The following texts were written by conference participants in response to plenary presentations by Amapola Prada, Kikuko Tanaka, Reality Research Center, and Mike Taylor.

CAT TYC

Responding to Kikuko Tanaka

One night, I was walking my dog and was stopped by two policemen patrolling my neighborhood. There were reports of someone attacking women on my block so police cars camped out on the corner late into the night.

When they stopped me, they asked me where I lived. I told them down the street and they informed me that I should probably turn in a little earlier because it wasn’t really safe for me to be out so late even though it was only 9:30 pm.

I mention this because this memory came to me during Kiko Tanaka’s performance piece, and  after thinking about it on the way home, I realized it was because her performance was making me think of how subjective the notion of safety is.

Whenever I see a cop or a security guard, I check to see what they have around their waist. Plastic handcuffs, spray, billy club, gun.

When I am protesting, the presence of cops makes me tense and I do not trust them. I check them consistently, watching them as intensely as they watch the crowd that I am part of.

During the discussion, Kiko made a statement, “ Revolution is accompanied with spectatorship”, and I agree with that and would take it a step further and say that one aspect of the aftermath of Occupy was a knowledge of knowing how important bearing witness really is.

Keeping your eyes open to protect yourself, of course.

But also learning how to watch out for others and how that is a form of self protection as well.

Anyone who has stopped for ten minutes and bore witness to a stop and frisk interaction can attest to this.

After watching for ten minutes, a very different type of America than the one you thought you were living in comes to light.

Now when I see a cop on a subway platform or on an empty dark street, I know I am supposed to feel safe (even though I also secretly think that they disapprove of me being out on my own at night because of the time I mentioned before)  and in some ways I do, and then almost immediately I sometimes think about how that would all change if I were black .

So then I see them as a danger and this melding reminds me very much of the thought process I have watching Kiko as the guard, from fascist, to human, to monster, to person who is just doing their job.

It feels banal to bring up but also impossible not to address the subconscious commentary in her piece about surveillance at a time when information about some of our most conspiratorial thoughts are being surfaced as true.

The outrage that we feel about the potential of being exposed is blanketed by the fact that we have all secretly known how much we have been surveyed for years. Its not news that we are on camera when we enter most buildings. There are cameras taking pictures of us as we drive down major highways. When we are at a public event, chances are high a piece of your hand or the back of your head is getting picked up on someone’s cell phone.

For quite some time, the ads on our Facebook and in the side bars sell us things we are talking about in our “private” emails indicating that probably “someone” else is probably reading these emails as well.

But what do we do with the information now that we know what they are doing with it ? It’s the question we ask ourselves now every time we are on our computers.

In the space that Kiko built, she forces us to address this reality, this misery, in a way that points to the watcher as opposed to what it means to be watched.

In this presentation, she forces us to look at the security guard deeply but not with the intention of making us feel empathetic which she later explains during the post discussion.

So that begs the question, why look at him, why be with him ?

Whose misery are we witnessing ? The one who chooses to identify as security for all or those who are watched, namely us ?

My interpretation of the experience is that the misery belongs to the guards of the world and the experience she asks us to have is an investigation from where this misery comes. Literally and metaphorically.

But its hard to tell where the inherent flaw lies because I do not believe there is one truth. Is it a sign of pronounced ego to choose to identify one’s self in society as one that dictates the moral code for anyone else’s good or merely a necessity for a sane society to function ? I think the answer is yes in a world of muted grays.

For me, the position screams a presumption I feel I cannot imagine. But that only points to my extremely specific perspective in the world, the role of the artist, committed to seeing as hard as possible.  Never with an intention to imagine a beauty, or greater good beyond hopefully inspiring a velocity for another.

Typing this out, I think this is what Amapola Prada was talking about in her work about the revolution being an individual act that has the potential to spark collectively. 

The position that Tanaka takes to negate empathy is a complicated one for me. In the post performance discussion, she asserts that she wants the audience to maintain the tragic flaw we are bearing witness to in this constant catastrophe.

I was particularly interested when discussion about the moments when the audience laughed. She acknowledged them as a success because she feels she is presenting something ‘so tragic you have to laugh’.

I can agree with that need to find lightness but I am not sure if I can entirely agree that being able to laugh at the situation is the same thing as excluding empathy from the situation as well.

During the days of Occupy, a great deal was done to articulate an alliance with the police, the guards, to humanize those that were just doing their job. The human microphone negotiated compromises with the police at tense standoffs with the position that we were not holding space out of anger but out of what was right for all working people that included them.

And this was beautiful, and it was true.

So, from this gaze, if we look at the security guard as human, imprinted by the same kinds of abuse, neglect and a varying degree of mental illness that we are all capable of succumbing to, the paradox reveals itself.

This is what I/we mistrust about cops and security guards, that they are human and they have power to misuse.

The thing that troubled me so much about the incident I mentioned at the beginning with the cops was that I felt implicated, that in their mind, my presence walking the streets of my neighborhood gave reason to the attacker to do what he was doing as opposed to being someone who needed protection which is what I assume is their actual job.

For a brief minute, from the way they were acting , I felt the attacker could even be them since they didn’t seem to acknowledge what I thought they were there for.

Maybe this is what we are railing against when we position ourselves against those who have the power to dictate “the greater good”.

The betrayal.

Because it is terrifying.

See George Zimmerman.

Another thing that interested me was that some of the text Kiko was reading from was taken from Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

I recall this book resonating for me when I discovered that Shelley was pregnant when she wrote it.

The metaphor of “creating a monster” becomes more vivid with this knowledge and also forms a strange form of empathy for the creator and that which he creates.

Kiko’s security guard gets emotional as he reads from the text clearly connecting with the monster and its creator (which is potentially all of us really) if you think about it from the perspective that this is all based on what we create and how we treat others once they are here.

In a range of excitement scaling arousal to sheer joy from acceptance, which makes more sense once he reveals what is in his pants, it becomes clear how well he knows what types of horror  can be brought into this world, the only thing that is unclear is what he will choose to do with this knowledge.

It seems nothing from this moment we get to share with him .

Right now, all he can do is intellectually ping pong about his own isolation and the creation of more horror in the world.

The tragedy of the moment renders him useless to only come or cry which makes him seem cowardly, making the presence of the chicken an interesting thing to think about.

If you take a minute to list off the clichéd phrases that use the word “chicken”,  two stand out for me when I remember that the fact that Kiko wanted to explore gender positions in this performance.

She describes the positions she is exploring as “being watched” (female) and “watching” (male).

But the phrases that come to mind for me are equally gendered but both point to “watching”.

One is “ mother hen”, the female, overlooking the chicken in a pen, us, for “our greater good” as well as “choking the chicken” , the male who is watching to have something to masturbate to. And in this moment the positioning seems interchangeable.

During the post discussion Tanaka describes her piece as a  “spectatorship of misery” and that admission makes me realize how literal my interpretation has been so far.

She goes on to reveal that she was responding to a “politic of pity” she sees in social practice art work.

I ask and then she agrees that she views this type of practice as a type of colonization and at first, I am taken aback, my thoughts in defense of those I know who do this type of work and then I realize I can also relate.

Once I assistant directed a film about an African American male looking for redemption in his life. The crew consisted all of well meaning white people. One of our locations was the house of the director’s childhood nanny. She was to play the mother of the protagonist.

Not once did the director mention that all the children of this woman were crack addicts. That there was the possibility that she might be one too.

But we were there with all our cast and crew and equipment and there was no choice but to get to work.

As we set up, I noticed a man standing off to the side, watching us. He noticed me noticing him and waved me over.

He asked me what we were doing there and I told him that we were making a movie. He asked us if we had permission to be there, I told him yes. From the mother of the house.

And then he told me that the rest of them didn’t know, and it wasn’t fair.

He begged us to leave. That we didn’t understand the trouble this would bring to them. He told me he felt like we were sucking their lives from them.

I have to admit that I was already having some reservations about this production especially once I discovered that I had been left in the dark about one of our locations being essentially a crackhouse.

So, when this man who was clearly high as a kite, clearly stated these reservations back to me, I was taken aback and implicated.

And all I can remember was feeling a deep wave of empathy for him and the deep guilt of knowing there was nothing I could do to stop it.

When I say this is a world of muted grays, this moment makes me see what Kiko is saying.

I fluctuate my perspective on what I deem an oppressor and can say that I have the right to do this because I am an outsider from that desire to dictate what is good to the world.

Until I am involved in making a work that is complicit in doing such that.

Kiko summarized it best at the end of her discussion when she simply says, “ I am not entirely sure if art can ever be right.”

And I totally agree.

Nothing and no one can ever be right.

I don’t feel operating from a place of empathy for oneself and others is a get out of jail card to bypass this fact for any of these matters but more of a defense mechanism for how complicated it all really is.

In exactly the same way laughter is.

So, with that said, I will just close with the immortal words of Morrissey that have been ringing in my mind ever since I saw Kiko’s performance, “I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does.”

Cat Tyc is a Brooklyn based writer and a video maker and sometimes these actions combine to make things and sometimes she makes things separate from the other. Most recently her work has appeared at the Microscope Gallery in Bushwick for her first solo show. Previous to that her work has screened at venues ranging from the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Camac du Art in Paris, Soho 20 in Chelsea, and CUNY Graduate Center for their “Advancing Feminist Poetics” conference.   Other things she has made have appeared on MTVu and LOGO’s NewNowNext. She is here because she is interested in interactivity in performance and technology and wants to know if it can start a revolution.

SARAH BUTLER

Regarding Idea Machine: In response to Mike Taylor

 

Arriving 8 minutes early to the Collapsible Hole I recognize Mike Taylor immediately. Not because we’ve met previously, but because all of the performers’ eyes and bodies are trained in the artist’s general direction. Anticipating start to the result of 9 months’ development of IDEA MACHINE, we mill about a little aimlessly, waiting.

I say: “I’ll be right back,” and duck out for the spot of tea that will take me through the afternoon into the evening.

When I return two performers step forward. Abruptly, all Aki Kaurismaki, one says,

“Forgive me for something.”

And the other: “I’ll be right back.”

Just then my phone rings. It’s another Mike who asks me to describe the demonstrations and exercises making up the events of the workshop. What timing.

An ATT alert sounds and, leaning heavily on my right leg as if Degas’ Dancer was a Peruvian character described by William Gibson (last of whom is Canadian), I try to say — plainly — “Predetermined Cultural Significance; Proven Frameworks, Forced Synergy, Being Present and, Learned Significance”. This is the set of techniques (or, attributes), codified by Taylor for use in pinch situations of affective disruption (and/ or oblique extra-lingual category dilemma), a methodology for compression.

Admittedly anxious that “compression technique” might segue too easily into Twister TM cliches and other inter-office trust games, the call with Michael DiPietro is interrupted, this time by a text from Esther Neff.

It says: “Wait don’t perform the conversation”.

Text Tone is set to Typewriters, while Ringtone is Old Phone, both, I think, understandably popular.

Of course enabling the use of “G force to break through the merely personal to shared space” is a very attractive idea. I take it to signal that what must be compressed is geography. YOU try to answer the phone without saying anything. It’s all the more complicated because I can HEAR Esther, she’s standing right next to me.

She explains that more properly in the contexts of THIS idea machine it’s material and duration under pressure. Something akin to Judson School props or an image search for “habitus” (not the magazine). “Come as you are. As you were. As I want you to be.” (Nirvana, MTV, Unplugged, 1993).

Before I continue,

Q. What did photographer Edwin S. Curtis say to the Navajo Chief?

A. “Quick! ACT NATURAL.”

And, it suddenly occurs to me that in New York plain cheese slices are always hottest, most fresh.

But honestly, and by way of conclusion (does anyone have a story?). Gavin Kroeber then takes the stage and finally we can all relax. He’s received a message about how ambiguous moments might be brought into resonance, at which Nik Wakefield asks about the natural progression of time, vis a vis transformation. In any case, we nod. But “how”.

Their final advice to the pupil, the narrator, is that the “order that our mind imagines is like a net, or like a ladder, built to attain something”; but — and here quoting a “mystic” from their homeland Austria (or Yugoslavia, or Puerto Rico)–“afterward you must throw the ladder away, because you discover that, even if it was useful, it was meaningless” (p. 429). Unlike the rest of the characters in the book you are aware that our knowledge of reality is a rhizome-like labyrinth and that no single path through it can be said to constitute the truth (Eco 1989: xxxi).

One of those kitsch holographic pictures of a waterfall (but that’s not holographic) then overflows with lager. The beverage is soaked up lovingly by patient stacks of sound-absorbent wall-insulation, as if to disappear. I walk into the night reconsidering vegetarianism, shoot a mattress, and hop in a cab cursing the L train… deeply grateful for the afternoon and evening and new friends they contained. It’s then I notice Karen Schiff has written in the notes section of my conference program. Blotted out so as to make the script illegible it says: “What is done is more important than what it looks like”.

I click on Notes and using my index enter: “Dear Mike Taylor,”

sb 2013

Sarah Butler is an artist versed in the social sciences and design history. Current practice focuses on arrangements of space and acts of language. Artists’ talks presented at Freie Universität Berlin; Nottingham Trent University, and School of Visual Arts New York. Artwork exhibited at The Do Right Hall in Marfa, Texas; Regina Rex Art Gallery in Queens, and Interstate Projects in Brooklyn. Represented by Blonde Art Books and Reverse Art Space in Brooklyn; Art Metropole, Toronto. Sarah edits the online collection of artists’ writings www.wordservents.com

YELENA GLUZMAN

In Response to Reality Research Center

Reality Research Center’s Plato’s Symposium is a four-part mystery play that acts as the tutelage of and initiation into an esoteric school based on the teachings and secret societies described by Plato in his Symposium.

Led by four members of the Finnish group Reality Research Center, the play unfolded over four days. Each of the RRC members presented him or herself as an ancient Greek god: Hermes, Apollo, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. This god-likeness was an uncanny role-play, something between playing a character and donning a mask. The four performers occupied the theoretical and mythic position of each god, arguing from this god’s point of view and assuming a formal communication that resisted slipping into the casual banter of mortals among friends. The god-likeness of the performers was the first claim that we, as audience-protagonists, had to accept. We did so performatively, by allowing an interaction in which we assumed the role of interlocutors to divinity. This first step was crucial for the over-arching argument being constructed in the performance, which was an argument for the existence of Absolute Beauty.

What did they do to us, these gods? Mostly, they spoke with us, engaged in dialogues structured in a formal sequence designed to lead each of us to an experience of Absolute Beauty. In the first meeting, each audience-protagonist encountered the four gods alone. Choosing one image among many, we were asked to “make an argument” for the beauty of the image. Sitting with these gods, I engaged in a Socratic dialogue for an hour, analyzing the image, speculating on the reasons for its beauty, and deriving a definition of beauty from these speculations.

In the second meeting, some days later, it was again dialogue that constituted the encounter. Instead of a Socratic dialogue, though, we engaged with a single god in mutual speculation, associative constructions of and on beauty. Again, we depended on externalized objects to coordinate our discussion. I peered at a necklace, a wooden knife and half a cabbage that I had arrange into a plinth-top altar and (as instructed) offered observations beginning with “Beauty is…” Beauty is the purple of the cabbage. Beauty is the potential of the knife to pierce the cabbage. Beauty is the as-yet unoccupied spaces in between these objects. Soon, we were asked to choose one of the objects as a stand-in for ourselves, perhaps as each of the actual Greek gods had chosen a mortal performer to stand-in (not portray) his or her divine self. Our speculations then began with “I am beautiful because…” while the stand-in god with whom we spoke would say, “You are beautiful because…” These statements on beauty were not about us, but there is alchemy in the performativity of language. To bury I in the garden is a burial indeed. To resurrect you is an act of creation.

In the third meeting, we protagonists arrived in groups of four. We lay each upon a mattress, closed our eyes, and imagined descending into the face of a mountain, step by step making our way into a vast cave deep in the rock, of coming upon a stage lit by candlelight, and of enacting upon this stage a ritual of our own invention, hidden from the knowledge and view of others. When we emerged from our caves, led back by language the way we came, we each sat with a god on a mattress and were told that we would perform our ritual, or some version of it, during the final symposium.

Whereas the first three stages of Plato’s Symposium were mediated heavily through language, the fourth and final stage was largely lacking language. Here’s what happened: we arrived, all eight of us protagonists. We sat, we waited and drank water from wine glasses. Aphrodite declaimed a statement on Absolute Beauty, from Plato’s text. We waited. One of us performed a ritual. It took time. We waited again, smoking cigarettes and drinking water. Another protagonist performed her ritual. It went like this, not the temporality of a variety show, but (as Esther pointed out) the rhythm of a funeral or a wedding. The protagonists were the show, since it was our rituals (so very different, and intimate, transformative) that constituted the performance of the symposium. After each ritual was completed, the protagonist was led to a room where they chose a mask and returned, masked, initiated into the pantheon of gods.

Just as language was left behind in the symposium, it also evades me in describing what actually happened that night. Eight protagonists performed rituals. An unearthly feast was served and eaten. Wine flowed. The four gods performed rituals. Formal photographs were taken. It was concluded. We went home, long after midnight.

What is the theoretical proposition advanced by the structure of this work? The performance structure is that of a sect, or school, or cult. Spectatorship is construed as protagonism, whose purpose is initiation. In order to pass through the performance, you must yourself create a performance and offer it to your community, a community that as come into being vis-à-vis the exchange of rituals. The knowing that comes from Plato’s Symposium is a performer’s knowledge, a knowing from inside. Because it has no external referent, and no way toward abstraction, it eludes relativity.

This may seem to be a theoretical proposal in diametric opposition to that offered by Mike Taylor’s Idea Machine, where she derives formal principles from lived experiences of transformation and offers them as technologies available for the construction of novel transformative artworks. In fact, I think that Reality Research Center invokes formalized technologies, specifically technologies of the Western theater, in order to create a situation in which a public enactment of a private ritual has the potential to transform a self, and to create a community. In other words, a theatrical and linguistic structure (not unlike one offered by Taylor) is necessary to establish a situation in which the private/public act of performance is demanded and supported. At the center of this theatrical and linguistic structure is, however, a non-theatrical and non-linguistic act in which the attribution of meaning is offered as both communication and the basis for a society.

The argument of the work, one for Absolute Beauty, is levied through this process of being within one’s own and others’ ritual enactments, as performer and spectator. It does not exist outside of these exchanges, and therefore (though radically subjective) it is not relative. This is not to say that we are equal across protagonism, or that the experience of the performance is necessarily easy, fun, or, um, beautiful. Indeed, as in F.M. Kramer’s highly personal response to the symposium, the rituals can seem disturbing, dark, cruel, alienating. In this sense, and perhaps in contradiction to the claims of the performance as a whole, spectatorship in Plato’s Symposium—regardless of its reliance on the Absolute that emerges from the performed act—is still regulated by a subjectivity that can be seduced or repelled. It is, in the end, the performance as secret society that can deal with such subjectivities. Here, as with many clubs, if you can’t stand it, if you don’t want it, or if you are through with it, you leave. It is the society, the theatrical and linguistic structure, that continues—with or without you.

Yelena Gluzman is one of the organizers of the conference. She is a doctoral candidate at UCSD.

FREDERICK MARK KRAMER 

In Response to Reality Research Center

I was disappointed in the presentation on Friday night. So much so it left a miserable taste in my mouth that has not gone away and all I now see is the image of cruelty in front of me and have to fight to recall the nicer moments. I did not like it when the god was tied up and body pierced and blood flowed. That image haunts. I know he did it of his own free will and he’s a big boy, however, Aphrodite in the opening reading from Plato, I think, talked about beauty being beautiful at all times not sometimes beautiful sometimes ugly, and then to go hurt yourself, and worse exhibit it and force others to watch, is not beauty. And to be perfectly clear this includes the entire company, the one who it was preformed on, the one who actually did the piercing and the others who allowed it to happen.  Previously I was hardly watching but was curious and fought with myself not to watch but sometimes looked over, but after the piercing and blood flowing stopped eating and drinking wine, which i enjoy and forced myself not to watch and couldn’t wait to leave. If you want to show suffering go to Syria.  I am also angry at myself for being too shy not to try and stop it. Everything became unpleasant from that scene on, even A. nude seemed silly afterwards. i am not sure that is playing a character only exhibitionism and it was unpleasant after the blood-piercing. The whole week lost pleasantness The world is harsh enough one doesn’t have to go torturing oneself to prove what that you can take pain and pain takes away from beauty, and for me a lovely evening. Acting is playing a role being a character not simply being yourself.

Frederick Mark Kramer is a novelist, playwright and amateur violinist living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

ILINCA TODORUT 

Screen Discourse: Reply to Amapola Prada/ REVOLUTION

Theory can be conspicuously image proofed. In classical philosophy, Kant presents knowledge primarily as the product of cognitive reason, whereas imagination – the faculty of forming images in the inner mind – gets relegated to an auxiliary role of facilitating the workings of judgment. In its turn, judgment comes most useful in aesthetic appreciations, and Kant belabors to give a universalizing credit to what seems so empirical and subjective: the reception of art. Then again, for Kant art can only represent the beautiful form, and hence is incapable of embodying political critique. The diehard stance thinking-is-the-best-way-to-travel valorizes the musings of the mind over physical experience and actual seeing. Although art making for more than a century rendered obsolete classical aesthetics, prejudice against the capacity of images towards positive political change remains prevalent, buttressed by a media phobia in discourses critical of the society of spectacle. Yet in our preeminently visual culture – a sort of neomedieval age in its reliance on images to impart information to the population at large – not to use the image as a political tool would amount to a form of blindness.

The dark spots of our active imagination are inflamed by Amapola Prada’s multi-screen video work Revolution. Two shorter pieces in closet sized spaces flank the main projection room like two crucified thieves bracketing the Messiah. The thieves are guilty of criminal misdoings and erotic charges. In one video three naked female bodies symmetrically stretched on tables are stirred genitally with large wooden spoons by three fully clad figures. No faces are visible. The second closeted piece shows a male youth baring the breast of a sleeping older woman to suck on her tit. Both these videos are duplicitous: violence is implied, but not made manifest. The “messiah piece” – a longer, time compressed still shot –   shows the Artist in an endurance performance, resolutely Joan of Arc-like standing in the middle of a city street while hours around her pass from night to morning. The surrounding environment carries on its life of nocturnal barking dogs, daybreak passersby, morning cyclists and honking cars. In an art world currently obsessed with concerns over the production and reception of images, Amapola Prada’s confronting gaze from the screen in between making the viewer turn voyeur in cramped spaces adds another rumination on the weight of image, representation, and spectating in our culture.

But here ocular passivity is challenged by a subtext of a political call to action, delivered through the titles clearly legible for good seconds before the start of each piece, enough that they leave an imprint on the retina well into the wordless videos. The genital stirring is entitled Movement, and the piece on the overaged breast feeder carries the name of Power, turning the videos into symbolical visual argumentations of these much debated terms in political thought. What does it take to mobilize people, to act and react, and what’s the dividing line between frenzy of movemented populations and their loss of control? How can the ideological spoon not turn into an instrument of oppression? From the other room, abuse of power reveals weakness. The centerpiece carries a crafty title: Unit/y, marking the artist as alone in the crowd it is part of, and rising the ever unsolved question of the solvency of a political body predicated on togetherness but constituted of distinct individualities. It is the multivalent titles laden with histories of connotations that alert the viewer of perceiving the projected images as political discourse.

The valorization of the political power to image and imagine, to induce a critical reevaluation of political life through ocular stimuli harks back to a surrealist project of putting the image in the service of the revolution. I am quoting at large from Louis Aragon because Amapola Prada’s hypnotic visual critical allegories can easily be described of having the scope to use an “immoderate and impassioned use of the stupefacient image, or rather of the uncontrolled provocation of the image for its sake and for the element of the unpredictable perturbation and of metamorphosis which it introduces into the domain of representation: for each image on each occasion forces you to revise the entire Universe.”1  Amapola Prada continues the project to displace theories of dissent from their traditional medium of intellectual discourse into embodied critique.

[1] Aragon, Louis. Paris Peasant [(1926, 1953), 1994]. Boston: Exact Change. Pg. 66.

I’m a DFA at Yale School of Drama, where my research centers on interdisciplinary art and political performance. I’ve presented my work on Rabih Mroué and Walid Raad at conferences such as PSi and ASTR, and my essay on art and activism today is forthcoming in the Journal of Poverty. I’ve also published in Theater, Romanian Journal of Performing Arts, and Scena.ro (where I used to be part of the editorial staff). I served as Production Dramaturg at the Yale Rep, where I also worked as Literary Assistant. I’m currently devising a community based project in New Haven entitled Exercising Democracy which involves political discourses and stationary bikes. 

AMALIA MATHEWSON

Living Revolution: Response to Amapola Prada                                                          

Revolution, Amapola Prada’s film-based installation, alienates its audience while calling for an individual, rather than collective, revolt against the separation between intimate and social spaces. The medium of film isolates the viewer, leaving them safe to contemplate or avoid questions suggested by symbolic, repetitive, and human elements. Revolution premiered in 2013 at Glasshouse Productions in Brooklyn, NY. The work was presented in three short, physically separate episodes, titled (respectively) Power, Movement, and Unit/y which were looped and projected onto blank, white walls.

In Power, Prada enters the territory of intimacy through the act of nursing, a traditionally “safe” intimate action. She employs atypical subjects – a grown woman and her aging mother – which complicate the effect. The shadowy footage necessitated my heightened focus, unexpectedly revealing the shocking collision between a public symbol of maternal love and the complex intimacy of an adult mother/daughter relationship. I found the presented image both beautiful and unsettling; however, since I observed in the anonymous comfort of a darkened room, its initial thrill soon wore off and I was allowed to watch with the same detached voyeurism associated with mass-produced film products.

Movement invents a tangible, unnamable atmosphere. Three naked women lie on tables and three shrouded figures insert wooden spoons between the thighs of the women. The aural score is deep and oceanic, creaky like a wooden ship, and the figures rotate the spoons in a rowing motion, simultaneously evoking images of Viking ships and erect phalluses. The prone women breathe visibly, but inaudibly. After several repetitions, my mind began to wander. I could hear conversation from other rooms. I wished I could physically be with the six figures, near enough to hear the breathing, unavoidably present through proximal association to the ritualistically private event.

Unit/y, which ran in the largest, most central room, was the longest in duration of the three component pieces. In it, a woman stands in the center of a street as dawn breaks. The neighborhood around her is active, but she remains stationary. The woman is dressed in a long sweatshirt, socks, and sandals, and I found her immediately sympathetic. She doesn’t move drastically, but after watching the entirety of the film several times, I became more invested in her experience. I could see her swaying from prolonged standing, and sometimes her breath betrayed a deeper experience than the impassive expression on her face. This piece, more than the others, I badly wanted to witness live. For me, the temporal and bodily distance of the artist diluted her gesture’s power.

Amapola Prada’s suggestion that intimacy can occupy a social space is exciting and challenging. Her theory that this radical shift in Western values could be accomplished by individuals revolting not on a national scale, but in the domestic sphere, is inspiring to me and, likely, any who question the legitimacy of stratified social organizations. Revolution is personal, vulnerable, thought-provoking and incisive, and would be even more so if it could be viewed live. Ultimately, through the remoteness of pre-recorded material, some of the strength and bravery of Prada’s message remains in the time and place where her performance existed.

Amalia Mathewson is a Chicago-based performer and co-founder of Muscleflea, a multi-media devised theater collaborative. She’s a recent graduate of Northern Illinois University, where she received her BFA in Acting. 

MILTON LOAYZA

Response to Amapola Prada’s REVOLUTION

DISTANCE

After seeing the installation by Amapola Prada, in the downstairs spaces of Glasshouse I realize among other things that I had been moving, as I had gone back and forth to face the different presences produced by three videos, one projected on a screen and the others by tvs. I was not the only one there, and I was compelled to respect the experience of the other viewer and allow her to experience the work within some bounded space. I will not call the viewer’s space of experience private, because I believe the viewing perspective of the videos challenged our impulse to make our experience private. What do I mean by this? The presence of Amapola standing in the middle of a street in Lima, Peru, her body still, across time and space, is there to measure our distance from the work, she is a presence that erases, cleans the viral spaces of surveillance that tell us that distances do not exist, that say, quote: “I may know all about you, that is, your privacy is actually what most matters to us, and my knowing is about what I can see, what I may see one day, which is everything, and nothing else…” In REVOLUTION we are not looking into private spaces because… DISTANCES DO EXIST, and they do matter, not for privacy, but for the reinstatement of a transformative public space. REVOLUTION reestablishes distances by putting back through video what perhaps video, for example through camera cuts, moving cameras, and the multiple screens of surveillance, have taken away: the distance between the camera and the viewer, that is, the distance that establishes the reciprocal relationship between the viewer and the viewed.  The single static camera shots, the triangulation of the three screens spread within three connected spaces, and the juxtaposition of temporalities and affects within the space of the installation contribute to reestablish that distance. How so? Because one is made to return to the video of Amapola in Lima, appropriately titled “unity” in order to mediate through Amapola’s video presence, our relationship with the other videos.

DISTANCE 2 (REVOLUTION)

My spectating is not a combination of camera views but a combination of movements towards and away from the camera that has framed the presence of Amapola in a street in Lima.  I guess this mediation is phenomenological, like a Giacometti sculpture puts at a distance the human figure so that we may never reach it beyond that impression of distance. But what are the characteristics of the video and what relationships allow for this impression? In “Unity,” as that video is titled, the standing figure identifies with the camera, it obeys the distance set by the camera’s positioning and neither the camera nor the standing figure move. This identification provokes our own identification with the camera: in order to watch the video we must agree with the set distance and develop a relationship through that distance. Unity also juxtaposes the silent, standing figure, the sounds and movements of the city of Lima, and the silence, sounds and movements of the installation experience, including the other videos. The virtual position of the camera that frames Unity becomes a point of reference from which we move through our own movements and our own experiences. Thus Unity actively stages a revolution with both centripetal and centrifugal force: we come and go, we leave and we return but in the end there are no points of departure and/or arrival, but a crossing across lines and layers of “Unity”, “Power” and “Movement.” These three words, chosen as the titles of the videos, concentrate the energy of the work as a whole and create a field of immanence, where I, we, may reach, touch upon a point of return and/or of no return: revolution, possible, real.

MOVEMENT

The video titled “Movement” is a metaphor, set against what we know or not know of and about revolutionary movements, or movement plain and simple. Therefore, movement as exile, travel, history, gesture, repetition, departure, arrival, task, politics, migration, diaspora, dream, cinema, habit, ritual, etc…. We move about and around these ideas and images of movement, and our movement involves us in the metaphors, it is our movement in relation to other movements, this relationship being a movement in itself. Mestizo women lying in a row, nude, naked their sex signaled as the cusp of the figure when forming right angles with standing women also naked, who dig or plunge their wooden spoons between the legs of the ones lying down. Is it the movement of the ship or of the oars pushing it across the dark waters? When the field of movement is undecidable and/or multiple why worry about causality? These women, what are they concocting? With what desires? In what kitchens or barracks? What is their weapon? With what kind of passion or art do they act? Do we need to know? Have they left? Do they take us with them? Or just leave us with a promise? In this slaveship the slaves are masters of their own movement but they are marked by a certain identity: woman, worker, slave, artist, in search of their own and other…identities, meetings, encounters, movements. We, as spectators MUST DECIDE, but we MUST NOT interpret, that would be to stop the flux and flow demanded by this particular staging: a revolution-ing, revolution-ant movement. The way the figuration dialogues with the other videos (for example we see here the standing and lying bodies found in the other videos) invites us to appropriate meanings through that dialogue, as a continuous movement.

POWER 1 (obeisance)

Is power is recognizable by a decision, and if it is, is it a decision to move? Towards the end of the Unity video, before it re-initiates its revolution/ loop, there is a shot that cuts into a close-up of the legs of the standing figure. Is it the camera or the standing person or the viewer that decides the shot, that moves the framing of the standing figure? Is it the artist, Amapola Prada, whether signaling from the front or from behind the camera? I believe this is undecidable, for the set distance is established in the duration of video, where the distance becomes a main proposition, not an imposition. On the other hand, the close-up shot, lasting only a moment, signals that previous decision of setting a fixed camera shot. The close-up does not signal any new decision or movement with respect to distance. The close-up is not a movement in distance but towards power. Power is not only recognizable as a signal of decision, but is the existence of that signal. Power is the theatricalization of relationships, and the installation signals its own power as one of a set distance. Power is a Brechtian gesture: not this, but that. Paradoxically, without the signal, all relationships, all established movements are ignorant of power, of its very existence, for only the signal announces the truth, the reality of a relationship. The relationship has been established as a proposition: I, she, identifies with the camera, and the camera identifies with me, she. In the close-up, the camera “disobeys,” for it has moved from a proposed distance. At this point the camera is subject to my/her power. Only when something disobeys, power exists, and only then we will know on what side of power we actually are. In the close-up shot of the legs the camera disobeys the process, it disobeys the relationships being worked on by us in relation to the installation. By disobeying, the camera may empower us. Power is born in that movement from relationships and propositions to a sense of us in relationships of power. Unity, Power, and Movement are in this sense the same thing, and neither guaranties justice or happiness or positive empowerment. They involve us in a certain status of things, in alliances and misalliances, identities, memories, and desires. Power always begins, it seems, with some kind of obeisance and submission.

POWER 2 (desire)

The video titled “Power” appeared to me the one that spoke the loudest, because of its dialogue with the other videos. It is divided in two parts, one where we perceive immobility of the subjects (in dialogue with “UNITY”) and the other where we perceive a deliberate movement and gesture (in dialogue with “MOVEMENT.”)  There is also a dialectic between the camera cut in UNITY of which I spoke above, and a camera cut which in POWER signals the initiation of a gesture: one of the figures reaches for the other’s breast and begins to suck at it, an image of symbiosis formed by a mother-daughter relationship. That moment of initiation and the assertiveness of the action of sucking have the strongest affect in the installation and take it to another level. The assertive, gestural impact of the installation as a whole is now felt more clearly as each video image becomes a mirror of power as a form of desire, signaled by the decision to reach for the breast. A public field of reciprocity and energy is created by the vectors of desire circulating between the virtual and real presences in the installation. In relation to UNITY (submission), Power (desire) goes beyond a proposition and a signaling of power by reaching out for an idea, something worthy of our desire, provoking action, bold gestures and, perhaps, a revolution.

CONCLUSION

I believe that an important achievement of “REVOLUTION” is to make manisfest a field of reciprocity from which transformative political action may evolve. The use of video and installation serves to counterbalance a private/public space saturated by the invisibility of power, counter-signals, viruses that keep us from encountering or feeling our collective immersion in power/disempowerment.

At the moment Milton Loayza is refocusing his dissertation work on Monti with an emphasis on the playwright’s Deleuzian impulse to construct a theatre of becoming, and a search for pure immanence. His interest in theoretical theatre centers on ethical, affective and political aspects of spatial and temporal productions through performance. While he starts with the premise that space is social and produced socially (Lefebvre), he finds Deleuzian concepts to be most useful to study performance in the context of current crisis of immancence. Performance becomes then site of exploration and invention of horizons of thought and being. 

CHLOË BASS

Response to Kikuko Tanaka’s Poultry Paradise and its Discontents

Dear Editor,

Regarding your recent live publication (so to speak) of Kikuko Tanaka’s Poultry Paradise and Its Discontents, I wish to commend you. It is not often that a paper (even one of this quality) allows for the laxity of format and density of thought presented by Ms. Tanaka in her work. Within the presentation limitations of theater, Ms. Tanaka’s piece invites her audience to a spectacle of unknown and unknowable self-abuse.

We are read to like children as we observe a scene that observes us, too – a veritable feedback loop of disgust and delight. The six-fingered phallus appears and our gaping faces are reflected back. The work invites not empathy but a kind of double horror. Who are we, and why are we here watching this? Why do we stay? And why do we feel so soothed?

Which brings us to the matter of the text. Let me be frank. The mystery book was a hodge-podge of the unknowable. Rather like hearing a story in a foreign language, I picked out homonyms, and enjoyed the rhythm. I understand the text as a kind of historic collage, a word salad with strongly moving implications. Here we are on the conveyor belt that leads from the slaughterhouse to the supermarket: identical, conforming, and properly dead. Only through a realization of our desires can we step away from the frying pan before it’s too late.

It seems to me that this work operates in promotion of our rights, bringing us towards but never quite to fulfillment. There is no end. Unlike the theater, it simply stops. No fanfare. Which is to say: we are still in it. Oddities, inaudibilities, and all. The garden of earthly delights will not eject us. Instead – oh, disappointment – it lets in others. Less delightful. More menial. After the revolution, who will pick up the garbage?

Kudos to you for trusting the joint vulnerabilities of this “frantic artist” and your audience to dovetail into a delightful evening. I look forward to joining you again.

Chloë Bass

Brooklyn, NY

ESTHER NEFF

Meaning for “Theater”…?

“Man is a symbol-using animal,” wrote sociologist, linguist, and grandfather of “dramatism” Kenneth Burke in his Language as Symbolic Action, “Reality has been built up for us through nothing but our symbol system.”

 

Burke’s idea that reality is constructed via the interpretation of symbols is often used to justify the theatrical discipline. Sociologist Erving Goffman, in his development of sociological methods called symbolic interactionism, directly incorporated Burke’s conception (above) in his study of interpretation’s effect on behavior, performance of social contract, and reproduction of symbols outside of verbal communication, calling his system dramaturgy. Goffman also used theatre as an overarching analogy for the society he sought to break down into an observable/unified systems of symbols, and many other symbolic interactionists (likewise reality. deconstructionists, gender theorists, and many others) have subsequently insisted that society is theatre, that all of our actions and behaviors are symbolically coded as if we are performing on stage (Judith Butler: “we are always performing”), each and all wholly adopting age-old worldviews echoing Jacques’ in As You Like It, “Áll the World’s a stage and the men and women merely players…” This conception of reality as a theater is so ingrained in Western thought that it has a name: Theatrum Mundi. As a demi-mechanistic and deterministic dramatic diagram for reality and theatre alike, Theatrum Mundi gives theatre a direct “representative” or “remodeling” role, allowing staged versions of reality to cognize themselves as direct and accurate symbolic envisionings of “act-ual” (act-able) reality. For symbolic interactionists then, working in the theatre and in other fields, human staging of interpreted reality co-creates the “real world,” which in turn is discussed as an external, performed sequence of dramatic behaviors, with the “effects” and “meanings” of agreed-upon truths or realities(s) interpreted by individuals, and then shuttled back into the agreement/ performance/ interpretation cycle. At its most socially powerful then, theatre is a tail in a mouth, and as it inserts itself thus, it constructs edibility (interpretability) itself (mental image, something to do with snakes, medusa or ouroboros, you decide).

 

Staged drama then (performance as a traditional art form called ‘theatre’) is when (time) bodies are removed from their “daily contexts” and situated inside fabricated versions of “reality” in order to unify agreement between those in spectation/audience on properties of existence both flexible and fixed, including patterns of behavioral cause and effect, moral implications of actions, and on “ways reality is” or “how it is.”  Bodies are removed from the daily via their representative positioning, situated symbolically (often as property/objects) or symbolically reconditioned. For example, Kikuko Tanaka, in her Poultry Paradise and Its Discontents: Nightshifts dons costumes which symbolize time periods, class, gender, and even species. Her symbolic presence thus becomes a combine of inherent properties (her accent, her age, visible signs of female sex) and constructed properties (as “security guard” or “alien” or “man”). In the process of combining properties lies traditional theatre praxis, and its theorizing agency: symbols are consciously positioned at a site (in time, space, context) as a logical (logos) way of seeing reality, or, on the flip side of the same coin, serve to distort/rupture/re-model existing ways of seeing. Emphasizing symbolic/visual elementation and its operations in Poultry Paradise…, Tanaka reads fragmented and difficult-to-decipher text, flattening communication itself into a single symbol: herself-as-character reading = durational action as image. This “frantic” escalation of symbolization deals with Western thought itself and challenges a worldview dependant on symbolically empiricizing/”building up” (construction of = dichotomization of) Further, Tanaka masturbates in the face of “accurate interpretations of symbols” as dependent on social contracts and social roles; Tanaka posits dramatistic/dramaturgical schemas for society as oppressive and fatalistic, while maintaining (O! faintest of hopes!) that their fabricated/false “representative” nature makes them unable to fully build up all of reality (inability proven especially by their failure to encompass human “monstrosity” and other forms of difference) through directly representative symbol systems.

Theatre artists working in a Western tradition have, and often still do, combine use of symbol with narrative (interpretation schemes for symbol), working to construct Cultural Significance (to use Mike Taylor’s first Audience Transformation Technology term from her plenary presentation IDEA MACHINE), or agreements on reality’s logical properties and conditions. Writes Paul Monaghan for the 2005 Dramaturgies Project “At the heart of dramaturgy lie three key verbal nouns: selection (or choice), construction (or structuring), and framing (for interpretation).”  For Monaghan (and many others) the content being “chosen, structured, interpreted” is comprised of actions, as dramaturgical theorists such as Eugenio Barba describe dramaturgy as ‘the work of the actions’ with his definition of ‘action’ including all elements of performance (lights, set, props, aspects of character, words, etc)  “woven together in ways that create interpretive frameworks.” (The Nature of Dramaturgy: Describing Actions at Work Barba, 1985). While the word “action” has replaced “symbol” in Barbra’s work, the term “interpretive framework” (directly lifted from Erving Goffman and his colleague Howard Blumer) remains, revealing overarching conceptions of theatre as a coded or linguistic version of reality.

Reality Research Center (RRC)’s Plato’s Symposium takes issue specifically with the universality of codes or linguistic dramaturgy, problemetizing both the assignation of meanings to symbols through their address of Beauty in the Platonian sense (reality being defined through its contact with the senses and pleasure-giving aesthetic affects) and dramaturgy’s insistence on relocation of the body (fabricated/constructed situation). This dual problemitizing is done (respectively) 1.) by emphasizing the subjectivity of meaning-interpretation through their use of audience members as “protagonists” and 2.) through use of rituals subjectively designed to transcend both dramaturgical and daily spheres (action as mise-en-abymic instead of mise-en-scenic). First disrupting the division between fabricated scenic (modeling) reality and act-ual, daily reality by using food, physical transformation (real action: piercing of a nipple), and embedding of the “play” in “real” time (the performance took protagonist-participants through 5 days), RRC emphasizes processes for interpreting reality and empowers individual selves to build private symbolic schemas.

 

Amapola Prada’s installation/performative video triptych REVOLUTION leaps from a nearby bridge, dealing less directly with Theatrum Mundi yet theorizing a re-staging of the self as non-representative and non-symbolic, an anterior and far less “Western” (where are we?) view. Her three videos each posit the self as a state: Unit-(y) finds the artist standing in the middle of the street, perhaps waiting for a revolutionary mob to build up behind her and make her their symbolic or representative heroine. Instead, a dog barks in the distance, the sun rises as it always does. In Movement we find a cycle of action, spoons fail to scoop anything from the crotch of the prone artist, the artist is neither victim nor provider of substance. Finally, in Power, the artist seeks comfort at her (real life) mother’s breast, and some allegory or metaphor seems imminent. Yet, the breast is empty, the action tender but not particularly sexual, states of longing/satisfaction, comfort/discomfort, demonstrate non-mutually-exclusive-yet-opposite interpretations of symbols, clouding single readings and thus arguing for a situational reality that interacts directly with the body, the mind, and states of being and needs neither “built up” symbolic systems nor interpretation schemas to involve humankind.

 

Esther Neff is one of the organizers of this conference.

 

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