All I Wanna Do
by Mårten Spångberg
Stop performativity hysteria now, cancel all art that includes participation, abolish all socially engaged practices, any art that is efficient, productive, that builds bridges…
Listen up, I say this only once. Performativity is not a good thing! Mediocre art will not get better because of some added performativity. Your work is genuinely second-rate artistic rubbish with or without performativity. Pas de tout, it’s garbage what you do and only despicable curators worth contempt will pick up your filth.
What about this—nowadays curators don’t have meetings anymore. Sure they do studio visits and meetings, but they found something new, they gather and prepare the upcoming exhibition or whatever it is, in a workshop. Isn’t it laughable? I start giggling just thinking about thinking about it. Wow. First time in years curators are funny. “Yep, you know we’ll have a workshop.” What the fuck’s that supposed to mean, is the workshop their contribution to creativity? Just a new name for brainstorming (which is obviously as approximately as uncool as Myspace or Perez Hilton)? Aha, is it an adjustment toward contemporary knowledge production? Oh my god. Perhaps it is, a kind curatorial research (a very healthy addition to artistic ditto. Holy jezuz.)? Or, eheee, I think I understand … the workshop is the curatorial turn toward the P- word, performativity. Nowadays curating is not a matter of goods (objects), service (relational aesthetics) or experience economy (socially engaged art). No no no, it all comes down to performativity, and it’s very good. No, it’s not what is good with performativity. This is a disaster.
In fact to even consider performativity as some kind of quality or condition of a work of art is like dissing a piece of music for being sonic. But Christ, we have all agreed on 4.33. Anybody, including a bowling alley, that addresses performativity as something, as a quality or a condition, is a person that must think that Marcel Duchamp is a DIY shop owned by the same company that runs Duane Reade. Everything in the world, even really small things, middle-sized dogs, chairs, factories and jealousy, are affected, charged, motored, etc. through some sort of performativity. For something to be able to participate in the world, in reality, in anything at all, it must exist in relation to performativity. Stuff that doesn’t have a relationship with some form of performativity is—you know just puff—evacuated from reality. It doesn’t exist. Performativity implies that an object (however unstable, like a memory or a bit of smoke), subject (even just a kid of a guy from Florence) or movement (a dance movement as much as a political movement) has established relations with reality—with, say, the symbolic order. Performativity, in other words, signifies the capacity of naming or being named.
Look, when you add the performative to your art practice what you do is justify it. No, you are not bringing it out of anything, a performance is still a goddamn object, your horrid fuckin’ dress code parade with queer bling elements is still an object, after all you got paid for it, you brought along some idiot to document the act, event or whatever you call it in a nice crispy way with a camera that makes click sounds. Your socially engaged practice is still an object, it was after all part of biennale such-and-such and its catalogue. It is not more or less an object than a painting, installation, piece of music, text or whatever. It is just differently an object. No, what that added label really does is justify your schtuff as perfectly inscribed, formatted, housetrained, well-meaning, politically and socially healthy exactly because you state or emphasise its ability to establish relations or be inscribed in nets of relationality. Performative art is art, but it’s messy, trashy, sticky body fluids, dressed down and made up, it has given up all aspirations and is instead endlessly complacent with our current economic, social, etc. models of governance. It licks its ass and with pleasure.
Mårten Spångberg, Epic, MDT, Stockholm, 2012
What is rather crucial now and in the future is inventing methods, tactics, models, auto-terrorisms, heresies that cancel out, exorcise, dismiss, destruct, fuck up and, yes, completely goddamn annihilate something’s performativity, like all the way. That disengages itself from relations whatsoever. And this is ha-ha-hard work, seriously h-h-h-hard, because indeed everything, even stuff from Japan, has or is inscribed in nets of performative capability. Performativity is inherent in whatever it is we have around us, even memories, faith, the smell of sex, lipstick and the weather forecast. What we need to do is to get out a motherfuckin’ axe and cut those relations. It is at this moment when art frees itself from performativity (but just for an instant) and yes, also from its potential for performance, dance and music, even, although it feels disgusting to have to admit it, to live art and performance collectives active in Berlin (nah, maybe not them), that something else, something radically different can kick in, and this radically different is obviously not sympathetic, but seriously violent. It is not furry and chilled, it is directly hostile, a goddamn war machine.
Okey-doke, where are we? Even though performativity took off with J. L. Austin’s How To Do Things With Words (a series of lectures delivered 1955, published 1962) and touched down ten years later with Jacques Derrida, it was only with Judith Butler that shit hit the fan and performativity gained a celebrity factor. If we stoop for a moment to psychoanalytic lingua (spit on Woody Allen) we could consider Austin’s and Derrida’s texts as symptoms of a truth to come, as dark precursors of a future that has gone super-size-me. Is it a coincidence that Austin’s book was published the same year the Judson Church brought dance out of the closet? Is it chance that Derrida delivered his lecture “Signature, Event, Context” in August 1971, the very same month Nixon abolished the gold standard and floated the world markets? What those guys did was unknowingly predict a neoliberalism based on performativity. Since Butler made us aware off our coreless subjects and iteration, performativity has transformed from being something marginal to become the centre of our economical and social reality. Performativity is the stuff that our society is made of.
I’ve said it before—it’s elementary. The world we live in today— even and especially if we live in remote parts far from hubs of finance and power—is in its entirety performative. A quick sketch tells us something like this: Over the last fifty years the world has experienced a fourfold transformation—okay, hold on—from industrial production, distribution and circulation of goods, localness and a society that acknowledges history (and with that asymmetries of knowledge), to a reality organised around immaterial production, performance (including economies of knowledge, experience and subjectivity ), globality (and I include internet porn, World of Warcraft, financialisation, Richard Branson, FB and derivatives) and acknowledges only the contemporary, i.e. a ubiquitous simultaneity where each moment is every moment all the time. In that world, ladies and gentlemen, the whole she-fuckin’-bang has turned performative—todo, tous, rubbet. So like how damn subversive is your performativity now, what is it productive of now, baby? Essactly, it’s totally over, you just became more of the same. And if you think you should state the performative nature of the subject, the body or anything else, it’s all too late, because you know what, business already did that for us, and we just need to get the picture that the more curious forms of performativity we invent, the more corporate interest licks its lips. It loves to incorporate it in next year’s collection. Phab.
Mårten Spångberg, Epic Redux: The Nature, MDT, Stockholm, 2013
Performative architecture, like fuckin’ help me! What’s that supposed to mean, buildings that looks like sheds, inflatable tents that can be offered as temporary shelter after natural disasters, why not a t-shirt with the Mies van der Rohe pavilion printed on the chest (less if more…)? Or why not just a t-shirt? It is after all a kind of building, construction and formation of space. All goddamn architecture is performative, it does something if it wants to or not. Same with performative art. Painting performs for us, it shows itself to tourists in Bermuda shorts, to art students, to couples that make out—those poor paintings perform for us. Close the museum now, give the paintings a vacation. We have to acknowledge that performative is not when something becomes socially measurable, when an artistic practice, work or whatever becomes inscribed in some form of efficiency or contributes with something, especially something unexpected. Unexpectedness seriously has little to do with the performative. What is unexpectedness in the first place? It’s in the imaginary. Unexpected is not enough. It’s unexpected, but within that which can be expected. Unexpected is still possible, what we are looking for—and only an art that annihilates its performative capacity can get close to this scission—is an art that is not possible, but instead enters the domain of potentiality, a domain that we can’t even imagine imagining. Only an art that renounces its performativity, only an art that rejects any form of relation, can circumvent efficiency, policy, strategy, meaning production, prescription, markets, and become the carrier of spiritual truth (which is obviously not spiritualist or anything to do with yoga).
Art that is implemented as an example must be abandoned. Art is about creating the real as the real, not proposing alternatives, responding to asymmetries, being critical, smart or glamorous.
In the meantime however, the artist must consider not whether or not the artwork is performative, but how, in respect of what circumstances, vis-á-vis politics, ethics, etc., its performativity is operating. But even so, stop performativity hysteria now, cancel all art that includes participation, abolish all socially engaged practices, stop any art that is efficient, productive, that builds bridges, pities human beings, is excited about ecology, and make art that is totally useless, that is, that shuns for a moment any kind of performativity, and so forces the viewer, spectator, implicated, reader or listener— not into some tacky partage du sensible—but into a problem, a serious problem—namely to invent, by necessity, entirely new kinds of performativity, modes that might just change the world itself entirely.
My intellect (if I have one), consciousness, feelings and even fluffy emotions all tell me to give up and comply to the general order.
I should follow the tendencies of correct behaviour and resign, invest properly and agree to be part of markets, strategies of survival, measurement and compatibility. But I can’t give up. I can’t and I write out of despair. I’m maker of dance and choreography and I’m in tears.
I will not and cannot support consciousness but must fight it to bitterest of bitter ends. “Give up and swallow the little suffering that it implies.” But no I cannot, I would rather live with the increased pain of whatever getting out of consciousness will cost me. To be alive is not alright, I must fight the desire to consider life okay. Consciousness and life, a good and okay life, that is what I need to fight. I fight, wave my arms wildly to become existence and non-life.
Certainly, I exist in markets, I perform strategies and negotiate diplomatically. But do I necessarily need to subordinate myself to them? Even if I will come out vanquished my job is to refuse. Not as a protest against anything, but to refuse myself and the petty desires I can already have and enjoy.
I’m not in favour emancipation, because emancipation is already from something. My refusal is worse because I must emancipate myself from emancipation as a form of struggle, an aimless struggle towards an annihilation of myself as myself. Emancipation is connected with gratification. The struggle I need to engage in must not offer any from of gratification, affordance or opportunities for investment. Anything that I can conclude works is not enough, only that which doesn’t work is acceptable and worth further investigation. Whatever works is always already inscribed and possible (spit on Woody Allen). It is not enough to set up problems for myself or the world. To problems I can have there are already more or less relevant solutions. What I must do is to force myself to invent problems to which there are no solutions. I must not solve problems, I must resolve myself in favour of new problems. I already have the answers, I know what is wrong, but to identify what is wrong or accept my answers is insufficient. I must keep watch, keep awake. I must take all threats seriously, but not give in, be seduced by them, identify with their surprising yet conventional monstrosity. I must not resign in front of the false sense of guilt and justice they invite. I must refute my desires to protest, my hopes for revolt, as they confirm my idealist, light Leftist subjectivity and respond to an already producible future, some kind of prescriptive capacity, to forms of emancipation. Fuck that, it is only the simple formation of a projectable future. I must stop myself, cut my own limbs that bring me towards hope. I must annihilate my petty belief in the future and with a complete lack of expectation engage in future as absolute non-differentiated becoming, future not as the actualisation of tendencies already in existence but as avenir, a break with any form of perspective. The future is engaged in perspective, in formation, whereas avenir is future understood as horizon, future as indivisible and continuous alien. I don’t care if such an aimless struggle or watch-keeping implies an argument vis-à-vis a great outdoors, immanence or plain of consistency. This is not a matter of analysis in favour of a philosophically consistent subject. No, we are and must be against such a subject, both the philosophical and the consistency part. Avenir is rather and also precisely their contingent destruction or putrefaction.
It might appear childish and idealistic but there is no artistic practice we can respect that does not understand avenir as its in-one identity of the last instance. Liberty’s rigour is way more difficult than liberty itself. I will not give up, ever. It is my promise, my only promise. I will never, never give up.