spatial manifestations, characterize (post)conflict situations. Yet counter-semantics and dissonant narratives that challenge this invisibility have been articulated by artists, writers, and human rights activists that increasingly seek to contest the related historical amnesia. Adopting “performance” as a concept that is defined by repetitive, aesthetic practices—such as speech and bodily habits through which both individual and collective identities are constructed and perceived (Susan Slyomovics)—this collection addresses various forms of performing human rights in transitional situations in Spain, Latin America, and the Middle East. Bringing scholars together with artists, writers, and curators, and working across a range of disciplines, Performing Human Rights addresses these instances of omission and neglect, revealing how alternate institutional spaces and strategies of cultural production have intervened in the processes of historical justice and collective memory.

With contributions by Zahira Aragüete-Toribio, Pauline Bachmann, Vikki Bell, Liliana Gómez, Joscelyn Jurich, Uriel Orlow, Friederike Pannewick, Elena Rosauro, Dorota Sajewska, Stephenie Young.


PDF of Letter from Lubumbashi by Uriel Orlow


A Prisoner in the Garden

Preface, Introduction and  Bibliography of Theatrum Botanicum publication
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Introduction: “A Prisoner in the Garden”
Uriel Orlow and Shela Sheikh


A Prisoner in the Garden, courtesy The Nelson Mandela Foundation.

In 1977, in his thirteenth year of incarceration in Robben Island prison, a photograph appeared in the global press of Nelson Mandela, dressed in prison clothing, leaning on a spade. This image, which appears on the dust jacket of this volume, had been taken on 25 April, during a visit by local and overseas press organized by the South African Prison Authorities. The image was captioned “A Prisoner Working in the Garden” by the authorities.[1] Shortly thereafter, Mandela and 28 other co-signatories wrote a letter (the first page of which is also reproduced on the dust jacket) addressed to the Single Cells Section of the prison, protesting against the purpose for and manner in which the visit was organized and conducted. In the letter, they complain of the deliberate violation of the prisoners’ right to privacy by taking their photographs without permission, and of the specification by the Minister of Prisons that the visit only occur on the condition that no communication whatsoever take place between the press and prisoners.[2]

Beyond this protest against the self-representation denied to them, the letter challenged the manner in which the press visit was organized so as to “white-wash the Prison Department; pacify public criticism of the Department here and abroad; and counteract any adverse publicity that might arise in the future.” Moreover, this representational white-washing was slyly enacted precisely through a form of what one might nowadays call “green-washing”; as the prisoners relate in the letter, “on that particular day, the span from our Section was given the special work of ‘gardening’ instead of pulling out bamboo from the sea as we normally do when we go to work.”[3] As such, the image was used to cleanse the reality of the hard labor and lack of rights that the prisoners endured,[4] and the image of gardening in particular was fully capitalized upon. As the letter attests, prisoners and authorities alike were all too aware of the potential use of this image and of this seemingly leisurely, therapeutic, and apolitical activity.

But if the letter protests the lack of agency granted the prisoners, there is also a flipside to the image. As Mandela wrote in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he had a “lifelong love of gardening and growing vegetables.”[5] A few years into their 18-year-long incarceration, Mandela and his fellow Rivonia trial inmates had in fact set up a garden in the courtyard of Robben Island prison.[6] This had started informally with a few tomato seeds given to them by well-meaning prison guards. On their way to the stone quarry where they were forced to do hard labor, the political prisoners collected ostrich droppings as fertilizer. In time they also planted chilies and other vegetables to complement their meager prison diet. Later, as Mandela was writing the manuscript for what became his autobiography, the completed pages would be buried in cocoa tins in the garden to hide them from the prison authorities. As such, the seemingly benign activity of gardening became a highly politicized gesture—that of claiming and cultivating a patch of land and using it subversively to undermine the oppressive regime—and as a consequence the garden itself became entangled in historical events.[7]


Access the full preface, introduction and bibliography here


[1] This image now forms the centerpiece of the Mandela Prison Archive, “a living record of Mandela’s 27 years in prison.” See Nelson Mandela, A Prisoner in the Garden: Opening Nelson Mandela’s Prison Archive (Johannesburg: Nelson Mandela Foundation/Penguin, 2005) and

[2] In their view, the minister acted with “impropriety” insofar as “total strangers are now in possession of photographs and films of ourselves.” In the letter, the prisoners protest against not being allowed to take and send their own photographs to their own families.

[3] More recently, the term “green-washing” has been used to describe the process by which a given organization, company, or institution’s products or policies are made to appear ecologically friendly, precisely through the use of the PR or marketing image, often masking their true ecological costs. However, this is nothing new and can be applied to environmental movements more broadly throughout history. For instance, the “green imperialism” described by Richard Grove can be read through this lens. See Richard Grove, Green Imperialism: Colonial Expansion, Tropical Island Edens and the Origins of Environmentalism, 1600–1860 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995). In the words of Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, Grove’s history of ecological thought demonstrates that “the environmental sciences that tell us that we can no longer afford to ignore our human impact on the globe are an ironic by-product of a global consciousness derived from a history of imperial exploitation of nature.” Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, “Introduction: Toward an Aesthetics of the Earth,” in Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment, ed. Elizabeth DeLoughrey and George Handley, 3–39 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 12. See also the discussion of the paradoxes of conservation in the South African context in Bettina Malcomess, “appear and they…” in this volume, xx–xx.

[4] The co-signatories note the fact that they had not been given the status of political prisoners: “We are fully aware that the Department desires to protect a favourable image to the world of its policies. [sic] We can think of no better way of doing so than by abolishing all forms of racial discrimination in the administration by keeping abreast of enlightened penal reforms, by granting us the status of political prisoners.”

[5] Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (London: Abacus, 2013 [1995]), 41.

[6] The Rivonia trial, which took place between 9 October 1963 and 12 June 1964, led to the imprisonment of Mandela and others. Mandela spent 18 of 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island.

[7] As Mandela writes: “A garden was one of the few things in prison that one could control. To plant a seed, watch it grow, to tend it and then harvest it offered a simple but enduring satisfaction. The sense of being the custodian of this small patch of earth offered a small taste of freedom.” Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, 592–83.



Was wir durch die Blume sagen

The Air Will Not Deny You – Zurich’s other globality. 
Kurjakovic, D., Koch, F., and Pfäffli, L. (Eds.).
Zurich/Berlin: diaphanes. 2016

Contributing Authors: Autonome Schule Zürich, John Barker, Monika Dommann, Ines Doujak, Kijan Espahangizi, Harald Fischer-Tiné, Pascal Germann, Dominik Gross, Lea Haller, Cathérine Hug, Rohit Jain, knowbotiq (Yvonne Wilhelm, Christian Huebler), Lucie Kolb, Koyo Kouoh, Franz Krähenbühl, Gesine Krüger, Konrad J. Kuhn, Roland Lüthi, Robert Menasse, Eva Meyer, Katharina Morawek, Souvik Naha, Uriel Orlow, Lea Pfäffli, Barbara Preisig, Sophia Prinz, Patricia Purtschert, Marcelo Rezende, Roma Jam Session art Kollektiv (Mustafa Asan, Mo Diener, Milena Petrovic), Romy Rüegger, Vittorio Santoro, Sally Schonfeldt, Ursula Sulser, Jakob Tanner, Andreas Zangger, Tim Zulauf.

In partnership with the Johann Jacobs Museum, Zurich; Visual Arts (ZHdK – Zurich University of the Arts), Bachelor of Art & Media (ZHdK); IFCAR Institute for Contemporary Art Research (ZHdK); and the Chair of History of the Modern World (ETH Zurich).

See full work here.



Künstlerische Forschung. Ein Handbuch

Jens Badura (ed.), Selma Dubach (ed.), Anke Haarmann (ed.), Dieter Mersch (ed.), Anton Rey (ed.), Christoph Schenker (ed.), Germán Toro Pérez (ed.)
(Zurich-Berlin: diaphanes, 2015)

Mit Beiträgen von Peter Ablinger, Sigrid Adorf, Jens Badura, Anette Baldauf, Ulf Bästlein, Jochen Becker, Alessandro Bertinetto, Elke Bippus, Henk Borgdorff, Christoph Brunner, et al.

Recherchieren : Download PDF


Radikal Ambivalent

Radikal ambivalent Engagement und Verantwortung in den Künsten heute
Rachel Mader (ed.)

(Zurich-Berlin, diaphanes, 2014)

Mit Beiträgen von Helmut Draxler, Thomas Hirschhorn, knowbotiq, Verena Krieger, Brigitta Kuster, Barbara Lange, Rachel Mader, Uriel Orlow, Gerald Raunig, Johanna Schaffer, et al.

Uriel Orlow und Rachel Kader, Eine Offenheit, Die Mehrdeutigkeit Ermöglicht: Download full PDF


Artists and Archives: A Correspondence

All This Stuff: Archiving the Artist, (eds.) Judy Vaknin, Karyn Stuckey and Victoria Lane. (Oxford, Libri Publishing, 2013)

Contributions by Clive Phillpot, Gustav Metzger, Bruce McLean, Barbara Steveni, John Latham, Barry Flanagan, Edward Burra, Penelope Curtis, Neal White and others.

Includes a contribution by Uriel Orlow and Ruth Maclennan “Artists and Archives: A Correspondence”

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ed. Paul St George (London: Wallflower Press, 2009)

Supermoment, an essay on perception and space.


How To Do Things with Words and a Camera

ed. Amanda Beech, Jaspar Joseph-Lester, Matthew Poole (London: Artwordspress, 2008)

Contributions by Sharon Kivland, Amanda Beech, Jasper Joseph-Lester, Johanna Sumiala, Norman M. Klein, Matthew Poole, Uriel Orlow, Suhail Malik.

How To Do Things with Words and a Camera: Download PDF


The Dialectical Image: La Jetée and Photography-as-Cinema

in The Cinematic, ed. by David Campany (Whitechapel and MIT, 2007)
ISBN 978-0-85488-152-9 / 978-0-262-53288-4

A reader which surveys the rich history of relationships between the moving and still image in photography and film. With contributions by Roland Barthes, Jean Baudrillard, Raymond Bellour, Victor Burgin, Catherine David, Gilles Deleuze, Régis Durand, Thierry de Duve, Sergei Eisenstein, Mike Figgis, Christian Metz, Laura Mulvey, Uriel Orlow, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Constance Penley, Steve Reich, Susan Sontag, Agnès Varda, Peter Wollen and others.

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Latent Archives, Roving Lens

in Ghosting: The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video
ed. by Jane Connarty and Josephine Lanyon (Bristol: Picture This Moving Image, 2006) ISBN 0-9539872-8-0

With essays by Eddie Chambers, Amna Malik, Uriel Orlow, Lucy Reynolds and Erika Tan, and illustrated case studies on works of: The Atlas Group, Ansuman Biswas, Matthew Buckingham, Neil Cummings & Marysia Lewandowska, Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi, Douglas Gordon, Johan Grimonprez, Susan Hiller, Patrick Keiller, Marcel Odenbach, Harold Offeh, Uriel Orlow & Ruth Maclennan, The Otolith Group, Erika Tan, Fiona Tan and Mark Wallinger.

‘Latent Archives, Roving Lens’ considers artistic engagement with the materiality of the archive from the vantage point of moving image works and their specific inter-weaving of the roles of the artist as researcher, the camera as eye-witness, and the film/video work as keeper of archival matter. Focusing on examples, it explores two strands of works: Firstly, those whose reflection on the materiality of the archive/document is literally a mirroring of an existing archive, where the archive’s material presence and the collection’s physicality is visually transcribed into a moving image work (such as Alain Resnais’ film Toute la mémoire du monde). Secondly, it reflects on the implications of works which project the archival onto the world outside and retrieve documents or collections which are not yet archived and are still physically embedded in their original historical settings (in such works as Susan Hiller’s J-Street Project and Jane and Louise Wilson’s Stasi City).

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Talk is Cheap

Some Notes on Freedom of Speech and the Ethics of Listening in Route 181 by Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan

in 1+1+1, issue two (London: Double agents, Summer 2005)

Published on the occasion of the exhibition The Trouble with Talkies, at ADI Project Space, London, May-June 2005, curated by Adam Chodzko, Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone, Jaki Irvine,Uriel Orlow, Lisa Panting and Anne Tallentire.

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The Archival Power of the Image

in Lost in the Archives, ed. by Rebecca Comay (Toronto: Alphabet City, nr. 8, 2002)

Essay commissioned by Alphabet City to appear in major publication on art and theory in relation to the archive, alongside contributions by Boris Groys, Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Georges Didi-Huberman, Friedrich Kittler, Neil Cummings & Marysia Lewandowska, Sharon Lockhart, Irit Rogoff, Jeff Wall and others.

Chris Marker – The Archival Power of the Image: Download PDF