Letter to the visitor

Michelle Hyun


In 2013 at the (legendary yet now shuttered conceptual art space) University of California San Diego University Art Gallery, artist Ethan Breckenridge and curator Michelle Y. Hyun organized “We’d love your company.” The project was an open invitation to present work in a public university space that was increasingly subject to neoliberal capital; a diminishing of the commons in tandem with an increasing of the “participatory” imperative.  The project both accepted and pushed against these conditions. It lasted eleven weeks and included over twenty projects. Incidentally, it was Kegels for Hegels' first performance. Below is a series of letters, "Letters to the Visitor," sometimes exhibited as posters affixed to university common spaces as well as circulated on social media, that the curators sent to their publics as part of the project. The last is a more recent letter to Kegels for Hegel, thinking about both the “We’d love your company” curatorial project  and Kegels for Hegel's performance retrospectively.



Straddling philosophical smutcore and tongue in chic, Kegels for Hegel is an open collaboration of academics and artists that works the brain as well as the pelvic floor. During this one hour event, K4H will host live singing of love songs to philosophers, a book exchange, go-go dancers, music videos, and a brain eating contest. We'd love your company; arrive punctually and bring a philosophy book to exchange or give away if you can.
Fucking with Philosophers is an exhibition-related program for We’d love your company , with Ethan Breckenridge (February 21 – May 10), at the UCSD University Art Gallery.
K4H Collaborators:
kate hers is a visual artist and cultural producer who works in the field of social art practice. Her work seeks to rethink and reshape notions of transnational and cultural identity, often through different modes of communication and public/private interventions.

Christian Laragues began (s)his artistic career as a child virtuoso in the classical piano-cum-circuit party. Laragues currently orchestrates design and material culture interventions between NYC, São Paulo, and Miami.
Dear Valued Participant,
We’d love your company...As an invitation, the phrase precedes, explicitly and implicitly, a variety of participatory arrangements. The invitation is made in a gesture of openness, inclusion and hospitality, with the promise of meaningful engagement, enhanced experiences, vested input and possibly, in the future, emancipation.
Are you all too familiar with this invitation? Have you participated in these formats and programs before? Does the Invitation today seem more like an imperative rather than an invitation?
Certain boundary conditions give shape to these formats—a program designed for the performance of a particular function or task. This invitation comes from a place of infinite hospitality, but as soon as you cross the threshold you must comply with our conditions of hospitality. Paradoxically, you can hold us hostage in this place of infinite hospitality when you enter without invitation or flout these conditions.
As part of an academic entity, we’re compelled to enter into both horizontal and hierarchal relationships of learning, teaching, research, and being researched, or even to go beyond the campus to participate in our community as a responsible and engaged public institution. Perhaps less selective than academia, culture is something in which anyone can participate. Whether it is in “high” forms of art, music, and theater, where you’re asked to interact or collaborate with the artist and/or institution, or in forms of popular culture on television or Web 2.0, where you can choose tonight’s winner, respond or enter into debates in the comments section, or generate your own content, you participate. If you’re lucky enough to be a citizen in a liberal democracy, you can take part in such formats as the infamous California initiatives and referendums or even petition the White House online.
So, why does it feel like we really don’t have much agency at all?
Why even participate?
Perhaps you will respond to our request, like Bartleby, “I would prefer not to.”
That’s fine too.
Thanks for your participation...
Nevertheless, we’d love your company
Yours truly,
Ethan Breckenridge & Michelle Y. Hyun
P.S. There will be refreshment!
Curated by Michelle Y. Hyun, UAG Curatorial Fellow 2012–14. Design by Stephen Serrato.
February 21, 2013
Dear Valued Participant,
Welcome! We are pleased that you have joined us!
The question of hospitality has been a topic of note in philosophical and political debates in the last few decades, not only in the art world, but on a macro level with regards to the movement of populations (e.g., an expanded ”Europe,” immigration reform in the U.S.) and commercial globalization, tourism, and travel — the ”hospitality business” or the ”experience economy.” Specific to our context here, localized in this particular space, we encounter the question of hospitality in the relationship between the artist as both guest (of the institution) and host (of this project and to you), as well as the relationship between the institution and it publics. In these sets of relations, it is very well possible that our roles as host or guest can easily be interchanged, blurred, challenged, and transgressed.
In our earlier letter of invitation, we mentioned the paradox of hospitality and participatory formats — the structural contradiction of impossible, infinite reception needing certain boundary conditions to create and maintain our positions as ”host” and ”guest.” What is hospitality but ”a name or an example of deconstruction”?1 It is always about crossing boundaries or thresholds, including those between the inside and outside, private and public, individual and collective, personal and political, as well as the self and the other.
As you enter and temporarily inhabit this space and the many event-based programs we've organized, we ask that you consider the various codes that overlay this structure of hospitality: its politics, moral-social decorum, physical practice (encompassed by certain gestures and elements of labor), affective dimension, and regulation of economy (reciprocity and non-reciprocity).
We’ve tried to be generous here, with the architecture of the space, as well as with the program of events, in order to accommodate you. See our invitation ”Your Program Here.”
In our next correspondence, we can discuss further the implications of these architectural provisions. (Fetishize much?) For now, please make yourself at home.
Yours truly,
Ethan Breckenridge & Michelle Y. Hyun
1Jacques Derrida, ”Hostipitality,” in Gil Anidjar (ed.),
Jacques Derrida: Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002), 364.
February 21, 2013
Dear Valued Participant,
Can an institution bend over backward? For the next twelve days, we welcome our guests, the UCSD Public Education Coalition (PEC), who will host a 24/7 study space. The PEC is a loose umbrella group for students fighting against the privatization of the university and its effects. In 2011, they "reclaimed" CLICS, a library at Revelle College that was closed as a purported cost saving measure for students and one of the few places on campus where you could study at any hour of the day or night. But, what happens when you are invited into a space, rather than trespassing?
In our previous letter, we said that we would discuss the implications of these architectural provisions before you. Perhaps we’ve fetishized the built space and what it can do? What do we mean by "fetish"? As we understand it, fetish displaces the agency of the subject onto the object. The created becomes creator; creator as created. As a fetish object, architecture creates the subjects who inhabit it; it configures the sensorial experience of space and produces the social relations to take place within it. Architecture, like participatory formats, is made with a particular program (pedagogical, commercial, cultural) for certain action and a function (teaching/learning, manufacture, retail, presentation/distribution) for certain use. The made space is now given. So, what happens when the built space is made with the intention of open use, without a particular program when the agency of built space is again displaced onto the users, now architects themselves, of the space?
And what about built space that is invisible, e.g., an institution and its structures of support, organization, and administration that delineate the limitations and possibilities of its actions? The fetish object can be abstract, as well as concrete. The abstract form may become concrete, habituated through programmatic intention and functioning. Our intention here is to be generous hosts, welcoming you into the space to do whatever you want. Nevertheless, your participation in this open program will be or already has been negotiated by certain conditions (money, labor, time, resources, etc.). Perhaps this negotiation allows us to tread new expanded contours of the institution – a new form, a new built (albeit invisible) space? Another concretization. A new fetish object.
Is there something wrong with this? Although the fetish implies a mis placement of agency onto objects, is there not also agency in the experience of fetish? This object is given the ability to create a situation in which it is possible to reflect on the experience (of fetish), as well as enable it. It's a way to examine our context of visible and invisible built spaces, but also a way to think and act beyond them. Built space could be both made and given. We’d like to think that we’re both the host and hostage to these fetish objects. What about you?
Yours truly,
Ethan Breckenridge & Michelle Y. Hyun
August 13, 2015
Dear Valued Participant:
It’s hard for me to believe that more than two years have passed since we collaborated with Kegels for Hegel to participate in “We’d love your company” in one of their first public performances, “Fucking with Philosophers,” at the UCSD University Art Gallery. This letter is long overdue. I apologize for not writing to you sooner, or before the event, as I’d intended with our previous correspondence. We were overwhelmed by the response to our open invitation to program the exhibition, and, in the end, we were exhausted but happy about the 18 different public performances, lectures, workshops, concerts, and screenings presented. But now, with time’s passing, we’ve been able to reflect on the significance of those events.
Thinking back on that Kegels for Hegel performance, I remember being introduced to the term “yankin’,” which is slang for sexual intercourse from a vaginal-centric perspective. It was the title of a song on Kegels for Hegel’s playlist of intermission music between sets (Lady, “Yankin,” Big Gates Records, 2010). I had no idea what it meant at the time, but was introduced to it, i.e., the notion of sexual intercourse as other than penetration rather as invagination, by Kegels for Hegel. Years later, I’ve realized that the Kegels for Hegel project was and is a project of invagination in toto.
What exactly is invagination – perhaps we might also call it yankin’ – if it could be something more than just “the action of sheathing or introverting; the condition of being sheathed or introverted: intussusception”?1 The term has also been used by philosopher Jacques Derrida to describe a certain way a written text inverts upon itself, folding back or turning inside out, creating a space and infinite structure for new questions to emerge. The boundaries of the written text, what’s inside and outside of it, become unstable. It’s this notion of belonging and not belonging – Derrida called it “a principle of contamination, a law of impurity, a parasitical economy”2 – which you might identify in the artwork, or art that werks, of Kegels for Hegel. Philosophical texts or theory are so often employed in a masculinist way, as penetrating insight, akin to the figure of the phallus, which we associate with logocentric thought, positivist assumptions, and methodological distinctions between the “inside” and the “outside” of systems. But, as Derrida writes, “What happens when acts or performances (discourse or writing, analysis or description, etc.) are part of the object they designate? When they can be given as examples of precisely that of which they speak or write?”3 What if texts, or maybe both reverent and irreverent songs, could perform the werk of invagination? These sorts of things seem to happen best at the margins, or where it seems to be outside the boundaries of the text or the institution, but are actually also embedded quite within it, deep inside of it. That’s why the performance of Kegels for Hegel, then and in retrospect, was both poignant and celebratory: the act of two academics, performing raunchy and erotic love songs to and about philosophers, literally within the architecture of an academic institution, yankin’ on philosophical texts and theory. By folding and refolding up the edges of the discourse by which their academic work is inspired and upon which the academy is founded, the value of such discourse are questioned and inscribed into new contexts, theirs and our “reading” of these texts become writing.
By the way, don’t you wonder why Derrida used so many figures of the feminine (the track, sign, furrow, hymen, invagination) in his texts? Perhaps that could be the base line for a new Kegels for Hegel song? I look forward to hearing your thoughts about this and other things.
Yours truly,
Michelle Y. Hyun
1Oxford English Dictionary.
2Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre” in W.J.T. Mitchell (ed.), On Narrative (University of Chicago Press, 1981), p. 55.
3Jacques Derrida, La Carte Postale (Paris: Flammarion, 1980), p. 140.

Michelle Hyun is a curator and researcher working with the conditions and interrelationships of publics, space, discourse, and pedagogy. Most recently, she co-curated the Gwangju Biennale 20th anniversary exhibition, "Sweet Dew- Since 1980" and was the 2012-2014 Curatorial Fellow at the University of California San Diego University Art Gallery; she is currently an assistant curator for the Shanghai Project.