Study.Room.In.Exile. Gary Anderson and Lena Simic (The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home)
This performative paper was written during a 7 day separation (23 – 29 September 2015) of Lena, who stayed at home at in Liverpool, and Gary who was away at a conference in Athens, Greece. It was delivered as part of the Study Room in Exile launch on 30 September 2015 at the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home. All photos were taken by Alex Eisenberg. The Study Room in Exile is a collaboration between the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home and the Live Art Development Agency. LADA donated their publications to the Institute for the launch of the Study Room in Exile. In preparation for the launch Lena digests some of the LADA titles while Gary thinks about ‘exile’.
Day 1, 23 September 2015 Lena. EasyJet to Athens. I’m going into exile. The over pretty steward just made an announcement that, I think, she’d written herself. She asked everyone on board to ‘donate to UNICEF so they can get fresh water and medical supplies to the children of Syria’. Then, with solemn face and glittery lip balm she walked down the aisle with a small plastic bag and ‘Any donations please? Thank you’. ‘Any donations please? Thank you.’ ‘Any donations please? Thank you’. We’ll touch down in 23 minutes to temperatures of 23 degrees. The conference ‘Institutions, Politics, Performance’ begins at 11am tomorrow with a walking tour of the anarchist inspired ‘How failure of the state becomes the state of things’ by Konstantina Theodorou. The failure of our government to fulfl its legal obligation to receive refugees makes me want to fy this plane straight into Downing Street. Lena. On the long bus ride from the airport to Syntagma Square a different air steward, exhausted from work back from the airport, fell asleep on my shoulder. She did that nodding off thing for about 5 minutes then gently fell onto me. She woke up, went bright red and said ‘I’m so sorry’. I said it was perfectly fne and that if she liked she could stay there. After all, I thought, she was overworked and beautiful. She gave me a shy smile as she alighted, as if to ask forgiveness one last time. Lena. Our frst conversation in exile via WhatsApp. Sid’s back from Colomendy, the 1
zip wire and his leap of faith. I’ve got internet, a writing desk, people to be involved with tomorrow, politics to preach and places to go. A few stone throws away, I’m told, there’s a beach full of human beings who make me feel I can’t use the word exile without trivialising their collective misery. Day 1, 23 September 2015 – Life II [in Progress] by Janez Janša Reporting from the domestic sphere. It’s now 8:40pm. Little ones are in bed. Older ones are still about. Gabriel needs 125g of sugar for food tech in school tomorrow. I want to read this book because it has to do with the maternal – at least it seems so from the images at the front. Who are these pregnant ladies? I start reading the opening essay by Adrian Heathfeld, and there’s a quote in there which I should probably tell you. ‘A lifework might be defned as art that involves the subjection of a life to projected, sustained and all consuming creative practice, where the body of the artist and their lived experience, becomes a formative content inseparable from the artwork.’ (Janša, 2014: 12) Then I look at the pictures. So many bodies, couples, children, pregnant bodies, some kind of life between them, past, future potential. I keep thinking about crisis. Domestic crisis. About what happens when these children become teenagers. I glance through Tim Etchell’s essay. He mentions that, he calls it ‘the coming arrival of puberty’. I think, imagine doing this in the Institute – us naked, all six of us, in the frames of the doors – Institute door, Neal’s room door, maybe even bathroom, or Gabriel’s room...as if! I look at the credits, biographies of writers and performers. Who are these people? There’s one name I know. A firtatious night in New York many years ago. I didn’t even recognize him in the pictures. I go back. I fnd him, with his partner and two daughters. I don’t think I’d recognize him from the pictures anyway. This world is small, this international live art world feels domestic. An instruction in the book says: REMEMBER ALL THE LOVERS YOU’VE HAD. WRITE THEIR NAMES DOWN ON THE FLOOR WITH A PIECE OF CHALK. ERASE THEM BY DANCING WITH THEM. And one for Gary: TRY TO ORGANIZE A STRIKE. CONVINCE AS MANY PEOPLE AS POSSIBLE TO SIT DOWN AND DO NOTHING.
Day 2, 24 September 2015 Lena. I’m sipping coffee in a squatted café, where all proceeds go to the 32 political prisoners arrested under the latest legislation here in Greece. It is more or less right next to a huge park called Areos, full of Syrian refugees with makeshift tents, prayer mats and shelters. The conference is full of very right on comrades from Europe. I started chatting to one of them. Turns out he’s from France, now teaching in Worcester and had just pushed through a module on performance as Protest. I told him about (he asked me) The Free University of Liverpool and Paul Chatterton’s MA in Activism. After the initial coy interchange around what each other’s papers were about we both admitted feeling deeply uncomfortable parading our privileges and ‘concerns’ in this context. And as a result have half decided to tear up our papers and stage a conversation instead. This would make our out of context concerns happily redundant – given the context of hundreds of refugees literally meters away. Maybe this is just our sense of ourselves as outsiders and as the conference progresses we’ll slip back into the usual modus operandi. I don’t know. But I wanted to have this noted somehow in case I do fail or forget what I’ve been thinking, drinking this coffee in the temporary zone of justice - this squatted café with its walls plastered with the paraphernalia of the social movements of Athens. Day 2, 24 September 2015 – Are we there yet? Study Room Guide on Live Art and Feminism Geraldine Harris asks what ‘counts’ as theory? This publication also invites us to make our own map in feminism and live art. How do I map my journey in feminism? Who are the women? What are the ideas? Where are the places? Do not be silent. Speak out. Are you a feminist? I read ‘Lois on Lois’ (Lois Weaver and Lois Keidan) interview. I thought about the past and its narration. I thought about the present and how it will become a story one day. What a rich archive. It warmed me to read Lois Keidan’s descriptions of Liverpool, a city dominated by strong women, and her growing up in a matriarchal family. I saw the name of Emily Underwood-Lee amongst Fem Fresh artists. In ‘Feminist Live Art: Why Bodies?’ essay, Eleanor Roberts writes: ‘Perhaps most importantly, the specifcities of bodies remain crucial; we must resist static, totalising, and generalising representations of a singular mythical ‘woman’, and revel in the 3
differences of our constantly changing forms. As part of Fem Fresh – Feminism, Age and Live Art, Welsh-based artist Emily Underwood-Lee tackled this in her performance Titillation (2011 -), which presented a post-operative and cancermarked body in tension with laughter, desire, and the pains and pleasures of looking’ (LADA, 2015). I am currently collaborating with Emily on Performance and the Maternal research project. Emily is courageous, open, brilliant, sensual and sensational, all at the same time. I lamented not attending any of these Restock Refect Rethink events on Feminism. London is sometimes so far away. My feminist journey includes my teachers. They are my secondary school English teachers: Škerljevica who dressed in black, smoked in class and terrorised us into learning the ‘To be or not to be’ soliloquy in English (our second language at the age of 14) for the following lesson. The frst grade Škerljevica ever gave me, my frst ever secondary school grade, was a C. This sent a straight A student like me into total despair and fear. Ms Quinn in the small mill town of Bastrop, Louisiana, would dress up in various women characters from American Literature like Hester Prynne from The Scarlett Letter and deliver her lessons. Ms Robey who embarrassed me by reading aloud in a Long Beach high school my essay on Ophelia. Jana Wild in Bratislava who gave me feminist essays on Macbeth whilst I was writing my MA dissertation. Later on I was lucky to be supervised on my PhD ‘Dis/Identifying Female Archetypes in Live Art’ by two of the most prominent UK feminist performance scholars Elaine Aston and Geraldine Harris. Dubrovnik - Bastrop - Long Beach - Bratislava – Lancaster and Liverpool, of course. Day 3, 25 September 2015 I earned 50 Euros for taking a picture of Fred and Gary Signed Jarna (from Afghanistan) Day 3, 25 September 2015 – Throwing the Body into the Fight: A Portrait of Raimund Hoghe edited by Mary Kate Connolly I admit I have never heard of Raimund Hoghe. I picked up this book purely for its title. I learnt that this was a quote from Pasolini. Throwing the body into the fght. I thought about what was worth fghting for. What is my body up against? Climate change? Refugee crisis? Austerity? Tories? Capitalism?
Hoghe says: ‘I never sold my body. I never performed with a ticket saying “buy a disabled body.” I was never in that context. I could have been if I wanted – I see that some people sell the history of their mother, their tragedies, or the hard life that they had. But I am not interested in that.’ (Connolly, 2013: 63) Have I ever sold my personal tragedy for art? Do we sell our family life for the sake of the Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home’s name or reputation? When will the children say ‘no’? Is it possible to say ‘no’? Can we say ‘no’ to the Institute? Are we too much in it now? I often imagine its end – but at every AGM in December the whole family agrees for it to go on. Then we state that we are always in the state of collapse. Martin Hargreaves writes a beautiful essay called ‘Undone’. He starts it off with Judith Butler’s quote. ‘Let’s face it. We’re undone by each other. And if we are not, we’re missing something’ (Butler, 2004: 23). Hargreaves writes of the radical practice of vulnerability and interdependence. He talks of Butler talking of Deleuze talking of Spinoza asking: What can a body do? He recounts a scene from the flm called Examined Life (2007) in which Butler and Sunaura Taylor (a motorised wheelchair user) go for a walk in San Francisco and encounter ‘the possibility that disabled and/or queer bodies can call for a radical rethinking of the social contract and can heighten the erotics of tenderness, touch, assistance and dependence as they occur within public spaces’ (Connolly, 2013: 66). According to Hargreaves, Butler articulates ‘an ecstatic condition of selfhood which locates subjectivity in complex relation of need, care, demand and loss’ (ibid, 66-69). Hargreaves writes of Hoghe’s body fghting for autonomy and recognition but also at the same time undoing these forms of individualism through encounters with grief and desire. How do we encounter grief? And desire? Who/what makes us undone? When am I beside myself? What are these moment when I am undone? When am I completely given over? Dependent on you? What kind of an act, what kind of a performance can open up a new imagination, a new reality which refuses to assimilate an other body into oneself (act of colonisation)? How do I relate to you? My other? Are there small acts, small moments when this is possible? Are we asking too much? Too much from a performance, from a moment. Note to myself: watch Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew again, watch Examined Life flm in which Butler and Taylor take a walk, watch Cartes Postales flm with Raimund Hoghe in it.
Day 4, 26 September 2015 Lena. I’m overwhelmed with how useless I am, but last night in a four hour long Athenian thunderstorm about ten teenagers from Iraq, looking for a dry place, came into our conference disco. It’s a dilapidated former aristocratic dance hall with the ceiling fallen down in parts, but there was a sound system and lights enough to dance to. The boys were clearly worried about coming in, but after a few broken sentences, I led them to the back of the hall where they could sit down on dry chairs. On the dance foor were two superb dancers from Eritrea; liquid moves, wide smiling faces. Our conference delegates were thrilled with them and their genderless selection of who to dance with. After the Iraqi teenagers had dried off a bit, a few of us asked if they wanted to join us for a dance. They all declined, shy and withdrawn, but grateful to be considered. I sat with them for a bit and chatted as best I could about the conference and who we were and what we were doing and eventually I asked them why they didn’t want to dance. One of them said ‘We don’t know the music’, then got his phone out and said ‘we would like to hear a Persian song.’ I asked the person running the sound system could they play this song from his phone. I walked away to some other conference delegates and carried on a conversation from before. The music went off. There was a long pause. Then, a hip hop Persian song came on and suddenly the dance foor was full of jumping-up-anddown-dancing, wet-clothed teenagers who were all killing themselves laughing, bumping into each other, laughing, laughing and singing along to every single word all the way through to the very end. About another ffteen Persian songs later the rain had died down and, with confdence, these refugees sprang out into the night in Athens. Day 4, 26 September 2015 – Paper Stages It’s Saturday and I am with the kids. The Saturday book had to be a short one and a familiar one. I know Annie Rigby is in the Paper Stages book. I recently collaborated with Annie on The Mums & Babies Ensemble project and publication. Annie – brilliant, frank, sensitive and bright is currently working on Putting the Band Back Together project which consists of people who gave up playing musical instruments at some point in their lives. Run the Jewels is also a relatively new band, from 2013, of two older guys – both my age, 40. When is it too late to create a band? When is it too desperate? The Free University of Liverpool played with the idea but it came at the wrong stage – disintegration had already set in. The Institute have created a number of songs for and with our children – frst one was ‘kupamo se kupamo, ja i moja beba’ about pregnant me with Neal having a bath. Annie creates An Hour of Your Time performance in Paper Stages. It stars you and 6
a washing machine. WASHING MACHINE: Do you remember when you frst dreamed of me? I was full of hope and promise. You proclaimed my arrival on grainy television sets. You told the world I was there to release you from the burden of work. You imagined your future: blue skies, picnics, games with friends played on grass. Except, it hasn’t really worked out like that, has it? The more time I gave you, the more you forgot your dreams of walking in wild meadows. You flled your newfound time with electronic bank transfers, online shopping and emails. So many emails that you felt buried, suffocated by small tasks. I want you to remember your dreams, for me and for you. I’m giving you an hour. I’m asking you not to fll it with work. Day 5, 27 September 2015 - A Contemporary Struggle by Alexandrina Hemsley & Jamila Johnson-Small. Today I am exhausted. Kids are a disgrace. So selfsh, little shits. Demanding. Crying. What does it do to you to be constantly surrounded by that crying noise? Unhappy. Don’t want to do anything I suggest. Refusal. My Sunday struggle. I feel down, inventing things to do. Jamila has a contemporary dance group called immigrants and animals. This book has to do with nakedness, lots of it. Dance, difference, otherness. I need to sort out clothes, the washing. When can you dare to leave the housework in order to be an artist? I’m too tired today. I can’t wait for school and nursery to open their doors at 8am tomorrow morning. How can people fght for social justice when kids exhaust them? That’s why they keep nursery fees high – if it wasn’t for taking care of the children we’d organize a revolution. We aren’t able to afford full time nursery childcare. It would cost us £770 a month. How to live with otherness? How to live with babies? Confrontation in dance, pleasure and objectifcation in your face. They are so ft – Alexandrina and Jamila. Gary writes about refugees in Athens in a park near the conference centre. My Mum complains over Skype about refugees in Croatia. I knew it was coming. I am not surprised. I’m exhausted. Then I get angry. But you were a refugee. Remember? Yes, but... numbers are huge, she says. They are talking about 1 million, 1 million people. Why don’t they just stay in the countries near Syria, their own religion, 7
their own culture. Što će ovdje? What will they do here? I’m so sick of England today. North England. Liverpool. Ormskirk. I don’t want to go back either. I dis/belong. I am exhausted. I can’t read this book. I read extracts and agreed mostly – unsure about nakedness issue. Bores me a bit. It’s obvious. But okay. Why did I pick this book? Maybe because I saw it mentioned hip-hop the frst time I held it in my hands, back when the LADA books arrived to the Institute, in June. I listen to hip hop a lot in the car driving to work. All the anger soothes me. Then I feel exhausted and can’t do anything. Hip hop and children and my mother – all seems impossible on this Sunday – my contemporary struggle. Day 5, 27 September 2015 Lena. Gerald Raunig spoke for an hour. In his keynote address he disowned the term neoliberalism and suggested it be replaced by machinic capitalism. I’m concerned. I’m worried. I’m stressed. Imagine exiling the word neoliberalism and introducing the term machinic capitalism! Fancy exiling a term we’ve only just about come to understand as a project to which there is always an alternative. Fancy, for perhaps careerist reasons, starting from scratch with a term very few people will feel happy repeating or feeling at home with. Who could feel at home with the term machinic capitalism. All the work Doreen Massey has done with the term neoliberalism or Stuart Hall or grassroots everyday activists, naming and shaming the project of neoliberalism, the classroom, pubs, schools, streets, cafes and parks. All the work the Live Art Development Agency have supported, the student debates in work, John Jordan’s work in ‘Seven Live Art Tips’. I have the Live Art Almanac in my bag. I’ve brought it with me to remind me that this is what I’m writing for, to launch the Study Room in Exile. I haven’t even opened it, but I feel its weight in my short strap cotton conference bag. I toy with the idea of making a present of it for a refugee family. What a knobhead I’d be! Day 6, 28 September 2015 – Transfgured Night: A Conversation with Alphonso Lingis I took this DVD with me to work. There’s a DVD player on my work computer. I no longer have it on my laptop. I didn’t manage to watch it whilst at work. I am trying to pack in too many lives into my own. I read Benjamin never joined any institution – something like that – is it possible – he was apparently the most ‘free’ of the Frankfurt School thinkers, never offcially affliated to the Institute for Social Research. I fnished my ‘What is Critical Theory?’ lecture for second years. I prepared Stanislavsky/Chekhov workshop to be delivered next week, 4 hours of analysing a climactic fre scene in the Three Sisters play. I semi-prepared my Modernism seminar. My plan is to get the students to close read ‘The Metropolis and the Emergence of Modernism’ essay by Raymond Williams. I want them to understand that we are all products of migration. Move from the rural and the familiar to the urban and mysterious. Live amongst strangers. Can I rely on you tonight? But I’m scared the students won’t be too impressed with me, a new lecturer, giving them a diffcult literary criticism essay to read on their frst week back. My frst lesson with them. One needs to dazzle dazzle dazzle, sprinkle magic pedagogical dust over them. So often I wonder if I am in the right profession. I want the students to fnd it all diffcult, to be challenged, to push on – what’s the point if it’s just all right. Oh, performing arts - so much fun! It’s now 8:15pm. I need to wait 8
for the kids to go to bed and then I can settle with Transfgured Night. I will need Gabriel to set up the DVD player. I never use it. The kids don’t know how to operate the DVD player. ‘I don’t think it works anymore, but why don’t you call Dad and let him talk you through it’ Neal says. As if... Lingis will have to wait. I opted for Performance Art in Ireland: A History edited by Áine Phillips. I read Helena Walsh’s essay on LABOUR, a collective 8 hour long durational performance by 11 women artists who are either in or from Ireland. LABOUR was performed in 2012 in London, Derry/Londonderry and Dublin. I also found the 12 minute long documentation footage of the event in Dublin on Vimeo. Her performance In Pursuit of Pleasure sees Helena recreated into a militant mother, with balaclava and baby bottles flled with menstrual blood, hanging around her waist like hand grenades. She is on dark soil which is littered with detergent, condoms, knitting needles. ‘Balaclava down, armed with a bottle and brush, I marched, sometimes manically, through the space while simultaneously winding around the brush inside the bottle in a cyclical fashion’ (Phillips, 2015: 233). The essay ends on the note LABOUR holding historical oppressions and contemporary injustices in line with – holding in line with – production, empowerment and pleasure. It helps. An image helps. Militant mother. Day 6, 28 September 2015 Lena, at the Green Park squat today there was a heated argument at the front entrance between the organisers and a locally well-known anarchist refugee support group. It ended with doors being locked (front and back) which eventuated in a mini lock down of us all for about ten minutes. It began, in a sense, with Bojana Kunst’s key note address on the frst day which saw an intervention by the man at the door – who was shouting at the organisers of the conference. During the question and answer part of Bojana’s keynote the shouty man – in silence – tried to erect a one person tent whilst the session continued. Bojana and the conference, more or less, not knowing what to say, ignored it. The man couldn’t really erect the tent; the poles wouldn’t stay still for him, so, frustrated, he gave up and as a parting gesture stole Bojana’s water, opened it drank a sip and walked off with it. Overall, as interventions go, it was a bit of a failure. But it was clear what the intention was. The audience, new to the conference, didn’t really have enough confdence to respond. I suppose frustrated at his earlier failed intervention, he arrived again tonight, armed with a a few others. I asked afterwards what was being said. I was told he had accused the people at the conference of existing in a tiny bubble of selfsatisfed intellectual masturbation, blind to the plight of refugees, thousands of them meters away; that the conference should be brought to a halt immediately and the space be given over to the refugee families to be used as a place of shelter; that if 9
this wasn’t enacted immediately then the place would be taken by storm and a refugee centre established forthwith. Gigi and Hypatia, red with anger at this man, ordered that the doors be closed immediately and that they would be reopened when it was safe to do so. We all sat in a locked up squat for ten minutes really, really confused. Day 7, 29 September 2015 – Dear Stranger, I Love You by Rajni Shah Final day. Gary comes back at 11:30pm. Again, I never managed to watch Lingis DVD at work. I thought about maybe just reading the conversation in a booklet accompanying the DVD and hoping it makes sense without the visuals. I end up with Rajni Shah’s Dear Stranger, I Love You. The title kind of makes sense in relation to exile. I talked to students today about what it must have been like, what it is like to walk the city streets and look at mysterious strangers, to be surrounded by the unknown. This publication invites me to write a love letter to a stranger. Art always wants something. It demands from you. I glance through the Glorious notebook. Yes, a task is to write a letter to a stranger. This reminds me I am still to write my annual ‘all bottled up’ autumn letter to the future, to my strange husband of 14 years, Gary. Every September for our wedding anniversary we write each other a letter which contains all we dare not speak in the present. This will be my next writing assignment.
Day 7, 29 September 2015 Lena. Coming back from a six night exile, with the Greek sun and wind on my face, I’ve just, more or less, casually boarded a fight to London, leaving behind refugees and refugee children - aged like James - to their own devices. Messaging Fred Dalmasso now about how we both took a crash course in how to be human. I suppose also about how to be unable, incapable, incompetent. Neither of us, although his parents fed Mussolini in their day and settled in France, have anything to do with exile. To be thinking about being a refugee whilst fying in a jumbo jet along the gorgeous coastline running north up the Adriatic (and your unspeakably beautiful Dubrovnik) is an act of deep ignorance and perhaps arrogance. But Lena, maybe it is just the timing, maybe it’s a few chance 10
encounters, maybe it’s not even going to last, but let’s try, really try to take the word ‘exile’ in ‘study room in exile’ as seriously as we can. Encountering refugees in Athens has been a shock. The shame of being a man, in the Primo Levi sense. For me, today, a day before it launches, it feels like the Study Room in Exile should be a place of serious study and refuge for those in exile, for Jarna and his family from Afghanistan for example. My Lena, I don’t know if that is even possible. Comrades and colleagues at the conference do feel, after I told them what we were doing at the Institute, that studying together in the face of the neoliberal refugee-making regimes constitutes a thing worth doing. If nothing else it’s worth studying together. Yours from Ryanair fight FR12, Athens to Stansted. Gary x
Bibliography • • • • • • • • •
Brine, Daniel (ed.) Live Art Almanac, Live Art Development Agency, 2008. Connolly, Mary Kate (ed.) Throwing the Body Into the Fight: A Portrait of Raimund Hoghe, Live Art Development Agency and Intellect Books, 2013. Edmunds, Becky et al. Dear Stranger, I love you: the ethics of community in Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious, Lancaster University and Live Art Development Agency, 2013. Heathfeld, Adrian Transfgured Night: A Conversation with Alphonso Lingis, Performance Matters, DVD, 61 mins, Live Art Development Agency 2013. Janša, Janez Life II [in Progress], Maska Ljubljana, the International Centre of Graphic Arts Ljubljana and Live Art Development Agency, 2014. Johnson-Small, Jamila and Hemsley, Alexandrina A Contemporary Struggle, Live Art Development Agency, 2013. Pearson, Deborah and Field, Andy Paper Stages, Forest Fringe, Live Art UK and Live Art Development Agency, 2013. Phillips, Áine (ed.) Performance Art in Ireland: A History, Live Art Development Agency and Intellect Books, 2015. Weaver, Lois and Roberts, Eleanor (eds.) Are We There Yet? - A Study Room Guide on Live Art and Feminism, Live Art Development Agency, 2015.