“the freedom to acquire new knowledge and experiences blossoms in the curious mind and the non-normalized perception.”

Yael Wicki (CH/CHL)
is an artist, curator and writer working and living in Zurich, Switzerland. Her practice is multidiciplinary and thinks through the subjects: order vs. disorder, emotions, navigation and neo-rationalist philosophy.

For the exhibition 'Intimate Estrangement she will put a rolled sod (dt. Rollrasen) over the floor of the exhibition space under pink plant lights in form of stiplights, creating an alienated space to reflect on limits / limitations, real and constructed.

Yael Wicki, When systems fail we feel a tingling of freedom on the top of our nose / how to dis- order our Self’s, Mikro 2020
Yael Wicki, When systems fail we feel a tingling of freedom on the top of our nose / how to dis- order our Self’s, Mikro 2020
Yael Wicki, How to dis- order our Self’s, Performance during ZAW, Mikro 2020


1. What work are you presenting?
YW: I’m presenting the work ‘When systems fail we feel a tingling of freedom on the top of our nose / how to dis- order our Self’s’ For that we cover the whole floor of the exhibition space with rolled sod (Rollrasen) underneath pink grow lamps. In a second step I’ll activate the space through a spoken performance reflecting Constructive Alienation, System theory and Queer Phenomenology through a phenomenological analysis.

2. What is your personal approach to your art works?
YW: My work is very much based on my own experience and perception, regarding my mental health condition and the systematic and energy based limitations I face as a person, but also about the moments of emancipation, when we have to let go of the known and get to experiment with the possible. In that sense I like to work with installations that integrate the visitor actively, creating a feedback loop in perception between the visitors experience, the given space and the research I talk about in my performances or texts.

3. What is alien to you?
YW: Alien to me is the unknown, which has huge potential to create new knowledge. Hypothesis about the unknown creates fruitful encounters with what can be / is possible through experiment and play. Because we don’t know it, we can only approach it slowly. Interaction and time will make it familiar and known. To be or feel alienated can be a chance to invoke change, in behaviour / systems / relationships through re-evaluation and re-adjustment, this I perceive as an important emancipatory methodology.

4. How do you change perspective?
YW: I’m changing perspective through talking with different people and listening or reading through their ideas and perceptions. And through switching constantly between the intuitive and the rational within myself, trying to perceive not just the way i’m used to, but on more different levels. Awareness therapy has helped me a lot with that and had a huge impact on my perception and flexibility regarding possible perspectives.


I’m writing from the perspective of a person that lives with a mental disorder, that is based on a trauma, the exact root causes of which I couldn’t figure out yet. In my family there is politically caused displacement from western asia to south america to europe. In my family there is history of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Some of it might have settled into my DNA causing (part of) my disorder (1). Understanding how to live with this disorder and how to translate this to methodologies for navigating states of crisis / disorder, finding ways of emancipation towards freedom in it, is what fuels my research and artistic work.

Let’s say an exhibition space represents a system. Each exhibition appropriates this space to talk about a specific concept, through one or several voices, from one or several perspectives. I’ve chosen a first person perspective, not speaking about or for others, just sharing my own experience instead, untangling and visualising political and structural problematics and entering a multi system complexity from a local point of view, my point of view.

I’ve chosen to talk about disorder as my entry point into this system, as this is what I have experienced through-out the last 15-20 years (and maybe much longer), what I've lived and what I’ve researched. It has defined my being and thinking. It is part of who I am right now.

Living with a mental disorder puts for me into question what ‘disorder’ is and what it is to be ‘in order’. It further raises the questions: what are norms or standards and who decides them? To what aim are they defined? And for whom? The short answer to the second last questions would be: to govern society. The long answer I will address another time, as this is a more complex structural issue that needs more time to be dedicated to, to be dis- ordered (2).

I’ve chosen to put a rolled sod (dt. Rollrasen) into this system / over the floor of the exhibition space that is Mikro, Zürich. By bringing nature inside I'm asking: where is the limit between outside and inside? Where is the border, if there is even one? And how natural is what we perceive as nature really? This grass floor is especially designed and typically used for football plays or for fancy gardens that want this clean cut look and materiality. It’s production demands for quite some human labour, money and time. So i’m asking: where is the limit between natural and unnatural? And: does that even matter? How are the terms ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ used and what is their story? Disorders have often been attributed to be ‘unnatural’, but are they really? Or could they not just be ‘natural’ outcomes of structural problems (3) or of changes in specific systems? Let this be a question to reflect on – together.

In addition and to help nurture the rolled out sod, being planted on the inside and not the outside landscape it was designed for, I will install plant lights with a special pink coloring in the form of striplights. This type of plant light I’ve used privately for many years, as I started to accumulate plants in my student room. The plants – seeing them grow and flourish – helped me to be more at ease navigating my depression in my everyday life. I didn’t manage to kill them, which gave me a bit of confidence, that I couldn't be all that bad.

Nowadays these plant lights come in different forms, shapes and price classes. When I started using them, I discovered them by accident in a hardware store looking for striplights. When I saw a striplight that was called FLUORA and meant to be helping plant growth I was intrigued. It didn’t cost much, so it fit my budget and I bought it to try it out.
Also I was intrigued by the fact that it was a striplight, a light that was usually used in big corporate offices to enhance the productivity of its workers through its white bright light – imitating day light. And now I would use a striplight to enhance productivity of the plants in my room, as if they were my office workers? That was a funny thought to me, as my own productive energy was rather low at that point.

Having little to no extra energy for many years due to my mental instability, I’ve started to try things on hunches without much research, saving my resources and just seeing what happens. (The economy of energy spent navigating living with a disorder is a key subject for people with disabilities. See for example Miserandino, Christine. “The Spoon Theory Written by Christine Miserandino.” and Johanna Hedva’s “Sick Woman Theory”.)
In this example, what I found for myself was that this pink light was not only helping my plants, it made me feel less depressed, too. Just a bit. Just enough to notice. Maybe it’s just my mind telling me it has a positive effect. But already that is a positive outcome in itself. It really did enhance my productivity and wellbeing a bit. So I started to ask myself, how much skills and hacks can I find this way, just experimenting on hunches, that help me navigate my mental health imbalances with more ease, ease them, navigate them more effortlessly? And could this be translated into a methodology?
Navigating my mental disorder itself has been nothing else than a sort of dead-reckoning (4) through a sea of uncertainty. A lot of decisions have to be made on a hunch, on estimations of momentary situations. When the norm of my health – the norm I was used to, from myself – fell away, navigating life itself became an uncertain experiment based on hunches and estimations, referencing the known, the ‘still working’. But being in this unplanned and unexpected situation, when my being refuses to be ‘normal’ –– the norm I was used to, from myself – feeling alienated (5) and alien from my Self made me much more aware of everything around and inside me, as if I became the stage of a theater play of Berthold Brecht (6). All my senses are sharpened by a feeling of emergency (7). They turn to the right now, the immediate, that, what is at work, stripped to their bare bones, because it’s the only thing of which my Self can be sure in that particular moment. Everything around me becomes defined by ‘I can’ or ‘I can’t’. And I notice my body shifting around these new perceived limitations, slowly, carefully, trying to adjust to them, breath by breath. And like a child I have to attempt again and again, fall down and get up, several times, until I understand how my Self works with the world around it under this new condition of not-functioning-as-I’m-used-to / as-is-to-be-expected-of-me.
All of a sudden I have to learn to perceive which borders are real limitations and which ones are not, because when regular paths don’t work anymore, I have to find new ones to get to the same goals and outcomes. And not everything is or functions as it seems on the first glance. But honestly, would we ever try otherwise, as in those moments of ‘dys- functioning’ / disorder, where we have no other choice but to abandon the expected and the known, to look for different and new approaches of being, thinking, navigating? Is it not those painful, energy consuming and alienating moments (8) revealing the problematics at hand that can lead us to change?

Exactly those are the moments that ask for radical honesty towards our Self’s and the world we perceive around us, those moments of total merging with the situation at hand, that nevertheless can become a choice for emancipation. This is where I want to go here: pointing out a methodology for emancipating our Self’s from false limitation by using this already existing feeling of alienation! This unruly feeling of alienation rumbling in our tummies can be used constructively as a tool to question the norm, the standards, the ratio, its use in statistics and how it defines the rules, bodies and systems of the society we part-take. It can point out why we don’t feel ‘normal’ / oppressed and question if we even should. It can reveal structures / rules that never consider us all as being fully human, as being flawed, unpredictable and vulnerable and try to standardize us, norm us, simplify us, idealise us by posing limits that are not given limitations, but demand from us a specific way of being / acting / thinking / navigating under the pretext of regulation and politics.

When we forgo what we are supposed to be able to do and just try-out what we can do, our way of navigating the space around us changes radically. We stop doing for the sake of doing and start doing for the sake of being able to do it. We emancipate our Self’s from the known towards the possible. The appreciation towards every move we can take will never be bigger, as well as the chances of (re-)discovering ways of being, freed from restrictions and expectation that are not real limitations, but rules that are supposed to understand and regulate us, our life’s, our bodies, our geographies, our thoughts, our affections – but are not.

Through alienating ourselves from the given, the norm, the standard, activated by a local rupture (like my disorder, like a crisis, like a major change), a dis- ordering, re-reading, re-ordering of that given is set in motion. This recursive moment of manipulation and construction is an investigative moment, a way to get to know the system of inquiry better – in a self-fulfilling, destinal way (9): What is possible is possible. This is how the production of concept(ion) takes place, through understanding what is possible, what can be done nevertheless the limiting seeming circumstances. And what can be done, can be done!

The position of alienation might not feel good, but it’s there where friction or the rupture happens, right there, where we are irritated, annoyed, uncomfortable, where we are moved to dis- agree, to dis- engage and to dis- order our Self’s from the situation or system at hand, in order to get ahead, that we access and grow our knowledge to change our position and perspective in an emancipatory way and enlarge our field of navigation / possible action – this is an epistemological revolution that can turn into a structural revolution.

In this sense ‘When Systems Fail we Feel a Tingling of Freedom on the Top of our Nose / How to dis- order our Self’s’ is an installation conceived as a system to experiment with – together. It is a starting point for localised, transdisciplinary (re-)readings, as we (re-)scann – together – histories, thinkings and feelings through conditions of language, politics and society through multiple positions and perspectives while walking over this inside landscape of rolled sod under pink growth enhancing plant light, thinking through different possibilities of constructive alienation and navigation in an alienated world (verfremdete Welt: Brecht) – creating concept(ion) – together.

Videostill of the performance 'Violence (blue)', Yael Wicki, 2013

The performance trilogy researches the violence of societal norms upon the Self.

Sketch for the performance 'How to dis- order one's Self' for the Estrangement Sessions at Mikro, Zürich, 2020

Refering to the exhibition space as a system and the artistic work as a singular perspective of this system.

(1) https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20190326-what-is-epigenetics, https://www.news.uzh.ch/en/articles/2018/inherited-trauma.html

(2) Turning the word dis- order into an emancipatory action (and not a negative perceived state of being) I use this wording as followed:
‘dis-’ is a prefix that produces a related word or an inflectional form of a word, through a turning point, a turning around of meaning, indicating, either reversal, negation, removal or release, sometimes through expressive intensive force. ‘order’ as a transitive verb arranges, commands or regulates one state into another.

(3) Quoted from Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory:
Ann Cvetkovich writes: “What if depression, in the Americas, at least, could be traced to histories of colonialism, genocide, slavery, legal exclusion, and everyday segregation and isolation that haunt all of our lives, rather than to be biochemical imbalances?” I’d like to change the word “depression” here to be all mental illnesses. Cvetkovich continues: “Most medical literature tends to presume a white and middle-class subject for whom feeling bad is frequently a mystery because it doesn’t fit a life in which privilege and comfort make things seem fine on the surface.”

(4) Dead-reckoning,
determination without the aid of celestial navigation (use of the observed positions of celestial bodies to determine a navigator’s position) of the position of a ship or aircraft from the record of the courses sailed or flown, the distance made (which can be estimated from velocity), the known starting point, and the known or estimated drift. […] Because the uncertainty of dead reckoning increases over time and maybe over distance, celestial observations are taken intermittently to determine a more reliable position (called a fix), from which a new dead reckoning is begun. (https://www.britannica.com/technology/dead-reckoning-navigation )

(5) My first theory of reverence for ‘feeling of alienation (dt. Entfremdung)’ is of Karl Marx: workers are feeling alienated, because they are mere instruments in the privately owned industrial complex they work for. They are not considered human anymore, just things with the purpose to enhance production in order to enlarge private profits. Their work doesn’t belong to them anymore, hence their feeling of alienation is revealing the structural imbalances of their working conditions.

(6) See Berthold Brechts Theory on Alienation (dt. Verfremdung): Already Berthold Brecht developed a Theory on Alienation that he used in his theater plays. He used alienation by not trying to imitate life like scenes in his stage design: on the contrary. He wanted to portray a theater stage as a stage and props as props, to create a distance for the viewers, keeping them from over-identifying with the actors, always being aware it’s a theater play and therefore staying critical towards the content of their speeches and actions. In the best case to recognize the political and social problems they portray, to later think about and discuss with others about possible changes.)

(7) In moments of emergency the human perception sharpens and focuses to the right now, estimating within seconds which danger is posing itself and possible outcomes of surviving it best. This feeling of emergency occurs much sooner and stronger with people that have experienced traumas in their lives, which makes them super perceptive and super sensitive for possible dangers in certain moments. This knowledge was taught to me by courses from the Psychiatric University Clinic Zürich and are common knowledge used in psychological assessments of trauma patients.

(8) Jan Plamper talks in his book ‘The History of Emotions’ about how the Sentimentalists as a revolutionary act in the time of the French Revolution were pushing themselves into their feelings as a response to the aristocracy who had strict rules of behavior that were prohibiting showing too much emotion. The outcome of the Sentimentalists pushing their feelings resulted in many very cruel and violent acts, so horrific that Descart and other thinkers of his time were calling on using more rationality to prevent such cruel acts.
In that sense I appeal here to use the feelings that are already existing in their existing intensity, not to diminish them nor to further them, but to use them as entry point into, looking carefully around us, untangling what works and what doesn’t, what is causing this feeling, that something isn’t working properly.

(9) In reference to Reza Negarestani’s “Where is the Concept? (localisation, ramification, navigation)”