Imagine Life: What does it look like?
Societal systems in which artists operate and to which they respond through their art-making are ever-changing. In the contemporary global context, opportunistic ways of thinking are continuing to claim strategies to fuel self-protective, ego-centric structures and behaviour. These are habits that contradict the very essence of art, which is to exceed bounds (often including those of tradition, norms, etiquette, and that mysterious thing called taste), shatter accepted patterns, advance into unknown territories, challenge the existing order.
Creativity is highly explosive, perhaps the most astounding human faculty and “to be worth its salt it must have in that salt a fair sprinkling of gunpowder… to make art out of desperate times” as Susan Quinn wrote in her book Furious Improvisation(2008).
The ingraining of conscientiousness, individualism, autonomy, and integration and assimilation is always moving forward, ubiquitously and intimately woven into the fabric of our collective existence. It is no coincidence that emerging generations of artists and performers are demonstrating through their work and activism a growing desire to be free from oppressive demands that accompany the evolutionary transformation of societies.
In Dissenting Bodies Marking Time, as it is titled the new chapter of CO-CREATION LIVE FACTORY, the project of the new course of the VENICE INTERNATIONAL PERFORMANCE ART WEEK initiated in 2017, legendary Boston artist Marilyn Arsem together with internationally renowned artist duos VestAndPage and Andrigo&Aliprandi place at the service of emerging performance artists their performance methodologies to facilitate a co-creation climax, in order to enquire, with mutual trust, into a poetics of toleration, strengthening understanding and acknowledgment of divergent thinking and its conceptual complexity through the act of making art together.
Moving. Standing. Doing simple acts.
The body and the Self are the means that allow performance artists to express their deepest concerns to the other. They serve to highlight differences, ambiguities and diversities as antidotes to the stalling normative, both within the process of art-making and from a psycho-social perspective. Honouring concerns and differences means giving value to every life story: each one deserves to be heard and shared, particularly in our time where modern identities are no longer fixed but emerge as “unstable points of identification or suture made within the discourses of history and culture” (Stuart Hall). To transform differences and concerns into a proper artistic act, at first one should question if they are something intimate, learned, imposed, or acquired. From this perspective, Dissenting Bodies Marking Time is a path designed to embrace polarity and multiple facets through specific performance training, aiming to unfold the complication of making art in an increasingly intricate world. Thinking and reflecting multi-perspectively, as contemporary performance artists we are called to inquire into ourselves, our positions, taking viewpoints and stances to empower mutual learning and togetherness understanding that they are unavoidable, and at the same time never fully attainable. Deep empathy towards oneself and the others favour the cherishing of individuality, and honours self-actualization to work out identities that reconcile to their destiny.
In an alternation between complexity and simplicity, or construct and essence, the intermingling of different states of consciousness is possible by inquisitively coming into touch with our inner conflicts and the poetic universe through performance making. Relying on the sole artistic vocation, the Self can purely merge with the contexts through art processes without holding onto a status quo, but crucially engaging in the flow of our human existence, which is always at stake.
Time is the only real currency we can count on, and we have only a limited amount of it. Hence, we have to be caring about how to spend it, infusing our life with action. We do not have to wait passively for something to happen but make it happen in order to walk into our future with hope, and love. Inhabiting time consciously allows us to strengthen the awareness of individual and collective change that springs from the urgency of finding new modes of shaping our life stories. Out of it, performance art rises as a powerful artistic practice to fuel continuous transformation, while functioning as a form of social device to shape, communicate, confirm and honour the value of different and ever-changing identities in multiple contexts. Acting in time cycles and historical dimensions, we live our contemporaneity openly and progressively, all accepting aspects of one another, as long as we focus on how to feel, listen, sense, identify, dissent.
Dissenting Bodies Marking Time
Is identity a place we enter, or that of simply being?
We do not operate in a vacuum. Our history, environment, context and cultural background feed into the work we produce, when it is creative by nature. It is the same for our identities. They exist in our corporeality and mind structures. They consist of the same matter of our dreams, where everything coexists in the very instant of its disappearance.
We perform our identities, differences and diversities every day through how we present ourselves publicly, and how we engage with each other is often based on our assumptions about others’ potential identities. At times we shift between presentations of ourselves that we are actively constructing, to other more unconscious manifestations of ourselves. However, a fluidity emerges as we move between diverse contexts and encounter a variety of people and communities. In this way, our changing expressions of our identities also recuperate dissent for equality, which is not only a crucial political issue but a profoundly philosophical dilemma.
The value of philosophy lies in showing the fly the way out of the bottle to reach the path to truth and freedom (Wittgenstein). Notwithstanding we continue turning around the ideas of truth and freedom by defining them with more labels that only cage and box us further. Like the fly imprisoned in the bottle, we could express our identity in a thousand ways but would never be able to understand it in its essence and extension, as long as we are unable to uncage ourselves. The senses of the fly reveal the world to be all-encompassing, and yet the fly cannot access that world. Instead, it keeps hitting the walls of the glass prison, not understanding the very nature of the barriers to freedom. The senses, if left to induce purely instinctual reactions, can tell part of a truth of the world but not all of it. They cannot reveal to the fly how to get out of the bottle. So, if we just focus on the senses, it is almost impossible to grasp the idea of identity. If we imagine ourselves free of all labels, judgements and separations, we can begin to understand the core concepts on which the notion of id-entity is founded – those of sameness and oneness, the state of being the same.
Our power to recall freedom, truth and equality witnesses the existence of the whole: we would not ask ourselves with what charm or statement to dress ourselves today. The manifestations of our identities operate through time, unfolding over time. Who we were yesterday is different from who we will be tomorrow, but one is only a memory and the other is a fantasy. We can only be here in this moment. Everything else is either behind us or in front of us. Nevertheless, it is difficult to pay attention to exactly where we are now.
And yet, as artists, it is crucial that we remain fully present, and as fully aware as we can possibly be of every nuance of who and what and how we are at this very moment in time. To the degree that we are conscious of who we are – what we are feeling, to what we are paying attention, what choices we are making, our fears, our hopes, our dreams – will allow us to make use of all these elements in the creation of our art.
But we should never forget that our lives are ruled by time’s inevitable, relentless passage. Always we have less of it than we had a moment ago. How do we move through time? How does time move through us? What is its effect on our actions and our bodies? What is its impact on the audience? We ask them to spend their time with us. What allows them to feel that it was worth surrendering a portion of their lives to the experience of our work?
We can think of time as a tool, and our task is to more consciously use time in performance. The element of time becomes apparent through material and physical processes. But how often do we ignore or resist its impact? What happens when we actually allow those processes to unfold over the real time that they need? What occurs when we actively apply different time frames to our actions? How might we transform our own or other people’s sense of time?