The Rule of the Game
In the global landscape of exhibition making, which is now almost impossible to summarize, a very big show that emphasizes the original inscription of something happening once takes on renewed significance. Biennales are no longer what they used to be - meaning magnets - because there are so many now that nobody sees these biennales anymore. Quite often the same pieces circulate and at a certain point there is no longer a necessity to go there, to be present, as the circuit has become very homogenized. That's not a theoretical but a practical reason for a "rule of the game"; we could call it a trigger, a device to attract people, perhaps. However, creating a particular date in time attractive for people to come or participate in something is not in itself enough at this point; openings have turned into social events that do not connect to the content of shows anymore. The three days planned for opening events of the Yokohama Triennale are not "social events" in what has become the conventional sense; they relate to art experience in a very direct way that creates urgency to be present. Often an aspect of the performative or time-based work is the huge amount of people missing it; thus the importance placed on these opening events and not spread across the whole duration of the show where it is most likely that a vast portion of the audience will not be present.
This is not merely a trick that we came up with; it is integral to the practices of artists at the moment. Many artists extend their work with time-based elements; this is based on a need for presence but also for other levels of perception and definition of the structures of the art world. Unmediated experience is an interest shared by many artists: after the 90's having been to some extent so film-driven, today artists who had pursued that medium make claims of being driven by unmediated experience; more recently artists have been known to prohibit or limit photography or reproductions of their performances, or even to carry all of the TV cameras out of a performance. Artists think not only about time and its implications for presentation and production, but also about other structures of community, bringing people together or producing together in a place and in a time; the frequent collaborations of many younger artists attest to this concern. At stake is the act of defining other ways of production and control in an art system that has totally taken over the artist's role. This is a very crucial moment to present; it is crucial to give that moment space.
By mentioning unmediated experience, one could easily misunderstand what we are trying to do as a naïve idea of returning to some kind of immediacy; we know that artistic practice, theory and philosophy have emphasized over the last decades that there is no such thing as an immediacy or a givenness; there is no such thing as an immediate awareness of natural processes. Things are always mediated, filtered through culture, language, technology, etc. And yet there are things that are unpredictable, where something hits us with a kind of immediacy because we had no idea how it should be controlled, how it should be calculated or how we should protect ourselves from such a thing. The most painful and intense awareness of this has to do with crises, be they political, economic or natural or what have you. This is an important dimension of what is happening in the world; the many natural disasters of recent memory, for example, drive one to essential questions on the existence of human beings. Natural disasters are intrinsically related to a properly human (and hence political) world; all the environments of modernity in which we live have become totally man-made. It is an historical period that we can say is blurred over with fictional realities and real reality, where it is difficult to identify the boundaries between the imaginary world and the physical world that human beings constructed. In the midst of this there are increased disasters throughout the world - in Asia, in America and to some extent in Europe - especially taking into account contemporary economic crises whose reasons nobody can really figure out. And so: unpredictable occurrences become part of life processes. When we consider life processes, disasters are already part of normal life. We might even say: a life that does not possess a sense of risk is not considered contemporary living. This implies that in stating that we are contemporary beings, we also acknowledge that we live in a fluid and fragmentary mode; we view the notion of destiny as ‘that which is elusive and cannot be grasped in life.' This suggests a belief that our fates continually alter themselves through new formulations and destructions in this atmosphere of constant change and unpredictability, with each short respite meant as a pause for rejuvenation before the journey commences once again. This sense of constant movement we could call journey - and again we are on the road.
Faced with these circumstances the celebration of systems of consumption may recede or become exhausted; still we cannot find any singular productive way to construct something, as a productive way is not pre-existent. It is rather a development from the process of moving; as by-product a way, a method, a space is created. The important point is not to judge it good or bad – more vital terms are necessary, such as the consideration of which spaces are more suitable, more comfortable for individuals to increase the creativity in their context. Rather than embarking on grand narratives people are more interested to create energetic models for species of spaces, where otherness co-exists and grows alongside one's own constructions. This is a very general context that doesn't necessarily stand in a direct relationship to art production, but does indeed raise a lot of fundamental questions for the ideology of the art industry or the whole culture industry, of the function of art within this new context.
Talking about unpredictability in terms of artistic practice has to do with action. We can imagine, for example, an activity that may not be only an intentional action, but an action that triggers another action; also in collective processes one cannot quite know what is going to happen. There are chance processes inherent.. There is an unpredictability built into the way of working of many of the artists in Time Crevasse. The intention here is to capture these moments of eruption or unpredictability or action. When another person comes into the room and acts we don't know what he or she is going to do: that is the most basic sense of unmediated or unpredictable experience that is being sought.
The Spanish poet and dramatist Frederico Garcia Lorca famously identified in performance the duende as "the arrival of a radical change in forms bringing to old planes unknown feelings of freshness. The duende does not repeat itself." As Lorca said it, "the duende is a momentary burst of inspiration, the blush of all that is truly alive; all that the performer is creating at a certain moment."*1 Eminent Lorca scholar Christopher Maurer points out that "to a higher degree than the muse or the angel, the duende is not only the performer but also the audience, creating conditions where art can be understood spontaneously, with little if any conscious effort;" or in Lorca's own words, "the duende is a sort of corkscrew that gets art into the sensibility." The poetic moment dissolves the separation between the so-called art objects and the viewer. This kind of dissolution can only happen in that moment.
Indeed, poetry is an important orientation point for a number of reasons: why is art now so expensive, and why is poetry for free? This question was very much the spirit behind a 1969 show by Pontus Hultén at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm called "Transform the World: Poetry Must be Made by All," which was a show without originals. It took the form of replicas, posters and poetry readings, with happenings such as visits from American draft dodgers and Black Panthers, as well as free-jazz sessions inside a replica of Tatlin's Tower. It was a show about political activism, and without any interest in the normal fetishism that governs today's art world. While it would be naïve to believe that the literary world escapes a system full of agents, money and calculation, the plain fact that poetry is distributed in a different way, and that a production budget is not relevant to the poet stands in stark contrast to the production of art. The English poet James Fenton said he never financed poetry through poetry; he became a war reporter, and that paid the bills; similar to Duchamp selling Brancusi's. That would liberate him from the pressure to sell his poetry.
David Hammons on the other hand claims to derive his models not from poetry but from jazz music, taking cues from certain New York jazz musicians who - despite the demands from Downtown - perform less locally than internationally, and according to their own definitions of success.*2 His question is why he would invent something new – the jazz model works very well – and one can operate globally out of Harlem as a jazz musician. Of course there's the music industry, which is even bigger than everything being discussed here, but the point is that there are other ways possible in the music world. And still, it isn't a series of poetry readings that we are going to arrange - although it could be poetry readings – but why is it not a poetry or a jazz festival? And why is it not, strictly speaking, a performance festival? What is the format that makes it into an exhibition, but an exhibition that is not a traditional biennial?
Another format that has seen recent and increasing visibility among larger art exhibitions has been the art school. Why this interest in the academy as a model? Part of the explanation is perhaps that the highly commercialized art world has become a bit grey and monotonous. Where do we find challenging spaces for artistic experimentation today? Certainly not in the corporate museum, the art fair, or in the global circuit of blockbuster shows expected to attract mass audiences. It would seem that the interest in the art school among curators has to do with a certain crisis in the world of exhibition-making as we knew it. The global cultural industry is increasingly ruthless in its logic of commodification, and curators across the globe are desperately trying to dodge the reductive language of bureaucrats and marketing people simply to get space to breathe. There must be some alternative to the biennial model, which is too closely linked to issues of tourism and city branding and to the blockbuster spectacle. The academy model privileges the elements of performance and production rather than representation and display, still the dominant methods applied by the art world. Robert Filliou emphasized art's potential significance when we consider performance as a means of widening art's faculties: "If teaching and learning become performing arts – and artists participate in this transition – art will become participating and anticipating. Participating in what? The organization of leisure. The changing of our environment. The modifying of the structure of the mind. Anticipating what? The new organization of the world, once the structure of the mind has been changed."*3
An important precursor to Time Crevasse was the Tate Triennial 2006 curated by Beatrix Ruf at Tate Britain, London and "Il Tempo Del Postino" curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist and Philippe Parreno and presented as part of the Manchester International Festival in 2007. In the Tate Triennial there was a permanent performance space as the entrance to the show, the huge Duveen galleries, a potential space, given form with an architectural structure and design of Pablo Bronstein and Celine Condorelli. This space was used for an intense line up of performances during the duration of the show and equally defined performances and the "performance space" not as parallel events, but as regular and central contribution to the exhibition. In Manchester, all of the artists were given time - they were not given space – and the premise was to not use video. With the exception of one or two of the pieces shown there, none of them could be put back into the gallery or the white cube context or all of a sudden pop up in an auction. They were very much related to the time protocol. This is true for many of the artists taking part in the Yokohama Triennale; many of the pieces will exist specifically in the time frame of the exhibition and afterwards aren't necessarily going to end up in galleries. In a way we aren't so much talking about site-specific production, but about site-specific destruction: the pieces, once they are realized, are over. Maybe it is an interesting way of solving the conundrum of saying ‘we are not showing artists who are in the art market:' by defining a protocol, which is something the market just doesn't do; the establishment of a parallel reality perhaps.
The claim is not being made that an artwork is automatically good just because it cannot enter the gallery system; but it is interesting that certain things won't. There are so many simplistic ideas about being outside the market, and they can go so wrong. The approach based on marginality and negativity (exemplarily carried out in an exhibition like Documenta 12) is not necessarily a criterion for interesting things; it is equally and perhaps much more interesting to think about what artists affirm rather than what they negate. Maybe there are some exceptions - maybe there are artists who turn this negativity and what is excluded into their own practice - but it cannot be the curatorial horizon of things. It is not possible to make an exhibition in which the agenda is the art against the art market. A lot of artists are interested in the art market, others are not in the art market at all; that cannot be the criterion. One aspect articulated here is the incredible transformational process of capital; it always finds more flexible ways to evolve or to disappear. This means that it doesn't matter what kind of channel an individual engages; the definition of different channels is no longer as relevant as in the 60s or 70s. At that time if an artist picked up certain media it meant that they were politically correct or incorrect; it indicated their standpoint. Within this moment of floating, global capital there is a huge change in how an individual can find, create or open up a space; it doesn't really matter where the resources come from, it depends more on what exactly one wants to be or what exactly one wants to do. There are more spaces, also more audience; confronting this fact and its relation to particular forms of communication that art brings with it, we are met with a different kind of art. Considering Pak Sheung-Chuen's "Waiting" series, for instance, in which he waited in front of a building for all of the lights inside to turn off, or waited at a subway station to meet with friends, without having made any appointment. If life itself becomes production, then something entirely else happens: a very subtle meeting of a certain moment when life is being transformed into art; art again returns as part of daily practices.
Life should be considered as a whole, not separated by the operations of social systems; the daily life in which we live is the world in which artists have to stay, while moving beyond. It is already quite dramatic: all the while as society becomes spectacle, there is silent theatre artists have been performing (even invisibly) every day in their lives. This kind of life practice (or performance) has been taking place for a long time – from the days of Socrates and Lao-Tzu, from Nietzsche to Kafka – and resists any attempts to view a particular life as being more valuable than others. As a turn toward facts of life, which reveal the illusion of spectacles, the performance of silent theatre indicates a belief that human beings could actually be less isolated through the kinds of daily practices called "art".
To return to what can be called the political moment: looking at the younger artists involved in Time Crevasse, most of the time-based work is reconnecting to activities that had in prior times been called underground, sideways or simply not registered in the mainstream perception of the visual arts. Of course, this reconnection has been done before. The current "political moment" is not about 60s or 70s counter-cultures; it is a very interesting version of critical or even subversive processes of affirmation. One cannot simply consider musical or other activities done in an off-site necessarily underground or outside the visual arts system; that is not possible anymore. The underground has become a full player in the popularized cultural world. The same is true if one looks into the performative or time-based work that is done today, it can be absolutely commensurate with the market; there is plenty of knowledge about how it can be handled, and about dealing the ephemeral work, and what that means. Today everyone in the art world immediately receives the information that a conceptual piece, that is not an object, has as much worth as a big sculpture or a giant painting; the same is true for performative work. However, there is a strong understanding among the younger generation that parallel activities are possible, that networks and collaborative practices can establish independent structures, that the new media for distribution can enable other forms of "off-" or subculture, and that social activity can be production - not in the sense of the context art of the 80s and early 90s, but in the attempt to confront themselves with those questions of who is in control of the art piece; who is in control of production; are there other structures than the art system not only to experience but also to distribute art, and how are they defined at the moment? The really interesting point is where the protocol defines an encounter, where social interaction becomes discerned as production. We didn't choose artists for Time Crevasse who are intentionally stepping away and celebrating a mythology of absence or the outsider; they are not afraid of affirmation.
What is attempted with this ‘rule of the game' is the introduction of conditions: a performative or time-based contribution but also something that leaves a trace. That which happens needn't be ‘performance art' in the classical sense of the privileging of bodily presence – it could be that – but just as important is that which remains, or a relation to something that is more stable in an exhibition. To create this special rule hopefully triggers new kinds of work, as it rules out simply sending a pre-existing object.
Many artistic practices have evolved with, and been integrated into, life practices, therefore the question of format: some art practices do not eventuate in firm, physical results - the form no longer the final ending - and in fact not the original purpose. Artists are searching for something else. How to contextualize these approaches within big art events, with their attendant problems of exhaustion?
Enter again the rule of the game: we are not only inviting the artists to do a performance according to a time protocol that the viewer can only experience when they are present in Yokohama over the three days. We are also inviting them to carry out a space. For example, Cerith Wyn Evans will put together a performance with Throbbing Gristle in a space that features ‘hyper-directional speakers;' these installation elements create a peculiar performative space for the viewer that is never twice the same, because as the viewer moves they make the piece, they are the piece.
Figuring large in this tension between performance and documentation are the performance-related objects, or performative objects, which make appearances in the work of artists from Robert Morris to Mike Kelley or Paul McCarthy. Their significance lies in their existence as more than simple film documents, as installations developed for the show that are to some extent performative objects. We intentionally asked the artists not to present documentation; this goes back to the actual practices, but it also reflects on historical facts: it meant something else in the past to have a performance and then a video about the performance. Now we already know this situation, where the performance is privileged over the documentation. That is not so interesting. We also know that one can emphasize the making of it: for instance, one builds a house and then we see the house; normally architecture or sculpture emphasizes the result, but we can say we are also interested in the making of it. However in our case revealing the process leading up to the show wouldn't be quite enough either; one could simply open the show three days earlier, if one is interested in how things are installed. Approaching more toward what we are attempting, in the work of someone like Jonathan Meese or John Bock, for example, one can see the production of the thing is part of the thing, and as important as the actual result. Now it is more often parallel production; it is part of the whole range of work the artists are doing. It is not sequenced, as in one comes first; or an object that is a leftover or a prop, or a performance that is documented in a film or a photograph afterwards. It's happening at the same time, or as equally relevant practices.
It also brings us back to the animated or performative objects; and there are many artists involved in Time Crevasse who work with the mythology of the animated or performative object and question if it is an option at all – it is actually the object in question: does it change one's perception of an installation if one knows that the artist has made a performance beforehand; does it change one's knowledge about an artwork if one knows that this artist is also a writer or a musician or a poet or a singer; does the aura of an object survive in weakened or galvanized form? The performative object is a paradox perhaps. The protocol cannot solve this for good – it is not even its role to solve it – we formulate structures that might trigger new solutions to this issue. There is an interesting tension that comes up with that two-part exhibition, or the sequenced exhibition, which opens up – or can open up - to many different directions.
Predecessors and key references are presented in the exhibition in an archive, or battery room; they do not make up an historical survey, but attempt to make the project understandable in its historical dimension. A note should be made on Jerzy Grotowski from Poland who did the legendary "Laboratorium Theatre" that embodied his manifesto toward a "Poor Theatre." In the last ten or fifteen years production value in contemporary art has gone up and up and up and up, particularly in relation to filmic work. To some degree it's a generational thing; artists like Joan Jonas and others first speak about the experiments in performance they plan and only secondly about production budgets. It's extraordinary that now artists need huge financial budgets to do their work, and if they don't have them they can't do their work. The Yokohama Triennale locates itself not so much in this realm. Perhaps in relation to this change of paradigm in the art world, the Grotowski Laboratorium is very interesting because it used the experiment and available things- first of all, the most available things – time, the body - and then certain things in the surroundings, but nothing necessarily spectacular in terms of pre-fabrication or requiring huge productions on site. Shows like "Theatre Without a Theatre" have explored performative objects; "Out of Actions", which took place in Los Angeles, examined the history of performance.*4 From a Japanese perspective, the important contributions of the Gutai group can only be presented in archive form, as almost everybody who was involved is gone. The works of Tatsumi Hijikata, a pioneer of the Japanese performance style Butoh, are also a part of the archive. Directly referring to him is Min Tanaka, and in a slightly different way, Keiji Haino, whose experimental actions oscillate between performance and sound. These lines reveal many strings to European art history, as well, bringing in Actionism with Hermann Nitsch, and the performances of Joseph Beuys. If there are role models or crucial inclusions it's because they are batteries or inspirational moments, not because of some compulsion to completeness. Rather than assembling a show that is the genealogy, Time Crevasse is about the current moment, the now.
Based on a discussion recorded May 25th, 2008 in Frankfurt.