We must learn to listen.
We must learn to feel.
the soul of things,
the touch of words, the pace of essence, the symphony of the total Being.
–Juan Cepeda H.
Debates and pursuits for a “new institutionalism,” institutional critique, and for institutions of critique have existed since the 1970s. Questions of how to overcome institutional structural power relations, internalised rules and norms, the understanding of a work of art as a mere object, and the whole institutional framework that comes with it, have been some of the central questions in these deliberations. How to achieve an emancipated institutionalism that moves beyond the demands of the neoliberal event economy and that seeks a profound structural change away from a criticality about something, but towards an activated, embodied, and experiential critique? Can a move away from a static institutionalism be imagined, towards an active and processual “instituting” that challenges the representational exhibition format, and a mediated informational curatorial knowledge production that merely reproduces existing relations, and that is rooted in the rational of a passive “spectator witness”? A striving towards a “feminist instituting”?
“Feminist instituting” is understood throughout this text as a collective agreement and cooperation, an incomplete and continuous process of becoming, of endlessly changing social interactions and improvisations. An instituting that lies within feminist epistemologies and ontologies of “in-corpo-rating” an experiential, immediate, and embodied shifting of critical thinking towards new directions that might resist and challenge dominant and institutionalised narratives. A feminist instituting that understands the micro level and the body as a site of practice, of becoming and of potentiality; as the starting point for an “active micropolitics” and for “embodied critique.”
Philosopher Marina Garcés offers thought on embodied critique as a critique away from the “artist-intellectual” and away from techniques of critique about the world: “To embody critique means to ask how to subvert one’s life nowadays in such a way that the world can no longer remain the same.” An embodied critique to overcome what she calls the “impotence” that has been caused by late neoliberal capitalism’s manipulations, its changing of social relations and capacities of connecting:
No one is sure of where they are: connections, personal and non-transferable, are inseparable from the threat of dis-connection. For this reason, this new social contract converts us into producers and reproducers of reality, in knots that strengthen the network: established unilaterally through each person. This network obligates through self-obligation, controls through self-control, represses through self-repression.
This “social contract” is driven by neoliberal capitalism’s deferral of systemic responsibility to, for example, that of individual problem-solving and is based on the logic of separationism that demands self-commodification and self-representation: a logic of exteriority that is engraved also by social media. Spectatorship, observer, by-standing, and the outside view are qualities that today’s society is abundantly saturated with. For example, the spectatorship of sensational news reports, and ubiquitous media consumption, enhance the efforts of late cognitive and data capitalists to construct hyper individualism, separation, and apathy, emotional states that manipulate and alienate subjects from their own social and expressive efforts. A fertile ground to nourish post-truth narratives, symbolic violence, populist, right-wing, identarian, racist, sexist, and nationalist trends.
Humanity lives in a time of precarity, in precarious planetary and social existence that is governed by the rationale of power-seeking, exploitative neoliberal, data, and cognitive capitalism and its global commodification of life and nature. Not least the present Covid-19 zoonosis reveals the delicate vulnerabilities and deeply interwoven interdependencies of humanity and its co-existence with non-, or more-than-human, agents.
This precarious and highly charged political climate cries out for a fundamental socio-political and cultural shift that redefines the very nature of relationships with the Other—human and more-than-human alike. Such a reorientation encompasses the need for profound ontological and epistemological changes in curatorial and cultural practices and in forms of instituting: away from “neck-up” disembodied perception and critique, away from reactionary passive consumerism and spectatorship. We need a shift away from yet another intervention into debates on art and social/ecological justice, in which art is largely used as a “consciousness-raising tool” on a purely representative level. Instead, we require a shift towards a cultural and curatorial production of knowledge that is able to mobilise and to activate the theories and issues a stake, and that takes holistic experiential consciousness-raising to heart. Such a feminist instituting embraces practices of transdisciplinarity, embodiment, and situatedness, in order to engender profound structural and ontological change in the social relations that enable “instituting.” A redefining of forms of instituting towards processes of social activations that are entangled with pressing alternative imaginaries for a liveable life and co-existence with the natural world. An epistemology and ethics that call for a knowing and being with the world, that expand beyond closed margins of the “self,” that disrupt limiting binaries, and foster sharing and openness for pluriversal and polyvocal viewpoints and experiential criticality.
While acknowledging my privileged viewpoint of a white middle-class European cis-woman, I turn to foundational non-gendered feminist pedagogies, epistemologies, and practices that strive to connect theory to lived experience. Approaches that question heteronormative ways of knowing that are based on disembodied objectivity and that are anchored predominantly in a Cartesian rationalist, metrics-driven objectivity and neutrality. I am beholden to intellectual thinkers whose teachings recognise the urgency for multiple ways of knowing and being; they are vital inspirations in the pursuit of feminist instituting that questions dominant representations and that challenges capitalist logics, heteronormativity, racism, populism, and colonialism.
How to institute feminist curatorial spaces and conditions that recognise plural epistemologies and ways of knowing as sites of activism, collaboration, resistance, and transformation while centring on intersectionality and collectivity? How to create curatorial conditions for activating embodied experiential critical consciousness, to decolonise the subjugated subject, and to decolonise knowledge away from hegemonic instituting and the methodologies by which it is produced?
Interlude—Radical Empathy Lab
These are some of the questions that prompted me to establish the Radical Empathy Lab (REL) in 2016. REL moves through time and place as a question, a slogan, an intervention, as situations, actions, as affective encounter, and as a place that allows the laboratory to explore how to activate a micropolitical and holistic making of social empathy and as an approach to post-representational curation.
The Radical Empathy Lab is an ongoing social and research laboratory for alternative and holistic knowledge production that embraces relational—versus informational—learning, and what Brazilian theorist Suely Rolnik calls “the knowing body.” It experiments with transdisciplinary holistic advances, in which the cognitive intertwines with the non-semiotic. The affective encounters involve its participants in idiosyncratic combinations of theory and alternative transdisciplinary activating techniques that might not only enrich their own imaginaries and cultural practice, but that invite experimentation with a cultural production beyond mere forms of representation.
The lab strives to emphasise and activate the reconnection to our sensing and knowing bodies, the sensual and experiential for creating critical consciousness and interconnectedness, and to sharpen our senses for an “active micropolitics” (Rolnik). The Radical Empathy Lab explores new forms of being together that momentarily make it possible to reflect, to re-feel and undo a reactionary an-aesthesia (Greek: an-aesthēsis: without sensation) that is often nurtured by neoliberal capitalism and by dominant, separationist, and systemic structures. By moving from singularity to collective activity, the lab investigates the relation between micro and macro dimensions of agency, as potential practices of freedom and self-empowerment that decolonise and de-subjectivate the (social) body and its relationality to the Other.
Decolonisation is understood here as a phenomenological approach, in the sense of delinking from capitalistic appropriations in the process of subjectivation and in order to overcome and challenge hierarchical and binary realities of Othering and Otherness. Sociologist and legal scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos comments on the notion of colonialism as follows:
Colonialism did not end with the historical end of territorial occupation. Only its form changed. […] Likewise, the term “decolonization” does not concern political independence alone, but rather an ample historical process of ontological restoration, that is, the recognition of knowledges and reconstruction of humanity.
One of de Sousa Santos’s most renowned contributions to social theory and to the discourse on anti-hegemonial cognitive justice is his recognition of plural epistemologies, systems, and ways of knowing that extend beyond a Western understanding of the world, which he frames as “epistemologies of the South.” He argues for a decolonised “mestizaje” (Spanish: fusion, mixed, crossbreeding), “postabyssal, hybrid concepts and theories […] in which the mixture of knowledges, cultures, subjectivities, and practices subverts the abyssal line that grounds the epistemologies of the North.”
In the search for “postabyssal,” hybrid alternative epistemological (re-)imaginations in cultural practices—away from a knowing about towards a “knowing with” (de Sousa Santos) or a “worlding with” (Haraway)—Indigenous epistemologies offer a source of hope and profound inspiration.
For example, the Indigenous Latin American ontological philosophical notions of “corazonar” and “sentipensar” are deeply encouraging for contemplating feminist instituting, and for methodological and philosophical frameworks for a curatorial practice that holistically and sustainably seeks to mobilise the theories and ideas at stake.
Colombian philosopher Juan Cepeda H. expresses the ontological sentiment of “sentipensar” as follows:
We must learn to listen.
We must learn to feel.
the soul of things,
the touch of words, the pace of essence, the symphony of the total Being.
That is why the nature of sentipensar requires a connection from the heart with nature as a whole; understanding the cosmos
with all its meanings and senses implies not a pure and simple reasoning —only reasoning—
But a reasoning-with (with-everything-that-is and with-the-heart), that is to say: to co-reason: corazonar.
The notion of sentipensiamento was described (1984) by Orlando Fals Borda (1925-2008) as a living principle of Indigenous peasant communities of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline. Fals Borda was a Colombian sociologist and one of the founders of Participatory Action Research (PAR). Sentipensar translates to “feel-thinking” (from Spanish: sentir/feel and pensar/think) and implies the ways of knowing and being that are rooted in thinking with both heart and mind. The notion suggests a holistic thinking that does not separate the mind from the body, or emotion from reason; it implies an empathic knowledge that is in reciprocal intertwinement between learning and acting, and that by learning acts and by acting learns.
Fals Borda also emphasises the political relevance of sentipensamiento for the Indigenous community’s cosmovision and cosmo-existence in their resistance and resilience against the decades of oppression, violence, and hardships that have been imposed on them. As sentipensamiento implies a conscious awareness of being interconnected with all entities (human and more-than-human) at all times, it is an ontology that is not only rooted in a sound environmental awareness, but that also encourages and strengthens life, being, and vitality. It is implemented through “corazonar” (Spanish: corazon: heart), the “co-reasoning” with the heart, understanding by feeling through the heart.
Philosophically, both notions suggest a shift away from the busy and loud exteriority like that of (self-)representation, towards a reposeful interiority, a sensual microcosmic contemplation and awareness; a micropolitical becoming and activation for engaging in the macropolitical larger scheme of things.
In the context of envisioning feminist instituting, the notions of sentipensar and corazonar along with the aforementioned idea of a mestizaje (de Sousa Santos) offer philosophical frameworks for a practice that seeks to create the conditions in which a sensual, aesthetic (Greek: aesthēsis: with sensation) criticality and an overcoming of binarism and polarisation is encouraged.
In her work on decolonisation from dominant Anglo-American philosophy and patriarchal hegemonic power structures, the queer Chicana scholar, poet, writer, and postcolonial feminist theorist Gloria Anzaldúa (1942-2004) proposes a “mestiza consciousness”: a tapping into the feminine spirit for dissolving established binary and divergent patterns in ways of thinking, for a non-separationist and inclusive perspective. Her perspective expands beyond her particular focus on gender and racial binary norms, as a philosophical approach that invites tolerance for ambiguity and contradiction, and an openness to the deconstruction of rationality, for silencing the analytical and opening up more ambiguous ways of reasoning. “An openness to openness, an openness that does not move towards a conclusion or a resolution.”
Sentipensamiento, corazonar, and mestiza consciousness describe holistic approaches for ways of knowing and being with the world, philosophical and ontological bridges that might help to overcome late capitalism’s imposed binary models of generalised singularity, separation, identity, and selfhood. Integrated into philosophical and practical methodologies in feminist instituting and cultural knowledge production, these concepts can build bridges to abandoned and marginalised forms and transdisciplinary practices of embodied knowing and being.
These practices embrace the body as a rightful ally in the production of knowledge. The body is here acknowledged as an event, “moved and modulated by the polarity between earth and sky,” an open entity, involving a constant process of becoming that is composed by relation, and in an affective encounter with the Other.
The body as relation plays a vital role within the incomplete and continuous process of becoming and ever-changing social interactions and improvisations in the ways of instituting. Political philosopher and literary theorist Michael Hardt elaborates on the notion of body as relation:
[T]he body lives as long as that relation is maintained. Instead of thinking in terms of unities, then, we need to think the relation among multiplicities and recognize the consistency of dispersed landscapes.
To identify the locus of decision or acting or being acted upon, we need to look to not the one but the consistent relation among the many.
Similar to the Indigenous ontological sentipensar, it is relationality and affectivity which support and strengthen being, life, and vitality:
The more you are affected in many ways, the more alive you are, and to the extent you cease to be affected, to the extent you close off from the world, that much you die.
The physical, relational, and expressing body plays a significant role in making sense of the material conditions and social relations of the powers that shape our lives. It is the central metaphor of political and social order and therefore is central to the contemplation of instituting and instituting critique. Garcés elaborates:
[T]he problem of critique is no longer a problem of conscience but of embodiment: it does not concern a conscience facing the world but rather a body that is in and with the world. This not only terminates the role of intellectuals and their balconies, […], but also disposes of the mechanisms of legitimation of the intellectuals’ word and their mode of expression.
Embodying critique, to holistically feel-think, and micropolitically being with the world, are ontological and philosophical livelihoods to dispose of mechanisms of legitimation and institutionalisation of static, hegemonial, and binary thought, to dispose of “impotence” (Garcés) and reactionary an-aesthesia (Rolnik), of mere representations and reproductions of existing relations. This practice allows for a shift in relations, away from a passive on-looking towards an activated and self-empowered protagonist. A holistic and relational—versus informational and representational—curation, for an empowering activation not only of the curatorial public but the relations within instituting itself, instigates processes of collective agreement and collective becoming. Such a feminist instituting cultivates a mestiza consciousness and experiments with sentipensiamento, with embodied critical feel-thinking, engendering an alternative ethical-aesthetic-political-cultural practice that is post-representational, affective, experiential, and transdisciplinary.
Berit Fischer is a curator, researcher, and writer who has worked internationally since 1999. She holds a PhD from the Winchester School of Art/Southampton University, UK.
Her curatorial research interests lie in critical spatial practices, socially and holistically produced spaces, the specification of art as a producer of new knowledge, as a means to permeate the status quo, the creation of fields of action, and the development of spaces for critical engagement, affective encounter, and relational learning. Her practice-based doctoral research asked how the curatorial can activate spaces and conditions for a micropolitical and holistic making of social empathy, as an approach to post-representational curation. In 2016, she founded the Radical Empathy Lab, an ongoing nomadic and artistic social and research laboratory for alternative and holistic knowledge production. She has published articles internationally, e.g., with Afterall and Onomatopee, both contributed and edited or co-edited books like New Spaces for Negotiating Art (and) Histories in Africa, Hlysnan: The Notion and Politics of Listening, and Other Possible Worlds – Proposals on this Side of Utopia. She has presented tutorials, lectures, and workshops around the world, e.g., at Making Futures School (raumlabor, UdK Berlin), Bergen University, ZhdK, Freie Universität Berlin, Nottingham Trent University, and at Soma in Mexico City. Some of her notable curatorial projects have taken place at Floating University, Berlin; Akademie Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart; nGbK, Berlin; Radical Intention, Italy; tranzit.sk, Bratislava; Casino Luxembourg Forum d’Art Contemporain; Brooklyn Waterfront Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition and Dumbo Arts Festival, New York; Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai; and BankART, Yokahama.
 Suely Rolnik, “Thinking from the Knowing-Body. A Micropolitics to Resist the Colonial-Capitalist Unconscious” (paper presented at conference: Turning (to) Archive. Institutional Histories, Educational Regimes, Artistic Practices and Politics of Remembrance, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria, April 2015).
 Marina Garcés, “To Embody Critique: Some Theses, Some Examples,” in Art and Contemporary Critical Practice: Reinventing Institutional Critique, eds. Gerald Raunig and Gene Ray (London: MayFly Books, 2009), 203.
 Introducing the “Other” written in upper case offers additional subtext and a layer of reflection that embraces the notion of Otherness and Othering. The intellectual history and concept of Otherness is a massive field of enquiry which cannot be elaborated further in the scope of this article.
 For more information, please visit www.beritfischer.org. I am aware of the dilemma that experiences cannot be made tangible through linguistic description nor through illustrative images. Acknowledging that images merely reiterate re-presentations that this article strives to challenge, the images offered here—all stemming from various iterations of the Radical Empathy Lab—are an invitation to be read sort of as an evocative parallel visual text that weaves itself into the theoretical one. A reading that might open a hybrid space of ambiguity.
 Cepeda H., “The Problem of Being in Latin America,” 24.
Cepeda’s writing is inspired by the thinking of Argentinian philosopher Rodolfo Kusch (1922-79). In his book Indigenous and Popular Thinking in América (originally published 1970), Kusch seeks to identify and recover the Indigenous and popular way of thinking and draws attention to the binary in technologies and rationalities based on European modernity in América. Kusch differentiates between the academic abstract notion of philosophy taught in traditional Western thinking from a personal one that is based within subjective everyday life, which he refers to as “pensar” (thinking), which traditionally does not find recognition in science.
 See also: Eduardo Duarte, “The Dawn of Latin American Philosophy,” as part of LACS Synthesis Lecture 2: Cepeda’s Latin American Ontological Sentipensar, recorded spring 2018 at Hofstra University, Hempstead, NY, sound file, 48:58, accessed January 12, 2021, https://soundcloud.com/user2603690/duarte-lacs-synthesis-2.
 Carla Bottiglieri, “Bodily Semblances, Temporary Dwellings: Somatic Moulding of Spaces and Subjectivities,” trans. Manuela Zechner, Carla Bottiglieri, Brent Waterhouse, in The Nanopolitics Handbook, eds. Nanopolitics Group (Paolo Plotegher, Manuela Zechner and Bue Rübner Hansen) (Wivenhoe, New York, Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2014), 122.