Page 1

Reflecting on and through Performing Arts One Introduction,Three Acts and Two Intermezzos

Edited by Daniel Blanga-Gubbay and Lars Kwakkenbos

With contributions from Antonia Baehr, Brett Bailey, Jérôme Bel, Daniel Blanga-Gubbay, Pieter De Buysser, Romeo Castellucci, Boris Charmatz, Bojana Cvejic´, Jeannine Dath, Antoine Defoort, Piersandra Di Matteo, David Engels,Tim Etchells, Edit Kaldor, Amir Reza Koohestani, Joseph Kusendila, Lars Kwakkenbos, Joris Lacoste, Isabelle Launay, Maurizio Lazzarato, André Lepecki, Frie Leysen, Thomas F. Madden, Chantal Mouffe, Reza Negarestani, Jeroen Peeters, Mariano Pensotti, Dan Perjovschi, Jean-Louis Perrier, Milo Rau, Claude Régy, Rimini Protokoll, Anna Rispoli, Walid Sadek, Árpád Schilling, Gerald Siegmund, Christophe Slagmuylder, Isabelle Stengers, Pieter T’Jonck and Sarah Vanhee


E D ITO R I A L – page 7


Jérôme Bel, ‘I always feel incredibly good in my seat at the theatre...’ – page 13 André Lepecki, Four Notes onWitnessing Performance in the Age of Dis-Experience – page 15 Witnessing ‘EXHIBIT B’: Testimonies by Brett Bailey, Dominique Mout, Jeannine Dath and Joseph Kusendila – page 25


Michel Foucault, ‘Making truth itself appear’ – page 37 Walid Raad, Appendix XVIII: Plates 22–257 – page 38 Jean-Louis Perrier, Federico León, in Inverted Commas – page 46 Mariano Pensotti, We Are Made of Fictions – page 50 P R E V E NTI O N: TH E F UT U R E I S N O LO N G E R A N E N D L E S S S TA G E

Daniel Blanga-Gubbay and Lars Kwakkenbos, Living in Preventive Times. An Introduction – page 54 Dumb Type, S/N# – page 61 Pieter T’Jonck, Everything is Possible No Longer: Reflecting on Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s and Ann Veronica Janssens’s ‘Keeping Still - Part 1’ – page 64 C O N N E CT

Edit Kaldor, Thinking at Work: A Short Reflection on ‘Or Press Escape’ – page 77 ‘Oh sh**, now they’re all looking at me!’ An Interview with Rimini Protokoll – page 78 Tiqqun, Metropolises of Separation – page 85 EUROPE

‘It’s still better to go with a great idea in your head, even if you hit a brick wall.’ A Conversation Between David Engels and Milo Rau – page 91 A Song from Christoph Marthaler’s Murx den Europäer! – page 99 Drawings by Dan Perjovschi – page 102 Reza Negarestani, Europe is a Place – page 109 R E S TA G I N G W A R

Gerald Siegmund, Destabilising the Spectator’s Point of View:William Forsythe’s ‘Three Atmospheric Studies’ – page 117 Claudio Monteverdi, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda – page 126 Wael Shawky, Cabaret Crusades – page 128 Thomas F. Madden, Re-Inventing the Crusades – page 132 E C O N O MY

Romeo Castellucci, Palco - Colpa – page 143 Maurizio Lazzarato, The Economy and the Debt Crisis – page 148 Boris Charmatz and Isabelle Launay, Dépense – page 151 An Extract from René Pollesch’s Love is Colder than Capital – page 157


Groupov, Anathème Heiner Goebbels, Stifters Dinge Kris Verdonck, END Rodrigo Garcı´a, After Sun


Claude Régy, Give Light the Option of Discretion – page 178 William Kentridge, Zeno at 4 a.m. – page 180 M O V E M E NT

Pieter De Buysser, The Cartographers’ Feast – page 186 VOICE

Joris Lacoste, L’Encyclopédie de la parole – page 201 Antonia Baehr and Sabine Ercklentz, The Voice of Steller’s Sea Cow – page 204 Piersandra Di Matteo, The Voice, the Ineradicable Materiality: On Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio’s ‘Giulio Cesare’ – page 210 Benjamin Tausig and Edgar Garcia, TheVoice asVisual Anonymity. Two Blog Notes on the Use of Voice During Protests – page 214


The Forsythe Company, Human Writes


Anna Rispoli, In Medias Res – page 237 Árpád Schilling, Common Space – page 242 Chantal Mouffe, Marcelo Evelin, Dance as an Agonistic Encounter – page 246 Sarah Vanhee, Lecture For Every One – page 255 ‘What do you have against islands?’ A Fragment of Conversation between Frie Leysen and Christophe Slagmuylder – page 262 BEING FOREIGN

Benjamin Verdonck, Hirondelle/DooiVogeltje/The Great Swallow. A Diary – page 266 Jeroen Peeters, Running Backwards in Advance of Yourself. On Language and Community in the Work of Bruno Beltrão and Grupo de Rua de Niterói – page 275 Suely Rolnik, The Politics of Hybridisation. Avoiding False Problems – page 283 B E YO N D ET H I C S

Christoph Schlingensief, Via Intolleranza II. A Speech – page 297 Bojana Cvejic´, Theatrocracy, or the Art of Dramatising the Public – page 303 Frank Vande Veire, Une bonne nouvelle. Notes on Renzo Martens’s ‘Episode III - Enjoy Poverty’ – page 312 W H AT I S N OT S A I D

Amir Reza Koohestani, What We Do Not Say But Is Still Heard – page 324 Press Reviews on Zhang Yuan’s Dong Gong Xi Gong (East PalaceWest Palace) – page 329 Daniel Blanga-Gubbay, Tell of the Refusal to Tell (For a Dictionary of the Not Said) – page 330 Walid Sadek, On the Unsaid of a Disarming Figure – page 336 S I L E NT M A J O R ITI E S

Lars Kwakkenbos, What Does Searching for the Citizen Mean? Realism in Árpád Schilling’s ‘A papno˝ ’, Richard Maxwell’s ‘Neutral Hero’ and Toshiki Okada’s ‘We Are the Undamaged Others’– page 342 An Extract from Árpád Schilling’s A papno˝ ’ – page 343 An Extract from Richard Maxwell’s Neutral Hero – page 345 An Extract from Toshiki Okada’s We Are the Undamaged Others – page 348 I M A G I N AT I O N, A NTI C I PATI O N, S C I E N C E F I CT I O N

Tim Etchells, The Future of Performance – page 358 Antoine Defoort, Matters of Concern – page 364 Isabelle Stengers, Science Fiction as Speculative Exercise – page 366 Eszter Salamon and Bojana Cvejic´, Dots – page 373

Biographies – page 379 Kunstenfestivaldesarts – page 391 Copyrights – page 397


We can set to work with doubt as our loyal companion.We take only one certainty with us: today’s theatre is in the world and beneath the heavens; its walls are of skin; they have pores; they breathe. Let’s try not to forget that anymore. Marianne Van Kerkhoven, State of the Union at the Dutch-Flemish Theatre Festival in 1994, the year of the genocide in Rwanda. Speaking about memory in performing arts requires thinking about time itself. A performance is a time shared between people. Also a festival is a time shared between people, and this book is published on the occasion of the 20th Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Instead of trying to reframe the experience of projects presented years ago, this publication traces the ongoing relevance of questions raised by those same projects, as if the works of art that artists and writers refer to here are forces resurfacing towards us in the present. More than being an instrument of memory this book is meant to become an atlas through which the past opens itself towards the future, like every map that – while telling us the story of those who traced a route to accomplish its creation – invites us to imagine future journeys. This publication resembles a miniature version of a festival. The 15 chapters are not organised chronologically, but rather around specific questions. While conceiving the book we worked on two levels: one being history in its most general sense, and the other being the artworks that have been created and shown during the history of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Firstly, what had happened on stage and elsewhere – in the city of Brussels and the rest of the world – during the 20 years from 1994 until the moment we began making this book? Secondly, which pieces did we remember most vividly, or did people continue to speak and write about? As stray dots composing a constellation, theoretical perspectives and performances were brought together allowing 15 questions to emerge in front of us. Some of these questions have been at the very core of the world’s concerns over the past two decades. Some of them have characterised the festival or have been lingering on within the arts, in the shade of the reigning discourses and ideologies of today’s societies. This book is not only like a miniature festival, but also follows the dramaturgy of a theatre piece. It consists of an introduction, three acts and two intermezzos. Its first act lets History unfold through performing arts. Even though we were born in different years, most of us share parts of the last two decades, during which some specific and global issues surfaced, from the Internet to new stagings of warfare, from ecology to an economic crisis. Starting from the speculative question ‘Which issues will characterise the last two decades in


100 years from now?’, this act uses the practice of writing history as a tool to present some questions that are crucial in our current time. The second act dissects the Stage to analyse the meaning of some of its instruments today. What does speaking about light mean, in a timeframe of 20 years in which religion resurfaced in public life and politics? How can we recognize a movement? How do we have to articulate our voices today, on stage and in a time of protest? The third act reflects on Society and the range of roles that art can play within it or in which it can seem to challenge its rules and values from the outside. Audience, censorship, community... The history of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts has become a lens through which we have tried to create a perspective on both the arts and the world, and the ways in which each one is always a part of the other. The making of this book started with dialogues with artists and thinkers, whom we asked to write, draw or visualise their contributions within the context of specific questions, not necessarily in order to answer them, but rather to keep them open, offering them to the reader as such. Most of the contributions have been created for this book. Alongside these we decided to republish existing articles and essays in places where it was crucial to open up various questions in an historical perspective. All the texts, be they written by artists, philosophers or historians, are presented in a non-hierarchical juxtaposition within the 15 chapters. Their approaches range from a confession, a novel, a diary or a score to academic and speculative writings. Art is not taken here as an object of reflection, rather as one of its instruments. Artistic contributions never illustrate theory. Theory never justifies the art. More than that, both enter into a dialogue, or they resonate into one another. Hence, the content of this book is defined on the one hand by a strong belief in the critical relevance of the (performing) arts in themselves, while on the other it persistently questions that same relevance in the presence of self-critical reflections. And next to the latter, theoretical perspectives not related to performing arts allow those 15 questions in different discourses to emerge. What about the time we share in the future? We began by asking ourselves what kind of book would be relevant to make in light of 20 editions of the Kunstenfestivaldesarts. Even more importantly, what kind of publication would be opened, read, stored and, we hope, re-read in the future? One might say that the forces in this book are centrifugal. It tries to look outside, not simply being addressed to those who have experienced the festival, but also becoming a tool of analysis of the performing arts and eventually their ways of being related to the present and the future. How great can the discrepancy be between a story or an image and the surrounding world? This book might be as small as a paper brick, but we hope it is as wide as an endless horizon of thoughts and idea(l)s.


A performance always reminds us of what might have preceded it and what might follow. Time and again, countless presents ripple around the vanishing point of a here and now, or they are under way in it. While we are putting the finishing touches to this book, different crises are lingering on in Brussels and Europe. The Continent is still shocked by the shooting of cartoonists in Paris, the Greek national government is standing up against European politics of austerity, and a new war is emerging on the borders of Russia. That is the time we share in 2015, and future readers – you – will continue writing it. For now, let this book be a tool for reflecting on the time we share, while searching for new strategies of imagination and creating space for speech. Brussels, 12th February 2015 Daniel Blanga-Gubbay and Lars Kwakkenbos


Between Witness and Spectator


I always feel incredibly good in my seat at the theatre, because I know I am going to be peaceful throughout the performance. I do not need to interact socially, I am isolated from other people, no one is allowed to speak to me, no one will see me. It is an immense relief to me, as an escape from social relationships. I love this very particular situation, that does not come from reading a book, or visiting an exhibition, even less when watching a film on my computer. It allows me to be with my contemporaries, outside normal social situations. I love being with them, sitting in the auditorium and sharing things that, even with my intimates, I could not evoke. This experience links us together, away from our normal social relations. The place I feel best in the world (apart from my bed) is the theatre, in the auditorium, not too far from the stage, but not too close either. One should never be too close to the stage, because the distance between the spectator and the stage, that eyes and ears have to cover, is part of the artistic experience. This distance is necessary for representation, otherwise one remains within real life. In the theatre, in art, there is a greater distance from things than there is in life and this gap is where the spectator’s artistic experience can happen. This gap is the crack, the split where another relationship with the world can intrude, where a different perception can apply. A few years ago, I was suffering from depression. My only relief at this complicated time was to go to the theatre every evening. This was a period when I also went to matinées, so I could visit the theatre on Saturday and Sunday afternoons as well! The theatre is a refuge, as Samuel Beckett states: ‘That’s the show, waiting alone, in the uneasy air, until it begins, until something begins, until there is something other than oneself, until one can go away, no longer afraid...waiting alone, blind, deaf, one does not know where or what, until a hand comes to draw you away from there, take you elsewhere, perhaps somewhere worse.’1 If I were rich, I would be a spectator. If I did not have to earn my living creating performance, I would be a spectator; I would travel around the world to see premieres of work by artists that interested me. I would go and see premieres because I would not want to hear or read

1 Samuel Beckett, L’Innommable (Paris, [1953] 2008), pp. 157–8. INTRODUCTION


anything about the shows beforehand. I would want to be a virgin spectator, so I could have the complete experience, all by myself. Being alone is essential; the spectator is alone in the theatre. The theatre is the place where he or she can be alone among many. Alone and together, since even if one has company, no one is allowed to speak. The theatre is this miraculous place where we are alone, together. Individuals, subjects who each have a subjective experience of the theatrical work, together. We will share the same experience together, we will see the same performance and afterwards we will find that none of us agrees about the meaning of the performance. Each of us, the spectators, will have our own subjectivity, our uniqueness. It is often depressing to observe that no one will ever agree, that our differences will separate us forever. What a tragedy! That is the price of theatre, the price of art, an exorbitant price, of separation, solitude, our absolute singularity as an individual. Art (contemporary, experimental, not yet culture, without identified and then published rules) takes us to this experience of ourselves, to this sensitive and intelligible revelation of our uniqueness and thus of our separation from the other spectators. The processes of Western theatrical performance are there to isolate us from each other; darkness and the command to be silent are the necessary guarantees of this. But we share the darkness and it is all of us together that produce the silence. What a paradox it is, this meeting that separates us, or rather this separation that unites us, since it is the power and the purpose of this theatre, to divide us in order to bring us closer together.



Four Notes on Witnessing Performance in the Age of Dis-Experience Note 1: on the demise of the witness In his diagnosis of a ‘forensic turn’ taking place at the end of the 20th century, and of a concomitant ‘forensic aesthetics’ resulting from it, Eyal Weizman wrote recently that forensics is what replaces the great ‘era of the witness’.1 Indeed, the two are essentially incompatible, and the coming into being of the former is also the cresting and collapsing of the latter. Their intertwined yet divergent histories are fully illustrated, or expressed, by the very different ways courts of law decided to address two high-profile cases pertaining to two German National Socialist war criminals that had not faced the Nuremberg trials (1945–6): Adolf Eichmann and Josef Mengele. Eichmann’s famous trial in the early 1960s would represent the epitome of the era of the witness – the whole prosecutorial case was supported by giving emphasis, indeed, predominance, to the testimony of hundreds of those who had suffered under the bureaucratic extermination machine of the concentration and labour camps administered by him. As for Mengele, who escaped detention at the end of the war and fled to South America, where he lived undetected under the name of Wolfgang Gerhard until his death in the late 1970s, the

question before the court was not so much about determining his guilt, but about assessing the identity of his corpse. It was during this challenging process of identification that witnesses were relegated to the background and forensic experts, scientific discourse, and archaeological and anthropological approaches, allied with advanced technologies in image processing, pathology, forensic medicine and biochemistry, became the main technocratic protagonists before the judicial and police systems. As Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman write in their book on the advent of forensic aesthetics, today those scientists, those experts, even though they never witnessed the crime, are the ones who will (expertly) testify about it. Indeed, it is because they are not witnesses that they are considered to be the ones who can best testify about what happened, by becoming the (supposedly neutral) voice of inert things.2 Thus, the witness ‘is gradually being supplemented (not to say bypassed) by an emergent forensic sensibility, an object-oriented juridical culture immersed in matter and materialities, in code and form, and in the presentation of scientific investigations by

1 Eyal Weizman, ‘Forensic Architecture: Notes from Fields and Forums’, 100 Notes – 100 Thoughts. dOCUMENTA (13) (Ostfildern, 2012), p. 5. 2 Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman, Mengele’s Skull:The Advent of a Forensic Aesthetics (Berlin, 2012). INTRODUCTION


experts’.3 The resulting aesthetics of this forensic sensibility is one that privileges, indeed demands, an affective detachment from the event. It is then less an aesthetics than a true an-aesthetics, where the capacity to narrate and share the affective impact and intersubjective effects of an event are replaced by the ‘neutral,’ or ‘cold’ presentation of scientific data and information. As Weizman summarises: ‘Forensic aesthetics is the mode of appearance of things in forums – the gestures techniques, and technologies of demonstration; methods of theatricality, narrative, and dramatization; image enhancement and technologies of projection; the creation and demolition of reputation, credibility, and competence.’4 In this aesthetics, it is precisely because someone was present at the moment of the event that this someone is considered to be the least qualified to talk about it. We can see the perversity of this scheme, where what is deemed to be unworthy of the event is the experiential capacity to tell it affectively, to transmit it sensorially, to weave it subjectively yet rigorously to the lives of one’s contemporaries but also to future and past generations. Forensics is the end of a certain kind of historical-political performativity of storytelling. Note 2: on the unmasking of the generalised accomplice In a 1999 essay, where ‘the hour of the crime’ and ‘the temporality of the art work’ were fused together into one, Peter Sloterdijk made a cruel and yet absolutely lucid

3 4 5 6

diagnosis of our current, globalised predicament of neo-colonial endemic violence: ‘Ask a modern subject where he was at the moment of the crime, and his answer can only be this one: “I was there at the crime scene”.’5 However, and this is Sloterdijk’s cruelty, being there at the scene of the crime does not turn us all into witnesses, willing to testify about the atrocities of the event, but rather turns us all into (most often silent) accomplices. As he writes: ‘Everyone who is touched by the consciousness that he or she, beyond the inevitable quality of witness, is also integrated, through a kind of complicity, to this new monstrosity [created by humans as modernity], is a modern subject.’6 In other words, we have here a very different understanding of forensics. It is not the epiphenomenon of the late 20th-century total demise of experience and storytelling as that which the law cannot tolerate, but an onto-historical condition of modernity (for Sloterdijk, the modern era starts in the late 15th century and continues up to today, albeit enduring several transformations and turns). This condition has transformed the whole planet into a vast crime scene. In this scene, we have only three roles: victim (the fallen, the tortured, the disappeared, the enslaved...); perpetrator (the torturer, the killer, the rapist, the thief...); or accomplice (everyone else, including you and me). However, despite the harsher assessment, this is just another way of saying that the witness has definitely become a weaker figure in our political, juridical and aesthetic imaginary.

Eyal Weizman 2012, op. cit., pp. 5–6. Ibid., p. 10. Peter Sloterdijk, L’Heure du Crime et le Temps de l’Oeuvre d’Art (Paris, 2000), p. 9, translation by André Lepecki. Ibid., p. 10.


It seems to me that it is precisely for all these reasons, differently identified, diagnosed and described by Keenan, Weizman and Sloterdijk, that the figure of the witness must be rescued, urgently. The witness must be given back its performative forces – juridical and political, but also certainly aesthetic. It seems to me that we can find indications of such affirmation of the performative-narrativeaesthetic force of witnessing in some recent artistic propositions, particularly in live performance, and, not surprisingly, in theatre and in choreography.

But separation from what? From history, historicity, the capacity to share experience.

It is no wonder that Walter Benjamin saw in the demise of the capacity to share and transmit experience an essential development in the advancement of capitalist subjectivity. He saw how capitalism could reproduce itself by affirming its grip on subjectivity via the implementation of a totalising ‘society of information’ – one where information replaced both ‘intelligence that comes from afar’ and ‘experience’.9 These latter are the two major components of storytelling, that powerful commitment to Note 3: for a testimonial audience constitute an audience that then, thanks to In an often quoted passage from his 1936 the affective dynamics intrinsic to sharing an essay, ‘The Storyteller’, Walter Benjamin writes on how capitalist subjectivity has lead experience, does what audiences must: to be to the demise of storytelling, the act of trans- receptive, to embody the experience being told and to retransmit that experience later mitting experience: ‘Was it not noticeable on, to new audiences. that at the end of the war [WWI] men returned from the battlefield grown silent – The audience then becomes itself not at the not richer but poorer in communicable 7 moment it witnesses the event, but when it experience?’ Such a ‘bottomless’ fall in the value of experience reaches its limits in our gives to another audience its testimony of advanced informational and warrior capital- the event. The audience becomes one, only ism. We can verify such a condition thanks as long as it opts to ethically and politically to the endemic proliferation of ‘forensic’ become an actor/storyteller in a future devices as quotidian instruments of contem- (near or far). In this sense, it also fulfils its porary sociability: Instagrammed self(ie)true aesthetic dimension. The fundamentally images, permanent Facebooked snippets affective-political dimension of storytelling, of information that, with ever-same poses, its relation to both historicity and futurity, is disseminate not experiences but coordinates crucial in the age of ‘selfies’. Also, it may be of presence. In other words, forensics and why, recently, we have seen some important its informational-evidentiary protocols repworks in live performance insisting on this resent the absolute triumph of the society experiential dimension of the audience: of spectacle where ‘separation is perfected’ the audience’s capacity to storytell. 8 thanks to the proliferations of images.

7 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York, 1969), p. 84. 8 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1995), pp. 11–24. 9 Walter Benjamin 1969, op. cit., p. 89. INTRODUCTION


In Jérôme Bel’s extraordinary Cour d’Honneur (2014), we see the power of this testimonialexperiential, storytelling audience, taking place with a clarity and strength that is absolutely breathtaking. In this piece, made specifically for the main, and most iconic, stage of Festival d’Avignon, the Cour d’Honneur at the Palais des Papes, 14 audience members of different ages (from 11 to 70 years old), different backgrounds, nationalities and occupations, are gathered on the stage to tell the large audience before them about their memories of the festival. Obviously, these memories, because they are experiential and personal, become as profoundly emotional-singular as they do lucid-social. It is a fantastic event, where, above all, and against all forensic turns, Bel reaffirms storytelling as a historicalpolitical, therefore truly dramatic, force. Cour d’Honneur, against all forensic aesthetics, reaffirms that one must be at the scene of the event in order to transmit that which, in the event, as event, makes it so: its always elusive singularity, its manifold potentialities, its relational-affective dimensions, its uncontrollable, never neutral, forever precarious puissance. Cour d’Honneur reminds us, through its simple affirmation of the force of the audience as the one who must give testimony, that it is the subjective-corporealaffective-historical dimension of witnessing that must be defended today. We can find this affirmation of the capacity and necessity to share experiences (although in a very different performance protocol), this affirmation of the need to transmit, to


share narratively, not informational ‘forensic evidence’ but fictive-affective historiographic witnessing, in some recent pieces by Mette Ingvartsen, particularly Speculations (2011) and 69 Positions (2014). In the case of Ingvartsen’s recent works, it is somehow the aggregation of relational potential that is directly linked to the ways in which she displays documents (videos, photographs, letters, books), but only to immediately turn those documents into little narrative factories, producing something other than what they ‘should’, since every document is enchanted or debunked from its forensic neutrality by Ingvartsen’s words. It is at the moments when the storytelling gets to be embodied by the dancer and activated by her movements that we see how a transmission of experience can be effectively achieved and the past made flesh right before our eyes, again. Phantasmagoria or perhaps simply this: that in order to connect to history, one needs simply to perform the ethical effort to become available to the virtual reality of the event, always hovering in its essential double temporal nature – to be simultaneously of the past, and of the future. The task of the dancer is to open up the present so that these events take flesh and muscle, tremors and spasms, gesture and action, and indeed, words. Those excesses that our always affectiveexperiencing bodies incur as transmitters of experiential memory are what forensics cannot tolerate. Intrinsic to all witness testimony there lies a dangerous threat for the putative neutrality of justice: that the sharing

of the horror, the sharing of the atrocity, may crack through language and body, may indeed crack the organisational principles of language and corporeal demeanour – tears, convulsions, stammerings, repetitions, hallucinations, collapses even.

self(ie). In other words, to witness is to answer the impersonal call of both the event and of those who will have not been there.

Note 4: on the difference between the audience-as-witness and the audience-as-spectator But the collapse of both flesh and language Live performance works like the ones just is still a transmission – one where a whole mentioned above advance the following (hi)story of the effects of witnessing is being proposition: that a difference must be outconveyed. Shoshana Felman writes about the lined between the audience-as-witness and the testimonial role of these powerful, corpoaudience-as-spectator. The former embraces real, non-informational excesses in her and fosters an audience that is aware of analysis of a famous moment in the Eichmann the political-aesthetic power of sharing trial when a witness faints on the stand. She experience; of how the transmissibility of sees this collapse not as a failure of objective experience, of memories, of the narration witnessing but as a most clear mode of givof events that one has lived through is an ing testimony. By being traversed by that in imperative in our age when experience is which, corporeally, overcomes us, witnessbeing crushed. While the latter, the audiing realigns the entire social field, and thus ence-as-spectator, is the silent accomplice realigns historicity itself, gathering around in the crime scene: the one who, before the the witness a reconfigured perceptive-aesscene, will always listen to the cop’s warnthetic-political horizon. Because all witness- ings and opt to remain silent – lest whatever ing (like all storytelling) is about the sharing he or she says may be used against him or of experience, it therefore reconstitutes the her in some future court of law (even if the whole social field it addresses as its transicourt and law are implicit ones, symbolic tory ear, one that later will metamorphose ones, quotidian ones, the courts of coninto its transitory mouth. This is how the formity and ‘taste’). The spectator is the witness is never bound to be a self(ie), one who chooses to check his iPhone or to reproducing the spectatorial stance of disGoogle the latest blog on the piece he is tance and private introspection: ‘by the presently (non)watching, so as to be (forenvirtue of the fact that the testimony is sically) assured of its facts. The spectator addressed to others, the witness, from searches, above all, for information – for the within the solitude of his own stance, is the sake of non-ambiguity: information as antivehicle of an occurrence, a reality, a stance witnessing, anti-storytelling, indeed pro10 or a dimension beyond himself.’ The witforensic, tool. The spectator does not tell, ness is always thrown beyond that which in but Instagrams an image of the performthe situation would tie him or her down to a ance, a mute evidence, which, in order to

10Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis and History (New York and London, 1992), p. 3. INTRODUCTION


increase its evidentiary legibility, must be predicated on highly legible, clichéd poses. Of course, since moments are opaque and the feeling or affective cloud of any moment is experiential-linguistic as well as perceptual-political, one has to bury anything that challenges the preformatted rhetorics of the legible pose.

reassure us all that the spectator’s watching passivity is already ‘emancipated’13; witnessing remains essential – since it leads towards a totally active relation to the future historicity of the event. This is a relation beyond the figure of the Rancièrian free-associating individual-as sensuous private-intellect(ual), a relation that indeed bypasses individuality altogether and goes beyond free-associative Against this scenario, storytelling and witlittle games, and becomes trans- and even nessing do something altogether different, as post-individual. As Shoshana Felman writes, we can experience in Ingvartsen’s speculative ‘what is immortal is, in other words, not the pieces, or when listening to the 14 audience narrator but the very story of the repetition, members in Bel’s Cour d’Honneur. As Walter a story that, repeated at least twice, is not Benjamin writes in ‘The Storyteller’, ‘It is simply individual’.14 not the object of the story to convey a happening per se, which is the purpose of information; rather, it embeds it in the life of the storyteller in order to pass it on as experience to those listening’.11 The scandalous corporeal affirmation of the experiential dimension of life is exactly that which forensics forecloses. The expert, as much as he or she may want to ‘give voice to the mute bones of history’s atrocities’,12 did not witness anything; he or she only transmits information from the remains (traces, marks, refuse, rubble) of violence. Moreover, as ‘scientific expert’, a fiction of neutrality reigns supreme – even if the expert is filled with good intentions regarding the atrocities under trial. This is why, regardless of how much one wants to philosophically or politically rescue the spectator; regardless of how much one wishes to reaffirm and 11Walter Benjamin 1969, op. cit., p. 159. 12Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman 2012, op. cit., p. 28. 13As in Jacques Rancière’s mindboggling politics of participative-passivity where a ‘paradigm of intellectual emancipation’ is predicated on his view that in any situation ‘there are only individuals’ with the ‘the power to translate in their own way what they are looking at’, and, that ‘to associate and disassociate’ become the foundational ‘principle of an “emancipation of the Spectator”’, See Jacques Rancière, ‘The Emancipated Spectator’, ArtForum (March 2007), pp. 271–80, this quote from pp. 278–9, emphases added by André Lepecki. 14Shoshana Felman, The Juridical Unconscious:Trials and Traumas in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, MA and London, 2002), p. 52.


Israeli residents of Sderot, one of the villages at the border targeted by rockets, take photographs on a hill overlooking the fighting in the Gaza Strip on 12th July 2014.






‘I didn’t dare look. I didn’t dare look them in the eyes. I was too ashamed. (...) I was afraid. It is like being afraid of people. Afraid of their gaze, of their judgement.’ Dominique Mout, spectator It was there in the church of Gesù, in the heart of Brussels, this ‘whited sepulchre’, to use the words of Joseph Conrad, there in the place occupied by illegal immigrants, the homeless, there in the city designed by Léopold II that EXHIBIT B had to take place. Named after the number given on our arrival, the installation is seen alone, alone to confront history, our history. As we enter, it is not just the past that hits us in the face, but a recent event. It is impossible to miss, in the choir of the building, the aircraft seats with a passenger, gagged and bound, and impossible to avoid thinking of Semira Adamu, a Nigerian asylum seeker, killed in 1998 by being smothered under a cushion. A notice informs us that there were other victims, killed in the same way. Designed like the human zoos popular in Europe in the 19th century, EXHIBIT B is not asking us to express guilt, but just not to ignore the past, to be aware of the horrors of colonisation in the Congo (which led to millions of deaths) and of what has fed racism directed towards black people. These include hands being cut off, ‘to set an example’, when a colonist considered that the rubber harvest was inadequate. A woman stripped and chained to the master’s bed; a basket of skulls; Saartjie Baartman, the Hottentot Venus used by 19th-century scientists to prove that there were inferior races, these are anthropometric cards; or else today, migrants marked as ‘found objects’ (...) All these, in short, are people whose humanity has been totally denied. More disturbing still are the ‘singing heads’, the only ones whose eyes do not meet those of the spectator. There is the beauty of Namibian songs of lament, and these bodiless heads emerging from a white plinth, gazing into the distance. Yes, what EXHIBIT B shows belongs to my history. Jeannine Dath, spectator

Two women from Bas-Uele, Congo Free State, 1904. Photograph from the archive of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, Belgium. INTRODUCTION


I am a Congolese man, seated on a wooden chair. This wooden chair is arranged on a large, square, white plinth, whose pediment bears the words ‘Work and Progress’. Elevated. Barefoot, all the same I am dressed in the white suit and hat of a rubber collector. Enthroned on the plinth, behind me, there is a Christian icon, whose hands have been amputated. At the two front corners of the plinth are two white candles. My face and the exposed parts of my body are painted white. Everything is white. Including the willow basket filled with severed hands and which I bear on my thighs. Including the pallid light falling on me from the heavens. I am immobile, I breathe deeply. I make my toes crack, I move my shoulders. In my head I have this story. I am returning from the rubber harvest. The technicians are fussing around me, they ask me if everything is alright, then light the candles and the lamp on the display stand where the text of the story I have in my head is placed. The story I bear. That of the Offering. I breathe deeply. Brett approaches me, looks at me. I look at him, he disappears. I hear the choir. I feel beautiful, like a work of art. I breathe deeply. The public enter. I seek visual contact. In which I read. With which I converse. Which I am. I even fix gazes. Giving me an upward impression. Time is alternately prolonged and restricted. In this position, I am a witness as well as a spectator of this performance, which calls forth many others. Story within a story. What a privilege, I say to myself. All these souls.


What a privilege, to converse in the most silent way, the most physical way. My shoulders tense, the nape of my neck pulls, a woman gazes at me and bursts into tears, I fix my eyes on her and blink, my throat tightens, I feel pleased. A man smiles at me, a young woman ignores me. Everything is good. I feel strong, because I feel needed. I hear my breathing. I think about the others, immobile, they are thinking of me. This thought becomes solid The public throngs, comes close to me. The air is hot. I recognise faces, Valentine, Brett passes, then disappears. My immobility, this physical pain, centres me and awakens my senses. The spectator looks from my eyes to the text and back to my eyes. To stay there, to escape them again. The guilt, the compassion, palpable. These are witnesses, which makes their gazes responsible. I am a spectator of these gazes. We are witnesses. The Witness is endowed with Memory. I hear the choir, I cling onto these voices from beyond the grave. It is a force. The story which passes through me anchors my representation in the moment. I feel rooted, my feet almost on the ground. My shoulders tense, the nape of my neck pulls. I breathe deeply. Joseph Kusendila, performer




One of the themes of EXHIBIT B is looking, observing, spectating. It deals with how black and brown people have been historically set up to be the object of the regard of white people, taking the human zoos of the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries as a starting point. These systems of constructing the Other assumed that the look went one way: white looked at black. But of course black always looked back. Both were always spectators. EXHIBIT B emphasises this return of the gaze. The actors are instructed to try to make eye contact with the spectators at all times. I tell them that they are in fact the spectators and that the audience are the performers. They are to be watched with curiosity: how does a member of the audience perform her role of spectating? Many of the installations in the work list the mixed media of which they are made: ‘barbed wire, human skulls, Herero woman, broken glass, spectator/s...’. The spectator is an integral part of the installation and it is completed only by her presence. She is as trapped in this drama as is the ‘exhibited Other’. Both people are objectified, dehumanised, reduced. There are very few witnesses to this situation: only those who are able to stand back and watch the whole; who are not engaged within the closed system of each installation; who can observe the performers – in their positions of power – regarding the spectators grappling with the awkwardness of their position. The role of witness is reserved for me and for some of the technical crew. Brett Bailey, director

Page 25 and following pages ‘How would you describe EXHIBIT B to people who have not seen it?’: the four texts presented in the previous pages have been written as answers, from four different positions, to this same question. Their juxtaposition is dedicated to the memory of spectators, which – even when fallacious – is the proper archive in performing arts. In 2014 the presence of Brett Bailey’s EXHIBIT B in London and Paris caused protests that led to a loud echo in the media and to the cancellation of the performance in London. The presentation of EXHIBIT B in this chapter today inevitably becomes a question about the possible ways of witnessing something of which we were not a spectator. The photographs on pages 28, 30 and 31 were taken in the Église des Célestins, during the Festival d’Avignon, and in Loods 6 in Amsterdam, during the Holland Festival, respectively, both in 2013. INTRODUCTION





Profile for Mercatorfonds

The Time We Share - English version  

The Time We Share. Reflecting on and through Performing Arts. 1 Introduction, 3 Acts and 2 Intermezzos. Pages from the book - Mercatorfonds...

The Time We Share - English version  

The Time We Share. Reflecting on and through Performing Arts. 1 Introduction, 3 Acts and 2 Intermezzos. Pages from the book - Mercatorfonds...