[-empyre-] into what midst? which collective? whose imaginary space?

Charlotte Farrell charlottefarrell at gmail.com
Thu Apr 25 01:47:11 EST 2013

An excerpt taken from Beth Hoffman's, 'Radicalism and the Theatre in
Genealogies of Live Art', *Performance Research* 14 (1), pp.95-105

"As director and playwright Charles Marowitz recalls, he, San Francisco
artist Ken Dewey, New York-based Allan Kaprow and others were invited by
Calder to present a ‘sample of a curious art form called a Happening’ as an
example of what might constitute the ‘theatre of the future’ (Marowitz
1990: 56). The group of artists developed the piece over the course of the
conference, driven by feelings of frustration with what Marowitz
characterized as tired debates about whether the actor, the director or the
writer is the primary artistic figure in the theatre, and about how to
breathe new life into the problem of establishing political ‘commitment’
through arts practice. To underscore the empty pontificating that Marowitz
felt comprised the general conversation, the performance of the Happening
began when Marowitz stood up within the context of an actual conference
debate and made a proposal. To mitigate against ‘a multiplicity of
interpretations [in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot] making it difficult to fix
[the play’s] “true meaning”’, he argued that the delegates should take this
opportunity to determine an ‘official’ interpretation, which, ‘when passed
by the conference, would become “standard” and appear in the appendix of
each printed edition thereby removing any confusion about the author’s
intentions’ (57). Marowitz then proceeded to declare that Waiting for Godot
was an intricately coded allegory for racial politics during the American
Civil War: Pozzo was Jefferson Davis, Estragon and Vladimir were the
Generals Grant and Lee, Lucky a plantation slave etc. (57). Despite his
sense that the whole proposal was obviously absurd, a patient audience
allowed him to go on for quite some time until a planted heckler tried to
interrupt him. Marowitz pointedly ignored the interruption; he recalls with
glee that he ‘droned on as if nothing untoward was happening’ (58) – until
a series of surreal actions began to unfold in and around the edges of the
auditorium, on and above the stage, and in the dome of the main hall. A
nude model was wheeled in on a trolley, actress Carroll Baker scrambled
across the backs of the audience as though mesmerized by Allan Kaprow, a
bagpiper marched down the aisles, animal skeletons were suspended over the
conference logo, a large number of white plaster heads were exposed at the
rear of the speakers’ platform, a woman with a baby and a toddler son
walked through the spectators behaving as though the conference delegates
were figures on display in a museum, and on and on. This strange cacophony
of spectacles was accompanied by a jumbled ‘tape-collage’ of many of the
speeches made at the conference. The actions lasted about 7 minutes."

On Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 1:16 AM, stamatia portanova <
stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it> wrote:

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear all,****
>  ****
> as a long-distance friend of the SenseLab, and having enjoyed the
> conversations developed on this forum so far, I  would like to join in
> and share some thoughts. ****
>  ****
> It was for me of particular interest to read about Erin and Brian’s idea
> of a ‘pragmatics of the useless’, of giving value to what is not already
> valued as productive in contemporary capitalist societies, and I
> particularly enjoyed the notion of a ‘wasted effort’ and of the delicious
> dionysian joy that comes with it. Kristine also gave us Filliou’s beautiful
> words about the good-at-nothing and good-at-everything (which I read as an
> ode to open access, or a collectivization of aesthetic sensibility as a
> political aim, if that makes sense). So I get this to be one of the core
> concepts to think, in order to understand the SenseLab and its various
> practices and events. Indeed, the first thing all of this reminds me of is
> Chuang-Tzu’s story of the serrate oak, which was ‘broad enough to shelter
> several thousand oxen and measured a hundred spans around, towering above
> the hills’, and yet remained untouched by carpenters for being ‘a worthless
> tree’. “There's nothing it can be used for”, the wise man says, “That's how
> it got to be that old!" It is of course not a lack of value that is
> attributed in this case to the tree, but what is at stake is a rethinking
> of value in itself, and a questioning of the conventional economic and
> moral senses we, as human beings, usually give to it and to our actions.
> Another useful (!) reference in relation to this reverted pragmatism is
> logician and philosopher C.S. Pierce, for whom the success of a pragmatic
> action can never be seen as definitive and always has in it germs of
> failure and traces of denial. It is exactly this character of novelty in
> experience, Pierce goes on to say, that produces an evolution in our ideas.
> Thinking does not derive from thoughts, but from the necessity of action,
> and continuously mutates with it. On this matter, I would really point out
> Pierce’s writings and thoughts on non-utilitarian pragmatism, and his logic
> of relations and signs, as one of the best theoretical keys for entering a
> collaborative midst. ****
>  ****
> But beyond these very philosophical reflections, what is important to
> highlight here I think is the fact that all this pragmatic uselessness, in
> research-creation events, is the plane from which new modes of
> subjectivization and of social relationality can very concretely and
> usefully emerge. This has been already well articulated by all the other
> participants, and what catches one’s attention from the whole discussion so
> far is indeed how generosity is emerging here as one of the main attractors
> of this relationality. The SenseLab is certainly a creative hub where
> challenging philosophical, artistic, aesthetic practices are experimented
> with, but as such it is also a place where issues emerge and are dealt with
> that go beyond these practices, such as the modulation of social relations
> between its components, or money and fund-raising for its projects, or as
> Erin was also pointing out, other pedagogical and distribution issues. The
> rhizomatic composition of the Lab (of every lab at its best) therefore
> extends, in all senses, much beyond the realm of art, to life itself. A
> creative lab is an open model for life, and a modulation of life itself.
> The way in which Sense Labbers are stimulated to deal with this modulation
> (if ONE main way can exist) is generosity. From this comes the political
> importance of its (and all such) projects, for they significantly manage to
> replace the key notion of ‘debt’ (one that is today dominant in any form of
> capitalist exploitation, from immaterial labour to power mining) with that
> of the ‘gift’. Instead of trying to fluidify relations and exchanges and
> instead of making them increasingly and illusorily abstract (as in the myth
> of total virtualisation proposed to us by forms of digital economic
> commonality such as that, much discussed today, of the bitcoin), the goal
> would be to pay the right attention to differences, to the various bodies
> and qualities implied in all our relations, those same bodies and qualities
> that still represent a hindrance for contemporary algorithmic and financial
> capitalism, and are at best to be simply dismissed, or thrown away as
> ‘waste’ (think of the tons of local fruits thrown away each year in many
> countries in the name of import and profit, and think of all the wasted
> efforts of unknown artists striving to produce some work and survive with
> no support). ‘Waste’ is really such, of course, only in the capitalist
> markets, where the very notion of value is totally submitted to a logic of
> qualitative in/equivalence and debt repayment: would it be possible for the
> unknown performer to repay the services of a prestigious lawyer with her
> work? Under this light, all forms of recuperation, redistribution, of play
> with what is excessive and wasted (wasted efforts, wasted matters, wasted
> ideas), generously bestowing it without expecting anything in exchange,
> become a vital for  not only of political critique but of creation (in
> the sense of an excessive and dionysian political economy, as Georges
> Bataille would define it). But I’ll stop here, before I start to waste time
> philosophizing again…****
>  ****
> Best,****
>  ****
> Stamatia Portanova****
>   ------------------------------
>  *Da:* Toni Pape <tonipape at gmail.com>
> *A:* soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>
> *Inviato:* Lunedì 22 Aprile 2013 21:37
> *Oggetto:* Re: [-empyre-] into what midst? which collective? whose
> imaginary space?
> hello
> from erin's phrasing I would think that she means our "subtle allegiances"
> with capital. if i may paraphrase in a somewhat simplistic way: even the
> most anti-capitalist among us cannot escape capital. the goal is therefore
> not to naïvely try and step out of capital but to step in and navigate our
> complex entanglements with it differently.
> a really short note on friendship: we've had a lot of conversations about
> this and here's what i took out it. friendship can be (but doesn't have to
> be) an *outcome* of collaborative practice. it *cannot* be its basis. it
> has to do with taking collaboration out of the personal. i'd be glad to go
> over that one again if people are interested. :-)
> concerning "new forms of knowledge." this may sound evasive but i hope you
> trust that it's not: i believe you cannot know *what* a new form of
> knowledge is because it doesn't exist yet. that's the thing with novelty.
> and taken seriously, this poses quite a demanding task:
> if you go to a conventional conference, you know that the form of
> knowledge you'll get is the 20-minute-paper. if you go to a
> research-creation event, you will have to invent that form in the first
> place. in any case, you will only ever know afterwards (and we've talked
> about what that was in the case of the dome project). we obviously have
> ideas and propositions. but you never know how the process will play out,
> what will stick, what will fall away. speaking of "what" and "how", i'm
> reminded of the first *Inflexions* issue which was called "How is
> research-creation?" <http://www.inflexions.org/issues.html#i1> instead of
> "What...".
> i'd say the point about failure and uselessness is not that our
> collaborative efforts *have to *result in that. but failure is always an
> option. obviously, one doesn't need an instrument for failure. i'd say
> failure has a habit of falling into place all by itself and doesn't need
> much help. also, it would be weird (paradoxical?) to have instruments for
> failure. applied correctly, they would allow us to "succeed in failing."
>  sadly enough, failure still feels like failure to me.
> and the notion of uselessness, for me, simply implies that the standard by
> which you measure value does not pre-exist that which is measured. for
> instance, it's very easy to say *Logic of Sensation* is useless because
> Francis Bacon hated it and he was a good painter. so it's of no use to the
> obvious authority in place. fine. but a more interesting and generous
> question would be to ask: what can a book, or movement of thought, a
> creative process *generate*? how might it *create *its own use?
> toni
> Am 22.04.2013 um 13:53 schrieb Johannes Birringer <
> Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>:
> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> dear all
> on a less humorous note, i have been thinking much about the recent
> response posting by Erin, which I felt was
> thought-provoking and frustrating at the same time, so i wondered how
> others here responded to the language
> and the philosophical stance (the term failure has been mentioned
> repeatedly but so far was excised from the discussion
> - and I'm glad it was as I don't particularly enjoyed recent academic
> rhetorical valuations of the merits of 'failure' in theory and
> praxis), so my question is rather simple - in response to the valid claims
> that might be made in favor of trying to un-align oneself
> with "value"  or prestige in the art marker or art system ...
> [Erin writes]
> ...a collective practice of working out how to connect with and at the
> same time leave behind modes of value-added (prestige value, for instance)
> so often associated to how art operates in the market. And the fact that
> many of us are academics also keeps us on our toes. But our point is not to
> suggest that we can create conditions that escape capital. Our hope is that
> in developing techniques that can create conditions for emergent collective
> processes, we will better be able to negotiate these subtle allegiances all
> of us participate in, and create lines of resistance that are curious and
> open-ended. >>
> could you elaborate what keeps you on your toes  -- that you have to
> produce something that is not waste?
> Claims that art is useless had been made a long time ago and repeatedly,
> of course the ironies abound.
> Yet collectively, cultures tend to remember art works and performances
>  and certain beliefs/rhythms (here I remind you of the
> text that Olu Taiwo had sent and which I quoted last sweek) they found
> useful and very much worth remembering or
> reinventing, that were instrumental in more than one sense.
> So what is your instrument of waste, of rigorous effort resulting in
> nothing? or anything (work) but only "affinities" and "subtle allegiances"?
>  What are these subtle allegiances,
> and where to they take us? are they your friendships?  surely that is
> fine, so are work-related creative temporary partnerships and production
> teams, we all enjoy them. What then
> are the "new forms of knowledge" you speak of?  and how could they be
> collective beyond your particular affinity group? is this the collective
> mode you meant to introduce?
> respectfully
> Johannes Birringer
> dap / interaktionslabor
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