visite ma tente
E.M.C. Collard & Irene Hardjanegara & X & X & you?
Rounds of the game: visite ma tente is a game of art that can be played by three but ideally more people. You’ll like it all the more if you love communication and getting into the thick of things – through words and stories, images or objects, spaces, or sound.
Round 1: The game begins when A invites B to join them in their ‘tent’. The tent is simply a context that A has created through producing or compiling a group of art works. The location in which the ‘tent’ is pitched can be anywhere, e.g., an art institution may provide a metaphorical friendly meadow. However, it’s best for A to choose a place to which they have a strong connection, because in that way, feelings and thoughts about the place can also flow into the game.
Together with the curatorial team of the ‘friendly meadow’/art institution, A curates B’s work/ideas into their ‘tent’, resulting in an art exhibition. A and the curatorial team are given free reign with regards to B’s work: They may even translate it into a different medium. That said, the game aims more at juxtaposing ideas than at creating a single, collaborative artwork in which individual positions are no longer discernible.
Round 2: After the end of the exhibition, the ‘tent’ and its content(s) continue on their journey to the next friendly place, at which C, an additional artist or artist group, must join. C and the curatorial team of this second ‘friendly meadow’ are at this point given free rein with regards to how the content of the tent thus far – plus their own addition – is curated at this next stop.
Round 3, etc.: At every new location, a new artist/group and a new curatorial team are added, and the content of the exhibition placed in new hands. The game must be played for a minimum of 3 rounds. As an additional bonus feature B, who has until this point always been invitee and never host, can curate the final event in the chain and bring their experience as an invitee and of the journey taken over the course of the game to bear in the last exhibition.
Aim of the game:
To interact and submit yourself and your artistic or curatorial work to a process with an outcome that is not in any way predefined, and so allowing for new meanings and ideas to arise.
Side benefit: Guesting in a tent means placing yourself/your work in the hands of others. Those artists who were hosts before always become guests in the next round of the game and experience being in the same position as their earlier guests. In this way, the game underlines that hospitality is both a freedom and a responsibility. Working together to curate the shows allows the artists and curators great insight into each other’s practices and their views of the works by the other participating artists.
Read on to find out how we came up with this idea for an art game destined to bring people together – and what we hope to achieve by inviting others to play.
How it began:
On a stroll around the neighbourhood in Frankfurt am Main in early 2023, we: that is Irene Hardjanegara and E. M. C. Collard, talked about the formation of words and how meanings change over time and through the migration between languages. This conversation gave us an idea for a gamified exhibition series.
Language is alive and permeable, and words can acquire different meanings as they move from one linguistic context to another: While many have very deep roots in old languages and entered usage into what later became our modern languages a long time ago, others switched contexts more recently and continue to do so. In our media-driven age, context-switching also happens with (moving) images – and we can draw a parallel to TikTok reaction memes with our game, only of course that in our case, the exchange occurs in real life rather than online, with the art works in the show acquiring new readings or associations as they are juxtaposed with new ideas or curated in new ways.
With a strange German word:
The title for our game borrows from the stories surrounding the etymology of a peculiar German word, the plurale tantum Fisimatenten. Pronounced fɪzɪmaˈtɛntən and often misspelled ‘Fiese Matenten’, in imitation of the word fies [Eng.: mean, nasty, horrible], in its current use the colloquial term refers to mischief, shenanigans, prevarication. The plurale tantum form is used where two or more things act as a pair or set, as is the case in scissors, clothes, or genitals, or for collections that, like alms and feces, cannot conceivably be singular. We wondered: was there a special aspect to Fisimatenten that requires them to be carried out by, or otherwise involve, several people? Or was it that one shenanigan is always followed by a string of others?
The term Fisimatenten is often attested “uncertain origins”: There exists a long-standing story of young German damsels, around the time of the Napoleonic Wars or maybe earlier, being asked by French soldiers whether they would like to “visite/z ma tente” (Eng.: visit my tent), only to later explain at a checkpoint that their outing had been due to “visiter ma tante” (Eng.: visiting my aunt). According to this telling, the German word Fisimatenten was onomatopoeically derived from these sentences as the young girls’ parents exclaimed in exasperation: “Mach keine Fisimatenten!” – “don’t get up to silly business”.
Etymologists however trace its roots to the medieval Latin term visae patentes, open letters issued by rulers to grant concessions, allow travel to different fiefdoms, and such like. The term is said to have been adapted to mock the ‘superfluous difficulty’ involved in the bureaucratic acquisition of such papers and may have been crossed in common language use with a second word: the Middle High German visamente meaning heraldic ornamentation, which many may have seen as ‘frivolous embellishments’.
Reflecting on stories:
We were inspired by the complex stories surrounding this word, and the one about the young girls, the soldiers, and the young girls’ parents (while a hoax) held our attention. It made us think about who gets invited in, how you make connections in a strange place (and even despite national conflicts), who decides how you may exercise your bodily autonomy. About borders between countries, psychological and social boundaries. And about the things we share that are outside of language. The invitation in that story also stuck with us: “visit my tent”. Share my shenanigans. Let’s build a pillow fort.
The visae patentes official letters required to go about one’s business reminded us of passports, and we thought of how during the pandemic, our otherwise open European borders went back up again, and things were decided on an often extremely local level. We felt that now that difficult period was over, we wanted to build stronger connections to art scenes a little further away. And the idea for our game started brewing.
After settling on the name, we considered the tent as an object. A tent can be many things: in its most basic and earliest form, it is a piece of cloth stretched over some wooden beams (a bit like a canvas for painting!). But nowadays a tent can be anything from a beer tent at October Fest to high tech sports equipment pitched on one’s way up Mount Everest. When you’re inside a tent with a lamp on, people outside are treated to a shadow theatre – it provides a membrane that keeps out the rain and the critters, but still lets in enough air to breathe.
When writing the rules for the game visite ma tente as laid out at the start of this text, we thought about the tent in abstract terms as a non-static context able to contain multitudes and provide temporary shelter (and quite possibly amusement). We considered the plurale tantum form to refer to an activity that on some level indicates participation by more than one party.
We wanted the rules of the game to be fairly open because we liked the idea of the format turning into something that other artists (which of course since Joseph Beuys at the very latest includes everyone who would like to see themselves as such) and curators could use and have fun with.
Incidentally: We felt that a formal address builds more distance, and as we are interested in closeness, the bridging of differences and personal survival tactics, we decided to use the less formal variation of the French sentence as the game/exhibition title. Please feel free to play “visitez ma tente” if you are a fan of proper etiquette.
The first round of the first game of visite ma tente was played in December/January 2023 at the Städtische Galerie im Park in Viersen in Germany. For this, Irene Hardjanegara invited E. M. C. Collard to the town where she grew up and curated E. M. C.’s work in collaboration with Jutta Pitzen, the director of Städtische Galerie im Park, and her team. As a red thread for our game of visite ma tente we found a shared theme in a notion that impels both of our practices, namely how physical and psychological limitations and boundaries, and our thoughts about our insides and outsides as human beings, can be scrutinized in an artwork. From Viersen onwards, we want to see how many rounds our game can take and are currently looking for collaborators for these.
As the principle of the game foresees juxtaposing different ideas and starting conversations, we hope that the project will help create a lively exchange and provide an archive of artistic contemplation of bodily and psychological boundaries, notions of shelter, of being inside or outside, and more. We imagine that artists or curators inspired to engage with the concept could consider the concepts touched upon in a similarly associative way. Or in ways we haven’t thought of yet: we are open to all propositions!
While hopefully also inspiring play in more personal settings, in the first cycle the game-slash- exhibition series is set to take place in art institutions. What we want to offer is a (head-)space for openness and participation, stimulating contemplation and exchange. We trust that as the exhibition series goes on, other views on the tent, the body, and related topics will join and enrich what we hope to be an uplifting, thought-provoking, and informative experience for the participants – which for us crucially also includes a group otherwise referred to as “the viewers”.
Emily ‘E. M. C.’ Collard & Irene Hardjanegara
**This blueprint for the game visite ma tente may be copied and implemented by whomsoever feels inclined to do so. We would love it if you shared your experience!**