Towards an indivisible value.

Towards an indivisible value: Theatre, Art and the Materialised Spirit

A Critical Writing Project  December 2012 – December 2013

Updated occasionally, this writing project, draws together the findings and practical-thinking embedded in over ten years of sustained performance practice. It explores contemporary aspects of art’s value,  while interrogating the notion of art as an an other specialised form of intervention into discourse. As a bridge between the visible and invisible, the represented and repressed, the materiality of art and its exchange value  as another form of currency (a spiritual materiality), allows us not only to think of, but to be in another space, a space suspended in-between (indivisible).

Performance Matters: Not a lot. Cultural disvalue and dysfunctionality.

OR Dysfunctional collectivity: the delusion of performative freedom (for whom?) beside its potential to labour against.

Agamben’s description of another methodology in The Signature of All Things: On Method and his mining of Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge might stand in as a useful and valuable characterization for the very matter of performance. By delineating performances’ material and immaterial qualities, as paradigmatic – ‘a matter not of corroborating a certain sensible likeness but of producing it by means of an operation’ – it is possible to re-evaluate the matter of performance through its juxtapositioning – a thing made outside the everyday – in “showing”, “exposing”, “placing alongside” and “conjoining together” (Agamben 2011: 23).

‘Just as in the case of recollection – which Plato often uses as a paradigm of knowledge – where a sensible phenomenon is placed into a nonsensible relation with itself, and thus re-cognised in the other, so in the paradigm it is a matter not of corroborating a certain sensible likeness but of producing it by means of an operation. For this reason, the paradigm is never already given, but is generated and produced by ‘placing alongside”, “conjoining together” and above all by “showing” and “exposing”.'(Agamben 2011: 23 – In speech marks from Foucault Archaeology of Knowledge: 209)

Here I and We wish to concentrate predominantly on the concept and performance practice of “conjoining together”– a paradigmatic shift that plays across and within forbidden categories, between the tensions of independence and interdependence, appropriation and assimilation, and between the categories of freedom and the un/reality of free choice. I speak here of that Con Joining that allows for a more uncensored, uncertain speech that encourages heresy and heterodoxy. That mixes and mingles form, language, sentiment, intention, and desire, in new enjoyments and creative spaces that have yet to be colonized by cultural capital and all its dead weight. Performance matter that literally appears, guerilla-like, as the ‘uninvited guest’, or as an insertion – a naïve and sometimes crude grafting that jolts the senses – between understanding and misunderstanding, between the sensible and the nonsensible. This is about shifting position, confronting our understanding and feeling: about a real discomfit on the part of the artist/s, a dissolving of control, and a subtle attentiveness to the ‘intention of the unintentional’. There is a movement, an energy, a vibration, shifts in expectation, mood and understanding, a shimmy of words, images, feelings – we are making culture together, improvising and building new sets of relationship, new juxtapositions that undermine habituated, unreflective and complacent hierarchies.

It is this imperative to meticulously and continuously interrogate and undermine the practices and privileges of art as an institutional structure; delineating the specific parameters, its framing devices, and in taking care, of the particular, in order to encourage a real sustained experiment in the creation of an alternative space, working with other artists, and in art-making with an undefined public. The function of the street studio – the workings of art exposed in all their mundane simplicity, like the butchers craft, chopping of pigs trotters or the fishmonger descaling a crate of gurnards, or the stacking of shelves; in these showings, exposings and ruptures, where, who or what is in control is constantly recalibrated, shifting to and fro ‘in the intention of the unintentional.’ Here then, within a ‘dysfunctional collectivity’ it is possible to question how we work together as artists – making, collaborating and thinking these extra-institutional activities – that in their dysfunctional collectivity, parody, ape and undermine the operations of existing institutional behaviour.

Here, the cauldron of the theatre stands in as metaphoric paradigm, for the institutional space of cultural production– a space only animated by the audience as actors, and the actors as artists or we may say only given life by the entering in of a reality suspended, reflecting back onto the bleak deathliness of life’s injustice… I recall Diogenes walking back out of the Athenian theatre as the audience leaves (a reversing or disjointing – the human re-configured as the marionette…. The reality that for most of the actors/spectactors, the act of being in the institution – ‘FUNCTIONING IN IT’ – requires only this stamp of approval, the applause of the crowd; that this leave taking from the theatre is nearer to the true experience of theatrical (or artistic) consumption, than actually having to sit through its interminable fictions; that this is nothing less (nor more than) the acme of this post-fordist performance, a charade of creativity where productivity makes nothing, changes nothing, inaugurates no thing. We shall call this ‘cultural capital’. And we must dismantle, undermine and destroy as much of this fool’s gold as it is humanly possible. Or is this it?

A/countering reality

I recollect here another figure of this ‘marginal’ avant garde – this return to Tadeusz Kantor’s words.  How exactly to wrest performance, that is the process of artistic creation, its potential – in art’s liberatory breath – away from the dead class,– and so by reinvigorate the ground on which art exists. By a simple expedient of political grounding? By activism, by exposing and questioning…?

ART FOREVER in CONTACT WITH REALITY (Kantor, stated in 1970)

But where “the value system of the work of art is always in conflict with this ‘reality’.” Here where the artist must always choose the side of life, departing from the domain of art in a continued conflictual process. So that he (Kantor) might proclaim again:

“Total creativity is total reality’”

The Theatre of Death and of the Impossible resonates with Artaud’s writings on the theatre of cruelty and the absurd. They propose in their parallel ways, divided by a sliver of time, a kind of operation that does not deny reality, but makes of it another parallel realm, a total reality, built from its forgotten horrors, its shadowy depths, informed by disease and catastrophe – conjoining art with reality:

‘Only at the brink of catastrophe, when the sanctioned

fabric of “reality” is being rent,

compromised, and unveiled, when it uses its own phrases to admit that

‘everything has become nothing more than fiction,’

when contradictions and

alternatives obliterate each other in an inexplicable way,

does the ‘situation of the artist’

approach the discovery of its mystery.

But it is too late.

Maybe no one

Can perceive this moment. (from the situation of the artist 1977:  130-131 Kantor – trans. M. Kobialka)

Dis… inoculation

Daily, hourly, by every minute and second of the day, wedded and welded to the operations that captivate and capture our every waking thought, within this post-industrial grid, we are asked to think for ourselves …in a free space… that we hardly have any sense of and even less control over. We think we are free…. But we are only inoculated – sealed off from reality…in the bubble of cultural capital. Only a radical dis-inoculation, of art and its operations allows for the construction of a new alternative space –  a dysfunctional collectivity – that turns the valuable in art, into a fine dust, and re-conforms the hidden grist and dirt from below, into something unutterably invaluable.

Performance matter that is, at the very centre of artistic interventions, especially when that matter literally dissolves and exposes the mechanics/efficacy or efficiency of art. Here there is the heightened anxiety, an urgency required in attempting to recapture the ground of ‘performance’ from its ubiquitous, unreflexive use. Precisely because there is real use in disvaluing and exposing the disfunctionality of cultural production – to literally measure – the rhetorical claims of artistic freedom and experimentation and to take care of what matters in performance; by asking – what is being said – and perhaps more significantly questioning how, when and by whom culture is being made and re-presented.

In placing together (the being together apart) – A shopfront with a motley band of troubadours, a giant ear that listens, Academic philosophical discourse placed alongside a discourse made up from drawing and stains drawn out from the matter of the market – the stinking discarded remains of everyday discourse.

Showing and/or exposing, we can see it flashing before our eyes, or in the sweat of work, joining together to make something a new, with ventriloquised and reconstructed voices – recreating song, choruses, voices conjoined together… And the cracks between experience and expectation… between what is possible and impossible…

Finally – If we are not to go on strike, downtools or disappear, go underground and recede entirely from view, then we (and I speak as much as a pedagogue, educator and as citizen) as artists must acknowledge our deep complicity in the economy of the artworld. And I mean here the whole network of relations that binds ‘freedom’ of expression, to all manner of operations within neo-liberal capitalism, the privatisation of public space, the co-option of democracy, the creation of ever more complexity, of hierarchy and species professionalism. All to hide from what, from the world clamoring outside…

(reflection on stage in real space…)

‘If we make a step further on this road, it might happen that a smile will turn into a grimace: …. Because of those mysterious laws of reversibility, the imperative of contemptible death in the title {LET the ARTISTS Die} … Fame and Glory touch down in the hell of a bottomless social pit: the world of bums, pimps, artists, whores. Art,…, turns into a despicable chamber of torture,

From which the artist’s appeal to the world is tapped in a prison code.’

(Kantor, from Reflection 1985: 155)

June 2012 Charlie Fox – Extract paper One Step Conference Bari.

‘The Visible, the Invisible, and the Indivisible’    An indivisible commonality?

1. Re-constructing the common

The construction of life is at present in the power of facts as have scarcely ever become the basis of convictions. (Benjamin: 61)

In speaking of the common we must be careful to enunciate its hoary patina and celebrate its radical sensuality, by reclaiming it from its corrupted use. For what would Benjamin say to the ‘common’, to his organs of the collective, suspended between progress and a fall into paralytic nothingness. We must offer a shrewd and unequivocal re-construction of the common, based not only on facts, but on conviction. Through a ‘we’, “I” must speak, applying oil to the hidden joints ‘that one has to know’ (Benjamin 61). But always conscious of the casual usage of the ‘common’ – a word spat out by the snobbish caste – in its excluding snarl. Paradoxically it is because this commoness reduces the exclusive to a category of the absurd, in re-introducing a universal sense/s of human experience, that the common can be re-constructed. A common forged from shared feeling. A common that means we can all sense it: a sensuality or affect, breaking through art/politics, destroying consensus. Here the common is the dissensual in-between, indivisible from common purpose, that is always a challenge to oneself and to the others. For this common is simultaneously visible and invisible, struggling in the tension to redefine through singularities, a common space of indivisible commonality.

2. The invisible visible, the visible invisible

What is visible is only that which is invisible to the blinded Polyphemus – everything speaks of the single all-seeing eye – the roaming CCTV, the micro eye of surgical cameras, of seeing, prying and reproducing. How does it feel, really feel, to be in common to the common-all, where the fissures and barriers breaking the contiguous plane, between the invisible visible and visible invisible, are made apparent, exposed and opened out. For everything which is significant remains invisible: the unconscious, the unknowable, the yet-to-be-made visible; making visible in the indivisible interplay between the hidden and apparent, in the urge to express or to repress the desire, to be in and of another, through the common-all space of art/life. This (in)hospitable gift – “I will devour nobody last”. Yet nobody slips out of the dark prison cave, cunningly, out toward the light. So will the common, outwit the seemingly omnipotent.

3. WE

There is a world that exists between us, but which also operates in the interstices of our own in/visible bodies, out, and onto other in/visible bodies. How can we inscribe this?

‘How is this possible? In the cultural object I feel the close presence of others beneath a veil of anonymity.’ (Merleau-Ponty: 405)

This idea then, or tracing – of an anonymous ‘we’ – positing this anonymity as both the impersonal and interpersonal life that circulates between us. This indivisible in-between that both binds and separates in the being-with-another, made possible by a common capacity for common language. Here, singularity and common anonymity are not opposed to each other, but are constantly interplaning through a sense of this ‘we’ – the being-in-the-world in the-truth-to-be-made – ‘awakening in the knotted web of intertwined life’ (ibid.). Nevertheless if we speak of this indivisible in-betweeness, it is not to lament some state of innocence or origin but to concede the ever-present struggle betwixt and between our sensibilities, where our dissolving of self goes hand in hand with a resolving of some lack through the other.

What is this indivisible in-betweeness, now? Could it be that this common world – what is held in common – remains an open political wound that has to be seen in terms of the everyday practical demands of living together? However, the violence required, to wrest this general intellect, and this indivisible commonality from individual experience should not be underestimated. It is a constant unending battle. It recalls that radical instance of we, a visionary recognition of that knot, imagined – a naked congregation of all – in William Blake’s ‘grain of sand’, that reveals the being-one of everyone and everything: this in-between the many, this being-together-apart, a contradictory but overwhelming feeling of being in a strange world that is finally indivisible from oneself.

4. Returning the common: in/divisible laughter

In laughter, it is possible to experience the indivisible, in the experience of laughter’s common field, in which in-betweeness is played out. You cannot underestimate the power of this laughter, between the self, and the other selves that make up each singularity, and that contagiously overwhelms the other/s. This is precisely because laughter can no more be reduced to the social function of communication, than it can be misconstrued as pure expression. No, it is the cut, ambiguous, vulnerable, and contestable. In the shifting movement of laughter, in its contagion and contamination there is an overcoming that has no obvious origin, that appears suddenly and unexpectedly, while feeding in each individual their own sense of self. That sense of a self, divided between the visible and invisible, yet made whole in the indivisible sense of a shared humanity. This suspended in-between: where any nobody may return.

It is this corporeal force, and this otherness in laughter that binds and unbinds in one movement –– the humility of the self before the common continuum. Here is an affirmation of the indivisible knot of the common, struggling to emerge, by dissolving the visible into the intervisible. These visible eruptions that force out the hidden, repressed, unrepresentable, as a collection of echoing laughters, cast back onto the pyre of history, to blaze again. For there can be no such thing as a new politics only new methods for opposing power. In seeking a new way to approach the common, we can re-make common cause against injustice, inequality and oppression. While proclaiming, without ambiguity, that there is not and there never has been a priori division between the visible and invisible, only a constant violent renting between the two, that attempts to render the indivisible common, impossible. But this irreducible indivisibility, this crowd of nobodies, cannot be repressed forever.   Charlie Fox 2012


Benjamin, W (2007)  Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings, trans. E. Jephcott, New York: Schocken Books.

Merleau-Ponty, (2002)  Phenomenology of Perception, trans. C. Smith, London & New York: Routledge.

Ranciere, J (2010)  Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. S. Corcoran, London & New York: Continuum.

Roma, V et al (2009) The Unavowable Community – collected project by Institut Ramon Llull, ACTAR.

Further research work on hidden, unrepresented, undervalued  or repressed artistic practices  @  decentrederspace  Alternative Art Map for South London

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