An Ecology of the Dead.

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La Bienniale du Lyon
September - January 16

An Ecology of The Dead with Vinciane Despret and guests
Video loop 47´

Produced by Mobile Academy Berlin for the 13th Biennale d’Art Contemporain de Lyon
(Sept.2015 - Jan.2016)

Host: Vinciane Despret

Marijs Boulogne
Bojana Cvejic
Hannah Hurtzig
Kobe Matthys
Berno Polzer

Hannah Hurtzig

Eric Ménard

Terence Meunier

Artur Castro Freire

Colour & SFX:
Unai Rosende

Production assistant Berlin:
Arnika Ahldag

Production assistant Brussels:
Jakob Storer

Dramaturgical advice:
Caroline Kirberg

Carrie Roseland

Bettina Sund

Make up:
Esther Wauters

with special thanks to Katrin Soldhju and Robin van Besien in Brussels, Maria Giulia Dondero in
Liege, and Michel Balague, Susanne Sachsse, Florian Berutti, Julien Sigalas and Silvia Wolf

An Ecology of the Dead.
With Vinciane Despret. Video by Hannah Hurtzig
Night Lessons No.2 / Mobily Academy Berlin

In her new book – Au Bonheur des morts. Récits de ceux qui restent – to be published in September 2015, the Vinciane Despret presents the initial findings of her exploration into how the dead enter the lives of the living and, indeed, make the living do particular things. Not yet another book about Death, nor about grief and the work of mourning, she looks at concrete instances of inventiveness at work between the dead and the living, in the relations they have. The diverse ethnographic, narrative, literary, sociological and philosophical material has entered the text in a very particular way. As Despret explains, when she talked to people about the idea at the beginning of her research, she quickly noticed that the subject evoked a particular kind of intelligence and this intelligence found expression in two forms: either through narratives (often personal stories, experiences) or advice (you should see this film, read that book etc.). Despret decided to transform this observation into her method: for the period of a year she would write down as many stories as possible and note each piece of advice, pledging to herself to follow all of the advice given and so obey the intelligence she sensed present in her interlocutors.

Shooting in Liege with Vinciane Despret

Another observation reinforced her decision to work in this very particular way: there seemed to be a gap between the concrete stories those still alive would tell about their concrete relationships with their concrete dead and the historical, sociological and psychological discourse about death and the dead, a gap Despret decided to investigate. Whether historians who reduce the retrievable events witnessing exchanges between the living and the dead to be mere proof of the vivid irrational human imagination of the past, whether sociologists who claim that death and the dead have disappeared from our contemporary societies, or whether psychologists who consider contact with the deceased to be part of the work of mourning and thus should come to a conclusion after a certain time – taken together they have produced a discourse that, as Despret puts it, constitutes an “unsound environment/milieu” for the dead. Instead of cultivating and refining milieus so that they enable fragile beings to “keep up”, these disciplines reveal an alarming tendency to dismember and impoverish them with their theoretical explications and obsession with clear-cut distinctions between fact and imagination, knowledge and belief, the dead and the living. Following Maurice Bloch’s intuition that even modern humans have, in defiance of the establishment of a discourse of disenchantment, never ceased to tear “breaches into the opposition between being and non-being”, Despret explores and narrates innumerable cases of such breaches. While this does not necessarily mean that relations with the dead are untroubled, it does mean – as she puts it – that they are cultivated.

Vinciane Despret is a philosopher of science. She is Maître de conferences at the University of Liège and at the Free University of Brussels. Her first field work was in the Negev desert, in Israel, where she explored the possibility to make an ethology of the ethologists, similar to the anthropology of the laboratories Bruno Latour had proposed, with the difference that in this case the matter was to follow the ethologists while they were themselves following the babblers birds they were observing. She then wrote her PHD about the scientific practices that study emotions in human and in animals. She is currently Maître de conferences at the Department of Philosophy of the University of Liège, and at the Faculty of Anthropology and Social Sciences and Faculty of Psychology and Sciences of Education at the Free University of Brussels. She still works with animals, and with the humans who observe them, live with them or simply know them. She has participated to the exhibition "Making Things Public- Atmospheres of Democracy“ curated by Peter Weibel & Bruno Latour, held at the ZKM Karlsruhe, 2005. She has been scientific curator of the exhibition "Btes et Hommes“ held at the Grande Halle de la Villette, Parc de La Villette, Paris, 2007. Her last book « Que diraient les animaux si… on leur posait de bonnes questions ? » will be translated in English in 2015. (

The book will be published in
September 2015