[-empyre-] what is to be done? witness to a critical space
dear all empyre,
It's been a difficult start for our discussion, as some have looked
to poetics and others to politics, with great gulfs between. I wish
I could describe to you something of the critical spatial practice I
believe is possible, indeed is happening now, in many places around
the world, such that there is the possibility of a heuristic--a new
kind of generative model-- coming out of a tangential, even
impossible 'we' amidst turmoil and confusion. I also believe that it
is very important not to overdetermine roles such as 'artist',
'curator' , 'market', etc and rather to adopt a flexible mind
regarding the human/posthuman possibilities in collective cultural
collaboration and participation.
I wish to share with you a letter I wrote to documenta magazine
project editors at their request, after a transregional meeting in
Cairo, Egypt in November, 2006, to which -empyre-, myself as editor/
representative, was invited, together with editors and writers from
around the world, to discuss 'what is bare life" and 'what is to be
The others around the table came from Santiago, Havana, Singapore,
Guatemala City, Brussels, Oldenburg, Moscow, Beirut, Amman, Berlin.
I was the only American present, and representing, to the best of my
ability, Australia's -empyre-, despite being from California.
Perhaps you will recognize some of the names; perhaps just reading
through to the story here, may offer some sense of how broad our
discourse here really can be, how beyond the confines of the
rationales and cliches of whatever is 'the art world' , and how much
into a new space of transformation, even heterogenesis, as Ollivier
Of course the views expressed here are only mine and do not attempt
to speak on behalf of anyone.
The participating editors mentioned in my text below are;
Rosina Cazali, art critic, curator, writing for
Keti Chukhrov, writer, philosopher, Moscow Art Magazine http://xz.gif.ru
Bojana CvejiÄ, writer, performer, editor, TkH (Walking Theory)
Lucy Davis, visual artist, curator, founding editor of FOCAS/Forum on
Art and Contemporary Society, Singapore
Dalal al-Bizri, Arab cultural production researcher, sociologist,
journalist, al-Hayat, Cairo
Maren LÃbbke-Tidow, editor, curator, Camera Austria
Carmen MÃrsch, artist, educator, researcher, art and mediation,
Institute for Cultural Studies, University of Oldenburg, Documenta 12
Desiderio Navarro, editor, Criterios, Havana
This is a time when the confusion of threads in a hypertext is much
like the confusion of cultural production, beyond the relational
aesthetics of Bourriard. In a space of encounter, as Bojana has
written, where, "when we would like to speak about certain ways of
working together in the contemporary art (collectives,
collaborations, movements, participations) which are no longer linked
to progress and history, to the common goal, but rather, articulate
and demand thr space through incoherency and continguency of their
meeting." (http://www.drustvo-za-estetiko.si/prostror_abs_cv.htm )
pulling rabbits out of a hat, I offer you these reflections.
I have been pondering what was 'crucial' and feel that i can't hope
to really do justice to
all of the contributions and interactions, forgive me! but, I have
come away with certain thoughts about
what documenta 12 / and the magazine project can be/ or what its
ethical or poetics touch on, perhaps.
Documenta 11 -- although incredibly rich in content -- seemed a
bit like, you the 'spectator' approaching the other, or the others'
pain, and feeling strange or terrorized or implicated by it, but
still, like spectacle. It was still trying to be 'engaged' with
contemporary margins. It 'regarded' the space of the other.
Now 5 years later is a time of a different poetics. We know
ourselves at the margins of a huge flattening and empty-ing out
process leaving the shells of modern structures, like the
impoverished banalities of Dalal's university desert, where the
research university becomes a Kafkaesque travesty where there is no
remedy, no external validation or markers, when 'everything' is
hypermediated. 'other' "R" us.
And at this margin it is able to produce something of an ethos, a
critical space. To live in flat world, just another media moment
in the global crush of fundamentalist/neollberal rhetoric.
And yet the possibility remains alive that acts of art production
or, better yet, performed acts, intervene and interpret
simultaneously at a point of encounter at the edge of 'bare life'
because we acknowledge we all live, must live, close to it now.
This encountering creates some kind of new space, in which
everyone produces. Keti spoke of the point of encounter, at which
you produce something of heuristic value.
I felt all somehow touched on something about this production of
critical space, always drawing attention to the considerable danger
involved in doing so, risks of the health of the body and mind
through extreme performance (Regina Galino and Rosina Cazali),
risks of imprisonment (Nelly, Desiderio, Lucy). (Unfortunately I
missed all of Salwa's talk because of a bad headset , so i cannot
comment about her presentation).
With regard to publication strategies, Nelly spoke of how layering
of images and text as a graphic design strategy for avantgarde
leftist reviews might counter the adminstrative bureaucratic
('data driven' ) market driven conventions in mainstream media.
Rosina argued that to move 'subversive' critical content into
mainstream media was crucial, rather than to hold onto outsider
status. This idea appeals to me because of its subversive
tacticality. As Maren described Jo Spence's performative
photography, I found my thoughts continually circling around
Spence's obsession with creating a performative methodology, as if
each step would teach to others as well as teach herself how to
live, in the face of, in the space of, terminal illness.
Speaking about the performance artist Regina Galindo, Rosina's
powerful witness to her experience accompanying Galindo as she was
're-channeling all visual, metaphoric, symbolic and semiotic power
onto her body" made me ponder the role of the witness, as much
more than observer, but indeed, one who makes the critical space
possible by her engaged response to the crisis created by the site
of pain (whether in the body of the performance artist or, as Keti
and I have engaged in work with marginalized people, in the site of
places where people have lost their ability to construct their own
identities and their sense of place (Keti's "lost time".)
Over and over again, the sense of being compelled to witness, and
to act from within a place of the desert, of parched or
undernourished conditions, or of a place of evacuation, recurred.
Like Hala's stories of the complexities of dealing with censorship,
gender codes and closed access in Cairo's film scene, Desiderio's
complex discussion of a decade of tactical moves around the
ideological fortress of Cuban institutional-revolutionary
bureaucracy reminded me of K, in Kafka's Castle, who uncannily
persists in sorting through the absurd nightmare of impossible
contradictory demands from on high, accidentally finding breath,
the prelude to voice, in the impersonal passionate arms of a
barmaid, absurdly-- in the midst of his struggles to make sense of
the maddening bureaucracy of the Castle.. Hala's and Desiderio's
method is Socratic, simply asking basic questions, over and over,
and this becomes an absurdist act of resistance, which entails a
life in refusal of the 'subject' definition or identity that the
bureaucracy requires; like K each has no 'place' in the Schloss;
yet he and she are the ones who breathe, who speak.
Bojana spoke of how she and her friends figured out how to perform
theory in places where theory was not desired or expected.
DIscursive sites, in which performing was a masking within known
narrative technique. She emphasized a self organizing topology
within a 'luxury of the margin', where theatre might become a
concrete space that is an enabling tool, not based on ideological
constraints but rather on a generative, open source collective
action. Literally as physical mobile architecture, as a
performative theatre (maybe as in the tradition of Augusto Boal?)
-empyre- wants to generate a 'third space' always destabilzing a
dialectical or binary debate or opposition. In the 'soft-skinned
space' of -empyre- and in my visual and multimedia practice
there's always the structuring of actions into a zone of what
Bojana spoke of as 'affirming positive practices' and 'enabling a
heterogenesis'. As i wrote today on post.thing.net, http://
"All I meant to suggest is that as a working model I don't assume a
priori superior status/ priority/ privileging of my observations
and actions in a site specific practice, over against the place
itself and the people who live there. I just have an instinct that
if I can submerge my 'self' deeply into the environmental
conditions of the site, the work that I perform subsequently ,
whether it's drawing, photomontage, video installation, will unfold
a layered open work, or critical space, that moves beyond the
dialectic of the participant-observer vs the site.
Sort of a third space (following Soja) or tri=alectic. Engaging
with an Other as a third term. This Other remains outside the
construction of your identity and your actions.
Certainly I would assume that the presence of work as a consequence
of this encounter with third space has power for other people. In
that it's open to them to interpret and then construct new thought
and content. Thus the site study (or non site ! study) may become a
critical space for generative knowledge, a heuristic, even."
In other words, a transpersonal and transmedia condition.
Keti made an intriguing coda by noting that her poetics of
encounter at the edges of bare life, like the skin head kids, was a
practice of 'a kind of contemporary Stoicism'.
Intrigued, I looked around the net and found this:
The Stoics developed a sophisticated psychological theory to
explain how the advent of reason fundamentally transforms the world
view of human beings as they mature. This is the theory of
âappropriation,' or oikeiÃsis, a technical term which scholars
have also translated variously as "orientation,"
âfamiliarization,â âaffinity,â or âaffiliation.â The
word means the recognition of something as oneâs own, as belonging
to oneself. The opposite of oikeiÃsis is allotriÃsis, which neatly
translates as âalienationâOur human reason gives us an affinity
with the cosmic reason, Nature, that guides the universe. The fully
matured adult thus comes to identify his real self, his true good,
with his completely developed, perfected rational soul. This best
possible state of the rational soul is exactly what virtue is.
In this Stoic sense, Carmen's mission to teach or structure a space
of teaching within documenta 12 implies performing this ethos of
affinity or appropriation , oikeiosis, -- performance of
boundaries, multiple linked knowledge exchange, 'critical
friendship' and the soft logic of analogy and empirical
observation. The 'mediation' is itself the generative chaos of
critical voices that make a 'heterogenesis' possible across many
anyway I hope this is a decent brief sketch . .. so much of this is
very nuanced, hard to talk about without too much jargon, etc.
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