20 April – 13 July 2024

Joie noire, Jimmy Robert

It is one of the many pacts made in contemporary capitalist life that the body is disciplined into being either acceptably invisible or acceptably visible depending on the scenario. The honouring of this pact of visibility is experienced in moments of euphoric joy when we are most alive, and equally at life’s edges, when we are confronted by human vulnerability. It is honoured equally in our experiences as individuals as well as participants in communities.

Joie noire as presented here is the fourth iteration of Robert’s seminal performance of the same title, debuted at KW Institute of Contemporary Art, Berlin in 2019 and its first reinterpretation in exhibition form. The work began as a meditation on his collaborator Ian White (1971-2013)—who was known for drawing out the ways in which the performing body can radically interrupt the behaviors of codified spaces, such as the museum, or gallery—and expanded into an expression of Robert’s ongoing analysis of spectatorship and desire. Honing in on the body in the public sphere the work sets up entangled points of encounter that worry at the borders of relating: how long does it take to look? How long does it take to be seen? In what ways are our bodies expected to be visible to the other, to the world? In what ways are our bodies acceptable to the other, the world? And where is intimacy in all of this?

In Joie noire, Robert casts light on and off of interlocking zones where disciplining the body is at stake: the night club, the AIDS epidemic, and death. In his original performance this “casting” on and off unfolded throughout the many territories of the host gallery: beginning in the courtyard, moving to its bunker-like-bar, and ending in the cavernous basement gallery. Each relocation of the audience was carefully guided by a gallery staff member or the artist and his co-performer as they enacted rephrased photographs of the ballet Agon by Balanchine. For this iteration we, the audience members, are invited to become the performing agents and move through elements of the original performance, navigating the space between two or more bodies: nursing the challenges of intimacy and detachment.

The cue sheet from his original performance acts as a point from which we can triangulate ourselves—live—between the red and blue light, the on and the off that set the pace of the gallery. Red: the disarming recording of Ian White reading from Jessica Mitford’s notorious 1963 critique of the funeral industry, The American Way of Death. Blue: a reflection on the ways in which the AIDS crisis resulted in radical changes to expressions of care running via teleprompter; the compact playlist that calls up 50 years of club history. On: an image of the artist holding life, holding death as depicted in General Ideas 1991 work, Black AIDS #1. Off: our own breath and that of whoever is in the gallery at the same time, registering the fact of a body as being both a site of self-determination and limitation.

If the exhibition spotlights the discipline of visibility it simultaneously insists that we consider its opposite: precious disobedience. This form of disobedience breaks the pact of acceptable in/visibility, awakening our potential to be agents in commune, ones that exist closely, ones that get really close, to choreograph entirely new codes of relating.

Screening Room

UK Gay Bar Directory (2016)
Hannah Quinlan & Rosie Hastings
Past Screening
27 May – 9 June


Jimmy Robert was born in Guadeloupe and now lives between Berlin and Paris. He works across a range of media—including photography, sculpture, film, video, and collaborative performance—gently breaking down divisions between two and three dimensions, image and object. He studied at Goldsmiths, London, was a resident at the Rijksakademie Amsterdam and is now a professor at UdK, Berlin. He has had major solo exhibitions at, amongst others, Moderna Museet, Malmö; Centre National de la Danse, Paris-Pantin in collaboration with Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Museion, Bolzano; Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham; and The Power Plant, Toronto.


This year we explore the question “do I need territory?” through our cornerstone exhibition programme, online reading and screening rooms, and other events. History shows us that the expressive commitment to forming an otherwise is unflinching, it also shows us a dogged insistence on wielding power at the cost of the other. The impulse to compartmentalise the many entangled zones it takes to run a life has been an efficient tool to entrench hierarchy. Boundaries, borders, and cuts are concepts enacted in order to extract a quantifiable value by separating or to withhold resources from the other. However, scholar and activist Ruth Wilson Gilmore encourages us to consider that these same sites are also where relationships begin, where transformation becomes possible. What would it take to feel not only part of a community but also full as an individual, a boundless participant? What world could be shaped when we go towards difference? Link here to read the full text.