N.O.H Collective traces its origins back to 2017, when artists Elena Kostenko-Lefebvre and Karolina Rupp began hosting weekly forums in their shared studio in Leiden, The Netherlands, orientated around liminal overlaps between artistic, philosophical and anthropological enquiries. The programming was left purposefully nebulous — having been born from the desire to support non-hierarchal, non-ideological, cross-disciplinary knowledge exchange. Any attendee was free to propose and organise a subsequent presentation — a lecture, performance, screening, or even a pop-up exhibition. The studio became akin to a khôra — a peripheral, permeable site in which forms acquire tangibility — the transmutational process of ideas becoming knowledge.
This approach reaped an eclectic audience and programme, defined by a distinct social texture. The materiality of friendship itself became a medium for mutual learning and questioning.
The beginning of 2020 saw us underway with preparations for a group exhibition, to be presented in The Hague (NL). From the outset, the conceptual red thread was to be hapticity — it being a description of the permeative process of knowledge exchange, but equally of friendship and collaboration. Our opening was set for May 2020; however, for all the contingencies we’d anticipated, we hadn’t considered the prospect of a global pandemic. Our last in-person meeting in mid-March 2020 was punctuated by a government announcement: that all café, restaurants and bars were to close that evening, along with many leisure and cultural organisations. We parted ways without our typical embraces. We became fragmented — geographically, at least, and perhaps also in the sense of the occasional glitch of our respective webcams, struggling with overburdened broadband connections.
As the weeks passed, we found ourselves confronted by the understanding that our project had been marked by the pandemic, necessitating that we take time to examine such an impact, integrating the realisations, challenges, and ultimately the knowledge it presents to us. As such, we decided to indefinitely postpone our original exhibition; yet, at the same time, we found ourselves confronted by the sheer relevancy of our exhibition’s title, which we subsequently adopted as the name of our collective efforts: Notes on Hapticity. Not only the theme of hapticity, but also the notion of notes — the implication thinking, observing, annotating, existing in a periphery space like the bottom of the page or along the margin. We take notes when we are trying to make sense of something, and through such an act one is also effectively preserving that very something. In this regard, the prospect of the exhibition had served as a vehicle for us to preserve our contact with one another, as well as a hopeful gaze towards the future in the midst of upheaval. For this reason, letting go of a concrete date for the exhibition initially seemed crushing, given that this date had also signified a return to our ordinary routine — namely, being able to once again gather in the same space. However, on the foundations of this sense of loss, we began to reflect on how our note-taking can yet still persevere and lead us through these unstable times, much like how the exchange of letters between distant lovers, friends and peers is a means of keeping an idea(l) alive.
In the spirit of our origins, we continue to operate in a manner that is distinctly fluid and embracing of transition and adaption. Strictly speaking, there are no fixed positions in our operating structure — rather, we organise ourself as according to the activity at hand. In much the manner of respiration, we expand, contract, adapt to different rhythms, and perpetuate ourselves through an organic process. Our forthcoming project — our journal — is the product of multiple urgencies catalysed by the current circumstances: the desire to maintain contact, to (re)search together, to create a common site at a distance.
We hope the future will continue to unfold many more trajectories in our collective pursuits — all of which will be documented here. Our current activities are supported by a project grant from Kunstcentrum Stroom Den Haag.