COLLEGE—Final Presentation

The Spring term has just ended and we now have a month to finish our essays, after which my day-to-day involvement in the Diploma will be over and all that remains will be to get the results.

Last week we gave our final group presentation to our colleagues and tutors. We were asked to “build a presentation around a topic” rather than an artwork or exhibition and we chose to concentrate on the subject of “performativity” with reference to speech-act theory and the work of J L Austin, as well as it’s applications in gender theory of Judith Butler, Luce Irigaray and Rebecca Schneider. Along the way we brought in Foucault, Debord and Jorge Luis Borges as indicators of the transference (or failure thereof) of meaning through language.

Our piece took the form of three re-presentations of a series of statements recorded during the Core course and Lab sessions over the previous few weeks. These were initially decontextualised and re-contextualised into a short conversation between the members of our group, using the fragments to discuss (as best we could with the available material) the nature of performativity and illustrate it with some examples, and supply responses to the issues raised.

For the second part we replayed the original sound excerpts, reverting to the original source material, as it were, and following the same ‘script’ as used in the first part, thus partially recreating the original context for them while making clear their problematic nature in their new situations.

Finally, the audience was invited to take the floor and create a further version of the piece, sometimes reading their own lines or lines spoken by others.

The mark we get for this will count as 50% of the total mark for our Core course, and the Core course is one third of the overall mark for the Diploma.

I now have to complete a 4,000 word essay for the Core course, two 4,000 word essays for the Philosophy and… course and one 8,000 word essay for the Framing Art course. Lots of work to do.

UPDATE:
The marks are back already for the presentation. Our group got 85 out of 100! That amounts to an A+. Superb! Well done us.

CREATIVE JOURNAL—Mujeres Creando—Art and Political Activism

In Lab last week I was quite negative about the Bolivian feminist performance/action group Mujeres Creando1, mainly with respect to their relevance and effectiveness, but also with their translatability to the present state of affairs in Europe and particularly Britain.

This reaction was sparked by an anecdote about their presence at a conference last year where they performed and talked about their work. Apparently their presentation was greeted with a degree of scepticism by the audience as to it’s effectiveness when taken out of the Bolivian (or South American) context. The way the response was described, the audience were put off by the group’s less than academic style (given the context within which they were presenting), and the methods proposed as being those which Britain had seen from activist groups in the 80’s and 90’s and which had proved to have had little effect on politics and society in general.

After this we watched a video of one of Mujeres Creando’s performances in Bolivia. It took place in a public square, with a woman throwing pots of red paint (possibly blood) over the floor while haranguing the assembled crowd. Another member of the group, gaudily dressed as a caricature of someone from the upper-middle-classes (I think). The performance leads to the involvement of the police, performing a predictably heavy-handed eviction and arrest of the troupe. Much struggling and screaming ensues.

And here lies a problem with all works, it depends for it’s immediate effectiveness—it’s affectiveness?—on some knowledge of the context on the part of the viewer. Speaking personally, for this work I have only the vaguest idea about the background in Bolivia, about the treatment of female and/or gay members of their society. So my first contact with the piece lacks the necessary information for me to make anything of it (and given that I do not speak Spanish, I cannot gather anything from the dialogue), and I am hence only able to interpret formal aspects of the show, and relate what I am seeing to similar events I am aware of.

Is this a surmountable problem? In the context of the performance itself, is it a problem in the first place? The Performance only loses it’s context—it’s meaning—through the recording, so when performed I assume the piece works for it’s audience, and only by being mediated does it fail (at least on that front).

So what can be done to regain that context, if that’s all that’s necessary to make the piece work? At a very basic level, the video would need to include a lot of extra information to situate to performance within the social and political milieu, and this information would need to be tailored to a certain extent to the particular audience viewing the piece.

So what can be said about the reaction of the English audience to their work? Many will have no direct knowledge of experience of the situation in Bolivia, thus losing any possibility of an empathetic reaction. The performers at the conference may be able to engender an affective reaction through their engagement with the issues and ability to communicate with their audience.

So is this particular (lack of) reaction just apathy or a reasonable suspicion of this type of activism? Has performance of this type lost it’s effectiveness in Britain?

And what about it’s status as art? Is that relevant anymore? Does being classed as art neuter the work’s political aspirations? Again, does ‘art’ give the work some caché in Bolivia that is lacking in Britain? Have the British become inured to art? Is art not the place to make any kind of statement, if you want that statement to be taken seriously? Has the avant-garde tradition of épater le bourgeois been emasculated?

It’s very difficult for me to relate to what is undoubtedly a very serious situation in Bolivia. Using performance art to address it leaves me with conflicting emotions – on the one hand I can see that in it’s place it could have been effective; on the other I am repelled by the methods that seem to me to be embarrassingly ineffective. But of course, I am only thinking of them in relation to myself, one person’s reaction. Just because I do not react well, does not prevent the work from being effective with other people. I feel bad for being so negative now. I was being very limited in my thinking. I should ask myself what I would do in this situation.

  1. Mujeres Creando

CREATIVE JOURNAL—What if?

What if we were to record many different speakers on many different subjects and, from those recordings, isolate statements relating to specific writers, or subjects?

Could we then take those statements, look at them as graphic lines, with marks at certain points where these writers and subjects are mentioned, marks that could act as points of attraction and intersection with other statement-lines plotted on the plane of a graph?

What would this arrangement of lines tell us about the relation between the speakers?

Statements as a sequence of meanings over time, with the graph plotting time against subject matter.

Am I unnecessarily complexifying what is essentially a simple relationship?

CREATIVE JOURNAL—What does the film ‘Derrida’ tell us about authorship?

Or perhaps I should ask what it tells us about this course?

Some background – over the last few weeks we’ve been discussing the nature of authorship in relation to discourse and creativity, with reference to texts by Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Janet Wolff and Jorge Luis Borges. As a way of galvanizing some further insights into this subject, for the Lab session this week we watched the film ‘Derrida’.

The reason why I ask what it tells us about this course is because this was the second time we’d been shown this film as part of it. The previous occasion was two weeks ago for the Philosophy And… lecture with Alex Düttmann. For that, the discussion centered around what it meant for there to be a film about a philosopher and could a philosopher’s ideas be translated into the cinematic medium?

The section of the film that Alex lighted upon as particularly significant was the point at which Jacques Derrida is asked what he would like to see in a documentary about a philosopher – Hegel or Heidegger, say. Derrida replies after a moments thought with: “their sex-lives,” later clarifying this as those things about which they never speak, in this case their personal lives.

This was then related by Alex to the exploration of certain understandings of ‘truth’ evinced by philosophers—and indeed filmmakers. An understanding that cinema could perhaps help by concentrating on these impromptu remarks that ‘betray’ truth. Betrayal was contrasted with stating truths – what philosophy is normally concerned to do.This other dimension of truth would only manifest itself in that it is ‘betrayed’.

Looking back over my notes, I’m a bit unsure whether Alex was referring to Derrida’s impromptu remark or the possible impromptu remarks that Hegel or Heidegger would make during their own documentaries. I guess it’s irrelevant. What we have here is an example of Derrida performing his own detournement within the film, revealing more than he would have wanted perhaps – I think his being filmed watching previously shown footage of himself demonstrates his complicity in this action – at one point he watches footage of himself watching footage of himself just to over-emphasise the point. This surely is a state of deconstruction, a situation whereby the subject is always already showing the way to their own disassembling?

Nevertheless

After the second showing we touched upon the presence of the ‘other’ as the agent creating meaning through the actions of the subject, so relating back to the author as just the first body to fix meaning after which there are a multitude of possible meanings. Towards the end of the film the narrator reads a quote from Derrida where he talks about a “secret self” revealed to the other that I cannot see and which is able to see meanings that the author cannot envision:

How can another see into me, into my most secret self, without my being able to see in there myself? And without my being able to see him in me. And if my secret self, that which can be revealed only to the other, to the wholly other, to God if you wish, is a secret that I will never reflect on, that I will never know or experience or possess as my own . . . (Derrida, 1995)

Our tutor, Paulo Plotegher, positioned this relation between the author and the other to Foucault’s ‘reversed’ conception of the author:

How can one reduce the great peril, the great danger with which fiction threatens our world? The answer is: one can reduce it with the author. The author allows a limitation of the cancerous and dangerous proliferation of significations within a world . . . (Foucault, 1969)

Paulo said “instead of being the origin of meaning, fulfilling the work, he’s really a sort of device to enable us to make order in the potential proliferation of meaning”:

The truth is quite the contrary: the author is not an indefinite source of significations which fill a work; the author does not precede the works; he is a certain functional principle by which, in our culture, one limits, excludes, and chooses; in short, by which one impedes the free circulation, the free manipulation, the free composition, decomposition, and re-composition of fiction. (Foucault, 1969)

Foucault returns the agency back to the author, in contrast to Barthes ‘death of the author’ (published two years previously). Returning to the film, Jacques Derrida creates a conception of the secret that is only visible to the other, and of which the author is unaware, which seems to move back into Barthes’ territory.

Barthes, R. (1967). The Death of the Author.
Derrida, J. (1995). The Gift of Death. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Düttmann, A. (2007). Discussion following screening of Derrida film. 31 January 2007
Foucault, M. (1969). What is an Author?
Plotegher, P. (2007). Discussion following screening of Derrida film. 8 February 2007.