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Untergeschoss Programm: an event series for Kunsthalle Zurich 

Leslie Thornton
Cut from Liquid to Snake and others

In Leslie Thornton’s experimental film work, archival materials, texts, found footage, interviews and obscure audio recordings are put through a rigorous editing process which generates its own complex and wholly unique image/sound syntax. Her filmic language not only contravenes the customs of narrative and montage, but sets those strictures against themselves. Taken together, this body of work–over 70 films to date–stands as a critical, hallucinatory and often dreamlike meditation on the production and distribution of meaning through contemporary media.


At the centre of Thornton’s oeuvre is the elliptical series Peggy and Fred in Hell, which the artist repeatedly revised, reedited, and extended over three decades, from 1984 to 2016. It revolves around two young siblings who survive an unspecified apocalypse and, from a bunker, rebuild their world through television. In the first episode of this series, The Prologue (1984), Fred decorates the bunker and performs a barely comprehensible medley of limericks, folk songs and Old Testament quotes while Peggy sings 'Billie Jean' with a vacant sense of awareness. They find a flock of dead ducks and decide to move on.


Cut from Liquid to Snake (2018), marks a radical departure from Thornton’s earlier work but continues themes of apocalyptic destruction. In this film we learn that, unbeknown to each other, both Thornton’s father (a physicist) and grandfather (an electrical engineer) worked on the Manhattan Project. Her father screwed the last bolt into the atomic bomb that would drop on Hiroshima and even signed his and his parents’ names into the bomb’s casing. In Cut from Liquid to Snake we sense Thornton reflecting on her embroilment in this horrific legacy. Scenes of a power plant, bubbling tar sands, a swarm of ants and swimming fish are rendered in various post production effects. We hear shrill insects, glitches, harp strings, a muffled phone recording and a skittish conversation between the artist and her partner. Later, an eyewitness account of the immediate aftermath of the bombing of Hiroshima describes “fingernails bent upwards, so that you could just pull them off”. These elements combine in a dreamlike abstraction that appears, as Alex Davidson has written, as if we are witnessing the human brain at work struggling to pattern experience into meaning.


Leslie Thornton (*1951, Knoxville, Tennessee) lives and works in New York and Providence, Rhode Island and is a professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.


Cut from Liquid to Snake (2018), 27min.

Binocular Menagerie (2014), 2:50min

Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue (1985), 19min. 

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Leslie Thornton, Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue, 1985

B&W, sound, 16 mm, 19 min

Courtesy of the artist and EAI, New York.

Link to excerpt

Leslie Thornton, Cut From Liquid to Snake, 2018 (excerpt)

Colour, sound, HD-Video, 27 min

Link to excerpt



Sam Porritt
British Television Comedy 1991-2001

The 90’s were golden years for British comedy. As Thatcher’s Conservatism stumbled to a close and Tony Blair’s Third Way ascended, a new generation of tv writers and performers found their voice – pitch black, sardonic, unthinkable today. A deviation in the national broadcast curiously abetted by willing enablers at the BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5.


British-born, Zurich based artist Sam Porritt charts a period from Spitting Image to The Office, by way of Brass Eye, Jam and The Day Today, to look at the genre's crowning achievements and the underlying reasons for its emergence.

Rosa Aiello
Three Films

If the 'organising principle' of any given narrative, system or set is the central reference point from which everything else derives its classification, location or value, then suspense, as a narrative device, offers a mechanism for establishing indeterminacy around that principle. 

Rosa Aiello’s recent videos, which often depart from existing text or cinematic material, are typified by suspense. Using structural inversions, shifts, overlays, and repetitions, these works provoke the very parameters they conjure, and refer us back to our dependence on language and sound’s capacity to foster infinite associations.

In these works, parameters are represented by common sets: climate cycles, architectures, temporal sequences, language systems, alphabets, genres and genders and well as solid objects, spatial arrangements and dialogues. When undermined – by suspense, suspension or otherwise – they cease to provide any logic or sense and instead pass into a kind of non-deterministic, open ended schema. A limbo in which the arbitrariness of such structures, and the misgiving that they are as natural, inherent, normal or inevitable, is revealed. 

Rosa Aiello (*1987, Hamilton, Canada) is an artist and writer living in Berlin. Her writing has been published in Triple Canopy, Art Papers, CanadianArt, and F. R. David. Her video works are part of the public collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and of the Centre George Pompidou (Paris). Aiello is a graduate of Städelschule Hochschule für Bildende Künste, Frankfurt, and the University of Oxford.


27 seasons, 2017, colour, sound, single channel HD video, 8:00 min

A River In It, 2015, colour, sound, single channel HD video, 9:40 min

Temper, 2016, colour, sound, single channel HD video, 18:00 min

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Rosa Aiello, 27 Seasons, 2017 (still)

Courtesy of the artist


Rosa Aiello, A River in It, 2015 (still)

Courtesy of the artist

Rosa Aiello, Temper, 2016 (excerpt)

Courtesy of the artist

Birnbaum, Cokes, Miller
Video Works 1979-2015

This screening brings together three artists who, since the 1970s and 1980s, have dedicated their artistic work to the dissection of American media’s operations. In divergent ways the works of Dara Birnbaum, Tony Cokes and Branda Miller chart the visual and auditory grammars that have dictated the terms and conditions of power, consumerism, and cultural representation in the US.

Decoupling word and sound from image, Tony Cokes (*1956, Richmond, Virginia) directs media’s overproduction of representation to a point of non-visibility. His videos often comprise found footage interspersed with appropriated texts, then overlaid with seemingly unrelated indie-rock, industrial, and generic pop. Displaced critical theory (which is generally perceived an idiosyncratic practice) and music (a collective practice) co-mingle as heterogeneous footnotes on the rhetorics of racially inscribed power; 'cultures of critique' are revealed as being inherently implicated in the very process of value creation and distribution that mediates that power.

An architect and painter by training, Dara Birnbaum (*1946, New York) entered the nascent field of video art in the mid 70s. Her cutting-edge deconstructions of game shows, sitcoms and crime dramas sought to foreground the latent agendas operating in the televised image, showing TV's stereotypical gestures of power and submission, of self-presentation and concealment, of male and female ego.


Commissioned by Remy Martin for a public exhibition in Grand Central Station in New York, Remy/Grand Central is an advertisement with a deconstructive twist. It is a syncopated collage of appropriated footage–which includes a TV ad for Sergio Valente jeans–and shot footage a young woman drinking the cognac from the bottle while hanging out on a train platform. Birnbaum derides commercial advertising's use of the female body as both a product and a vehicle for selling other products in a stylised pastiche that she describes as "a snack-en-route with a pretty girl, animated trains, updated Bacharach muzak... and pouring Remy".

Using video as an experimental and educational tool, Branda Miller (*1952) has worked with community and youth groups in Los Angeles and New York to create a series of multicultural, social-issue videos in which the production process itself becomes the locus of critical engagement with media and media literacy. With this ‘process-over-product' strategy, Miller serves as artist, teacher and consultant to provide a framework in which youths can participate directly as writers and directors. The resultant films offer intimate responses to issues of juvenile delinquency, high-school drop-outs, teen-age pregnancy and drug abuse. 


In addition to this work and her documentaries for the grassroots, anti-corporate, satellite network ‘Deep Dish TV’ (Art of the State/State of the Art?, 1991; Witness to the Future, 1996), Miller has also produced experimental film works which often collage archival footage with a homespun stop motion aesthetic. I Want Some Insecticide (1986) is one such work. It imagines a techno-militaristic, sci-fi world run amok. Insect-like puppets made of coffee cans and plastic cones seem to speak, or mime, the audio of an English language instruction tape while dancing over a barren Arctic wasteland.


Dara Birnbaum

Kiss The Girls: Make Them Cry, 1979, 6:50 min
Remy/Grand Central: Trains and Boats and Planes, 1980, 4:18 min


Tony Cokes

Black Celebration, 1988, 17:11 min

Ad Vice, 1999, 6:36 min

Face Value, 2015, 14:05 min


Branda Miller

I Want Some Insecticide, 1986, 3:53 min

Tony Cokes, RRK: Reading Rosalind Krauss, 2012, 4:55 min; original music by The Size Queens

Dara Birnbaum, Kiss the Girls Make them Cry, 1979

Single channel colour video, sound, 6:50 min

Courtesy of the artist and EAI, New York.

Dara Birnbaum, Remy / Grand Central: Trains and Boats and Planes, 1980. Single channel colour video, sound, 4:18 min

Courtesy of the artist and EAI, New York.

Branda Miller, I Want Some Insecticide, 1986 (still)

Single channel, b&w and colour video, sound, 3:53 min

Courtesy of the artist and Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York.

State of the Art: Art of the State?, Spring 1991, #72, produced by Branda Miller for the Deep Dish TV series Behind Censorship: The Assault on Liberties. 

Interviews with anthropologist Carole S. Vance, author Michele Wallace, art historians Douglas Crimp and Martin Duberman, artists Hans Haacke and Andres Serrano and lawyers Mary Dorman and Kathleen Sullivan are interwoven with video art and performance works by Guillermo Gomez-Peña, Rachel Rosenthal, Karen Finley and David Wojnarowicz to address the implications of and justifications for government censorship of the arts.

Robert Glück, Steven Zultanski
New Poems

Together with Bruce Boone and Steve Abbott, Robert Glück (*1947, Cleveland, Ohio) founded 'New Narrative', a literary movement in San Francisco that saw itself, at the end of the 1970s, in dialogue with Language Poetry and the autonomous poetry movements of the time. 

New Narrative encouraged self-reflexive voices, fluctuation between theory and fiction, and between autobiographical and conceptual writing, prefiguring a shift to contemporary autofiction. "We were thinking about autobiography; by autobiography we meant daydreams, nightdreams, the act of writing, the relationship to the reader, the meeting of flesh and culture, the self as collaboration, the self as disintegration, the gaps, inconsistencies and distortions, the enjambments of power, family, history and language."

New Narrative writers include Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, Camille Roy, and fellow travellers like Chris Kraus, Kathy Acker, Dennis Cooper, and Gary Indiana.


Glück has served as director of the San Francisco State University Poetry Center and co-director of the Small Press Traffic Literary Center. He is the author of twelve books:  two novels, Margery Kempe (1994, republished in 2019, by New York Review of Books) and Jack the Modernist (1985) and several books of poetry including Reader (1989), In Commemoration of the Visit (with Kathleen Fraser, 2016) and Communal Nude: Collected Essays (2016).

Steven Zultanski (*1981, Trenton, NJ) is the author of Agony (2012), Bribery (2014), Honesty (2018), a trilogy which explores the boundaries of the subjective or confessional lyrical ego. These works evince spaces where autobiographical writing is directed against itself – where self-elevation becomes self-eradication, often due to the limitations of economic and psychological conditions on dialogue.


Zultanski's most recent works inlcude On the Literary Means of Representing the Powerful as Powerless, published by Information As Material in 2018 and Relief , published by Make Now Books, 2021. His critical writings appear regularly in Art in America, Frieze, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Spike Magazine and Mousse Magazine.

Organised with Mohamed Almusibli.


Robert Glück, Experimental Writer Gets Sucked Off in a Field, 5:15 min.

Read for the Line Reading Series, November 12, 2002.

Steven Zultanksi reading from Cop Kisser, 2010


Steven Zultanski and Robert Glück, Zürich, 2019.

Barbi Marković, Lydia Haider
Izlaženje / Am Ball

In her 2006 novel Izlaženje ('going out'), Barbi Marković (*1980, Belgrade) takes the narrative structure of Thomas Bernhard's Gehen and modifies it so that Bernhard's three old men living in Vienna become three young women living in Belgrade, going out against the intolerability of going out. Izlazenje was translated into German by Mascha Dabić and published by Suhrkamp as Ausgehen in 2009. Other titles by the author include: Graz, Alexanderplatz (Leykam-Verlag, 2012) and Superheldinnen (Residenz Verlag, 2016).

Lydia Haider's (*1985, Steyr) splatter novel Am Ball: Wider erbliche Schwachsinnigkeit ('At the Ball: Against Inherited Imbecility') offers a walk through of a night at the Viennese Akademiker Ball. Since 2013, the annual event has been organised by the right wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ).  As a result, student fraternities like the 'Burschenschaften' have been able to gather in the Hofburg and literally waltz alongside international guests from the far-right scene, under police protection no less. The novel's seven chapters each correspond to a room in the Hofburg, where outrageous, gory scenes unfold. Lydia Haider is the author of books including Wahrlich fuck you du Sau, bist du komplett zugeschissen in deinem Leib drin oder: Zehrung Reiser Rosi (Ein Gesang, 2018) and Kongregation (Müry Salzmann, 2015).

Organised with Lucie Pia.

Barbi Marković: Superziehsel und Traube, 2020, 2:25 min

Erik & Harald Thys
Our Friend the Automobile

Departing with a picture of their father’s car, brothers Erik and Harald Thys offer a critical exegesis of the automobile–an autonomous species that exerts significant influence on the people and objects around it. Tracing various forms of car production in Western and Eastern Europe, Asia and the US, they give insight into the agency and emotional capacity of what they deem to be remarkably mysterious entities. 

Harald Thys (*1965, Wilrijk, Antwerp) is an artist whose collaborative work with Jos de Gruyter takes an unvarnished look at the surreality of the postmodern psyche and its parallel worlds. Their works have been shown at institutions including Kunsthal Aarhus, DK (2018); Kunstverein München (2017); Schinkel Pavillon, Berlin (2016); Yale Union, Portland (2015); CCA Wattis, San Francisco (2015); MoMA PS1, New York (2015); The Power Station, Dallas (2015) and Kestnergesellschaft, Hannover (2011). Their installation Mondo Cane represented Belgium at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019.

Erik Thys (*1961, Wilrijk, Antwerp) is an author, composer, artist and psychiatrist affiliated with the Sint Alexius Psychosocial Centre in Brussels and the University Psychiatric Centre at the KU Leuven. Erik is the author of Psychogenocide. Psychiatry, Art and Mass Murder Under the Nazi‘s (2015) and co-author of The Secret of the Brain Chip: Guide for People with Psychosis (2003), which has been translated into 14 languages. He is also the chairman of KAOS, an institute that develops artistic projects with a link to psychiatry. Erik regularly collaborates with Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, composing music for and acting in several of their films. His compositions for organ have been performed in churches in San Francisco, Berlin, Vienna and Basel. His most recent work, Organ Piece (2019) – which adopts the form of an international anthem – was commissioned for Mondo Cane, the Belgian Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, 2019.

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Nicholas Tammens
The Art and Teaching of Jef Geys

For five decades, the Belgian artist Jef Geys (Leopoldsburg, 1934–Genk, 2018) lived and worked in Balen, a Flemish town in the De Kempen region of Northeast Belgium. Much of his artistic work centred on this locale and reflected on the social and political engagements he constructed within it, working artistically and vocationally at schools, industrial workshops, on farms, at cafés and bars and with museums. 


Many of his projects depart from the middle school he taught at and in whose hallways and classrooms he installed exhibitions with canonical works borrowed from major museums. Through his efforts to connect students to art, and in the manner in which he integrated them into his output, Geys’ practice can be understood as a radical provocation of the content, form and function of art (as an international discourse) from the perspective of a provincial periphery.


Giving evidence to a broader problematic between the term ‘education’ and what it designates, this lecture lines Geys’ practice with key educational precedents and artistic interlocutors: the Bauhaus model in Weimar, Nikolai Ladovsky’s teaching at the Soviet Vkhutemas, and the artistic practices of Marcel Broodthaers and Michael Asher, among others.

An essay about the work of Jef Geys by Nicholas Tammens

Nicholas Tammens is the curator of

Jef Geys in conversation with Regine Clauwaert for the art affairs programme 'Kunst Zaken' on the occasion of Geys' curated exhibition of modern art at Balen High School in Flanders; VRT broadcast, Belgium, 1984. 5:16 min.

LOL Beslutning
Destina & Destine

LOL Beslutning’s experimental approach to composition has seen repeated transformation. Under their first moniker Synd og Skam (Sin and Shame) the group produced a number of experimental and pop punk albums over two years - each met with increasing acclaim in music scenes across Europe. When invited to perform at the Danish National Library in 2015, the group presented a five part choral lecture titled LOL Beslutning. That name soon became a new identity for the group, one by which they have produce their most experimental and lo fi plays,  performances and ‘tutti-songs in opera format', all of which are delivered with the sheer conviction–and scenography–of an underfunded high school musical. 

Perhaps the most popular of these works is the ever evolving teen-drama Destina & Destine. Told from inside an SUV in a rained out carpark, its protagonists embark on a double helix journey: their paths entwine and unravel as their friendship is tested by emo-emotions, duelling expectations and a mysterious double murder – a crime they mistakenly witness (commit!). Throughout the play a confessional subplot tells of the group's inner journey writing, touring and reworking the piece – a work whose ever-changing preludes, soliloquies and sequels continually alter the narrative each time it is performed.  ​


This performance celebrates the release of the 14 track LP 'Destina & Destina. The record includes a 40 page libretto with images, scores, commentaries and lyrics in German, English and Danish. It can be purchased for CHF 30.– by contacting The album is also available on streaming platforms.

LOL Beslutning, Choices 3:59 min. Link.


LOL Beslutning, Destina & Destine, 2019

14 track LP + libretto 

Oliver Corino
We're Living In Complex Times

“He just came in and asked where the bucket was for the amnesty. I asked him what amnesty was he talking about? And he told me to stop fucking about. I noticed he was holding his body strangely, like he was in intense pain, like spasms and he was sweating. He started repeating ‘Just tell me where the bucket is’ and then I saw he was bleeding through his trousers, from his crotch area. I called for assistance. Officers Shant and Folger came straight through and Shanty called for medics, but the guy was really distressed, he was just shouting to bring him the bucket, or where’s the bucket for the amnesty.

“We tried to check his wound but he wouldn’t let us near it, he became quite violent. Folger to try calm him down got the bin, took out the bin bag, and brought it to him and was like if you have anything you can put it in here. I guess he thought he’d calm down and let us help him if he handed whatever he had over. Anyway the guy took something out from his pocket and dropped it in the bin, then as soon as he did, he stood up and limped over to the door.
“I followed him trying to get him to stop still, but he was determined to get out to the street, and then I saw the ambulance arrive. The guy was shouting at us to leave him alone. There was loads of blood coming from his crotch and we had to restrain him with the medics for them to take a look.

“He was screaming, ‘Don’t sew it back on.’ They started to control the bleeding and I explained he’d put something in a bucket. The medics said it was a body part and we should get it on ice. When he heard them say this the guy really started fighting, then I came inside with a medic and they went with Folger to get ice, then I saw you. Is it his penis? Is he still out there?”

Excerpt from We're Living in Complex Times.


On the 12th of March 2020, London-based fiction writer Oliver Corino came to Zürich to read from his latest work, We're Living in Complex Times, an organisational police drama about a penis amnesty. Corino runs the publishing house OCR. His short story "Am I living in hell or is hell living in me?" can be read here

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Porpentine Charity Heartscape
Multi-Species Girl Ricecorn Grazing

Self-described dead swamp milf Porpentine Charity Heartscape is a writer, artist and game designer. They are best known for their award winning 'Twine' stories – hypertext games and interactive fictions in which users create their own characters and goals.

Porpentine's games include With Those We Love Alivea queer fable about isolation, abuse and the relationship between art and power; Ultra Business Tycoon IIIa sprawling textual world disguised as edutainment software'; and Howling Dogs (winner of the XYZZY Interactive Fiction Awards for best story and best writing) which is set in a futuristic holding cell. There, you can eat and drink from nutrient dispensers, take showers to stop your skin itching, look at a photo of 'her', or enter an activity room which takes you through increasingly bizarre scenarios before returning you back to your cell. As the game progresses your situation deteriorates. The shower and garbage chute stop working. You’re left to live in your own filth. Even the photograph of beloved 'her' ceases to please.

The "sponsored agricultural seminar" Multispecies Girl Ricecorn Grazing was commissioned by UG Programm. It can be read here.

Lucie Pia
Cameron Rowland's 91020000 & D37

Since 2013, approximately half of Cameron Rowland’s (*1988, Philadelphia) artworks have been made available for rent only. This process adheres to a rental contract developed by the artist. 

The rental contract is based on those used by the North America franchise "Rent-A-Center", a chainstore strategically located in low income areas. A Rent-A-Center offers electronics and furniture for rent at a monthly cost, which cumulatively amounts to much more than their retail price when bough outright. Rowland's rental works can be rented for 3 or 5 years, with the overall expense being slightly higher than the price of a comparable artwork sold outright.


The rental contract is just one aspect of Rowland's multifaceted engagement with the legal foundations of racial inequality and its material manifestations. In divergent ways, his projects confront systems of disenfranchisement and expropriation which, in their service to capital, tether "universal" rights of freedom and equality to white citizenship. Adopting the operations and processes of commercial, legal-economic and artistic industries, Rowland's exhibitions and publications trace a genealogy of racially conditioned juridical structures and their deployment by state institutions and private organisations. ​


"91020000", presented at Artist Space New York in 2016, addressed forced labor within the US-prison-industrial complex. "D37", presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles in 2018, concerned the financialisation of criminal prosecution via property seizures. Examining both, Lucie Pia explores Rowland’s work as a direct confrontation with the mechanisms of self-preservation inherent to racialised capitalism and racialised property – mechanisms which are upheld and maintained in the operations and processes of the art industry.


A document by the artist for the exhibition 91020000

A document by the artist for the exhibition D37

All images courtesy ESSEX STREET, New York.


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