[-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 done(education)?'

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 has implied.

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 mediation coordinator
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:// post.thing.net/node/1112,
"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 barriers.

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.
best wishes



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