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ASCA Workshop 2017, organized by Laura Vermeeren and Rowan Parry. Confirmed Keynotes: Jacqueline Kool, Kinneret Lahad, and Gillian Whiteley.

Event details of Unnecessary, Unwanted and Uncalled-for: A Workshop on Uselessness
Start date 28 March 2017
End date 30 March 2017


Day 1 – 28 March 2017

09:30 – 10:00 Registration and coffee & tea
Bushuis in front of room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

10:00 – 10:30 Welcome from Esther Peeren and organizers
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

10:30 – 11:30 Keynote Kinneret Lahad – Empty useless time: Repro Futurity, Singlehood and Excessive Femininities
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 14:00 Session 1: The Futility of Utility
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Sjaak van der Geest (UvA) – Is Anthropology Useful? Should it Be?
  • Alexandre Poulin (ASCA) – On the Revolutionary Potential of Uselessness
  • Stina Malmén and Rasmus Fleischer (Stockholm University) – Between useful production and useless expenditure: Sex, drugs and body modification

14:00 – 14:15 Break

14:15 – 15:45 Session 2: Objects of (dis) use
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Neil Maycroft (University of Lincoln) – Uselessness as a response to ambiguity: diminished things and marginal places
  • Lisa Doeland (ASCA) – Love Your Garbage! From Carefreeness to Care
  • Ellen Rutten (UvA) – Im-, Un-, -Less: Seeming Dichotomies

15:45 – 16:00 Break

16:00 – 17:30 Session 3: Applied Uselessness
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Mary Ponomareva – Welcome to the Apocalyptic Luxury Fair
  • Ulvi Haagensen (Estonian Academy of Arts) – The Art of Cleaning
  • Gustaaf Haan- IV-x

17:30 – 18:00 Drinks

Day 2 – 29 March 2017

9.30 – 10:00 Coffee and tea

10:00 – 11:30 Session 4A: Sustainability
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Andrea R. Gammon (Radboud University Nijmegen) – Use and Disuse: Rewilding’s Economy of Nature
  • Daniel Pargman and Björn Hedin (Swedish Royal Institute of Technology) – Useless Games for a Sustainable World
  • Sebastian Abrahamsson (Copenhagen University) – Food (s)cares: an analysis of the tensions between preventing waste and assuring safety

Session 4B: Arts and Society
Bushuis, room E.0.14 C

  • Liwen (Zoénie) Deng (ASCA) – Useful Uselessness and Socially Engaged Art: 5+1=6 Project in Beijing
  • Annie K. Tubadji (University of Bologna) – “Illness-Free, Socially Necessary” Art: A Re-Conceptualization of Culture in Socio-Economics
  • Lin Jian (ASCA) – Useless and Useful Work in Cultural SOEs

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 13:15 Keynote Jacqueline Kool – Utility in the Eye of the Beholder
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

13:15 – 13.30 Break

13:30 – 15:30 Session 5A: Digital and Design
Bushuis, room E.0.14 C

  • Jakko Kemper (UvA) – A DIGITAL EULOGY: Technological frailty and the cultural significance of glitch
  • Maranke Wieringa (University of Utrecht) – Skeuomorphs in software: making sense of our applications through matter
  • Alice Twemlow (UvA) – Design Will Eat Itself: Design for Self-destruction, De-activation, and Accelerated Decomposition
  • Joshua McWhirter - Fair Use(lessness) (New School of Design): Rethinking utility and value through locative interfaces.

Session 5B: People in (dis)use
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Eugenie Brinkema (MIT) – Useless Corpse: Troubling the Value of Form
  • Arjen Nauta (ASCA) – Martyr’s Blood is Never Wasted: On The Performativity of Martyrdom and the Use of Dead Bodies
  • Adam R. Mathews (Artist/Activist) – The Uselessness of Refugees
  • Arash Ghajarjazi (Utrecht University) – Migration Through the Looking
  • Glass: A Material Semiotics of Contemporary Visual Art and Media

15:30 – 15:45 Break

15:45 – 16:30 Useless activity

Day 3 – 30 March 2017

9:00 – 9:30 Coffee and tea

9:30 – 11.30 Session 6A: Re-use and preservation
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Dilek Kaya (Yasar University) – Discarded Letters in a Flea Market and their Repurposing
  • Tara-Marie McAssey (Maynooth University) – The Flea-Market as transformative space
  • Giulia Moriconi and Andrea Reyes Elizondo (Leiden University) – Thou Shalt Not Throw Me Away! Notions of Usefulness for Books
  • Nadia de Vries (ASCA) – Tender Archives: The Sentimental Preservation of Online Content

Session 6B: Gendered utility
Bushuis room E.0.14 C

  • Penn Ip (ASCA) – Migrant Women Walking Down the Cheap Road: The
  • Uselessness of Tu, Modernity and Singlehood in Shanghai
  • Gwen Parry – Making Women Artists Useful in Retrospect
  • Nine Yamamoto-Masson (ASCA) – Forensics of Silence: The Racialised
  • Masculinist Economy of Comfort Women’s Bodies as Capital Goods

11:30 – 12:30 Lunch

12:30 – 13:00 Reverse Engineering: The Aesthetics of E-waste Migration
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Performance/Lecture/Installation by Divya Nadkarni, Arash Ghajarjazi and Abishek Thapar

13:00 – 15:00 Session 7A: Music and Education
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

  • Line Henriksen, Erika Kvistad and Sara Orning (University of Oslo): Monster Pedagogy: Failure and Uselessness in University Teaching and Learning
  • Laura Huston (Momoyama Gakuin St. Andrew’s University) – The Unnecessary Lingua Franca: Japanese University Students Perceptions of English
  • Mick Vierbergen (ASCA) - Perceptions of Mobile Musicing: Private Sound Bubble or Urban Information Overlay
  • Oliver Seibt (UvA) – Favourite Songs: Reflections on a Musicology of the Everyday

Session 7B: Useless beings 
Bushuis, room E.0.14 C

  • Helen M. Markus (German Sports University Cologne) – Rejecting the
  • Uselessness of the Body
  • Karen van Minnen (UvA) – The uselessness of the Introvert
  • Alina Buzatu (Ovidius University Constanta) – Recycling Details: Alternative Readings of Narratives
  • Paris Cameron-Gardos (ASCA) – Futile Statements: Agency and the “Uncoming Out” Narrative in Brotherhood

15:00 – 16:00 Keynote Gillian Whiteley – Moochers, wasters and vagabonds: the arts of sloth and reverie as oppositional (in)activities
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

16:00 – 16:15 Closing Remarks
Bushuis, room E. 0.02 (VOC-zaal)

16:15 – 17:15 Closing Drinks

20:00 – Late Purposeless Party


Gillian Whiteley: Moochers, wasters and vagabonds: the arts of sloth and reverie as oppositional (in)activities

The mantra, ‘art for art’s sake’, is anathema in the contemporary artworld and contemplative practices frequently attract critical scorn. Fundamentally, as Nato Thompson (2012) has noted, we no longer ask is it art but is it useful art? Of course, ‘socially useful’ art has always been rooted in the specific critical political and economic contexts of its own time, from the demand for ‘art for a purpose’ of the Artists International Association in the 1930s, to Jean-Paul Sartre’s advocacy of the ‘committed artist’ in postwar Europe, through to the emergence of Tania Bruguera’s Arte Util in the global financial and humanitarian crises of the 2000s.  Unsurprisingly then, questions around ‘socially-engaged’ practices and the ethical dimension of art currently dominate the contemporary field. In contrast, the internet offers a proliferation of time-wasting activities and idle pleasures encapsulated by the internetofuselessthings  or Simone Giertz’s ‘shitty robots’. In a futile attempt to draw things to a close, this talk will offer a bricolage of thoughts across a range of discourses, ruminating on the hegemonic orthodoxy and potential fallacy of useful practices.  It asks, should we reclaim the culture of slowness, sloth and the ‘right to be lazy’ (Lafargue, 1883) as a post-work political act of refusal? As artists (and citizens) should we demand the right to roam aimlessly, dream endlessly and expend time in useless (pleasurable) (in)activity?

Gillian Whiteley

Dr Gillian Whiteley is an interdisciplinary researcher based at School of the Arts, English and Drama, Loughborough University (LU) where she is Programme Director for Fine Art, Senior Lecturer in Critical and Historical Studies and Coordinator of the Politicized Practice Research Group (PPRG). Interests include historical and contemporary practices of creative dissent and ludic protest, art and activism, bricolage, materialisms and detritus. Publications include ‘Welfare State International’ in J.Bull and G.Saunders (eds) British Theatre Companies: From Fringe to Mainstream, (2016); ‘Schm]alchemy: Magical sites and mischievous objects – episodes in a performative inquiry into the transformative and disruptive potency of stuff’ in Body, Space, Technology Journal (2016); ‘Regimes of Value: Sensuous Stuff, Entangled Objects, Undoing the Order of Things’ (ex cat) Victoria College of the Arts, University of Melbourne and The Substation, Newport, Melbourne (2013)  and Junk: Art and the Politics of Trash (2010). As co-organiser of RadicalAesthetics-RadicalArt (RaRa), she is currently working on Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer (events, an exhibition and an edited book for Bloomsbury) and, with members of the PPRG and Anarchist Research Group at LU, a collaborative project around Art activism and political violence.

Jacqueline Kool: Utility in the Eye of the Beholder

“When something turns out to be useless, it has failed intrinsically” the organizers of this workshop stated at the website. In my presentation I will dwell upon useful and useless from the perspective of disability studies and the disability experience.

People who have been labeled as disabled often find the label useless or of less value stuck to their diagnosis. In a world that is organized by the concepts of usefulness and control, disabled people might feel this ‘intrinsic failure’ weighing upon them.

In reverse people seek a way out of this in different routes. For some people proving the world wrong by achieving the atmost or impossible is a way of coping. Others seek a way out in finding a sort of counter-usefulness in the considered uselessness, by proving the intrinsic value of persons with disability or even of the disability itself. Or by criticizing and deconstructing the whole idea of usefulness as being mostly a construct led by commercial purposes.

In my presentation we will investigate those different routes by wondering through body images, disability survival tours, participation goals, ‘inspiration porn’ and abandoned places and objects, to find that what seems naturally useful in our world, such as stairs, written text and spoken language, may seem useless from the disability perspective and vice versa.

Is there freedom in being outside the realm of usefulness? Or is there value in being at ease with things just as they are? As Adele B. McCollum once stated very zen-like: “A broken teacup is not a flawed example of a teacup, but a perfect example of a broken teacup.”

Jacqueline Kool

is the knowledge manager and co-founder of the Centre for Disability Studies in the Netherlands (DSiN). She is particularly interested in the image formation of disabled people and recently published the book Eros in de Kreukels on sexuality and disability.

Kinneret Lahad: Empty useless time: repro-futurity, singlehood and excessive femininities

This paper suggests that midlife singlehood can be a critical interpretive lens through which notions of excess, waste, and uselessness come to the fore. In this respect, this paper intends to illuminate and call into question some of the heteronormative temporal dimensions of desirability, the interstices of expected timelines and the borders of female respectability. The first part of my presentation will critically examine conventional discursive formations accentuated by global media as the figure of the “old maid”, the “overly selective single woman” and “leftover woman”. Those commonly associate the category of “extended” singlehood with excessive, empty and wasteful forms of temporalities. When one compares the temporal notions of singlehood to those related to conventional ideals of couplehood, parenthood, and family life, a temporal hierarchy is revealed, one which distinguishes between those who are on time/off time, investing time/losing time, accumulating time/wasting time, spending meaningful time/empty time or controlling time/controlled by time.

In the second part of my presentation, I propose to understand singlehood temporality not merely as a non-synchronized timeout or “wasting time” but also as a position from which one can pursue alternative articulations to standardized social rhythms and conventional life schedules. In that way, my analysis offers a much needed counter-logic to heteronormative notions of permanence, productivity and certainty. Singlehood as a concept can afford long, slow, unlimited breaks, delays, being useless, unnecessary and un called-for all of which are an inseparable part of our everyday experiences. Thus, by challenging the temporal rules of productivity and the socially proper, the concept of extended singlehood can represent a space and time within which one’s value as a woman is not determined by her exchange value and the judgmental scrutiny of men. From this point of view, occasional, midlife or lifelong singlehood can represent an option to refuse the control of the temporal regimes of female respectability and repro-futurity.

Kinneret Lahad

Kinneret Lahad is a senior lecturer at the NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University, Israel. She had been involved in various prestigious research projects, which merited international attention, praise, and materialized in publications in leading journals.  Her research interests are interdisciplinary and span the fields of gender studies, sociology and cultural studies. She has written extensively on female singlehood, families and time connecting them to sociological and feminist theory. Her forthcoming book A Table for One: A Critical Reading of Singlehood, Gender and Time will be published by Manchester University Press during 2017. She has also co-edited a book on mechanisms of denial and repression in Israeli society and is currently co-editing an edited book on feminism, emotions and academia to be published by Palgrave. Her current projects include independent and collaborative studies on aunthood, friendships, blended families, feminism and emotions, feminist age studies and solo dinning and belonging. For the last years she has taught in various academic institutions in Israel, Italy and the UK. She has been a visiting scholar at Columbia University (NY,USA), a visiting scholar and professor at Venice International University, a visiting lecturer at the Master MIM Erasmus Mundus graduate program at Ca'Foscari University in Venice and an honorary research fellow at Manchester University (UK). Links to her papers and work can be found here: (


Please register if you want to attend the parallel sessions ( The keynote lectures are open to all ASCA members and friends. On the last day, there will be drinks in the space in front of the VOC room at the Oost Indisch Huis (Kloveniersburgwal 48), ASCA community welcome!


There is an inherent negative ring to the word useless. For a person or object to be useless, means it does not serve its intended, or any other, purpose. In becoming useless, purpose is lost. When something turns out to be useless, it has failed intrinsically.The inherent negativity of uselessness is directly linked to a supposed obligation for everything and everyone to be useful, at all times, everywhere.

As much as anyone feels useful at a given time, it is a precarious state that can disappear any moment. A day that was intended to be useful might turn out to be unproductive, wasted, useless, followed by shame, guilt and remorse. On a more fundamental level you might wake up one day and realize that machines more efficiently execute your craft and your labour is no longer required.

Unrealizable demands for economic utility, desires for social recognition, and quests for spiritual meaning, haunt us, and it appears that feelings of uselessness are an inevitable aspect of contemporary life.                                                                                                                              

This inherent inevitability of uselessness requires us to reconsider our understanding of uselessness in the contemporary world. As the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi noted some 2300 years ago, seemingly useless things contain hidden qualities, and the useless can simultaneously be useful. This philosophy has seen endless reincarnations in making the useless useful, like; recycling, freeganism, “get back to work” projects for the unemployed, making art from trash etc. But at the same time there are also movements countering the idea that things must be useful at all; conspicuous consumption, idle living, refusal of work, art for art’s sake.

In this workshop we seek to interrogate the notion of uselessness in culture, politics and aesthetics both empirically and theoretically through four broad interconnected themes: the everyday, space, the body and objects. By approaching uselessness through these four themes, we zoom in on the four main factors that create utility, take it away again, and are at the receiving end of being classified as useless.

Potential topics could include, but are not limited to:

The Everyday

How can we complicate notions of useless hobbies, obsessive collecting or hoarding, and conspicuous consumption? What to make of the phenomenon of bullshit jobs? Why do counter cultures embrace ideas like slowness, idle living, and what do they do to our understanding of being useful? What does it mean to waste time online? How do seemingly useless digital activities like watching cat videos or playing Pokémon Go shape and give purpose to our lives?


What makes a space useless? What to makes of a space that stores useless objects like a rubbish dump or an attic full of unused stuff? Can being in a certain space render one useless? What do refugee camps, prisons or holiday parks do to our conception of being useful? Recent programs of rewilding all over the world are counteracting former modifications of landscapes driven by the urge to make nature serve human needs. Can we perceive of initiatives like this as an impetus for a paradigm shift in the way we think about empty spaces and their utility?

The Body

What purpose do the bodies of the millions of people who work behind desks serve? What is the emergence of Artificial Intelligence doing to our understanding of what it means to be useful? How do gyms, fitness routines, and paradigms of healthy living alter or reinforce our views on the useful body? What purpose does a healthy body serve? What happens to our body when we become one with the Internet? What role does uselessness play in narratives surrounding suicide? What does it mean to be useful through the act of dying, martyrdom or giving oneself to a cause? Can we continue to be useful or useless after death?


Trash? Rubbish? Garbage? How are innovation and the inexorable drive for newness rendering all kinds of objects like computers, cd’s, mobile phones, clothes, furniture, etc. useless at an astonishing speed? What are the consequences of rendering objects useless? Why do people try and make useless things useful again in the knowledge that that chair or piece of art made out of trash will still end up in the trash one day? What to make of the creation of purposefully useless objects?