Anton Mirto: The Army

 

“The Army”: Anton Mirto
The Yard, NOW18 Festival, and
Whitechapel Gallery, First Thursdays

 

It begins with breath and footfalls, once in darkness, once in light. The curious intimacy of the moment approaches like presentiment of one’s own death — utterly anonymous, impersonal, obscured by history. It is a performance which engages an extreme sense of proximity, and a corresponding sense of remoteness. In the execution of a choreography largely derived from military drill, the force of the body is restrained, composed. Drill, as preparation for a march, situates this restraint and composure of physical movement in relation to the wider historical contexts of acceleration and instantaneity. Time becomes a force. Through the timing of its choreography, the performance demonstrates the fundamentals of a disciplining process, wherein individual bodies become a collective body. The movement refracts the prototypical choreographic gesture of capitalism, invoking all of the processes (conflicts) [1] of modernity. In a performance defined by its absolute economy of means, one’s sense becomes acute, and disorienting: one hears this breath, these footfalls, as though held in the cavity of a mouth, or the belly of a drum. The seeming and the real coexist, in muffled sound and thinning blood, time and space held together in a regular beat, its pulse seeming to thicken the air.

As an image of collective force, it is fundamentally historical, and yet it speaks to all of the tensions of our time, in which identity politics [2], and conversely, identitarian politics [3], are becoming requisites for political solidarity. Whilst identity politics may be the Left’s gift to the Right [4], it is understood as a resistant force. Contemporary performance is largely defined by the proliferation of gender identities and sexual identities. This proliferation can be seen as a mode of social evolution, an explicit response to compulsory heterosexuality [5] under patriarchy and capitalism, and as an affirmation of life in face of violence. The performance’s primary gesture is to contain these tensions, so that the choreography becomes, at once, an image of force and resistance, of oppression and liberation, internalised by a culture at the level of the body. In this essay I will regard the performance as a dream of resistance, an image of resistance, which could be seen (dismissed) as a fantasy of resistance. Finally what it proposes, however, is an erotics of resistance, an ‘embodied enactment of cultural forces’ [6], an elaboration and profusion of the desire necessary to life. Its internal tensions cannot simply be resolved, they are lived through.

 

— A Terrain, A Territory —

 

The first time is in a theatre. There, the performance works against its containment within the auditorium, as an architecture, and a cultural location. This sense of confinement lends to the smallest of gestures the impression of scale. The Yard is among London’s most classical theatre architectures: the stage a concrete floor, facing a wooden amphitheatre, walled by brick, roofed by corrugated iron. The darkness has the effect of amplifying — intensifying — the sounds that emerge within it. It becomes possible, temporarily, to forget not only the dimensions of the stage but also its location in time and space. The theatre comes to seem dislodged from the city. The architecture comes to feel like a landscape: the steep incline of the amphitheatre, a hillside; the stage, a shallow valley. The sounds that emanate from below are like the sounds of an encampment of soldiers. Like all displays of martial ardour, it tends toward spectacle. Its effect, which is, finally, theatrical, works to disturb the impression of scale. The theatre becomes a terrain, a territory, occupied by an unseen force, which multiplies in the imagination. The bodies become a front line which, approaching in darkness, then steals into the light.

The second time is on the street. There, the performance is no less subject to constraint, from all of the forces that define the environment, the heat of the sun, humidity, wind pressure, the qualities of light, the toxicants in the air, the movement of traffic and pedestrians. In the absence of a theatrical frame, the disturbance is not one of scale. At a distance of fifty yards one sees the bodies of the performers, and the performance, exactly in proportion to one’s own life [7]. Yet this sense of proportion is already circumscribed, distance at once reaffirming the force of the body and the limits of that force, as mediated and regulated by capital. As an image, the performance is no less a force of capital than all of the advertisements that surround us, part of the ‘immense accumulation of spectacles’ which is ‘the heart of unrealism of the real society’ [8]. Those gathering to look, those passing by, take photographs, short videos, the performance becoming something other [9] just as everything must become something other: recording to dismiss, to ameliorate the affects of direct experience. Amidst all of the flux of the street, I am reminded that: ’perception is fundamentally about movement’ [10]. Just as the canyon is ‘nested’ within mountains, trees within canyons, leaves within trees, cells within leaves [11], so vision is nested in the moving body. The relationship between body and environment is reflexive, constantly shifting, adjusting, focusing and attuning. We perceive the environment with ‘eyes-in-the-head-on-the-body-resting-on-the-ground’ since ‘Vision is a whole perceptual system, not a channel of sense’ [12]. Every movement reaffirms: ’the relationship between what we see and what we know is never settled’ [13]. I reach toward the performance, strained, stretched, tautly attentive, and the breath, the footfalls, carry clear.

In these environs — whether theatre, street, or gallery — perception is nested, sensation framed. In the Deleuzean thought exemplified by Elizabeth Grosz, the first gesture of art is the fabrication of the frame [14]. The frame is ‘the condition of all the arts’: the ’architectural force’ of framing liberates the ‘qualities’ of either objects or events, which ‘come to constitute the substance, the matter, of the art-work’ [15]. In a performance concerned explicitly with staging an occupation, we must acknowledge that without a frame there is no territory, that: ‘without territory there may be objects or things but not qualities that can become expressive, that can intensify and transform living bodies’ [16]. The mode of framing, and the intent, defines everything. Each of these locations may be described as an environment, as a ‘niche’ in an environment, ‘a setting of environmental features that are suitable for an animal, into which it fits metaphorically’ [17], or as a ‘frame’. None are merely incidental. But what concerns me, finally, as the defining frame of the performance, is the choreography itself. It is through the choreography that certain ‘cultural forces’ are ‘enacted’ [18], the body itself is produced as a territory — a contested territory. It invokes the most negative consequence of ‘territory and deterritorialization’ [19] but it reaffirms that art, firstly and finally, is not a conceptual but a material process. It allows us to consider the performance, if resistant not only conceptually, or symbolically, but materially so. It allows us to move between the larger and the smaller refrain, to address the double occupation which the performance exemplifies: the claiming of space within heteronormative, capitalist patriarchy, and the claims made upon us daily and indefinitely by it. It reproduces, elaborates upon, cannot resolve, the tensions between force and resistance that define life under capital. The difficulty is in identifying the terms of its resistance. Considering the performance as an occupation, it becomes necessary to acknowledge the wider cultural context, the defining terms of our cultural, social and political lives, from the economy, or ecology, of the performance scene to the overarching structures of capital that would delimit it.

 

— The Occupation —

 

In Marxist analyses, the relationship between clock time and productive labour has long been made explicit. As Zygmunt Bauman writes: ‘Time became money once it had become a tool (or a weapon?) deployed primarily in the ongoing effort of overcoming resistance of space’ [20]. Time becomes a force, ‘shortening distances, stripping the “remoteness” of the meaning of an obstacle, let alone of a limit, to human ambition’. Thus armed, ‘one could set oneself the task of conquering space and in all earnestness set about its implementation’ [21]. Peter Osborne, reevaluating Marx’s philosophy of time, suggests that: ‘contrary to certain recent interpretations, it is not time itself that is “commodified” but rather labour-power’ [22]. In Marx’s terminology, this is abstract labour: ‘abstract’ by virtue of its ‘reduction’ to ‘quantitative units’, reducing its ‘capital function’ to ‘the exercise of a general “power”’ [23]. Marx’s own analysis rests on the following summary: ‘Time is everything, man is nothing; he is at the most the incarnation of time’ [24]. In the darkness of the auditorium, I begin thinking of the performance in terms of labour, but moreover, in terms of force. It becomes difficult to adequately discern, in this show of force, the possible terms of its resistance.

Where Marx developed the concept of abstract labour to define the alienating effects of capital, Hardt and Negri describe a mode of affective or immaterial labour. Affects ‘refer equally to body and mind. In fact, affects, such as joy and sadness, reveal the present state of life in the entire organism’ [25]. Affective labour can be recognised ‘in the work of legal assistants, flight attendants and fast food workers (service with a smile)’ [26]. We can recognise it, too, on every theatre stage, large or small. Affective labour emerges in the context of late capitalism, postmodernism, or ‘empire’; one of the many ‘institutional processes of normalisation’ in which ‘power hides rather than reveals and interprets the relationships that characterize its control over society and life’ [27]. To consider theatre, or performance, as affective labour is to accept that whatever its transformational powers, its ‘eventhood’ is inextricable from the circulation of representations. As Hardt and Negri assert: ‘any postmodern liberation must be achieved within this world, on the plane of immanence, with no possibility of any even utopian outside’ [28]. In the culture of performance, no less than anywhere else: ‘The form in which the political should be expressed as subjectivity today is not at all clear’ [29].

In the theatre what one sees, as the stage lights go up, is a body in motion. The movements this first body is executing already imply the presence of a larger collective body. The first body is joined; several moving together, in unison, with the precision, exactitude — the élan — of soldiers. We see the formation of a corps. In modern military terms, it is the smallest of detachments: A fire team is a unit of four soldiers, there are eight soldiers to a squad. The bodies forming that corps are held together, propelled, by a sense of timing. The discipline, the restraint, the composure of the performers is beyond question. What is open to question — and will remain open at the conclusion of this essay — is the extent to which the performance opposes or maintains the prevalent rhetorics and discourses of our time. We are asked to regard the bodies of the performers. In a culture of spectacle, and the greatest risk in performance is, perhaps, lapsing into spectacle, the task is to produce witnesses [30]. We are asked to regard — perhaps to witness — these bodies in a state of transformation. We may discern in this transformation an image of statehood.

Eight bodies transform into one. There may be many aspects of this transformation, but its principal element is referential. The qualities of the movement often, but not always, connote drill. A distinct military step emerges in the Roman Armies, described by Vegetius as a ‘constant practice of marching quick and together. Nor is anything of more consequence either on the march or in the line than that they should keep their ranks with the greatest exactness’ [31]. Roman soldiers were expected to ‘march with the common military step twenty-five miles in summer-hours, and with the full step, which is quicker, twenty-four miles in the same number of hours’ [32]. Evolving across Europe, Foot Drill was refined in Prussia in the 18th century. Soldiers deployed in ranks 2-4 deep, firing 2-3 shots per minute. Standard pace in the British Army was 116 beats per minute with a 30-inch step. Quick Time, for Light Infantry units, was 140 beats per minute. Movement in linear formations required the strictest discipline to ensure maximal efficiency. Widespread use of line formation fell into obsolescence in the 19th century, through processes of industrialisation and attendant technological advancements of the American Civil War.

The invocation of drill reveals something of the temporality of military experience. We might say that the soldier — more than the worker — is the incarnation of the time of capital, that drill is the literal first step in the advance of capital, the nation state, empire. The importance of time signature is explicit in Mirto’s description of her role as ‘conductor’. Observing the composure and restraint of the body in time, I think of Emmanuel Levinas’s platonist objections to rhythm in music and art, asking whether rhythm’s ’impersonal gait — fascinating, magic — is not art’s substitute for sociality, the face, and speech’ [33]. The open question is what this substitution reveals. In drill, one beat of the drum, one tick of the clock, one step of the foot is the same as the next. Soldiers today, as in the 1700s, still learn to march. No battles now are fought as then; armies do not stand and face one another in rank and file. Our military conflicts have a different temporal structure. The defining frame of the performance is the choreography: it physicalises musical rhythm rendered martial. In processes of depersonalisation, the face is obscured, but here, perhaps only temporarily, and not totally.

Other movement within this choreographic structure connotes combat from warrior cultures subjugated by professional European armies across Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australasia. The performance thus enacts and contains a tension between the physicalities of soldier and warrior. The mode of embodiment is imaginative. In the sharp exhalations of breath, in the flicking of tongues, in certain facial contortions, the performers invoke Maori warriors. (I overhear several audience members after both performances refer to haka. In Maori culture, ‘haka is a generic name for all types of dance or ceremonial performance that involve movement’ [34]. The pose of the haka, specifically the war haka, or peruperu, is to unite the body. On Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand in 1789, Joseph Banks recorded his impressions of the haka, composed of: ‘Various contortions of the limbs during which the tongue is frequently thrust out incredibly far and the orbits of the eyes enlarged so much that a circle of white is distinct seen around the Iris; in short nothing is omittd which can render a human shape frightful and deformd, which I suppose they think terrible’ [35]. Christian missionaries attempted to eradicate haka. Its resurgence includes new ceremonies for women and children.)

It is unclear if the lead artist wishes to avoid criticism on account of cultural appropriation. It is clear to me that it is not my criticism to make. The choreography, in reasserting the tensions and conflicts of modernity, is indissociable from the conflicts of colonialism. As a whole, the choreography is conflicted: its predominantly white, western performers, occupying multiple locations across the capital city of England, invoke the ceremonial practices of colonised cultures. They do so as representatives of an artistic culture which has some role to play in processes of decolonisation. The adoption of these gestures seems largely unreflective.

In an interview with Maddy Costa, Mirto describes the genesis of the performance in a dream: ‘I saw women and men marching in formation in a large hall, mimicking militaristic behaviour to forge individual and collective strength’ [36]. Furthermore: ‘Around the same time, I envisaged a body of people moving past my window, expressing a new free logic on my street, instilling renewed purpose, hope, commitment and strength’ [37]. A significant tension emerges in the artist’s own way of explaining the work — between the conscious and the unconscious desire, between waking and dreaming. Mirto dreams of women and men marching together. The constructions of gender reflect a distinct cultural, social, political and economic reality: ’following an open call-out to explore these “visions”, only women came. The title The Army remained’ [38]. The culture of performance is defined, in economic terms, by women’s willingness, and men’s reluctance, to work for free. And so the image that Mirto dreams cannot be inscribed in reality. It tells us much, that men and women will not readily march together. It is an attitude to performance as labour that sets them — and keeps them — apart. What is offered up to my gaze — and please do assume it, a male gaze — is an image of women, staging an occupation by invoking the defining choreographic structure of patriarchal power. To perform these gestures is to accept, in the transference or assumption of that power, a degree of contradiction. It is also to require that an audience consider the implications.

Certainly, the performance holds all the compulsions of rhythm, all the attractions of physical rigour. Rhythm: ’represents a unique situation where we cannot speak of content, assumption, initiative or freedom, because the subject is caught up and carried away by it’ [39]. ‘Rhythm’, Levinas concludes, ‘is a waking dream’ [40]. The performance is accompanied by a provocation: ‘to stand on my feet, to challenge my behaviour, to breathe, to hurt, to fight, to be for or against an idea, to be stronger than I think I am’ [41]. As the freesheet continues: ‘Conceived as a desire to stand up, to stay awake and survive, The Army is a call to be brave in an age that promotes fear; an ongoing practice against apathy and for healing, purpose and power’ [42]. The performance itself is wordless. Yet any critical reflection on the work must attend to the language used by the artist to describe it.

The language of empowerment and consciousness Mirto used to articulate the impetus behind the performance reflects the vernacular of our time. The language of presence, mindfulness, reflects the conditions of political consciousness under capitalism. That language of the freesheet re-enacts the tensions between slumber and wakefulness characterising populist discourse. Such a discourse produces tensions within the culture of performance, or rather: the culture of performance reproduces these tensions. The artist speaks of ‘renewed purpose, hope, commitment and strength’ or ‘new free logic’. The image of soldier-warrior speaks to the expediencies of violence in the reclamation of freedom. It may be that we cannot imagine freedom without violence, or that we cannot contemplate the violence necessary to claim freedom. We speak of waking, wakefulness, as a form of vigilance. Since the publication of Marcus Garvey’s Africa for the Africans, to be woke has been invoked as a mode of political consciousness, one implicitly bound up with, claims toward, statehood and nationhood, repatriation [43]. To claim to be woke is common. We could refer, for example, to the recent description of Camden People’s Theatre as ‘London’s wokest venue’. Yet the economic model that sustains CPT demands the self-exploitation of the marginalised artists it supports through its diversity commissions. Beginning to acknowledge the complexities of a project of decolonisation arguably involves rethinking the role of art, and the expectations we place upon it, the hope we invest in it. One of the legacies of the avant-gardes of the 20th century is the notion that artistic practice is a front line in cultural and social struggles. When Marinetti secured the front page of Le Figaro for the publication of the Founding and First Manifesto of Futurism in 1909, a precedent was set, perhaps recognised retrospectively, that art could help bring about widespread contribution to the political consciousness. Performance has perhaps never been more visible as an art form. As Erika Fischer-Lichte asserts: ‘We come to understand that culture is also, if not in the first place, performance’: ‘It can hardly be overlooked to what an extent culture is brought forth as and in performance’, placing the very concept of performance and performativity ‘at the heart of all debates in cultural, social and art studies’ [44]. At the same time, the sense persists that art, of whatever kind, no longer produces the zeitgeist, if it ever did. It can only respond to it.

In considering Mirto’s response, I am reminded of the later-career works of Marina Abramović, where consciousness emerges from relative inactivity, stillness, silence, contemplation. The Army is a direct counterpoint, perhaps, to that inactivity. Yet arguably its intentions are circumscribed and its effects curtailed by the logics of neoliberalism that define Abramović’s practice. In 2014, Guardian journalist Suzanne Moore referred to 512 Hours at Serpentine Gallery as a ‘contemplative space’ offering a ‘neutered, apolitical’ response to the structural difficulties defining contemporary society [45]. Moore’s view is complemented in a New Yorker article by Michelle Goldberg, describing how mindfulness courses help optimise performance in business settings [46]. The language of individual physical strength and collective consciousness articulated in The Army is no less complicit in the reduction of politics to rhetoric as any other aspect of culture under capital. Recognising this complicity, it becomes clear that no terms of resistance are ideal.

The choreography is as defined by its rhythms as by its gestures. We might return to Grosz’s assertion that: ‘music has led troops into countless wars and has stirred numerous past and present patriotic, as well as resistant, hearts’ [47]. Grosz’s emphasis of territory and deterritorialization allows us to discern the potential for any framing gesture to be obtrusive, imposing, and wilful. She continues: ‘a history of war music, of music used to stir and reinforce patriotism, of music that can induce all the warrior forces of a body, is still waiting to be written’ [48]. It is quite clear that the performance wishes to stir resistant hearts. It acknowledges, not without some difficulty, that: ‘the earth, however rarefied and abstracted, still marks every body and is the condition for every body’s artistic capacities’; since ’framed’ and ‘engulfed’ by earth, ‘the body can sing the earth and the stories of its origin’ [49].

The performance reaffirms the difficulty of establishing common language and gesture, modes of occupation, forms of resistance, adequate to our time, appropriate to aesthetic purposes which are, implicitly or explicitly, politicised. Vicki Kirby’s influential Corporeographies (1989) identifies similar, generative, tensions:

the experience of collectivity is a form of reference that is realised in the shared embodiment of signification. Against this, although not in opposition to it, each subject should be understood to occupy a particular location between myriad competing and contradictory discourses in the larger web of sociality’s text. Consequently, the peculiar, constitutive contradictions that articulate a single, specific subject must necessarily be different from that collectivity even as they include the meanings that identify it. This entails the embodiment of a difference that defies the principle of non-contradiction because essentialism does not exclude anti-essentialism: they are mutually implicated because lived at one and the same time [50].

Recognising the shared embodiment of signification as a necessarily complex and conflicted process, the performance consists precisely in the competing and contradictory desires emergent in the opposition or occupation it proposes. What is charged in every gesture of the choreography is the elaboration of difference that marks every performative encounter.

 

— An Erotics of Resistance —

 

In an alleyway adjacent to the street the performers stand in formation. Dotted around their feet are a number of small cardboard boxes. Over the course of this sequence, the boxes are set afire. Just as the sound of breath carries across lanes of traffic to my ears, the smoke carries to sting my eyes. The gentle irritation of the smoke makes me readjust my gaze, conditioning the quality of attention I bring to the whole of the work. As I look, I recognise the violence of identification; a violence which this collective body — a multiplicity of female (or femme) identities, experiences and political positions — resists. I may recognise the performers as women, predominantly European; I cannot assume that they are heterosexual, cisgender. In their multiplicity, they do not claim to stand in for, or speak up for, any others. Through the choreography, which is impersonal, we sense something unseen, to which it is impossible to remain indifferent. It strains against the architecture of the theatre, and slows the pedestrian movement of the thoroughfare. What we sense is the expansiveness of the desire which animates, and activates, a collective aesthetics, which seems to refuse the containment of the choreography itself.

I am not sentimental or romantic about either the city or the theatre. As Berger writes, describing the alienating effects of city life: ‘the theatre is built upon the ruins of the forum, its precondition is the failure of democracy’ [51]. He continues that the consequence is ‘indifference’ — ‘the result of an excessive mobility of private fantasy and social political stasis’ [52]. ’Most public life in the city belongs to this theatre’; the exceptions being ’productive labour and the exercise of real power’ [53]. Public life is reduced to the ‘inessentials upon which the public have been persuaded to fix their hopes’. Common experience, reduced to spectacle, ‘is charged with theatricality’ [54]. It seems impossible to extricate ourselves from the circulation of representations common to both theatre and capital. Theatricality might be considered a defining force of social alienation, in which ‘exaggeration and violence become habitual’, where violence is the very ’address of the exaggeration’ [55].

As I stated in the essay on Lees and Gregory’s Strike, engaging with an artist’s practice takes time; gratifications are delayed, deferred. Mirto describes The Army as an ongoing practice. The ensemble first convened in 2016. Subsequently, the performance has taken place across 30 ‘secret outdoor locations’ [56]. The lack of resolution I felt at the close of the theatre performance leads me to the performance on the street and in the gallery. In re-engaging, I retrain my attention. I am reminded of Rancière’s assertion that aesthetics consists in ‘forms of visibility that disclose artistic practices, the place they occupy, what they “do” or “make” from the standpoint of what is common to the community’ [57]. What is ‘common to the community’ of makers and viewers — and, furthermore, what is ‘ahistorical’ — is ‘the need to hope’ [58]: Just as consent can be manufactured, and resistance may be symbolic, hope may be contrived.

Considering aesthetics as a social practice, Berger writes that we: ‘cannot talk about aesthetics without talking about the principle of hope and the existence of evil’ [59]. What is at stake, finally, is the possibility of tenderness. Tenderness is always a ‘free act, a gratuitous act’ [60]. If art has anything to do with tenderness it is because it makes a time and a place in which tenderness can unfold: ’the free act takes place in time which is flowing and not in time which has already flown’ [61]. The choreographic structure of The Army produces such a regulated temporality that its gratuitous tenderness may sometimes seem obscured. Yet within this structure, which tends toward anonymity, impersonality, indifference, the drill quality gives way to a freer expression: not in the absence of rhythm, but in changes in tempo. The difference that makes the difference [62] — that counters indifference — is between exaggeration and excess.

Almost any claim one could make about The Army, about the culture of performance to which it belongs, about aesthetics as a mode of politics, might tend toward exaggeration. The claims made by venues and by artists themselves are often hyperbolic, sometimes fatuous. Against such exaggerations there is the excessiveness of art itself. As Grosz writes: Art opens the world ‘to the force of taste, appeal, the bodily, pleasure, desire—the very impulses behind all art’ [63]. Art becomes a way of opening up the ‘pragmatic world of performed and judged actions’ to qualities, ‘to sexuality, to erotic appeal, to excessiveness’ [64]. To situate this in respect of the body, we can refer to Jean-Luc Nancy’s description of the body as location: ‘The ontological body has yet to be thought’; indeed, ‘Ontology has yet to be thought out’ as a ‘place of existence, or local existence’ [65]. For Nancy, the term ‘“local” shouldn’t be taken as a piece of ground, a province or a reservation’ bur rather ‘in the pictorial sense of local color: the vibration and the singular intensity’. This intensity is ‘changing, mobile, multiple — other’, a ‘skin-event’, or ‘awe of skin as the place for an event of existence’ [66].

The potentials of the performance emerge not in its appeal to any pragmatic action, but to the desire that might propel it. Desire emerges first in a fleeting moment of social dance. The effect, after the restraint of previous gestures, is comic, met with smiles, laughter. A second is a sparring contest, two performers circling like pugilists, raining blows down on their own chests, the flush of the skin intensifying the eroticised violence implicit in the wider choreography. The gesture implies self-harm, internalised misogyny, the debilitations of patriarchy. Against this, it establishes a claim over the body, self-possession.

Levinas’s reflections on rhythm as a depersonalising force remain pertinent. His analyses of fecundity, and the pleasure of the caress, are focused always, explicitly, on the enjoyment of the male subject. The larger compositional refrain of the choreography might obscure the face. The smaller refrain reveals it. At the threshold between gallery and atrium, six bodies stand in formation. Each one reaches down between their legs to rub their cunts. Looking up at their faces, I see the tensing of muscles, and the trembling of lips. Theatrical as this gesture may be, it exaggerates sexual pleasure not at all.

In this brief moment of autoerotic pleasure, my gaze is refused. In a sense, it outlasts the performance. It refuses all reduction and adequation. Sexuality, eroticism is a vast surplus, overflowing the narrow economies of reproduction toward the wider ecologies of sensation and feeling, the tremulous visceral pleasure of being. I can objectify, fetishise or otherwise delimit and reduce these bodies. It would be the easiest thing of all. But I cannot limit this body, this collective body. Freedom emerges in restraint; it is only a relative freedom, but futural, anticipatory in its tensions.

Desire gives form to the work of artist and activist alike. All of the work of the activist, pragmatic, calculated, efficacious as it must be, is impossible without desire. All of the work of the artist, heuristic, intuitive, searching as it might seem, is a cumulative expression of desire. If art has a cultural value, a social purpose, it is to reveal — but also to generate — desire. The art of a culture is an expression of the conditions of its desire. One senses that resistance might yet become possible through the revelation of the body, through collective embodiment yet unthought.

It is not by seeking an alternative to the structures of capital that the performance resists it, but by working through it. This work is not completed by the performance, rather, it persists, the practice is ongoing. As Rancière argues, artistic practices are ‘ways of doing and making’ that intervene [67]. Across thirty and more iterations, the performers continue to seek ways to intervene in public space. As Rancière continues: ’From the Platonic point of view, the stage, which is simultaneously a locus of public activity and the exhibition-space for “fantasies”, disturbs the clear partition of identities, activities, and spaces’ [68].

It would be careless to dismiss the performance as a fantasy of resistance. In resisting the clear partition of identities, activities, spaces, it proposes an erotics of resistance. The choreography, like all repetitious actions, works through insistence [69]. This insistence is, finally, the revelation of the body — a collective body. Collectivity is described as a cultural and political formation. It can, does, must speak to political necessity. Yet the pleasure of collective life, of the multiplicity of identities, cultural practices, modes of sociality, emerge as a process of elaboration, profusion — in Grosz’s terms, as production and differentiation ‘for its own sake’ [70].

To address the performance in political terms, we can refer to Hardt and Negri, to reconsider the challenge of collective aesthetics as bringing about the end of the ‘dialectic between inside and outside’, of conceiving ‘new forms of labor power’ which are ‘charged with the task of producing anew the human (or really the posthuman)’ [71], arising through ‘new and increasingly immaterial forms of affective and intellectual labor power, in the community that they constitute, in the artificiality that they present as a project’ [72]. In cultures of theatre and performance, the artificial is no longer understood as the substitution of the real. We might refer finally to an affirmation of nature that surpasses essentialism. The performance is arguably, in Kirby’s terms, an ‘embodiment of a difference’, one which ‘defies the principle of non-contradiction’, since its ‘essentialism does not exclude anti-essentialism’ [73]. In attending to the performance, in stretching ourselves along with its tensions, we cannot but ‘acknowledge our complicity’ within ‘totalising regimes of truth’. Its most appropriative gestures may be regarded as an attempt to ‘universalise’, perhaps, ultimately to ‘deny difference’. We can only ’sustain the anxiety that comes from the recognition that we violate whenever we interpret and identify’ [74].

Refusing reduction to an image, the performance exists in the tension between regimes of discipline and orders of desire, invoking an implacable order in order to overturn it. In a brief moment, brevity seems to count for nothing at all. One can imagine something of liberty. Glimpsed underneath the power that drill would seem to confer, is the emergence of another, different power. Across the culture of performance, other realities emerge elsewhere and otherwise, at The Glory in Shoreditch, at Vogue Fashions Dalston, at The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, where identification, solidarity, and resistance emerge in ceaseless elaborations of difference. Art, aesthetics, however politicised, requires that a territory be claimed, held open. The Army begins as an image of the advance of capital, and delivers us into a present, a present in which all of capital, and not life itself, is in a state of entropy. From within an entropic state, what outlasts — outruns — capital is sexuality.

—O. Husch

Spring / Summer 2018

 

References

[1] After Jennings, Humphrey: Pandaemonium: 1660-1880: The Coming of the Machine as Seen by Contemporary Observers, New York, The Free Press, p. xxxvii
[2] Wiarda, Howard K: Political Culture, Political Science and Identity Politics: An Uneasy Alliance, Abingdon, Routledge, 2016
[3] How “identitarian” politics is changing Europe, The Economist, 28-03-2018, Print Edition: http://www.theeconomist.com/europe/2018/03/28/how-identitarian-politics-is-changing-europe (accessed 16-01-19)
[4] Berman, Sheri: Why identity politics benefits the right more than the left, 14-07-2018:
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jul/14-identoty-politcs-right-left-trump-racism (accessed 16-01-19)
[5] Butler, Judith: Gender Trouble, London, Routledge, 1990/1999, p. xii
[6] McKenzie, John: Perform or Else: From Discipline to Performance, London, Routledge, 2001, p. 8
[7] Berger, John, Field, from Selected Writings, London, Bloomsbury, 2001, p. 357; cited Goode, Chris: The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre for a Changing World, London, Oberon, 2015, n.p.
[8] Debord, Guy: The Society of the Spectacle, 1967, n.p.
[9] Phelan, Peggy: Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, London, Routledge, 1993, p. 146
[10] Ingold, Tim: Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, London, Routledge, 2013 p. 11
[11] After Gibson, James J: The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, 1979/2015 p. 5
[12] ibid., 195
[13] Berger, John: Ways of Seeing, London, Penguin 1972, p. 1
[14] Grosz, Elizabeth: Chaos, Territory, Art: Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth, New York, Columbia University Press, 2008, p. 10
[15] ibid., p. 11
[16] ibid., p. 11
[17] Gibson, ibid., p. 120-1
[18] McKenzie, ibid., p. 8
[19] Grosz, ibid., p. 11
[20] Bauman, Zygmunt: Liquid Modernity, Cambridge, Polity Press, p. 112
[21] ibid., p. 112
[22] Osborne, Peter: Marx and the Philosophy of Time, in Radical Philosophy 47, January—February 2008, p. 18
[23] ibid., p. 118-19
[24] Marx Karl: The Poverty of Philosophy, in Marx, Karl & Engels, Frederick: Collected Works, Volume 6, 1845–1848, Lawrence & Wishart, London, 1976, p. 127
[25] Hardt, Michael, Negri, Antonio: Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, New York, Penguin, 2004, p. 108
[26] ibid., p. 108
[27] Hardt, Michael, & Negri, Antonio: Empire, London, England and Cambridge, Massachusetts Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 64
[28] ibid., p. 65
[29] ibid., p. 65
[30] Etchells, Tim: Certain Fragments: Contemporary Performance and Forced Entertainment, London, Routledge, 1999, p. 18
[31] Vegetius, De Re Militari, Book I: The Selection and Forming of New Levies
[32] ibid., n.p.
[33] Levinas, Emmanuel: Entre-Nous: On-thinking-of-the-Other, New York, Columbia University Press 1998, p. 10
[34] Jackson , Steven J., and Hokowhitu, Brendan, Sport, Tribes and Technology: The New Zealand All lacks Haka and the Politics of Identity, Journal of Sport and Social Issues, Vol 26.2, 2002
[35] Karetu, Timmoti: Haka! The Dance of a Noble People, Naupo Publishing, New Zealand, 1993, p. 22
[36] Mirto, Anton: Interview, with Maddy Costa, 2018,
http://www.run-riot.com/articles/blogs/anton-mirto’s-army-march-interview-maddy-costa (accessed 16-01-19)
[37] Mirto in Costa, ibid., n.p.
[38] Mirto in Costa, ibid., n.p.
[40] Levinas in Hand, S: The Levinas Reader, London, Blackwell, 1989, p. 133
[41] Mirto, Anton: Performance Free-sheet, Whitechapel Gallery, First Thursdays, 02-08-18
[42] ibid., my emphases
[43] Garvey, Marcus, and Garvey, Amy Jacques: The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey, Or, Africa for the Africans, The Majority Press, 1923, p. 5
[44] Fischer-Lichte, Erika: The Transformative Power of Performance: A new aesthetics, London, Routledge, 2004, p. 1
[45] Moore, Suzanne: Mindfulness is all about self-help. It does nothing to change an unjust world, The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/aug/06/mindfulness-is-self-help-it-does-nothing-to-change-unjust-world (accessed 16-01-19)
[46] Goldberg, Michelle: The Long Marriage of Mindfulness and Money, The New Yorker, http://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/the-long-marriage-of-mindfulness-and-money (accessed 16-01-19)
[47] Grosz, ibid., p. 51
[48] ibid, p. 51
[49] ibid., p. 51
[50] Kirby, Vicki: Corporeographies, in Inscriptions, Vol. 5: Travelling Theories, Travelling Theorists, 1989, n.p.
[51] Berger, John: Selected Essays, London, Bloomsbury, 2001, p. 385
[52] ibid., n.p.
[53] ibid., n.p.
[54] ibid., n.p.
[55] ibid., n.p.
[56] Mirto, 2018, n.p.
[57] Rancière, Jacques: The Politics of Aesthetics, London, Verso, 2005, p. 13
[58] Berger, John, ibid., p. 487
[59] ibid., p. 361
[60] Berger, John, and Silverblatt, Michael, Conversation 1, Episode 4, Lannan Foundation (2002) available online: https://vimeo.com/10516169 (accessed 16-01-19)
[61] Bergson, Henri: Matter and Memory, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1910, n.p.
[62] Bauman, 2000, p. 8
[63] Grosz, 2008, p. 39
[64] Grosz, ibid., p. 39
[65] Nancy, Jean-Luc: Corpus I, New York, Fordham University Press, 2008, p. 16
[66] ibid., p. 17
[67] Rancière 2005, p. 13
[68] ibid., p. 13
[69] Kartsaki, Eirini: Repetition in Performance, London, Palgrave, 2017, n.p.
[70] Grosz, ibid., p. 11
[71] Hardt and Negri, 2000, p. 217
[72] ibid., 217
[73] ibid.
[74] ibid.

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