A creative practice Susan Francis, Maija Liepins, Yonat Nitzan-Green
A CAS Anthology Chapter 1. Dissent, Issue.1.1
Dissent: a creative practice A CAS Anthology
Susan Francis, Maija Liepins, Yonat Nitzan-Green
© CAS (Chapel Arts Studios) 2018 ‘Dissent: A Creative Practice’, Version 1.1, 2018
Susan Francis Reflecting on practice, how can the language of the relational self sustain the necessary interstice for a constructive dissent?………………………………………..………………9
Maija Liepins Individual dissent for collective change in art and society………………………………………..………………26
Yonat Nitzan-Green The performative act as a dissenting method of painting A maternal subjectivity perspective………………………………………………………………………………….……48
We are grateful to Suzanne Baker for her generous support. Many thanks to Dr Jane Bennett, Dr Yvonne Jones, Dr Luisa Menano for your invaluable advice and help throughout this long process of writing; thank you CAS artists Dawn Evans, Joanne Pudney, Laurence Rushby, David Dixon and others for your trust; and a big thank you for all our families and friends for your constant encouragement.
Introduction ‘The essayist pushes toward some insight or some truth. That insight, that truth, tends to be hard won, if at all, for the essay tends to ask more than it answers. That asking—whether inscribed in ancient mud, printed on paper, or streamed thirty frames per second—is central to the essay, is the essay.’1 John Bresland Early on, Chapel Arts Studios (CAS) director David Dixon wrote: Our studio is a converted Victorian Chapel of Rest, and therefore in the middle of a large cemetery. Since its opening in 2009 there had remained an unaddressed question: “How, as artists, do we respond to this unique building?” … about a year ago it came to our attention that there was a Victorian map of the area that gave specific mention to the chapel ... The curious thing about this discovery was that our 120 year old studio began its life as a Dissenters Chapel.2 A brief history of the chapel, situated on St Mary’s church ground in Andover, Hampshire, revealed that it was built by dissenters. This lay a foundation for CAS Associate Artists ethos of practice. ‘1a.m.’ (December 2013) was their first creative meeting, led by David. It seemed to set the ‘tone’, or vision, for the group, as other similar creative sessions followed. David described the activity as a self-organising natural organism. This may give the impression of a harmonious being, however, the elements of chance and unpredictability were central. Introducing the terms ‘Autopoetic Morphogenesis’ David writes: These descriptive terms of biological systems provide the model we're going to be starting with, and a framework to begin hanging discussions on. For the duration of an a.m session the walls of CAS become a membrane, and we are the biological process that ensures the cell grows, mutates and evolves in unpredictable ways.3 The actual activity divided the group into two smaller teams, or ‘cells’, which took turns to occupy the space (chapel), each for an hour. While one group worked in the space, the other was away; each ‘cell’ responded to what the other ‘cell’ had left in the space. In that way a dynamic changeable installation emerged. After taking part in several group projects it became clear that although artists are familiar with various theories, there is a lack of a shared theoretical ground for the group. It needs to be clear that a homogeneous theoretical ground is not what the group is seeking; rather, it is a search for and a desire to build a platform that will nourish and in turn will be nourished by the diverse practices of CAS artists. 1
John Bresland, ‘On the origin of the video essay’, 2010, p. 1.Source: https://blackbird.vcu.edu/v9n1/ gallery/ve-bresland_j/ve-origin_print.shtml Blackbird an online journal of literature and the arts, Spring 2010 Vol. 9 No. 1, pp. 1-3. 2
David Dixon ‘Plotting’ (2014), CAS Archive.
David Dixon, ‘Autopoeitic Morphogenesis’ (2013), CAS Archive.
What followed was the setting up of a reading group. For several months a few members met regularly at the Blue Onion Café (Andover) to read and discuss their practices together with theoretical texts. Among others, questions such as ‘what is CAS’ methodology?’ and ‘what is the ethics that support this methodology?’ have been opened up in what became a practice – theory dialogue. The idea to write an anthology emerged as a way to reinforce and further develop this dialogue, informed by David’s vision. This anthology does not articulate CAS’ methodology, however, some of the ideas may contribute to its on-going development. Each artist-writer has engaged with questions of dissent relating to her own experience and art practice, as well as to The Laboratory of Dissent, a CAS exhibition that took place at The Winchester Gallery in 2015.4 The Laboratory of Dissent (2015) Director of The Winchester Gallery, Dr August Davis, offered several texts as stimulation and inspiration. The group chose to respond to, interpret and deconstruct some of the ideas in Chantal Mouffe’s essay ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’.5 CAS artists divided to four sub-groups, or ‘cells’, each was given a week to use the gallery space. At the fifth week there was a symposium where findings and insights were shared. More details can be found in CAS’ blog.6 As each artist relates to this exhibition I will not describe it here but later will bring some cross over ideas. First it is necessary to very briefly mention some of the points in Mouffe’s model of political antagonism. Political scientist Chantal Mouffe introduces her antagonistic model as a critique of Neoliberalism. Antagonism emerges from the fact that every choice implies a repression of other possibilities. Liberalism assumes that within multiculturalism, pluralistic society consensus can be reached. However, Mouffe claims that this assumption refuses to recognise unresolved conflicts that stem from diversity of opinions in every society. Neo liberalism is founded on rationalism and individualism, presenting politics as a set of ‘technical issues to be solved by experts’.7 In contrast, Mouffe advocates a return of politics to everyday life, accessible to all. Mouffe writes: [T]he dominant tendency in liberal thought is characterized by a rationalist and individualist approach which is unable to grasp adequately the pluralistic nature of the social world, with the conflicts that pluralism entails; conflicts for which no rational solution could ever exist, hence the dimension of antagonism that characterizes human societies.8
The Laboratory of Dissent at The Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art, The University of Southampton, 2015. A link: http://www.chapelartsstudios.co.uk/portfolio/the-laboratory-of-dissent. 5 Chantal
Mouffe, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ in Art & Research, Vol. 1, No. 2 Summer
Chantal Mouffe, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ in Art & Research, Vol. 1, No. 2 Summer 2007, p. 1. 8
Ibid, pp. 1-2.
Artists in the modernist era held an Avant guard critical position, however, Mouffe points out that this is nothing but an illusion. In other words, artists are part of society, not above or beyond it; they do not hold a privileged position. In today’s capitalist society the problem is that every art becomes incorporated in the capitalist machine. She raises the question whether artists can still make critical art in the light of this problem. In her antagonistic model artists can still play a role of undermining hegemonic structures. In Mouffe’s words: ‘According to the agonistic approach, critical art is art that foments dissensus.’9 It is not by breaking away from existing conditions but by widening art practises to include engagement with current dominant structures through, for example, what she calls a ‘strategy of “identity correction”.10 As identity is not pre-given but constructed, there is a possibility for identity correction. She brings the example of ‘Yes Men’ who say they are lying in order to reveal hidden truths.11 Dissent Another issue that needs opening up is dissent itself. “For me, this dissent business is more a state of mind, an approach” (David Dixon, BLOCK_CHAIN >THE POWER OF TWO, 2018). There seems to be a gap between personal dissent and public dissent. In CAS’ recent symposium many artists expressed their difficulties with this concept.12 Examples are: “How do you explain it?”, “I understand dissent as a personal thing”, “dissent or resent”, “dissent became too much …” [unfinished sentence], “dissent sounds a bit reactionary”, “It is hard to understand it, to articulate it”. Indeed, dissent is not a word that we use in everyday language. In order to speak about dissent there is a need to develop a vocabulary of dissent. “We start from negation, from dissonance. …”13. Jorgensen and Agustin14 refer to John Holloway, Change the World without taking Power (2005), where he claims that saying ‘No’ is the first step toward dissent. Here I would like to pause and focus our attention on the concept of dissonance. Dissonance definitions: ‘1. Discordant combination of sounds. 2. Lack of agreement or consistency.’15 Further definitions include: ‘inharmonious’, ‘state of unrest’,
Ibid, p. 4.
Yes Men operate under the mission statement that lies can expose truth.’ From: https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Yes_Men. 12
BLOCK_CHAIN >THE POWER OF TWO 2018, The Winchester School of Art Gallery, project initiated and curated by artist Susan Francis. All the following quotations in this paragraph have been taken during the day symposium. 13 John
Holloway, Change the World without taking Power (2005) in Bak Jorgensen, M., & Agustin, O. G. (2015). The Politics of Dissent. In M. B. Jorgensen, & O. G. Agustin (Eds.), Politics of Dissent. (pp. 11-25). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (Political and Social Change, Vol. 1). 14
Jorgensen and Agustin are researchers in the field of culture and global studies in Aalborg University, Denmark. Their essay was read and discussed at CAS reading group, March 2017. 15
Collins English Dictionary (1985) Patrick Hanks, ed., London & Glasgow: Collins p. 427.
4 ‘unresolved’, ‘disagreements’ and ‘incongruity’16. These terms describe different situations that can be associated with dissent. In psychology, Cognitive dissonance suggests ‘discomfort’, ‘mental stress’, ‘simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values’ and ‘inconsistency’.17 These may add to a vocabulary of dissent which is fundamental for it gives us conceptual ‘tools’ with which a thinking space can be constructed. Such a vocabulary also emerges and develops from listening to the voice of experience. Alongside words, it is enriched by material thinking. The concept ‘dissonance’ describes an initial state that helps us recognise a possibility and an intention for dissent. Dissonance is a musical concept which not so much addresses as shakes the sense of hearing and, indeed, the other senses. Finding or recognising a possibility for dissent initially comes from the senses. A feeling that something is ‘not right’. This feeling may provoke questions, thoughts, intentions and actions of dissent. Dissent, in other words, starts from a very private, personal feeling that emerges from encountering and being disturbed by something outside, in the ‘world’. Here, Maija Liepins is agitated by Shottenkirk’s ‘Research, Relativism, and Truth in Art’ (2006) who believes that post-modernism ‘brought relativism and a multiplicity of parallel histories, none of which could claim to hold the universal truth of artistic or social progress.’18 This prompted Liepins to investigate a non-linear progress. Reflecting on her Car installation at The Laboratory of Dissent (LOD) Susan Francis is agitated by a traumatic childhood memory of a car with a corps that was left for days near her home at the time of the Northern Ireland troubles. Yonat Nitzan-Green is making a connection between agitation, interruption and maternal dissonance. Referring to ‘cell 2’ she writes: ‘Building on our own experiences, we recognised the stimulating and potentially subversive aspect of interruption. Interruption can be understood as a maternal dissonance. Indeed, the strategic approach to the exhibition and our role within it as agitators was based on the notion of interruption’ (pp. 25-26). Whether an idea, a memory or an embodied experience, it is some kind of dissonance that the artists respond to; a dissonance that persists and agitates. As Donald Schön writes: In real-world practice, problems do not present themselves to the practitioner as givens. They must be constructed from the materials of problematic situations which are puzzling, troubling, and uncertain.19
Festinger developed the theory of cognitive dissonance in 1957. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Cognitive_dissonance. 18
Shottenkirk Dena, ‘Research, Relativism, and Truth in Art’ in Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 1, Winter 06/2007, p. 1. 19 Donald
Schön, ‘From Technical Rationality to Reflection-in-Action’ (pp. 39-40), in Supporting Lifelong Learning, Volume 1, Perspective on learning, Eds. Roger Harrison, Fiona Reeve, Ann Hanson and Julia Clarke, The Open University, Routledge, London and New-York, 2002.
5 According to Mouffe there is a need to harness passions and bring them back to politics, to use them as a force for actions of dissent against the status quo which is determined by various hegemonic structures. Mouffe claims: ‘The passions cannot be eliminated from politics; they are everywhere. They are part of individuals' make-up.’20 Mouffe makes a distinction between passions, which are collective, and feelings and emotions which are individual. She says: I take the term “passions” to mean all the emotional forces that are at stake in the creation of collective identities. I disagree with calling these things emotions or feelings. They are not individual passions, they are collective passions.21 Responding to Kenneth Gergen’s Relational Being (2011) Susan Francis writes: ‘no artist comes to the studio alone but rather brings friends, relatives, a nations’ politics, art history, and infinite personal and familial experience with them’. Indeed, artists create a ‘bridge’ between individuality and the collective as they bring issues taken from current affairs and life in general together with their personal ‘content’ into the studio or, as in the case of LOD, to the gallery space. In and through the creative act and material thinking emotions and feelings transform to collective passions such as traumatic collective memory, the plight of refugees, domestic abuse and mourning. Toward CAS’ diffracting dissent methodology A text read at one of CAS’ creative meetings was an interview with the Quantum physicist feminist Karen Barad.22 As all three artists in this collection of writings relate to Barad’s ‘Agential theory’ it may be helpful to briefly introduce some key concepts. According to Barad a diffractive methodology is: [A] method of diffractively reading insights through one another, building new insights, and attentively and carefully reading for differences that matter in their fine details, together with the recognition that there, intrinsic to this analysis, is an ethics that is not predicated on externality but rather entanglement. Diffractive readings bring inventive provocations; they are good to think with. They are respectful, detailed, ethical engagements.23
Enrique Diaz Alvarez, ‘Interview with Chantal Mouffe: “Pluralism is linked to the acceptance of conflicts” in https://dawnssong.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/pluralism-is-linked-to-acceptance-of.html. 21
feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers”, Interview with Karen Barad in “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” June 6, 2009 the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University. 23
“Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad in “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” June 6, 2009 the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University, p. 2.
6 ‘Agential realism’ theory is founded on connectivity: everything is connected, or in Barad’s term, entangled. Reconfiguring entanglements and apparatuses requires rethinking the terms agency, interaction, causality, and objectivity. Agency – the quality that mediates meaning - does not belong to a human or a non-human. Rather, it is an enactment that opens up possibilities for reconfiguring apparatuses or entanglements. While interaction implies coming to a situation from outside, intra-action is explained as looking at the relationships, how things intra-act in themselves, among eachother, and in the world. This demands the reconsideration of causality. According to Barad: “Cause and effect are supposed to follow one upon the other like billiard balls”24; this perception fell short of providing answers and led, in some cases, to evade thinking about causes. On the contrary, she calls for thinking causality in all its complexity; as it crosses disciplines and academic ‘fields of knowledge’. Finally, objectivity as it is practiced both in the sciences and humanities traditionally implied distancing and othering, coming from a world-view that divides the wold in binary terms, ‘nature’ - ‘culture’. Barad reconceptualises objectivity as based on entanglement rather than distance. Objectivity is an emergence from intra-actions, demanding response-ability and accountability. Nitzan-Green challenges the apparatus of painting by exploring the question ‘How might the method of the performative act be understood as a link between painting and “that outside it”?’ suggesting that the performative act is a diffractive research method that opens up an in-between space in which further materialisation take place. This allows matter an access to meaning, unmediated by words. Liepins writes: I have come to see dissent as a creative tool which can reveal opportunities for individual and collective action where no singular individual - or group - is the authority of the developing narrative, and all contribute to the experiential evolution of form and practice through discursive entanglement. Francis asks whether memory has ‘agency of its own to fuel dissent’, adding ‘when memory becomes entangled with material … can a more diffracting dialogue emerge?’ She concludes that Barad’s ‘theory of entanglement brings the agency of matter right into the heart of the process, facilitating a diffraction of ideas which opens up that fissure, allowing for a dissent which becomes … an ever evolving kaleidoscope of possibilities, each as infinitesimally individual and nuanced as a fingerprint’. This anthology is the first time CAS artists reflect on their own practices as well as the group’s practice through writing. ‘Michel de Montaigne … named “the act of exploring the
feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad in “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” June 6, 2009 the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University, p. 6.
7 limits of what we know. He called these works Essais. Attempts. Trials.”’25 As such writing an essay may be understood as a dissensual activity that requires experiments, courage and spirit.
Yonat Nitzan-Green 30.9.2018
Nitzan-Green’s ‘John Bresland ‘On the Origin of the Video Essay’ (2010) - Notes for conversation’ (CAS archive 16.11.2017). Bresland, ‘On the origin of the video essay’, 2010, p.1. Source: https://penandthepad.com/write-visual-essay-7899354.html
Reflecting on practice, how can the language of the relational self sustain the necessary interstice for a constructive dissent? Susan Francis Within the CAS Associates collaborative there has been much time spent considering the political and hegemonic structures within which we are operating and to subsequently consider dissent from an operational context. What we do less of is to dig into the actual work of our respective art practices, to explore the potential of an embedded dissenting approach to take us into new territory, new landscapes of thought. We have after all as artists, the opportunity to step beyond the boundaries of a textual constraint, and operate essentially within a language of materiality. Reflecting back on previous CAS collaborative projects and beyond into earlier personal development through the self ethnographic lens of my own practice, I will seek to tease out and examine the areas where material, practice and relational co-action create the crossover and necessary interstice to facilitate constructive dissent.
Reflecting on practice, how can the language of the relational self sustain the necessary interstice for a constructive dissent?
Abstract Back in 2008 I was invited to show work again after a hiatus of 10 years of self-imposed exile (whilst raising a young family), from the endless exhibiting/networking/workshopping world that had become ‘being an artist’. Tentatively dipping my toe back into my practice with that first exhibition, the statement accompanying the show harked back to earlier concerns. ‘Were I to dissect my practice and lay out the elements before me they would form three equal piles; material, process and space.’1 At that point I had little appreciation of the ever-widening process of confluence that would bind these material explorations inextricably within a growing relational context, fuelled by technological, sociological, ontological and theoretical developments. Or that the space that I was referring to would expand into an ever shifting virtual and conceptual landscape populated by everything from other artists to avatars to political divas, fanatical ideologists, and everything in between. Nor could I have predicted that the material referred to in that original statement would begin to morph into physical, digital and virtual matter, all of which would become deeply entangled in this ever-fluctuating confluence. Indeed the words of the statement themselves now seem an incongruous stab at containing something within the limited bonds of a textual language while simultaneously eschewing such restraints. So, if I take a few steps back, and view through a self-ethnographic lens, where has this evolution into relational selves taken myself as an artist operating within the CAS Associates group? And how has it created the necessary interstice between matter, self and society for a constructive dissent to find purchase, and what even can that term dissent mean?
Introduction What is meant by the relational self? Let’s examine to begin with, this concept of relational self, whose evolution had heralded in the seismic shift towards relational art in the 1990’s but whose present day definition is ceaselessly rewriting itself. Kenneth Gergen in his 1991 book, The Saturated Self2 began to draw attention to the plethora of social interactions that threatened to engulf us with the introduction of online communication and digital social media connections, bringing global connectivity way beyond our once limited experience of immediate social and familial
Francis S. 2008 Walking the Wire, Salisbury Arts Centre.
Gergen K. J. ‘The Saturated Self’ 1991 USA, Harper Collins Publishers.
11 groups. As we become increasingly conjoined with our social surroundings, there is a populating of the self, reflecting the infusion of particle identities through social saturation.3 Kenneth Gergen’s original rather foreboding slant of The Saturated Self however soon gave way to a more constructive embracing of the potential of these multiple voices in his subsequent work Relational Being4 (2009) and it is this positive potential of the growing multiplicity of connectivity and collaboration that we will be considering in relation to dissent. Perhaps inevitably then, as the digital world expanded and connectivity took on new meaning, so the boundary walls of the gallery structure began to crumble and dissolve as the possibility for social action and interaction to become centre stage of the artwork began to gather pace. Nicholas Bourriaud’s book, Relational Aesthetics5 1998, attempts to give definition to what at the time was becoming an increasingly diffracted landscape of happenings. It was, according to Bourriaud, an art, taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.6 Art that had dissented away from the canvas, the sculptural plinth and even the constraints of material itself now opened its doors to embrace relational action in the relentless quest for an alternative voice. As the digital age developed that dissenting voice became multiple voices diffracting out into a multiplicity of ideas, happenings and opinions. Kenneth Gergen chooses the word ‘conjoined’ to describe the close connection created across the digital social landscape, in other words, a connectivity so close as to allow particles of other identities to cross over into our own. The digital age, more than any other perhaps, has underscored the understanding that a much clearer narrative can be written retrospectively, looking back on events as opposed to when we are actually living in them. Elaine Scarry wrote: ‘We makes things so that they in turn will remake us.’7 Elaine Scarry’s quote illustrates this phenomenon clearly when applied to the rise of social media and the digital machinery of connectivity, where it is only now that we can fully comprehend the extent to which it has remade us since its dawn in the nineties. Not only can this quote be applied to our digital identities, but it also has deep resonance for artists in a material sense and we will pick up these threads as they cross over one another in the following text. Elaine Scarry’s words are so applicable, that I would like to stand back and observe with you, the artist that is myself over the last decade. I will attempt to trace this narrative of remaking 3
Ibid, p. 49.
Kenneth Gergen, ‘Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community’ 2009, Oxford: Oxford University Press. 5
Nicholas Bourriaud, ‘Relational Aesthetics’ 1998, Dijon: Presses du Réel.
Bouriard N. ‘Relational Aesthetics’ 1998 Dijon: Presses du Réel, p14.
Sobchank.V quotes Scarry E. in ‘Carnal Thoughts, Embodiment And Moving Image Culture’ 2004 London: University of California press Ltd, p135.
12 in a relational context, and ask the question as to how that has created a much wider interstice through which dissent, both through the individual artist and as part of a collective, can flow, relating this to a wider theoretical landscape. Susan Francis, artist This artistâ€™s practice, that had resumed post-digital age, was markedly free of many of the constraints that curtailed working in the late 80s, early 90s. Back then the opportunities for connectivity where seriously hampered by location, while as far as media was concerned, the possibilities afforded by camera and film work were completely restricted by cost and analogue production techniques. As the artistâ€™s practice resumed in the new millennium, not only did digital photography and video techniques enable vastly more experimental work at very low cost, but involvement early on in the growing proliferation of artist blogging, (at that point a relatively uncluttered landscape), allowed for a much freer and more widespread connectivity with other artists. 2012 and the artist was invited to take part in the Reside Residency8 Set up by Karl England, co-founder of Sluice with Ben Street, Reside is a digital/conceptual space, a specified time passed from artist to artist within which to develop and share practice. Essentially of course it is a blogging space, but actually, somehow, so much more. Following this ethos through, our artist, restricted by space in a rural location and by time with a family of four young children, set out to address these two issues, and hired three village hall spaces for one hour each with no end product and no specific criteria in mind other than to experience that space and disseminate that experience online through Reside. We will look specifically at space number 1, asking how this case study illustrates a constructive dissent on a conceptual, relational and material level. First however, we will begin by examining the initial task to hire the village hall space which resulted in the following email exchange.
8 Â http://resideresidency.weebly.com/reside-blog-susan-francis.
13 The email exchange between the village hall secretary and the artist
You have entered ‘art’ in the section of the form relating to the purposes of hire Yes So you are running a craft fair. No Ah, so you will be running a painting course? No, it’s just for me, there will be no one else there. So you are exhibiting, or making paintings to sell? That would be a commercial venture. No, nothing to sell. What are you doing exactly during the hired time? I’m not sure until I get there Ah, but you could be drawing? In a sense, yes, I suppose you could say I might be drawing. Great, we will just put art in the section then.
Fig.1: The hire form for Winterslow village hall, booking the space for one hour
15 The artist brought two things to the space, a huge roll of paper and a pair of roller skates. With these two items, the artist began to intuitively describe the space initially circling its entirety again and again on the roller skates.
Fig 2: The artist describing the space (Winterslow Village Hall 2012)
16 After half an hour she repeated the same approach with the paper, rolling the paper out from one end of the room to the other, letting the qualities of the process dictate the action. Everything was filmed and documented on the Reside site.
Fig 3: ‘Rolled paper’ material explorations of space (Winterslow Village Hall 2012)
This activity was carried out alone yet always with the Reside residency online audience in mind. It could therefore be described as performance and indeed the artist returned to the camera set up in the corner of the room a number of times to survey the footage. In effect, the artist took the role of both performer and audience, it appeared almost that there were two characters in the room, a relationship which touches on Lacan’s mirror theory and Michelle Foucault’s subsequent work, both of which concerned themselves with the alteric phenomenon of self and other. Michelle Foucault writes: ‘Mirror and camera are tools of self reflection and surveillance, each creates a double of the self, a second figure who can be examined more closely.’9 The recorded footage and photographs were subsequently published on the Reside blog, giving the artist a further layer of separation from the work. This separation was created by a number of factors. The original activity had been ring fenced, not only by the limits of the space, but also by time itself, markedly the hour within which the hire payment had dictated it take place. Outside of this space/hour and on the other side of a computer screen the artist was able to join in cahoots with the audience in observation and critical reflection. This multilayered relationship therefore facilitated a multilayered experience of self. Screen upon screen upon screen. Layer upon layer upon layer, each removed to a further observational point. 9
Foucault, op. cit., p. 25, cited in Lee P. available at http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/ eyegaze.htm (accessed 14th February 2017).
So where does dissent inhabit this particular event? Undoubtedly in the conversation on email with the village hall booking clerk. The artist’s intentions did not fit in any of the village hall booking categories and at a loss as to how to deal with this, the booking clerk eventually resorted to shoe horning it into a preconceived notion of ‘art’, certainly not Nicolas Bourriaud’s notion mentioned earlier. The rejection of a planned itinerary other than the confines of space and time could also be seen as a dissenting stance. Despite arriving with the articles mentioned, interaction with the space ultimately dictated the ‘work’. But referring back to Foucault, is this ‘double self’, this stepping away to view, survey and reflect, not surely a dissenting stance in itself? This alternative voice, always present in any artwork, as the artist observes, makes choices and judgments on the developing work, must be the first layer of dissent. It could also be observed then that dissent can only occur where there is relationship whether that be the interaction with the village hall secretary, the relationship between artist, space and material and ultimately the position of alterity, the artist observes herself. Therefore we could conclude that dissent is a relational process. Could we then surmise that the nurturing of a relational practice inevitably provides a richer environment for dissent to grow? Before we leave this scenario let us remember one thing. The artist’s dissent was dependent not only on relationship but on the set of boundaries albeit very simple ones. The space, or we could say, the stage for the performance, (in this case the village hall) was hired for a price. That price dictated the hour. One hour, one space. The setting of boundaries or rules if you like, sparse though they may be, created the necessary interstice in the overcrowded mind of the artist for dissent to occur. Fast forward another year and the artist enters a new arena for connectivity, as a member of CAS Associates, an active and inquisitive group of artists of mixed backgrounds, careers and interests, but with a firm collaborative and non hierarchical framework. To test out these theories let us unpick the events and work produced throughout Week 2 of The Laboratory of Dissent, a CAS initiative based in the Winchester Gallery at Winchester School of Art, and we will see a further element of confluence powerfully enter the mix. That of memory. The Laboratory of Dissent (2015) brings us back to the basic formula of space/time and the boundaries dictated by the hegemonic system controlling these elements. Freedom of expression and ultimately dissent, though invited by the organisation, must play out within the given guidelines, with any interaction invited strictly under these terms. In this case the space was now a ‘gallery’ space, and the artist was one of a designated group drawn from CAS members to work together for two weeks at the Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art. Again, little was known of the outcome of the potential confluence but interestingly, this time, as opposed to the village hall space, there was total acceptance that what would take place would definitely be ‘art’, due to the accepted context bestowed on the space by the Winchester School of Art. Indeed, the necessary elements which we all recognise as confirming its identity, a curator, white walls and a gallery lighting system were all present. Whatever occurred, it would surely be art. Interestingly, on reflection, the oxymoron contained within the project title itself, ‘Laboratory of Dissent’ seems to underscore the presence of these two seemingly diametric forces which threaten to pull in opposing directions, yet which the artists were invited to
18 hold in equilibrium over the designated fortnight. Both order and dissent, structure and de stabilisation, we have already observed to be symbiotic in essence, in other words, each needs to be present in order for the other to have meaning. In a laboratory, rules and restrictions are particularly stringent and yet it is here that unexpected discoveries are made. In the gallery we see the process of dissent as a relational one, with the interaction of the artists, those without the power if you like, engaging with and reacting against a system of control, the framework of university gallery guidelines. This dynamic dichotomy, this area of agency in regard to dissent, is described by Henri Lebevre in his words ‘illusion and truth, power and helplessness; the intersection of the sector man controls and the sector he does not control’10 But this is an overly simplistic equation perhaps and we need to unwrap the complexities of this project if we are to encompass the extent of the confluence that occurred while also recognising that where there is confluence there is also diffraction and where connectivity exists, there also lies the powerful catalyst of entanglement. Indeed it is the art and its engagement with material/matter which seeks to open up the experience, pursuing a nurturing of the unknown rather than the known, where a purely conceptual or conversational dialectic/discursive approach may ultimately have shut it down. This powerful agency of matter therefore, within this confluence, has the ability to preserve and nurture the dark spaces of unknownness that are so vital to the developing ‘alternative voice’ of dissent. Rebecca Solnit describes this need in her quote in response to Virgina Wolfe’s words; ‘The future is dark, which is the best thing the future can be’.11 Solnit rightly lauds this acceptance of the unknown stating, ‘It’s an extraordinary declaration, asserting that the unknown need not be turned into the known through false divination or the projection of grim political or ideological narratives’, it’s a celebration of darkness, willing - as that ‘I think’ indicates - to be uncertain even about its own assertion.12 If we are to accept therefore, relational interaction as an essential ingredient in the process of dissent, using this particular project as our case study, we must also accept that the net of confluence inevitably stretched way beyond the confined timescale allocated for the Laboratory of Dissent. It is at this point then that another powerful element must be considered in the mix, and for that we must reflect on Gaston Bachelard’s words: ‘One must always maintain ones connection to the past yet ceaselessly pull away from it’.13 Throughout all his work Gaston Bachelard articulated the huge power and influence of memory and imagination within everyday life and we will see its machinations at work within the laboratory of Dissent as we dig deeper.
Henri Lefebvre, ‘The Critique of Everyday Life’,1947 Paris: Verso, p40.
Wolfe V. cited by Solnit Rebecca ‘Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable’, 2009.
Solnit Rebecca. ‘Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable’ in ‘Men Explain Things To Me: And Other Essays’ 2014. 13
G. Bachelard, ‘Fragments of a Poetics of Fire’, 1988, 1990, Dallas: The Dallas Institute Publication.
19 Prior to this two week residency, members of the participating artist’s group each made a journey to their homeland, Yonat Nitzen Green to Israel, Laurence Dube Rushby to Paris in France, and our own particular artist to Belfast in Northern Ireland. The fourth artist, Clarisse also made a journey, but we will explore that later. Each of these journeys in a sense fitted the subtitle given to the project for this particular group’s week long residency, ‘Domesticating conflict’14, a phrase lifted out of the Chantal Mouffe text, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, around which the project was constructed. Both Northern Ireland and Israel are obviously territories well used to conflict but Paris was also a volatile site as the refugee camps and exploding global crisis of migration was at that time, engulfing the city. And so on Day 1 artists arrived in the gallery with considerably more baggage than the art materials and equipment they already carried. The trip to Northern Ireland had been a jolt back into a situation long since left behind for our artist. Despite the peace process, the streets fluttered more than ever with territorial flags, each district intent on resisting the watering down of tribal identities which the move towards political peace promised. This conflict had always been a domestic one, ingrained in the homes and everyday life of each family. The development of the group’s work over the fortnight was thoughtful, reflective and organic. Structure was abandoned as conversations wove into readings, performance and material play. Referring again to Kenneth Gergen’s work ‘Relational being’ we can recognise that no artist comes to the studio alone but rather brings friends, relatives, a nations politics, art history, and infinite personal and familial experience with them. Not only did this group of artists bring all of these elements, but as part of an ongoing collaboration, they were also given the remnants of the previous group’s work from the initial two weeks of the project (each group working in tandem for a fortnight) and also had the, as yet unrealised, following group’s work to consider. Dissent was explored in a number of ways. The basic restrictions of space and time imposed on the group seemed the most concrete elements to resist. Agitations had already been carried out during the previous group’s residency by Laurence who invaded their working space with her ‘refugee’ tent, disrupting Group 1’s work from the first day of their residency. Mischievous plans were made to disrupt the subsequent groups’ work with the invasion of Yonat’s ‘dust’ removal and our own artist’s Lie Detector chair, inviting discord through posing various antagonistic questions and inviting the artists to reveal their true thoughts while rating themselves in order of ability. So the boundaries of the two week timescale were shattered, as our group invaded, disrupted and questioned previous and subsequent groupings. Not only did the group dissent against time constraints but they also dissented against spatial restrictions - the gallery itself was reorganised, the tent placed in the grounds outside and hazard tape wrapped around the entrance of the building with no entry signs attached, confusing any who were intent on entering.
Mouffe C. 2007 Art & Research, Volume 1, No. 2.
" Fig: 4 The Car by Susan Francis at the Winchester gallery 2015
From early on into the residency our artist created a car installation on the gallery wall. Cut from textured domestic anaglypta wallpaper, (designed to cover cracks and defects invisibly), the image of a 1970s saloon car was gradually painted and repainted to become a barely visible ghost image on the wall, never totally disappearing from view. A pivotal memory from childhood in Belfast, the body from a punishment shooting had been unknowingly left in the boot of the car for days on the street outside the family home. This image served as a silent backdrop to the gallery activity, echoing the tension of Bachelard’s words as all of the artists sought to both explore and pull away from the memory of their own personal domestic conflicts. Like Laurence’s tent, it remained a constant echo of another narrative, along with the sound of tearing fabric in Yonat’s work, referencing a personal tragedy of previous years, and Clarisse’s domestic ‘uniform’ which hung on the wall, a mnemonic collection which spoke quietly of an oppressive, destructive relationship from her past. (While the other artists had returned physically to their environment of ‘domesticated conflict’, Clarisse had made her own particular mental journey to that complex space). Stepping back from the gallery scene, and referring back to previous observations on the reflecting ‘other’, could memory itself take on an almost panoptic gaze, as it threatens to patrol the boundaries within which we move and act? Has it agency of its own to fuel dissent or is it merely an impotent reflection, like Lacan’s mirror image,19 a position of observation that references the self, offering back a consummate definition which closes down rather than opens up the landscape? Yet when memory becomes entangled with material, as we see in Laboratory of Dissent, can a more diffracting dialogue emerge?
Lacan J. “The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I,” in Écrits. 1949, eds. Lacan J., Miller J. A., editors. 2006b, New York: W. W. Norton; p75–81.
21 Returning to the Winchester gallery, as the fortnight went on, objects and material became increasingly enmeshed with the emerging conversation. Dust collected from the gallery, home and other CAS Associates became the fodder served up at an artist’s ‘meal’, the guests seated round a communal table, each an integral part of an evolving performance as they discussed dissent while covering the table top with drawings emerging from conversation, thoughts, memories and the sheer delight of mark making. Ultimately the two week residency concluded with a co-active performance involving all the artists moving within the space, sound from various musical instruments, the ripping of fabric, the cleaning of the dust, all within the faint shadow of our artist’s car on the wall, a quiet yet distinctly ominous spectre in the space. The scene we leave is one of infinite relational confluence, co-action and entanglement. Material, matter, memory, action, co-action. Between participating artists, those on the previous two week block and those to come, indeed all of the familial, political and social connections represented within that space. Ultimately dissent was expressed through that final performance, an evolving organic happening which needed no text or defining commentary, resisting again the urge to turn the unknown fully into the known.
Conclusions And so through these two case studies we can reflect on the relational and collaborative process and how these two create the necessary interstice for constructive dissent to occur. We have seen that dissent is a relational process, intrinsically dependant on the crossover between the structure that creates boundaries with the agential body that seeks to disrupt. One is dependant on the other for meaning. We see the confluence of many infinitely diffracting elements of space/time and relationship that each play their part. And yet, considering this relational structure, can we ever foster an independent dissent unfettered by the restrictions generated by the ruling body or does it rather dictate that even in dissent, we will forever circle within its orbit, destined to become a mere reflex of the very thing we resist? This fear is outlined in Joan Copjec’s words, citing Foucault: ‘Even as it engages in acts of resistance, the modern subject is deter- mined as a direct reflection – a reflex – of the image that is implicit in the social relations of power in which it participates and through which it is “subjected” – an image that takes into account the acts of resistance through which the subject futilely attempts to resist what it takes to be its image.’20 Is this restricted dissent, shaped and curtailed by an image already conceived in confluence with the ruling body inevitable then, when we reflect that one is dependant on the other for existence, the system of boundary making shackled to the act of resistance? I’d like to propose not and further that we can leave Foucault’s rather dark and dreary conclusions in
Krips H The Politics of the Gaze: Foucault, Lacan and žižek available at http:// www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se/v2/a06/cu10v2a6.pdf (accessed 8th June 2018).
22 favour of embracing new thinking in the work of Karan Barad, physicist and feminist and her theories of entanglement. Relating expansively to universal phenomena, we are able, I believe, to bring Barad’s theory of entanglement to the intra-action of the artist with material and matter, a dynamic process which serves to break though this boundary and open the door to new and unchartered territory. Karan Barad’s theories of entanglement describe beautifully this doorway to a new landscape, a phenomenon which offers the possibility of freeing ourselves from the shackles which Foucault so pessimistically outlines. ‘The very nature of materiality is an entanglement. Matter itself is always already open to, or rather entangled with, the "Other." The intra-actively emergent "parts" of phenomena are constituted. Not only subjects but also objects are permeated through and through with their entangled kin; the other is not just in one's skin, but in one's bones, in one's belly, in one's heart, in one's nucleus, in one's past and future’.21 The process that Barad offers is not just co-action, the ability of each event to influence and direct the outcome of another, but rather intra-action, the coming together of elements in such a fertile process of enmeshing as to create an entirely new and open ended outcome. Barad’s words on the theory of entanglement bring the agency of matter right into the heart of the process, facilitating a diffraction of ideas which open up that fissure, allowing for a dissent which becomes more than the mere reflex as in Foucault’s definition but an ever evolving kaleidoscope of possibilities, each as infinitesimally individual and nuanced as a fingerprint. We see then, that by engaging with material and allowing that material to remake us, we have the potential to move into new arenas of discovery, new phenomena, which may indeed be made of elements familiar to our social and societal structure yet they are not clones of previous dissenting approaches but rather an entirely new birth of ideas, a truly alternative voice, which is of course the beginning of a constructive dissent. Through accepting Kenneth Gergen’s theories of infinite relational co-action alongside Karan Barad’s theories of entanglement leading to diffraction, we ultimately embrace a landscape of ‘notknowing’, allowing for that interstice, or perhaps more accurately, that overlapping landscape whose horizon is boundless and as yet undiscovered, a dissent freed from any reflection or reflex algorithm, where material in action with collaboration opens up a rich seam of constructive and organic dissent. A phenomenon which is surely at the very heart of the art making process.
Barad K, 2007 Meeting the Universe Halfway, Durham, USA: Duke University Press books.
23 Bibliography Bouriard Nicholas., 1998 ‘Relational Aesthetics’, Dijon: Presses du Réel. Barad Karen., 2007 ‘Meeting the Universe Halfway’, Durham, USA: Duke University Press books. Bachelard G., 1988 ‘Fragments of a Poetics of Fire’, 1990, Dallas: The Dallas Institute Publication. Gergen K. J., 1991 ‘The Saturated Self’ USA, Harper Collins Publishers. Gergen Kenneth., 2009 ‘Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community’, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Henri Lefebvre., 1947 ‘The Critique of Everyday Life’, Paris: Verso. Krips H., ‘The Politics of the Gaze: Foucault, Lacan and žižek’ Available from http://www.cultureunbound.ep.liu.se/v2/a06/cu10v2a6.pdf (accessed 8th June 2018). Lacan J., 2006 ‘The mirror stage as formative of the function of the I’ in Écrits (1949), eds. Lacan J., Miller J. A., editors. New York: W. W. Norton. Lee P., ‘Eye and Gaze’ available rom http://csmt.uchicago.edu/glossary2004/eyegaze.htm (accessed 14th February 2017). Mouffe C., 2007 ‘Art & Research, Volume 1, No. 2’. Sobchank. V., 2004 ‘Carnal Thoughts, Embodiment And Moving Image Culture’, London: University of California press Ltd. Solnit Rebecca., 2009 ’Woolf’s Darkness: Embracing the Inexplicable’.
Individual Dissent for Collective Change in Art and Society Maija Liepins
Individual Dissent for Collective Change in Art and Society Maija Liepins The agitation and an outline Histories of society and art appear to give us obvious turning-points and a linear story. Told in retrospect, stories of change are presented with a clear sequence of events, appearing to lay out a map for how an artist or individual can develop and achieve a successful outcome. Against this constructed impression of coherency, any emerging movement toward change looks disappointing. CAS Artists read an essay by Dena Shottenkirk at their first Research Discussion Group in Spring 2017. According to Shottenkirk, the avant garde movement was succeeded by post-modernism which brought relativism and a multiplicity of parallel histories, none of which could claim to hold the universal truth of artistic or social progress1. I balked, reading her description of truth and ‘progress’, especially at the idea that artists have lost their ‘protest voice’. Agitated, I began to investigate why I disagreed, and how change might be experienced and recognised as a non-linear process. You may have heard the saying “If you can see the path in front of you, you are on someone else’s.” If you can’t see a path from A to B, you may find yourself asking, how can I know if I’m making a difference? When faced with multiple significant events and perspectives, multiple turning points and multiple key players people might be in danger of mistaking movement for incoherent inconsistency. If we expect a linear process we are in danger of not seeing the value of peoples works, efforts, and engagements just because they don’t make sense within the established, normative expectations of the dominant culture. To address this problem I aim to explore an alternative view of ‘progress’ centred not around external measures of success but focused on an individual’s experience of change being enacted. In doing so, I hope to empower myself and others with sense of what non-linear change might entail. The practices of creative dissent provide a foundation for this exploration. Through participating in CAS’ Laboratory of Dissent (Winchester Gallery 2015) I have come to see dissent as a creative tool which can reveal opportunities for individual and collective action where no singular individual - or group - is the authority of the developing narrative, and all contribute to the experiential evolution of form and practice through discursive entanglement. ‘The Laboratory of Dissent’ was inspired by Chantal Mouffe’s essay on Agonistic Spaces. I will also discuss Karen Barad’s theory of Agential Realism which helps frame what happened when CAS artists invited multiple voices into a public space and invited dissent. I consider these works whilst examining what it means to move in non-linear fashion with the help of multiple viewpoints. To start, I introduce the notion of the everyday experiential revolution. Throughout, I highlight the value of multiple “I” focal points enacting change and 1
Shottenkirk Dena, ‘Research, Relativism, and Truth in Art’ in Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 1, Winter 06/2007. Available from: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n1/ shottenkirk.html [Accessed 15 March 2017].
27 transformation to suggest why individual dissent has the potential to inform collective change in art and society. This turns the idea of 'collective action’ on its head and places an emphasis on individual creative agency. Exploring why it matters, and how it counts, I draw on terminology from Barad’s theory of agential realism. Using her notion of ‘enactment’ enables me to describe what an act of dissent is, ‘diffraction’ shows how phenomena occurs in a responsive non-linear way, and her concepts of ‘intra-action’ and ‘entanglement’ help me to make the link between individual and collective change more apparent. In the last section I delve deeper into the dynamics of CAS’ emerging dissent methodology, reflecting on CAS case studies ‘The Laboratory of Dissent’ (Winchester Gallery 2015), 'Block_Chain The Power of Two’ (2018) in particular. These highlight how CAS’ discursive Dissent methodology has been applied in theory and in practice. Finally a conclusion will be drawn suggesting that when we are amidst the process of change, moving away from chronological linear narratives toward experiential dialogue will better help us think about and participate in change with confidence.
The experiential revolution “We Need Our Own Revolution” stated the graffiti on the Dunedin wall as I walked down Stafford Street in 2002. My young mind immediately turned to tales of the sixties thinking ‘we have no equivalent’. On the verge of my own adulthood, established norms seemed well and truly embedded in the outer world. The world ‘was what it was’. Even dramatic events like the fall of New York’s Twin Towers and America’s declaration of a ‘war on terror’ only served to suggest that the structures of the world and consensus reality would prevail even if artists and creative thinkers were able to reinterpret and reimagine them. And yet I rose to the challenge posed to me by the graffiti on that street, because in it I saw an invitation to believe change is possible.
In talking with friends since, the conversation turned from ‘we need a revolution’ to ’the revolution has begun’ whilst, outwardly, structures of power appeared unchanged. I realised that the ‘revolution’, the ‘protest voice’ and the ‘dissenters action’ is active underground in a sublayer beneath the established narratives found in the media and other structures of power and consensus. The revolution today is an everyday experiential revolution made up of multiple individual and collective acts of dissent, not reserved for an institutionally sanctioned elite.
28 The idea of everyday dissent is mentioned by Jorgensen & Augustin in ‘Politics of Dissent’ who write that there has always been a tendency to focus on organisations and parties with clearly articulated forms of dissent, and so everyday and spontaneous forms get overlooked. John Holloway … underlines that rebels today are ordinary people such as a woman in the supermarket or walking by in the street, a man driving a car, or children after finishing their school lessons.2 I personally experience the everyday experiential revolution as one in which an individual is conscious of their response-ability and chooses to act and speak from their experience even when and especially when it runs contrary to popular consensus or accepted norm. At the time of writing, Elin Ersson from Sweden made news headlines around the world for streaming a live video from a Gothenburg to Turkey flight during which she refused to sit down and let the plane take off unless a man who was being deported to Afghanistan against his will was removed from the plane3. The normative narrative is one of intense hostility toward migrants and refugees, and here she was not just speaking, but also acting, in a way that showed she values the life of her fellow humans, that the plight of refugees matters, and she does not unquestioningly accept the authority of her countries immigration laws. Any individual who exercises their ability to respond differently, rather than reinforce what is established, cultivates the seeds of change, and harbour the possibility of dissent as a creative and constructive process. Quantum physicist Karen Barad says, ‘particular possibilities for acting exist at every moment, and these changing possibilities entail a responsibility to intervene in the world’s becoming, to contest and rework what matters and what is excluded from mattering.’4 I understand this to mean mattering in both senses of the word: to matter to someone, and to come into matter: to materialise. So, contrary to the notion of the conquering hero who will change the world with one brave act of victory, I present a case for feeling empowered in your everyday moments, not hopeless in a sea of multiple meanings, voices, and relationships. The entangled evolution is a world-changing movement where no singular individual (or being) has authority over the unfolding story, and all contribute to the experiential process of mattering. Universe5 Mysterious, Abundant, Interconnected Our bodies are a conduit to the happening universe. It moves through us, 2
Jørgensen, Bak; Agustin, Martin; Garcia, Oscar, Politics of Dissent (2015) p14. Available from: http:// vbn.aau.dk/en/publications/the-politics-of-dissent [Accessed 15 November 2017]. 3
Ersson Elin, Deportation from Gothenburg to Afghanistan Live, Facebook, Available from: https:// www.facebook.com/elin.k.ersson/videos/10155723956991274 [Accessed 31 July 2018]. 4
Barad, Karen, ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’, Signs 28, no. 3 (2003), p.827. Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/345321 [Accessed 15 September 2017]. 5
Liepins Maija ‘Universe’ (2014) unpublished poem.
29 we move through it. We anchor it in time, it plays with us and we play with it. We are solitary but not alone, separated but connected, individual but indivisible. Barad's theory of Agential Realism describes material ‘intra-actions’ occurring not in space and time, but in the making of spacetime itself. This is different from the idea that we create in the world. It’s saying the world of matter, of which we are a part, is creating itself. Barad writes ‘matter is a dynamic expression/articulation of the world in its intra-active becoming.’6 It is an ongoing reconfiguring of ‘boundaries, properties, meanings, and patterns of marks on bodies’7 from a sea of possibilities. Not only does her theory suggest people have the potential to inform the making of the world through everyday moments, it places an emphasis on the lived present and the moment of intra-action. Barad explains that “intra-action” differs from “inter-action” where material subjects are unchanged and unmoved by one another. Instead, intra-action refers to an entanglement which generates an entirely new phenomenon at the point of encounter and response. This reinforces my argument that change happens not ‘out there in the world’ but in the happening moment, making the individual’s expression of dissent a necessary catalyst for what matters in each happening moment. I posit that an artists dissent is an individual enactment of creative agency. It is worth noting that despite the thrust of my essay, Barad’s concept of agency and ‘agential mattering’ is one that is not limited to humans. She asserts that agency is not a power that humans or non humans have. Instead, it is an enactment of potential. Agency is not aligned with human intentionality or subjectivity. … Agency is a matter of intra-acting; it is an enactment, not something that someone or something has.8 Agency cannot be designated as an attribute of “subjects” or “objects” … Agency … is “doing”/”being” in its intra-activity.9.
Dolphijn, Rick; van der Tuin, Iris (2012) ‘Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers: Interview with Karen Barad', p.69, in New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies, p69, Open Humanities Press, Available from: http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/download/Dolphijnvan-der-Tuin_2013_New-Materialism.pdf [Accessed 15 September 2017]. 7
Barad, Karen, ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’, p.817. 8
Barad, Karen Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter, Durham: Duke University Press, 2007, p214. 9
Barad, Karen, ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’. p.827.
30 This is quite important in establishing a sense of having power-with as opposed to powerover when it comes to imagining one’s power to make a change. My sense of creative agency comes from choosing and enacting my ideas. I imagine that agency is not something a person is given, but something they access by bringing conscious awareness to the moment of choice. This belief echoes Foucault’s attention to choice, which Claire O’Farrell describes as a ‘solid belief’ in human freedom: defining that freedom as a practice of making choices, not as a distant goal … he is interested in people making use of their ability to choose, in order to use his work as a tool (amongst others) to undermine intolerable systems and practices of power.10 However, in agential realism, choice does not inform one’s agency. I’ve grappled with this, I assumed that without agency, the power to act with the authority of one’s own individual material experience is lost. But if we can never ‘have’ nor ‘lose’ agency then what I am sensing is that when we are not conscious of our response-ability, we perhaps inhibit our agential potential. Although I recognise there is no social vs personal, natural vs cultural, human vs non-human distinction in Barad’s theory of mattering, I’ve chosen to focus this essay on the realm of human and social relations in which visual art can be enacted as a form of individual expression and experience. Another reason for focusing this essay on ‘human’ agency is that, in practice based art-research, material doing and being is fundamental to the development of theory and practice. As artist-researchers, diffractive methodology can be understood as a state of mind that expects the researcher to examine her/his object of research as it is in the world in which she/he is included.11 I recognise my ‘human’ perspective is inseparable from the phenomena I observe and experience in a moment of intra-active happening. My emphasis is not to disregard ‘non human’ mattering, but to draw attention to the role of people’s individuality within a connected ecosystem of meaning-making and creative potential. I recall a passage of John Dewey’s ‘Art as Experience’ in which he talks about an artwork reaching a finished point, a ‘dynamic organisation’ emerging from all the process-based stages of creation and enactment. That is: the intuitive, instinctual, and considered choices of the artist to add, combine, remove, and interact with their material - not to force themselves upon it, but to reveal themselves to each other. 12
O’Farrell, Claire, Foucault and agency (2009) Available from: https://inputs.wordpress.com/ 2009/05/24/foucault-quote-for-may-2/ [Accessed 4 December 2017). 11
Nitzan Green, Yonat. ‘The Practice of Research’ (2016) p4, unpublished.
Dewey John, Art As Experience, (1934), New York: Pedigree (Penguin Publishing Group).
31 No two people will see the same object: that’s a truism that is proved each time two artists try to draw the same object and end up with two irreconcilable versions of it.13 What we see and perceive is an individual matter. So, perhaps, ‘creative agency’ could be described as the enacting of ones individual expression. That expression is one’s personal contribution toward what comes into form, what is created and comes to matter through processes of change. When I speak of the individual, I do not refer to a modernist or neoliberal individualist who sets himself apart with no regard for the whole and their relatedness. Instead, I refer to the unique combination of lived experiences, skills, talents and viewpoints of a person - that which has the potential to distinguish them from the mass of homogenised identity norms. This moment of distinguishing can fuel their self-realisation, their art, and their work in the world. When artists consciously work within the context of their relatedness, a dialogue can emerge between individual perspectives, artworks, and environments. This is what creates a diffractive rather than linear movement toward new possibilities for work, life, and practice. CAS artists use the term diffraction figuratively in the ‘New Materialist’ sense. An example of this is described by Geerts and van der Tuin on the New Materialism website where they discuss Minh-ha’s diffractive conceptualisation of identity and difference: a non-dualistic, non-separational model of identity and difference, in which identity categories, identified groups, and even identified single entities, diffractively crisscross, interfere, and co-establish one another, and differences are respected and allowed to exist and flourish.14 Diffraction in practice will be explored later. To appreciate diffraction in relation to dissent, we can consider ‘dissensus,’ a term Mouffe uses to refer to the presence of multiple and sometimes conflicting viewpoints. When reading Chantal Mouffe’s ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ for the CAS Laboratory of Dissent (Winchester Gallery, 2015)15 I started to welcome dissent as a creative tool for challenging popular narratives, and allowing multiple viewpoints and voices to develop in a non-linear fashion toward new forms and ways of living and working. Mouffe wrote that every order is based on the exclusion of alternative possibilities. When order and meaning become fixed, a hegemonic structure or status quo keeps that consensus in place. Excitingly, for the person who believes change is possible, Mouffe claims that every 13
Elkins, The Object Stares Back, (1996) New York: Harvest.
Geerts Evelien; van der Tuin Iris ‘Diffraction & Reading Diffractively’ (2016) Link: http:// newmaterialism.eu/almanac/d/diffraction. 15
The Laboratory of Dissent (2015), Chapel Arts Studios (CAS) at Winchester Gallery Link: http:// www.chapelartsstudios.co.uk/portfolio/the-laboratory-of-dissent. This was an experimental exhibition developed by 14 CAS Associate Artists in partnership with curator August Jordan-Davis.
32 hegemonic order can be challenged by practices which reactivate any viewpoints and possibilities that are repressed by the current order.16 It follows that any dominant social consensus is transient not absolute. And that change in a world order is prevented when established norms sound like a universal truth - the only possibility for a “real life”, in the “real world.” In contrast, making alternative possibilities and viewpoints visible is usually achieved by an act of dissent that asks questions or opens up awareness of additional possibilities. Therefore our power to inspire and enact change is strengthened by an awareness of our agency, our ability to respond. Collective change becomes more likely when we do this whilst also staying in dialogue with one another. CAS Associate Artists have been engaging in ‘art dialogue’ for some time. What I call ‘art dialogue’ includes material but also consciousness and psyche, the intellectual, emotional and soulful ‘intangible’ that seeks articulation through acts of expression. It is the experiential and participatory realm of intra-action in which mind, heart, and body are involved in a dialogue with material and environments. To an extent, all artists are in dialogue when they offer their works to the world to be experienced, and in turn allow the world to inspire their work. However, through a practice of collaborative play, the artists at CAS have developed a conscious awareness of being in dialogue through materials, objects, and the physicality of their expressive presence when making, performing, or discussing their works (see Figure 1). Their ‘studio’ is not so much a building but their shared thinking space when they come together.
Fig 1. CAS Artists playfully awaiting the entrance of their fellow artists, with an impromptu performance (Source: Maija Liepins 2017)
The preserve of the creative thinker and the artist maker is not isolated to gallery or the studio, the museum or the journal. Their preserve is also ‘art dialogue’ it is their common land abutting the untameable wilderness of the ‘psyche’. Art dialogue comes alive in the mind space of human intra-actions. I choose the word intra-action very deliberately because it reminds us of entanglement and the creation of an entirely new phenomenon at the point of encounter. Intra-action contextualises the co-creative potential of discursive practice.
Mouffe, Chantal, ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ (2017) in Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 7, Summer 2007. Available from: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/ mouffe.html [Accessed 20 July 2015].
33 CAS’ discursive practices will be explored in more detail in Part 2, where I will explore more aspects of our emerging dissent methodology. I have already introduced the first aspect which can be summarised as follows: An individual’s ability to consciously deviate from cultural expectation and instead respond from a place of individual inspiration can open up possibilities that do not exist within the established order (what normally happens, what activities and viewpoints people normally accept and reinforce unquestioningly). This moment of consciously choosing an alternative is what makes acting differently an act of dissent.
The entangled creativity At CAS, the collective sowing of ideas begins in the mind-space and heart-space of CAS Associate Artists when they are in dialogue with one another. Our dissent methodology can be understood as a dialogic or discursive practice. It is ongoing negotiation of what matters, allowing for change and flux. It is characterised by both reflective and diffractive practices which are explored below. In practical terms, we are an artist-led organisation which means our activities are driven by the spark of inspiration or insight which our artist’s bring forth from their art practices to instigate experimental, dissenting or creative approaches. When we come together, we become collaborative, and those individual sparks of inspiration become a seed for collecting sowing. This is a deliberate move away from the fear of theft and appropriation, toward honouring the inter-relationships of which we are a part.
Fig 2. ‘Cross Contaminated Space’ an attention grabbing intervention by artist Laurence Rushby who dressed the external facia of Winchester Gallery for The Laboratory of Dissent Symposium. (Source: Dr August Davis 2015)
Whilst our approach to dissent and collaboration can feel like a threat to the ‘purity’ of an artist’s solo practice, it does in fact enrich it by drawing awareness to the entanglement between people, environments and materials. Barad refers to quantum entanglement to explain the process of diffraction. ‘Diffraction, understood using quantum physics, is not just a matter of interference but of entanglement.’ Entanglement is helpful for showing how we are connected during enactments of dissent, even when taking contrary positions. It is also useful for revealing how one contributes to a whole at all times. Diffractive methodologies create multiple points of information which can be read together and through each other. She emphasises that knowing is a direct material
34 engagement where there is no separation of subject and object but an entanglement of subject and object which is called the phenomenon.17
Fig 3. ‘Maija Liepins with a rock rattling inside a mortar’ (Source: Yonat Nitzan Green, 2016)
The space defined by the rattle of a spinning rock vibrating. Clattering noise: a pleasing sound, but the resonance belongs to the inside of the bowl, the surface of the olive wood reverberating with impact and concentrating the alchemy between parts… The stone sliding along the floor gave off a sound that answered the hand that pushed it. How heavy, how far, how unstoppably? A combination of friction and fluidity. The ring of impact cries out in 3 voices ‘I am here.’ The sound is, simultaneously, the voice of the stone, the metal target, and the one who set them on a collision course. The sound announces ‘I am here’ singularly. This is the phenomenon – we are one phenomenon.18
Fig 4. ‘Observing a cocreated phenomenon’ (Source: Dawn Evans, 2016).
Dolphijn, Rick; van der Tuin, Iris ‘Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers: Interview with Karen Barad’ (2012) p.52. 18
Liepins Maija, ‘Resonance and Entanglement’ in CAS Studio Lab, 2016 Chapel Arts Studios, Available here: http://www.chapelartsstudios.co.uk/blog/cas-projects/cas-studio-lab/resonance-andentanglement.
35 Even the act of seeing — how we look, and what a person sees — is illustrative of entangled intra-activity: When it comes to seeing, objects and observers alter one another, and meaning goes in both directions.... These are not things that happen sometimes, or under special conditions. They are not subtle nuances or refinements to the way we look at objects. Instead, they are the conditions of seeing itself.19 Though not limited to the realm of sight, this entangled experience is what makes us. Our perceptual experiences inform the individual viewpoints from which we can offer inspired responses which may include dissent.
Fig 5. ‘Re-enacting Bamboo Cane’ Kimvi Nguyen (Source: Vinny Montag, New Cross Gate London 2018)
Fig 6. ’Pain Is All You’ll Find’, Gulhatun Yildirim performing with Kimvi’s bamboo cane (Source: Jürgen Fritz, Venice Performance Art Week 2016)
James Elkins, The Object Stares Back, New York: Harvest, 1996.
36 Diffractive practices are also evident in ‘performance’ art (Fig. 5 and Fig. 6). As part of a workshop at Venice Performing Art Week 2016, actions first performed by one artist were performed by a second artist (Fig 6.). Kimvi explained “in performance art, no one owns the action.” Kimvi’s action was to use a stick of bamboo clamped between her teeth to communicate the emotional tension of “grinding one’s teeth in ones sleep”. The action of putting a bamboo cane between the teeth was an action that was shared with Gulhatun Yildirim and re-enacted a third time in London by Kimvi herself (Fig. 5). What emerges when an artist works with the exact same material, including the same props and clothing is not a reproduction. In bringing themselves to the performance, a new phenomenon is created. As Barad has explained, in a diffractive methodology there are no originals.20 An original would mean that the rest are copies, mere reflections, or fakes. On the contrary, when a person or artist interacts with and responds to a concept, their entanglement with the material becomes a new and equally valid phenomenon. It is both recognisable, and new at the same time. New forms and ideas emerge from the encounters individuals have with material, other people, ideas and things which - touching upon and through each other - become a new phenomenon. An ongoing state of becoming or ‘entangled evolution’ is therefore revealed in the changes of direction and points of departure where new interpretations and relational responses are made within the individual, and the collective experience. This brings into focus a third element of dissent: it’s personal. We bring our own bodies and personal inspiration into the action. In order to enact a personally inspired variation or deviance, a person must position themselves beyond an established way of doing, thinking, or being. To do so, one must rely upon ones individual perspective and inner experience rather than the established norm or the pre-given norm. (Normative expectations may be experienced as an external authority, or as internalised pre-established conditioning). Deviation often requires an enactment of dissent, an conscious re-configuring of what matters in that moment. By engaging with material and ideas and coming into your own relationship with it, a new phenomenon is created. The resulting diffraction generates new openings for engagement with material and ideas. Below, I feature some images that constitute a small part of the dialogue between artists Karen Wood and Ashok Mistry during their ‘Block_Chain: The Power of Two’ (2018) online residency, as well as a visual response posted on Instagram by artist James Aldridge. Artist Karen Wood documents the streets of London with particular focus on road signs and markings, and then creates ‘tape drawings’ using electrical tape of the same colours to explore a sense of architectural spaciousness amidst the lines. Meanwhile, James Aldridge consistently brings his work ‘back to the body’. This is represented in Fig. 8 where he offers a new perspective by layering Karen’s photograph over one of his own in which his body is included.
Dolphijn, Rick; van der Tuin, Iris (2012) ‘Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers: Interview with Karen Barad', p.51.
Fig. 7. ‘Through Productive Play’ Karen Wood, Instagram #blockchaindissentart 2018
Fig. 8. ’Layering Body and Place’ James Aldridge, Instagram #blockchaindissentart 2018
Within any discursive practice, the individual experience can prompt a unique response which resonates and diffracts through moments and layers of intra-relationship. By ‘diffract’, I mean ideas and meanings split off through multiple interpretations and expressions. In this way, all contribute to one another’s intra-active becoming. No single individual or group holds authority over the narrative or happening, but each contributes to the cumulative and intra-active effect. For ‘Block_Chain’ Karen Wood was paired with Ashok Mistry and during their collaborative online residency Block II, their written and spoken exchanges created a rich and dynamic layer of meaning making that was not previously accessible. Reflecting on her bursts of ‘conversational poetry’ she wrote: ‘I arrived with no default intent of vocalising my thoughts collaboration energy abounds through converse, words & imagery my true voice has come unbidden flying from the space of collaborative motion and emotion.'21 This is the nature of discursive intra-activity. This is what non-linear change looks like. It is jostling with impressions that at any point somebody may pick up and take forward into new words, actions, or conversations. This is a distinctive element of CAS dissent: the practice actually embraces and encourages the presence of multiple viewpoints. When multiple viewpoints are activated within a shared space, a generative and dynamic art dialogue can emerge. The remainder of this essay briefly presents some examples.
Wood, Karen. ‘Our Midnight Exploration’, Block II, Block_Chain: The Power Of Two (2018), Available from: https://block-chain.chapelartsstudios.co.uk/block_ii/our-midnight-exploration-my-replyto-your-post-ash-february-01st-2018.
Fig 9. ‘Beyond The Block’ Karen Wood with Ashok Mistry on Instagram Reflecting on BLOCK II, Block Chain: The Power of Two 2018
CAS first began exploring dissent in practice with ‘The Bureau of Exchange’ (2015) a pop-up shop in which four resident artists re-imaged non-monetary forms of exchange in which to engage the general public frequenting Andover town centre. Within months, ‘The Laboratory of Dissent’ (Winchester Gallery, 2015) followed a similar format of week long residencies. It was here, in the expansive white walled gallery that CAS artists took their first steps toward a dissent methodology that does not shy away from the tension that dissent creates within an interpersonal group dynamic. They discovered that dissent neither seeks to divide or unite, but to allow for the possibility of both to arise, both points of difference and points of connection. CAS artists divided into ‘cell groups’ of 3 or 4 artists before they set about investigating the conflicts and tensions in their material and relationships. On the one hand, the artists were unified by shared goals, on the other hand they did not shy away from differences and friction. Through a practice of questioning and self reflection, all behaviours, happenings, creations, and perspectives were considered valid and invited to share the exhibition space, regardless of their alignment or dis-alignment with any group consensus. Each cell group approached their dissent investigations with different questions and practices, and all contributed to a Dissent Symposium in the fifth week, to which art students and the general public were invited to join the conversation. The material generated showed no cohesive or
39 singular progression, by any measure, especially not when shown together.22 The multiple viewpoints of each artist and cell group inspired a panoply of dissent inspired questions, experiences, and art works. By participating in the Laboratory of Dissent I learned that creating connection and creating distance or differentiation are both equally important in expressions of dissent. I was particularly interested in what roles and identities were taken on by artists within the space, and what opportunities might arise for me to deviate from roles and activities that were usual and comfortable. I became acutely conscious of when the words “I”, “We”, “They”, and “Us” were used in a frequent re-negotiation of boundaries and meanings. This is a fourth aspect of our discursive dissent practice. Both boundaries and meanings are open to revision at the point of encounter and response. ‘Welcome to You’ (Fig. 10) was a playful invitation to explore the idea that meanings are made, not given.
Fig. 10 ‘Welcome To You: 7 questions for personal reflection’, by artists Maija Liepins, Kirsty Smith and Isaac Whitcombe (Source: CAS Blog, ’Are We In Or Out?’ The Laboratory of Dissent, 2015)
Jordan Davis, August (2015) The Laboratory of Dissent at Winchester Gallery, an archive of images published on Tumblr at http://labofdissentwinchgallery.tumblr.com images were added by curator August Jordan Davis as the event unfolded over five weeks.
40 Another example of challenging and re-configuring boundaries is when artist Laurence Rushby installed a pop-up tent inside the gallery (see Fig. 11) during The Laboratory of Dissent ‘Week 1: If Not This, Then What?’.
Fig. 11 ‘I Am Not Dangerous, I Am In Danger’, by Laurence Rushby (Source: Lydia Heath, 2015)
The resident artists had transformed the gallery into a site of public consultation. Laurence challenged the other artists expectations by entering the gallery before her her scheduled appearance for ‘Week 2: Domesticating Conflicts’. Laurence brought with her, her persona ‘The French Artist’, creating distance and connection simultaneously. She continued to work outside the structure we had laid for the artist residencies taking on the role of ‘agitator’, challenging and renegotiating boundaries with the other artists and the gallery throughout the five weeks. Where resonance does not occur and instead there is a rebellious impulse, dissent occurs in the form of a jumping off point. For example when a parent says “this is the way it has always been done in our family, for generations” and a son and daughter chooses to strike off in their own direction. In creative practice, the jumping off point is not so much an escape or an avoidance, but a deliberate change of relationship with a subject or idea, signified by an act of dissent. Thinking or feeling differently inspires the impulse to act, and at their jumping off point the individual has chosen not to follow, but to strike off in one’s own direction. Because a dissent methodology is accommodating of diverse positions the dissent is not necessarily abandonment or dis-engagement but an opportunity to contribute something different and create new phenomena within discursive social and artistic practices. This creates the diffractive effect. Whilst an individual takes a dissenting position, an artist creates from that position, infusing their response with their own individual viewpoint, and making it visible for further interpretation and response. This is what I mean when I say the individual spark of dissent is what is needed to inspire a collective sowing (see Figure 12). After all, collective change requires the seed of a new direction to be sown, and then tended to and taken forward by more than one person.
Fig 12. ‘A Chain of Responses’ (Source: Maija Liepins ‘Block_chain: The Power of Two Symposium’, Winchester Gallery, March 2018)
In 2017 artist Dawn Evans and I wanted to know if CAS methods of practice were translatable to the wider world. Would strangers engage in a dialogue through material and digital connectivity to create their own images? We invited artists to participate in a CAS Post It Exchange23 in which materials were posted between artist pairs. Dawn invited each artist to produce a creative response to the material sent, and share a photos of their process and result on Instagram. The CAS Post It Exchange project was the first time CAS artists shared their collaborative approach with others. CAS Artist Susan Francis subsequently expanded the open invitation further with the Creation of ‘Block_Chain: The Power of Two’24. Launched in January, it was an 8 week digital residency for 14 artists to explore their individual interpretations of Dissent. Artists collaborated in pairs for two weeks each, and the structure of the residency was inspired in part by the blockchain algorithm which is the foundation of many cryptocurrencies. The artists images were printed on blocks that could be arranged sequentially to show the development of connections and ideas, but also so they could be handled and rearranged to create new interpretations. (See Figures 13 & 14)
CAS Post It Exchange (2017), This was an R&D experiment undertaken by artists Dawn Evans and Maija Liepins for Chapel Arts Studios (CAS). 24
Block_Chain: The Power of Two (2018), Link: http://block-chain.chapelartsstudios.co.uk an intraactive art project devised by curator Susan Francis.
Fig 13. Intra-action at ‘Blockchain:The Power of Two' Symposium, (Source: Maija Liepins)
Fig 14. new arrangement by David Dixon, photograph (Source: Maija Liepins)
By cultivating an awareness of the process of art, which includes the relational intra-actions of artists bodies, thoughts, actions, words, and movement, CAS Associates have come to understand that art experiences have intellectual, material, emotional, and social layers which multiply through collective engagement. Responses resonate through these layers first, through the perceptual filters of others, across the surfaces of materials used to communicate, through the meeting of hearts and minds, and the expression of their body language. In time, they can become visible across material surfaces, which may include paper and canvas, stone and plaster, or a tablecloth and a digital platform. What may have started off as one person’s idea or creative impulse can become visible through the behaviours and activity of multiple people and at multiple points in time. Although connected through a shared resonance with a material, individual perception creates a diffraction pattern where each engagement with the idea or material takes on a different form. This is the power of “I” within a collective “we”.
43 Moving away from chronological linear narratives toward experiential dialogue
Fig. 15 ‘Dialogic continuance’, Maija Liepins (2018) photocollage
To complete this essay I have had to let go of some preconceptions. When I was a teen I faithfully wrote down all the details of my daily experiences in a diary. I soon became aware that I couldn’t recreate the experience in words so a reader could experience them the same way. Writing doesn’t do that, what is true of art is true of writing: it’s interacted with anew, it is the places and context it is read; it is the mood and viewpoint of the reader. The reader brings themselves to it, which means it is read with a new perspective. These perspectives, if recorded, would reveal a diffractive pattern of connections or intra-active meanings. Despite having this experiential knowledge, I still fell into the trap of wanting you to understand how I got here and how I see the world, to contextualise the insights I have to offer. My ego wanted to achieve a true reflection of my train of thought, so you could follow the chronological development of my understanding. And so, in the beginning, essaying felt like accounting for every turn of phrase to validate it the eyes of an external “other”. But the essay has done its true job and revealed to me the elements of the problem. Contrary to popular belief, the power to make collective change happen isn’t a power we have or something we can do, force, or make happen. We can’t “make” others see or understand. Nor can we force a particular change just by taking the right action at the right time. Change
44 cannot be controlled or created. It is however a process of creativity. And our connectivity, our ability to inform and be part of the change, is an inherent part of being part of the world. The primary aim of any dissent practice is therefore not to create change but to consciously choose how you engage and contribute to the world in its becoming. It is not about seeing all the possibilities but about knowing they are there. It’s about becoming aware, conscious, and self-reflective in order to perceive what is, and what could be, in order to enable a change in you, and by extension, your part of the world through an enactment of an alternative possibility, reimagining boundaries, properties and meanings with an act of inspired dissent. Where you are touching and touched by the world you will create a new phenomenon. Practice based art research undertaken by CAS Associate Artists has revealed an alternative view of ‘progress’. Contrary to the idea that change or creative development is the preserve of linear narratives that track social and artistic phenomenon from A to B, we can instead recognise the processes of change developing in a diffractive pattern through the viewpoints and responses of multiple persons and phenomena. Like my experience of having to abandon chronological thinking when writing this essay, the non-linear, diffractive pattern of change will be experienced and self evident to you on a micro scale when you participate in noticing the intra-actions of which you are a part. I’m not convinced that the diffractive process of collective change can be observed on a macro scale though, wouldn’t that require an unattainably omniscient viewpoint? Perhaps like the enactment of dissent itself, the contributing agents of collective change must remain the preserve of the lived experience, articulated through the do-ing and be-ing that is cocreation. It is through direct material knowing that material, and relationships, are not just understood and experienced but transformed. Through individual entanglement with material, a fresh perspective and phenomena is cultivated. Through collective exploration and the multiple vantage points, seeds are sown and ideas developed. Just as importantly, the memories of an experience live on in the mind and body of multiple persons and can be carried forth into new work. If Dena Shottenkirk and I agree on anything, it is this as she says: I don't just get a cosy feeling when I look at art: I actually walk away thinking something different about life and about myself because I have looked at the world through someone else's eyes. Looking at the world through someone else's eyes is a kind of knowledge-transfer. I have learned something, sometimes something profound.25 I find myself returning again and again to this passage by Clarissa Pinkola Estes: To create, one must be able to respond. Creativity is the ability to respond to all that goes on around us, to choose from the hundreds of possibilities of
Shottenkirk Dena, ‘Research, Relativism, and Truth in Art’, Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 1, Winter 06/2007. Available from: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n1/ shottenkirk.html [Accessed 15 March 2017].
45 thought, feeling, action and reaction that arise within us, and to put these together in a unique response, expression, or message that carries moment, passion, and meaning. In this sense, loss of our creative milieu means finding ourselves limited to only one choice, divested of, suppressing, or censoring feelings and thoughts, not acting, not saying, doing or being.26 Your response-ability is up to you. Dissent is a practice of finding creative responses that reveal alternatives. Where I have written about the individual ‘psyche’ and the ‘experiential revolution’ I’ve suggested that the work of change can begin ‘underground’ in ones interior life before seeking expression through acts of dissent and moments of co-creative dialogue. CAS’ emerging Dissent methodology offers entry points for understanding, through practice, how individual dissent might culminate in creative and collective change. Practicing Dissent is not a way to attack the “other” but a way of including “others” in a creative dialogue. Within an experiential and entangled dialogue, phenomena can be experienced and read alongside and through one another, in an act of intra-active participation with the world in its agential state of becoming. Change, in order to actualise a visible evolution of form and structure or revolution of thought, requires a point of departure from the consensus narrative or path laid out by recognised authorities. This could be enacted through individual acts of dissent which can be expanded and multiplied through dialogic and discursive practices. An act of dissent is not characterised by rebellion signifying an end, instead you could expect to see multiple alternative possibilities enacted in a diffraction pattern, and read not as a linear story but an ongoing dialogue. Principles of creative dissent can be employed by socially engaged artists and everyday dissenters to further reveal alternatives. In doing so, the artist can continue to provide a protest voice, and encourage dissent as a tool for responsive creativity.
Pinkola Estes Clarissa, Women Who Run With The Wolves, p.316 (2008), London: Rider.
46 Bibliography Shottenkirk, Dena., 2006, ‘Research, Relativism, and Truth in Art’, Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 1, Winter 06/2007. Available from: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n1/ shottenkirk.html [Accessed 15 March 2017]. Merriam Webster Dictionary ‘Evolution: A Definition’ Available from: https://www.merriamwebster.com/dictionary/evolution. Dolphijn, Rick; van der Tuin, Iris., 2012 ‘New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies’, Open Humanities Press, Available from http://openhumanitiespress.org/books/downloa d/Dolphijn-van-der-Tuin_2013_New-Materialism.pdf [Accessed 15 September 2017]. Jørgensen, Bak; Agustin, Martin; Garcia, Oscar., 2015 ‘Politics of Dissent’. Available from: http:// vbn.aau.dk/en/publications/the-politics-of-dissent [Accessed 15 November 2017] Dewey, John., 1934, ‘Art As Experience’, New York: Pedigree (Penguin Publishing Group). Mouffe, Chantal., 2007 ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’, Journal of Art Research and Methods Vol. 1 Issue 7, Summer 2007. Available from: http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/mouffe.html [Accessed 20 July 2015]. O’Farrell, Claire., 2009, ‘Foucault and agency’, Available from: https://inputs.wordpress.com/ 2009/05/24/foucault-quote-for-may-2/ [Accessed 4 December 2017]. Barad Karen., 2003, ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’, Signs, Vol. 28, No. 3, Gender and Science: New Issues (Spring 2003), pp. 801-831, The University of Chicago Press, Available from: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/345321. Barad, Karen., 2007, ‘Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter’, Durham: Duke University Press. Harding, Anna., 2002 ‘Potential: ongoing archive’, The John Hansard Gallery. Available from: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/209187. Francis, Susan., 2018, ‘Block_Chain > The Power of Two’ Chapel Arts Studios, http://blockchain.chapelartsstudios.co.uk.
The performative act as a dissenting method of painting – a maternal subjectivity perspective Yonat Nitzan-Green
The Performative act as a dissenting method of painting – a maternal subjectivity perspective
Abstract The aim in writing this essay is to explore the question: How might the method of the performative act be understood as a link between painting and “that outside it”? By ‘outside’ is meant culture, history, people, objects, conventions and materials. This question will be discussed through my painting practice and its relation to Chapel Arts Studios’ (CAS) developing practice and methodology. The introduction provides a brief history and theoretical background for my art practice in order to position the problem that I am intending to engage with and my contention. It includes a) Julia Kristeva’s theory of the ‘abject’ which considered the maternal body, its materiality and relations to social rules; and the way it informs my paintings. b) Gaston Bachelard’s literary phenomenological approach to poetry and, by extension, to all arts, his critique of psychology and psychoanalytical art theories; and his writing about material imagination. Bachelard’s thought enabled me to further develop my painting, shifting the dialogue from psychoanalytical theories to include poetic material imagination. c) Karen Barad’s Quantum mechanics feminist approach will be discussed. Barad’s ‘agential realism’ theory provides new terms that allow us to expand the understanding of the engagement of matter and ideas in the context of art. Part I will attend to the essay’s question through looking at the methods of persona and performative acts; and their relationship with painting. This relationship might be described as a dissent against the prevailing perception of painting, as they challenge painting’s autonomous position. Part II will look at CAS’ The Laboratory of Dissent (LOD, 2015) where performative acts were central. The concept of ‘dissent’, at the core of CAS’ methodology, will be discussed and reference made to some of Chantal Mouffe’s ideas. Finally conclusions will be drawn, suggesting that mis-performance might be a strategy for CAS’ dissent methodology.
Introduction: a brief history and theoretical background My world-view has been shaped by my maternal subjectivity. It has been articulated through a dialogue between artworks and psychoanalysis, mostly Julia Kristeva’s theory of ‘the abject’ as a PhD research (completed in 2010)1. Kristeva theorised the maternal body. The abject is a feeling of horror when bodily materials cross the body as in the case of birth, for example. This feeling emerges from the clash with social rules that expect bodily materials to be hidden since they are being perceived as ‘dirt’. As children we are taught to be clean, this is a fundamental condition for social acceptance. For the woman who just gave birth this clash between body and social rules may threaten her sense of unified, autonomous ‘self’. The tense relationships between the maternal body and social rules mark a terrain which is 1
Yonat Nitzan-Green, ‘Saying It Through The Maternal Body: Understanding maternal subjectivity through art practice’ 2010. Link: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/165505/. This was a Fine Art, Practice-led doctorate research in Winchester School of Art, The University of Southampton. It was supervised by artist Stephen Cooper and Dr Beth Harland.
50 between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. Building on the research this essay is an attempt to further the understanding of this terrain. Psychoanalytical art theories exposed the system of representation as based on men’s experience of the world but excludes women’s experiences. Thus, the dominant patriarchal western society rendered women invisible, seen only through stereotypes. At the core of this critique is the supremacy of the sense of vision over other senses, which ties in with positioning the phallus as the main signifier of meanings. Kate Linker writes: Lacan goes beyond Freud, describing the penis as the inadequate physical stand-in for the phallus, the privileged signifier in our society. The phallus, in his system, is the mark around which subjectivity, social law, and the acquisition of language turn; human sexuality is assigned and consequently, lived, according to the position one assumes as either having or not having the phallus and with it, access to its symbolic structures.2 A significant part of women’s lives is tactile, especially pregnancy, birth and child raising (maternal experiences). In a world dominated by visual representation there is little or no room to share, examine and know these experiences. Kristeva theorised the maternal body but not the maternal subject. She claimed that pregnancy cannot be fully grasped without leading to some kind of psychosis, or split of the ‘self’. She writes: Cells fuse, split, and proliferate; volumes grow, tissues stretch, and body fluids change rhythm, speeding up or slowing down. Within the body […] there is an other. And no one is present, within that simultaneously dual and alien space, to signify what is going on. ‘It happens, but I’m not there’. ‘I cannot realise it, but it goes on.3 Kristeva listens to her own bodily matter during pregnancy, to the different rhythms, paces, movements, directions and processes. This activity is happening at maximum proximity to one’s self/body – and other - yet the road to meaning making is denied. ‘It happens, but I am not there’. Maternal subjectivity has been left out, untheorised, thus beyond signification. This is problematic, as Elizabeth Grosz and other feminist theorists have pointed out because it leaves the ‘door’ open to stereotypical thinking, remaining invisible in the realm of culture and other ‘fields of knowledge’.4 Kristeva’s approach is psychoanalytical, considering the relationships between the maternal body and social rules.
Kate Linker’s ‘Representation and Sexuality’, p. 395, in Brian Wallis (Ed.) (1996) Art After Modernism, New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art in association with Boston: David R. Godine, Publisher, Inc. (pp. 391-416). 3
Kristeva, ‘Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini’ in Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, (Ed) Leon S. Roudiez, 1980, New York: Culombia University Press, p. 237. 4
Professor Fiona Woollard and Dr Elselijn Kingma from Southampton University research and develop a philosophy of pregnancy. ‘Elselijn's challenges the prevailing view that the foetus is a separate organism within the maternal organism (like a bun in an oven).’ From: Woolard’s email 7.10.2015. See also Lisa Baraitser, Maternal Encounters, The Ethics of Interruption (2009), Abingdon: Routledge.
51 You will not find representational images of mothers and babies in my painting; rather, it is concepts such as blurred boundaries and invisibility that inform my painting’s language (figures 1 - 3). The paintings relate to an on-going interpretation of a photograph depicting the Palestinian town, Samakh, which got destroyed in 1948’s Nakba (catastrophe)/ Israel War of Independence. I have learned about Samakh through reading the Palestinian author, Yahya Yakhlif’s novel, A Lake Beyond The Wind5 (figures 4 - 7). This interpretive investigation deconstructs the traumas of kibbutz childhood, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and maternal subjectivity. Fig. 1 YNG, Air’s Gaze, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 x 101.6cm
Fig. 2 YNG, Wall’s Gaze, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 x 91.4cm, 2016
Fig. 3 YNG, Space’s Gaze, Oil on Canvas, 76.2 x 101.6cm, 2016
Yahya Yakhlif, A Lake Beyond The Wind (2003) New York: Interlink Books.
Fig. 4 A photograph of Samakh (Ahmada Turaani Shop In The Centre Of Samakh Before Occupation 1948)
Fig. 5 Tzemach car-park built on the land of Samakh, with the view of the old railway Photography: YNG, 2014
Posted by Nayef Mustafa in
Fig. 6 Tzemach Visitor Centre, 2017. Reconstruction Fig. 7 Yahya Yakhlif, A Lake Beyond the wind of the old railway station (Source: reconstruction manager Mr Ziv Ofir Deputy-Head of Kinneret College, Israel
However, during my doctoral research it became clear that psychoanalysis did not provide all the theoretical tools for thinking about art and its relation to life. I then turned to Gaston Bachelard’s phenomenology of the poetic image which provides a literary approach. Bachelard claims that for psychoanalysts and psychologists the poetic image is only a ‘vehicle’ to get a better understanding of their patient’s emotional and psychical state, but beyond it, art making is just ‘a short lived, totally vain game.’6 Bachelard shows us that imagination is a ‘field of knowledge’, but in order to study it one must approach it through a poetic, rather than causal, way of thinking. The opposite of causal is in reverberations, where
G. Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, Selected, translated and introduced by Colette Gaudin, Putman, Connecticut: Spring Publications, Inc., 2005, p. 73.
53 real change in being is taking place7. Here Bachelard, the philosopher of science, turns to material quality for an answer, suggesting to study the poetic image not through theories, but through being with it here and now. The poetic image in poetry is like art work in a space, it has a real life and in order to ‘understand’ it, one needs to experience it through tuning into the image’s reverberations. This is a literary, materially oriented, performative, phenomenologist approach. Bachelard distinguishes between formal imagination and material imagination. While formal imagination is about novelty and the picturesque, material imagination is ‘primitive and eternal’.8 He writes about images of matter: ‘Vision names them, but the hand knows them.’9 Poets’ wealth of images is nourished by one of the four material elements: earth, air, fire and water. Psychology, according to Bachelard, has paid attention to formal imagination while neglecting material imagination. In his critique he claims that psychologists and psychoanalysts try to understand the poetic image through concepts, however, Bachelard writes: If sublimation where simply a matter of concepts, it would stop as soon as the image is enclosed within conceptual lines. But colour overflows, matter multiplies, images develop; dreams keep their impetus despite the poems expressing them.10 The poetic image is beyond conceptual thought. It has to be felt. In Bachelard’s words: ‘In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own. The reverberations bring about a change of being.’11 Bachelard’s concept ‘material imagination’ contributed to the development of my paintings as my awareness moved from the level of ideas to the level of materials. Of course, ideas and materials are intertwined. In Belly’s Gaze and Samakh Undone (figures 8, 9) marks informed by my material imag-
Fig. 8 YNG ‘Belly’s Gaze’, 61 x 76cm Oil on Canvas 2016
Bachelard refers to the phenomenologist Eugene Minkowski who wrote about reverberation as ‘a new dynamic and vital category’. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p. xvi. 8
G. Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p. 10.
Ibid, p. 11.
G. Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p. 18.
Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon Press, 1994, p. xxii.
54 ination were made in various ways, including the use of threads dipped in paint; cling-film; brush; and a knife. Paint has been applied to canvas in a diverse ways such as spraying, laying, pressing, touching very lightly, stroking and more. A further step was taken when I came across Karen Barad’s theory of ‘agential realism’12. Like Bachelard, Barad comes from the world of science. However, Bachelard’s approach is literary, whereas Barad’s approach is based on Fig. 9 YNG, Samakh Undone (Feminisation Quantum mechanics and feminism. Her theory of Asphalt) Oil on Canvas, 46 x 61, 2016 crosses disciplinary lines and undermines dichotomies such as nature/culture and human/nonhuman. It allows us to get even closer to look at the relationship between matter and meaning. Building on Donna Haraway’s ideas, Barad developed diffraction as a main concept, a practice and a methodology. Donna says, “diffraction patterns record the history of interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference. Diffraction is about heterogeneous history, not about originals. Unlike reflections, diffractions do not displace the same elsewhere, in more or less distorted form, thereby giving rise to industries of [story-making about origins and truths]. Rather, diffraction can be a metaphor for another kind of critical consciousness.”13 Developing a diffractive methodology allows us to challenge boundaries and the apparatuses that fix those boundaries. Barad refers to an experiment that had been conducted in order to determine if light is a wave or particles. Waves can overlap; two waves can occupy the same place, whereas particles can’t. The experiment showed that light can be both, depending on the experiment’s apparatus, namely, the tools and design of the experiment. This essay sets out to challenge the apparatus of painting. It is suggested that the performative act is a diffractive research method, as will be discussed later on. Barad claims that diffractive methodology is ‘not just a matter of interference, but of entanglement, an ethico-onto-epistemological matter.’14 The performative act is part of the painting process, as well as outside of it. As such, it resonates with the ethics that Barad suggests, which is not founded on externality but on entanglement. Artists invent and develop techniques and methods to not only reconfigure entanglements but create them in the first place. While Barad comes from the world of problem-solving, artists are trained in
“Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad in “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” June 6, 2009 the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University. 13
Ibid, p. 4.
55 problem-setting. Artworks do not provide solutions the way science does; nevertheless, the way scientists think might contribute to art and visa-versa. In line with Barad’s theory, it could be said that agency doesn’t belong to the object of painting or to the method of its creation. In fact, both painting and methods enact possibilities for reconfiguration of entanglements or apparatuses. Barad talks about apparatuses of bodily production and material discourses including their boundaries. Painting and methods might be understood as an apparatus of bodily production, as they are being made by the artist who is using her/his body. The making of a painting involves materials, thus the artist is engaged in a bodily production and material discourse. Differing from Bachelard, Barad rearticulated causality. Taking this articulation to the world of art it might be the case that both Barad’s and Bachelard’s approaches are applicable. It is true that in the conception of an artwork one needs both, a wide space to consider a problem from all angles, yet, at the same time a ‘quiet’ mind, a state of reverie, to allow material reverberations to come to the forth. In art the term ‘objective’ is strange, to say the least. For it is accepted that art comes from the artist’s subjective experience. However, there must be something that allows others to connect with the artwork. This something is assumed to be an objective quality. Barad contests this assumption. Her re-conceptualisation, in my mind, makes artistic sense. It is out of closeness, as the artist intra-acts with her/his materials and ideas that the artwork emerges endowed with subjective qualities that communicate and intra-act with other subjectivities. Barad asks what makes us perceive matter as passive, inert or lacking energy; and why language functions as an agent that not only communicates but determines meaning and history. Most of all, she wonders how we came to believe that language is the only way to understand the potential of materiality. According to Barad: To restrict power’s productivity to the limited domain of the “social,” … or to figure matter as merely an end product rather than an active factor in further materializations, is to cheat matter out of the fullness of its capacity.15 While representation is based on substitutes performativity allows us to grasp reality as it emerges and materialises in the present. Matter performs itself rather than represent a concept or another object. In this respect her approach is similar to Bachelard’s. To bring the ‘threads’ of this discussion together, here is a summary. Kristeva paid attention to bodily materials as they cross the body and social conventions; however, she pointed out the inability of ‘knowing’ and communicating the maternal experiences. Hers is a psychoanalytical, socio-material approach. Bachelard shows us the tension between concept and the poetic image. The former fixes meaning whereas the latter opens up a space of dreaming and imagination. Material imagination is the eternal, primitive substance, unaffected by deformation or fragmentation.16 As such, it opens routes to present and past. 15
K. Barad, ‘Posthuman Performativity’, in Signs: Journal of Women in culture and Society, 2003, Vol. 28, No. 3, The University of Chicago Press, p. 11. 16
G. Bachelard, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, Selected, translated and introduced by Colette Gaudin, Putnam, Connecticut: Spring Publications, Inc., 2005, p. 12.
56 His is a literary poetic approach, distancing itself from conceptual thinking. Finally, adding to Bachelard’s poetic thinking, Barad’s theory gives us new conceptual ‘tools’ to think with, based on Quantum mechanics and feminist theories. In particular, reconsider apparatuses and boundaries. Her approach comes from a direct engagement with ideas and matter. Each one of these thinkers points to the same problem from a slightly different angle. The problem is that matter is dynamic; its dynamic qualities deserve cultural and social visibility and agency. However, as long as it is defined and understood only through words and concepts, these qualities are inaccessible to agency and meaning. As an artist who thinks with matter (both as ideas and as the stuff that everything is made of), building on these different approaches I am asking how might we understand the performative act as a dissent method that connects painting with “that outside it”? My contention is that the performative act opens an in-between space, between painting and the ‘world’, where boundaries are blurred, and materials are visible in their natural state of change. In other words, a space where farther materialisation take place, revealing, constructing and reconfiguring entanglements through intra-actions. As a research method it enables a direct connection between matter and meaning while blurring the dichotomy ‘inside-outside’. A Way to Remember Samakh (figures 10 – 12) was a performative drawing which was made over a 5-day residency at Milton Keynes shopping centre as part of Milton Keynes Festival Fringe 2012. Audience could witness the different stages and qualities of the materials, from the white, smooth paper, to the way it wrinkled and morphed when covered by graphite powder mixed with plastic glue, all shiny and wet; to the paper’s straightening, turning from a muddy grey to an asphalt-like grey on top of which chalk marks were made.
" Fig. 10 YNG, A Way to Remember Samakh
Fig. 11 YNG, A Way to Remember Samakh Fig. 12 YNG, A Way to Remember Samakh
(Figs. 10 – 12) Performative drawing: Graphite powder, Plastic glue, Chalk, Paper, 3 x 3m, 2015 (Milton Keynes Festival Fringe 2012 Link: https:// issuu.com/allandavies/docs/mkffbrochure p. 4)
57 Part I The persona and performative acts The performative act has been my main research method, enacted by ima. It includes mimicry, repetition and a documentation tool such as a video camera. ima is the initials for Invisible Mother-Artist and the word ‘mother’ in Hebrew. Invisibility refers to traumas, specifically trauma rooted in the child’s too early separation from her mother in the kibbutz childhood system (Nitzan-Green, 2010). Thus, psychological cultural historical autobiographical elements are embedded in this method. The persona is informed by Jung’s psychoanalytical theory of archetypes and collective consciousness, in particular, his notion of ‘animus’; and by maternal theories, including the writings of Clarissa Pinkola Estes. According to Jung animus is ‘the masculine principle present as an archetype in the female collective unconscious, characterised by focused consciousness, authority, and respect.’17 Building on Jungian psychoanalysis, Pinkola Estes (1998) elaborated: [A]nimus can best be understood as a force that assists women in acting in their own behalf in the outer world. Animus helps a woman put forth her specific and feminine inner thoughts and feelings in concrete ways – emotionally, sexually, financially, creatively, and otherwise – rather than in a construct that patterns itself after a culturally imposed standard of masculine development in any given culture.18 Animus is ‘a profound psychic intelligence with ability to act.’19 One might wonder why women would need assistance in acting. In fact, we still live in a patriarchal society in which Pinkola Estes’ words ring true.20 ‘I-we’ relationship I understand performance with the help of ethnolinguist Richard Bauman who writes: [A]ll performance involves a consciousness of doubleness, through which the actual execution of an action is placed in mental comparison with a potential, an ideal, or a remembered original model of that action. Normally this comparison is made by an observer of the action – the theatre public, the school teacher, the scientist – but the double consciousness, not the external observation, is what is most central [...] Performance is always performance
Andrew M. Colman, 2006, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 40.
Clarisa Pinkola Estes, 1998, Women Who Run With the Wolves, London and Sydney: Rider, p. 310. 19 20
Ibid, p. 311.
Recent revelations, including the Harvey Weinstein’s scandal, Donald Trumps’ comments about women, BBC salary discrimination against women reporters and other examples are proofs that today we are still far from equality between men and women.
58 for someone, some audience that recognizes and validates it as performance even when, as is occasionally the case, that audience is the self.21 The persona is constructed on double consciousness: the self invented an other. This might be understood as a diffraction. Within the self there are two entities. ‘It happens, but I am not there’ wrote Kristeva. Perhaps it could be said: “I am t/here with you beyond knowing, beyond imagination, in matter of fact, concern and care”.22 As soon as ‘I’ becomes ‘we’ there is already an observer who is also an audience. This audience functions as a witness, a collaborator, a participant. It thus recognises, validates and empowers actions performed by the self. This ‘I-we’ relationship is first encountered during pregnancy, then develops with the action of giving birth and further develops as an intra-action between mother and child.23 Moreover, distance and the changing of distances become prominent features. For example, in pregnancy one’s body grow larger which alters the mother’s relationships with her environment and the way she moves with and between objects and people. The concept of ‘objectivity’ based on keeping a distance becomes redundant when you care for your baby. Indeed, these maternal experiences may be described as an entanglement of matter and meaning. The maternal ‘I-we’ may also be extended and expanded to include other people, in this case other CAS artists, as will be discussed later on. An example for entanglement in my work is the following. In Yahya Yakhlif’s A Lake Beyond The Wind a British soldier stops by a shop in Samakh, trying to sell Radi, a boy of about 10 or 11 years old, a bullet-proof jacket. “It’s really useful for a fighter,” the soldier said. “Something special. My mother sent it to me from London” ...She was afraid I’d be killed and this was the only thing she could find to protect me. Apart from her prayers.”24 The bullet-proof vest is part of this beautiful and sad story that tells the tragic fate of Samakh when the British mandate in Palestine came to its end, the state of Israel was born but many Palestinians became displaced. Tzitzit (tassel) is a Jewish ritual cloth that men are commanded to wear under their shirt; it must be visible at the four corners. The meaning of this ritual is to remind men of their duties in the world. Women are not required to wear it. Revisiting and reinterpreting Samakh photograph and story through performative acts and painting allow suppressed psychological, cultural and historic knowledge to come to the surface of consciousness and visibility.
Marvin Carlson, ‘What Is Performance’ in Michael Huxley and Noel Witts (eds.), The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, 2nd Edition, London and New York: Routledge, 2005, pp. 149-150. Carlson refers to the definition of performance, articulated by the ethnolinguist Richard Bauman in the International Encyclopaedia of Communications. 22
“Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad, p.3.
In the conference ‘Birth, The body and Performance’ (Brunel University, June 2018) Emily Underwood and Lena Simic (University of South Wales) asked: ‘what happens to the maternal when it is presented as a performance?’ And ‘How does it help understand the maternal situation?’ Indeed, it can be claimed that maternal experiences are performative. 24
Yahya Yakhlif, A Lake Beyond The Wind (2003) New York: Interlink Books, p. 3.
59 ‘Bullet-proof vest or Tzitzit?’, Performative act, 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzJQM7KQBXA
Fig. 13 YNG, Bullet-proof vest or Tzitzit? Oil on Canvas, 77 x 94cm, 2016
The performative act and social, cultural conventions The performative act is being performed with the artist’s maternal body. Merleau-Ponty (1945) claims that knowing one’s body comes through living. Referring to Merleau-Ponty, Butler writes: ‘the formulation of the body as a mode of dramatising or enacting possibilities offers a way to understand how a cultural convention is embodied and enacted.’25 As a research method, the performative act has been implemented as an intervention in everyday life. One acts with one’s body; this body might be seen not only as the site of actions, but also as a deconstructing tool. Deconstructing conventions, cultural or others, is an act of dissent. ‘I’ may give way to social cultural conditioning, however ima is a consciousness that manifests through my body as a performative act. It is not an agent, but an enactment of possibilities. Indeed, in previous works it functioned as ‘the mother’, ‘the Me-ta-pelet’ (woman that looked after the children in the kibbutz), ‘journalist’, ‘tourist’, ‘story-teller’ and more. As a research method ima enables ‘reflection-in-action’ and ‘reflection-on-action’. These terms were developed by Donald Schön26 as part of Action Research methodology. Reflection-in-action, which is an awareness of the action while it is going on, is possible since, as explained before, the ‘self’ invented an ‘other’ which functions as a witness. In other words, there is a distance within, an entanglement, that allows examination of the ‘self’, the ‘other’ and how they intra relate with each other. A documenting tool produces documentation such as text, images, sound and visual recording; enabling reflection-onaction which takes place after the action. Schön’s concepts prepare the ground to theorise the terrain between ‘inside’/’outside’. During the action one is ‘inside’; after the action one can 25
Judith Butler, Performative Acts and Gender Constitution, pp. 120 – 134, in Huxley M. and Witts N. (Eds.) (1996) The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, 2nd Edition, London and New York: Routledge. 2005, p. 126. 26
Smith, M. K. (2001, 2011). ‘Donald Schön: learning, reflection and change’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm. Retrieved: 22.9.2014].
60 reflect on it from the outside. Here it becomes clear that the concepts of ‘inside’/’outside’ are relational. This relational in-between territory informs my painting and the method of performative acts. Fig. 16 YNG, The Mourner Drawing Ink on paper, 2015
Fig. 14 The Mourner Performative act, CAS Open Studio 2015
Fig. 17 ima’s Reel, 2017
Fig. 15 YNG The Mourner, Performative act, 2015
Fig. 19 Screen, Oil on canvas, 91x61cm 2017
Fig. 20 Screen – detail
Performative act and painting’s apparatus
Fig. 18 Work-in-progress, 2017
ima: “I take an old bed-sheet, make a small cut at the edge using scissors, and tear it length-wise (figures 14 – 16). Next, I pull threads and roll them on a small marker pen like a reel (Figure 17). I repeat this action until there are enough threads. At the next stage I place the threads across the surface of the canvas (the canvas is placed on a table or floor) on top of first few layers of paint. A new layer of paint is sprinkled on and in-between the threads. When this is dry, I place another layer of threads and repeat the same actions, building the painting (figure 18). The paint is spread by strumming on a brush’s bristles as if it was a musical instrument. The effect is paint marks that look like dust. When the paint dries I pull all the threads off the canvas. They leave marks and traces including some of their fibres (Figures 19 - 20).”
61 In my paintings there is an agential dialogue between fabrics. On the one hand, the stretched canvas demonstrates a patriarchal approach: the white canvas stands for purity and cleanness; the precise geometric form adds to the painting being distinct and distanced from the messiness of everyday life; the smooth surface ready to be filled with an illusionistic pictorial representation of the world. On the other hand, the threads subvert this patriarchal approach by adding a feminist sensibility. They carry traces from a family bed, such as stains, smell and fibres; reminding the canvas of its vulnerability and temporality. Spreading a bed-sheet not on top of a mattress but on top of a canvas demonstrates a misuse of material, a dissent. ima re-enacts the old bed-sheet both as a specific personal object, and as a material that connects to other ‘worlds’ or contexts. Thus ima reveals an entanglement. For example, the painting entitled Samakh Undone (Feminisation of Asphalt) (figure 9) relates to the loss of my brother and nine other children in a car accident (1986), as well as the asphalt that covers the place where the Palestinian town, Samakh, got destroyed27. Tearing old bed-sheets mimics the Jewish mourning ritual of tearing clothes when burying loved ones; tearing symbolises the breaking of life. However, in addition to mimicking, ima pulls threads which are later used in her paintings. Thus, the traditional ritual is re-enacted and deconstructed within a personal, subjective ritual. Through these intra-actions invisible history, as well as traces of trauma, including intergenerational trauma, come to the surface of consciousness.
Fig. 22 YNG, Army base for urban warfare, stencil, 2017
" Fig. 21 Army facility for urban warfare, Israel Photography: YNG, 2016
Fig. 24 Army base for urban warfare - detail
Fig. 23 YNG, Army base for urban warfare – detail 1, Ink, Threads, Fabric 27
The railway station’s building had been recently reconstructed, functioning as a Visitor Centre as part of the Kinneret College on the Sea of Galilee.
Fig. 25 The burned home of The Dawabsha family, Newspaper photograph, 2016
Fig. 26 YNG, Fort-da, Drawing, Ink, Threads, Fabric, 2016
Fig. 27 YNG, Fort-da - detail 1
Fig. 28 YNG, Fort-da - detail 2
Fig. 29 ‘ima’s walk for peace’, Performative act, Winchester 2017 In solidarity with Women Wage Peace http://womenwagepeace.org.il/en/ Link to Nitzan-Green’s blog, ‘ima’s Peace Walk’
" Fig. 30 YNG, ima’s Tzitzit, Ritual cloth for ‘ima’s walk for peace’, 2017
Fig. 31 YNG, ‘Burka or Tzitzit?’ Mask, 2017
During my research the method of the performative act had been implemented as an intervention in everyday activities, such as dish washing, in order to reach and deconstruct tacit knowledge. However, since its completion performative acts have been used as a painting method that challenges painting’s apparatus. ima’s tools are improvisational. Actions are done as rituals. The painting is a ritual that has a beginning, middle and an end; however, it is positioned as part of a net of performative acts. For instance, using the torn fabric as a format for stitch-drawings (figures 23, 24, 26 - 28); decorating posters with the fabric drawings (figure 29); or using strips of fabric to create a ritual cloth (figure 30) and a mask (figure 31). As such, the painting’s end, or location, is not final. Similarly, using family bed-sheets puts in question the painting’s beginning. Where and when does a painting start? Is it when paint is placed on the stretched canvas? Or when I lay down at night, dreaming and being dreamed; dreams soaked with family’s smells, tastes, sounds, memory and sensations? The idea of the maternal body as a leaked container when bodily fluids cross its borders and social conventions urges us to consider the situation and the tension between ‘inside’ and ‘outside’. This consideration, together with many other life experiences, is done through painting. From the perspective of maternal subjectivity the object of painting can’t be hermetically sealed; it has an extension, its ‘outside’, which is literally outside the stretched canvas, yet maintains a relationship with it through the method of the performative act. In other words, the definition of painting as paint on a stretched canvas seems insufficient from a maternal subjectivity consideration, if painting is to accommodate and communicate maternal experiences. A feminist sensibility does not replace one thing by another, but intraacts by adding, linking and expanding. It is an intra-action between a relational ‘self’-‘other’ which recognises that there are connections and links between the two; some are known
64 whereas others are hidden. Some are ‘not yet’ where as others are ‘already’. Rather than oppositional, or binary, the relations are changing and flowing in time, space and matter. In the next section I will show how the personal practice meets the group’s practice through looking at CAS exhibition The Laboratory of Dissent (LOD) 2015.
Fig. 32 Cell 2, The safe place, The kitchen, The music room, The living-room, LOD 2015
The Winchester Gallery, Winchester School of Art, The University of Southampton
Part II The Laboratory of Dissent 2015: Domesticating conflicts Cell 2, entitled ‘Domesticating conflicts’28, responded to Mouffe’s claim that ‘the task of democracy is not to exclude or deny a conflict which cannot be eradicated, but rather to “domesticate” it.’29 At a preparation meeting the cell members, some new to each-other, realised that they are all mothers as well as artists. The conversation naturally raised issues common to all of us, particularly practicing our professions, both motherhood and art; and the way one profession relates to the other. The notion of interruption emerged. Interruption has been theorised by Lisa Baraitser who asked: ‘“What is it like to stay alongside a child?” What is it like to be exposed to incessant crying, incessant demands, incessant questioning,
A link to The Laboratory of Dissent: h.p://www.chapelartsstudios.co.uk/porOolio/the-‐laboratory-‐
Chantal Mouffe in Enrique Diaz Alvarez, ‘Interview with Chantal Mouffe’ 2010.
65 incessant interruption?’30 Although my two sons are now in their twenties, I clearly remember the impossibility of completing one task uninterrupted when they were young. Building on our own experiences, we recognised the stimulating and potentially subversive aspect of interruption. Interruption can be understood as a maternal dissonance. Indeed, the strategic approach to the exhibition and our role within it as agitators was based on the notion of interruption. We set ourselves the task of bringing potentially suppressed, thus invisible conflicts to the surface of visibility. Agitating tools and materials We decided to bring the domestic to the space of the gallery-turned-laboratory, as a kind of mapping the domestic in the gallery, in order to deconstruct it. This can be articulated as setting an entanglement. Each artist used her own understanding and methods. Different areas were designated particular space from home, and, in my case, from my kibbutz childhood environment31 (figure 32). There were no screens or walls. Rather, the spaces were flexible, comprising of shifting and negotiable boundaries. The daily conversations during LOD were instrumental to the cell’s successful functioning. I wanted to bring my painting method of the performative act to the lab in order to deconstruct the term ‘domesticating conflict’ and to do so through an on-going enquiry into this method. My approach to my painting tools has been improvisational, however during LOD I came across the concept of misperformance32. Misperformance has been articulated as the ‘inherent negative side [of performance], its non-functionality, futility and inoperativeness’ in the context of ‘war, trauma and divided societies’ among other. This contributed to refine the method of the performative act through redefining my use of tools as a misuse. Thus, a vacuum cleaner became a musical instrument; instruction to play a Zither included spreading pink powder on it and then cleaning with a paint brush; tearing a bed-sheet was accompanied by a violin improvisation to produce a unique sound. Misperformance has been utilised through a misuse of tools which created a material dissonance. A misuse of tools and materials is dissent which may lead to a ‘mute’ conflict; make it visible by re-sounding it with all its dissonance, stress, ambivalence and unresolvedness.
Lisa Baraitser, Maternal Encounters, An Ethic of Interruption, 2009, London and New York: Routledge, p. 11. 31
The kibbutz system attempted to replace the nuclear family structure with a communal one. Thus, children were raised in peer-groups, living in ‘children’s houses’ where they eat, played, studied and slept, away from their parents. Parents and children met everyday for 3 hours; this was considered ‘quality time’. 32
Lada Cale Feldman, ‘Into 1: Psi Mis-Performing Papers’ p. 1. Performance Research: Misperformance, Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2010, pp. 1-4. The following two quotes are from page 1.
Fig. 33 YNG, The Mourner (With Susan, Laurence and Clarisse)
Fig. 34 Peter ‘plays’ the Zither
The Mourner, (figures 14 – 16, 33) comprised of ima tearing a bed-sheet (CAS Open Studio 2015). Later on, at LOD it was re-enacted, accompanied by other musical instruments, improvised in different ways by the cell members. Audience as witness, collaboration and participation ima: “The maternal subject (‘mother-artist’) is positioned at the heart of everyday life, in which collaboration and participation are its inherent building-blocks. Hers is a process that is constructed by tuning in to bodies and the senses; receiving and communicating, or transmitting in-formation; listening to resonance and dissonance. A process of diffraction where difference is produced.” 33 Jorgensen and Agustin draw a distinction between rejecting fragmented, isolated experiences and rejecting a wrong world. How might one’s awareness be shifted from isolated experiences to perceiving a wrong world? One answer to this question might lie in the methods of collaboration and participation. Collaboration suggests working with others where different views and feelings are explored, discussed, contested and shared. Implicit in this concept is the notion of participation. Participation suggests a way of doing things which is based on first-hand experience. These two methods put together have a potential to expand one’s own awareness, both as an individual and as part of a group; indeed, they provide CAS artists with an ethical framework. As well as making artworks CAS artists are collaborative and participating audience - witness. Here, the maternal ‘I-we’ informs the group’s practice with the ethos of care.
I refer to Karen Barad’s term ‘diffraction’ in ‘”Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad’, (from “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” intra-active event, June 6, 2009, at the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, Utrecht University).
" Fig. 35 Clarisse Wisser in The Music Room
The personal and the group practice met at the point of ‘misperformance’ in the sense that the group has set out to interpret Chantal Mouffe’s text.34 Her well-formed, tightly articulated essay had been re-opened, un-done, mis-understood, turned up-side-down and taken apart in the lab as it became the raw material for a collaborative, participatory material thinking. Within LOD personal emotions and feelings transformed to public passions as the issues of traumatic memory, tragedies of refugees, mourning and domestic abuse emerged (figures 35 - 37).
Fig. 36 Susan Francis’ Car installation
Fig. 37 Laurence Rushby’s The French artist in a tent
The problem set out in this essay was: How might the method of the performative act be understood as a link between painting and “that outside it”? My contention was that performative acts open an in-between space where further materialisation takes place, constructing, revealing and reconfiguring entanglements through intra-actions. It was demonstrated that the performative act is an interdependent research method that has the power to displace painting from its autonomous position to a relational position as part of a net of performative acts. The links that make up this net are autobiographical, material, cultural and historic. As a diffractive method, ima contributes to the development of diffractive methodology, which is a state of mind that expects the artist-researcher to examine her/his object of research as it is in the world in which she/he is entangled. Inside-outside relationships have been discussed. In the contexts of the maternal body these relations challenge social conventions. Maternal subjectivity acknowledges that there is a person who is a subject to the maternal body. It is from this position that an understanding of the performative act as an interdependent research method of painting can be gained. There is a correlation between mother-children relationship and the painting’s position.
Mouffe, C. ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ in Art & Research, Vol. 1, No. 2 Summer 2007. http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/v1n2cover.html
68 More research is needed in order to further develop knowledge, understanding and dissemination of maternal subjectivity. CAS’ ethical framework is founded on collaboration and participation informed by Barad’s diffractive methodology. Objectivity emerges from the close relationships that the artists form as they get to know, care and respect each-other. Both, similarities and differences are valued. In addition, it became clear that CAS artists function as audience-witness of each other at their various group projects. Dissent has been described by David Dixon as CAS’ ‘long-term, open-ended methodology’ (Dixon, 2014). In that context a strategy of misperformance has been utilised in LOD. It is expected to develop further with future projects.
69 Bibliography Bachelard, G. 2005, On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, Selected, translated and introduced by Colette Gaudin, Putnam, Connecticut: Spring Publications, Inc. Bak Jorgensen, M., & Agustin, O. G. (2015). The Politics of Dissent. In M. B. Jorgensen, & O. G. Agustin (Eds.), Politics of Dissent. (pp. 11-25). Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang. (Political and Social Change, Vol. 1). Barad, K. 2003 ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’ in Signs, Vol. 28, No. 3, Gender and Science: New Issues (Spring 2003), pp. 801-831 Published by: The University of Chicago Press. Barad, K. “Matter feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” Interview with Karen Barad in “Meeting Utrecht Halfway” June 6, 2009 the 7th European Feminist Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate Gender Programme of Utrecht University. Baraitser, L. 2009, Maternal Encounters, An Ethic of Interruption, London and New York: Routledge. Colman, A. M., 2006, Oxford Dictionary of Psychology Oxford: Oxford University Press. Carlson, M., 2005, ‘What Is Performance’ in Michael Huxley and Noel Witts (Eds.), The Twentieth Century Performance Reader, 2nd Edition, London and New York: Routledge Enrique Diaz Alvarez, ‘Interview with Chantal Mouffe: “Pluralism is linked to the acceptance of conflicts” in https://dawnssong.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/pluralism-is-linked-to-acceptance-of.html. Feldman, l. C., ‘Into 1: Psi Mis-Performing Papers’ p. 1. Performance Research: Misperformance, Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2010. Kristeva, J. 1980, ‘Motherhood According to Giovanni Bellini’ in Desire in Language. Kristeva, J. 1982, Powers of Horror, An Essay on Abjection, New York: Columbia University Press. Mouffe, C. ‘Artistic Activism and Agonistic Spaces’ in Art & Research, Vol. 1, No. 2 Summer 2007 http://www.artandresearch.org.uk/v1n2/v1n2cover.html Patrick Hanks, Ed., 1985, Collins English Dictionary, London & Glasgow: Collins. Smith, M. K. (2001, 2011). ‘Donald Schön: learning, reflection and change’, the encyclopedia of informal education. [www.infed.org/thinkers/et-schon.htm. Retrieved: 22.9.2014].
‘Dissent: A Creative Practice’ is an anthology of essays by CAS Associate Artists Susan Francis, Maija Liepins and Yonat Nitzan-Green. Francis considers ‘the relational self’ and how it might create an interstice for a constructive dissent. Liepins focuses on ‘individual dissent for collective change’ exploring dissent as part of a non-linear process of discursive creativity. NitzanGreen approaches her question from a maternal subjectivity perspective asking whether the performative act can be understood as a link between a painting and that ‘outside it’. All three essays explore how dissent might be understood as a constructive and creative methodology that encourages dialogue, and generates new solutions and relationships.
An anthology of essays by CAS artists Susan Francis, Maija Liepins and Yonat Nitzan-Green. An exploration of theory and practice, these thre...
Published on Oct 3, 2018
An anthology of essays by CAS artists Susan Francis, Maija Liepins and Yonat Nitzan-Green. An exploration of theory and practice, these thre...