INTIMATIONS: Performative Relational Process in Video Performance Module Title: Thinking practices: critical dialogues for contemporary art and media practices Module Code 2AMP7H1
INTIMATIONS: Performative Relational Process in Video Performance Intimations is an art practice based research project that aims to undertake a systematic enquiry into the processes of specific video performances, and to contribute a sustained and contextualised relational argument to the discourses that surround them. In this context, I shall pay particular attention to the emerging hybrid methodology that this research necessitates and fosters. This project interrogates the relationships activated in intimate video performances in relation to the philosophical concept of performativity. Starting from my own approach to this specific practice, I am testing strategies of direct address towards, and engagement of an evoked you, experimenting with the video camera and the relational and performative potential of mediated performances. Within this dynamic, I aim to focus on the artist’s performance ‘towards’ a potential future viewer, and the consequential offer of a mediated personal relationship. The dissertation will contextualise video performance historically and within the ongoing debates on performativity, as well as reviewing contemporary relevant practices, and recent philosophical approaches to personal and social relationships. Notes on Methodology The core components of the distributed methodological approach that is emerging as I research this project, find correspondences in a number of contiguous fields, experiences, materials, practices and contexts. This hybrid methodology does not consist of a purposeful weaving together of elements from different approaches, but of a process of contamination among practices, which requires taking apart in order to describe it. In practice, the contemporaneous strands of research and practice that an artist inevitably pursues in parallel have a varying level of influence on each other, and on the selection of appropriate and complementary methods for research. This echoes Marquard Smith's (2006) description of Visual Culture Studies as a field that defines its methods and objects in the actuality of critical encounters with the historical, conceptual and material qualities of things and viewing apparatuses (Morra, J. and Smith, M., ed, 2006, p.16). Therefore as a researcher I can concentrate on what acts and objects do – how they function – instead of filtering them through predetermined structures of meaning. My own professional experience with performance to camera is the main source of questions and reflections, and consequently the original motivation for this research. Is it possible to produce, as well as performative relationships in our social and personal interactions, cultural artifacts that offer performative relational processes? Instigations to relate a bit more this way than that? To perform an intervention in the field of existing relationships we happen to find ourselves at a certain moment?
The body of video performances that form the practice component of this research, Intimations, asks these questions through a deliberately intimate production process, in which I address the camera as you to interpell an imagined viewer. The written research analyses concepts of relating in connection with this method and approach, and builds a conceptual framework that positions the performative and discursive qualities of the works themselves. Moreover, the video performances analyse experimentally concepts encountered in reading and researching the contextual framework. Using body language, intonation of the voice, visual clues and methods of display as techniques, the works concentrate on configuring different modes of addressing another to offer the potential of a relationship. Performance Each video performance concentrates on an affect, a facet of personality, a modality of communicating, or addressing and engaging. Whilst each work offers a relationship based on these, the series will form a complex and multifaceted distributed portrait. The work is not autobiographical, but uses elements from my experiences and relationships to activate invitations to viewers. The screen doubles the interface function of the camera, opening the performance towards an exhibition space and physically present viewers. Several relational aspects are integrated in these methods and inform the strategies employed in the work the visual qualities of web cams and their uses in digital environments like Skype, Facebook, MySpace; my personal experiences and theoretical understanding of interpersonal relationships; the discoursive practices within visual art environments with their richness of conversations, exchanges, collaborations and contaminations; my informed access to other artists relational and video performance work. Starting from its title, Intimations attempts to hold in a productive balance the paradoxes activated by multiple meanings and functions accessed at the same time. The verb to intimate is defined both as 'to make known formally, to notify, announce, state' and 'to make intimate, to familiarize'. (Oxford English Dictionary, 2009) Similarly, the works in this series evoke contradictory but contemporary emotions and affects through modes of address, contiguity of language and communication patterns. Two video performances have been completed at this stage, and one is in progress. Regardless (2007) focuses on the dynamics of vulnerability and reversals of power balance. The title refers to the fact that the face in the monitor cannot see the viewer â€“ she is without a gaze. At the same time, regardless for the obvious impossibility for contact â€“ physical or otherwise â€“ she calls for someone to stay and asks to be touched. Formally, the image is shot from above and the monitor sits on the floor tilted upwards to highlight a position of vulnerability. The work tries to hold contradictions in balance with a tone of voice that swings between needy and authoritative. Moreover, nakedness and discreet framing suggest a combination of vulnerability and seduction.
Cremona, C., (2007) Regardless. Video still. DVD, 17 minutes. Available at: < http://www.perpetualartmachine.com/component/option,com_gallery2/Itemid,50/lang,en/?g2_view =core.ShowItem&g2_itemId=71477>
Anecdotally, in a gallery context viewers have touched the screen, overlapping their hand to the image of mine. Although this is significant, this project is not focused on analysing audience response, but on conceptualising the qualities and dynamics of the offer of a relationship on the part of the artist. Before You (2008-9) tests experimentally the similarities and differences between live and mediated performance in a variety of permutations. The basic strategy of the work consists of reducing a relationship to its minimal conditions by informing the viewer that this is the moment before the performance starts. This establishes a situation with a sense of authenticity and vulnerability on a professional level. By changing the conditions of the performance - to live audience, to live audience and video camera at the same time, recorded to camera and displayed on a monitor, performed to camera live in another room and shown to a live audience on a monitor - and analysing these instances in a practice journal (which will form the appendix to the thesis), I aim to draw from the practice an understanding of how the mechanisms of offering a mediated relationship inform my position of artist/offerer.
Cremona, C., (2008) Before You. Live performance at the Montague Arms, London. Photo Chris Meigh-Andrews.
Deconstruction Although Derrida (1985) has stated that deconstruction is not a method, this strategy of critical analysis influences my practice and research methodology in a fundamental way. As an approach, deconstruction allows the full potential of the resonances of language and the systems that underline it to become apparent. By analysing the etymology of key terms, their specific uses and associations in relation to each other, chains of interwoven meanings are created that complement and inform the practice. Themes emerge from the works and become productive of contiguous meanings that inform other works, writing and further reading â€“ and vice versa. Moreover, deconstruction encourages analysis of the forces at work in a specific context, nurtures self-reflection and awareness of positionality. My gender, age, cultural background, skin colour, accent, historical moment and language are important elements of this analysis, and inform my choices and discourses. This also applies to the qualities of digital tools, and to how video cameras and monitors can be employed and read as interfaces. By not settling onto any final interpretation, this kind of analysis remains open and ethical, as it does not flatten meaning into one official configuration, but values my perspective as one among many different perspectives, all equally specific and valid. Within these premises, the position of viewers is kept into account at a conceptual level, as each encounter between a viewer and a work will be a singular event, and produce a unique relationship. 4
Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) Among the research methods that form part of Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) (Latour, 2005), writing is understood not only as a means of disseminating the results of the research, but also as making the research itself. From this point of view, there might be less difference between practice-based and text-based research then it is generally acknowledged â€“ in both cases ideas are produced in the making. Written language has its own material qualities, histories, balances of power and cultural influences, and those inflect ideas in more or less subtle ways. The main acknowledged ANT method is description, but the characteristics that inform what and how to describe are what interest me most. Latour advocates a high level of uncertainty on basic definitions to facilitate discovery and avoid the repeated application of tested categories. Trained as a philosopher first, Latour understands ANT as a post-deconstructionist approach â€“ a way to pragmatically assess where the points of aggregation are once the grand narratives of modernist certainties have been discredited. The researcher is encouraged to ask basic questions like: What is the nature of groups, of actions, of objects, of facts? This fosters a more honest relationship between theory and practice within a research context, as an analysis of specific works does not have to lean on standardised sets of references. People are connecting with each other all the time, but only in exceptional circumstances the researcher happens to be present at the beginning of an interaction. For the social scientist, this means that she is always observing from the middle of things. For the purpose of my methodology, this means that the work I am producing is inserted in a flow of relationships that is far beyond the scope of this research to trace, but that I keep into account when I consider performative relational processes. To trace the associations and relationships in flow, Latour advises to follow the actors â€“ the subjects and objects actively involved in the situation observed, both in the present and in the past. This is again beyond the scope of this project, but as I am analysing my own art practice, this reinforces the call to be self-reflective. This echoes acknowledged visual art practice-based methodologies described as auto-ethnographic, and encourages the artist-researcher to question the basis, motivations and dynamics of their making and thinking processes. It also supports a constructive function to art practice, where art works intervene within social relations as legitimate contributors.
Contextual Review This brief contextual review will identify the main references that inform the practice, reflection and analysis of my research project. Moving between visual culture studies, etymology, philosophy, and recent approaches to sociology, a conceptual chain of connections will emerge to contextualise this approach and practice in relation both to the specialist field of contemporary art, and wider political issues. Performance to Camera Performance to camera has a long history as a strategy for exploring the moving image and its implications. From the early 1960s artists like Carolee Schneemann and Richard Serra have performed in front of film cameras exploring gender and race issues, and opening up moving image practices beyond the formal and structural concerns of experimental film. Vito Acconci and Bruce Naumann employed first film, then video cameras to shoot deceptively simple performances focusing on their bodies, and are both considered key representatives of video and performance art. Acconci's body of work has particular resonance in relation to my practice, as he adopted strategies that mirror my approach. Acconci staged intimate video performances that directly addressed viewers and asked them to take part in ambiguous relationships confusing the boundaries of personal and spectatorial engagement. He adopted the language of romantic pop music (Theme Song, 1973), sexual innuendo (Undertone, 1973), personal memories (Home Movies, 1973) confession and aggression (Shoot, 1974). Acconci himself has spoken extensively about his video and performance work in a variety of interviews - for example on Forum, (1977) - maintaining his intentions to create direct relationships with his viewers, both in his live and mediated performances. As a woman, I feel that I am being seduced and appealed to whilst I try to take in the vulnerable and complex image this famous artist is constructing of himself. I would like to suggest that this approach complements feminist attempts at opening up the concept of womanhood. By discussing his desires, physical appearance, relationship problems and doubts, Acconci goes against â€“ at least my â€“ expectations of representations of masculinity.
Acconci, V., (1972) Undertone. Video still. Available at: < http://media.photobucket.com/image/acconci%2Blove%2Bsong/mediaburn/Picture1-18.png> [Accessed 24 March 2009]
Acconci’s practice stimulated Rosalind Krauss (1976) to explore video performance in terms of narcissism in a seminal essay that examines how the artist’s relationship with the camera multiplies his gaze, as the monitor immediately displays his own image to the artist as he performs. According to Krauss, this establishes a distorted relationship with others, informed by psychological – and pathological – undercurrents. The artist himself, similarly to many of his contemporaries, seemed to be more interested in Phenomenology and the individual embodied experience as the privileged perspective on the world, than in Krauss’ psychoanalytic readings.1 More recent writing on the subject converge live and mediated performance under the category of Body art, a classification of art practices based not on medium, but on a specific focus on the body of the artist. In the United States in particular, body art is understood to include photographic, video, and film works, as well as most examples of performance art. Peggy Phelan (1993), Amelia Jones (1998, 2006) and Tracey Warr (2000) in particular approach the subject
To some extent, Postmodernism has its roots in Phenomenology, as well as in feminist and post-colonialist thinking, as these positions have all contributed to the relativisation of philosophical, political and conceptual certainties. 7
employing an understanding of performativity as action in the world with political consequences. Jones (1998, p.1) writes: This book argues a similar relationship for body art practices, which enact subjects in “passionate and convulsive” relationships (often explicitly sexual) and thus exacerbate, perform, and/or negotiate the dislocating effects of social and private experience in the late capitalist, postcolonial Western world. Body art is viewed here as a set of performative practices that, through such inter-subjective engagement, instantiate the dislocation or decentering of the Cartesian subject of Modernism.
In other words, the intentional, stable I of I think, therefore I am is constantly questioned and made relative by encounters with other equally unstable subjects – present or mediated – and the exchanges engendered by such relationships. Performativity Defined very broadly, performativity is the quality of being action in the world. It was first proposed by J. L. Austin (1962) in the context of linguistics to mean the quality of an utterance that, by being uttered, performs an act. The author restricted performativity to a specific set of utterances under specific circumstances: rituals, ceremonies and procedures, but performative has since become a ubiquitous term used with a number of associated meanings. Poststructuralist thinkers like Jacques Derrida (1988) and Judith Butler (1997) among others have characterized performativity as a generative process: texts and utterances – in the wider sense of the terms – do not represent stable subjects or referents, but generate further associations that fold back onto, contribute to, and perform the subjects themselves. Jacques Derrida (1982) elaborated on Austin’s original text in the context of his own theorising of deconstruction, différance and writing. In particular, he questioned Austin’s assumptions that behind any utterance there is a stable subject with the intention of communicating a meaning, and that this subject/author herself is present in the utterance. Derrida (1985) wrote that language does not operate on the basis of clear intentions and meanings, but of citationality – the fact that any utterance is a citation, a repetition of something already agreed upon, already said or written and, generally, understood, thus informing both the author and the reader. Judith Butler has refined a definition of performativity in relation to issues of gender, race and sexuality, whereby performativity is a process with political consequences. For Butler a signifier is performative because it informs the subject that is supposed to precede it, thus extending its definition, legal standing and sense of public identity. Her interpretation has been adopted by many feminists, queer and post colonial writers who have privileged the empowering aspect of performativity as a tool for self-determination, beyond social prescriptive rules of behaviour.
From Subject to Relationship The formation of a subject within the systems of language or the law, structures of power, etc. has been a central theme of 20th century discourses around performativity. J Butler (1997) developed her own conceptualisation of performativity on the basis of existing discourses on interpellation and power. Althusser (1970) proposed the concept of interpellation to describe the process of being called into being and becoming a subject in the eyes of the law, and to exemplify the importance of ideology in the structuring of a sense of identity. A student of Althusser, Foucault (1984) analysed in greater depth the dominance of power, knowledge and discourse on the formation of subjectivity. More recently, Josè Esteban Muñoz (1999) has encompassed both approaches into the process of disidentification, in which a subject is constituted by partial identifications with models and power structures an individual finds herself surrounded by. By taking into consideration plural sources of power, ideology and identification, Muñoz affords the individual more room for self-determination without dismissing the weight of the social and political environment. Felix Guattari (1995) approached the discourse on subject formation from a very different perspective – from his specialist background in psychotherapy. Guattari underplays Freudian notions of identification and the unconscious to propose the concept of singularity – each subject develops in unique ways, and totalising and universalising theorisations of this formation are not applicable. It is interesting to note how all these approaches unfold in the context of numerous personal and social relationships in a variety of context, but they are abstracted and re-conduced to subject formation. This project asks how a discourse focused on relational performativity might unfold. I would like to suggest that discussing the production of subjectivity is unsustainable without a discourse on the production of relationships. The two concepts are mutually dependent, but there is very little writing on how relationships are constructed and performative for themselves – how they contribute to the formation of other relationships. The approach of Derrida (1997) to the intersection of personal and political relationships in light of deconstruction is central to my understanding of how it is possible to create mediated performative relationship with video performances. Influenced by the thinking of his tutor Emmanuel Levinas, Derrida analysed friendship from ethical and philosophical perspectives. The author qualifies a personal relationship as essentially asynchronous – in contretemps – mentionable only from the perspective of the one who offers it, and fundamentally performative as both the addressed and the addressee are produced in the process. In the context of art criticism, Nicolas Bourriaud (1998) fixed the term relational into a curatorial paradigm, provoking some resentment among the artists who had been working and thinking in relational terms since the early 1960s. Bourriaud analysed relating as a formal strategy of art making, concentrating on conviviality and generic ways of getting people together. In the chapter Screen Relations, the author makes a generic connection between the development of
interactive technologies and the growing interest of artists in 'sociability and interaction', but does not actually analyse the dynamics of relating that are engendered by screens. Writing in the specific context of video art practice, Yvonne Spielmann (2008, pp.19-20) unfolds an in depth analysis of the distinction between the concepts of technology and medium. The author applies to video 'the genealogical model of media development' that André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion (2002) elaborated in relation to cinema. This method postulates that an emerging technology grows into a medium in dialogue with existing media, and under the retrospective influence of more recently developed media and technologies. In the specific context of this project, the use of screens and moving images in the field still labeled New Media enhances a number of qualities of relational video performances. Moreover, our relationships with televisions, video recorders and players, personal computers, and the varied practices of moving image and performance art have a profound influence on contemporary video performance practices and the relationships they may offer. Yvonne Spielmann's elaboration of the concept of medium is based on an understanding of art practice as fully integrated in everyday life – as nonautonomous. It is important to make this position explicit in relation to my own work and its functions within active networks of relationships in other fields. The term network is closely associated with the Internet and its connectivity, but this is a relatively recent application of a word first used in connection with fabric. In the context of Actor-Network-Theory, Bruno Latour (2007), among other contemporary sociologists, employs the term to describe chains of actions and objects that contribute to associations. Latour postulates that there is no such thing as the social, but a number of associations and relationships that exist only if certain actions are performed, and therefore if certain actors – human or nonhuman – are active. The network is in this case defined as the traces left by these actors. Within this project, I believe Actor-Network-Theory qualifies the wider context in which I understand my video performances having a performative function. The works are based on the understanding that the viewers are engaged in a number of personal, professional, familial, sexual, social, and power relationships. Many of these relationships will be temporary, mediated – at least at times – and moving through more or less active phases. Actor-Network-Theory examines social relations and how they happen, their dependence on objects, locations, and a number of mediators and intermediaries – more or less relevant actors that relay actions and relationships from one situation to another. This view of social relations proposes that a face-to-face interaction is only one possible iteration of a relationship, usually the end result of a number of agencies.
Conclusions Many artists/researchers describe their methodologies as intuitive and are reluctant to explore them in detail for fear of not being able to continue utilising them (Scrivener, 2004). This creates a number of problems when trying to share the process and outcomes of an academic project. The university system seems to be set on discouraging the methodologies that are conversely considered fruitful within visual art making (Scrivener, 2002). In our discussions during the Thinking Practices sessions and blog (2008-2009), we have been able to shift from the concept of intuitive to an appreciation of our processes as emergent and hybrid. Whilst we have recognised echoes of this in various approaches and theorisations (Barrett, E. & Bolt, B., 2007; Hesse-Biber, S. N. & Leavy, P., 2008), we have also been confronted with the singularity of our own individual paths and processes. Does this mean that each artist’s methodology is unique? Perhaps yes, but it also seems important, particularly in an academic environment, to find patterns and correspondences that identify what artistic research processes have to offer other disciplines. Graeme Sullivan (2005) has been able to establish some points of reference and areas of convergence, but I feel dissatisfied with the rigidity they acquire once they are fixed into diagrams. Patricia Leavy (2008, p.2) has written that ‘as researchers we are often trained to hide our relationship to our work’. I hope that the resonances between the two main sections of this text – Methodology and Contextual Review – show the tight interdependence of methods, materials, ideas and contexts in my research. Acknowledged methodologies spring from established ways of seeing and perpetuate them. As a doctoral student, I am discovering that original contributions to knowledge – where knowledge needs to be understood as way of seeing (Scrivener, 2002) – require original methodologies.
References Althusser, L. (1970), Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses, in Lenin and Philosophy and other Essays. (1971) Apples, J., (1977) Acconci's Absence and Presence. Artforum. (15/3). Austin, J. L., (1962) How to do things with Words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955. J. O. Urmson (ed) Oxford: Clarendon. Barrett, E. & Bolt, B. (2007) Practice as Research: Approaches to Creative Arts Enquiry. London and New York: I.B.Tauris. Butler, J., (1997) Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. New York and London: Routledge. Butler, J., (1997) The Psychic Life of Power: Theories in Subjection. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press. Derrida, J., (1985) Letter to A Japanese Friend, Derrida and DiffĂŠrance. Warwick: Parousia. Derrida, J., (1988) Limited Inc, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. Derrida, J., (1997) The Politics of Friendship. London: Verso. Derrida, J., (1982) Signature Event Context. In: Margins of Philosophy. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press Gilbard, F., (1984) An Interview with Vito Acconci: Video Works 1970-78. Afterimage (Vol. 12/4). Guattari, F., (1995) Chaosmosis: An Ethico-aesthetic Paradigm. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Hesse-Biber, S. N. & Leavy, P. (2008) Handbook of Emergent Methods. New York: Guilford Press. Holert, T (2009) Art in the Knowledge-based Polis. e-flux [online] Available at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/40 (3) [Accessed 10 February 2009] Jones, A., (1998) Body Art/ Performing the Subject. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. Jones, A. (2006) Self/Image: Technology, Representation and the Contemporary Subject. London and New York: Routledge.
Krauss, R., (1976) Video: The aesthetics of narcissism. October (1/Spring) 50-64 Latour, B. (2005), Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-NetworkTheory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. Leavy, P. (2008). Method Meets Art: Arts-Based Research Practice. New York: Guilford Press. Morra, J. and Smith, M., (ed) (2006) Visual Culture: Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies. London: Routledge. Available at: http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=VumUeQlctx8C [Accessed 22 February 2009] Phelan, P., (1993) Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. London: Routledge. Scrivener, S. (2002) The art object does not embody a form of knowledge. Working Papers in Art and Design 2. Available at: <http://www.herts.ac.uk/artdes/ research/papers/wpades/vol2/scrivenerfull.html> [Accessed 15 February 2009] Scrivener, S., (2004) The Practical Implications of Applying a Theory of Practice Based Research: a Case Study. Working Papers in Art and Design 3. Available at: <http://www.herts.ac.uk/artdes/research/papers/wpades/vol3/ssfull.html> [Accessed 15 February 2009] Sullivan, G., (2005) Art Practice as Research: Inquiry in the Visual Arts. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Warr, T (ed) (2000) The Artistâ€™s Body. London: Phaidon. Works Acconci, V., (1973) Theme Song [VHS] 33:17 min. Acconci, V., (1972) Undertone [VHS] 37:20 min. Extract available at <http://www.vdb.org/smackn.acgi$tapedetail?UNDERTONE> [Last accessed 4 March 2009] Schneemann, C., (1964) Fuses. [film] 18 min. Available at: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qqYhzAmrjPU> [Last accessed 4 March 2009] Serra, R., (1968) Hand Catching Lead [film] 3 min. Available at: <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv0q_iLzK_Q > [Last accessed 4 March 2009]
Resources Affect: A Journal for Alternative Social and Political Analysis. <http://www.affectjournal.co.uk/index.html> Oxford English Dictionary 2009 [Online] Available at <http://dictionary.oed.com/entrance.dtl > Practice as Research in Performance 2001-2006 http://www.bristol.ac.uk/parip/ Thinking Practices [blog] (Updated 7 March 2009). Available at: <http://thinkingpractices.wordpress.com> Video Data Bank http://www.vdb.org/