If one were to extrapolate a quintessence from one of Christianity's most important prayers, the 'Lord's Prayer', it could be the issue of trespassing, expressed as “forgive us our trespasses.” The crux of the matter lies in the etymological understanding of the word “trespass”, meaning to unlawfully enter a territory or a space. This territory of course could extend from the physical/ geographical, as in the quare clausum fregit sense, into a spiritual transgression or offense as in the above context of sin. 

Humanity's quest to protect it's territory is nothing new and the greed to acquire more territory for itself has only gained higher heights. This importance of increasing space was highlighted by Michel Foucault's proclamation in his 1967 lecture, “Of Other Spaces – Heterotopias”: 

The present epoch will perhaps be above all the epoch of space. We are in the epoch of simultaneity: we are in the epoch of juxtaposition, the epoch of the near and far, of the side-by-side, of the dispersed.1


The essence of this statement being, the importance of space, the occupation of space, and the communication within space will be the vanguard of our time. If this should be the case, the mere thought of trespassing, whether by moral infringement or physical encroachment, would then be a gross misdemeanor. At least this is the impression one gets from contemporary society whose limits seem to be molded, inter alia, around economic principles of space consumption and growth, which can be construed with some fantasy from Susan Sontag’s statement:  

One set of messages of the society we live in is: Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves. The very working of this economic system, which has bestowed these unprecedented liberties, most cherished in the form of physical mobility and material prosperity, depends on encouraging people to defy limits.2

That is to say the balancing of this growth equation, i.e. a sort of reaction that counteracts this action, is the mere act of defying. Defying the limits of these territories, defying the conceptual foundations of these spaces, defying their modes d’emploi and above all, trespassing into these territories.

Such is the case with Mwangi Hutter. Mwangi Hutter will henceforth, where required until time and space permit, be described with the neutral pronoun – it, as it has, through a process of hybridization of selves, succeeded in penetrating and appropriating an unusual or un-space of the genum netrum, which will be expatiated upon later in this essay.

Mwangi Hutter, like any other individual, is situated in the core of Edward T. Hall’s personal reaction bubbles. These bubbles that summarize Hall’s concept of proxemics (the interrelated observations and theories of man’s use of space as a specialized elaboration of culture3,4) are reminiscent of the layers of skin an individual carries with respect to its environment; that is to say the constituents of the space surrounding an individual and the territory the individual lays claims to.5    Edward T. Hall stratified his “proxemics bubbles” in an intimate space (<46cm), a personal space (<120cm), a social space (<3.7m) and a public space (>7.6m)… and it is I Mwangi Hutter’s ability to intrude in, navigate through, and leave a permanent (though often invisible) mark in these spaces – theirs and other’s – that makes a difference.

The interference in territory is evident in the video Creepcreature (2009). To whom does this barren and arid land belong to? Can one trespass upon a  no-man’s land? Once upon a time mankind had, as per usual, laid claim on this territory but has since sucked off its last resources, drained its last sap, devoured its last marrow and left it abandoned. In this wilderness, Mwangi Hutter transforms itself into a creepcreature–a kind of desperate creature–appearing to moan the loss of nature while intending to refill the cracked ground and water the parched soil with its own sweat. Hunchbacked, the creepcreature seems, like Atlas, to carry the world’s load on its back while reaching out to compensate for what could be termed humanity's lost heritage. But how does one penetrate, intrude or trespass absence? Is not absence exactly the state in which the notion of presence, or the lack thereof, is most felt? Indeed, paradoxical as it may sound–but without reducing this to the popular lore of absence and presence being two sides of the same coin–it is a very thin line that separates the concepts of absence and presence. For it is exactly in absence that presence (if not of other things but at least one's own presence) can be felt. Mwangi Hutter evokes the spirit of presence in absence by intruding on this territory. This absence brings another aspect into consideration, that of making of art for, or performing to, the “missing people”. A 1987 lecture given by Gilles Deleuze touches on the dichotomy of presence/ absence by referencing Paul Klee as such:

Exactement ce que Paul Klee voulait dire quand il disait, « Vous savez, le peuple manque ». Le peuple manque et en même temps, il ne manque pas. Le peuple manque, cela veut dire que—il n’est pas clair, il ne sera jamais clair—cette affinité fondamentale entre l’œuvre d’art et un peuple qui n’existe pas encore n’est pas ne sera jamais claire. Il n’y a pas d’œuvre d’art qui ne fasse pas appel à un peuple qui n’existe pas encore.6

Approximate translation :

Exactly what Paul Klee meant when he said, 'You know, people lack.' People are lacking and at the same time, there is no shortage/ lack. People are lacking, that means—it is not clear, it will never be clear—this fundamental affinity between the work of art and a people that does not exist is not and will never be clear. There is no work of art that does not appeal to people who do not yet exist.

To put it in Mwangi Hutter’s own words:

For creepcreature, I was thinking of how the performer's body replaces, and therefore represents here a whole multitude of bodies: those that have succumbed to greed, those that are buried under the weight of loss, those (animals) that have lost their habitat and their lives etc.  Absent is what should obviously be present, and what is present one might wish to be absent - the creepcreature discomforts in that way.

There are unwritten rules and regulations on how to comport oneself in public spaces. Society has tattooed these regulations onto our brains, and as soon as one steps out of this alignment, one is often regarded as an outcast. There are public spaces in which one should not eat, drink, speak, dance or even breathe. These rules, which I would term the politics of comportment, are constraints that make an open space a closed space, that make a public space an area of restrictions, a space full of bubbling lava that calls upon anyone half sane to radically strive at breaking this deadlock. This act of rule-breaking is however, not to be interpreted as an act of agitation, but rather an act of grace or even healing through which, by creating a vent in the closed system, a controlled outlet is provided, thus avoiding an eventual eruption. Mwangi Hutter created such a vent in the video piece Eastleigh Crossing (2009) as it encroached the public space of Eastleigh, Nairobi. This public space is vibrant, like a pulsating vein where patterns of communication are chaotically defined and where society’s violence is encrypted in its interactions, redolent of Édouard Glissant’s theory of contemporary violence: “Contemporary violence is the response societies make to the immediacy of contacts and is exacerbated by the brutality of the flash agents of Communication.”7

And indeed the patterns of communication were interrupted as Mwangi Hutter plashed into the stagnant, polluted sewage water of Eastleigh. As it danced, screamed, pushed  buses or tumbled on the ground, the centre of gravity at that moment was its action. Stunned passers-by laughed and ran away in disbelief, but the vent was successfully created, and for a moment the codes of this public space were altered by this trespassing. The action metamorphosed into a cleansing ritual and despite its ephemerality will linger forever on Eastleigh having created new relations between the people and the space and within the people themselves… to say it in Glissant’s words: “Relation comprehends violence, marks its distance.”8

One generally tries to be a master of one’s own social sphere. We have the privilege of choosing our friends and keeping the not so friendly at arm’s length. Unlike our family, who we do not choose, our social sphere is to a great deal a reflection of ourselves. As the saying rightly goes – birds of a feather flock together – that is to say, in order to penetrate and become a part of a bevy of birds of which one does not originally belong, one must adopt or appropriate a particular phenotype or stance. Belonging, stratification, the inner circle! Imagine (staying with the bird metaphor) that if a finch could adopt the feathers of a sparrow and try to penetrate a bevy of sparrows, it would face a tough scrutiny. But imagine that if a sparrow would try to flock with other sparrows and meet the same scrutiny as the finch mentioned above, this would provoke a deep discomfort as the lonesome sparrow would feel like an intruder. The visitors in Nairobi of Ingrid Mwangi Hutter’s exhibition, Intruders (2009), must have had a similar feeling of distress as their bags were searched, the contents of their mobile phones controlled and as they were forced to answer strange questions. While the “guards” of this exhibition intruded into the visitor's privacy, giving the visitors the impression that they were intruders of their own social space, Mwangi Hutter assumed another, more distant role of intruder, by surveilling and monitoring from afar and capturing everything on camera like Orwell’s Thought Police. 

Despite not having the privilege to choose our families, we often choose to share personal space with them, such as with brothers and sisters or children and parents, just as we do with  close friends. This usually cordial shared space with those we embrace and rely on is a space we hope will not be trespassed upon. It is often a space full of dignity, respect and love… a space that is sacred and sometimes full of secrets. As soon as we open up this personal space to an outsider, we are beckoning them to trespass into our personal space. Viewers of the captivating video Constant Triumph (2008) are privy to the personal space cohabited by Mwangi Hutter and Sister 9   Helen Mwangi-Taylor, who is dying of cancer. In the video, the power of loss of life strides through their shared space as the soupçon of death hovers around. Mwangi Hutter facilitates Sister Helen’s wish to be filmed, and thus shares with the trespasser (viewer) the seldom opportunity to witness the “excruciating exercise in the art of reconciling, gaining inner strength and clarity, trusting and letting go” and an opportunity to learn that “in confronting the taboo of dying, we can embrace living” (Mwangi Hutter). Shall thou trespass or not trespass?

The greatest bond mankind can forge is created from trespassing upon one another, whether lawfully or not. The bond of physical and emotional trespassing, of mutual trust and respect, is experienced when one shares intimate space with another. This space is ruled by the laws of transparency, benevolence, vulnerability, humility, and reciprocity. From time immemorial, mankind has shared this space with its kind, but as if this cohabitation were not enough, Mwangi Hutter decided to hybridize two personalities and voices into one complex. The verb intimate means to state or to make known… thus this two-way trespass,  not limited to the emotional or physical, but extended to nomenclature, could be a manifesto for the majesty of the concept of intruding and a statement against the concept of seclusion or closed systems. The penetration, blending, intruding, trespassing of two individuals to create an entity is the factor that forms the matrix that surpasses the understandable and transcends the notion of a “me” but endorses a “we” in what is called relation.

“Relation struggles and states itself in opacity. It defers self-importance.”10

  1. 1.  Michel Foucault. Des Espace Autres. French journal of Architecture/ Mouvement/ Continuité in October, 1984, based on lecture 

      given in March 1967. Translation - Jay Miskowiec.

  1. 2.  Susan Sontag. AIDS and Its Metaphors, ch. 7 (1989)

  2. 3.  Hall, Edward T. (October 1963). “A System for the Notation of Proxemic Behavior“. American Anthropologist 65 (5): 1003–1026.

  3. 4.  Hall, Edward T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Anchor Books.

  4. 5.  Ibid

  5. 6.  Deleuze, Gilles. Qu’est-ce que l’acte de création? Conférence donnée dans le cadre des mardis de la fondation Femis -                 


  1. 7.  Glissant Édouard. “Poetics of Relation“, in Distancing, Determining: 141. The University of Michigan Press

  2. 8.  Glissant Édouard. “Poetics of Relation“ in That those beings be not being: 188. The University of Michigan Press

  3. 9.  The usage of “sister” here is not in the prudent catholic sense, but rather a designation for a special person that could also be

      the author’s, the artist’s or the reader's sister, i.e. transmuting a personal, subjective issue into the realms of objectivity.

  1. 10. Glissant Édouard. “Poetics of Relation” in That those beings be not being: 186. The University of Michigan Press

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung (PhD) is a curator, writer, founder and artistic director of  SAVVY Contemporary Berlin www.savvy-contemporary.com, editor-in-chief of the journal SAVVY|art.contemporary.african. www.savvy-journal.com

© Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, 2013

Written for Intruders on pages 70-75.


Thou Shalt (Not) Trespass

by Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung