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Notes on CHARCO Exchange by Shannon Cochrane

If one were asked to define the value of art in our contemporary society, you might say that art’s greatest virtue is its ability to communicate across language, culture, and context. But, communicate what? And, who (or what) does the communicating? 

For the artists engaged in an EXCHANGE Live Art “meeting laboratory”, the key ingredient in an experimental recipe for collective creation is communication across languages (spoken, body), cultures (Spanish, African, Tunisian) and contexts (urban, rural, native country, the diaspora and more). Communication is mediated through performance art actions, exercises, and proposals initiated and responded to, looped and fed back, from artist to artist over time and space (before the project actually begins in situ) and in person directly one day and one moment at a time during the working period. Communication is the precursor and the catalyst for collaboration, and collaboration is only made possible (or improbable) between the artists who are working at communicating.

The definition of collaboration is, “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” Though the word ‘collaboration’ here is a noun, even in this modest state of simply naming, it refuses to be passive. The energy of collaboration is not waiting, or hoping or wishing, it is action. (Though sometimes this action can be or can include waiting, hoping and wishing.) Collaboration is intrinsic to the discipline of performance art where artists and audiences are locked together in a perpetual exchange of doing and witnessing, seeing and being seen. The active investment of both artists and audiences in this exchange is what makes a performance possible, is what makes a work an actual thing. 

The EXCHANGE Live Art project risks failure with each iteration, because it is impossible to predict what will happen or not happen between strangers who have been asked to create something together, to merge working styles, approaches, and most of all, intentions. There is no guarantee of ease or comfort, or even of empathy. The first tendency is to normalize, to try and make it work. But what if it doesn’t? When communication breaks down, does this provide a more rich territory to work from? 

Asked to employ performance art as a strategy for the research of communication across language, culture, and context, the outcome of the project changes each time, with each new pairing. Each group finds their rhythm, pace, and manages to present something functioning as a conclusion. But, what is the conclusion? Is it a picture of a resolved way of working between strangers, now friends? Or is it a reflection of something more messy and undefined? The truth is probably found somewhere in the middle of these two options, hovering between truth and fiction, harmony and conflict, understanding and misunderstanding. Not friends, but no longer strangers either.

 

Shannon Cochrane
April 4, 2016