Hospitality from Queuing to Channeling: Derrida and Documenta, Delays and Dust

Hospitality from Queuing to Channeling: Derrida and Documenta, Delays and Dust

Apostolos Lampropoulos

I. Guest in a Project

This text is a celebration of being a guest. I am writing it thanks to the invitation to join Learning from documenta (Lfd), a project that lies between art and anthropology, even though I am neither an artist nor an anthropologist; my current academic position is in Comparative Literature and I maintain a keen interest in literary and cultural theory. I am also writing it thanks to a visitation: throughout the duration of the project, I kept arriving as a friend who, at the beginning at least, was a foreigner to many of the things that were happening, and as an intruder becoming acquainted with practices that I had never quite employed before. The involvement in fieldwork, the collective discussions and subsequent readjustments of the project, the concern regarding affect within the team, and the blurred frontiers between art, theory, and activism, all conditioned my wholehearted dépaysement and familiarized me with ways of working that would otherwise have remained untranslatable for me – like the French word I have just used. Indeed, most of the translations of this word (“disorientation,” “change of scenery,” “expatriation”) fail to represent my experience: the chance to re-engage with my home city when Athens was the guest of documenta 14 (d14) and when d14 presented itself as a guest in Athens, as well as the possibility to observe and explore some new terrain – voir du pays.

I took the plane several times during the 2015-2017 period and each time I could not help thinking of a question Derrida once asked himself: “What am I doing with my life today when I travel […] with my lectures and strange writings in my suitcase at this precise moment in History?”[1] Back then I did not yet have a precise idea regarding the work that I would be doing on d14, but I knew that I had never really liked traveling light. For quite some time and still nowadays, Derrida’s writings have, literally and metaphorically, been in my suitcases, and I had been following some of the ways in which theoretical discourses travel between disciplines and geographical areas. I was enthralled to confirm that much of the theoretical corpus that I have been engaged with since the late 1990s was part of a vibrant dialogue outside the University, as has been happening in the field of contemporary art, at least since the 100 Days – 100 Guests 1997 program of documenta X. The bookish person that I am could not help taking a look at the Reader (d14’s theoretical companion) as soon as it came out. One of the first quotations exposed on the left pages came from Adam Szymczyk’s introduction and read “An elusive and haunting apparition, documenta is a phantom of sorts,”[2] an allusion to Specters of Marx, while the last text of the anthology was an excerpt from Derrida’s Of Hospitality.[3] I felt that Derrida was back in town, so to speak, because I found these references to be indissociable from two, initially bilingual, books that emerged from two of Derrida’s visits to Athens: Athens, Still Remains[4] which addresses death, ruins and photographs, and Unconditionality or Sovereignty: The University on the Frontiers of Europe,[5] a lecture that was part of Derrida’s honoris causa at the Panteion University of Social and Political Sciences in 1999, in which he discusses borders, Europe and the University as a space of “freedom without power.”[6]

This comeback ticked a few boxes for me, such as my interest in Derrida’s work and its varied receptions, as well as my will to understand how d14 theorized its curatorial choices. The above mentioned elements define my trajectory in this article, too: I will start from what one might have learnt, well before d14, from Derrida’s Athens, especially regarding how one can reflect on hospitality from which one profits, its conditions, its limits, and inevitable imperfections. What I stress in this part is not only the fact that hospitality and its virtues are often over-idealized, but also the idea that offering or receiving hospitality implies a moral and political debt vis-à-vis those left out by this very hospitality. I will then move to how the Derridean notions of hospitality and of the ghost theoretically framed d14’s project in both the Reader and in the public programme. My aim here is to question the necessity of criticizing d14’s project in terms of success or failure. Instead, I attempt to allude to some of the intricacies of theorizing hospitality through specters and history in order to prepare a being-with in the present. Finally, I will propose a reading of three d14 artworks that explicitly engage with hospitality and with the receiving of/through ghosts. By analyzing Shamiyaana – Food for Thought: Thought for Change, a “social sculpture” by Rasheed Araeen, Specters Are Haunting Europe, a documentary film by Maria Kourkouta and Niki Giannari, and The Dust Channel, a video operetta by Roee Rosen, I explore some of the forms that (in)hospitality takes in these works. In my reading of the first two artworks, I place emphasis on the practice of queuing and the experience of being delayed admission, that is to say an asynchronous being-with shared by those who offer hospitality and by those who are (not) being received. In the reading of the third work, my focus is on channeling the other who is already present, and hosted, within one’s home and who has been one’s contemporary. Assuming contemporariness with the invisible other, in other words allowing a being-with that has been ignored to resurface, will become, by the end of this article, the key to understanding certain connections between hosting and erasing the (unwanted) other.

II. Derrida-in-Athens

In the first pages of Athens, Still Remains, Derrida informs us that he visits Greece with Bonhomme’s photographs, after having agreed to write the text that would accompany their publication. His visit is marked by an obliquely reciprocal hospitality: that which is offered to Derrida by Greece as it is captured and filtered through Bonhomme’s gaze and camera, and that which will be offered by the philosopher to the photographer, by the text to the visuals and by a readership to a spectatorship. Two foreigners and two devices became involved in a dialogue based on two visits that took place at two different times and in the course of two Athenian welcomes: Derrida and Bonhomme become reciprocal contemporaries in a work on the subject of a city in which they are both guests. Nevertheless, complete synchronicity with the events that were shaping Athens at that moment remained subject to the delay of contemplation: when Derrida wonders why he went to Greece so late in his life, he answers in saying that it gives him the chance to “to rethink instantaneity on the basis of the delay.”[7] Derrida is late when it comes to thinking and learning from Athens, but this belatedness is where he chooses to make a place for himself: in the distance that not only separates him from the contemporaneity that receives him, but also allows him to consider the conditions under which he is received.

In Unconditionality or Sovereignty, Derrida speaks as the guest of honor and begins with a commentary on the hospitality that he was enjoying at that time: “The old and noble European practice of Doctorates honoris causa, always awarded to those who are foreign to the welcoming university, […] keeps the memory […] of a philia or a philoxenia that remains above all a political hospitality […]: an ethics and a politics of the frontier.”[8] Derrida builds on the idea of honoring (through) hospitality in order to define the University by its unconditionality, as an institution that “has even the right to examine without presupposition the idea of […] human”[9] and within which one can and must “question the principle of sovereignty,”[10] including the right to accept and refuse hospitality. As in Athens, Still Remains, Derrida arrived late, long after the conditions and laws that allowed the University’s invitation to be extended to him. But it is thanks to this delay that he can reflect on his debt during this visit: “everything, almost everything, seems to proceed from this Athenian genealogy.”[11] However, he, the guest of honor who would have almost nothing new or non-Athenian to say, would never agree “to speak, write or teach only as a citizen. And certainly not in the University[,] in order to let the others speak, living or dead.”[12] Instead, he chooses to rethink the privileges he enjoys at the very moment when he is honored: his citizenship, his authority, and the homage paid to him through institutional hospitality, his very humanity. By refusing to punctually rendezvous with this unfailing hospitality, he rethinks its conditions and he honors the many who have been excluded from it. By refusing to speak by way of the usual or official language of the ceremony or the institution, he alludes to those who remain unprivileged and invites them to haunt him.

In Athens, Still Remains, Derrida uses a philosophical commentary on Bonhomme’s photographs to guide his own view of the city. In Unconditionality or Sovereignty, he questions the pertinence of the very genre of the allocution that he is invited to use (“Would it not be indecent to give in to conventional words, to the rhetoric of the occasion, to predictable rituals of a Doctorate honoris causa?”[13]). In both cases, Derrida deviates from the code that is there to guide him, a bit like Socrates with whom he begins Of Hospitality, the Athenian who never left his city but no longer finds his place there in so far as he does not know how to make himself understood by the court without speaking its language.[14] The acceptance of hospitality is, for Derrida, an exercise in self-translation, whether through photographs, the expression of gratitude or the language of power. Nevertheless, responding too well to the requirements of this exercise leaves the conditions of hospitality concealed beneath an impeccable welcome.

Derrida’s visits to Athens are relevant to d14’s arrival in the same city because they invite us to rethink what it means to arrive and be welcomed, to reflect on hospitality from within hospitality: Derrida reflects on hospitality from within Athens and an Athenian University that both welcomed him; d14 reads Derrida in order to reflect on this question from within the city that offered it numerous spaces as well as from within its own institutional context. Derrida’s choice does not allow the circumstance of the reception to go unnoticed nor does it permit one to believe that the timing of hospitality is right either: each and every time that one benefits from some form of hospitality, a set of laws and restrictions have already been put together before one’s arrival in order to include (someone just like) oneself. At the same time, one only arrives too late to make hospitality more inclusive, or even radically open, because the rules allowing one’s arrival while excluding the arrival of others are already set, and they work in one’s favor and to the detriment of others. Similarly, one could say that the arrival of d14 in Athens, an exhibition overtly addressing hospitality, happened all too late, at the end of a decade marked by the so-called migration crisis, better described as a reception crisis, that is to say when the paradigm of early 21st-century hospitality was, to a large extent, already set. Derrida-in-Athens teaches us how not to render the conditions of hospitality invisible, even if they have existed forever and it seems too late to question them. Likewise, I can only perceive d14’s Derrida as a challenge to the pertinence of the exhibition’s project itself and as a strategy employed in order to problematize a notion too often idealized. This approach seems essential to me in the context of a country whose officials have often described hospitality as a national virtue and used Xenios Zeus both as an emblematic mythological figure and as the name of an operation against immigrants led by the police in 2012.

III.      Enigmatic Being-With

The fact that the final text of the Reader was an excerpt from Derrida’s Of Hospitality was hardly surprising, given that d14 (its website, its bimonthly journal, interviews of its curatorial team) systematically employed the rhetoric of hospitality, both in terms of the welcome it received (from the municipal authorities of the Greek capital, from part of the local artistic scene, and from part of the Athenian public) and in terms of the welcome it offered in turn (to non-canonical artists, to the collections of EMST (the Greek National Museum of Contemporary Art) presented at the Fridericianum, the central museum of Kassel, as a counter-gift, to the voices of some local intellectuals, migrants, and queer collectives). If, as already said, Derrida’s text was a challenge that d14 set for itself, I understood this challenge, to paraphrase Szymczyk, as learning from Derrida out[15]. Learning from Derrida out(wards) implies taking a thinker who has become part of the canon of contemporary Western philosophy while being one of its most meticulous and radical critics, is chosen, among others, as a means to conceptually frame and ground the exhibition. Therefore, Derrida is susceptible to become the fundamental reference, or even the critical homeland, from which a visitor can perceive d14 and/or a resident of Athens can reconsider the city during the exhibition. At the same time, I do not think that a few passages taken from his broader body of work are meant to summarize the core concepts of d14 or to reduce a highly complex exhibition to a performance of a philosophy branded as progressive, or even radical. I rather understand this choice as a challenge that d14 has set itself and its visitors: to both think through spectrality/historicity and hospitality, and to think beyond the limits of these concepts.

In a similar sense, while remaining a German institution, and thus coming from a country perceived as hostile at that time by a large part of the Greek population, d14 took place in one of the capitals of (the crisis of) hospitality and aspired to be radically welcoming, especially to those who rarely find a place in the contemporary art world (Rick Lowe and Maria Papadimitriou’s Victoria Square Project worked with diverse individuals, groups and businesses for instance [16]), similar in a way to those that Derrida would call voyous: “rascal, hellion, good-for-nothing, ruffian, villain, crook, thug, gangster, shyser.”[17] Derrida was re-injected into the theoretical-artistic debate through an exhibition situated between two countries and at the center of the globalized phenomenon of contemporary art, amidst numerous theoretical discourses and at the heart of a lively dialogue regarding the role of hospitality in artistic practices.[18]

On the website of the Parliament of Bodies (the public programmes of the d14, designed and coordinated by Paul B. Preciado), hospitality returned as an integral part of any progressive political project:

The Parliament of Bodies […] emerged from the experience of the so-called long summer of migration in Europe, which revealed the simultaneous failure not only of modern representative democratic institutions but also of ethical practices of hospitality. The Parliament was in ruins. The real Parliament was on the streets, constituted by unrepresented and undocumented bodies resisting austerity measures and xenophobic policies.[19]

According to this logic, hospitality had to be reinvented in order to provide a relevant response to this failure. The method of the Parliament of Bodies, and its somewhat restorative function, became clear when it described itself as “a critical device to queer both the ruins of democratic intuitions as well as the traditional formats of the exhibition and public programs.”[20] The three axes of the manifesto (the imaginary of ruins, the inadequacy and desidealization of hospitality, the reinvention of artistic institutions) echo the positions Derrida developed in his Athenian texts (the debt to Athens, the choice to question the conditions of hospitality, the mission of the University). What emerges, then, is not merely a critique of the imperfect hospitality of others, a militant lament for a world that is becoming less and less hospitable, or a reminder of the duty of art. Rather, what emerges is the way d14 chose to perform itself, in so far as the challenge of a perpetual radicalization of hospitality is also the challenge that d14 set for itself, its curatorial choices, its public program and its overall presence in Athens. All the more so since the Parliament of bodies organized itself as a network of open form societies, “modeled on La Société des amis des noirs, created in France in 1788 to abolish the slave trade, promoting the creation of social and friendly bonds between those who were considered citizens and those who were considered legally and politically unequal.”[21] One can almost hear the echo of Derrida’s allocution: the hospitality described here emanates from an institution like d14 that intends to be concerned with those who are not yet as well received, or as much at-home, as those already within it. Moreover, the manifesto’s historical reference is not only a tribute to some voyous, but is also the evocation of a particular past and, as I see it, the beginning of an exercise “to learn to live with ghosts, in the upkeep, the conversation, the company, or the companionship […] of ghosts. To live otherwise, and better. No, not better, but more justly.” [22]

The strange idea of being-with ghosts in order to live more justly relates directly to hospitality: “as soon as there is some specter, hospitality and exclusion go together.”[23] In a sense, ghosts are always in our houses (or cities, countries, national and other collective histories, and so on), already present within yet often remaining unnoticed. Spelling and fleshing out the ghosts should not then be seen as a way of clearing the house, ridding us of the burden of history, but as a way of envisaging a future as open as possible: “the ‘come’ to the future that cannot be anticipated – which must not be the ‘anything whatsoever’ that harbors behind it those too familiar ghosts.” On the contrary, it should entail “waiting without a horizon of expectation.”[24] That is why I understand, first, the spectral documenta described by Szymczyk, as an exhibition haunted not only by all traumatic pasts, but also by its own previous – and perhaps unavowed or even somehow guiltily admitted through concepts such as ‘unlearning’ – failures and inhospitalities, and by its dialogue with ghosts of history as inextricably relating to issues of hospitality.

As I have already insinuated, I tend to think that a critique of d14 based on inconsistencies in its project of hospitality or on the presumption that it has given itself an impossible mission (looking for what Derrida describes as an impossible-but-necessary unconditional hospitality in d14’s praxis, so to speak) are not productive ways of tackling the issue. This would be a critique based on the outrageous requirement that d14 should have rendered the impossible possible, whereas it is crucial to find out how d14 attempted to radicalize its conception of hospitality without avoiding the necessary failure. That is why I will instead read three works presented at d14 against three questions that might sound paradoxical: What ghosts were evoked by d14, and for what hospitality? Where were they coming from? What ghosts was d14 haunted by despite its will? In the readings that follow, I will deliberately abstain from judging the efficiency of d14’s hospitality. Instead, I will read the artworks through Derrida’s position: “no being-with the other, no socius without this with that makes being-with […] more enigmatic than ever for us.”[25] In other words, I am less interested in how ghosts justify hospitality and more intrigued by the ways in which they expose its intricacies and the enigmatic being-with.

IV. Guests as Ghosts, Queuing and Channeling, Delays

Shamiyaana – Food for Thought: Thought for Change was a “social sculpture” designed by Rasheed Araeen, a Karachi-born artist who lives and works in London. It was installed in front of the Athens City Hall in a part of the city inhabited mainly by migrants and people badly affected by the crisis, but which is also popular for alternative tourism interested in new ruins, attempts at gentrification, and artistic initiatives based in working-class neighborhoods and urban deserts. Shamiyaana invited residents of nearby neighborhoods, tourists, visitors of d14, but also the homeless to sit together under canopies inspired by the tents used for traditional Pakistani weddings, taste Mediterranean dishes and share a convivial moment. Shamiyaana was part of Araeen’s strategy “to find, support, and spur on emerging voices” and “one of the things he routinely did; as obvious and endearing as preparing a meal for a stranger.”[26]

Seamlessly inscribed in d14’s overall project, Shamiyaana aimed to be inclusive by experimenting with a most familiar form of hospitality. It was coordinated by d14’s facilitators and, even if it could be seen as a simulation of the heteronormative ceremony of a traditional wedding, it was consistent with the objective to bring together “artists, activists, theorists, performers, workers, migrants […] to experiment collectively on a radical transformation of the public sphere.”[27] Long queues formed every day and the guests were encouraged to experience the pleasure or the discomfort of a brief encounter, and to talk with strangers in the context of a relationship born on the spot. If sharing a meal is an obvious choice when investigating hospitality, some characteristics of Shamiyaana also resonate with what has been described as the general trend of d14, namely the “aesthetics of evidence”,[28] that is to say a certain preference for central works which make both an obvious point and unambiguously prove it . Placed in downtown Athens, Shamiyaana proposed hospitality as a straightforward response to the reception crisis and as an action in the public space. Likewise, it functioned as proof of an overall hospitable exhibition, as well as proof that hospitality works when it comes to forging social bonds. Re-inscribing a traditional ritual into the urban fabric of a capital, this social sculpture re-established reception as a virtue and remained, in my view, a little too attached to a more or less idealized conception of hospitality. Following the logic of evidence, Shamiyaana aspired to be a furtive moment of accomplished citizenship leaving little room for critical distance, whether it be a reflection on the genealogy of its hospitality or on those who are still not, or no longer, part of it.

Let Them Eat Art is a short film made by two young anthropologists, Grigoris Gkougkousis and Herbert Ploegman, as a result of in situ research.[29] The film shows that Shamiyaana’s invitation was aimed at the right mix of people, in order to remain an art project without becoming a soup kitchen. At some point, a facilitator tells the anthropologists that the work is a social sculpture, hence at that very moment the guests are part of it and that the filmed work is also, in a way, the property of the artist. To the provocative question “when people are in it, sitting, do they become his property too?” the facilitator unsurprisingly answers “no, I wouldn’t say that.” Although Araeen opted for a reassuring form of hospitality that emphasized soothing balances, one cannot help but notice Shamiyaana’s embarrassment in front of the film’s gaze that turns away from its center (the peaceful meals and encounters) to record Shamiyaana’s anterior and exterior. Instead of recording the events around the tables, where the right mix of people interacted, Let Them Eat Art  documented the risky contamination from the outside: the otherwise ignored hunger rather than the offered dishes, the leftovers from the rough work rather than the figures of faces formed in this social sculpture, the performance of conditionality rather than the temporary illusion of unconditional openness, and the difficulty of dealing with the unpredictability of visitation rather than the rigorous programming of invitation.

I do not read Let Them Eat Art as a critique of a failed unconditional hospitality that Shamiyaana could never have offered, because it would have demanded an absolute openness and endless resources. I rather understand it as an attempt to see Shamiyaana through the delay which Derrida describes as a way to think through “the at-present of the now,”[30] the time during which the event is experienced, during the queue rather than during the meal. The essential Shamiyaana would thus not be in the eating and talking (in the sculpture, in a sense) but in the delay that is inherent in the act of queuing (in the pre-sculpting, so to say): that is when potential guests are liable to be turned into uninvited guests, i.e. the ghosts of the lunch. Shamiyaana’s interest did not lie in the somewhat unproblematized translation of the friendly ghost of a wedding ritual, but in the fact that the cum– of the conviviality can only reside in the contemporariness of the only time that is shared without restrictions: that of queuing and delay, and thus in the risk of inadmissibility. The film saw Shamiyaana as an exercise in the enigmatic being-with potential or future ghosts, i.e. those who will not share a meal but will haunt, trouble and perhaps enhance the being-with of those who surround the tables in the flesh. So, Shamiyaana showed how an artwork can, at a distance of a few meters, both create shared time for some around the tables and also be detrimental to the very idea of being someone’s contemporary.

The documentary film Specters Are Haunting Europe by the Greek filmmaker Maria Kourkouta and poet Niki Giannari, was shown twice (on 28 June and on 26 July 2017) as part of the d14 public programme in Kassel. A few months later, Georges Didi-Huberman and Niki Giannari published the book Pass, whatever it takes,[31] which begins with Giannari’s poem “Specters are haunting Europe (Letter from Idomeni),” with which the documentary film ends, and is followed by the laudatory analysis of the French philosopher and art historian. As explicitly stated in the book, both works build on Derrida’s Specters of Marx in their effort to show the link between unforgivable crimes of the past, on the one hand, and the pressing duty of hospitality, on the other. The film captures the situation in the makeshift camp of Idomeni, a village and train station on the border between Greece and North Macedonia. When the Balkan route was closed in 2016, up to 15000 refugees resided in the camp, while its evacuation, decided and executed by the Greek government in May 2016, took place far from cameras and media coverage. The first part of the film, longer and in color, reproduces aspects of daily life in the camp, its soundscape marked by the footsteps of the refugees walking in the mud and by the announcements of the Greek authorities, by some tense exchanges between the refugees, and by small-scale protests against the ban on travel to Germany. The second part, shorter and in black and white, consists of film vignettes accompanying the reading of Kurkuta’s poem and alluding to the experience of deportation during WWII, thus depicting current European inhospitality alongside the ghosts which haunt the continent.

The camera often zooms in on the feet of refugees and on shoes that are either too big or too small, damaged, or dirty, as well as on the very slow pace of refugees who, several times per day, line up for food or hot beverages. Watching these scenes, I cannot help but think of the ambiguous title “Pas d’hospitalité” (“Step of Hospitality” / “No Hospitality”) of the second part of Derrida’s Of Hospitality: the step from/to the arriving person, and the absence, refusal or end of hospitality. It is precisely from this section of Derrida’s book that the excerpt included in the Reader[32] is taken and it begins with a question: “What does that mean, this step too many [?] Where do these strange processes of hospitality lead? These interminable, uncrossable thresholds, and these aporias?”[33] Several times in the film, an announcement informs the refugees that the border is closed and asks them to collaborate with the police, reminding them of the delay they are trapped in. The step of, or the step within, hospitality is here replaced by the step on the spot, one that wanders and returns without crossing any threshold. The slogans “Open the border,” “Madame Merkel,” and “Germany” return regularly, while the inscriptions on some signs begin with the word “Bitte” – a kind of side-step which is the step of appeal to an authority that can define and open the threshold. The act of disobedience most extensively depicted in the film is one where the refugees prepare to board an arriving train in order to cross the border, in an effort to remind people that borders should not only remain open for goods. Such elements make up the mosaic of a spectrality (the long waiting and the still delayed crossing; Germany as the promised land; the much expected and delayed trains) that, at first glance, is the opposite of the one we know from the history of WWII (sudden arrests; departures that were tantamount to death; trains as a preamble to execution).

The film echoes Derrida’s position that a ghost “remains always to come and to come-back.”[34] However, in this case, the call to the specter is the founding choice of the film. Didi-Huberman writes: “Idomeni’s refugees appeared to Niki Giannari as specters because she understands that when a specter appears to us, it is our own genealogy that is brought to light, challenged and called into question. A specter would therefore be our ‘family stranger.’”[35] This approach leaves me skeptical for two reasons. First, it touches on the ghosts of the unforgivable and the unthinkable (namely deportation, extermination, Nazism, the Shoah), and, by that, on the inappropriable; so, the very idea of familiarity with those ghosts seems disputable, if not outright unconceivable. Second, as already pointed out, there can only be tension between familiar ghosts and an altogether renewed idea of hospitality. Therefore, representing current inhospitality as a reenactment of the past, or as an ethical problem that should first and foremost be understood through direct parallelisms with history, might be far too schematic.

If the hospitality of Shamiyaana pointed outward (the Pakistani wedding, the queues for a ticket), Specters Are Haunting Europe showed the endless queuing as a past that keeps repeating itself. Two rather distinct types of delay question two forms of hospitality. But it is precisely this layering of hospitality that Coughlan has summarized as ghostpitality, “the haunting of every inside (every self, body, house, ‘present’) by the outside, every interior by the anterior and exterior.”[36] Given that d14 was critical of the failure of representative democracy and practices of hospitality, such an institution became inconceivable without those who find themselves stranded before its thresholds. And the inhospitable beginning of the 21st century becomes unthinkable without the memory of those pas d’hospitalité (the refusals of hospitality, the failed steps) that marked the last century.

However, an understanding of hospitality which is dependent on the exterior and the anterior might be less satisfactory than what it seems at first glance. The Dust Channel, a short film by the Israeli artist Roee Rosen, was presented within the framework of d14’s public program in Athens (May 5, 2017) and at the Palais Bellevue in Kassel throughout the exhibition. The film is an operetta “set in the domestic environment of a bourgeois Israeli family, whose fear of dirt, dust, or any alien presence in their home takes the shape of a perverted devotion to home-cleaning appliances.”[37] Employing humor and allusions to Buñuel and Pasolini, it is largely devoted to the celebration of, and even sexual interaction with, a Dyson upright vacuum cleaner, as well as with numerous other robot vacuum cleaners. The plot turns upon the intervention of policepersons who remove the intruder-musicians and is interspersed with excerpts from videos showing the massive construction and testing of vacuum cleaners, newsreels (“Europe Tightens Borders / Refugees flee from Eritrea and Sudan to Israel”), TV news broadcasts on the subject of refugees, xenophobic statements of politicians, and the analyses of pro-migrant Israeli activists.

The Dust Channel is, obviously, about cleanliness, homeliness, and hostility within hosting. In a short section, one sees the designer of the powerful vacuum cleaner referring to its transparent dirt cup declaring that “they say that nobody wants to see the dirt, it’s disgusting, it’s revolting. But I like seeing the dirt, I like seeing it accumulate.” This scene is followed by images of garbage in or around the Holot detention center for refugees, while the sequence closes with an activist’s comments concerning the state policy towards refugees which aims “to crush them and humiliate them,” so that they decide to leave of their own accord. The activist’s analysis completes what, elsewhere in the film, a German-speaking worker at a vacuum cleaner industry says while displaying two objects: “This vacuum cleaner can become a powerful weapon. This submachine gun can become a useful household gadget.” The obsession with sanitation is equally omnipresent: bowl cleaning, carpet hovering, collective mopping, music played next to washing machines, as well as the placement of toilet brushes and paper next to fruit and vegetables.

The links between the visibility of the dust in the cleaning appliance, detention under surveillance, and the programmed degradation of abject bodies to the status of human waste, are clear. This continuum is meticulously prepared through a recurrent ambiguity: sometimes the same dark-colored mass resembles feces about to be tasted in an act of coprophilia; sometimes it is presented as soil in form of a line on a floor to be cleaned; sometimes it is found as dirt or crusts of skin on people’s faces and bodies; sometimes it is gathered as dust in the vacuum cleaner. When the libretto of the operetta reads “Scum is on display through your transparent belly, as if it were the grimy channel. Thus, with you the abject is a thing of beauty, the dust become pristine,” the newsreels mention the opening of the Holot (meaning “sand” in Hebrew) detention center in the Negev desert as “a way to constrict refuge seekers without legal imprisonment.” While the bodies in the film almost dare to touch and taste it, the abject is consistently kept separate from, and yet within, the body, the appliance, the house, or the camp. It is kept surprisingly visible, seen distinctly, safely, precisely as abject. Swallowed and channeled to a transparent belly as appalling dust, the intruder is interiorized but remains unassimilated, embarrassing and (omni)present. Not well-eaten according to the “rule offering infinite hospitality,”[38] the intruder shares time and space with the hosts, both distinct and inseparable from them.

As opposed to Specters Are Haunting Europe, there is something that does not look entirely ghostly in this case. The continuum sketched in the film (excrement, soil, dust, sand) does not lead to what might be expected in this case, namely cinders. When Derrida talks about trace as the presence of a definite absence, he says that the best paradigm for it is not “the trail of the hunt, the fraying, the furrow in the sand, the wake in the sea, the love of the step for its imprint, but the cinder (what remains without remaining from the holocaust, from the all-burning […]).”[39] But The Dust Channel does not only refuse an immediate parallel with the holocaust; it refuses to see the still living bodies as specters or as only capable of leaving traces, and, consequently, refuses to put them in a well-wrought urn. The bodies it is concerned with are not to be turned into cinders because they are in search of soil, even though they find themselves in the middle of an enormous heap of sand. More importantly, in both Shamiyaana and Specters Are Haunting Europe people were constantly queuing to drink and to eat, they had to come back regularly or wait patiently where they were told to stay. In both cases, hospitality occurred too late in the game, the bodies following the ghosts. The Dust Channel, on the contrary, meant to prevent the “grimy channel” from turning human waste into immaculate ashes or unmenacing dust, and does so by keeping the abject within the cum– of the contemporary. If ghostpitality is a way of thinking the contamination of the interior by the anterior and the exterior, The Dust Channel is an attempt to think contamination as always already synchronized with the cum-, hence present in the contemporary.

V. Contemporary Dust

By integrating Derridean specters and hospitality into its theoretical apparatus, d14 defined its project as a debt to and a critique of traditional practices of hospitality, to history, and to contemporary inhospitalities. It took up the challenge of confronting the inevitable restrictions of any pact of hospitality and the legitimate criticisms of its own project. In my reading, I addressed the porosity advocated in ghostpitality as the haunting of “every interior by the anterior and exterior”: the porosity between Athens captured by Bonhomme’s photographs and that of Derrida’s visit; the honoris causa ceremony and the welcome intrusions of the voices of non-citizens; the Reader laying down the theoretical milestones of d14; the hospitality project of a shared meal and unexpected visits; the reception crisis and the specters of Europe’s past. If Shamiyaana was haunted by the exterior and Specters Are Haunting Europe by the anterior, though, The Dust Channel insisted on the porosity between the cleanliness of one’s own home and the dirt that is always already inside, it thus depicted the haunting of an interior by the interior itself and of a now by its own contemporariness. While queuing for entry or for exit was a way of exhibiting what is left out of hospitality, channeling was a way of reminding us of what is both hosted and ostracized within hospitality, a way of un-becoming dust in order to avoid being turned into cinders.

Whether it concerned homeless people who threaten the good casting of hospitality in the context of a meal, or a strong –albeit highly aestheticized– historicization, d14 took a decision regarding the exterior or the anterior: who will enter and who will stay out, in the case of Shamiyaana, or in the name of which specter to grant entry, in the case of Specters Are Haunting Europe. I tend to see this approach as contrary to the excerpt from Of Hospitality included in the Reader: “Let us say yes to who or what turns up, before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification,”[40] that is to say “yes” to hospitality without appropriation.

As I said at the outset, my intention was not to see the hospitality programmed or narrated by d14 in terms of success or failure, precisely because there is “no hospitality without finitude, sovereignty can only be exercised by filtering, choosing, and thus by excluding and doing violence.”[41] The sovereignty in question here would be that of the discourse of an institution, of an exhibition directed by a team of curators who belong to the left-wing avant-garde, and of a project that could not afford to be inhospitable. This discourse is authoritative in its field and can give itself the right to import rituals from all over the world, to make the right casting or to try out the right historical parallels. But the main challenge, as I understood it, was similar to what Derrida alluded to during his honoris causa: not to let the conditions of hospitality go unnoticed, in order “to let the others speak, living or dead.” [42] That is why the aspect of d14’s hospitality that left me perplexed was that of the “familiar ghosts,” the newcomers who are seen as more or less known returnees: those who came and waited to eat were received in a space haunted by a traditional ceremony focused on the joy and consensus of the ritual, while those who waited to pass and leave were ghosts on display in black and white.

In Specters Are Haunting Europe one hardly sees refugees with cell phones, connected to the same networks as non-refugees. Needless to say, these are the same refugees who, according to several testimonies, had asked for a socket to charge their cell phones and a Wi-Fi connection before even asking for further care. These refugees were filmed as returnees in order to gain visibility as newcomers, as part of a history before even being part of the current affair, then located in a busy exhibition and, at the same time, kept at a distance, all too well understood before they are truly known. The Dust Channel, on the other hand, seemed more relevant to what, in my opinion, matters in this case: a reflection on what one does when one is at home, the hospitality one offers in one’s own house, sharing time with an intruder already seen as indecipherable dust. Blurring the image regarding familiar ghosts, Τhe Dust Channel opted for the form without form of dust which could be found anytime and anywhere in any interior, while coming (or not coming) from any exterior and any anterior. Dust is one’s full-fledged contemporary, because it is “indistinction, unseparateness, co-temporality.”[43] Ιt is a true arrivant, too: intruding, troubling, (un)familiar.

What I think I have learnt from d14 is that hospitality’s most necessary ghosts can be one’s contemporaries whenever or wherever they might come from: those who are (un)invited to a public lunch in one’s own city, or the refugees in one own’s country even when they look as if they come from a remote past. It is to those already displaced contemporaries that one can offer one’s delayed hospitality, more often than not after having (un)seen them as dust.

Apostolos Lampropoulos is Professor of Comparative Literature and Vice President for International Relations – Research at the University of Bordeaux-Montaigne. He has taught at the University of Cyprus for several years and has also been visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin (2010), Stanley J. Seeger Fellow and Visiting Scholar at Princeton University (2003-2004), and a Marie Curie Fellow and Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania (2014). He has published the monograph Le Pari de la description. L’effet d’une figure déjà lue (L’Harmattan, 2002) and is currently completing the monograph Gastrotopies (forthcoming). He co-edited the special issue “Configurations of Cultural Amnesia” (with V. Markidou; journal Synthesis: An Anglophone Journal of Comparative Literary Studies, 2010), as well as the volumes States of Theory. History and Geography of Critical Narratives (with A. Balasopoulos; Metaichmio, 2010; in Greek), AutoBioPhagies (with M. Chehab; Peter Lang, 2011), Textual Layering: Contact, Historicity, Critique (with M. Margaroni and Ch. Hadjichristos; Lexington Books – Rowman & Littlefeld, 2017), Écriture littéraire, écriture musicale dans la littérature et les arts (with B. Bloch and P. Garcia; Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, 2017), and Débordements. Littérature, arts, politique (with J.-P. Engélibert and I. Poulin; Presses universitaires de Bordeaux, forthcoming). He has translated into Greek A. Compagnon’s Le Démon de la théorie (Metaichmio, 2003), J. Culler’s On Deconstruction (Metaichmio, 2006) and, with E. Pyrovolakis, the volume Jacques Derrida by Jacques Derrida and Geoffrey Bennington (Nissos, 2019). He co-curated (with P. Rehberg) the exhibition Intimacy: New Queer Art from Berlin and Beyond at the Schwules Museum in Berlin. He is currently working on a new book around the notion of critical intimacy.


[1] Jacques Derrida, “Back from Moscow, in the USSR”, translated by Mary Quaintaire, Ed. Peggy Kamuf. In Mark Poster, ed., Politics, Theory, and Contemporary Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993, p. 202.

[2] Adam Szymczyk, “14: Iterability and Otherness – Learning and Working from Athens”, The documenta 14 Reader, edited by Quinn Latimer – Adam Szymczyk (Munich: Prestel, 2017), p. 28.

[3] Quinn Latimer – Adam Szymczyk (eds), The documenta 14 Reader (Munich: Prestel, 2017), p. 657-670.

[4] Jacques Derrida, Athens, Still Remains: The Photographs of Jean-François Bonhomme, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010).

[5] Jacques Derrida, “Unconditionality or Sovereignty: The University at the Frontiers of Europe”, translated by Peggy Kamuf, Oxford Literary Review 31:2 (2009) 115-131.

[6] Ibid., p. 129.

[7] J. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains: p. 17.

[8] Jacques Derrida, “Unconditionality or Sovereignty”, p. 117-118.

[9] Ibid., p. 124.

[10] Ibid., p. 129.

[11] Ibid., p. 118.

[12] Ibid., p. 130.

[13] Ibid., p. 116.

[14] Jacques Derrida – Anne Dufourmentelle, Of Hospitality, translated by Rachel Bowlby (Stanford, Stanford University Press: 2000), p. 13, 15.

[15] Szymczyk said that d14’s aim was to “learn from Athens out”; “Adam Szymczyk in Conversation with Despina Zefkili”, Ocula, June 2, 2017 <> (last visit: May 30, 2020).

[16] For the Victoria Square Project, see here: See also Aris Anagnostopoulos and Elpida Rikou: “Fieldnotes on community projects in d14 and the role of the artist” in this issue of FIELD.

[17] Jacques Derrida, Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, translated by Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), p. 66.

[18] Beatrice Von Bismarck – Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer (eds), Hospitality: Hosting Relations in Exhibitions (Berlin: Sternberg, 2016).

[19] « The Parliament of Bodies », Public Programs, 2017 <> (last visit May 30, 2020).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, the Work of Mourning and the New International, translated by Peggy Kamuf (New York – London: Routledge, 1994), p. xvii-xviii.

[23] Ibid., p. 176.

[24] Ibid., p. 211.

[25] Ibid., p. xviii.

[26] Quinn Latimer – Adam Szymczyk (eds), Documenta 14: Daybook (Munich: Prestel: 2017), (July 18, 2017).

[27] « The Parliament of Bodies ».

[28] Ben Davis: “Straining for Wisdom, documenta 14 Implodes Under the Weight of European Guilt”, Artnet News (20.6.2017), < 998150> (last visit: May 30, 2020). Davis uses the term “esthetics of evidence” in order to criticize the choice of Marta Minujín’s emblematic work Parthenon of Books, displaying censored books, which was installed in the central square of Kassel during the exhibition, also as a reminder of the fact that thousands of un-German books were burned in the very same city during the Nazi period.

[29] I thank Grigoris Gkougkousis for granting me access to the film. For a thorough analysis of his project, see his article in this issue.

[30] Jacques Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, p. 17

[31] Georges Didi-Huberman–Niki Giannari, Passer, quoi qu’il en coûte (Paris : Minuit, 2017).

[32] Q. Latimer – A. Szymczyk, Reader, p. 661 et seq.

[33] Jaques Derrida and Anne Dufourmentelle, Of Hospitality, p. 75.

[34] Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, p. 123.

[35] G. Didi-Huberman–N. Giannari, Passer, quoi qu’il en coûte, p. 32.

[36] David Coughlan, Ghost Writing in Contemporary American Fiction (London: Palgrave, 2016), p. 172.

[37] Q. Latimer and A. Szymczyk, Daybook, 8 August.

[38] Jacques Derrida, “‘Eating Well’, or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida”, Who Comes After the Subject?, edited by Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, Jean-Luc Nancy (New York – London: Routledge, 1991), p. 115.

[39] Jacques Derrida, Cinders, translated by Ned Lukacher (Minneapolis – London: University of Minnesotta Press: 2014), p. 25.

[40] Jacques Derrida – A. Dufourmentelle, Of Hospitality, p. 73; Q. Latimer – A. Szymczyk, Reader, p. 663.

[41] Of Hospitality, p. 55.

[42] Jacques Derrida, “Unconditionality or Sovereignty”, p. 130.

[43] Lionel Ruffel, Brouhaha: Worlds of the Contemporary, translated by Raymond N. Mackenzie (Minneapolis – London: Minnesotta University Press, 2018), p. 24.