performance matters

Writing on Performance and the performance of art…


1: Directives from beneath the surface.  Anthias installation – Sisters from another Mister

Click for performed text: Directives.Performed

2: Performance Enhancements and Permissions

Click for text: PerformanceEnhancement

3. Politics by other means; provocations for online dialogue on socially engaged practice.

Click for text: Politics by other means

4.  Tripping toward the Light Fantastic; afterwords on Jane Watt’s AIR commission

Click for text:  Trip_CFox_AH210610

 For more Critical and Research Writing HERE

Performance Matters not a lot: towards cultural disvalue, and disfunctionality

Performance Matters concentrates predominantly on exploring the concept and performance practice of “conjoining together”. It provides one exemplary operation in disvaluing and exposing the disfunctionality of cultural production: a way to gauge the rhetorical claims of artistic experimentation, and to take care of what matters in performance.

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” and “placing alongside” (Agamben 2011: 23).

Performance Matters wishes to concentrate predominantly on the concept and performance practice of “conjoining together”– a paradigmatic shift that plays across and within categories, between the tensions of independence and interdependence, appropriation and assimilation, and between the categories of freedom and choice. Performance 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 understanding and feeling: about a discomfit on the part of the artist, 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 habitual, unreflective and complacent hierarchies.

As an artist, performance matters are paramount when making artistic interventions, especially when that matter dissolves and exposes the mechanics/efficacy of performance. There is the heightened anxiety, an urgency required in attempting to recapture the ground of ‘performance’ from its ubiquitous, unreflexive use. Here then, 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 represented.    2012

‘The fourth stage of public art, …is transformative practice, which includes transforming the possibilities of what public art might be. Art would be an art that changes what art is. This is in contrast with a first-order idea of change. [T]his fourth dimension is public art that potentially transforms itself; transforms its publics; allows itself to be transformed by its publics; and allows these relationships and definitions to be transformed, too. This is bringing into doubt (because agency is radically uncertain) what various art and various audiences (and the relationship between them) can and might be. In a radically open system you never know what you might become (or indeed what you might already have become).’

Such art might, then, be hard to see and to judge because it will be transforming what counts as seeing and judging. What art might be, and become, is open ended. In a radically open system, what radical art is, is open to radical transformation in practice. (Hutchinson,  2002: 429-38)

Hutchinson, Mark (2002) ‘Four Stages of Public Art’, in Third Text, vol. 16 no. 4 2002: pp 429-38 reprinted in Doherty ed. Situation


Sketch for a dysfunctional collectivity: the illusion of performative freedom beside its potential to labour against.

Much ink has been spilt arguing over the efficacy, range and potential, of performance practices to critique and resist dominant cultural, political and economic practices: performance, that in its normal course, would only reinforce the dynamism and insatiable appetites of the capitalist global economy. As an artist working with other artists, and an often undefined public, it is imperative that the manner of working within artistic practice is interrogated and undermined, by delineating the specific parameters, and in taking especial care, of the particular, in order to encourage a real sustained experiment. In plotting instances where the politics in performance is freely exposed, and exposes itself to the real, through various competing operations:  in working conditions, through ideology, in the accumulation of cultural capital, in the production/counterproduction of knowledge (especially in the recuperation of those knowledges into higher education economies), but most importantly in facilitating alternative platforms for artistic engagement. Here then, within a ‘dysfunctional collectivity’ it is possible to question how we work together as artists, of what artistic/performative work actually consists within the overall capitalist economy, of the value of artistic/performance practices, whether surplus, ephemeral or negative; creating one schematic account for a potential to labour against, and not for, current institutional structures.

This theoretical schema is sketched out from an accumulated experience of initiating, creating, participating in and observing artistic engagement – a doing/thinking – as part of a set of interrelated collective and collaborative projects: the Communist Gallery (Comm(o)nistGalleryTV) and certain other counterproductive practices. It offers one way among many for approaching the operations, apparatus and constructions that works of art  – and the performance ‘artist’ – are subjected to. By bringing into public view – e.g. hidden or immaterial labour – and in the creation of another type of discursive space, within a public arena: in the exchange of ideas/thinking, and in valuing within the privileged space of art, subjugated knowledges, and giving a platform for ‘knowledges from below’, that are routinely ignored, repressed, hidden, or literally, as in Foucault’s phrase forced to work in a way designed only to shore up current power structures (Foucault: 7). This sketch follows then five specific trajectories:

1) Performance as another labour, examining principally the manner in which projects are improvised and negotiated.

2) Performance activity as doing/showing, in laying bare the division of labour – in the dissolving of roles – by building culture together through a re-valuing of disqualified knowledges.

3) Modes of working, through non-normal/unfamiliar working practices: other ways of functioning as a subject/artist in relation to time, value or exchange.

4) A haunted labour … a naive DIY labour that is made and performed in and for itself, only in so far as it resonates, listens to and speaks to a particular locality or situation, that is ordinarily repressed or hidden.

5) A specific performance frame – simultaneously the framework of analysis and the framework/s for working together – becomes the key to which all other aspects of the work must hinge; as that point, at which the call or desire to act together, collectively, coalesces. Finally the competing desires and knowledges of those participating within the project, act as a break on the total recuperation of work, precisely because, no one individual, is ever entirely in control of this collective dysfunctionality2012

Foucault, M (2003)  Society must be Defended: Lecture at the College de France 1975-76. Trans D. Macey, Penguin Books

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