Daniela Zyman

Repairing with cruel optimism

12 May 2023


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Responding to the growing desire to change the world as it currently is, a world haunted by supremacist ideologies, misuse of power, and environmental devastation, artists and cultural practioners are turning to practices and methodologies of repair, re-enchantment, and healing. Reparative, curative, and restorative commitments engage with ceremonial and sacramental practices, the purification of the spirit, the cadences of the body, or the curative articulations of language, sacred shapes, materials, and symbols. Others direct their care to the land, the environment, and the collective intelligence of their respective communities. And still others attend to the reparation of scars and traumas resulting from past injuries and present anxieties. “Repairing with cruel optimism“ retraces some propositions that guide the post-critical and affectual engagements with reparative labor, specifically its enthusiasm for non-Western thought and practices, embodied and affective expression, and spiritual and mythical reality therapies. While they offer new possibilities and intellectual alternatives for testing out our individual and collective engagements, I also want to reflect and expand on Lauren Berlant’s “cruel optimism”, which “involves a sustaining inclination to return to the scene of fantasy that enables you to expect that this time, nearness to this thing will help you or a world to become different in just the right way.” The kinds of “returns” I want to problematize locate the “scene of fantasy” in the distant, remote, trans-temporally or spatially disconnected or else in the own affective body, which are then brought into “nearness” (proximity) without considering fully the complications of such attachments.

Daniela Zyman is artistic director of TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary. She joined TBA21 in 2003 and has been instrumental in co-shaping its exhibitions and commissions program. Between 1995 and 2001 Daniela was chief curator of the MAK – Austrian Museum of Applied Arts / Contemporary Art in Vienna, which included the founding and programming of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture in Los Angeles. From 2000 to 2003 she worked as the artistic director of the Künstlerhaus, Vienna and as director of A9 Forum Transeuropa. Daniela is an adjunct lecturer at the University of Art and Industrial Design in Linz, and regularly writes essays for art publications. Her many years of research into forms of artistic “counter-research” led to a doctoral thesis in 2020. Since 2022 she has been curating on behalf of TBA21 a series of exhibitions at C3A Centro de Creación Contemporánea de Andalucía, including the exhibitions Abundant Futures and Remedios: Where new land might grow, and co-curating of the performance assembly “The Journeying Stream” together with Sofia Lemos.