ALL WHITE PEOPLE STILL LOOK THE SAME TO ME
Supremacy is bound-up with the visual. In 2013, ARIEL EFRAIM ASHBEL AND FRIENDS debuted their show ALL WHITE PEOPLE LOOK THE SAME TO ME, an experiment in fictional anthropology studying the scopic regime of whiteness. Exploiting a range of historical, textual, and visual materials, the show dissected the performative evolution of alterity in the West, from the imperial human zoos to contemporary trends in documentary theater. It deconstructed and indulged in the image-making process of authentic otherness, with its intoxicating power of making whiteness disappear. A pivotal scene in the show was a musical adaptation of Hegel’s “Lordship and Bondage,” commonly known as the master-slave dialectic, from his grand opus Phenomenology of Spirit. The musical intervention instrumentalizes Hegel’s text, blurring the lines between philosophic canon and white folklore.
In 2020, Ashbel and Friends premiered their latest piece, THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF DISAPPEARANCE, at the Kunsthalle Mannheim. Oscillating between film, sculpture, and music theatre, the piece revisits the master-slave libretto composed by Maya Dunietz. It takes up the themes of phenomenology, object-subject relations, and race, this time against the backdrop of the encyclopedic museum and its halls of masters. Hegel’s dialectic, which exploits slavery as a metaphor for universal consciousness’s battle for self-constitution rather than its material foundation, faces interventions from a mixed bag of sources, including Franz Fanon, Édouard Glissant, Nina Simone, and Drake.
ALL WHITE PEOPLE STILL LOOK THE SAME TO ME, Ashbel’s contribution to View magazine, breaks THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF DISAPPEARANCE down to its core elements. It weaves the video fragments into a tapestry of textual and visual images from Ashbel’s collaborative work with anthropologist Romm Lewkowicz, an inventory of performative opacities interrupting whiteness’s regimes of representation. Works include: ALL WHITE PEOPLE LOOK THE SAME TO ME, NOTES ON THE NATIONAL PORNOGRAPHIC (2013), THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, KINGDOM OF THE SYNTHETIC (2015), DO THE RIGHT THING, EMERGENT EMERGENCIES (2018), NO APOCALYPSE NOT NOW (2019), and THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF DISAPPEARANCE (2020).
Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. […] you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare for yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect.
HEART OF DARKNESS
The right to opacity would not establish autism; it would be the real foundation of Relation, in freedoms…
The opaque is not the obscure, though it is possible for it to be so and be accepted as such. It is that which cannot be reduced, which is the most perennial guarantee of participation and confluence. We are far from the opacities of Myth or Tragedy, whose obscurity was accompanied by exclusion and whose transparency aimed at “grasping.” In this version of understanding the verb to grasp contains the movement of hands that grab their surroundings and bring them back to themselves. A gesture of enclosure if not appropriation. Let our understanding prefer the gesture of giving-on-and-with that opens finally on totality.
The finest color is that in which what is internal is most visible, the color which is determined from within outward in an animal manner […] It is the condition of the interior, the animal and spiritual interior, making itself more visible which is the objective superiority of the white skin color.
It is in the Caucasian race that spirit first reaches absolute unity with itself. It is here that it first enters into complete opposition to naturality, apprehends itself in its absolute independence, disengages from the dispersive vacillation between one extreme and the other, achieves self-determination, self-development, and so brings forth world history. It is, the concrete universal, self-determining thought, which constitutes the principle and character of Europeans.
PHILOSOPHY OF SUBJECTIVE SPIRIT
I served you faithfully for thirty-two years, and Mandy twenty years. At twenty-five dollars a month for me, and two dollars a week for Mandy, our earnings would amount to eleven thousand six hundred and eighty dollars. Add to this the interest for the time our wages have been kept back, and deduct what you paid for our clothing, and three doctor’s visits to me, and pulling a tooth for Mandy, and the balance will show what we are in justice entitled to. Please send the money by Adams’s Express, in care of V. Winters, Esq., Dayton, Ohio. If you fail to pay us for faithful labors in the past, we can have little faith in your promises in the future. We trust the good Maker has opened your eyes to the wrongs which you and your fathers have done to me and my fathers, in making us toil for you for generations without recompense. Here I draw my wages every Saturday night; but in Tennessee there was never any pay-day for the Black folks any more than for the horses and cows. Surely there will be a day of reckoning for those who defraud the laborer of his hire.
TO MY OLD MASTER
In 1874 I happened to be importing some reindeer, and my friend, Heinrich Leutemann, the animal painter, remarked that it would be most picturesque if I could import a family of Lapps along with them. This seemed to me a brilliant idea, and I therefore at once gave orders that my reindeer were to be accompanied by their native masters.
BEASTS AND MEN
Fascist aesthetics flows from a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, ego-mania and servitude. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force.
Alexander the Great sat down and cried, somewhere in the middle of India, I think, because there were no more new worlds to conquer. What a silly man he was. There he sits sniveling, halfway to China! A conqueror. Conquistadores, always running into new worlds, and quickly running out of them. Conquest is not finding, and is not making. Our culture, which conquered what is called the New World, and which sees the world of nature as an adversary to be conquered: look at us now. Running out of everything.
To make a new world you start with an old one, certainly. To find a world, maybe you have to have lost one. Maybe you have to be lost. The dance of renewal, the dance that made the world, was always danced here at the edge of things, on the brink, on the foggy coast.
DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD
ARIEL EFRAIM ASHBEL AND FRIENDS
ALL WHITE PEOPLE LOOK THE SAME TO ME, NOTES ON THE NATIONAL PORNOGRAPHIC. 2013
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, KINGDOM OF THE SYNTHETIC. 2015.
DO THE RIGHT THING, EMERGENT EMERGENCIES. 2018
N0 APOCALYPSE, NOT NOW. 2019
PHENOMENOLOGY OF DISAPPEARANCE, 2020.
ANDERSON, JORDON. TO MY OLD MASTER. 1865
BUTLER, JUDITH. ANTIGONE’S CLAIM. 2000
CONRAD, JOSEPH. HEART OF DARKNESS. 1902
GLISSANT, EDOUARD. FOR OPACITY. 1990
HAGENBECK, CARL. BEASTS AND MEN. 1912
HEGEL, GEORG WILHELM FRIEDRICH. PHILOSOPHY OF SUBJECTIVE SPIRIT. 1817
LE GUIN, URSULA. DANCING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD. 1989
SONTAG, SUASAN. FASCINATING FASCISM. 1972
The performers featured in the images and videos:
Efrat Aviv, Santiago Blaum, Jessica Gadani, Dolores Hulan, Cassie Augusta Jørgensen, Ligia Lewis, Tamara Saphir, Tatiana Saphir, Jan-Sebastian Šuba, Sarah Thom.
Contributing musicians: Maya Dunietz, Hacklander/Hatam, Nkisi, Yoni Silver.
Visual artists: Eli Petel, Alona Rodeh.
Light design: Joseph Wegmann
Costumes: Sandra Fink, Charlotte Werkmeister.
Photos by: Arale the Sizzling shutter, David Baltzer, Alona Rodeh, Dorothea Tuch.
Video editing: Daphna Keenan.
Ariel Efraim Ashbel and friends production and management: Anna von Glasenapp.