Saturday, June 14, 2008

Performance Studies, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett

The field of Performance Studies takes performance as an organizing concept for the study of a wide range of behavior. A postdiscipline of inclusions, Performance Studies sets no limit on what can be studied in terms of medium and culture. Nor does it limit the range of approaches that can be taken. A provisional coalescence on the move, Performance Studies is more than the sum of its inclusions. While it might be argued that "as an artform, performance lacks a distinctive medium" (Carroll 1986:78), embodied practice and event is a recurring point of reference within Performance Studies.

Performance Studies starts from the premise that its objects of study are not to be divided up and parceled out, medium by medium, to various other disciplines--music, dance, dramatic literature, art history. The prevailing division of the arts by medium is arbitrary, as is the creation of fields and departments devoted to each. Most of the world's artistic expression has always synthesized or otherwise integrated movement, sound, speech, narrative, and objects. Moveover, the historical avant-garde and contemporary art have long questioned these boundaries and gone about blurring them. Such confounding of categories has not only widened the range of what can count as an artmaking practice, but also given rise to performance art that is expressly not theatre and art performance that dematerializes the art object and approaches the condition of performance. (Carroll 1986; see also Sayre 1989; Schimmel 1998) Performance Studies takes its lead from such developments. This field is not only intercultural in scope and spirit, but also challenges aesthetic hierarchies and analyzes how they are formed. Performance Studies encompasses not only the most valorized, but also least valued, cultural forms within these hierarchies.

Like other new knowledge formations (Cultural Studies, Visual Culture, Postcolonial Studies, Gender Studies), Performance Studies starts with a set of concerns and objects and ranges widely for what it needs by way of theory and method. Performance Studies has made common cause with, and is contributing to, the many fields from which it draws. By theorizing embodiment, event, and agency in relation to live (and mediated) performance, Performance Studies can potentially offer something of a counterweight to the emphasis in Cultural Studies on literature and media and on text as an extended metaphor for culture. Performance Studies can enrich the discussion of discourse, representation, the body (to be distinguished from embodiment), and identity. One can even discern what might be called a performative turn in contemporary cultural, aesthetic, and political theory. Ray Birdwhistell argued that "Performance is an inherent constituent of all communication" (Birdwhistell 1970, in Sullivan 1986: 7), while Dell Hymes suggested that "'It is through the study of performance' that one could look forward to an integration of the social sciences and humanities." (Hymes 1975, in Sullivan 1986: 3). The possibilities are signaled by Peggy Phelan, who writes that "To date...there has been little attempt to bring together the specific epistemological and political possibilities of performance as it is enacted in what are still known, for better or worse, as 'theater events' and the epistemological and political openings enabled by the 'performative' invoked by contemporary theory." (Phelan 1993: 15) She is referring here to the work of J.L. Austin and, based on his concept of performative utterances, the efforts of Judith Butler and others to theorize gender and sexuality.

During the last two decades Performance Studies programs have been established in the United States, Australia, England, Wales, France, and Brazil, among others. Increasingly, individual Performance Studies courses are being included in existing theatre history and speech and communication curricula, as well as in folklore, anthropology, ethnomusicology, art history, literature, history, cultural studies, and area studies programs including American, Asian, and Africana, among others. There are several indications that the field has come of age, including a series of highly successful international conferences during the nineties, the formation of professional associations, several specialized journals, and an increasing number of programmatic essays, textbooks, readers, and book series.

While they converge at many points, these programs and organizations offer at least three different paradigms for the field, thanks both to their particular disciplinary genealogies and to their visions for the future.

Broad Spectrum Approach (New York University)

In 1980, New York University's Graduate Department of Drama changed its name to Department of Performance Studies. The change of name followed almost twenty years of preparation, much of it recorded in the pages of TDR The Drama Review and the writings of Richard Schechner. Schechner has long advocated a broad spectrum approach:

We believe that if the study of performance does not expand and deepen--going far beyond both the training of performance workers and the Western tradition, far beyond the analysis of dramatic literature--the academic, performing-arts enterprise constructed over the past half century or so will collapse. A happier alternative is to widen our vision of performance, studying it not only as art but as a means of understanding historical, social, and cultural processes. (Schechner 1990: 15. See Appendix A for full text.)

NYU's program developed in the context of contemporary experimental performance, with links to the historical avant-garde. Its faculty (Richard Schechner, Michael Kirby, Brooks McNamara) were themselves active in the Off Off Broadway movement. To align their artistic practice with their pedagogy, they abandoned a traditional currriculum in European and American drama and theatre and set out to create an innovative Performance Studies program almost from scratch. EuroAmerican theatre would thenceforth find its place within an intercultural, intergeneric, and interdisciplinary intellectual project as one of many objects of study. Taking their lead from the historical avant-garde and contemporary experimental performance, NYU's faculty was determined that Western theatre and the dramatic text would not be at the center of the new Performance Studies curriculum, though it continues to play an important role. As Schechner stated: "Performance is a very inclusive notion of action; theatre is only one node on a continuum that reaches from ritualization in animal behavior (including humans) through performances in everyday life--greetings, displays of emotion, family scenes, and so on--to rites, ceremonies and performances: large-scale theatrical events." (Schechner 1977: 1) Writing ten years later, Peggy Phelan articulated the notion that animated the establishment of Performance Studies at New York University as follows: "Was 'theatre' an adequate term for the wide range of 'theatrical acts' that intercultural observation was everywhere revealing? Perhaps 'performance' better captured and conveyed the activity that was provoking these questions. Since only a tiny portion of the world's cultures equated theatre with written scripts, performance studies would begin with an intercultural understanding of its fundamental term, rather than enlisting intercultural case studies as additives, rhetorically or ideologically based postures of inclusion and relevance." (Phelan and Lane 1998: 3)

Aesthetic Communication Approach (Northwestern University)

The name changes at Northwestern University chart the movement over the course of more than a century from a nineteenth-century Department of Elocution to a Department of Oral Interpretation, which, in 1984, became the Department of Performance Studies. Much of Northwestern speech, communication, rhetoric, and oral interpretation curriculum remains in tact even as new courses in Performance Studies proper have been added. Northwestern's program "produces research and creative work in the performance of literature; the adaptation and staging of texts, particularly narrative works; cultural studies and ethnography; performance theory and criticism; performance arts and dance theatre; and the practice of everyday life." It does so in a spirit that has been characterized as inclusionary, noncanonical, "democratic and counterelitist"--Performance Studies "celebrate[s] the performative nature of human communication." (Pelias and VanOosting 1987: 221)

If NYU initially enlarged the concept of theatre to include many other kinds of performance, Northwestern expanded the notion of literature in terms of text, broadly conceived, to include not only literature but also "cultural texts." The two programs differ in several other important ways. First, NYU took a revolutionary approach to the transformation of a drama department into a Performance Studies one, whereas at Northwestern University and elsewhere the shift from oral interpretation to performance studies tends to be understood as evolutionary:

What may be said with certainty is that paradigm shift [from oral interpretation to performance studies], if such it is, is not a revolutionary denial of oral interpretation as the antecedent schema. Rather, the new nomenclature affirms the study and performance of literary texts as central to, but not limiting, its theory and methodology. Hence, the paradigmatic relationship between oral interpretation and performance studies might display the performance of literature as the central circle in a concentric figure widening out to include social dramas, rituals, storytelling, jokes, organizational metaphors, everyday conversations, indeed any communication act meeting the criteria of aesthetic discourse. (Pelias and VanOosting 1987: 229)

Second, NYU has made performance the umbrella under which all kinds of performance can and are studied and, at least in theory and despite its history as a drama department, none has precedence. In contrast, within speech and communication field, the metaphor of concentric circles places the performance of literature at the center. Stated another way, performance studies becomes a "subunit within speech communication." (Strine, Long, and Hopkins 1990)

Ethnoscenology (University of Paris VI)

The third and most recent model of Performance Studies is that of Ethnoscenology, whose mission is "to avoid any form of ethnocentrism in the study of the performing arts and practices in their cultural, historical, social context" by refusing to privilege the "Western theatre model." The object of study is "the organized human performing practices (OHPP)" of all cultures. Ethnoscenology's transdisciplinary perspective brings together "scientific disciplines devoted to the exploration and analysis of human behavior" (ethology, psychology, neurobiology, cognitive sciences, anthropology, ethnomusicology); humanities; performers and their practical knowledge; and "the proper implicit and explicit local paradigm." Inspired by Marcel Mauss's notion of techniques of the body and Eugenio Barba's Theatre Anthropology, Ethnoscenology rejects mind/body dualism and integrates the cognitive and the somatic. In contrast with Northwestern's paradigm, Ethnoscenology does not take text as its point of departure, but rather the "knowing body" and the corporal dimension of performance. Consistent with NYU's Performance Studies paradigm, contemporary experimental performance continues to animate the Ethnoscenology enterprise.

New Directions/Sources of Creativity

New directions and sources of creativity within Performance Studies arise from the living, breathing symbiosis between aesthetic practices and the study of them. There is an active interchange between theory and practice, scholar and artist, art form and knowledge formation. New objects of study, particularly the unruly objects of contemporary art, destabilize not only what counts as art but also how they and all that came before them might be studied. Performance Studies is not simply a more encompassing version of theatre studies. What is at stake is not inclusiveness per se, for inclusions are often structured in ways that reproduce the conditions of their exclusion. Rather, Performance Studies picks up the gauntlet thrown down by resistant artistic and cultural practices. This requires the fashioning, however provisional, of a (post)disciplinary subject adequate to the task. It is in that spirit that Performance Studies questions the relationship between disciplinary formations, disciplinary subjects, and their objects of study.

Performance is a more welcoming and productive concept for a truly intercultural field of study than concepts that are more tightly bound up with culturally specific divisions of the arts by medium and genre, as is the case with theatre, for example. This is not to underestimate the historical conditioning of the term performance. As is true of any keyword, "the problem of its meanings" are "inextricably bound up with the problems it [is] being used to discuss." (Williams 1983: 15) Performance has a long history and wide range of meanings in everyday English usage, from high performance in technology and performance measures in management and finance to the legally defined performance requirements of contracts. Only recently has the word performance entered other languages, almost exclusively to designate performance art. It is essentially untranslatable. Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis (1998), which was translated from French, provides no entry for the term performance, though it does include entries for performance analysis, performance art, and performance text.

An expanded view of performance requires more than simply adding to the inventory of what has historically been considered theatre (or oral interpretation). It requires a reconceptualization of performance in light of each and every inclusion. In other words, performance is a responsive concept, rather than a Procrustean bed. It is not simply a big tent under which all may gather, but an organizing concept under revision in light of the many activities to which it is addressed. Those activities may be taken for granted, part of the quotidian world. They may derive from traditions with great historical depth and theories about themselves, to mention only the Natyshastra for India and Zeami for Japan. Or, they may arise from contemporary experimentation, whether Happenings, performance art, postmodern dance, or installation art. This set of possibilities is as vital for artists as it for scholars.

As Schechner is quick to note, "long before scholars took an interest, artists had an expanded view of performance. From futurism through dadaism, in the arts and rituals of many non-Western cultures, in the practice and ideas of Vsevelod Meyerhold, Antonin Artaud, John Cage, Suzuki Tadashi, Anna Halprin, and Allan Kaprow (to name just a very few)." (Schechner 1990, 16) Oskar Schlemmer, who developed the Bauhaus theatre during the 1920s, laid out just such an expanded view in his "Scheme for Stage, Culture, and Popular Entertainment, According to Place, Person, Genre, Speech, Music, Dance."(in Gropius 1996: 19) This scheme integrated the sermon, Wagner, mass gymnastics, ancient tragedy, and circus within a utopian vision of what theatre of the future might become. As Schlemmer's scheme suggests, when the historical avant-garde and postwar experimentalists mounted their opposition, they turned to all that was outside prevailing categories of art. Artaud declared "No more masterpieces," Marinetti proclaimed, "The distinction of the senses is arbitrary," and decades later, Kaprow would propose, "...nonart is more art than Art art."

Such radical artistic practices produce notions of performance of special interest to Performance Studies. A lively interchange between scholars and artists (and a blurring of the distinction) has informed the theatre anthropology (Eugenio Barba), intercultural performance (Peter Brook), poor theatre (Jerzy Grotowski), environmental theatre (Richard Schechner), theatre of the oppressed (Augusto Boal), reverse anthropology (Guillermo Gomez-Peña), and the Los Angeles Festival (Peter Sellars). (See Schechner 1993; Pavis 1996; Jeyifo 1996; Bharucha 1997.) As such artists look to everyday life, industry, popular culture, and ritual, to the outmoded and the repudiated, and to other cultures, so too do the scholars who study them. Noel Carroll encapsulates how Performance Studies emerged from such developments:

The repudiation of mainstream theater led performance artists to seek out, resurrect, and adopt forms of theatrical performance overshadowed or forgotten as parts of our theatrical heritage because of the dominance of the well-made play. This maneuver itself was heralded by Artaud's interest in Balinese ritual. As a result, since the sixties, experimentation in performance art has embraced revivals of circus, nightclub acts, ritual, story-telling, masques, mime, puppetry, stand-up comedy, television game shows, and talk shows. Indeed, a new academic category, Performance Studies, has been developed, replacing Drama, in order to accomodate the proliferation of the new paratheatrical avant-garde while also documenting the history of the forgotten theatrical forms from which avant-garde performance art is drawing its inspiration. (Carroll 1986: 77)

Not only are some artists theorists in their own right, but also the symbiosis between artists and theorists has been consequential for artmaking. (See Clifford 1988)

Science and Technology

Performance as an organizing idea has been responsive not only to new modes of live action, but also new technologies. Citing mediated performance art, Philip Auslander (1992) takes issue with the assumption of human agents, live bodies, and presence as organizing concepts for Performance Studies. According to Jon McKenzie (1994: 86), virtual reality and the technologies that produce it make "the distinction between human and technological performance...increasingly problematic." Both can be understood in terms of "experience design." (88) If boundaries are to be blurred, why not also the line between live and mediated performance? Artists cross that line and Performance Studies has followed suit. One result can be seen in Stephen Kaplin's "puppet tree," which plots the distance between performer and object all the way from Balinese shadow plays to computer generated figures and virtual objects. (Kaplin 1999)

Technology is integral to the history of performance. First, the theatre itself can be understood as a machine, to cite only the extraordinary stage machinery of the Baroque theatre. Its inner workings are related to ship technologies, as can be seen at Drottningholm, near Stockholm, where shipbuilders applied their knowledge of ropes and wooden winches, pulleys, and capstans to create the inner workings of one of the best-preserved Baroque theatres in the world. Scene design is related to the history of what Jonathan Crary calls "techniques of the observer," Second, the body itself has been imagined as an intelligent performing machine, from historical automata, whose mechanisms are related to those of clocks, to the microchip, which "has replaced clockworks as the intelligence driving performing objects." (Tillis 1999; see also Sussman 1999)

Performance is integral to the history of technology. The notion of gestural knowledge is critical to an understanding of bodies of practice in the laboratory. Otto Sibum, Research Director at the Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftsgeschichte, defines gestural knowledge and its value for a history of science as follows:

Despite the fact that one often knows the outcome of the historical experiments through publications of note book entries, undertaking to perform the experiment remains a highly valuable, investigative study, acting on a trial basis. It will become obvious that getting the experiment to work demands a great deal of embodied capabilities, many of which are no longer known at all well. Therefore success in repeating the trial depends above all on the improvisational work and knowledge of the researcher. Material objects (as well as accompanying texts) serve as a kind of choreography for this performance because they provide partial direction of our thinking and acting..... gestural knowledge in doing the experiment represents a resource in its own right, which complements the usually static representations of past practices like historical texts and material objects. Doing the experiment, and recognizing the troubles encountered in getting it to work, creating an awareness of the behaviour of the historical experimenter and the practices, possibly unarticulated, which are indispensable for the performance of the experiment. This acquired gestural knowledge can serve as a heuristic device in developing interpretations of the existing textual representations of the historical experiment. (Sibum 1995: 28)

Sibum explores how instruments of precision molded gestures of accuracy, taking as a case in point the brewing industry in England and Benjamin Joule's experiments to find an exact way of measuring heat. In other words, the issue is not whether or not to uphold a particular definition of performance over and against media and technology, but rather to work with the relationships between them. Critical to the history of Performance Studies is, for example,the cybernetic thinking of Gregory Bateson, who was drawing from the field of communications engineering long before the digital revolution of our time. (See Bateson 1972 for essays spanning four decades.)

Objects, Ideas, Knowledge Industries

At a time when media--and, in particular, digital technologies--have altered our relationship to the material world, including our very own bodies, Performance Studies has much to offer to an understanding of materiality, embodiment, sensory experience, liveness, presence, and personhood as they bear on being-in-the-world and as they are mediated by technologies old and new. As the volume information increases and with it the artificial intelligence necessary to manage it, Performance Studies seeks to understand the kinds of knowledge that are located in the body. Fruitful contributions to this topic include Marcel Mauss's techniques of the body; Otto Sibbum's gestural knowledge; Pierre Bourdieu's habitus; and Paul Connerton's body memory. This is not to essentialize the body as technology's other, but rather to redefine and resituate the issues, including the technologizing of the body, the question of its boundaries, its history, and much that might once have been taken for granted about corporeality, somaticism, and the senses.

If the body is one site of performance analysis, objects are another. As suggested above, object performance provides a particularly rich arena for the relationship between people and things. This, among other themes, is taken up by Performance Studies scholars working on museums. The museum and the theatre are historically related, in connection not only with the architectural form of the memory palace but also with Protestant opposition to theatre. Museums, in this context, are one response to what Jonas Barish has called the anti-theatrical prejudice. They might be considered a form of Protestant theatre. A grand instance of object performance, the museum stands in an inverse relationship to the theatre. In theatre, spectators are stationary and the spectacle moves. In the museum, spectators move and the spectacle is still (until recently). Exhibition is how museums stage knowledge. They do this by the way they arrange objects, broadly conceived, in space and by how they install the visitor. The experience, however visual it may be, is corporeal. The key sense--so key that it is invariably overlooked--is propriocepsis or how the body knows its own boundaries and orientation in space. The museum is an archeological site for excavating the history of the body, understood in these terms. If anything, technologies of virtual reality, for example, have heightened awareness and required more sophisticated theories of embodiment. (See Moser and MacLeod 1996.)

The museum, particularly the natural history, science, and techology museum, is an archive of outmoded knowledge formations that have sedimented themselves in collections, catalogues, storage arrangements, particular modes of display, and the historically formed dispositions of its viewers. Many fields were once housed in museums. They were based upon collections formed in the course of research and provided the foundation for analysis. As those fields migrate to the laboratory and the university, a tension arises in museums between the historical value of old collections and the challenges of presenting new knowledge that is not collection based. In the process, museums have changed their relationship not only to their collections but also to exhibition as a medium. If anything, museums and their exhibitions have become more theatrical--even operatic--than ever. In the way they do what they are about--I have in mind museums of redress such as Holocaust museums--they are more performative than ever. They have also become prime sites for applying new technologies of information and display to the point that museums are established without collections and exhibitions may not feature objects. (See Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1998.) This does not spell the end of objects. Rather, the question of the role and meaning of things requires attention to objecthood and materiality in an era so concerned with information and virtuality.

Cultural Equity

Because of the inclusionary spirit of Performance Studies (and the theoretical concern with what "inclusion" presumes), the field is particularly attuned to issues of place, personhood, cultural citizenship, and equity. Artists and scholars concerned with intercultural performance deal with these issues by bringing diverse performance cultures into conversation and collaboration with one another. At the same time, Performance Studies scholars are developing theories of heritage as a mode of cultural production that have implications for cultural policy dealing with preservation and equity in a variety of contexts. (See Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1995 [Appendix B] and 1998.) It could be said, for example, that heritage is a way of producing the local for export, tourism being a global market for this commodity. Or, put another way, processes of globalization produce the local, while altering the very nature and value of the local. Issues of equity and social justice inform the work of activists, both artists and scholars, concerned with a wide range of issues, from labor, immigration, and homelessness to homophobia, racism, AIDS, violence, and censorship. (See Boal 1998; Cohen-Cruz 1998; Muñoz 1999; Thiong'o 1998; Kondo 1997; Piper 1996; and Taylor 1996.)

Performance Studies is a promising context for exploring issues of cultural creativity in relation to the challenges of 20th century science and technology, changing knowledge industries, shifting configurations of the global and local, and issues of equity and social justice.


Artaud, Antonin. An end to masterpieces. Antonin Artaud: selected writings. ed. Susan Sontag, 252-59.

Auslander, Philip. 1992. Presence and resistence: postmodernism and cultural politics in contemporary American performance. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Austin, J. L. 1980. How To Do Things With Words. New York: Oxford University Press.

Barba, Eugenio, and Nicola Saravese. 1991. A dictionary of theatre anthropology: the secret art of the performer. London: Routledge.

Barish, Jonas. 1981. The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bateson, Gregory. 1972. Steps to an ecology of mind. New York: Ballantine.

Bauman, Richard, and Charles Briggs. Poetics and performance as critical perspectives on language and social life. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 59088.

Beeman, William O. 1993. The anthropology of theater and spectacle. Annual Review of Anthropology 22: 369-93.

Bharucha, Rustom. 1997. Negotiating the river: intercultural interactions and interventions. TDR The Drama Review 41, no. 3 (T155): 31-38.

Boal, Augusto. 1998. Legislative theatre : using performance to make politics. London: Routledge.

Butler, Judith P. 1993. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of "Sex". New York: Routledge.

Carlson, Marvin. 1996. Performance: A Critical Introduction. New York: Routledge.

Carroll, Noel. 1986. Performance. Formations 3, no. 1: 63-81.

Clifford, James. 1988. The Predicament of Culture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Connerton, Paul. 1989. How Societies Remember. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Conquergood, Dwight. 1989. Poetics, play, process, and power: the performative turn in anthropology. Text and Performance Quarterly 1: 82-95.

———. 1991. Rethinking ethnography: towards a critical cultural politics. Communications Monographs 58, June: 179-94.

Crary, Jonathan. 1992. Techniques of the observer. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Dolan, Jill. 1993. Geographies of learning: theatre studies, performance, and the "performative". Theatre Journal 45, December: 417-41.

Drewal, Margaret Thompson. 1991. The state of research on performance in Africa. African Studies Review 34, no. 3: 1-64.

Gómez-Peña, Guillermo. 1993. Warrior For Gringostroika. St. Paul: Graywolf Press.

Gropius, Walter, and Arthur S. Wensinger, eds. 1996. The Theater of the Bauhaus. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Grotowski, Jerzy. 1968. Towards a Poor Theatre. Holstebro: Odin Teatrets Forlag.

Hibbitts, Bernard J. 1992. "Coming to Our Senses": Communication and Legal Expression in Performance Cultures. Emory Law Journal 41, no. 4: 874-960.

Hymes, Dell. 1975. Breakthrough into performance. Folklore: performance and communication. eds. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth Goldstein. Hague: Mouton.

Jeyifo, Biodun. 1996. The reinvention of theatrical tradition: critical discourses on interculturalism in the African theatre. The Intercultural Performance Reader. ed. Patrice Pavis, 149-61. New York: Routledge.

Kaplin, Stephen. 1999. The puppet tree: a model for the field of puppet theatre. TDR The Drama Review 43, no. 3: 28-35.

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Barbara. 1995. The aesthetics of everyday life. Conversations before the end of time. ed. Suzi Gablik, 410-433. New York: Thames and Hudson.

———. 1998. Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kondo, Dorinne. 1997. About Face: Performing "Race" in Fashion and Theater. New York: Routledge.

Lee, Josephine. 1999. Disciplining theater and drama in the English Department: some reflections on 'performance' and institutional history. Text and Performance Quarterly 19, no. 2: 145-58.

Lentricchia, Frank, and Thomas McLaughlin, eds. 1995. Critical Terms for Literary Study. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mauss, Marcel. 1979. Body techniques. Sociology and psychology: essays by Marcel Mauss, 95-123. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

McKenzie, Jon. 1994. Virtual reality: performance, immersion, and the thaw. TDR The Drama Review 38, no. 4 (T144): 83-106.

Moser, Mary Anne, and Douglas MacLeod, eds. 1996. Immersed in technology : art and virtual environments. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Muñoz, Jose Esteban. 1999. Disidentifications; queers of color and the performance of politics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Pavis, Patrice, ed. 1996. The Intercultural Performance Reader. New York: Routledge.

———. 1998. Dictionary of the theatre: terms, concepts, and analysis. trans. trans. Christine Shantz. Toronto: University of Toronto.

Pelias, Ronald J., and James VanOosting. 1987. A paradigm for Performance Studies. The Quarterly Journal of Speech 73: 219-31.

Phelan, Peggy. 1993. Unmarked: The Politics of Performance. New York: Routledge.

Phelan, Peggy, and Jill Lane, eds. 1998. The ends of performance. New York: New York University Press.

Piper, Adrian. 1996. Adrian Piper: Out of Order, Out of Sight. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Pradier, Jean-Marie. forthcoming. Ethnoscenology: the flesh is spirit. New approaches to theatre studies and performance analysis, the Colston Symposium, ed. Günter Berghaus.

Roach, Joseph R. 1996. Cities of the Dead: Circum-Atlantic Performance. New York: Columbia University Press.

Sayre, Henry. 1995. Performance. Critical Terms for Literary Study. eds. Frank Lentricchia, and Thomas McLaughlin, 91-104. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sayre, Henry M. 1989. The Object of Performance: The American Avant-Garde Since 1970, 101-44. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Schechner, Richard. 1977. Essays on performance theory 1970--1976. New York: Drama Book Specialists.

———. 1985. Between Theatre and Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

———. 1990. Performance studies: the broad spectrum approach. Phi Betta Kappa Phi Journal, summer: 15-16.

———. 1993. The Future of Ritual: Writings on Culture and Performance. New York: Routledge.

Schimmel, Paul et al. 1998. Out of actions: between performance and the object, 1949-1979. Los Angeles and New York: The Museum of Contemporary Art and Thames and Hudson.

Sibum, Heinz Otto. 1995. Working experiments: a history of gestural knowledge. Cambridge Review 116, no. 2325: 25-37.

Stern, Carol Simpson, and Bruce Henderson. 1993. Performance: texts and contexts. New York: Longman.

Strine, Mary Susan, Beverly Whitaker Long, and Mary Frances Hopkins. 1990. Research in interpretation and Performance Studies: trends, issues, priorities. Speech Communication: essays to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Speech Communication Association. eds. Gerald M. Phillips, and Julia T. Wood, 181-204. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Sullivan, L. 1986. Sound and Senses: Toward a Hermeneutics of Performance. History of Religions 26, no. 1: 1-33.

Sussman, Mark. 1999. Performing the intelligent machine: deception and enchantment in the life of the automaton chess player. TDR The Drama Review 43, no. 3 (T163): 81-96.

Taylor, Diana. 1996. Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina's Dirty War. Durham: Duke University Press.

Taylor, Diana, and Juan Villegas, eds. 1994. Negotiating Performance: Gender, Sexuality, and Theatricalism in Latin/o America. Durham: Duke University Press.

Thiong'o, Ngugi wa. 1998. Penpoints, gunpoints, and dreams : the performance of literature and power in post-colonial Africa . New York: Oxford University Press.

Tillis, Steve. 1999. The art of puppetry in the age of media production. TDR The Drama Review 43, no. 3 (T163): 182-95.

Williams, Raymond. 1983. Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. rev. ed. ed. New York: Oxford University Press.

Worthen, W. B. 1995. Disciplines of the text/sites of performance. TDR The Drama Review 35, no. 1: 13-?

Zarrilli, Phillip. 1986. Toward a definition of Performance Studies: part I. Theatre Journal 38, no. 3: 372-76.

———. 1986. Toward a definition of Performance Studies: part II. Theatre Journal 38, no. 4: 493-96.

above copied from:

Working on the Community: Models of Participatory Practice, Christian Kravagna

On the one hand there is a widespread feeling of political impotence. The possibilities that unions, citizens' groups, workers' councils and other subordinated levels have for influencing the political process appear to be constantly dwindling. Even national politics argue more and more frequently that their decisions depend on higher instances, like the EU, for example. Finally, the powerlessness of politics in comparison with the economy is cited. Regardless of whether one believes in the omnipotence of globalization or regards it as an economistic excuse, the chances for the success of political engagement from below have dropped in the minds of many. Actual and looming unemployment additionally seem to suggest concentrating on economic survival.
On the other hand there are ideas of merging both, namely unused potentials of engagement as well labor power that is no longer employed, into a meaningful third. Under the provocative title "The Soul of Democracy" Ulrich Beck recently argued for his concept of "citizens' labor".[1] Instead of "financing the idleness of several million people at the cost of millions", these people should be integrated (voluntarily) in concepts of organized social engagement under the leadership of "public good enterprises", ranging from palliative care and care of the homeless to "art and culture". "Citizens' labor is not remunerated, but rewarded. And specifically in an immaterial manner, for example ... with distinctions." According to this notion of work at the price of social assistance, this would mean "building up an engaged civil society that takes care of public concerns and animates the public good with its initiatives." The reduced possibilities of political participation are thus to be compensated with work. The state saves money and the citizens are meaningfully occupied. They are even "rewarded" for this, so they have no reason to be restless.

When several models of participatory art practice are discussed in the following, this is the background against which they should be seen. In other words, they should also be seen against the background of the question, to what extent is "social action" political, to what extent does a social interest take the place of the political. The following examples are taken from very different contexts. However, I will leave out an entire complex from the spectrum of artistic approaches that make use of participatory methods. This is the fashionable approach of "working with others" that is so popular among the young, dynamic curators of mainstream exhibition operations, because it allows for the incorporation of "the social" in small bites that are aesthetically easily digestible, but do not require any further reflection.[2]

At least in terms of its tendency, the concept of a participatory practice is to be distinguished from two others: from interactivity and collective action. Interactivity goes beyond a mere perceptional offer to the extent that it allows for one or more reactions, which influence the work - usually in a momentary, reversible and repeatable manner - in the way it is manifested, but without fundamentally changing or co-determining its structure. Collective practice means the conception, production and implementation of works or actions by multiple people with no principle differentiation among them in terms of status. Participation, on the other hand, is initially based on a differentiation between producers and recipients, is interested in the participation of the latter, and turns over a substantial portion of the work to them either at the point of conception or in the further course of the work. Whereas interactive situations are usually addressed to an individual, participatory approaches are usually realized in group situations. There are combinations of all three, the boundaries are permeable, and rigid categorizations have little purpose.

"Participation" as a practice or postulate (almost) always plays a role in the art of the 20th century where it is a matter of the self-critique of art, of calling the author into question, of the distance between art and "life" and society. The activation and participation of the audience is intended to transform the relationship between producers and recipients in its traditional variation of the work-viewer relationship. This one-dimensional, hierarchical "communication structure" produces a consumist, distanced observer, representing a "school of asocial behavior", as Stepanova wrote in 1921.[3] The intention of dissolving this situation into a dynamic of reciprocity develops parallel to a criticism of purely visual experience and is frequently targeted to an activation of the body as a precondition for participation. This physical involvement can have a phenomenological foundation, as described by El Lissitzky for his "Demonstration Spaces" (1926): "Our arrangement is intended to make the man active. This should be the purpose of the space. ... The effect of the walls changes with every movement of the viewer in the space. … He is physically forced to come to terms with the exhibited objects."[4] However, participation can also be initiated, as with the Dadaists, through acts of provocation. In both "proto-participatory" movements of Dadaism and Russian Constructivism and Productivism, the beginnings of a "history of participation" are probably to be found as a sub-history of the avant-garde. In the Soviet press, according to Tretyakov, "the difference between the author and the audience begins ... to disappear."[5] Depending on the ideological foundation, as a program of different demands for change participation can be conjoined with: revolutionary ("dissolution of art in the praxis of life"), reformative ("democratization of art") or - with less political content - playful and/or didactic, perception and "consciousness altering" ambitions.
After the war, much that made use of participatory methods initially came from the Cage school: Fluxus, Happening, Rauschenberg. In music Cage realized a demand that Benjamin had already ascribed to Hanns Eisler, namely "eliminating the opposition between performers and listeners ...".[6] "4'33"" (1952) consists of nothing other than the noises in the concert hall. Although the audience essentially produces these noises, it is not yet really active. This is also similarly true for Rauschenberg's "White Paintings" created at the same time, which reflect nothing other than the movements of the viewers. Rauschenberg's "Black Market" (1961) then actually calls for the audience to take action. The boundary between art and life is to be bridged by turning the recipients into co-performers.
The neo-avant-gardes of the 50's were obsessed with "reality". Following the integration of surrounding noises in music and objects in images, Happenings and Events involved "real-time" procedures. The "blurring of art and life" strove for a "concrete art" located in or even dissolving into "real life". Kaprov, influenced by Dewey's Art as Experience, defined aesthetic experience as participation. Taking action becomes a condition for experience, because otherwise no Happening can result. The kind of action is taken from everyday routines that are imbued with a new, aesthetic quality in collective, usually playful practice. The final consequence involves returning the newly valued actions into everyday life: "Doing life, consciously."[7] For Maciunas, who refers to both Dada and the Russian Productivists, the artist assumes an elitist, parasitic status in society. It is therefore up to the "anti-professional" Fluxus artist to demonstrate the substitutability of the artist by showing "that everything can be art and everyone can practice it."[8] What begins as participation within the framework of art should thus be fulfilled in a general aesthetic (life) praxis. This is a program of democratization, whose failure is prefigured in the authorization of the layperson by the artist. In the Beuysian variation, though, this is then linked with real politics, but this still changes nothing in the fact that everything else is called into question except the status of the artist.
Alongside the open, chance-oriented, anarcho-poetic and partially even destructive (e.g. Vostell) conceptions, in the sixties there was also another direction with a stronger didactic orientation and more closely linked with objects. Here it was attempted to replace the concept of the artwork with "communication objects" or "action objects", which suggested a more or less clearly defined use. Based on culture-critical ideas on the conditioning of everyday perception through the consumer industry and social constraints, these kinds of objects, which were not subject to any previously ritualized mode of use, were to enable immediate, elementary experiences in the course of processes of approach and experimental use. A position of this kind, embodied by Franz Erhard Walther, for example, replaces observation with action, in part also collective action, yet by opposing "alienated" experience with "genuine" experience, it remains indebted to an autonomy aesthetic that invokes a counter-world without opening up potentials of resistance.

Heal the World - The Rhetoric of the NGPA

The context in which participatory art has been most prominently discussed in recent years is that of the conglomerate of inhomogeneous practices, for which the label "New Genre Public Art" has prevailed. The terms "community-based art" and "art in the public interest" are also in use for the same phenomenon. As even its proponents note, this does not at all involve really "new" practices, but rather the kinds of practices that have been pursued since the seventies, but which were purportedly marginalized by an elitist and object-fixated art world. Their time is said to have come now, because the different practices are negotiated in the category of "Public Art", in the framework of which they first become a kind of movement and in which they characterize a change of paradigm. The latter proposes, briefly summarized, the following history of "Public Art": after public places were initially rather randomly beautified with autonomous art works, the next step led to site-specific artistic interventions oriented to the architectonic, spatial conditions. Following the work and the place, now in a further step the social aspect, a local population (group), minority or "community" is shifted to the center.

The NGPA is first of all and primarily interested in a definition of its audience. For this there are - alongside individual concerns - at least two objective reasons. For one, many of the (older) socially and politically engaged artists were long so marginalized by the dominant art system that they were forced to open up other fields of work outside the institutions. The other reason is that local resistance to "art in public space" and the ensuing discussions (see Serra's "Titled Arc") showed that the question of the audience had not been taken seriously enough by the conventional public art programs. A practice that starts from locally defined, relatively manageable publics and usually has a time limit as well, seemed to offer the official programs for public art a welcome solution.
Every criticism of the NGPA finds itself confronted with the problem that it can either address single artistic projects or the strategic discourse, the identity established through the label. All too often the practices subsumed under the term differ from one another, and thus the practice also diverges from its theorization. The "Compendium" of over eighty artists and groups that Suzanne Lacy appends to her discourse-defining book Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art ranges from Vito Acconci and the Border Art Workshop, Group Material and Jenny Holzer, all the way to Paper Tiger TV and Fred Wilson, from the politics of identity to media activism to institutional criticism. A lowest common denominator can hardly be found. In contrast to this, there is a strong tendency to discursive homogenization, which can probably only be explained from motives of asserting a "movement", a "change of paradigm". The reason for nevertheless discussing the rhetoric of the NGPA in the following is that I place a higher value on its role within the current re-definition of the concept of art than on the practice itself. If we presume that one of the central points of this artistic self-understanding is the switch from the symbolic level to the level of the "real", in other words positing social practice in the place of the interpretation and criticism of the social aspect, then it is primarily the rhetoric of this pragmatic attitude that can provide insights into the world view it is based on.
Mary Jane Jacob, alongside Suzanne Lacy one of the most important mentors of "New Public Art" as a curator of community-oriented projects, outlines their historical location in this way: "If, in the 1970s, we were extending the definition of who the artist is along lines of nationality or ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation; and in the 1980s the place of exhibitions expanded to include any imaginable venue ...; then in the 1990s we are grappling with broadening the definition of who is the audience for contemporary art."[9] Broadening the audience primarily means here differentiating the audience. From one anonymous art audience, specified publics emerge, so to speak, which are constituted as such through direct contact with the artist, which differ from one project to the next and are frequently included in the realization of works: "This work activates the viewer - creating a participant, even a collaborator."[10] The work is to derive its relevance for a specific community through the "dialogical structure" of its integration in this community.
What is noticeable about the programmatic writings by Lacy and Jacob, but also by Lucy Lippard, Suzi Gablik and Arlene Raven, is that political analysis is largely missing, even though there is much talk of social change at the same time. This political deficit is compensated by a terminological inventory that clearly evinces pastoral features: "To search for the good and make it matter: this is the real challenge for the artist," is printed in big letters on the cover of Lacy's book. Starting from the diagnosis of an elitist, self-absorbed art business on the one hand and a whole series of "social ills"[11] on the other, "connective aesthetics" (Suzi Gablik) are intended to be a bridge between art and "real people". In order to build this bridge by means of a "dialogical structure", first the two sides to be linked are separated: here the engagement of the creatives that is based on a certain desire, namely the "longing for the Other"[12] or "desire for connection"[13]; there the "real people" in "real neighborhoods"[14], meaning (preferably non-white) workers and poorer quarters. The rhetoric of the NGPA hardly obscures the process of "othering", the construction of an "other" as a condition for further projections. The "others" are not only poor and disadvantaged, they are also representatives of what is genuine and real, so that they are at once both needy and a source of inspiration.[15] The image of art is similarly ambivalent. Considered aloof and bourgeoisly decadent in its institutionalized form, it represents a reservoir of creativity at the same time, without the qualities of which the life of the "others" cannot be enriched: "The community-based art (...) can not only expose the energy and depth of ordinary people but also help these people develop their human potential in individual and communal acts."[16] For Gablik, for instance, "care and compassion" are the central values of "connective aesthetics", which are defined as "feminine"; Lacy and Lippard emphasize "empathy". Without ever referring to the fact, with their gender-specific attributions of moral attitudes the authors share the same direction of thinking represented by Nancy Chodorow and Carol Gilligan, according to which the social behavior of women differs fundamentally, due specifically to the capacity for care and empathy, from the male orientation to law and justice.[17] This difference-logical schematism corresponds to the rigid dichotomy of individualistic "museum art" and collaborative NGPA, which the latter, by denying the smooth transition even among its own members, likes to assert. The fact that women are comparatively well represented in this "genre", however, is less a proof of its gender-specific social character than of the familiar power relations in the institutional art field.
Yet in order for art to actually fulfill its "healing function" in the process of social interaction, which all the authors refer to, it additionally requires an educational dimension. In order to be able to "heal a society that has been alienated from its life forces"[18] - Jacob brings the figure of the shaman into play again - "the unique perceptions and creative mechanisms of artists"[19] must be passed on to the non-artist participants. The pastoral mixture of care and education explains the partly pseudo-religious features of the NGPA, the spiritual qualities of the invocation of community, and certain tendencies to bind communities to traditionalist rituals such as "parades", for example. The criticism of individualism and the striving for a communal foundation for aesthetic action, for a "reconciliation" of social spheres, for civil participation in the processes of the production of meaning - all this testifies to a close proximity between connective aesthetics and the social theory of communitarism.[20]
It should be called to mind again, though, that a homogenizing discourse overlays extremely divergent practices here. Its traditionalist, essentialist, moralizing and mystifying (Gablik's "re-enchantment of art") elements should therefore not be taken as a basis for evaluating individual artistic procedures. However, it is necessary to recognize the conservative tendencies of the NGPA, because they threaten to co-opt a spectrum of approaches that are in part indeed productive and progressive.


Adrian Piper's "Funk Lessons" (1982-84 in various places) follow an understanding of participation that strongly contrasts the pastoral type. The collective dance performances conjoin political subject matter with pleasurable experiences. Unlike the ideal type step model of the NGPA, diagnosis of illness - therapy plan - healing, the "Funk Lessons" have an explicitly experimental character ("A Collaborative Experiment in Cross-Cultural Transfusion"). The unpredictability already begins with the way the participants must arrive in response to an offer, rather than something being defined beforehand according to certain categories like "community" or "the others" (workers, old people, homeless, etc.). Community emerges, if at all, in the course of the event; nor does it make any claim to permanence; there is nothing essential about it.
Starting from the widespread racist rejection by the white middle class of the funk idiom as "black working-class culture", Piper didactically employs funk as a "collective medium of self-transgression" to "overcome cultural and racist barriers". She explains the musical, dance-type basic elements, the cultural backgrounds and relationships to other, "white" musics. What starts as a kind of learning-by-doing develops according to how the deep-seated rejections, fears, insecurities or enthusiasm and curiosity are expressed in reactions and how counter-reactions set off a polyvocal dialogue, which transforms the original "learning situation" into an open discussion that can become quite vehement. Participation in this kind of process does not mean taking part in a vague feeling of community as much as entering into a confrontation that touches the boundaries of politics and personality. Integrating the participants in an ambivalent situation of offers (aesthetic experience, information) and requirements (articulating resistance, co-responsibility for the collective process) means drafting a precarious scenario with an open end for the standpoint of the artist.
What is most remarkable about Piper's "Funk Lessons" in comparison with the many well-meant intentions especially of the "pastoral" direction is perhaps the openly articulated self-interest: "My motivation in doing the 'Funk Lesson' performances also has a very large self-interested component (of course). The ignorance and xenophobia that surround the aesthetic idiom of black working-class culture have affected the audience's comprehension of my performance work since 1972."[21] To be able to continue to use this idiom as part of her personal identity, it seemed necessary to undertake an attempt to share it in some form with the predominantly white middle-class audience. Emphasizing this aspect of the work, which is certainly not the most important aspect, seems appropriate, because it is diametrally distinct from the reverse side of the rhetoric for improving the world, such as is manifest in one of Suzanne Lacy's "acknowledgments": "Most important to me are the many invisible communities ... who have inspired my work over the years, those who suffer various forms of discrimination, violence, and injustice."[22]

Radical Democracy ...

Since the late eighties Michael Clegg and Martin Guttmann have been working on artistic projects in public spaces, for which the active participation of the local population is a precondition and crucial criteria in the way that they function. A first attempt of this kind, "A Model for an Open Public Library", 1987, consisted in the placement of a bookshelf furnished with books from the artists in various places in New Jersey. The disconcerting appearance of a bookshelf in the open, especially in places not heavily frequented, had more poetic, almost surreal features and probably worked better in the documentary context of a later gallery exhibition. In a short text, "Proposal for an 'Open-Air' Library", published in 1990 in Durch, Clegg and Guttmann already formulated the basic ideas of their "Open Public Library" that was later realized in Graz and Hamburg: "A library without librarians and without surveillance, the stock of which is determined by the users themselves through a system of exchange, according to which every borrowed book is to be replaced by another chosen at will by the user. As an institution, a library of this kind could contribute to the self-definition of a community ... and would thus be a kind of portrait of the community."[23]
On the one hand this involves the idea of the "social sculpture", which is based on interaction with the audience, through the intensity and concrete course of which the work is first constituted as such or is given its specific function. The second moment, the conception of the "portrait" of a community, is derived from the artists' earlier photographic works based on an expanded concept of the portrait. Although the idea of the social portrait is not to be separated from the conception of the "Open Public Library" and should not remained undiscussed, also in its problematic aspects, this seems to be of more secondary importance to our interest here. What is more relevant here to the question of the backgrounds and potentials of participatory procedures is the way a cultural institution that largely dispenses with hierarchies, control mechanisms and bureaucratic regulations is played through and tested in a model-like manner.
Following a first version of the "Open Public Library" in 1991 in Graz and a model for a freely accessible tool repository (Toronto 1991), which was to work on the same principle, the Hamburg version of the "Open Public Library", implemented in Autumn 1993, represented the first fully mature variation. In three demographically different districts the circuit boxes of the electrical company were equipped with shelves and glass doors and thus turned into public, freely accessible libraries. Prior to the project, local residents were informed about the concept and asked for donations of books. Only one minimal rule for using the library was given in writing on location: "Please take the books of your choice and bring them back within an appropriate period of time. Additions to the stock of books are welcome." The lack of further regulations and instances of surveillance transfers the responsibility for how the installation works and its fate to the users. In this Clegg & Guttmann see "an experiment with a radically democratic institution".[24]
The political dimension of this kind of "experimental arrangement" is found in the challenge of self-determined collective action, where the wide-scale absence of rules has no place within the normality of an institutionally administered repressive society. Questions arising from this were formulated by Clegg & Guttmann in conjunction with their Graz project: "What happens when you leave books unprotected by guards or librarians? How will people react to such an utopian proposition? People are very opinionated about questions like that. But they have no data to rely on. We wanted to find out what the real situation was."[25] The sociological studies that accompanied the project indicated a high degree of participation, which was manifested in the almost complete renewal of the library stock in the course of the project, among other things, as well as a fundamentally positive reaction to the "utopian proposition": "Reasons given for the attractiveness of the project referred primarily to the display of trust, the possibilities for communication that it opened up, and the increase in solidarity on the basis of exchange relationships."[26] Even though the participation in the project varied from one district to another and ultimately had a broad span "ranging from vandalism to support from grassroots initiatives,"[27] the entirety of the resultant communicative situations and social relationships indicates a structure of needs that imbues the "utopian" dimension of a radically democratic institution with a real foundation. This is ultimately what also makes it possible to overlook the somewhat exaggerated rhetoric with which Clegg & Guttmann position their practice in the history of ambitions of the historical avant-garde with the grand words "breaking down the boundaries to life". Although Clegg & Guttmann's work has long been firmly anchored in the art world and they also have no hesitations about making use of this background for "art-external projects"[28], its theoretical foundation is derived from a special reading of Peter Bürger's Theorie der Avantgarde. It takes up the intention of the historical avant-gardes described there of transferring art to life praxis, but ignores Bürger's historicization of this claim, according to which the transfer of art to life praxis did not take place and "probably cannot take place within bourgeois society."[29] According to Bürger, "the means with which the avant-gardists hoped to effect the suspension of art have meanwhile achieved artwork status", for which reason "the claim to a renewal of life praxis can no longer legitimately be linked with their application." For Bürger the neo-avant-garde institutionalizes the avant-garde as art, thus negating the "genuinely avant-gardist intentions".[30] In reference to Bürger, it seems in fact to be a "very particular interpretation" to maintain the avant-gardist rhetoric and also to link it with a "position of leadership".[31] Nevertheless, this interpretation of avant-garde history as "an inspiration for a process of democratizing institutions"[32] indicates a way of taking leave of the grand narrative of a revolutionary "avant-garde" without relinquishing its social-critical potentials. Indeed, works like the "Open Public Library" promise to redeem partial claims of the historical avant-garde, as they are related by Bürger, such as "suspending the opposition between producers and recipients",[33] the collective form of reception or the notion that "art and life praxis form a unit if the praxis is aesthetic and the art is practical"[34]. How effective these kinds of practices can be in relation to the democratization of the institution of art is an open question. The more interesting question would be, however, what it means for the emancipatory symbolic power of an undoubtedly astonishingly well functioning radical democratic experimental arrangement, if it turns out - as it did in Hamburg - that an installation like this is most successful among the population with the greatest economic and educational capital, specifically the population group that participates most in the democratic process (e.g. elections) under normal circumstances as well.[35] The problematic aspect of the "portrait of a community" should then also be discussed in this context, if it threatens to portray nothing other than the somewhat stereotype notion of a capability for democracy that corresponds with the social standard.

... and Counter-Consciousness

A high degree of conceptional reflectedness and precision in the practical implementation is undoubtedly to be attributed to the projects by Clegg & Guttmann, especially the "Open Public Library". In this way they differ from a number of other projects that do not go beyond a rhetorically playful level. However, the construction of a singular position, as it is undertaken in the discussion of this work again and again, still seems somewhat questionable. The abstract, generalizing reference to participatory approaches in the art of the sixties and seventies, which are largely regarded as "failed", ultimately only serves here to mark the historical special position of Clegg & Guttmann. The artists themselves stress that they "regard the project not as a revival of the (somewhat naive) works of the sixties."[36] And Michael Lingner, who deals specifically with the art-historical dimension of the "Open Public Library", radically distinguishes the way it works from all earlier attempts to transfer the competence to act to the audience. As he states: "The sixties saw artists conceive activities - and the latter's objectified manifestations - that were keyed to a 'self-determining' audience. To date, however, the majority of these projects have not been put into practice; they were merely presented and received as ideas."[37] It is only Lingner's main point of reference, the "Handlungsobjekten" ("Performance Objects") by Franz E. Walther, that can explain his view that Clegg & Guttmann "devoted so much effort under today's conditions toward rendering self-determined involvement on the part of the public truly practicable (...) instead of confining their realization to the restricted context of art [that defines] their clear and fundamentally distinct position within art history."[38]
There can be no question of such "fundamental" differences, though, as soon as one turns to the historical models that are in fact close to that of the "Open Public Library". As one of the most elaborate concepts of participatory art practice, which can also be followed consistently over a long period of time, I would like to bring up the projects that Stephan Willats has carried out since the sixties. Willats' work exemplifies that the generalizing references to "naivety" or the merely ideal nature of older models of participatory practice are not tenable in this way.
Since the early sixties Willats has been producing kinetic objects and plastic constructions that are partly oriented to interactivity with the audience. Critical reflections on the elitist character of the museum and the consequent structure of the art system, however, soon led Willats to develop new working methods, which build on the "communicative" properties of the early objects, but which shift the emphasis from the relationship between people and objects to intersubjective, in other words social relationships. If art is imagined as a form of communication, then it is not necessarily exhausted in the communicative relationship between artist and audience, but can be invested in existing social spaces and their relationships. The term that is central for Willats in this respect is "self-organization", which means establishing or intensifying the social relationships within a group of participants in an aesthetic creative process: "I consider that the audience of the work of art is as important as the artist, and that the active involvement of people in the origination of art work is an essential part of the process of generating interventions in the social process of culture."[39]
For this understanding of participation, there are two points that must be especially noted: the "audience" (now, in fact, co-producer) is already integrated in the origination of the art work, not just in the actuation of a given score as in other models, such as those of the Fluxus artists, or in the implementation of one of several given possibilities. And the second point is the aspect of "interventions in the social process", in other words the scope of action beyond the art context itself. Willats' projects are thus less concerned with the abstract idea of "participation" as some kind of logical successor to the "death of the author", but are instead oriented from the start primarily to the concrete life context of the people that take part in them, and they always aim to change these circumstances of life: "From the outset it became obvious that a model of practice would be required that would bind it to the context in which the artwork was to be presented, and which could embody the priorities, languages and behaviours of the audience."[40]
The redefinition of the relation between art and audience that is the issue here does not merely numerically expand the circle of recipients familiar with the conventions and criteria of art by an indeterminate dimension of the ordinary citizen, who would thus actively partake of the values of the creative and the aesthetic. What is characteristic of Willats' model is instead the concentration on a different, yet very specific audience, which is initially more or less identical with the magnitude of the circle of participants in the respective project. The reason for this is the aim of not only cancelling out the separation between producers and audience, but that these group(s) also represent the theme, the subject matter of the work at the same time.
The social-critical position from which Willats cooperates with each specific audience is based on an insight into the institutional constraints of modern living conditions, the social norms and culturally predominant codes that dominate everyday life, the behaviors and perceptions of human beings. Willats finds an exemplary embodiment of these repressive structures in the characteristic apartment buildings of post-war modernism, which essentially influence the mental and social life of their inhabitants - a contradictory "community of the isolated". The projects that Willats develops with the residents are intended to set processes of perception in motion, which should lead to an analysis and possible change of both the individual relationships to the environment and social relationships with one another. In this respect, Willats presumes a latently present "counter-consciousness" that is expressed with regard to social compulsions in the subversive re-coding of signs and a spectrum of actions ranging from graffiti to vandalism to the "improper" use of public spaces. Part of the work consists in articulating different forms of counter-consciousness and raising it from the individual to the communal level through confrontations with others.
Willats' model of a participatory practice can be illustrated with a project like "Vertical Living" (1978). The choice of a typical council housing block of flats, Skeffington Court in West London, is followed by initial contacts with the caretaker and a friend's mother who lives there to talk freely about the idea of a cooperation with the residents and consider potential participants. Following the constitution of a group of participants, Willats conducts individual conversations over the course of three months, which relate to the relationship between the building and daily living habits, leisure time and social contacts. The recordings of the collected conversations reveal a problem horizon, on the basis of which certain problems can be specifically discussed again. Finally, picture panels are prepared, each by one resident in cooperation with the artist, which address certain circumstances, a problem, a deficit or an expectation with photos and texts. The panels are set up in the hall next to the elevator, whereby the architectonic structure is taken into account in that new panels are placed two floors higher at regular intervals. Response pages are distributed in addition, on which other tenants can articulate suggestions for solutions, which are collected again and publicly presented in turn. Aside from necessitating physical mobility within the building, the course of the project especially generates a communicative dynamic resulting in a network of social relationships. These can be found so productive that the tenants continue similar structures themselves after the end of the project. Even though Willats starts from a concept of art as a socially relevant practice, his purpose is not an immediate "improvement" of social situations. The respective interventions simply open up a new framework of action that enables long-lasting changes if it is accepted or continued.

The individual tendencies of participatory art - the playful and/or didactic, the "pastoral" and the "sociological" - have at least one thing in common: the background of institutional criticism, the criticism of the socially exclusionary character of the institution of art, which they counter with "inclusionary" practices. For all of them, "participation" means more than just expanding the circle of recipients. The form of participation and the participants themselves become constitutive factors of content, method and aesthetic aspects. The separate tendencies differ significantly, however, in their ideas of "community" and their criteria for social relevance. Some understand the community as pre-existent and therefore tend to attribute a (fixed) identity to it. For others community is a temporary phenomenon with a potential for development that emerges in the course of the project.
In the end, it seems that it is not possible to assess the value or success of participatory practices by the extent of the scope of action that they offer the participants, nor by the measure of "concrete change". Particularly with regard to the often raised postulate of usefulness, skepticism seems advisable. Where it once appeared necessary, in light of the extent of the social inconsequence of art, to insist on the possibility of "real" impact, the situation is different, when it is more and more often the superordinated political instances that call for engagement, solidarity and civil participation. In some circumstances, the usefulness of social (artistic) action suits the calculations of a state that can no longer afford its citizens and there exhorts them to self-help. The concept of "citizen's work" cited at the beginning is only one example for replacing possibilities of political involvement with "social practice". Under these conditions, it seems justified to ask whether changes that "only" take place at the symbolic level rather than the "concrete", as intended by certain models of participatory practice, should not be revalued again. In many cases, these are the practices that retain at least the idea of the political ability to act. The reason for this is, not least of all, because they first adhere to political consciousness and the foundations of co-determination without immediately devoting themselves to the pragmatism of solving the problem.

Translated by Aileen Derieg

[1] Ulrich Beck, "Die Seele der Demokratie", Die Zeit, Nr. 49, 28. Nov. 1997, p. 7-8.

[2] For instance Rirkrit Tiravanija, Christine & Irene Hohenbichler or Jens Haaning might be named as representatives of this kind of socio-chic. In their criticism of these kinds of methods, to which they ascribe a "marked exploitation character", Alice Creischer and Andreas Siekmann use the term "sub-enterprise". This outsources production, but profits from the added value. See: A. Creischer/A. Siekmann, "Reformmodelle", springer, III, 2, 1997, p. 17-23. For the variation that remains limited to the social-communicative relationships between artists and exhibition visitors, Nicolas Bourriaud coined the term "relational aesthetics" for the exhibition "Traffic" that he curated.

[3] Quoted from: Benjamin Buchloh, "Von der Faktur zur Faktografie", Durch, 6/7, 1990, p. 9.

[4] ibid.

[5] Quoted from Walter Benjamin, "Der Autor als Produzent", in: ibid., Gesammelte Schriften, Bd. II, 2, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1991, p. 688.

[6] ibid., p. 694.

[7] Allan Kaprow, Essays on The Blurring of Art and Life, edited by Jeff Kelley, Berkeley/London: Univ. of California Press, 1993, p. 195.

[8] Manifesto by George Maciunas (1965), quoted from Estera Milman, "Historical Precedents, Trans-historical Strategies, and the Myth of Democratization", in: FLUXUS: A Conceptual Country (= Visible Language, Vol. 26, 1/2), Winter/Spring 1992, p. 31.

[9] Mary Jane Jacob, "Outside the Loop", in: Culture in Action, Seattle: Bay Press, 1995, p. 52.

[10] Suzanne Lacy, "Cultural Pilgrimages and Metaphoric Journeys", in: ibid. (ed.), Mapping the Terrain: New Genre Public Art, Seattle/Washington: Bay Press, 1995, p. 37.

[11] ibid., p. 32.

[12] ibid., p. 36.

[13] ibid.

[14] Michael Brenson, "Healing in Time", in: op. cit., Culture in Action, p. 21.

[15] In her text "Won't Play Other to Your Same" in Texte zur Kunst 3, 1991, Renée Green noted that the construction of the "other" can involve the attribution of a state that can also serve to affirm "sameness" as the norm.

[16] Brenson, op.cit., p. 27.

[17] Cf. Seyla Benhabib, "Ein Blick zurück auf die Debatte über 'Frauen und Moraltheorie'", in: ibid., Selbst im Kontext, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1995, p. 161-220.

[18] Lucy Lippard, "Looking Around: Where We are, Where We could be", in op. cit., Lacy, p. 126.

[19] op.cit. Jacob, p. 56.

[20] For a criticism that deals more with the problematic "effects" than the ideological backgrounds, see Christian Holler, "Störungsdienste", springer, I, I, 1995, p. 20-26, and Miwon Kwon, "Im Interesse der Öffentlichkeit...", springer, II, 4, 1996/97, p. 30-35. Ulf Wuggenig conversely criticizes the "elitist and individualistically oriented" art world's repulsion of the "populist community orientation" of the NGPA. U.W., "Kunst im öffentlichen Raum und ästhetischer Kommunitarismus", in: Christian Philipp Müller, Kunst auf Schritt und Tritt, Hamburg: Kellner, 1997, p. 88f.

[21] Adrian Piper, "Notes on Funk I-IV", in: ibid., Out of Order, Out of Sight, Vol. I: Selected Writings in Meta-Art 1968-1992, Cambridge, Mass./London: MIT Press, 1996, p. 201.

[22] op. cit., Lacy, p. 16.

[23] Clegg & Guttmann, "Entwurf für eine 'Open Air' Bibliothek", Durch 6/7, 1990, p. 136.

[24] Claus Friede, "Interview mit Clegg & Guttmann", in: Clegg & Guttmann, Die Offene Bibliothek, ed. by Achim Könneke, Hamburg/Ostfildern: Cantz, 1994, p. 18.

[25] Clegg & Guttmann, Breaking Down the Boundaries to Life: Avantgarde Practice and Democratic Theory, Nr. 1 der Schriftenreihe des AKKU, Vienna, 1995, p. 57.

[26] Ulf Wuggenig, Vera Kockot und Kathrin Symens, "Die Plurifunktionalität der Offenen Bibliothek. Beobachtungen aus soziologischer Perspektive", in op. cit., Clegg & Guttmann, Die Offene Bibliothek, p. 88

[27] ibid., p. 85

[28] in the interview cited with Friede, p. 20

[29] Peter Bürger, Theorie der Avantgarde, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp, 1981, p. 72.

[30] ibid., p. 80.

[31] Clegg & Guttmann, op. cit., Breaking Down the Boundaries., p. 43.

[32] ibid., p. 35.

[33] op.cit., Bürger, p. 72.

[34] ibid., p. 69.

[35] See the results of the sociological study in op. cit., Wuggenig et al, "Zur Plurifunktionalität der Offenen Bibliothek", p. 84.

[36] op. cit., Clegg & Guttmann, "Entwurf für eine 'Open Air' Bibliothek", p. 136.

[37] Michael Lingner, "Ermöglichung des Unwahrscheinlichen. Von der Idee zur Praxis ästhetischen Handelns bei Clegg & Guttmanns Offener Bibliothek", in: op. cit., Clegg & Guttmann, Die Offene Bibliothek, p. 50. [Engl. translation:Michael Lingner, "Enabling the Improbable":

[38] ibid.

[39] Stephen Willats, Between Buildings and People, London: Academy Editions, 1996, p. 7

[40] ibid., p. 8.

above copied from:

Thursday, June 12, 2008


It's time to create the pop stars of activism, the idoru of communication guerrilla; it's time to threaten and charm the masses by the ghosts coming from the net, to play the myth against the myth, to be more nihilist than infoteinment!


Luther Blissett is a pop myth, a collective "open" pop star. The name is the same as that of a Watford soccer player. But the virtual Luther Blissett has a computer-generated face. LB is a multiple name: anyone can become LB and use his/her name for whatever purpose. Whoever uses the name increases and takes part of the collective fame of LB. In Italy, where small groups promoted this project, the multiple name strategy has triggered a chain reaction. By means of the multiuse name a mass myth was built and used for political campaigns. The concepts underlying LB (multi-use name, open pop star, political avatar) can be a powerful tool in building a mass movement, as well as for a popular spreading of net.culture and the net.criticism of inner circles like Nettime or N5M, thereby ejecting the networks out of the Net.


In the current debate about net activism a leading question is the opposition between "simulation" vs "real action". This has become a vicious, rhetorical question. Lovink & Garcia, in "the ABC & DEF of tactical media" are too patient with those who are skeptical about the importance of "mediatic representation" issues. On the contrary, in my view, the most radical theses and strategies about simulation have been espressed by Electronic Disturbance Theater and the LB/a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe. Both of them affirm the need for activism and counter information to enact simulations on the stage of mass-media, i.e. in the infoteinment. But aside from this conviction, the projects are completely different. Electronic Disturbance Theater is the name of a group of actvists. They use the form of the "net strike" to protest against institutions and the mass media by interjecting political questions. The EDT "actors" don't hide their names, they do not operate under the veil of annonymity. By contrast, LB is just a name, a mark adopted by thousands of people who often don't know or communicate with each other. LB is not a group or a movement but a collective pop star. All the activists have the same name, all the activists are the same multiple pop star. LB usually don't protest against the establishment directly. S/he works inside mass media, producing fake news, urban legends, and trying to "short-circuit" the spectacle's inner contradictions. LB's name is used for artistic works, political deeds, pranks, etc. LB has not achieved world wide fame like EDT, but s/he could get it.

The main question against EDT is: what is the risk of threatening and provoking media by simulations? How to control feedbacks and bakcklashes? How to avoid being coopted or starting moral panic? According to Stefan Wray, activists must become aware that politics is a teather and must learn to play: "we are manipulating the media sphere, we are creating hype, we are cultural jamming, we are simulating threats and action [...] we are actors! this is political theater! a glorification and tranformation of the fake into the real, at least in people's mind". How to present activism on the stage? With an image and a name that work on the media. EDT builds simulacra: "How do we invent an international cyberspacial army? First by naming". EDT's simulacrum is very simple: it presents itself as a protest against istitutions, media, corporations. It is a first level simulacrum, since it challenges the System in a direct way. Mediatic effectiveness is achieved by a simulated threat: "Floodnet's power lies in the simulated threat." The aim is to draw attention to particular issue by attracting media coverage to unusual actions. EDT has produced a negative, destructive simulacrum. Media system coopts these antagonistic simulacra, it demonize and criminalize them, it uses them to start a moral panic and produce the hype of a state of emergency. The "State" plays the same game of fear. The structure of the negations are identical--EDT mimicks the State: this is what happens when you play at the "first level" of a mass media game.

If EDT engages in a direct fight, LB wants to raise the challenge beyond a first level simulacrum. As the a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe has written: "guerrilla communication doesn't focus on arguments and facts like most leaflets, brochures, slogans or banners. In it's own way, it inhabits a militant political position, it is direct action in the space of social communication. But different from other militant positions (stone meets shop window), it doesn't aim to destroy the codes and signs of power and control, but to distort and disfigure their meanings as a means of counteracting the omnipotent prattling of power." Baudrillard quoting Wilden: "Each element of contestation or subversion of a system have to be of an upper logic kind." Contrary to EDT's pratice, "communication guerrillas do not intend to occupy, interrupt or destroy the dominant channels of communication, but to detourn and subvert the messages transported." This means not playing as innocent actors on a stage, but imitating the spectacle and its deceptions: "against a symbolic order of western capitalist societies which is built around discourses of rationality and rational conduct, guerrilla communication relies on the powerful possibility of expressing a fundamental critique through the non-verbal, paradoxical, mythical". This non rational strategy is, in fact, very rational: becoming spectacle, becoming myth, using infoteinment weapons against themseves. Traditional simple counter information no longer works. LB wants to explode the struggle into the realm of pop culture, by building "intelligent" simulacra, spreading fake news, using irony to withdraw at the right moment.


Roland Barthes said in 1957, "it is to be strongly established, from the beginning, that the myth is a communication system, is message." The myth is what is beyond the Spectacle, in back of the media landscape. The myth unifies what is opposite in spectacle and overcodes any subversive meaning and deed. Barthes: "To destroy the myth from inside was then extremely difficult. The same move to get rid of it falls at once a prey to the myth: the myth can always, in the end, signify the resistance made to it." The title of the intro of the nettime bible 'read me!' is: "nothing is spectacular if you aren't part of it". I don't know if this is a quote or where it comes from (Debord..? it's pure Debord philosophy!), but it is quite rhetorical, politically correct, and puritanic. We should say: nothing is spectacular if you are part of it! Activism has to perform a u-turn: let's call it the 'pop' turn. Barthes: "The best weapon against the myth is to mythicize itself, is to produce an artificial myth: and this reconstituted myth will be a real mythology".

Net hype is a myth that activism must parasite and overcode. As the a.f.r.i.k.a gruppe writes: "Increasing attempts to police the net, to establish state and corporate control will, paradoxically, increase its attractivity as a field of operation for communication guerrillas: Possibly, even those of us who until now have not even owned a PC will get Wired. Fakes and false rumours inside and outside the Net may help to counteract commodification and state control - after all, the internet is an ideal area for producing rumours and fakes ... Communication Guerrillas are fascinated by possibilities offered by the internet also in a quite diferent sense: Beyond its reality, THE NET is an urban myth, and perhaps the strongest and most vital of all. Social discourse conceives THE NET as the location where the people, the pleasures, the sex and the crimes of tomorrow already take place. Go Internet, learn the Future! Fears and desires are projected onto THE NET: this is the mythical place where we can see the future of our society." The mass media stage is inglobing the net step by step. The Spectacle is hybridizing itself within the net. Activists have to attack and parasite the collective imaginery which has already penetrated cyberspace. The mass media imaginary is becoming increasingly interactive, or "democratic". The Old Left's theories about media manipulation have long ago become obsolete.


The ''Pop Turn' means that activists have to become less boring and learn to speak the language of the masses. Like all interfaces, it's a compromise. Some puritanical activist, some anarchist or eco-raver will disagree. But the only way to face infoteinment is to become more nihilist than it itself. The 'pop' turn is not only a strategic choice, it is also a way of building a communicative link to the masses.

Pop avatar. Pop culture is like hindu pantheon where gods and semigods fight without end. It deals with making up pop simulacrum, controlling them, and withdrawing them at the moment they begin to produce unwanted reactions. Activism has to construct virtual pop stars, collective avatars transposed from the net directly to acting within the infoteinment, as LB or the idoru Kioko Date. Through this metaphor of "mass avatar," I want to explain the open pop star model to net users and net actvists who don't know about multiple name project. The avatar metaphor can be transposed very easily from the net to the traditional media and used in the media activism. By "mass avatar," I mean a virtual idol who can play on media stage and not a simulated identity engaged in a one-to-one communication on the net. The anthropomorphic features of the "mass avatar" lead the public to identify itself with it. As Ballard and Gibson know, within media society the Icon is the direct way to access people's nervous system. Franco Berardi aka Bifo defined LB as 'The Antichrist of information'. This definition explains the LB strategy of linking counter-information and autonomous pop mythology.

Gateway to the media. Hacktivists have to organize gateways between the net and the "traditional" media. This net-media gateway should be an interface to feed and control the spread of news media. It includes contacting and cooperating with on-line staff of TV and newspapers, and making up idiot-friendly interfaces for journalists. The history of EDT demonstrates this necessity: without making the NY Times front page on October 31, 1998, EDT would have a merely on-line existence.


Pop modules. If hybridization was just about connecting the virtual and the "street," we would risk remaining rhetorical and predictable on both fronts. We have to hybridize and to contaminate the forms of pop culture and create pop modules for activism. The net scene is a tank of odd and useful ideas. Think of a mediatic subversive use of the most iconoclast works, before they can be coopted by Nike or Adidas! The pop module can be defined as a multi-platform program that works in different social environments and political frameworks, in both old and new media. An example is the LB name, which has appeared many times in Italian media, signed books, novels, performances, shows, counter information campaigns, hoaxes, and urban legends. The multiple name can become a really hybrid module, since it works both on the street and on the net.

Composing theories... We don't need the easy abstractions and oppositions of Western philosophy that are embedded in grassroots criticism: simulation vs. real action, alternative vs. mainstream, pop vs. avant-garde, molar vs. molecular, "take to the street" vs. "the streets are dead". A theory (or strategy) is not a weapon set up against another theory, many theories can be composed together on the same level. "Compositionism" is a Deleuzian method suggested by Italian authors, like Bifo. Look at the beast of the spectacle and its internal movements. It is infiltrating the net, burrowing in the new forms without giving up the old ones. Capital can infiltrate any interstitials. The net is not opposed to mass media, hypertext cannot destroy Spectacle, but new hybrid forms can materialize. As Spectacle branches out into the hypertextual net, it becomes more shifty. Since it is already hybrid, we can learn from it.

... and integrating activism. Activism does not need to give up old strategies but must learn to integrate them, and to connect them with each other. The convergence of media means the convergence of different strategies and multiple "activisms". We have to stop producing new theories. We simply have to connect one strategy to another, to make hybrids of activism. Learning from the phenomena of the hackers, we can integrate net.artists and designers into activism. I mean an euphoric, subversive, iconoclast, prankish activism! If net.artists began to design pop interfaces and strategies for activism, they surely would be more spured, inspired, and useful. We don't need to become a "rhizome". Deleuze & Guattari once asked: "how can we distinguish between subversive schizophrenia and capitalistic schizophrenia?" Capitalism is schizo and rhizomatic as well. The rhizome myth is not only dangerous for this proximity, it has reached such a level of saturation, that everything today is proclaimed a "rhizome."


The net-media-art activism scene is fragmented in a lot of groups, close sub-networks, alternative culture ghettos, avant-garde loners, and hyper-egos. Jodi's map is an effective bird's-eye view of "our" network. This scene can migrate overground only through the interconnection of each group of artists, activists, writers, theorists, designers, journalists, moderators, organizers, etc. This network could become a mediatic icon--the next sub-cultural movement, after punk, techno, cyberpunk! We should find a quite pop and stupid name: "the revolution of '99"?

Above copied from:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Dada Perfume: A Duchamp Interview, John Perreault

It has been a long time since we had one of our little conversations. They use to mean so much to me.

Marcel Duchamp: 1964? Bob Rauschenberg brought you by, thinking you could play chess.
JP: I can, but I hate it. Besides, I think it was Jill Johnston. I know it wasn't Jasper, because I never really knew him and I didn't meet John Cage until much later, actually, in the South Pacific. A lot has happened since I first met you.
MD: Particularly to me.
JP: We needn't go into that.
MD: It is kind of embarrassing. I used to say that what happened to me only happens to others.
JP: Not to belabor the point, but I remember that when I first met you, which was at the beginning of my career as an art critic, and the so-called end of my career as an artist, and almost the end of my career as a poet, you insisted that the true artist had no choice but to go underground. Now you are truly underground.
MD: Very amusing.
JP: Not as amusing as your last art work Given: 1. the waterfall. 2. the lighting gas.
Very few knew about that tableau until after it appeared at the Philadelphia Museum of Art among your other masterpieces.
MD: My gift to the art world.
JP: Why did you keep it a secret?
MD: As we have discussed in the past, secrets have been essential to my work, which may or may not have anything to do with art.
JP: I read in Calvin Tomkins' new biography — called simply Duchamp (Henry Holt, 1996)— that your brother-in-law Jean Crotti once said that how you used time was your real art work.
MD: Rather, it was how I abused time.
JP: For me your main contribution has been your secretiveness. And this inspired my own Secret Artworks. I'd say that that secrets are certainly a theme in your work. I think of the 1916 Readymade called With a Hidden Noise which is a ball of string with something inside of it that makes a noise when you shake it. What causes the noise? And the work, which I think is magnificent, is not Given itself — the barn door with peepholes and the nude and the waterfall beyond — but that it was kept a secret all the time you were working on it from 1946 to 1966 and beyond, until it was unveiled. Also, as I pointed out in print years ago, your output after the Bride Stripped Bare . . . when you were supposed to have given up art for chess has in retrospect proven not insignificant. Now when you look at the work, so much of which is at the Whitney now in Francis Naumann's exhibition called Making Mischief: Dada Invades New York, it looks as if you were quite busy between chess games. The work was always there, but invisible, somewhat like Poe's purloined letter in that famous short story: hidden but in plain sight.
MD: I always kept busy in a mental way.
JP: Was that mental activity art?
MD After a certain point I lost interest in making objects or pictures for sale. If you take away commerce and the prattle of critics, present company excepted, there is something left which may be art or something else.
JP: What is that something else? An idea? You have had an enormous influence on art that foregrounds an idea, on anti-object art, on process art, on post-modernism.
MD: No, not an idea. A rumor, a perfume.
JP: Yes. A perfume. You once said that art had a smell that only lasted thirty years. And in the interview I published in the East Village Other in 1965, I quoted you as saying that art left a scent behind, even when it was removed to another room, another state, another country.
MD: One of my many contradictory statements, so it must be true.
JP: Speaking of contradictions, does the current Whitney exhibition bring back memories? All your friends are there from the New York Dada period. The Countess, Man Ray, Beatrice Wood. Is there any art scent left in the objects, drawings, paintings, books?
MD: For me, none at all. All that work is dead. They have passed their thirty years. All the energy has been sucked out of them. I felt I was looking at work found in an Egyptian tomb.
JP: I had a different experience. You still come up as the king-pin, although most of your important work has always been on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art all of these years. On the whole, I think the show is worthwhile. You can see it, and save the train fare to Philadelphia.
MD: Nicely put.
JP: I did, however, like the seven paintings by your old friend John Covert, particularly the one of an apple and an apple cut in half. And the little collection of things by the Baroness Elsa Von Feytag-Loringhoven. It made me go and look up some of her poems.
MD: She was an inspiration to us all. She had absolutely no fear. Her costumes were her art. And I enjoyed the way she hunted down and tortured poor William Carlos Williams, who had somehow become the object of her lust. Hadn't you seen her or Covert's art before?
JP: Not that I can remember.
MD: There. That it explains why they were still alive to you. They not been seen as much as my works. They have not been drained of their energy by the public. That explains their present day perfume. Also I am sure you have guessed by now that the art perfume is sometimes mostly in the nose of the sniffer.
JP: True. I also liked the mock-up the Arensberg apartment, where so many salons were held, having never been there myself.
MD: I found it suffocating. But business is business. Let the legend linger.
JP: Can I dare to urge you to be even more personal?
MD: I hate being personal, but since I have long admired your avuncular, haphazard approach to art criticism, I will do my best.
JP: This is a dangerous question. Why did you marry Lydie Sarazin-Levassor? I have been reading about that in Calvin Tomkins' biography of you. I can understand your relationship with Mary Reynolds, and then your marriage to Teenie, but Lydia, whom you married in 1927, seemed totally unsuitable. She was overweight, uninterested in art, and not even very rich.
MD: Although it would have been very pleasant if she had been as rich as I first thought, I married her because she was indifferent to art. I now claim the marriage as an art work, a Happening, a Performance, very much ahead of its time. After all my masterpiece is called The Bride Stripped Bare by Bachelors, Even. My first marriage extended that theme.
JP: My next very personal question is also about money. We know you kept your expenses to a minimum. But isn't it true that you became a private art dealer?
MD: There were all these Brancusi sculptures floating around and this and that. One has to make a living. But also remember that for a long time I made some spending money by giving French lessons.
JP: And the Whitney exhibition? Is it true to the period?
MD: It is not for me to judge. For me, it is a collection of ghosts; cadavers on a slab; dead meat.
JP: Is there Dada now?
MD: The Dada we tried to create has not yet come into existence, probably cannot come into existence. This exhibition is not Dada, Tomkins' book is definitely not Dada. It might have been better to have added another floor showing fresh art, art with some surprise in it.
JP: The show is educational. It tries to capture a really wild period in American Art. I am not sure that Naumann's theory that New York Dada, as opposed to European Dada, is humorous, rather than witty. Tomkin points out that the French word you used, usually translated as "mind," in your famous statement that you wanted to put painting in the service of the mind, also means spirit, soul, vitality, character and wit.
MD: He's right.
JP: The exhibition inadvertently confirms your role as a catalyst. But beyond the time frame of the exhibition, it is now a commonplace that without you, and without Dada, there would be not Pop, Conceptual Art, and Post-Modern Art.
MD: I take no responsibility.
JP: Have you seen any new art that you like?
MD: I don't get around much any more.
JP: May I recommend an exhibition?
MD: Certainly. I am always interested in what other artists are doing, particularly when they are following up on my ideas.
JP: Just yesterday when I was opening my mail there was a large format newsprint poster picturing what I thought was your Fountain, the urinal you signed as a readymade in 1917. The poster said Saint Duchamp, and gave the address, which happened to me quite near where I live. How odd, I thought.
MD: And?
JP: It's a brightly lit store front painted stark white and directly in the window is a rack of novena candles, lit, and to the let a kind of kneeling device from a church with your Mona Lisa above it. Further inside: Nude Descending a Staircase, Fountain, Bottle-Rack, an unfinished Tu m', and the two-way door from Paris. At the rear, a door is open revealing a toilet with the lid up. The gallery was locked. Fortunately, I saw light pouring out of the open cellar door — it was early evening — and walked down the stairs. Inside was a man and three women sitting around, the walls covered with drawings of Fountain. I was recognized, and they offered to take off their clothes, because of the painting Alice Neel once did of me nude. I said that wouldn't be necessary. The man remembered that I had once had a studio in P.S. 122, which is untrue. But then again I recently discovered that there is a young poet in New Jersey using my name, or pretty close.
MD: Don't tell me. The man in the cellar was the notorious Mike Bidlo, who has made Jackson Pollock paintings and copied everything exactly. Even Andy Warhol.
JP: His best show yet. His name isn't even on the announcement. At the risk of adding inspiration to injury, I would like to add that eight of the sixteen objects by you in the Whitney are replicas, reproductions, reconstructions or latter-day editions. Bidlo's Duchamps might be seen as replicas of replicas.
MD: Well, I always said that a readymade had to consist of something of no aesthetic value and that is certainly true of my readymades. I think that Bidlo fellow is on to something...
JP: Are you still making art yourself?
MD: It is one of my bad habits. I am sure there will be more posthumous artworks surfacing.
JP: Finally, since the Whitney show focuses on New York Dada, what did New York mean to you and your artist friends?
MD: Freedom.
JP: What did Dada mean?
MD: Freedom.
Copyright ©1996 John Perreault & REVIEW All Rights Reserved

above copied from: