A consideration of projects from the FUNDBÜRO

art research initiative


Cynthia Kros, Georges Pfruender



This exposition takes the form of an interim report from the research initiative FUNDBÜRO (Lost Property Office), launched in 2011. As such, the report functions as a construction site, which affords opportunities to survey the terrain opened up by excavation and to consider how the foundations are being laid for a longer-term project. This larger project is formatted as a cross-African research initiative, investigating the modern from perspectives of the global South and will commence in earnest later this year (2015).


FUNDBÜRO was conceived as a project between two groups of artists/researchers in two distant cities – one in Europe with its roots in antiquity, the other in Southern Africa with little more than a century’s history as an urban agglomeration – as a way of evaluating the impact of distance. Hardly coincidentally, the historical Fundbüro as Lost/Found Property Office was established in its current form to cope with objects that were waylaid (we allowed for the agency of objects) while their owners were engaged in pursuits associated with those fundamentally modern institutions – museums, amusement parks, and schools or high-speed travel. The FUNDBÜRO is characteristic of the modern in its attempt to contain the displacement and dislocation that have been produced by the industrial, technological, and digital revolutions, its application to introducing order through a classificatory system and the inventory, and the promise it holds out for reuniting owner and object. Invariably, even the most rigorous classificatory system proves itself unequal to the task and it is unusual for owner and object to find each other again in a simple and unchanged state.


The more we investigated, the more we learnt about the complexity of FUNDBÜRO in its dimensions as a physical as well as a virtual space of collecting and exchanging both ideas and objects. These include:

  • connecting found objects or concepts to understandings of local and located praxis
  • understanding the dynamics of the collective played out at distance and testing tools for investigating distance
  • thinking about notions of time lapses, lack of simultaneity, possibilities for different understandings linked to work on distance; considering the instability of meaning as we undertake cumulative art actions and as we analyse re-actions


Found objects/concepts investigated in FUNDBÜRO are subjected to a two-fold discovery process. So often cancelled out in our consciousness by the (false) sense of proximity generated by the digital revolution, distance becomes a core topic of research for FUNDBÜRO. As a productive matter of concern, it carries new potentials with regard to formats and the content of art projects, which are, after initial consideration, revisited in the locations of the research partners.


Through the presentation of three art projects, we will discuss here a range of strategies and methods we adopted to work over distance/with distance. The projects we discuss were contributions from South Africa in dialogue with work undertaken in Lyon, France, by a group of researchers associated with the Wits School of Arts (WSOA) at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) in Johannesburg and DataData, a postgraduate research centre linked to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de Beaux-Arts (ENSBA) in Lyon. The contributing team includes Cynthia Kros, Donna Kukama, Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Jyoti Mistry, Khutjo Green, Tshego Khutsoane, Mwenya Kabwe, and Vanessa Cooke (all associated with WSOA) and Nicolas Baduraux, Nicolas Frespech, Nicolas Romarie, Mathilde Penet, and Samuel Dématraz (associated with ENSBA or other European institutions). The programme is co-curated by Catherine Beaugrand and Georges Pfruender. We held two face-to-face workshops, one in Lyon at ENSBA in February 2013 and the other at the end of the same year in nearby Valence at the time of the Lyon Biennial.

The three art projects are as follows:

  1. Visiting the literal spaces of Fundbüros in the city of Johannesburg and finding objects or traces of objects, which generate narratives shadowed by violence, radical loss, and struggles (comic as well as tragic) to articulate new identities.
  2. A series of field notes developed to record our observations in relation to the theoretical texts we have been reading, with an obvious debt both to the discipline of anthropology and to its reflexive turn.
  3. I had a Dream, developed out of an earlier exercise in ‘chop shopping’ that explored the tactics of survival adopted by migrants in the inner city, focusing on questions of process, authorship, the encounter of different value systems, and transformative art actions.

Our theoretical reading has been fairly broad and, until now, rather Eurocentric. Bruno Latour’s continuing questioning of what it means to be modern has been very influential; our notions of collections and collecting owe something to Jean Baudrillard. We have turned to Walter Benjamin – not so much to the famous Arcades project, other than indirectly through the influences that shaped Bettina Malcomess and Dorothee Kreutzfeldt’s Johannesburg collection, Not No Place, but more to his apprehension about the changing nature of the relationship between objects and people and the seriousness with which he treated the telling of dreams – and to Michel de Certeau and others’ detailed observations about the tactics adopted by ordinary people to survive harsh urban regimes. We also followed Durs Grünbein’s beautifully evoked struggles to understand the relationship between reality and poetic imagination and relied on Pierre Fédida’s musing on absence when thinking of a ‘space in-between’.

The principal art productions that have inspired us include Addis Ababa: The Enigma of the Modern, curated by Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, and Zen Marie’s various public art projects, which map territory and allow for a discovery of the city as ‘mindscape’ rather than ‘landscape’. Our work was also informed by Catherine Beaugrand’s virtual/real urban game set-up Sugoroku.


It will also become clear in the course of the text that we have been reading some of the musings of the great anthropologists on the nature of their discipline and the kinds of distance it affords them, particularly those of James Clifford and Claude Lévi-Strauss. We are not, of course, the first to think of bringing ethnographic practices and analogies into art production and note in this regard, for example, Kaisu Koski’s (2014) remarks on her sense of herself as an ethnographer addressing and experimenting with certain manifestations of distance.

FUNDBÜRO has created both a concrete and a virtual platform for the presentation of collaborative work and critical exchange. It also wishes, through acts of testing and creating, to promote further theorising of subjects central to the collective, which we will take forward in the larger project mentioned at the outset. The larger project will, hopefully, also model collaborative methodologies and narrative strategies, contributing to the much-needed reform of arts education, particularly in the South.

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Image: Catherine Beaugrand/Georges Pfruender/Samuel Dématraz