McNation: State Branding in and Beyond Russia

McNation: State Branding in and Beyond Russia

May 19, 2020, 3-6pm |  Spui25 |  PhD Candidates and RMa Students | Credits: 1EC | Instructor: professor Ellen Rutten (the University of Amsterdam)

Institutional support: Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study, Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis, Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis

Description: In McNation, we examine recent theorizing of the new nationalist turn of the 2010s as a largely commercially driven social shift. Scholars in nation branding argue that, now that ‘national governments around the world are turning to branding consultants,’ ‘the social, political and cultural discourses constitutive of the nation have been harnessed in new and problematic ways’ (Aronczyk 2013). With a team of internationally renowned expert scholars, writers, and artists, we explore nation branding and popular geopolitics by zooming in on Putin-era Russia – a place and time that allow us to study neo-nationalism as a vivid joint interest (and, in some cases, object of mockery) of both official institutions and rappers, poets, designers, and other ‘other’ voices.

In short talks (3-5pm), followed by a group discussion (5-6pm), we analyse both the local and national scale (recurring myths & memes; actors of nation branding) and the transnational scale (self-branding against ‘the West’; the influence of global media flows) of nation branding. With this seminar, we aim to encourage critical thinking about nation branding and the consumerist logic on which nation-branding practices build.

Among other topics, in the joint discussion we will ponder the following questions:

  • What are the potential bonuses and/or pitfalls of using nation-branding studies to understand neo-nationalism and the new nationalist turn?
  • How do various media and cultural practices (social-media debates, rap/literary cultures, fashion cults) constitute, intervene in, or otherwise negotiate nation-branding processes?
  • How to boost public awareness of nation-branding and its reliance on ‘stranger fetishism’ (Ahmed) and local and global cultural stereotypes?

The meeting targets PhD candidates and RMa students, but is also a public event. We warmly welcome guests both from within and outside academia.


Readings: required readings for students who attend the meeting as a seminar are:

Assignment: a. Please select one quotation from each required reading that you find particularly relevant to the discussion of nation branding; and b. connect a case study (in a short description or in key words) to one of the selected quotations. Please share your quotations and the case study before May 14 with Dianne Teunisse ( NB the case study does not need to relate to contemporary Russia. At the seminar, students can be asked to explain why they chose a citation, or how, for instance, a citation relates to the text as a whole. Students can also select passages that they find important but do not understand fully. The student explanations will form the basis for joint discussion.

Further readings in case of interest:

  • Melissa Aronczyk, Branding the Nation: The Global Business of National Identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Sarah Ahmed, Strange Encounters: Embodied Others in Post-Coloniality. NY: Routledge, 2000.
  • Maureen A. Eger, Sarah Valdez, ‘Neonationalism in Western Europe.’ European Sociological Review 31 (1) (2015), 115-130.
  • Metahaven, Uncorporate Identity. Zürich: Lars Müller, 2010.
  • Robert Saunders & Vlad Strukov, Popular Geopolitics: Plotting an Evolving Interdiscipline. NY: Routledge, 2018.

To Describe a Life

To Describe a Life

Darby English

From the way this object haunted me, I learned that I’d been thinking about King for a long time: wishing he were still around, wondering how he might’ve evolved his radicality, or adapted his oratory to the sound bitten thrift of contemporary public discourse, or confronted the expansion of the black middle-class, or addressed the ongoing traumas of so-called development in urban centers, or failed differently.

Darby English, “The King’s two Bodies”  in To Describe a Life (2019)

In the final chapter of his new book To Describe a Life: Notes at the Intersection of Art and Race Terror (2019), the maverick art historian Darby English sets out “to describe rather than contain” a very curious object: Lorraine Motel, April 4 1968. This is a model of the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr, produced by the design firm Boym Partners in 1998 as part of the Buildings of Disaster series. English considers the model from several angles: the past and present race terror, the struggle for civil rights, the illusive idea of racial integration, the “ unprecedented levels of nonerotic social intimacy” in the 1960 and the formation of (sometimes though not always shared) desires. In his hands, the object is never one thing – it holds multitudes. And by extension we come to understand Martin Luther King Jr. and his time with greater complexity. English tells of how, when he presented an early version of the chapter at Harvard University in 2016 with the model in hand, ‘everyone ignored the object’. For the inauguration of a new chapter of its operations, De Appel in partnership with Universiteit van Amsterdam makes room for Darby English to deliver his lecture with a fully considered staging of Lorraine Motel, April 4 1968. English’s deft narration of this all too relevant cultural history sets the tone for De Appel’s future programming, foregrounding event- and exhibition-making as a way of making history otherwise.

The model will remain on display after the lecture…until the end of February. In this setting, English will return to hold three open seminars with the Curatorial Programme participants and learning partners, based on his two previous books about ground-breaking (yet underexposed) art and exhibition making: 1971: A Year in Color (2016) and How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness (2007). He will also venture into unpublished territory, or as he writes: “This invitation will serve as a much-needed prompt to start giving shape to some new ideas that I have been playing with since last summer. They are to do with water, life, and differences.” English’s fluid way of thinking and his gift in combining seemingly disparate concerns promises to bring together differently-invested people, who would not normally gather in the same space.

PROGRAMME / SHOW & TELL EXPERIMENT with keynote address (introduced by De Appel director Monika Szewczyk with a preview of the year’s programming and inauguration of 2-month display of Lorraine Motel, April 4, 1969 by Boym Partners

WHEN : January 13, 2020, 18.00 for lecture and Q&A (through February 2020 for display)

WHERE: Oude Lutherse Kerk, Spui

PROGRAMME / SEMINARS with Curatorial Programme participants and learning partners from NICA/OSK?

WHEN : January 14, 15, 16, 2020

For Graduate Seminar credit:
Please register at :

WHY THIS HERE NOW?  English has forged a form of historically aware, expanded and fluid thinking that offers particular anchoring stories, which diverse audience can identify with, and interpretive tools for navigating social and aesthetic questions around racial tensions, but also desires for integration.

RECORDING :  Following the keynote lecture, an audio-visual record of the events will be produced for De Appel’s Archive and for enduring dissemination, most widely via Podcast as this medium is increasingly attracting audiences interested in longer-form, essay-style content.

PARTNERS: Universiteit van Amsterdam, Amsterdam School for Heritage, Memory and Material Culture (Prof.Dr. Christa-Maria Lerm Hayes)

TBC, additional: Rietveld General Studio on Color (tbc: Vrije Universiteit, Black Archives, Research Center for Material Cutlure, Iris Kensmil (artist whose presentation at 2019 Venice Biennale featured English’s book How to See a Work of Art in Total Darkness)

OUTREACH: will be broad, including students, teachers, plumbers, politicians – everyone is welcomed through a poster campaign that announces To Describe a Life as a Show & Tell Experiment that inaugurates De Appel’s full-year use of the Aula at Broedplats Lely


Creative Writing Workshop by Jane Lewty

Creative Writing Workshop by Jane Lewty

17 January 2020

In this day-long workshop, participants will examine texts that interact with the creative process in a variety of ways, as models and prompts for our own narratives. What happens to prose writing when we engage with other constructions of language? What kinds of actions might be foregrounded, complicated, or transformed? How do we write something new?

The event will be divided into two sections; the first will take the form of a short lecture on current trends, patterns and concerns of creative writing practices. Focus will be given to hybridity as form, by expanding our definitions of “crossing genres” and questioning the binary of the poetry / prose definition. Then, we will look at contemporary writers whose work subverts narrative practice, and who have embarked on collaborative acts across mediums with artists, dancers, scientists, architects and musicians. Through short creative writing experiments, participants will investigate the ways in which sound and image can interrupt, complicate, and layer a text, as well as the reasons a writer might embrace this multimodal, multivocal form.

The second section will focus on the craft of writing. Participants will learn contemplative practices that ground mind and body in active attention, invite curiosity, and prompt new directions for their ongoing academic work. Part of writing creatively is to be aware of a space that is equally open to possibility and failure; in our explorations, we will see that “failure” can also be innovative. We will take chances with form that may bring surprise and insight, and build a space for writing in which original compositions are able to appear. At the end of the session, participants will have produced a short creative manuscript that both reflects their immediate embodied experience, and is in some way responsive to the texts we have consulted throughout the day. All disciplines are welcome, since the objective of this writing workshop is to see how genres can merge and perform alongside one another.

This workshop will be of interest to current PhD students who not only wish to investigate the correlation[s] between creative and critical writing, but also want to expand their knowledge of cross-genre work. Students undertaking the rMA at NICA and OSL will similarly be energized by writing exercises and research strategies that may compliment their existing practice. They may earn one or two credits for their involvement.

Registration contact: Eloe Kingma at Please mention your affiliation.

Jane Lewty is the author of two collections of poetry: Bravura Cool ( 1913 Press: 2013), winner of the 1913 First Book Prize in 2011, and In One Form To Find Another (Cleveland State University Press: 2017) winner of the 2016 CSU Open Book Prize. She has also co-edited two volumes of essays: Broadcasting Modernism (University Press of Florida, 2010) and Pornotopias: Image, Desire, Apocalypse (Litteraria Pragensia, 2009). She is currently collaborating with the Dutch artist Jennifer Tee in a series of multilingual performance pieces on ecology. At present, she teaches History of Art at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and she has held faculty positions at universities in the UK, USA and The Netherlands

Political Ecologies Workshop

Next Event: November 22, 11-1pm (PCH 7.02): Reading Group on Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies 

Joost de Bloois:

Jeff Diamanti:

This year’s New Political Ecologies Workshop explores emergent practices in the humanities and social sciences that help refigure disciplinary boundaries amidst social and environmental precarity. Political ecology names the interconnectivity of the materials, political forces, and economic forms that animate embodied relations to the earth. Those relations are co-constituted in a recursive fashion. The study of economy, ecology, or politics in isolation becomes a reactionary impediment to any effort to overcome the dominant condition of the present, marked as it is by asymmetrical exposures to capitalism’s exertion of extractive and exhausting violence over the bodies, climates, and energies of the planet. New political ecologies are emerging across the disciplines, cultural spheres, and social movements that help bring the nature of those violence into relief. These include new work on care (Bellacasa 2017), energy and transportation infrastructures (Anend et al., 2018), degrowth (D’Alisa 2014), geopower (Povinelli 2016; Yusoff 2018), petroculture (Szeman 2019), post-sustainability (Stoekl 2007/2019), waste (Boetzkes 2019), and toxic bios (Lengo and Armiero 2017).

This year’s workshop is committed to exploring these new conceptual, artistic, and critical orientations and to putting into practice a form of creative and collaborative research necessary for new forms of knowledge production in warming and exhausted world. The structure of the workshop will include a variety of public talks, reading groups, and collaborative research projects that help bridge the gap between social, physical, and economic ecologies. What is the political ecology of infrastructure space, non-institutional media outlets, unregulated labour markets, and the biomes pulled into the swell of rising seas and heated atmospheres? Who to turn to in order to begin thinking through such new ecologies? How do existing and new artistic practices help create encounters with these entangled environments, and what are the critical traditions most relevant for supporting and elaborating those encounters (from Guattari’s ‘three ecologies’ to Bataille’s ‘general economy’, from autonomism to biopolitics)? And what kinds of conceptual attachments aid us in building out an immersive political ecology not saturated by precarity?

We propose the following activities, as part of the continued workshop ‘New Political Ecologies’. The 2019-2020 workshop can be seen as an ecology of sorts: a series of related and interconnected activities that allow participants to address the questions raised above. The study group ‘New Political Ecologies’ will provide theoretical consistency and continuity, by means of a conceptual milieu for the proposed activities.

Email organizers for more information or to enrol in the workshop for ECs.

Upcoming Events: 

  • November 22, 11-1pm (PCH 7.02): Reading group on Felix Guattari’s The Three Ecologies
  • November 28/29 (co-sponsored with the Sandberg Institute): Masterclass and Public Lecture by Dr. Oxana Timofeeva
  • February (date TBD): Masterclass and Public Lecture by Dr. Cymene Howe on Ecologics 
  • March (date TBD): Masterclass and Public lecture by Dr. Andreas Malm on the political ecology of fossil fuels
  • April (date TBD): seminar with dr. Marlon Miguel (ICI Berlin) on the work of Fernand Deligny
  • May (date TBD): seminar with dr. Erik Bordeleau (Montreal/ICI Berlin) on communism and cryptocurrencies

On Painting

The second meeting of the Artistic Research Research Group will take place on Friday December 6, 2019 from 14:00-16:30 at Vox-Pop Creative Space for the Humanities (Binnengasthuisstraat 9). During this meeting, we will be participating in a reading group lead by On Painting, a reading group engaging with literature surrounding the practice of painting. *Please note that this session is not a presentation but rather a reading group and your familiarity with the text is essential for participation.*  Contact: Emilija Angelovska <>

ON PAINTING is a reading group engaging with literature on -and surrounding- painting: theory, philosophy, history texts relevant to painting, both in relation to its tradition, and in relation to the post-medium condition. Given this expanded view, the reading group is as much about painting as it is about the art discourse in general.
More, approaching the notion of ‘reading’ in a broadly way, our sessions can take the form of a walk in the dunes, a cooking event and more.
In the context of ARRG we will focus on the text Masters and Servants or Lovers – On Love as a Way to Not Recognize the Other, by Jan Verwoert (text in attachment). In this text Verwoert traces a genealogy of love through Hegel, Lacan, Agamben, Heidegger and Adorno; weaving the positions of these thinkers with references to cinema such as Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch and Zhang Yimou’s House of the Flying Daggers, songs such as Bonnie Taylor’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, and more. The ARRG session will be a build-up on Verwoert’s coupling of philosophy with imagery. We invite all the participants to select the passages of the text that speak to them the most. During our session we will use these fragments of text to think through imagery (images, youtube videos, quotes, etc.), exploring our personal associations that may surface while reading this text. The idea is to respond to the text and to each other through images, while at the same time defining parallel visual readings to that of Verwoert. We will have access to a large screen, a computer with internet connection and a printer. Any questions please email
ON PAINTING was initiated by visual artist Isabel Cordeiro and Platform BK in 2016 and since then it has taken place in institutions such as Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland, the Atlas Initiative in Breda, Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen, Orchid and the Wasp in Amsterdam, among others.
The ARRG iteration is co-organized by Platform BK, Isabel Cordeiro, Bas van den Hurk, Jochem van Laarhoven and Andela Vidic.