Sanne Kabalt

those who sing I saari residence #3

Sanne Kabalt

This is the third of a series of blogs written from Saari Residence, a residency maintained by the Kone Foundation, in the southwest of Finland, where I am living and working during November and December 2018.

I am doing what I always do. Walking, falling under the spell of nature. Writing, singing, photographing.  

I am doing what I never do. Writing down my doubts for others to see. Voicing my writing. Recording my speaking segueing into singing. Creating a video out of all this. 

Photography’s verbs are violent. To take / to expose / to capture / to shoot. And then we develop them. And then we hang them. 


Yes, my new work is a video, though it almost feels more right to call it an audio work. A voice is leading, carrying you through the piece. It is accompanied by a dark screen, which is occasionally interrupted by the appearance of photographs, projected, luminous. And then there’s words made visual, lines, sketches. Together, they shape a work about the camera and the person behind it. For now, it lasts 22 minutes and the title is 1.4, referring to the wide-open aperture, to be used in dark conditions. 

I can sharpen this and blur that. Include this in the frame, cut that of. I am constantly cutting trees – they just don’t fit.

The very first audience for the new work was one of my colleagues in residence here, Chris Kraus. A wonderful woman to have as a neighbor for a few months, she and I discussed my work a few times, in both the sauna and the studio. The night when I showed her this work, her enthusiasm broke something open in me. 


I couldn’t sleep that night. Unaware of them as I may often be, there are voices in the back of my mind, telling me what I should make and shouldn’t, which kind of art is mine and which isn’t, what can be shared, what can’t. That night those voices were hushed. So, this is what I can make! I thought. Something that is my own. Something slightly crazy, that I never expected to work. Yet it seems to be working. Chris called it ‘so affective’ and ‘witchy’. In that moment, for me, it felt like a small revolution. 

In music, love is so common a subject, while in visual art, it isn’t. As if those who make things visual detach from their emotions more than those who sing.

This working period, devoid of distraction and pressure, is a gift I am grateful for, especially at this moment, after having recently finished my MA at the Dutch Art Institute. I can clearly see things that begun at the DAI taking shape in this new work; the thinking that came out of my thesis, the performativity that started in the ‘Kitchen’-presentations. But I also need to slightly shake off the critical voice that the DAI gave me, in order to make again, experiment again, produce again – not only think on it. 

In each life occurs a dwindling of things you haven’t seen. Once you have seen them, you cannot un-see them. 


Meanwhile, eyes open wide to drink in all the white. Light comes upside down. Snow-covered rocks resemble sleeping mammals. Branches grew to thrice their usual size. It is a beauty unbelievable, unphotographable, and I wish I could bring everyone I care for here, just to take a walk in this snow, in this light. How else could I show you? 

Photographs sleep in undeveloped rolls of film, in memory cards unemptied, in harddrives crashed, in phones with dead batteries, in clouds with forgotten passwords.

 Hyvää joulua!

/ Een mooie kerst!

P.S. I picked this tarot card.


your eye will know | saari residence #2

Sanne Kabalt

This is the second of a series of blogs written from Saari Residence, a residency maintained by the Kone Foundation, in the southwest of Finland, where I am living and working during November and December 2018.


A month has passed, one out of two. Here is a timeless place. I’ve only just got here. I cannot imagine being anywhere else – let alone home. It is still dark, and darker, yet everything turned white. The darkness the sky is pushing down on the earth is pushed right back by frost, snow, ice. 

Through repeatedly walking the same paths, I see the small changes. Snowflakes suspended by spiders’ threads. The first ice, a rough surface, the next day, smoother, and the next, snowed upon. I keep humming a Fleet Foxes song as I go, what a life I lead when the wind it breathes… what a life I lead when that sun breaks free… what a life, what a life.* 


When I sit at my desk back home, my eyes stick to the laptop screen. When I sit at this desk here, my eyes keep scanning the landscape, the trees, the sea, the other side of the bay. A few times a deer passed right by my window, yesterday a fox and a hare, today an eagle. Imagine. 

Doubts were here too, in between all the cherishing of time and place. Upon expressing them to him, a wordsmith friend wrote: your eye will know what to do when faced with the tool that is your camera.**  His words stuck. My eye will know and I should have some trust in it, as some faraway friends have trust in me. 


When I wrote a proposal for the working period I am now in, I wrote of making the process the piece, of blurring the lines between unfinished and finished works, of sharing processes that usually take place behind the scenes. Once I came here I felt distant from that proposal; it slipped to the back of my mind. What was present instead were doubts of my medium. Now, I have started to work with the doubts, attempting to turn them into a reflection upon photography that touches upon its dangers as well as its magic. Thereby I am, somehow, making the process the piece after all.   

How much light am I going to let in? Should the camera do what the eyes cannot? Oh, camera, what to do with you? To capture, to take, to focus, to expose, to develop? Someone else must have taken this photo before me? Or is each new photograph a new one? Why are we making them anyway, and keep making them and keep and keep and keep making them… Does it matter if this one’s mine and this one’s yours? This is fear speaking, not the camera. The camera would say something else. Feed me film. Let me rest.

Words are constituting more and more of my work. This time I want them not to be written down but voiced, instead. It is such a different thing to hear a text uttered one word after the other, carried by a voice, my voice, in this case. 

So there we are – 

The light, the dark. The process, the piece. The silence, the voice. The writing, the view. The photographer, the camera. The doubt, the work. 


* the song is Sun Giant, from Fleet Foxes’ EP with the same title.

** the wordsmith is Wilfred Vlad Tomescu.

friend and foe | saari residence #1

Sanne Kabalt

This is the first of a series of blogs written from Saari Residence, a residency maintained by the Kone Foundation, in the southwest of Finland, where I am living and working during November and December 2018.


The hands I’m typing this with have obtained a burn from lighting the sauna and a blister from rowing the boat, hinting at the fact that I did both a bit too enthusiastically. Most traces of being here are more inward. Quiet. I was told that among Fins the silences in a conversation are often long and appreciated. Also, most of the time there is no conversation to even test this in. We are eight, but for the first weeks, each of us has been a hermit of his/her own, only occasionally gathering, bursting out of it. 

It is dark by four. Darkness, photography’s friend and foe. I am living upstairs in the yolk-yellow manor house, with a view of the bay, where the sea no longer resembles the sea. At first I worked in the studio they assigned to me, which had the air of a shelter, or a hole where a mammal might hibernate. Then, I decided to work from the house, upstairs on a little hill, to work with a view – resembling a nest of some bird of prey.  

This area is known for its birdlife, though most have migrated elsewhere before I migrated here. And yet, I saw an eagle and there is a species of geese that makes sounds that, several of us have noted, brings to mind a human in pain. You have to remind yourself, it’s geese, it’s geese.


I am photographing myself photographing and writing of my writing. Upon holding my earlier images I realise there can be no one moved by them as I am. I move them. They are mine to hold. And perhaps in this holding, tending the images, there is something at work. I might doubt every bit of my plans, waver over my work, but I care for what I have made and it seems to care for me.

The sun is elusive, but when it does appear, it is pure gold. 

Saari means island, referring to the days when this piece of land was not attached to the mainland. On the other side of the bay the forests are alluring and worth rowing towards, in our little boat named Lovisa. There, the moss is either the deepest radiant green and soft or the lightest whitish green and curly.  

I am feeding the fire to heat the sauna. The crackling sound is almost as satisfying as the resulting heat. 

The forest in the dark is a different being altogether. Slow, slow steps are betraying the fear that I might just step into the sea, unable to distinguish ground from water. Lifting my eyes brings more visibility. Branches, slowly snaking their way skyward. Deep black upon blue black. 



Sanne Kabalt

there’s a place

or a culture


it is a habit

a ritual

to blacken one finger

if someone you were close to

passed away

this is a way of making 

the blackening, the rotting, the dying away 

of a part of you

which is happening inside

visible on the outside

the idea is that 

people will see your hand and

they will know of this

and of course

you don’t want them to 

ignore you or be afraid

or overload your with unwanted sympathy



it is 

in this 

place and culture

assumed that people who see your black finger

will know 

what to do

and it saves the mourners

from having to explain

again and again

that they are not ok

that they lost something vital

the finger represents 

the rotting, the dying, the blackening

it might be that it is much bigger

than the finger itself

of course

and wait

what happens when you lose the second loved one

and the third

and your hands become blacker and blacker

or when you have no fingers left to blacken

would you volunteer other body parts? 

or what if your skin was black in the first place

no skin is black-black

not as black as undiluted ink

but still

the black suffering would be less visible than the white

that can’t be right

would you make your finger white then? 

an exchange

and something else

is the blackening permanent

or does it fade away

as the suffering does

but what if the suffering does not

fade, I mean

maybe after some time has passed 

you can paint a different colour over the black

if you feel that is more right  



well clearly

I am wondering about this

the black fingers

I am wondering if it helps

I want to know

how it works

so I ask


all kinds

I ask google


but it seems I have made this up

or someone has made it up

and I can’t remember who

nor does anyone else

what I do find is that

in some elections

they use

semi-permanent ink based on silver nitrate

they apply it to your finger

when you vote

it prevents you to vote double

excessive exposure to this ink 

can cause an illness 

called argyria

which is devided into 

local argyria 

or general argyria

the affected body parts turn greyish purple

in general argyria this spreads to 

pretty much all of the body

also I find henna

used for brides

voters and brides

rather than mourners

though you can be all three

at the same time

and then

the closest I come

are dead faraos in ancient egypt

their fingertips were dipped into dye


a symptom of the plague

black death

black fingers

and then a famous popsinger

performed with blackened fingertips

as if a messenger

from that place

this culture

I cannot find.

between the see-er and the visible

Sanne Kabalt

This summer I did a performance as part of the Dutch Art Insitute’s graduation acts, performed on June 30th 2018 at State of Concept, Athens. It is something I would like to develop further, this version was like a first experiment. I could tell you what it is all about but it would be much better if you just listen to the audiofile, for some things shouldn’t be spoiled. Meanwhile, the DAI is still processing all graduation documentation (there should be a good video of mine by the wonderful Silvia Ulloa) so for now we’ll make do with the following: an audio fragment of (part of) a rehearsal (you can even download it if you prefer) and some photographs by my peers. Enjoy!

Photo by Lucie Draai

Photo by Lucie Draai

Photo by Leon Filter

Photo by Leon Filter

the unmentioned / the guess

Sanne Kabalt

A text from father, sleeper is exhibited in a groupshow in Prague and someone wrote a review of of the show. It’s in Czech and it is through artificial translation that I read of her finding touching honesty in my work and others’. Then, she mentions my work as a text in which the author describes the taking of the photograph of a sleeping father who later died in the same place. Now that is quite something, for the truth is I do not mention him dying in the same place. Not in the text, not even in all the conversations I had about and around this work. But he did. And she guessed, assumed, read between the lines.

I do not mention how the couch he is sleeping on was soon replaced by a hospital bed. I do not mention how these same few meters became an almost permanent place for him. I do not mention the state of his body nor the extent of his pain. I do not mention the ominous tumor that must have been growing in him while I photographed him. I do not mention his eyes flicking to the window, awaiting the doctor. I do not mention euthanasia, the needle, the sunken veins. I do not mention singing to him. I do not mention hiding behind my sister. I do not mention my mother’s love. I do not mention how my ex was there at the dying moment and what that means. I do not. But perhaps anyone can guess. 

but I do not mean nature | leveld kunstnartun #3

Sanne Kabalt

This is #3 of a series of blogs written from Leveld Kunstnartun, a residency in Norway where I am working during the month of August '18 on a collaboration with Laura ten Zeldam


There is a small, geometrical cut-out of a stone painted with ink and pencil. There is a photograph of a rock in the river covered with a piece of glass cut in the exact size and shape of the previous work. Then, there is the sheet of paper used to cut that previous work, under a plate of glass upon which we find the actual stone, filling but not fully fitting the place its shape was cut out of. 


We were very lucky in our stay. Leveld Kunstnartun organises a festival on its grounds once every two years, by the name Stabbursfrieri, and this special occasion coincided with our last weekend here. This gave us the chance to meet (after all the solitude!) a lot of lovely Norwegians from near and far, some of whom have stayed at the residency before us. And then to see some of their art, to hear spellbinding folk music in our backyard, and to exhibit a selection of the work we made here.  

At times, I feel as if I have never been elsewhere, as if this peaceful, Norwegian life is my own, without end. Working quietly yet collaboratively, and more interdisciplinary than I have ever done, is beautiful. In my own working process I notice traces of my years at the DAI, that taught me so many things, for example, to read and reread, to think and rethink, to take my writing seriously. Laura's presence and the call of the surrounding nature wake up the maker in me, encouraging me to put down the books and go out to see, to photograph, to fail and to try again. 

From the spacious atelier we inhabited these past weeks, we moved to a small wooden house, which was to be our very own exhibition venue. Selecting, discarding, clearing. It proved to be a blessing. Sometimes it is only when you exhibit something that you realise what you've actually been doing, and I reckon we are still in the process of realisation. The project is unfinished, but I am very thankful to be able to show some of it and witness what it does in a space, what it does for me, what it does for a stranger. 

This short looping video, for example, was created by playing with printed photographs. I placed them back close to where they were originally taken and blended the print with the place. Few people realised that there is a photo sinking in the water (I guess it's not something you expect, right?) which set me thinking whether they might notice this if there are more of these subtle appearances of photographs-as-objects in the work, or if the video should simply be shown on a bigger screen, or if it is perhaps even ok that they see something moving uncannily underwater without realising what it is. 


Alongside this temporary exhibition, we've made an in situ work that stays here permanently. When you stand next to the house in which we exhibit, you see a range of mountains, including the Haugsnatten, a peak we climbed in our first week here. In this renovated wooden house we exhibit in, the architect built a new little house inside the old one, and between the two is a large indoor window. On this window we replicated the mountain range, by projecting a photograph of it and following its line with a matte etching paste. The curving line of the mountains outside is brought inside. The line is subtle and the visibility depends on the light and angle. This idea came about while we were installing in the space, very last-minute. We noticed the large glass window, we had used a line out of etching paste in one of our other works and then there was the view; all things fitted together. Thankfully, the lovely people who run Leveld Kunstnartun were almost as excited as we were and also the architect approved. This is a true fruit of our collaboration; a glass work, very much Laura's practice and technique, though it used photography to come about, and the concept of it was born from both our minds.   


And so, in a sense, things come alive in a continuous, if staggered, series of transformations, as happens of course with work, and with the coordination of hand, soul and eye, as Walter Benjamin wrote. I know my hand, soul and eye will head home full of light, full of productive doubt and indeterminacy, full of a sense of belonging to a place.

During one of our meals Laura and I were debating what our work is about for each of us. We were answering questions with more questions. What if the process of making a work of art becomes the work of art? How to work with nature without claiming it? Can an artist make a work that is not merely a depiction of nature but nature in itself? Regardless of all our thoughts on methodology, what to describe as the subject matter, if there is any to be clearly defined? To this, Laura said: 

nature but I do not mean nature as in; trees/stones/rivers – 
rather the fading between trees/stones/rivers, object and body.

And it is this odd phrase that we chose to use as a title, at least for now. In Norwegian it goes:

natur men jeg mener ikke naturen som i; trær/steiner/elver – 
heller blandingen mellom trær/steiner/elver, gjenstand og kropp.

The doubtfulness and searching tone in the phrase is important. I recall Isabelle Stengers' words; I propose that the experience of writing (not writing down) is marked by the same kind of crucial indeterminacy as the dancing moon. Also, I think of Teju Cole, whose book of essays 'Known and Strange Things' has been a true companion to me here. Somewhere in it, he writes of photographs that are full of a productive doubt. Yes! Let's doubt, waver, err. Let's not know. 

I would like to end with sharing some words I have been writing here, which were in the exhibition as well.
These words are mine as much as they belong to this place and these days.
A place can make a poet out of you, I'm sure.

Tusen takk, Leveld, Norge!

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thin crust | leveld kunstnartun #2

Sanne Kabalt

This is #2 of a series of blogs written from Leveld Kunstnartun, a residency in Norway, where I am working during the month of August on a collaboration with Laura ten Zeldam

At times, when attempting to work in and with nature, I feel like I am doing something utterly ridiculous and useless. Nothing I create can equal, let alone surpass, the power and beauty that is in nature itself. That is a given. Then, why would I photograph it, film it, reproduce it? To show it to other people? Perhaps it'd be better if I would just take them here, pluck people from their offices and drop them on a Norwegian mountain without any further explanation. Or maybe it's not about other people, maybe I am just trying to make what impresses me my own and find a means to take it home with me? Yet what can I take home but an echo? 

This video is one of the first works we made here which feels like it does do something that is not useless, that is not just reproducing nature, but taking another look at it, through a meeting of the river, my camera and a plate of glass Laura brought. 

In the thesis I recently finished for the Dutch Art Institute, titled Unsettling Capture: Wording, Haunting, Dissolving I wrote against the notion of capturing something or someone. The verb 'to capture' is often used to describe what photography does and what writing does, too. I proposed other verbs and methodologies that leave things open, dissolving margins rather than closing them. I wrote this mainly in relation to capturing people, specifically in the realms of illness, death, madness and loss. When I started on this residency I had the idea that I might leave this thesis-related thinking aside for a while and 'just' work in nature, engaging in material experiments; much more making, a little less thinking. But of course - and I am glad that it is so - the thinking does not stop here. The aversion I feel for 'capturing' applies to nature, too, though of course it is different in many ways. I am aware of the arrogance of mankind in claiming, taming and destroying the natural world, and precisely because of how much I love the forests, mountains and streams, I cannot only see their romantic side. David Abram (a philosopher and ecologist from the USA) calls this place we live in the more-than-human world. It is to the more-than-human world that you have a responsibility as a being and as a maker. He writes:

No wonder! No wonder that our sophisticated civilizations, brimming with the accumulated knowledge of so many traditions, continue to flatten and dismember every part of the breathing earth ... For we have written all of these wisdoms down on the page, effectively divorcing these many teachings from the living land that once held and embodied these teachings. Once inscribed on the page, all this wisdom seemed to have an exclusively human provenance. Illumination – once offered by the moon’s dance in and out of the clouds, or by the dazzle of the sunlight on the wind-rippled surface of mountain tarn – was now set down in an unchanging form.

The above was quoted in an excellent essay by Isabelle Stengers (a Belgian philosopher) titled Reclaiming Animism, which I found in e-flux's journal on animism. Stengers writes about reclaiming animism, in the sense of recovering something we have lost, though not in the sense that we can just get it back, as she puts it. She responds to David Abram with the words I propose that the experience of writing (not writing down) is marked by the same kind of crucial indeterminacy as the dancing moon. Her proposal resonates and is linked, for me, to my own thinking and writing to unsettle capture. A blurring, a dissolving, an indeterminacy is needed. To know that we do not know all. To be honest about this. Stengers (who herself has a background in science) writes of the infectious need scientists have to prove what really exists and what does not. She muses I would guess that those who are categorised as animists have no word for "really", for insisting that they are right and others are victims of illusions. Imagine, not having to insist, not feeling a need to prove. Believing, for example, that a rock has a soul, but not proclaiming it, not insisting upon it. The lack of "really" implies a deep, deep spirituality.  


Back to the process of making something. There are infinite reasons to not do so. It is scary, in a sense unnecessary, and it is hard to actually make something that is worth bringing out into the world towards others. Yet, I do believe strongly in art's ability to make life so much more bearable, powerful and layered than it would be without it. And I long to make; it is also a way for me to be in this life, to deal with it. So, regardless of feeling the complexity, I will do my best. 

Laura, who works with glass, light, painting and drawing, and myself, working with photography, video and words, are merging our material more and more every day. The proposal I initially wrote as an application for Leveld Kunstnartun was called 'the process as the piece' and did not propose a specific subject matter but rather a way of working, propelled by the questions: What if the transition between the making process and the final result fades? How can I integrate the process radically into the work? Or more than that: let the process take the lead? Though I wrote this on my own, in an inspiring conversation with Laura in a cosy Brussels café we swiftly decided that we should do this together. In a way, now that we are here, we are each in our own process, but we keep returning to each other, continuing on the other's work. Different media overlap, we are not merely placing them next to each other but dissolving the boundaries between one and the other. For example, crops of photographs of mine are the surface on which Laura makes drawings, following the shapes in the photograph with her pencil, making the image simultaneously more abstract and more alive. These drawings react to light and distance beautifully; if you look at them from a certain angle you will see the photographic image alone, while from another angle, the silver graphite catching the light, all you see is the pencil stripes. 


The surrounding nature is our material, our context and beginning point, but then we make something and these works become the material for the next work. The living nature in the work is important because it enables us to give life to the objects we create from it. The photographic print itself can become the subject for the next work, as natural and as worthy a subject as a stone or a tree. I have been reading Michael Taussig (an antropologist from Australia) and some of his phrases became mantras in my mind. How about this: Pictures take power from what they are of and, furthermore, can be meddled with so as to change what they are a picture of. I only read this the day before yesterday, but it is as if he is referring directly to the works and experiments around me. 


Something is emerging here, in these experiments, in the merging of media, though it is still hard to grasp. Another line by Michael Taussig, from the essay What Do Drawings Want?, that recurs and recurs in my mind: We all walk on a thin crust of reality under which lurks the hocus pocus swamp (...) we have to believe and disbelieve at the same time (...) taking a dip in the hocus pocus swamp. In and out. In and out. Yes, perhaps for now, this is what we'll do. Go in and be enchanted by a stone's shadow or flow of water. Go out and look again, look carefully. Go in again and see the magic in the light on a photographic print. Go out and question what it does. It is a thin crust. 

to be continued - - - 

to look for stones to look life in the face | leveld kunstnartun #1

Sanne Kabalt

This is #1 of a series of blogs written from Leveld Kunstnartun, residency in Norway. 

the village of Leveld seen from the top of Haugsnatten, with Leveld Kunstnartun on the right

the village of Leveld seen from the top of Haugsnatten, with Leveld Kunstnartun on the right

Laura working with a view in our studio

Laura working with a view in our studio

the cosiest home imaginable; 'Astridstugu'

the cosiest home imaginable; 'Astridstugu'

During the full month of August I am working together with Laura ten Zeldam, friend and fellow artist, at Leveld Kunstnartun, a residency in the countryside of Norway. Laura sees light as her main material. She is a window maker and a true craftswoman, trained in the arts of stained glass, drawing and painting, based in Brussels. She and I have been engaged ongoing conversations and small starts of collaborations for years, though this residency is the first time we are truly taking this further and embarking on a project together. 

me at one of the stops during our roadtrip, by the sea in the north of Denmark (photo by Laura)

me at one of the stops during our roadtrip, by the sea in the north of Denmark (photo by Laura)

We travelled in Laura's old Peugeot with (very important) a cassette tape deck, making our way to Leveld in a slow Scandinavian roadtrip, driving through and camping in truly wondrous places, so that when we arrived at Leveld we already had quite some adventures behind us.

exploring the woods in Leveld

exploring the woods in Leveld

There is something about true forests, deep and dense, that thrills and overwhelms me, coming from The Netherlands (not exactly the country of wildness). Knolls and moss, animal footprints and feces, countless shades of green. And then, the mountains! Green rolling ones and higher ones in softer tones with glimpses of snow white. There is a river around the corner here, a strong one. When it hurts we return to the banks of certain rivers, wrote Czeslaw Milosz. I found this line, and many strong others, in the book To the River by Olivia Laing, one of the books that serves as a companion to me here. When I packed it, I had no clue how fitting it would be, our studio and home being in such proximity to the river Votna. 


In To the River, Laing follows the river Ouse from the source to the sea, wandering, wondering, writing in an almost Sebaldian style of myths as well as history, corpses as well as hummingbirds. The Ouse is the river in which Virginia Woolf drowned herself. She being a writer I admire, I have read and heard stories of her life, her mental breakdowns and her death before. Never as poignantly as here, though. Perhaps it was because I was walking by this river that day. Reading about how Virginia filled her pockets with heavy stones before walking into the river deeply unsettled me. Unable to put the images conjured by her act out of my mind, I worked with it by writing a text by mingling Woolf's words and my own and creating a few images.

to look for stones04.jpg
to look for stones02.jpg


to look for stones to look life in the face to weigh each one always to look life in the face to choose the heaviest and to know it for what it is to fill all pockets at last to know it to step into the river to love it for what it is to feel the weight and then to put it away


studio table filled with Laura's first finds and experiments

studio table filled with Laura's first finds and experiments

the 'stone'

the 'stone'

Stones and rocks have been recurring material in our first experiments, as shapes, as beings, as metaphors. An intriguing moment for me was when, after working on our own for a day or so, Laura and I exchanged something we made. I gave her the text I wrote (to look for stones to look life...) and she gave me a cut-out 'stone' out of paper, black ink, white ink and pencil. There was a  a very different character and way of working in both pieces - hers having such a strong materiality, mine more of an emotional weight - and it was nice to just take something from the other and work with it, through it. We talked about how this paper stone could potentially be not only a depiction of nature, but some kind of nature in itself. I took it for a walk and photographed it, with this thought in mind.  


I feel like we are in the very first stages of a conversation on how one sees, how one makes, how to retain a freeness in both seeing and making, as an artist, as a viewer. We see an aliveness in the rocks, the stones, the non-human, the river. In the studio right now there's an atmosphere related to arte povera and animism, but also something more contemporary.  I'm musing and trying my hand at writing some strange little poems;

kneaded like dough
by water and weather’s
firm hands
but slowly, slowly

rocks alter
bruise (bleed?) 
but slowly, slowly

I was thinking of bodies too, human bodies as well as non-human bodies. Is there anything that is not transient, not susceptible to decay? It seems to me a question of time. Since a human body is softer than a stone's, it won't remain as long, though the stone too will hurt, pass, break down. Some of these thoughts were triggered or strengthened by reading the powerful thesis of my friend and wonderful artist Maya Watanabe, in which she questions what and who is considered alive, dead and grievable and what is not, in connection to cinema, a medium that in her view is capable of both severing and suturing the space between life and non-life. 

All in all, I was affected these days, deeply, by the nature surrounding me, by Laura's companionship and creativity, by things I read, by something as big as a suicide, by something as small as a rock. I will end with a quote I found in Maya's work, by María Garcés: Being affected is learning to listen, taking things in and transforming oneself, breaking something of oneself and recomposing oneself with new alliances. (...) Learning to listen, in this way, is to take in the outcry of reality in its dual sense, or in its innumerable senses: an outcry that is suffering, an outcry that is the impossible-to-codify richness of voices, of expressions, of challenges, of forms of life.

to be continued - - - 



Unsettling Capture: Wording, Haunting, Dissolving

Sanne Kabalt

For all those interested, I am proud to present here my Master Thesis, which I wrote as part of my studies at the Dutch Art Institute, thanks to the invaluable guidance of my tutor Hypatia Vourloumis.

You can download the pdf of the thesis here. 










Questioning the notion ‘to capture’ something or someone, a term often used to describe what photography does, this thesis aims to find ways to create and share photographs and words that speak of the realms of illness, death, madness and loss, without imprisoning either the subject or the viewer. In connection to my own practice as an artist working with photography and writing, thematically engaged in the aforementioned themes, I propose three verbs to unsettle capture: wording, haunting and dissolving. Each verb introduces a methodology for thinking and making that is simultaneously performed in the writing of this thesis itself, unfolding in relation to the photographs distributed throughout it. Through thinking together with a wide range of authors while continuously linking back to my own practice, this thesis concludes that in order to unsettle capture while speaking of illness, death, madness and loss, works of art must be alive, with an ability to haunt the viewer and maker, an ability to change and to dissolve into the life that continues beyond the margins of the work.


capturing dissolving

Sanne Kabalt

When describing what photography does, the verb often used is capturing - to capture a moment, to capture a person, to capture a feeling - though, problematically, it suggests the imprisonment of the subject matter. Once something is captured it is no longer out there, no longer wild, no longer free. It is contained and that’s when you should begin doubting its reality. 

I work mainly with the medium of photography. Thematically, I am engaged in the realm of illness, madness, loss and death. This is where life shows its teeth. Working with themes like these requires delicacy and sensitivity. You don’t capture people who are ill. You don’t seize them by force, you can’t throw them in a bag and over your shoulder to take home. I believe there is a need for nuance, for a way of creating and sharing in which neither the subject nor the viewer is contained, captured, imprisoned. 

Distinctions supposedly exist between the real and the imaginary, between waking and sleeping, between self and other. What if, in between one and the other, there is no line, no margin, no boundary? There is a blur, an indistinguishability. In an essay by the French philosopher Roger Caillois he introduces a sensation of displacement that blurs the boundaries of the individual and the surrounding world. Space pursues them, encircles them, digests them.According to him schizophrenics invariably give the same answer to the question: where are you? I know where I am, but I do not feel as though I’m at the spot where I find myself.Caillois uses the word psychasthenia for the condition in which the subject lacks a sense of distinction from its surroundings and lacks a connection between its consciousness and a particular point in space. Caillois hints that the origin of the widespread fear of the dark also has its roots at the peril in which it puts the opposition between the organism and the milieu. Though one may think of the fear of the dark as originating from not seeing what is around you, it might rather originate from not seeing your own self: not seeing where you end and something else begins.

A fictional character known both as Lina and Lila in the series of Naepolitan novels by Elena Ferrante (a pseudonym for an anonymous writer) suffers from dissolving margins. In Italian the word used here is smarginatura, which bears the word margins within itself, while in the English translation the phenomenon is alternately described as dissolving margins, dissolving boundaries or dissolving outlines. She said that on those occasions the outlines of people and things suddenly dissolved, disappeared.The phenomenon is physical, material and real to her. This sensation was accompanied by nausea, and she had had the impression that something absolutely material, which had been present around her and around everyone and everything forever, but imperceptible, was breaking down the outlines of persons and things and revealing itself. (…) How poorly made we are, she had thought, how insufficient.Episodes of dissolving boundaries keep on occurring in Lila’s life throughout four books. She fears it. It is to her as if she sees the world coming apart, people falling apart and breaking and this is not just happening at that moment, it is happening all the time, usually unseen. 

While both Caillois and Ferrante describe dissolving as a mental illness and as something fundamentally frightening, the more I think about it, the more I like the word. Perhaps dissolving is the verb that can oppose and unsettle capturing. I imagine photographs that dissolve their own margins. And there I recall a comment that a curator once made about my work, he said ‘it is happening in between the images, rather than in the images themselves’. 

And then I think of William James, who insisted, long ago, upon the reinstatement of the vague and inarticulate to its proper place in our mental life. According to James there is no thought or feeling that is solely limited to the present moment for even into our awareness of the thunder the awareness of the previous silence creeps and continues; for what we hear when the thunder crashes is not thunder pure, but thunder-breaking-upon-silence-and-contrasting-with-it.Therefore even the strong, clear moment of crashing thunder does not have clear-cut boundaries, the preceding silence and receding of the sound exceed the moment. Every definite image in the mind is steeped and dyed in the free water that flows round it. With it goes the sense of its relations, near and remote, the dying echo of whence it came to us, the dawning sense of whither it is to lead.James is a defender of nuance and believes we should honor the vagueness and complexity of our thoughts and feelings and express them as such: We ought to say a feeling of and,a feeling of if,a feeling of but, and a feeling of by, quite as readily as we say a feeling of blue or a feeling of cold. 

A form of this vagueness happens to us every night. Falling asleep is a sinking, a dropping, a sagging, a succumbing and a dissolving. Everything becomes indistinct. Jean-Luc Nancy writes of sleep as a fall, as a place where the “I” dissolves. With the fall of sleep comes a second fall, a fall of distinctions, he argues. I fall to where I am no longer separated from the world by a demarcation that still belongs to me all through my waking state and that I myself am, just as I am my skin and all my sense organs. I pass that line of distinction, I slip entirely into the innermost and outermost part of myself, erasing the division between these two putative regions. The sleeper cannot say she sleeps. The sleeper cannot say where she ends and the night begins, where her head ends and the pillow begins, where her skin ends and the blanket begins, where sleep ends and death begins. I fall asleep and at the same time I vanish as “I”.Sleep is the closest we get to death. Temporary nonbeing. Sleep is the closest we get to dissolving. 

The question is how can I use photography to dissolve margins as opposed to capturing anything or anyone? 

the testing of reality

Sanne Kabalt



I ask you to move around

when I say “low” you crouch to the ground

stay there for a while, eyes closed

I then lower a blanket over one of you

tell you to open all eyes

it is up to the rest of you to say

who is missing


you move around



open all eyes

who is missing




open all eyes




open all eyes





while I am here in this room with you

does my house exist?

nobody is watching my table, my bed, my books, my plants

I don’t see it - nobody sees it at this moment

the door is locked


there is no door




the day after

the daughter said

photographs of her mother

had changed


a photograph of the living:

a (false) assumption that after this photograph, you can take another, and another, and another, and another, and another


a photograph of the no longer living:

knowing that’s all.




in each life occurs a dwindling of things you haven’t seen


once you have seen them

you cannot un-see them




they say

darkness falls


it rises




true dark is not the darkroom, which is contaminated by red

it is not the dark room

it is the small room where you roll the film into the development tank




what if





are not contradictions?




years ago

I attempted to photograph the way my father slips from my mind

and returns from the depths


using a man as a surrogate for my father

obscuring the man himself




22 sun on sand or snow

16 sun, sharp shadow

11 hazy sun, soft shadow

8 clouds, barely visible shadow

5.6 shade, no shadow

4 sunset, open shade, no shadow




a man

barely visible, so,

technically, he could be any man

he is not




photographic attraction

you are strongly attracted to some one in an all consuming way; you have to photograph that person, a sunken cheek, a sloping shoulder, a type of hair, you have to photograph that person, a glimmer of a pain, or something hopeful in the way this person walks - it’s not nameable, you have to photograph that person

it’s a desire crossing what you might and might not, should and should not, you have to




- did you see snakes before he died?

~ no

- maybe it’s your father?

~ no

   we had a deal

   he’d be a black panther

- but… in Europe…

~ no




the mourner goes through phases of ‘the testing of reality’ Klein writes


and then

reality passes its verdict – that the object no longer exists – upon each single one of the memories and hopes through which the libido was attached to the lost object


what if you mourn some one who is still here

convince yourself

‘the testing of fiction’


fiction passes its verdict - that the object no longer exists – upon each single one of the memories and hopes through which the libido was attached to the lost object




Protect your face.

Offer your neck.

Stay calm.

Stay put.

Lay as close to the ground as possible.

Walk backwards slowly.


Take in as many details as you can.

Don’t turn your back.

Curl up into a ball.

Do not touch.

Do not run.

Take of your shirt and hold it above your head.




This text was read in a performance for The Kitchen Not the Restaurant as part of DAI Roaming Academy, September 2017, Arnhem, NL.

All words by Sanne Kabalt, except for one sentence by Melanie Klein, as referred to in the text. 


a reading (if fiction speaks the truth)

Sanne Kabalt

My eyelids sleep, but I do not. I felt the shape of a room around me, a big room with open windows. A pillow molded itself under my head, and my body floated, without pressure, between thin sheets. I recovered my sight and I was amazed to find a darkness around me soft and restful for my eyes, but perhaps even more so for the mind, to which it appeared a thing without cause, incomprehensible, a thing truly dark. That this blue exists, makes my life a remarkable one, just to have seen it.

If I am already sleeping here, then where should this me sleep? Almost it would appear that it is useless in such confusion to ask the night those questions as to what, and why, and wherefore, which tempt the sleeper from his bed to seek an answer. As long as I have questions to which there are no answers, I shall go on… The world goes on because some one’s awake somewhere. If, by accident, a moment were to occur when everyone was asleep, the world would disappear.  But there is always the sun when the sun shines and the night when the night falls. There’s always grief when grief afflicts us and dreams when dreams cradle us. There is always what there is and never what there should be, not because it’s better or worse, but because it’s other. Earlier, I would at times feel the need to shut myself up in the dark, letting nothing awaken the empathy, to sit just like that in the healing darkness of the nothingness. To keep myself from scattering, to stop the influxes of other people’s sorrows and stories.

But the truth is that we do not know what the herring feels. An idiosyncrasy peculiar to the herring is that, when dead, it begins to glow; this property, which resembles phosphorescence and is yet altogether different, peaks a few days after death and then ebbs away as the fish decays.

It’s also true that sometimes people felt things and, because there was no word for them, they went unmentioned. …on those occasions the outlines of people and things suddenly dissolved, disappeared. People disappear into their stories all the time. Meanwhile the wolf ran straight to the grandmother's house and knocked at the door. Pain serves a purpose. Without it you are in danger.

I cannot yet find a mouth with which to tell you the story. I am not sad, he would repeat to himself over and over. I am not sad. As if he might one day convince himself. Or fool himself. Or convince others – the only thing worse than being sad is for others to know that you are sad. I am not sad. I am not sad. His unlived life worried him, tortured him, turning round and round inside him like an animal in a cage. He beckoned to me to approach.

“When did you see me?” I asked.

‘And how did you recognize that it was I?’

‘From the photograph, and…’

‘And what?’

‘And you were just as I had imagined you…I feel as though I have seen you somewhere too.’

‘Where- where?’

(You have ghosts?)

(Of course I have ghosts.)

(What are your ghosts like?)

(They are on the inside of the lids of my eyes.)

(This is also where my ghosts reside.)

They exist in people’s ears, in the eyes when the eyes looked inside and not out, in the voice as soon as it begins to speak, in the head when it thinks, because words are full of ghosts but so are images.

Nothing and yet everything had passed between us. He saw the world divided into pairs of opposites: light/darkness, fineness/coarseness, warmth/cold, being/nonbeing. It meant that his life was good but his thinking was bad. How long will he last, do you think? If a calamity should strike him, it’s only in a small part of the total notion we have of him that we will be able to be moved by this; even more, it is only in a part of the total notion he has of himself that he will be able to be moved himself.

I was listening to that sound. The sound woke me up, but I didn’t have the courage to open my eyes, so I kept them close and strained to listen in the darkness. Footsteps, so quiet as to be almost imperceptible.  Two feet marking time with the lightest of threads, like a child learning a new and difficult dance. But then it was suddenly still as death. No rumbling was to be heard, no toppling, no cracking, no nothing, and no echo of nothing. Meaningful sounds all ended up as silence. And the silence grew, deeper and deeper, like silt on the bottom of the sea. It accumulated at his feet, reached up to his waist, then up to his chest. …and his heart fell into his knees, his eyes hid in terror in the back of his head, and his ears blazed bright red. …and in his anger he plunged his right foot so deep into the earth that his whole leg went in; and then in rage he pulled at his left leg so hard with both hands that he tore himself in two.

How to paint a dead man. …the very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died and they hadn't. It seemed to me that my own body, if you touched it, was distended, and this saddened me. I was sure that I had cheeks like balloons, hands stuffed with sawdust, earlobes like ripe berries, feet in the shape of loaves of bread. Everything starts to feel unfamiliar. Like I’ve come up to the back of something. Shut up behind a door without a handle. I’m afraid to meet new people and feel new feelings.

It is blood that moves the body. Words are not meant to stir the air only: they are capable of moving greater things. Deep down, I don’t believe it takes any special talent for a person to lift himself off the ground and hover in the air. No, vertigo is something other than the fear of falling. It is the voice of the emptiness below us which tempts and lures us, it is the desire to fall, against which, terrified, we defend ourselves. You must let yourself evaporate. Let your muscles go limp, breathe until you feel your soul pouring out of you, and then shut your eyes. That’s how it’s done. The emptiness inside your body grows lighter than the air around you. Little by little, you begin to weigh less than nothing. You shut your eyes; you spread your arms; you let yourself evaporate.Too many events in a man’s life are invisible. Unknown to others as our dreams. And nothing releases the dreamer, not death in the dream, not waking. Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person? Anyone wanting to make a catalogue of monsters would need only to photograph in words the things that night brings to somnolent souls who cannot sleep. Only in bad novels people always think the right thing, always say the right thing, every effect has its cause, there are the likable ones and the unlikable, the good and the bad, everything in the end consoles you.

Reality is as thin as paper.


This text is entirely composed out of sentences from my favourite books - works of fiction by authors including Haruki Murakami, Fernando Pessoa, Virginia Woolf, Han Kang, Elena Ferrante, Fyodor Dostoyevsky & Clarice Lispector. 

An experiment in the context of the Dutch Art Institute's course The Kitchen Not the Restaurant. 

on light and darkness

Sanne Kabalt

Photography relies on light and darkness. The making of a photograph requires a balancing act between aperture, shutter speed and the sensitivity of the film or sensor. Losing the balance will result in overexposure or underexposure and consequently invisibility - the image becoming lost either in the realm of light or the realm of darkness.

For a video work I lowered my camera down into a deep well. The well holds water at the bottom, the sun illuminates the edges of this water, creating a circle of light dots surrounded by complete darkness. In the video the camera is pulled upwards, slowly, out of the well, the circle remaining a point of focus, until, near the end, the camera nears ground level and the sunlight pours in, illuminating the walls of the well, revealing where you are.


The terms light and darkness are frequently used metaphorically, referring respectively to all things positive, happy and easy to digest and to all things negative, melancholic and complex. When looking at my artistic body of work through this lens, nearly all my subject manner can be easily identified as being in darkness. There are projects about the wolf, fear, the woods. There is a project about forgetting some one, about death. There is research about madness. However, like the video of the well, none of these projects are without light. They could not do without it.

While writing about light and darkness I am immediately faced with the question if I should distinguish between a literal light and darkness (the kind you create by switching a lamp on and off) or metaphorical light and darkness (the kind that is more inward, more mental). In Haruki Murakami’s novel Kafka on the Shore, one of his characters mentions this distinction. "Until Edison invented the electric light, most of the world was totally covered in darkness. The physical darkness outside and the inner darkness of the soul were mixed together, with no boundary separating the two. They were directly linked. Like this." Oshima brings his two hands together tightly. "(…) People of that period probably couldn't conceive of these two types of darkness as separate from each other."

Many are drawn to darkness. I reach for an essay on aesthetics by a novelist who, like Murakami, is from Japan: Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. The essay is titled In Praise of Shadows and compares the way shadow is perceived and used in architecture, literature and other arts in Japan and the West. The essay is filled with lyrical descriptions of shadows, such as this: (…) when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway. Tanizaki’s writing is melancholic, for he fears for his beloved shadows.  He ends the essay thus: I have written all this because I have thought that there might still be somewhere, possibly in literature or the arts, where something could be saved.  I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.


Brief moments of darkness, recommendations

#1: When in a toilet, don’t turn on the light. The light leaking in through the slit between door and floor is enough to find what you need, the toilet paper, the tap. A visit to the toilet is allowed in almost any context, use it as an escape route, as an easy gateway to darkness.

#2: In a cinema, when the main feature is about to show, lights are dimmed. In the interval between the previews for other films and the start of the film you are about to see, there is a sliver of darkness to be savored.

#3: Blink.

#4: As a photographer working with analogue film, you rely on darkness; you require it professionally. True dark is not the darkroom, which is contaminated by red, but the small room where you roll the film into the development tank. Stay there as long as you need.


Light and darkness are at play not only in producing and developing an image, as I have mentioned above, but also in presenting the image - especially if one uses the form of projection. The French film scholar Domique Païni writes (…) let us agree that the artists who make up the present exhibition manipulate the travel of luminous images, images irreducibly foreign to the surfaces that intercept the beam of light, surfaces that however embody them. Of images that exist because they are made of light, being images that are of time. The difference between a painting or photographic print and a projected image is described by her in this way: (…) light no longer encounters an image, nor bathes it, nor illuminates it. Light penetrates it at first, then transports it, duplicates it in dematerializing it. Thus the projected image is light itself, defeating darkness, at least for a duration of time. 

W.G. Sebald, German writer and academic, is another person who revers the dark. His The Rings of Saturn is filled with dark tales of death and dying, all of them true, on characters as diverse as the English doctor Thomas Browne and the Chinese dowager Empress Tzu Hsi. Halfway in his book and journey he embarks on the telling of a history of the herring, from which I would like to quote a short passage: An idiosyncrasy peculiar to the herring is that, when dead, it begins to glow; this property, which resembles phosphorescence and is yet altogether different, peaks a few days after death and then ebbs away as the fish decays. For a long time no one could account for this glowing of the lifeless herring, and indeed I believe it still remains unexplained. In describing this strange natural phenomenon Sebald has opened up the way to reflect upon light and darkness anew, for here is a contradiction: In death, known as the darkest of darks, the herring emits light. In the lifeless herring, in photography and in projection, in the themes of my art works, light and darkness meet.



Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, Vintage, 2006

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, Leete’s Island Books, 1977

Dominque Païni, Should we put an end to Projection?, October, 2004

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn, The Harvill Press, 1998

a story about both oneself and others

Sanne Kabalt

“I need a life”. A wish that is sometimes voiced (with a sigh, to a friend, in a bar) and sometimes thought (repeatedly, quietly, in solitude). We all have a hunch of what “a life” means, or at least of what it involves: other people. Lauren Berlant, a writer and teacher from the USA, writes of this notion in the journal Critical Inquiry 24 : Intimacy, A Special Issue. She writes about intimacy as an aspiration for a narrative about something shared, as a story about both oneself and others.

I learned to think about these questions in the contexts of feminist/queer pedagogy; and how many times have I asked my own students to explain why, when there are so many people, only one plot counts as "life" (first comes love, then . . )? Those who don't or can't find their way in that story - the queers, the single, the something else - can become so easily unimaginable, even often to themselves. Yet it is hard not to see lying about everywhere the detritus and the amputations that come from attempts to fit into the fold (…)

The desire for “a life” involves a hope of intimate relations that are both beautiful and lasting. The inwardness of these relations are met by a corresponding publicness, Berlant writes. Though relationships are intimate and private, they are seen. In many cases we want them to be seen. Through literature and cinema we have gotten used to experience internal lives theatrically, as though oriented towards an audience. We long for this audience to approve and applaud, and in aiming for approval we are wishing for normalcy. Many people whom Berlant calls ‘the something else’ struggle with a wish not to have to push so hard in order to have “a life”, or in other words, in order to have a life that is approved of as a life – by the audience and therefore by oneself.

“A life” or in other words a life including intimate relationships with others, is revealed by Berlant to be a story, a narrative, a plot, theatrical and inspired by cinema. “A life” is what is seen as an appropriate life in our collective memory, in our popular culture. “A life” is not what the single, the queer, the something else live. 

The kinds of connections that impact on people, and on which they depend for living (if not "a life"), do not always respect the predictable forms: nations and citizens, churches and the faithful, workers at work, writers and readers, memorizers of songs, people who walk dogs or swim at the same time each day, fetishists and their objects, teachers and students, serial lovers, sports lovers, listeners to voices who explain things manageably (on the radio, at conferences, on television screens, online, in therapy), fans and celebrities - I (or you) could go on.

In summing up these connections Berlant gives a strong sense of what life is and can be apart from the ‘first comes love, then ...’ plot. Fulfillment can be found in a variety of ways, many kinds of lives can be very much worth living without qualifying as “a life”.

An old letter by Henry James

An old letter by Henry James

In the book The Master Irish novelist Colm Toibin portrays the author Henry James, focusing on James’ creative process and his personal life, providing insight in the creation of his literature as well as in his intimate day-to-day existence. The Master is a book that stands out for its integrity and subtlety, mirroring key qualities of the protagonist.  The Henry James that took shape in Colm Toibin’s hands is a man who can be social, fitting the context of his intellectual nineteenth century milieu, but much more he is a man who is solitary. The book is filled with scenes in which James longs for solitude, expressed in sentences like this: (…) he wanted to be alone in his room with the night coming down and a book close by and pen and paper and the knowledge that the door would remain shut until the morning came and he would not be disturbed. James wishes to observe people, for they are the inspiration and sometimes very directly the models for the characters in his books. And then, he wishes to retreat, not to be disturbed. Furthermore, he is attracted to men and his sexuality and the secrecy surrounding it make his appearances and disappearances in society more layered.

He had grown fat on solitude, he thought, and had learned to expect nothing from the day but at best a dull contentment. Sometimes the dullness came to the fore with a strange and insistent ache which he would entertain briefly, but learn to keep at bay. Mostly, however, it was the contentment he entertained; the slow ease and the silence could, once night had fallen, fill him with a happiness that nothing, no society nor the company of any individual, no glamour or glitter, could equal. 

Henry James, at least the version of him that is depicted in Colm Toibin’s novel, is an example of some one who does not fit in the “a life” fantasy that Lauren Berlant writes about. This seems to be due to his artistry, his devotion to his work. His whole life revolves around his writing. He does not fit the ‘first comes love, then…’ plot either. His work comes first. Though, this might have been rather different if he had lived in a time and place where homosexuality was embraced. Being queer forces people (back in James’ nineteenth century, and still today) to veil their story about themselves and others in subtlety and secrecy.

Isn’t it absurd that even in the most intimate realm of life most people are telling a story to others? Consciously or unconsciously, we are ever aware of the eyes upon us. So many people are afraid to be judged or misunderstood, terrified to be found either abnormal on the one hand or boring on the other, busy trying to fit exactly in the middle of that scale.  In intimate relationships, in how one spends free time, in where one sleeps and with whom, there is a pressure to perform. There is a standard to live up to. Interestingly, this standard chiefly comes from art. Cinema, as well as novels and pop songs, provides a blueprint that many people try to live up to in their day-to-day lives. Therefore it is so important that there are works of art of many different shapes and kinds, so that people mirror themselves not only on a handsome couple in a Hollywood blockbuster, but also on a thoughtful, queer character such as Henry James in Colm Toibin’s book. If we are confronted with layered, varying stories we might become more capable of telling more layered and varying stories about ourselves.




Lauren Berlant, Intimacy : A Special Issue, Critical Enquiry #24, 1998

Colm Toibin, The Master, McClelland & Stewart, 2004

Who empathises with whom?   

Sanne Kabalt

Once upon a time I showed a photograph that I had taken to a friend of mine. It was a portrait. My friend took the small photographic print in his hands and exclaimed: ‘Sometimes I feel like this.’ An exclamation that I have never forgotten. How exactly does he know how she feels? Is her feeling so visible in that one photograph? He was so sure. Absolutely sure that he knew what she was going through. Sure that he had gone through the same.

Photography is a medium that deals with the visual.

What can be seen.

I want to talk about what cannot be seen

while using the language of photography.

I’m not sure if we see one another.

If we know.

If we understand.                                                                                                        *

Fernando Pessoa writes in The Book of Disquiet about a sense of detachment from other people. I feel closer ties and more intimate bonds with certain characters in books, with certain images I’ve seen in engravings, than with many supposedly real people, with that metaphysical absurdity known as ‘flesh and blood’. A thought that I recognize and believe to be the truth. We get to know our favorite fiction characters so much better then we get to know ‘real’ others or, I would add, our ‘real’ selves.

Franz Kafka compared his self-knowledge to his knowledge of his room.

His conclusion:

There is no such thing as observation of the inner world, as there is of the outer world.  *

The definition of empathy:

The power of entering into another’s personality and imaginatively experiencing his feelings.

The etymology of empathy:

It comes from the Greek empatheia - em (into) and pathos (feeling).

The writer Leslie Jameson wrote:

It suggests you enter another person's pain as you'd enter another country, through immigration and customs, border crossing by way of query: What grows where you are? What are the laws? What animals graze there?

She wrote a book about empathy. A bit further on she writes:

When bad things happened to other people, I imagined them happening to me.

I don’t know if this was empathy or theft.

This is where I have to admit to being a thief.                                                            *

I worked with and lived among psychiatric patients for three months. Some one asked me to protect him one day, and screamed at me the next. Some one told me that her voices told her that I was a bitch but she found out that I was not and kept giving me advice about love and how to talk to birds. Some one played the accordion for me one day, and lost complete control of her body the other day.  Some one cooked for me. Some one quietly stole my pants.  I feel tenderly towards these people. And – not so different.

Photography and psychiatry have a history. Photographs have been used to show what a crazy person looks like. Labelling people: This is a hysterical woman. This is a schizophrenic man.

For me, it is in conversation that I want to show these people to you.

I have been engaging them in conversations with me, with their nurses, with their visitors, and most of all: with each other. 

The question is: Who empathises with whom?          

to be embraced

Sanne Kabalt

I believe that trauma is something to be embraced rather than healed or recovered from. I believe that grief is something which situates the place/space of the dead within the living: and that, through repeatedly visiting that place, through our pained and silent embrace of it over the course of a whole life, life is, perhaps paradoxically, made possible. These words have been written down by Han Kang, a contemporary Korean writer, for an interview in The White Review that was conducted via email and via translation (by Deborah Smith, Han Kang’s usual translator). Let us look carefully at these words and attempt to pay due attention their meaning. Trauma is something to be embraced, she writes – embraced rather than erased. Han Kang uses the term ‘embrace’ again in the next sentence - our pained and silent embrace of it over the course of a whole life – implying not only a lingering relationship with trauma and grief, but emphasizing that this ought to be a close relationship. Other words that stood out to me were the words that concerned duration and time: the words ‘repeatedly’ and ‘over the course of a whole life’. It is so often assumed and repeated that time heals. I myself have been told this a countless number of times by a variety of people. In order to live on, having experienced trauma and grief, one simply needs minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years to pass. This ‘time heals’ cliché implies that you need to get as far away from your pain as you possibly can. Yet Han Kang here urges us to embrace it. There seems to me to be a stark contrast between these two points of view.


The interview from which I quote these intriguing words is about Han Kang’s book Human Acts, a literary work about the massacre in Gwangju, Korea, in 1980. Following the General Chun Doo-Hwan’s extension of martial law across the country, a large number of students were protesting against his measures (including the closing of universities and the restriction of press freedom) at this time. The uprisings lasted for a few days and then were brutally struck down by a military operation that killed and injured thousands of young students. Human Acts is about victims of this massacre (the event became known as ‘the Gwangju Massacre’), centering on one student named Dong-Ho, while frequently straying from his story into stories of others involved. In the introduction to the interview Sarah Shin (the interviewer) describes the book as follows: (…)‘Human Acts’ is a book with a banging door – it is fiction as a form of alternate historiography where the unresolved past pollutes the present. In my own experience as a reader living far from Korea and knowing very little about its history, the book definitely educated me in a historical sense, but it educated me in a more profound sense about being human. Somehow this work illuminated for me – a feat that some extraordinary literature is capable of - aspects of what it is like to be mortal, to be violent, to be traumatized. What it is like to be part of a group and to be influenced by others. Some one told me that fiction, as opposed to other kinds of texts, is about conveying what it is like and that in this capacity lies its strength. To me, Human Acts is a beautiful example of this.


It should be said that the book is very explicit about horrifying subjects such as the smell and rotting of corpses and the physical and psychological pain of torture. I have never come across a book before that deals with human remains so much and in such a direct way. It does not feel as if Han Kang wants to shock her readers with gruesome details. It seems as if she is simply not shielding us or protecting us from all of those things that are frightening and painful. In this directness I recognize the point of view that we discussed before, her statement concerning the repeated embrace of grief and trauma. In her work she is repeatedly exposing deep pain, grief, injustice and horror.


It is a challenge for a reader to devote your time to read words that, more often than not, hurt to read. Words that make you recoil, that make you fear and despise our entire species. It is a challenge for a writer to deal with subject matter that has such a weight. How to find the words for it? Interestingly, the inability of language to accurately convey something recurs as a theme in the book. There is a chapter about a survivor who is asked to give a testimony about the events in Gwangju, years later. She is unable to press the button of the voice recorder at her disposal, for a number of reasons, and one of the reasons given is the inability of language. Through this character, Han Kang poses the following question: Would you have been able to string together a continuous thread of words, silences, coughs and hesitations, its warp and weft somehow containing all that you wanted to say? Somehow this sentence seems to reflect upon the book Human Acts itself. The story is narrated in an unconventional way, with interlocking chapters told from different points of view. Adding to all the confusion is the use of the second person. Who is this ‘you’? The reader is forced to gather all the shattered pieces and try to piece them together. This way of reading gives me a sense of dealing with a story that is beautifully imperfect. There is no single truth. There is no single story. We, readers, are repeatedly circling around the same characters, the same events, the same trauma. We are doing what she urges us to do: Embrace trauma. Embrace grief. Over and over again. Han Kang makes the historic events of the Gwangju massacre feel raw and urgent today, 37 years later. In this case at least, time does not seem to heal. The wounds are still wide open, and they should be, for it is only while they are remembered and reawakened in fiction like this that we can live on.



Han Kang, Human Acts, Published by Portobello Books in 2016

The White Review, Sarah Shin, Interview with Han Kang, March 2016,

Not I

Sanne Kabalt

Today I have had the strangest realization. Something is wrong and I struggle to find the words for it. To another’s eyes I appear to be living my life. Every day I choose to get out of bed and into the day. I wear colorful dresses. I talk to other people. I am reminded of the opening lines of a Bob Dylan song: She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back. And it’s true: I am an artist. I am alive. The thing is: it is not my life. I do feel certain about this. This life, this house, these people – they are all very nice, but they are not mine. This person who is dressing in my clothes and dining at my table is not I.


I turn to Fernando Pessoa, the Portuguese writer. He should understand. Fernando Pessoa was Ricardo Reis was Álvaro de Campos was Bernando Soares was many others. Pessoa is the inventor of the heteronym; an alternative personality that writes and thinks for itself, a pseudonym who has his own biography, character, references and techniques. Fernando Pessoa, or rather Bernando Soares, writes in The Book of Disquiet about a sense of detachment from other people. I feel closer ties and more intimate bonds with certain characters in books, with certain images I’ve seen in engravings, than with many supposedly real people, with that metaphysical absurdity known as ‘flesh and blood’. A true story for the introvert and shy. We get to know our favorite fiction characters so much better then we get to know ‘real’ others or, I would add, our ‘real’ selves.


Franz Kafka had something to say about self-knowledge. How pathetically scanty my self-knowledge is compared with, say, my knowledge of my room. There is no such thing as observation of the inner world, as there is of the outer world. Following his lead, I start comparing my knowledge of myself with my knowledge of my room. There are things I know about myself. From facts (I am a woman, I am 28 years old) to vague hunches (I feel too much and simultaneously nothing at all). There are things I neither know nor understand about myself (Why did I just do that? What could make me feel better?). Whereas in my room I can find the light-switch in the dark, I can make it warm or cold, I can see it, I can use it and I am in control.


In my first encounters with the writings of the French philosopher Jacques Lacan I came across terms such as: ‘the I Function’ and ‘the Formation of the I’. He writes about the capacity of young children to recognize themselves in the mirror and realize “that is I”. This is said to happen between the age of six months and eighteen months. The child identifies with the reflected image, but the image does not match the real vulnerability and underdeveloped state of the infant child and is therefore an ideal image – ‘ideal-I’ – to which the child will strive throughout its life. This self is fictional, a fantasy. In this theory Lacan gives me a possible cause for the peculiar ‘this is not I’-state that I am currently in. Though I must say, I struggle to believe that it is all due to something I experienced as an infant. If so, would I not have felt this way all my life? Fortunately, that was not the case for me.


Recently I have also been reading a paper by Melanie Klein, an Austrian-British psychoanalyst, on the subject of mourning. Like Lacan, she relates to Freudian theory. An essential part of the work of mourning, according to both Freud and Klein, is the testing of reality. Reality passes its verdict – that the object no longer exists – upon each single one of the memories and hopes through which the libido was attached to the lost object, she writes. She gives the example of ‘Mrs. A’ who has lost her son and takes a walk through familiar streets after a few weeks of mourning. She suddenly realized that the number of people in the street seemed overwhelming, the houses strange and the sunshine artificial and unreal.  This sensation I recognize all too well. I have lost my father to illness, pain and euthanasia. I have lost the man I love to unfulfilled desires and the passing of time. Who am I without these men? Artificial, unreal?


Perhaps there is a flaw in my identification with the Bob Dylan lines that I quoted at the beginning of this text. She’s got everything she needs, she’s an artist, she don’t look back. This string of words appealed to me so much - I played and replayed different versions of the song just to fix this mantra in my mind. It sounded so strong, confident and appropriate. And yet. Everything she needs? When does one have everything one needs? Who has that? I certainly don’t. There are quite a few gaps and shortages in my life, I might as well admit it. Not looking back? It is true that I am avoiding, even denying, chunks of the past. The question is, should I? After reading two novels by the contemporary South Korean writer Han Kang I read an interview with her and found some words of hers that urge people to do the opposite. I believe that trauma is something to be embraced rather than healed or recovered from. I believe that grief is something which situates the place/space of the dead within the living: and that, through repeatedly visiting that place, through our pained and silent embrace of it over the course of a whole life, life is, perhaps paradoxically, made possible. Today, I feel more inclined to listen to Han Kang as opposed to Bob Dylan. The only words in his line that still truly fit me are: She’s an artist. Perhaps those are the ones I should hold on to, after all.


Bob Dylan, She Belongs to Me, from the record Bringing It All Back Home, released 1968 by Columbia Records

Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet, published in 1991 by Serpent’s Tail

Franz Kafka, Diaries, published in 1948 by Secker & Warburg

Jacques Lacan, The Mirror Stage as Formative of the I Function as Revealed in Psychoanalytic Experience, read originally at the Sixteenth International Congress of Psychoanalysis, 1949

Melanie Klein, Mourning and Its Relation to Manic-Depressive States, read originally before the Fifteenth International Psycho-Analytical Congress, Paris, 1938

The White Review, Sarah Shin, Interview with Han Kang, March 2016,

'Zolang je niet zo over problemen praat zie je er toch niets van.'

Sanne Kabalt

Zoals traditie is voor artists-in-residence bij Het Vijfde Seizoen maak ik een publicatie. De foto's en teksten die ik maakte en verzamelde tijdens mijn residentie zoeken hun weg in deze nieuwe vorm. De eerste dummy zag gisteren het daglicht. Het boekje is klein (20 centimeter hoog) en dik (126 pagina's), het papier is offwhite, beeld en tekst krijgen veel ruimte. De (werk)titel is een citaat van een patiënte: 'Zolang je niet zo over problemen praat zie je er toch niets van.' Zie hier een voorproefje. 

Op naar dummy #2!