Monday, March 25, 2013

israel busan house

from marmots hole

A Plays the Thing

From Bishop's description of a Hirschorn's children's play, it would be a pretty apt description of ours as well


After precisely half an hour, Steinweg stopped talking and people drifted

towards the bar. During this interlude, Hirschhorn set up the scenery for

the 7 p.m. play by moving the gym equipment to the front of the stage –

along with microphones, speakers and a human- sized box slathered in

brown tape – and surrounded the whole ensemble with a wonky yellow

'brick wall' on a sheet of fabric. What proceeded is hard to describe as a

play. Even though it was all in Dutch, I could still tell that there was no

characterisation, no plot and no narrative. There were seven performers –

although this varied from night to night, depending on how many decided

to turn up. All of them read from a hand- held script, and took turns to

speak their lines falteringly while engaged in various physical tasks: working

on the treadmill, boxing a punchbag, weightlifting an oversized

cardboard copy of the Ethics, or retreating to the tall box to announce the

edict that banished Spinoza from Amsterdam in 1656. I won't dwell on the

play, only note my amused frustration at its impenetrability (to me, but

also to the performers I spoke to).45 Looking at the audience, I could not

understand why such a mixed bag of people kept coming to hear these

obscure lectures and watch these opaque – almost gruelling – performances.

However, going through the whole experience again the following

day, I realised that this random collective presence was the point. Rain was

drizzling so there was less peripheral action; listening to Steinweg and

watching the audience I understood the function of the lecture not to be

one of information transfer, but of a shared experience in which many

different sectors of society were brought together. You didn't need to

follow the content, just give yourself over to a quiet meditative space (not

unlike being in an open air, non- denominational church) and use this as a

time for pondering whatever came to mind.

During the play, the drizzle became torrential rain. For the fi rst time

during The Bijlmer- Spinoza Festival, the performance had to stop and be

relocated inside, in a cramped space under the plastic sheeting. The

bedraggled audience surrounded the cast, while rain thrashed onto the

plastic roof, occasionally leaking torrents, and rendering the performers'

voices near inaudible. The fi nale of this insanely abstract

quasi- Dadaist play was a sequence in which two of the speakers alternated

the lines 'Wat functioneert, dat produceert' (what functions,

produces) for two minutes (which felt more like ten); this now became

an incantation in the face of the most unsympathetic and least functioning

of environments. It was both bathetically funny and extremely

poignant. Everyone was there for no reason other than the desire to see

and do the same thing: to share a play initiated by an artist, whose singular

energy propelled a self- selecting, entirely disparate bunch of people

to show up every night and perform or watch an abstract play that

nobody fully understood. The core of The Bijlmer- Spinoza Festival

seemed to be this juxtaposition of social types around a series of mediating

objects that were never quite what they seemed. The philosopher's

lectures were not arguments to be understood or disputed, but were

performances of philosophy; they were the spoken equivalent of the

piles of photocopied Steinweg essays that form a sculptural presence in

other Hirschhorn installations (for example, U- Lounge, 2003). The

meaning of the theatre production also lay in the fact of its dogged

performance, relentlessly taking place every day, regardless of the

weather or number of performers who showed up. Like the lectures, it is

pointless to analyse the specifi c content of this shambling spectacle;

more important is to pay attention to its ongoing existence, willed into

being by the artist, who managed to motivate people into performing

something strange enough to continually captivate an audience. Similarly,

the newspaper must be produced each day, regardless of the

availability of news, or images, or relevant stories. At no point in The

Bijlmer- Spinoza Festival was the ostensible content given to us to be

analysed in a straightforward manner. The project was more akin to a

machine, whose meaning lay in everyone's continual production and

collective presence, and only secondarily in the content of what was

being produced; it was not unlike endurance- based performance art –

which is why the 'Child's Play' workshops seemed so apt an inclusion.

Hirschhorn frequently asserts that he is not interested in 'participation'

or 'community art' or 'relational aesthetics' as labels for his work, preferring

the phrase 'Presence and Production' to describe his approach to

public space:

I want to work out an alternative to this lazy, lousy 'democratic' and

demagogic term 'Participation'. I am not for 'Participative- art', it's so

stupid because every old painting makes you more 'participating' than

today's 'Participative- art', because fi rst of all real participation is the

participation of thinking! Participation is only another word for


Hirschhorn's conjunction of art, theatre and education in The Bijlmer-

Spinoza Festival was so memorable because it avoided the pitfalls of so

much participatory art, in which there is no space for critical refl ection,

nor for a spectatorial position. Several audiences were addressed simultaneously

and equally: both visitors to the 'Straat van Sculpturen' exhibition


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Nature is Culture is Nature

Paul ChanI think of this not in terms of Law, but Aesthetics. Theodor Adorno believed how we could tell if something is beautiful or not, or even more fundamentally, whether something is art or not, by a certain relationship the work has with nature.  It doesn't mean Adorno only championed landscapes filled with trees and rivers. Only that like Kant, Adorno believed we can only judge the force of art by how much it takes in certain notions we get from nature; namely a kind of overwhelming plenitude that escapes our   dehumanizing exchange relations. This was a time, of course, when people thought they couldn't own mountains, or the water we drink, or air. A time when nature still had territory not polluted (in the environmental and commercial sense) by us. Nature provided the philosophical model for articulating the almost speechless sense we feel in front of art worthy of that name: something that--as we experience it--perpetually renews itself and gives us, without asking for anything back, a sense of boundless plentitude and potentiality. In other words, Art as an image of absolute freedom.    

But now we have a very different relationship to nature. In fact it is almost impossible to find nature without a frame of culture. On the other hand, Culture has become so pervasive that it in fact feels like a kind of "overwhelming plenitude" that we once associated with mountain ranges and oceans that stretch beyond our vision.

This might seem so obvious but worth stating: our nature (now, at least for my generation) is in fact
 culture. The illegal DVDs being sold in Chinatown are like so many pieces of coal harvested from the mines in Allentowns everywhere. And the fight about who owns culture and who gets to use its resources is like the early 18-19th century battles to control and colonize natural resources. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Russian girls

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