Denise Ferreira da Silva & Valentina Desideri
Denise is a philosopher, writer, and filmmaker. Her academic and artistic works address the ethical and political challenges of the global present. She is the author of Toward a Global Idea of Race (2007), A Dívida Impagável (2019), Unpayable Debt (2022) and co-editor (with Paula Chakravartty) of Race, Empire, and the Crisis of the Subprime (2013). Her artistic work includes the films Serpent Rain (2016) and 4Waters-Deep Implicancy (2018), in collaboration with Arjuna Neuman.
Valentina explores artmaking as a form of study and study as a form of making art. She trained in contemporary dance, fine arts and is currently a PhD candidate at the Social Justice Institute at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver. She provides fake therapy and political therapy, and she co-organizes Performing Arts Forum (PAF) in France. Denise and Valentina are members of the online platform ehcho.org. The Sensing Salon has been shown at Kunstverein Hamburg, Kadist (Paris), The Showroom (London), Arika (Glasgow), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Hangar (Lisbon), and Artspeaks (Vancouver) among others.
Meet the Residents Denise Ferreira da Silva and Valentina Desideri
Sarah Demeuse: This is “Meet the Residents”, a series of interviews with Amant’s artists-in-residence, in which we speak, and digress about research, the impact of context on artistic process, serendipity, and making community. Amant is a nonprofit arts organization and residency in North Brooklyn . Our studios are at 306 Maujer, where we host 4 artists for 3 months; one cohort in fall, another one in spring.
My name is Sarah Demeuse, I’m your host and Amant’s Head of Publications.
This is our Fall 2022 season.
Today I am with Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva, who work together as the “Sensing Salon”.
Sarah Demeuse: Valentina and Denise, thanks so much for being here. This is our second season and I’m very excited to be starting with you both. And tell us quickly, where did you join us from?
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I join you from Vancouver, Canada. West end of Canada.
Valentina Desideri: And I’m from living in Lisbon at the moment.
Sarah Demeuse: And. Excellent. So I guess the first question that I have for you two is how did you two start working together? A doing something so precise, having your own practices, living in different places. So it would be great to kind of understand how all of that worked and maybe now is intensified in some way or another.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I can I can start. So when we started working together or both living in Europe, I was living in London, in the U.K., and Valentino was living in France at PAF. And we met in Italy, of all places, at a Fanon, Frantz Fanon conference. And we were having dinner and Valentina was telling me about her practice of Fake Therapy and Political Therapy.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And also she was doing some research on Charlotte on palmistry. Mm hmm. And you can continue.
Valentina Desideri: And then Denise was having a double life as an academic and a secret life as a Tarot reader and astrologer, herbal healing and Reiki and so, of course, we became friends and started to exchange really just doing readings for each other and learning. I was learning the tarot and astrology by reading with Desideri, and then we figured out that reading together was more interesting than reading alone.
Valentina Desideri: And we started to make experiments first, at PAF we started to take people, and we’re there as guinea pigs and trying to do readings.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: I think the first thing we came up with was the question. And the question was how to image ethics with and without the subject to the modern subject. And as we were doing readings, we also realized that we read we read in a particular way.
Valentina Desideri: What does the experiment was? First of all, to mix different layers, so to use different tools every time we have the reading. So one could do a Tarot reading, but then do also Reiki readings or yeah, try this or look at the astrology for a specific event. So to use more than one tool every time we read it.
Valentina Desideri: And being more than one reader, of course. So these were already the two premises when we started to. What happens if we do that? And then as we experimented, we figured out that the subject always came back. Because as we talk to people, then it’s fundamentally about what do I do with this, help?
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Valentina Desideri: And so we tried to devise ways to revisit the subject. So first of all, we formulated this question as our question, our treatment, and we splash out the subject. And then we tried to ask people to tell us about their concerns and their issues they want to read about. We tried to formulate a question that was larger than or more abstract or figuring out whatever, let’s say the ethical dimension of the question they were asking for us so that then we could read for the question.
Sarah Demeuse: And the question basically has remained the same and is going to remain throughout this project in which you finish a set of tarot cards.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yes. Basically, I think the yeah, this deck is the beginning of the onset of the possibility for a new because the way we are designing it, it already it is centered by the subject and. Yeah, yes, I mean that’s all I can say it totally the sound of the eye while at the same time recognizing acknowledging that it’s that the person comes to a reading because of a crisis of some kind of social personal, and that something unravels and they come with pain.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So the deck kind of gets to the pain and stays there, but not as so they say more individual pain, but as a as a general pain.
Sarah Demeuse: So but the subjects you invite in, in a way, they all come with a certain pain, even though that is that is it happens in the reading that that emerges. It’s not like you you are working with a specific type of person with whom you read. Yeah. We all have a pain.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yes. Mm hmm. But what the deck highlights is the general, the commonality of that pain. And then. But that’s what the readings did before.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah, I think it’s interesting because the question stays the same. You know, I saw the outer imagine and it without the subject, it’s the kind of permeating question. It goes through all the iteration and the modification that the practice of ever experienced. So we began with that with the poetical reading. So by reading with different tools for a political question, let’s say, or for a general, general question.
Valentina Desideri: And that was very much an intellectual exercise. We were check. We were basically producing a very complex image through the different tools about the question that was proposed, and we were using it to think together. So to be able to have a conversation about an issue while holding the complexity, as we did those readings, we realized that what was nice was the sociality that reading together implied.
Valentina Desideri: So we started to do the Sensing Salon in which we were teaching other people out of.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Something before, because the sociality meant that even though you come with your question. Yes, by the time we finished reading, the question dissipates. You forget the pain and the question they separate in the process. And because the reading becomes a collective one. And one of the things that we emphasize is that when we read with the deck, we are reading with others who have read before, because like any practice tarot you learn from peoples people practice, and they write about it.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. So that was the focus when I that’s why, you know, the sociality of the Sensing Salon was really like the embodiment of something.
Valentina Desideri: Clearly that was already embedded in all those tools because you learn them from somewhere and that our interpretation and already meaning attached to every symbol, to every planet, to every so yeah, every time you’re reading, you read with all of that and all of those people that have read before you and all the readings you ever done yourself before and all the study of every single person.
Valentina Desideri: So that sociality became then embodied in the Sensing Ssalon when we started to do more, longer gathering. So we told people basically how to read on how we approach reading astrology Tarot, initiating everybody to Reiki, and then doing study groups, mixing those tools to do collective exercise. And, and then, and when the pandemic hit, a few years later, then we also started to do individual readings because then the pain kind of came back.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So people came twice asking for readings.
Valentina Desideri: And I think this one continues from that point because if at the beginning, you know, the intellectual exercise allowed us to separate the question and the pain so that we could have an intellectual speculation on what was going on. Now, through these forums and through this back. And the pain is back. The necessity to feel that pain and to bring together the thinking and the feeling of this pain is something that’s happening through death.
Sarah Demeuse: So you are sitting here and on the table in front of us is kind of a schematic as well as a longer kind of list of descriptions. This is, I imagine, a way of finding an image for a certain card. Could you walk me through it, how it works, so that I, I kind of understand your process of thinking of that image.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Okay. So here we have one of the major arcana, the magician. And as we… So, maybe we should tell the story about how we came to this point. Yeah. So it was back the beginning of 2018, 19, it was beginning of 19.
Valentina Desideri: I think. Was it? And then oh my God.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah, to be 4 years more. Almost five years. A friend of ours, Jason Dodge.
Sarah Demeuse: Aha.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: He sent an email to both of us like I met this poet Ai Ogawa and looking through the poems and I think it has everything to do with what you do with the tarot. Yeah. And with but no he sent this the book he sent this the collected poems of Ai and we, we, we, we read the poems and we just like, wow, we are.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So let’s do a.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah, I think we do that tarot reading to understand what, why does this feel so important and what do we need to do? And I remember from the reading were like, Oh my God, this is all tarot deck. So we decided we have to make pairings between 78 poems and 78 cards, and we did so for each card, for each of the 78 cards of the tarot deck.
Valentina Desideri: We paired them with the poem. We did a total reading, asking all to read this card, and then we did the Reiki readings. So we adopted the Reiki treatment, but asking question to the card and kind of taking note of any images or yeah, always keeping the question how to read this card in this deck. So we took notes of this is the Reiki one part is the notes of the how we read the tarot and we kept doing it for 78.
Sarah Demeuse: So this stack here is for all the poems.
Valentina Desideri: This is for the major arcana. And then this one to all the trees, you know, all the aces, all the tools. These are compensation of the all the trees, the major acana, our arcanas, their secrets, their mysteries.
Sarah Demeuse: And these were also paired with a poem and yeah, yes.
Valentina Desideri: Each of them were with a poem. So for each card, we did this process, but we have these kinds of notes only for the major arcana. Yeah. I mean, we have them recorded and we have them digitally, like digital notes, the image, the poems and the reiki. But now we’re trying to condense that. It’s a lot of information.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes. How long I mean, how long does it take to do one card? It depends. I guess.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: It depends. As it’s many hours for this class. Yeah, yeah. Many, many hours because we go back. So now, for instance, we’re doing readings for the Major Arcana during the residency. So we have 22 artists and we are reading, doing readings for them. And those readings will give us a key to one particular major arcana that we only light and which one is as we are doing the readings.
Valentina Desideri: We don’t invite people, expect, okay, can you come and be the magician. Yeah, we just invite you and if we know it makes sense.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Given information about that.
Valentina Desideri: And then we just do a reading. But as you come with whatever concern or things that are happening in this moment, we realize, oh, that is the magician. That could be a question for the magician. So we do a reading for you, but is at the same time also reading.
Sarah Demeuse: I see. Yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And out of this process we will create the images that those feelings are doing now.
Sarah Demeuse: And how did you how did you configure those 22 or perhaps that’s still growing as you are here? Who who comes in for readings?
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We basically we thought of people. Yeah, it’s like we want we have read for them most and one person.
Sarah Demeuse: Sorry it’s always one person.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: One person for each. Yeah.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But we don’t know which one. Yeah, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s funny isn’t it. Because we are learning things as they happen.
Valentina Desideri: We what belie it. Yeah. For example when we applied many of the people we had been reading with them for there in New York and they been New York based artist and friends. So what we initially thought when we applied is that all we’re going to do, study group, we’re going to do readings with people just as a test reading.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. And then by the time we arrived here through other processes, it became clear that it’s like, Oh no, we have to read for 22 women artists. And so then it became collapsing by 22 people that we know and that it’s a very you know, it’s not such an easy process to explain, you know, it’s much easier to do then and you talk about it.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Valentina Desideri: So I think it was important and it’s people that more or less know what is going on right. For somebody, you know, private to come with your question.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. So it’s it seems that there really is a system in place. But here, perhaps with the readings with the people who come, you said a lot of things happen. I wonder if one reading really shapes the following one. You know, how cards flow kind of into each other in that sense.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, so far what we realize well, yeah, just the obvious things because we have read for what eight people. So we know that, you know, the ones coming out of the cards, we haven’t read 40, right? So yes, that’s one thing. And then if we take the major arcana, they kind of you have groupings.
Sarah Demeuse: And how are you taking notes on your process now?
Valentina Desideri: Oh, I’m taking notes. Well, it takes notes.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. I made.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: The maps, I put.
Valentina Desideri: The question and then I make the notes of all the you know, all the cards that came up. And then how I would read them. And then afterwards I take small notes, but also devise the kind of grammar.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: To the.
Valentina Desideri: Notes, because there’s a way of reading those positions. For example, this, this, this, this position is what is manifested. That is what is expressed. So we can say that the hangman manifests these and is expressed like this, you know, so there is a kind of construction of a sentence. Yeah. So I try to write short rather relatively short notes that keep the same grammar.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And, and this way of reading that Valentina was describing is something that we devise, which is we created it as we’re working on this tarot deck. So it’s not. Yeah, it’s not you know the usual Celtic cross positions, but we actually divided into four and we can construct, describe the relationships in a different way.
Sarah Demeuse: And you knew this from the beginning, that you weren’t going to use the Celtic Cross like you were looking for configurations that would make work for,
Valentina Desideri: No, I mean this is also the Celtic Cross because this is the positions of the Celtic Cross.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But they played it differently. It is as if we added a layer.
Sarah Demeuse: Aha.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So in addition to reading you know, the positions as they are traditionally we have another map of the bleed. Okay. Position that with superimposed. Yeah. And that allows us to make the connections that were launched in that way saying so we basically we can write a couple of sentences from the relationships which are the spatial. So this is how the so this about the question, right?
Valentina Desideri: We hope to finish the interpretations for the major arcana. So to complete the 22 readings and to complete the sentences about them, because of course, every time, you know, today we read for the world.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes.
Valentina Desideri: So whatever definition we had for the world is going to be inflected and changed by the reading we had. So we read, right. We read rewrite. So there is this process like forming the sentences and especially considering the structure of the sentences we are developing for each card. So I think if we are able to finish the 22.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We will like.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. Before this resonance it would be amazing. And then we would have element for of the image. What kind of images comes through the readings, through the Reiki and then we will have to the next step is going to be how to draw these images.
Sarah Demeuse: Mm hmm.
Valentina Desideri: And then write the interpretations, longer interpretation, explanation for each card and then the introductory text and then make a booklet and a deck for circulation.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Right. So by I think by the end of our time here, you’ll have finished this, the major arcana and we’ll have completed these, you know, the minor arcana. They might not have gone out.
Sarah Demeuse: I wonder to what degree working here during the Reading Series differently. First of all, for example, I was impressed that you’re doing 22 readings in three months. It’s very hard to schedule, people say, around here. So maybe there’s there’s a notion of time that is different here as well. Why you do it when you do your readings. And I also feel maybe over here, I mean, I know we all are in touch with people who are all over, but perhaps there is a different sensibility, sensibility vis a vis, say, tarot or Reiki over here.
Sarah Demeuse: Maybe it’s more commercial. I don’t know. I’m just curious to hear how you’re feeling all of this questions, the contextual ones.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, it’s biased because we have reading for friends what they want. Yeah. So that we have known for a while now. So yeah we, we go have you know dinner with them and that’s what we do bathing with that. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So with Camilla, when we did the first one which gave us the key the fall, we Camilla Marambio is doing.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: She is a curator from Chile and she’s doing some work with MoMA on five, I think five South American artists. And one of them is Lygia Clark. And a few months ago, Camilla wanted to do something around the Lygia Clark with us, you know, let’s do something. Yeah. And then since we were coming, she thought, okay, so we can go to the MoMA and sit there and look at the work and, you know, do and we did.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We spent an hour before they opened the museum. We had access. We sat in front of one of Lisa Clarke’s pieces and we did a waiting for Camilla and Lygia Clark. Okay. And that was how it started, actually. Yeah.
Valentina Desideri: And given that the piece she chose was Cocoon number two, which Camilla explained to us was a transition piece from the abstract to the relational object. And we began talking about transition and as a kind of metamorphosis. And we talked about, oh, that’s how we began reading the fool. So I was clear that the reading we were doing for Camilla and for Lygia was a reading for the card on the fool.
Valentina Desideri: And that’s how we figured out we need to do this for every single major arcana.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So that goes to your question about context. It wouldn’t have been this way had we not been here because that changed the whole thing. Yeah. That the from there was. But all we will invite to anyone that is and we’ll do readings for them. So yes, I mean this way the deck is very much a New York New Yorker.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah, it’s very true. It’s very specific. Part of New York. Yeah. Yeah. So I, I also wonder to what degree being together here for a longer time might, might influence your work, too? It seems that you, you, you go through phases of intensity being together, and then maybe when you’re further away, you work on the notes. I’m kind of curious of these ebbs and flows between you.
Sarah Demeuse: And that also leads me to the question of what do you understand as research? Because there is a lot of active reading with people that happens that is there also other research that comes in? I mean, I know you’re an academic and there’s many other practices also that you’re involved with, Valentina. So give us a sense of that other layer around it.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, I can speak to to the time, so I moved to Canada almost eight years ago. That meant that we only saw each other like for a short period of time, maybe maximum. What I think during the pandemic, we’re lucky because Valentina was in Vancouver for a long time, three months that they got stuck that she and her boyfriend.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So we could work so and then we did most of the work via zoom before the Skype and then after the pandemic became Zoom. So being here at the same time, it’s fantastic because actually we have the time that we sit, you know, here or at my place or her place to do these. But then we also have the time.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: But it just walking and talking about about the work and yeah, just having these different moments in which we yeah, we can think, do the work, think about what we have done and come back and. Yeah, but in terms of yeah these you see when you ask your asking about research but yeah, so the readings we are doing, we are doing with these blanks, right.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So we.
Sarah Demeuse: they’re just blank cards that have the name of the card written.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And on it and the numbers. Yeah. So as we read it for people we like, the images are not there. Yeah. But we are doing readings. So everything that we know that I have read all the different decks they all come into these reading precisely because it’s not, you know, it’s not given to us, it’s given we have the question and we have them, you know, and we have the pieces of paper.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So in that way, the research we have done is now coming back in the building of these decks as research while, you know, like, okay, maybe I can see our practice, our previous practice now come to the creation of this desk as research materials.
Sarah Demeuse: Right? Okay. Yeah. Because everything that you have, your experience, your research, everything in a way that you are archiving comes in it. It’s even like your bodily experiences and sensations and whatnot. No, this is a very impressive process. So iterative. Yeah, I guess. Yeah. It’s a little bit like life. Everything you do influences everything else to such an incredible degree.
Valentina Desideri: So it’s also different rendering of create even in that and it’s not up to you. So that’s the removal of the subject. Also in the process of making.
Sarah Demeuse: Having some kind of stated goal of something. Yes.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: No, we are really we are moving with where the poems have taken those and each reading takes us somewhere else and we just respond. Even the emotional process, because during the 2020 to 2020, 20 people came to us asking for readings. And then I think was this year we realized that things happened in our lives separately that prepared us to do the next step.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: You could understand now why you know why something, why to make some move. Yeah, everything.
Sarah Demeuse: So yeah, in a way it also reflects back onto you then. Yeah. Right.
Valentina Desideri: Yeah. Well, it’s not a process, you know, it comes through and we all have to live through this.
Sarah Demeuse: Yes, yes. Yeah. So you’ve explained of your process and what you’re doing here at the residency. There’s one question that I always ask people is whether you have questions for Amant. In a way, I want this conversation to come cycle through as well, so that there is kind of something that we learned through this. So I wonder if there’s anything.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Well, I’m curious about how beyond, you know, beyond what’s what’s in the the website and other than the written things, we haven’t seen that how how this residency came about, you know, primarily because of, you know, the welcoming of process how yeah. So what’s, how it comes about in terms of what, what is the expectation from your point of view, not from the artist but from your foundation.
Sarah Demeuse: The expectations? I think they’re it’s hard to say no, because we are we are interested in supporting research, helping people do that research in whatever form it takes so that means that we don’t we don’t need objects or show objects. But in a way, at least from my perspective, it’s really thinking of what kind of conversation we can have.
Sarah Demeuse: And not only while you’re here, but later on, too, because even if if you are across the street and you may see us less than you think, there is a crossfit that happens. So that’s, I think, one of the kind of expectations or unconscious kind of motivations to have to have that. And then secondly, I think there is already so much emphasis around us on seeing things and showing, exhibiting.
Sarah Demeuse: And by that I mean finished objects that then circulate in a market. And this is kind of to do not to not participate in that kind of circulation. And that’s also why we are still trying to figure out how the residency relates or informs an exhibition program, because in that program we obviously have an exhibition space in which there are objects shown.
Sarah Demeuse: Also, how can we further think of the cross lines between them without making it all about seeing objects? Like how? How can we live with more research in that sense, something that is in, you know, in the making. So that’s that’s where it is. And I think the residency was an art or is an original point of a starting point for this whole thing.
Sarah Demeuse: There are a lot of studios around here, so it’s kind of it’s part of an ecosystem that already exists. So but yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah, it’s interesting because of the nature of this process, you have other people involved in what’s happening here, like even if you don’t know where they are interactively in terms of the readings we’re doing, but we’re doing readings for people who are, you know, in the way part of this conversation, when we do our public events, that will be reflected in in.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah. And I mean, I think it’s also, you know, how do you make these other people visible or that all of part of how you will mediate, very much so. And so to get back just to talk to the deck that you’re making here, the idea is actually to finish this deck right when you are just as I’m saying, we are not interested in the Venetian mask at your mouth, you know, but just to understand kind of the arc of your of your stay here.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. So will have we will not have the images, the final images, funny the cards, but instead of a blank, we’ll have like we have that once we have something like this, we’re looking at blank tarot cards with handwritten sort of definitions which all these we did. When did we do? Like a year ago. Yeah. For the major arcana.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Those are the major of. So those these is going to change because we are doing all of this new reading. So we’ll have these like printouts.
Sarah Demeuse: And these are the sentences that you were talking about. Yes. Yep.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: We’ll come up and that’s what we planned this.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: So you have these for all 78 cards basically.
Sarah Demeuse: Right.
Valentina Desideri: And then we will need to work more to do the images, still relatively a long process, but it’s coming to a realization.
Sarah Demeuse: And then you would use those cards in future Sensing Salon.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: Yeah. Yes. So the first the first draft of the cards we are going to use at the Singapore Biennial in March, right. We have an installation, and we’ll do the activation with the card, which will be something like this, right? I mean, it’s not going to be finished up.
Sarah Demeuse: Yeah.
Denise Ferreira da Silva: And yeah. So the plan is to have the deck and the book.
Sarah Demeuse: Wow, excellent. We definitely have to get some here. Practice. And well, thank you both!
Both Thank you.
Sarah Demeuse: Thanks for listening, in our next episode I talk with Ayo.
Our theme music is composed by Silas Edgar, who also recorded the conversations. Sound editing and engineering is by Isaac Silber. Finally, we’re also thankful to our residents, for letting us into their studios, their process and for finding time in their tight schedules.