Soup du Jour im Interview
“We All Know Exactly Who the Perpetrators Are”
YOU CANNOT SILENCE US FOREVER
Soup du Jour was recently interviewed by Catrin Lorch for the Süddeutsche Zeitung. Apart from sharing a little of our history, we took the opportunity to focus on the toxic silence that exists around sexual abuse in the realm of art and culture in Germany. We warmly invite Soup du Jour allies to share this interview via social media and other platforms. We assume that you are as sick as we are of seeing perpetrators of sexual abuse getting away with it again and again in the supposedly 'progressive' German art world, while those who they have traumatised are intimidated into suffering in silence:
For those who prefer ENGLISH, we're providing the full, original interview in English below (please scroll down to the bottom of this post).
For those who prefer GERMAN, please find legible photographs of the published German interview in the comments section below this thread. Unfortunately, the Süddeutsche Zeitung has put the interview behind a paywall:
SOUP DU JOUR stands in solidarity with all who have experienced sexual abuse of any kind...
SOUP DU JOUR is wondering why there have not been any public cases of #MeToo in the art world in Germany.
SOUP DU JOUR firmly believes that perpetrators of sexual abuse cannot enforce silence around their abuse forever.
SOUP DU JOUR wants those within our extensive network of allies to know:
You are not alone. We are not alone.
Many voices are waiting to come forward.
We will be here to hear them.
Soup du Jour believes survivors.
Soup du Jour can be contacted via:
SOUP DU JOUR
“We All Know Exactly Who the Perpetrators Are”
Süddeutsche Zeitung: In your first campaign you worked with the image of a Bavarian Weißwurst...
Soup du Jour: In September 2018, a loose group of feminists came together spontaneously – and out of a shared sense of urgency – to write an open letter that is sometimes referred to as the ‘Pimmelsuppe’ or ‘Dick Soup’ letter. The letter was written in response to a supposedly ‘international’ exhibition titled ‘Im Zweifel für den Zweifel’ at the NRW-Forum in Düsseldorf. The curators had managed to include only a single woman artist within a long line-up of mostly white men. The public debate that ensued, as well as the immense and broad support that we received in response to the letter, motivated us to organise ourselves more substantially and more effectively. In early 2019, Soup du Jour was founded in Berlin. We currently have about 300 active members.
SZ: Who exactly belongs to Soup du Jour?
SdJ: We are a mixed and diverse collective. We are drawn from all social classes and generations. We are geographically widespread. Our members are everywhere and nowhere. We operate according to the premises of intersectional feminism, thus not only condemning sexism but also racism, ableism, ageism and other forms of systemic discrimination. To borrow the name of another intersectional collective with which we are closely aligned, “We Are Sick Of It!” In this case, the “it” refers to the perverse overrepresentation of class-privileged white men by our galleries, museums and institutions, on our podiums, in our juries, at the top of our academies and cultural foundations.
SZ: Why do you choose anonymity?
SdJ: We would like people to focus on what we have to say, rather than on particular individuals among us. If we did not insist on our collectivity, the focus would fall on only a few, rendering the work done by the larger collective invisible. We do not want to reproduce the hierarchies of visibility that we are in fact intent on criticising. Additionally we appreciate the diverse range of voices that exist within our structure. For example, over 20 members of Soup du Jour have been involved in responding to your interview questions.
SZ: Does attacking institutions in isolated cases help in the push towards justice?
SdJ: After years of discourse, it has become apparent that drawing attention to particular instances of exclusionary practice is presently the most effective way to make larger systems of exclusion visible. We wish to create awareness of endemic racism andsexism, as well as other exclusive structures and practices that are persistent in the cultural field. We want to see an end to all kinds of discrimination, no matter whether they are manifest within an exhibition, behind closed office doors or at social gatherings. Discrimination can only remain acceptable for as long as it continues to be ignored, normalised and enabled by silence.
SZ: Hasn't the public debate already moved on?
SdJ: While it is true that the discourse has shifted gradually in recent years and over recent decades, much of the critical thinking and many of the critical claims that have made their way into the conversation, remain largely theoretical in nature. While cultural institutions have lined up to condemn sexism and racism, as well as to affirm the value of nurturing spaces that are inclusive and diverse, very few have tackled the challenge in a transparent and self-reflexive manner. It is true that institutions have implemented a range of cosmetic measures, and that they have woven ever more elaborate gestures of superficial tokenism into their exhibition practice. That said, the mission statements, self-definition and infrastructures of the majority of our cultural institutions (most of which are still headed by white men) remain largely untouched by these discourses.
In Germany, it is still common for conversations that address positionality to be dismissed as ‘politically correct’ and thus deemed irrelevant. Conversations that dare to suggest that privileged white men might have disproportionate access to visibility, resources, funding, support, are often summarily dismissed and invalidated as ‘identity politics'. Unfortunately, this kind of dismissive language – which we at Soup du Jour associate with right-wing thinking – is also commonly used by those who identify as left-minded in the German cultural world. Our detractors like to argue that the ‘quality’ of cultural work should be the only criterion for supporting it. We have nothing against quality per se, but by some remarkable coincidence, it seems that mostly white men produce ‘quality' in Germany (and elsewhere), since it is mostly white men who achieve visibility and support for their work.
SZ: Why is the collective resistance only coming into being at this late point?
SdJ: We wouldn’t want to claim that the resistance that we strive to articulate is ‘new’ in any sense. Soup du Jour follows a long tradition of feminist and anti-racist resistance. However, precisely because there is indeed such a long history of resistance that precedes us, it has become increasingly impossible to sit back and remain endlessly patient. We cannot understand, for example, how it remains possible for allegedly ‘international’, exhibitions that explore topics of broad relevance to continue primarily platforming the work of white men, without this provoking bold protest. Similarly, we cannot understand how it remains possible for influential men in the art world to get away with sexual harassment and abuse without any consequences to their reputation or dignity, while those who are affected and traumatised by their violence live in fearful silence of exposing them. Why does such behaviour not provoke more anger and open protest, especially given the number of witnesses that typically observe such perpetrators in action? Often, when sexual abuse is perpetrated by a celebrated artist or curator, it is not only tolerated but romanticised as a side effect of the great man’s creative passion, his “world-embracing eros.”
SZ: So you think protest from those who have been affected is missing, especially in Germany?
SdJ: Two years ago, The Guardian published an open letter titled ‘We’ll stay silent no more over sexual harassment in the art world.’ It was signed by thousands of international signatories. Parallel to this letter, a number of women stepped forward to out their abusers in New York, in Sydney, in London, in Johannesburg. In Berlin and other German cities, on the other hand, the silence around #MeToo was painfully loud. We know how difficult it is to come forward when one has experienced sexual abuse. We all personally know women who have been silenced aggressively by the lawyers of powerful men when they have dared to come forward and expose their abusers. The variety of abuses that are perpetrated, mostly (though not only) by powerful men, range from inappropriate and suggestive comments to violent rape. Let’s stop pretending that the endless multitude of abuses can be ignored as hard-to-prove rumours. Let’s stop pretending that we don’t know who these men are or how they operate. These are seldom single or occasional incidents. They are, in fact, structural and follow a predictable logic. It is the manipulation of that power by the perpetrators of sexual abuse that ensures that those embedded in the network actively ignore such patterns of abuse and in so doing, enable them.
SZ: Is the art scene more susceptible to the abuse of power as a result of how it is structured?
SdJ: Generally speaking: no. But the misconception of an allegedly progressive art world that is ahead when it comes to questions of a social and political nature, often prevents honest debate. The informal nature of the art world means that we have few structures of justice through which we can process complaints or report abuse. Furthermore, the cult of artistic genius in popular culture still relies on an image of the wildly sexual male figure – a romanticisation that effectively condones abuse of power under the rubric of artistic transgression.
SZ: Can publicity help those affected?
SdJ: Publicity can help to bring justice. Publicity signalises to those affected that they are not alone. It is a reminder to those within our community that they should not look away when they are present to sexual or other abuses. It reminds us that it is our responsibility to call sexist language into question in working (and other) situations. It is a reminder that when we choose to look away because it is more comfortable to do so, we are effectively enabling sexual abuse, though this may be far from intentional. We are not interested in the creation of public scandals, but in the complex conversations towards transformation which come after the scandal.
SZ: Many fields such as the film scene or the music business saw such scandals. In summer, Andrea Bowers' work “Open Secrets” (2018) was on display during Art Basel, a whole wall denouncing perpetrators from all areas of society. Only the visual arts were underrepresented – with only two cases featured.
SdJ: It’s crazy, is it not, how these ‘open secrets’ continue to prevail? All the while, perpetrators are protected by the silence and are able to avoid facing any consequences. We all know exactly who the perpetrators are. The men themselves know exactly what they have done. And they are getting more and more nervous. Every time it seems that the truth is about to emerge, their lawyers leap into action to silence those who are about to step forward. They have perhaps failed to understand that the explosion of the #MeToo movement has enabled a series of strategies that move far beyond hashtag activism.
SZ: The fine arts have reflected feminism and activism earlier than other arts – evidently to little avail.
SdJ: Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that many of these forms of activism and discursive exchange have been superficial and theoretical in nature. Now is the time for the discourse to move into the offices of museum directors and gallery owners, into the space of boardrooms and jury meetings. It is time to stop talking about change. It is time to start insisting on it.
Interview: Catrin Lorch
Süddeutsche Zeitung, 11 December 2019