Jointly developed by M HKA and the KU Leuven, this long-term, interdisciplinary research project focuses on a specific, yet complex body of work; multifaceted and variably installable, unfinished and open-ended: Ship of Fools / The Dockers' Museum (2010-2013) by artist and theorist Allan Sekula (1951-2013). Informed by the research of the team members, the project continues to evolve in a succession of research outputs, such as this digital platform.


This international scientific conference takes the US artist, theoretician, critic, teacher and poet Allan Sekula’s Ship of Fools / The Dockers’ Museum (2010–2013) as its point of departure. At the very end of his life Sekula produced this unfinished, multifaceted and variably installable work of art, which contains ca. 1250 objects. Focusing on dock workers and seafarers, Sekula’s Ship of Fools / The Dockers’ Museum paid tribute to all the joined, past efforts of human labor now irretrievably lost in history — a struggle he identified as: “Sisyphean.” In doing so, Sekula wished to provide a message of hope: his last work contributes to imagining possible forms of solidarity in a globalized economy confronted evermore with its own limitations. The conference’s participants will discuss both Sekula’s oeuvre and works by other contemporary artists whose approach dialogues with his seminal legacy.

Conference Themes

The conference is organized around three thematic sections.     
- Collecting Folly    
- Maritime Failures and Imaginaries    
- Critical Realism in Dialogue

Each forms a separate session that opens up to contemporary art engaging with Sekula's influential method of making artwork as "disassembled plays" - a term he connected to the work of Bertolt Brecht, and which served to indicate that he demands a substantial productive and temporal input from the spectators who are experiencing his works.

Keynote Speakers

W.J.T. Mitchell (University of Chicago)

Marco Poloni (artist, Berlin)

Conference Schedule


I. Collecting Folly // Thursday 2 March 2017

Afternoon Chair: Nav Haq (M HKA)

Evening Chair: Nicola Setari (LUCA School of Arts)

13h00: Welcome and registration      

13h30: Bart De Baere (M HKA) & Hilde Van Gelder (KU Leuven)  - Presentation of the general theme of the conference and short introduction         

14h00: Carles Guerra (Fundació Antoni Tàpies/Pompeu Fabra University) - Mad Geography: Space Games in Allan Sekula's Photographic Practice          

14h30: Edwin Carels (KASK/UGent/M HKA) - Reassembling Vrielynck           

15h00: Bart De Baere (M HKA) & Anja Isabel Schneider (M HKA/KU Leuven) - Allan Sekula: the Double Helix of an Activist Stance and of Curating. A Recitative.         

15h30: Discussion         

16h00: Break         

16h30: Ronnie Close (The American University, Cairo) - Parallax Error: Paradigms of Photographic Image Censorship in Egypt       

17h00: Stefanie Diekmann (Hildesheim University) - The Stuff in the Studio: on Chris Larson's "Land speed record"         

17h30: Discussion          

18h00: Closing of the afternoon session and break           

18h30: W.J.T. Mitchell (University of Chicago) - Keynote address: Planetary Madness: Allan Sekula's Ship of Fools          

19h30: Barbara Baert (KU Leuven) - Response and discussion             

20h00: End of the first day         


II. Maritime Failures and Imaginaries // Friday 3 March 2017

Morning chair: Katarzyna Ruchel-Stockmans (VUB)           

Afternoon chair: Liesbeth Decan (LUCA School of Arts)       

9h00: Welcome        

9h30: Marco Poloni (Artist) - Keynote Lecture Performance: The Sea Rejected Me          

10h30: Alexander Streitberger (Université catholique de Louvain) - Response and discussion     

11h00: Break        

11h15: Clara Masnatta (ICI Berlin) - Lois Patiño's "Coast of Death" (2013) and Leviathan (2012) by Véréna Paravel and Lucien Taylor as Amphibious Cinema          

11h45: Anthony Abiragi (University of Colorado, Boulder) - Photography in an Age of Asymmetry          

12h15: Discussion             

12h45: Lunch break           

13h45: Jeroen Verbeeck (KU Leuven) - Le Docker Noir: Some Notes on Things Left Unsaid in the Work of Allan Sekula           

14h15: Jonathan Stafford (Nottingham Trent University) - Representing Capital as Flow: The Ship as Logistical Image and Maritime Catastrophe         

14h45: Stephanie Schwartz (University College London) - The Face of Protest         

15h15: Discussion            

15h45: Break             

16h00: Sally Stein (UC Irvine) - Some Maritime Reflections from the Notebooks of Allan Sekula          

16h30: Kristen Oehlrich (The Clark Art Institute) - Reading Allan Sekula's Library         

17h00: Roundtable discussion between Sally Stein (UC Irvine), Kristen Oehlrich (The Clark Art Institute) and Ina Steiner (Allan Sekula Studio), moderated by Hilde Van Gelder (KU Leuven)- Disclosing Allan Sekula's Archive and Library          

18h00: Closing of the session          


III. Critical Realism in Dialogue // Saturday 4 March 2017

Chair: Stefanie Diekmann (Hildesheim University)

9h00: Welcome          

9h30: Benjamin Young (UC Berkeley/NYU) - "Decolonize This Place": Realism and Humanism in Photography of Israel-Palestine              

10h00: Alexander Streitberger (Université catholique de Louvain) - Victor Burgin. Towards a Psychical Realism

10h30: Discussion          

11h00: Break             

11h30: Steve Edwards (Birkbeck, University of London) & Gail Day (University of Leeds) - Differential Time and Aesthetic Form: Uneven and Combined Capitalism in the Work of Allan Sekula          

12h15: Discussion        

12h45: Conclusion - Closing of the conference by Hilde Van Gelder (KU Leuven)      

13h00: End of the conference        

This conference was made possible through the generous support of the KU Leuven Research Fund, the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO), FNRS, INCAL/CERTA UCL, OJO and YouReCa KU Leuven, the Allan Sekula Studio, the Clark Art Institute, and M HKA.

“Disassembled Images”: Contemporary Art After Allan Sekula is organized by the Lieven Gevaert Research Centre for Photography, Art, and Visual Culture (KU Leuven – Université catholique de Louvain) and M HKA, Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen. It was made possible through the generous support of the KU Leuven Research Fund, the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO), FNRS, INCAL/CERTA UCL, the Faculty of Arts, OJO and YouReCa KU Leuven, the Allan Sekula Studio the Clark Art Institute, and M HKA.

All images © M HKA and Allan Sekula Studio