Image © Roddy Hunter, Statement of Matter, 1999. Photo by Paul Couillard.
b. 1970, Scotland
Roddy Hunter is an artist, educator and writer based in York, England since 2007 where he is Head of Fine Arts at York St John University. He studied at the University of Glasgow before living and working in Kingston-upon-Hull as a member of Hull Time Based Arts between 1994-98 and in Totnes as Lecturer in Visual Performance and then later Director of Art at Dartington College of Arts between 1998-2007. He gained an MA (Contemporary Arts) from Nottingham Trent University in 1998. He is interested in aesthetics, pedagogy and the art of action, mainly in relation to social and urban realities.
He works mainly in performance and installation arts practice. His work has featured at CCA Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw; trace: installaction artspace, Cardiff; Sculpture Square, Singapore; Werkleitz Gesselschaft, Törnitz; TENT Centrum Beeldende Kunst Rotterdam; CCA, Tel Aviv; Site Gallery, Sheffield; Centro Galego De Arte Contemporánea, Santiago de Compostela; Le Lieu, Québec; CAC, Vilnius; Ludwig Museum, Budapest. He has participated in festivals further throughout Europe as well as in North America, Asia and the Middle East.
Curatorial work includes: Art. What is it good for? (with Tracey Warr, Dartington, 2004), Span2 (with André Stitt, London, 2001) and Rootless ’97: The Nomad Domain (with Hull Time Based Arts, 1997). Critical writings include monograph essays on Alastair MacLennan, John Newling, and André Stitt. Numerous public lectures, talks and workshops have been given internationally. He is also presently Chair of the Turning Point Yorkshire and the Humber Interim Steering Group.
FADO continues its 12-month duration performance art series, TIME TIME TIME, with Scottish artist Roddy Hunter in Statement of Matter: Performance(s) of Indefinite Duration.
Hunter’s performance will begin at noon on June 2, 1999 and continue into sometime the following day. Evidence of the performance will be on view through to midnight on June 3, 1999.
Through his work, Hunter investigates and creates charged, complex environments. Using simple materials, he moves through and acts upon a space, mapping out territories and time periods, tracing and erasing interrelationships among himself, his audience, and whatever objects are present. For this performance, his primary materials will be an empty white room, two video monitors with live feeds, a large sack of flour and a roll of white gaffer tape.
Statement about Statement of Matter by Roddy Hunter:
This performance is one of an ongoing series of inherently interdisciplinary negotiations of anterior spaces, places and actions. This anteriority does not imply, however, that these exist in the past, that they are lost to us. Rather, these states of matter and being remain ‘before’ conceptions and perceptions of causal thinking and doing in linear time frames. As such we are in their midst and by uncovering them we realise participation in a new milieu where previously rigid forms are no longer assured.
In our climate of syntactical formalism, I propose that the actuation of installation, through its precise location of action as the site of both the perception and conception of the aesthetic matrix, provides a necessary undoing of any preexisting equation whereby language solely equals thought.
~Roddy Hunter, Some notes and sources toward a realisation of installation, 1999
Statement of Matter: Performance(s) of Indefinite Duration is one of a series of projects bearing the same title. In a manifesto for these works, Hunter writes: “Art has, for too long, operated as a formal ‘response’ to the world… The realisation of Performance Art… is… a realisation of the difference between uncovering and understanding (or translating)… [T]here is no thing to understand, or put an other way, it becomes impossible not to understand everything. When art is lived, so living is art; and when living is art, so art is lived.
FADO (Paul Couillard): In your recent writing and interviews you talk about the defining line between art and actuality. Could you explain your notion of the term “actuality” and its relationship to your work?
RODDY HUNTER: I became aware of the term actuality from Alastair MacLennan, who uses the term “actuation” to describe some of his performances. Previously there has been a debate about the relationship of art to life, which brings up ideas of authenticity, of one thing being more “real”–and by extension more “important”–than some other thing. Postmodernism, though seeming at times a construction of culture in theoretical terms, has had a big impact in many areas of life. We have to take some account of that, for its implications regarding what is “real”, what is “art”, and how we recognize and differentiate one thing and another. How does it affect the cultural and societal context, where the equation “material = value” is more or less the paradigm for governmental organizations across the world? In most places we see increasing adherence to capitalist/corporatist, free market ideology. So how do we artists negotiate that situation? How do we interrogate this paradigm in our work in terms other than as subject matter? I think it’s difficult to participate in that kind of economy of representation.
The question of what human activity can be recognized as art has been crucial ever since Duchamp exhibited his urinal. Robert Lebel writes that when Duchamp’s fountain piece–which was made under the pseudonym R. Mutt–was rejected from the exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York, it wasn’t because it was signed “R. Mutt”, or even because it was a urinal. It was rejected because it resembled a urinal too closely. Since then, postmodernist thinking has pulled apart the ideas that traditionally surrounded artistry: the idea that what activities a person does makes him recognizable as an artist, the idea of the artisan, the idea of an originating creative force, etc. If artists can’t be recognized by the activities they do, then it has implications as well for Beuys’ idea of “everyone as an artist.” There are implications right across the board–societally, culturally, for education… Recognition is really an intriguing point.
FADO: Do you have a glib answer for the question “what is art?”
RODDY HUNTER: Not for the question “What is art?” I do have an answer for the question of what performance is, which came out of my Masters research. I wasn’t striving for a definition, but at the time I was beginning to pull my writing and research together from this two-year period between 1996 and 1998. Roland Miller’s work and practice continues to be of pivotal influence and interest in the development of my ideas, especially perhaps in this regard. He characterized performance art as “behaviour exaggerated or enhanced for effect, that may be derived from or result in dysfunction”–and then developed the wording further after a conversation with Ben Patterson, so he told me, to “afunctional” instead of “dysfunctional.” This has a relation to the “material = value” equation: what is functional, what is valuable, etc. Can anything elude these criteria of valorization? I was also very interested in Roland’s reading (and re-readings) of Mikhail Bakhtin, whom I think is very important in terms of performance. So at the end of my research I came up with something that said performance–and you can take that in whatever expanded conception of performance you wish–represents “means of negotiating contingent actualities, and implicit in this is a contention with apparent dualities.” An “apparent duality” would be something like art and life–things that appear to be separate. A lot of artists, young artists particularly, have problems negotiating this understanding of the relationship of art to life–which one is in the other, which one takes part in which other place, what are the implications of this representational economy, what’s the relationship between performing and acting, what’s the relationship between performance and madness–all areas that performance art practice foregrounds.
For me, to contemplate the possibility of “performance methodology” is to subvert the paradigm instantly. It’s a kind of reverse alchemy, a way of distilling lead from gold. It’s a way of dissolving value systems, of coming to an actuality: not something that is more real than something else, but something that you can’t discount or can’t wholly “read.” You can’t consume it. This is true for the artist as much as the audience, especially in duration performance. There’s a kind of struggle that goes on, a possibility. There are different conditions for dialogue, and you want to take advantage of that–but all the time you know that you’ll never be able to hold it in your hand. I think that’s why people tend to like performance, contrary to what certain politicians or academics will tell you.
We’re told that people don’t understand performance, that it’s elitist and obscure, But I’ve always found that reactions to performance are very positive when people actually get to be involved in it, and the clichés and projections of language onto the phenomenon of performance dissolve. Performance is always very heartening and intriguing because it deals with and foregrounds these human actualities. But it can also be frustrating, because it’s your only shot at doing it. You get to a situation where you think, “This is fantastic, but I can’t own it, I can’t hold onto it.” You have to learn a certain humility, perhaps.
When you leave the performance it doesn’t just go away. You’re still thinking about it, and you can’t work out why you can’t understand it. What’s required is a different type of understanding that isn’t necessarily epistemological. There’s a useful book on Ludwig Wittgenstein written by Henry Leroy Finch, who wrote that what’s important for Wittgenstein isn’t the question of what takes place in an act of knowing: it’s more what takes place in an act of meaning. How is meaning generated in a dialogue? Boris Nieslony from Germany advocates performance as meeting. It’s not wholly the onus of the artist. It’s not wholly the onus of the spectator. It’s far more like: whatever we decide to do here, within these conditions that I’ve foregrounded, is how meaning is generated.
FADO: A performance is a kind of negotiation.
RODDY HUNTER: A negotiation of contingent actualities. We have to accept certain things in our everyday life on phenomenological terms. Otherwise we’d go crazy.
FADO: What sort of things?
RODDY HUNTER: We can’t question everything we do, or we would really fuck ourselves over. If we were to sit down and really think about how our subconscious operates, how we feel about our sexuality, how we feel about desire, how things are commodified–obviously we do sit down and think about these things–but if we were to feel that in our first cup of coffee in the morning, then we’d feel completely disempowered. So we accept certain arrangements that we can work with without doing ourselves over. But performance is a place where you can have these things out. And you begin to notice that these actualities are interrelated, or rather, interdependent. There are a number of contexts in play at any one time. For example, I live in England, which is Western Europe, which is obviously in a capitalist paradigm. Then of course there’s my particular living situation–my friends, my partner, my work… It’s amazing that we manage to operate in all of these contexts in some workable way, when you think about it. And then you realize that the unhelpful aspects of living, politically and culturally, are very fragile. The acceptance of political divisions, of alienation, of estrangement etc.: you take one part of it away and the rest of it is very fragile.
I am very concerned with the politics of authoritarian morality, which is derived from puritan roots and finds constant echo in Canada and Britain and America, the common moral climate–
FADO: With regional variations–
RODDY HUNTER: With regional variations, of course, but you can point to some basic things. The law is an ass. I am of anarchist thinking: the law really doesn’t make sense. To give you an example, there’s moral deviance and legal deviance. In some places an action or a way of living can be morally deviant but not legally deviant. In another place it can be legally deviant and not morally deviant, and in another place it can just be deviant altogether. The law feeds on alienation, intimidation and fear, and this is how things are kept in order. That’s why there are a certain number of unemployed people, because the State requires it. That is why wars are fought. That is why some people are discriminated against. That’s why people can find not only some of their actions but their whole way of living criminalized. In this context, to talk about liberal democracy is ridiculous. It’s a representation of a system of participation.
With the coincidence of the elections here in Ontario taking place at the same time as my performance, I felt I would like to address that, so that we could have a performance methodology at work, which was open for people to encounter, at the same time that there was this liberal democratic capitalist corporate methodology at work. The differences between the two are very clear to see. The possibilities of the performance methodology in terms of research, in terms of praxis, in terms of politics, in terms of culture, have not even begun to be exemplified–to the extent that there’s a fear of this subversion of the paradigm. Consider Jubal Brown’s action the other day on the cenotaph with the black flag. [On the day of the provincial elections, Jubal Brown, a Toronto artist, climbed onto a war monument in front of Toronto’s Old City Hall, currently used as a courthouse, and waved a black flag to the passing traffic. Police quickly arrived to investigate and stopped the proceedings. See eye weekly “Art terrorists mock the vote” for a media account of this action.] I’ve also referred in my research to Steve Barnes from the Critical Art Ensemble playing with a toy car on Daytona Beach, and the police coming to meet this threat of an adult playing with a toy. The enforcers of the law realize the fragility of the situation, and they realize the contingency of one of these actualities on the other. We are discussing an interdependence rather than an interrelation, because interrelation and simultaneity are the key aspects of performance methodology. Performances of human activity, of artistic activity, of political activity: the simultaneous occurrence of these acts of volition is what constitutes performance that works. That’s very different from traditional corporate capitalist liberal democratic methodology, which always seeks to separate subject from object, voter from voted, etc.
FADO: You draw a parallel between your performance and the election, saying these two things are going on simultaneously. But the election is about forming a government that has specific responsibilities. What is your performance about? It’s not about the same thing, is it?
RODDY HUNTER: I try to elude and conjoin distinctions between subject matter and object matter. Of course the performance has content. But my performances don’t assume something to be subject matter, because that would be to take something and place it in a vacuum, almost like an exhibit in a vitrine in a museum. I wasn’t making a performance about the elections here or about liberal democracy, but what is implicit in the performance is a different methodological framework for dialogue, for encounter and for meeting. The performance isn’t about that; the performance is constituted by that. I make the conditions for a dialogue and then the dialogue can concern itself with whatever. I find this idea of conditions for dialogue to be very important, because this seems to be the common interest and intrigue of performance in very different types of work by very different types of artists from different influences and contexts.
Now, we were talking about the election. The government has responsibilities to corporations that determine its relationship to citizens.
FADO: Although that’s not the rhetoric.
RODDY HUNTER: No, but we see it quite clearly. We can refer to Noam Chomsky and the excellent work that he’s done in exposing the real operation of liberal democracy and the fact that it’s abusive toward its participants
FADO: Toward the people it purports to serve…
RODDY HUNTER: It’s a self-consuming, self-perpetuating representation of a system of participation, and no one’s fooled. Personally, I’ve taken the decision not to vote. I encourage people not to vote, because if you don’t vote then they’re in real trouble. They need dissent. It’s very important for the Harris government [The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario, under the leadership of Mike Harris, came to power in 1995, and was reelected in the 1999 election being discussed here.] that they are so unpopular in electoral terms in Toronto. That might sound strange, but this level of dissent is key, because it allows them to say that they have a mandate to be the government: “A lot of people voiced concerns against us, but in the end we won the debate.” There was no winning of debate. As Alexander Trocchi wrote, “revolt is understandably popular.”
FADO: What do you propose as an alternative? Obviously, you’re not saying to just shrink away.
RODDY HUNTER: I dedicate myself to performance methodology. You don’t have to have a parliament in the way that things work normally. You can live the way you want to live.
FADO: But we’re all caught up in the economic system. Even if you set up your whole life around barter, for example, you can’t help it, you’re implicated. You’re going to end up with a credit card, or–
RODDY HUNTER: Of course. Well, not of course: there are places and communities that operate on different principles.
FADO: They’re very limited
RODDY HUNTER: They’re rare, and it depends upon the relationship of any given community to how they perceive commodity and exchange, and whether exchange has a parallel in dialogue, which I’m not so sure about.
But what I’m trying to say is that voting doesn’t make a difference. Many times we’ve seen people put a lot of faith–this happened in Scotland from my own experience–into the Labour movement, into politics of community, into non-competitive ideas and “representation of the many and not the few,” as [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair always says–he’s such a traitor! But it’s impossible now for someone to be in government and have any ideas that are different from the previous government. What I’m interested in is insurrection, not a revolution. I’m interested in people having pragmatic responses to any given political situation, in the face of which these vacuous systems based on self-interest, intimidation and fear can be very clearly seen for what they are. They completely flounder in the face of integrity, of a commitment to one’s friends and fellow citizens.
Artists particularly are concerned with this. That is why artists organize themselves as much as possible, because they know that money isn’t the essential part. I’ve been invited here, and everything’s been very good; the conditions are most favourable toward the visitor making as much of the opportunity as possible, which wouldn’t come about just by giving somebody a heap of money. Of course it’s nice to be paid, to have the proper situation, but performance artists organize themselves in a non-hierarchical, rhizomorphic network, which is constituted by performances as meetings. There’s no division between subject and object matter, and so you have a radically different position than the current dominant political paradigms. Artists involved in performance art network don’t–or shouldn’t–want to imitate the recognizable offices or accoutrements of the State. We don’t need to vote on things. Boris Nieslony organized a very interesting symposium some years ago, which was a big table with chairs around it, and everybody was invited to meet at the table. The table was offered as a place. Incidentally, Richard Martel from Quebec said to me that there’s no other institution to trust but the table. It’s a different type of dialogue. I referred earlier to Alexander Trocchi. I was drawing upon his work in my performance here. He outlines very pragmatic conditions for what he calls “the insurrection of a million minds.” The State and conventional politics are in fear of this.
FADO: It sounds like there is an implicit privileging of intimate connections here. You can only get so many people around the table before it becomes a cacophony of too many voices, or there is no longer the possibility of every voice being able to express itself.
RODDY HUNTER: The invitation is open to all. It’s up to individuals whether they take up that invitation.
FADO: But you can’t have a million people at one table.
RODDY HUNTER: A million people wouldn’t act of their own volition to be there. It’s more likely that a person may express a claim or a right to be at the table, but not actually go to the table. This is a very complicated area of morality and politics. We are in a situation with corporate liberal democracy where people are dispossessed, disenfranchised, estranged, etc. A lot of people have chosen to concentrate on voicing their claims for the right to do or be something. I don’t think that’s necessarily a helpful position, because it’s twice removed from the actuality. You’re exercising your claim to the right, but you’re not exercising your right.
The invitation to the table is open. No one has a “right” to be at the table or not at the table. You come to the table. Often people will say it’s about representation. Why be represented by someone? Why not represent yourself? The State that criminalizes your life is not going to decriminalize you; they’ve already made it clear that they’re your enemy. The artist Alain Gibertie expressed very clearly–often through graffiti–that “your government hates you.” It’ll criminalize you. You can enter into a dialogue with it until eternity, saying, “I demand my right.” If you bypass that system and exercise your volition, then you’re in a different situation where you don’t wait for permission to go to the table.
There’s a strange sort of hesitancy around the question of how many people can see a live performance versus television or the internet. But we have to ask ourselves, “Is the level of engagement in representation of an artwork–for instance on the internet–sufficient?” How can performance be converted to digital code? I am personally very happy with the quality of the dialogue rather than the quantity of the dialogue. We’ve seen that here, I’m sure you’ve seen that with the other performances that you’ve programmed. Here, people can talk to the artist. And in a series that takes place over the course of a year, people start to make connections and comparisons about how one artist’s work relates to another’s. These things are key to the development of performance methodology in everyday life.
There is such a democratic deficit in everyday life that people might find performance art to bridge those feelings of alienation. People don’t have the same expectations of painting, or of what might be seen as more conventional art forms. But when it comes to something innovative that is powered or catalyzed by a different methodology, people will ask, “How many people can see that?” Or, “Why didn’t you address this problem or that situation?” Those can be very pertinent questions, but you often say to yourself, “Well, I’m making this one performance. Why criticize the performance instead of the State?” It’s common for people to make false comparisons, like “this artwork cost this amount of money and here’s a picture of a person who can’t have a hip replacement operation.” This is a very–I was going to say evil but I can’t; I don’t believe in good and evil–a very malevolent, unhelpful comparison.
FADO: Yet those are exactly the kinds of polarities that the corporate system is constantly making.
RODDY HUNTER: To turn people against art.
FADO: The choice is a) the hip replacement, or b) the art. It’s a mode of thinking that certain conservative politicians have been trying to construct.
RODDY HUNTER: Not only conservative politicians: any liberal democratic administration will perpetuate these same things. This has been happening to an increased extent, certainly in England since the [Margaret] Thatcher era.
[Pause: Roddy was headed for the airport, so the interview continued during the drive.]
FADO: You’ve done a whole body of work over the last several years where duration was one of the defining elements. I’m wondering what your thoughts on duration are. What interests you about it, and why have you been using it? Are you moving away from it? Is it still important?
RODDY HUNTER: Time is a material of performance. All performance models have a dependence on a certain time scale. If you go to the theatre or the cinema, you have an expectation that perhaps this event–event’s an important aspect–will last for maybe one hour and a half to two hours.
FADO: Those forms are often constructed as entertainment, as something that can be consumed very easily.
RODDY HUNTER: Performance resists commodification. People are anxious for linearity, for a causal efficacy. Of course, people are not misinformed or foolish to ask what happened at the end of a durational performance, what happened at the beginning, and how did they relate. It’s in our consciousness, our way of perceiving phenomena. This goes back to the questions of what do you perceive to be art, what do you perceive to human activity broadly, etc. Duration is a way of dissolving this categorization of activity in relation to time, to commodification, etc. So it would seem to be a very useful place to begin to question the models of articulating performance. When you question existing models, different activities or performances are generated. With duration, you’re taking a bit of a risk, because the process is the key element. What is being foregrounded is the possibility that things can change, that they can be altered.
With duration, you remove a categorization of time and an axiomatic relationship with event that predicates a certain type of response from a viewer. If you dissolve those categorizations, then we’re all in a different situation. Things aren’t necessarily assured, Material takes different forms. Material migrates between forms. You might end up being very honest with yourself about some things that you normally wouldn’t consider. It requires, again, a certain humility in accepting this lack of assuredness. That’s why it’s a very interesting form to work with.
I began to make durational performance as soon as I began to make performance, without knowing that there were other artists who had worked in this way. I also now make shorter performances, but the duration performances are always the locus of the laboratory. Whether that process is in public or in private is an interesting question that I have to ask myself now, but I can envisage that I will continue to make durational performances in public.
FADO: Is there something important about duration in terms of the way you feel doing it, in terms of what that long haul–not sleeping, not eating, whatever the factors are–requires of you? I find that there are particular resistances or problems that come up as a result of doing this type of performance that end up becoming defining elements.
RODDY HUNTER: I’m not so sure whether they’re defining elements of not. For me, details such as whether you ate or not, whether you slept or not, whether you talked to people or not, aren’t so important–unless an artist is particularly foregrounding their physical situation of being in the performance, and that might be very important in a methodological approach. Different artists have different ways. But it’s not an act of suffering. It’s not, for me, an ordeal or an endurance. It’s far more of a luxury. It’s a privilege. We have to remember that artists volunteer to do this. It brings up another important question about art practice, and that is, ” Are artists compelled to be creative?” Gustav Metzger initiated an art strike where he refused to make art for three years [see “ART STRIKE 1977-1980”]. This was aimed at the gallery system of commodification of art, but to me it was also about the artist’s refusal of creativity. You’re not compelled to make art. The work should not be assessed on the basis that this person did this for 36 hours and therefore it must have some value. These traditional ideas–of ordeal, guilt, suffering, flagellation, purification–are very religious ideas stemming from puritan values. They may or may not have a place in the performance depending on the individual artist. Of course when you begin to experiment with these models of creativity, things change, and you feel a certain pain–I’m sure the audience does as well–but the point isn’t the pain. That’s just a temporary, transitional thing. FADO: But don’t you think it can also be a catalyst for whatever it is you’re trying to achieve or research?
RODDY HUNTER: If you have in your mind the outcome of dissolving timeframes, of dissolving traditional ways of thinking and doing, of dissolving the split between thinking and doing, then the pain–the physical discomfort or inconvenience involved in this relocation or displacement–is a symptom. It’s an indication that it’s happening. In itself, I don’t think it’s a catalyst for my work. Of course there are physical effects on the body. One becomes very aware of one’s ontology, of one’s consciousness, but it’s the displacement that makes this situation arise.
FADO: I’m interested in the rules we choose for ourselves. I am presenting a premise as a curator: that each of the performances in this series will last a minimum of twelve hours. I offer one constraint as a starting point. Then each artist decides what to do with that. As you said, artists choose their own parameters. No one is saying you can or can’t eat, or sleep. What’s interesting is what each artist chooses as his or her parameters, because it’s when we come up against our own resistance, in that struggle, that meaning is generated.
RODDY HUNTER: You and I have had conversations about the twelve-hour stipulation. I’m not convinced of the necessity of a minimum duration, which sets apart a particular time and says, “Beyond this time something different begins to happen.”
FADO: It’s a question that I have. Is it true that beyond this time something begins to happen?
RODDY HUNTER: All performances have a duration. A performance that draws upon time as a material can be ten second long or an hour and a half long or whatever length of time. The beginning of the performance and the end of the performance in relation to everyday life is of course a very interesting point. The conversation after the performance with someone, the conversation in the performance with someone: what is the qualitative difference between the two? Of course I empathize with your curatorial situation and I’m very heartened that you’ve chosen to work toward giving specific conditions over to durational performance. I understand that the twelve-hour stipulation is there to foreground longer durational work, but that’s not the only work that uses time as a material. It’s not even swinging between polarities of saying a performance of one second or a performance of 144 hours. I’m more interested in drawing upon time as a material, actual time, as opposed to working with the categorization of time into minutes and hours: hence, the eventuality we arrived at of a 36-hour public framework for performances of indefinite duration. This was the interesting dialogue that emerged, which provided for yet another model of performance. It’s important, because we’re having a situation here in Toronto for this year where the specific concerns of performance and duration are being addressed critically, theoretically and actually. Discussions between curators and artists can generate new forms of performance, which is an absolutely crucial element. Otherwise, it would be a museum-like approach of taking what’s already done or predicating a certain type of activity over another.
FADO: One of the things I find frustrating in North America, particularly now, is that even in spaces that were traditionally performance friendly, the agenda of “financial viability” has created a situation where venues are telling artists, “We’re only interested in presenting work where we can charge an admission.” It’s very constraining.
RODDY HUNTER: All contexts have their constraints. If one can limit the constraints of what Alastair MacLennan has referred to as “a confining context” and negotiate within that context, then it’s always possible for credible and articulate modes of performance to emerge. It’s important for all curators to consider the implications of the choices they’re making, but it’s also up to people to make their own scene. In order for a rhizomorphic network to exist, it is crucial to make where you are. Your activities have to constitute the situation where you are in order to constitute a network. Making something for a context, one has to remember that the performance changes the context.
Peggy Phelan provided quite a helpful analogy when she discussed the relationship of performance to documentation of performance, and likened it to the situation of microbiologists who have to use more and more sophisticated microscopic equipment. The microscopic equipment has to emit a certain level of radiation, which actually alters the thing they’re trying to see. They’re seeing microorganisms that it wasn’t possible to see before, but the implications of discovering them is such that they change them irrevocably. So the scientists have to try to quantify the amount that looking at the specimen has changed the specimen in order to make a projection of what the specimen was like before it was seen.
In the same way, a performance engages in contexts and changes the context. It’s very important for me to be aware that the context will be affected and therefore I have a certain responsibility. Sometimes I might choose to articulate that responsibility through purposefully changing the context, making performances that change the context more than the context changes the performances, but it’s not a linear relationship. What I am currently very interested in is the prospect of mataxis, “the process of the participation of one world within another”, which is how as described by Augusto Boal. Mikhail Bakhtin discussed the situation of answerability, of an action being answerable in the world of culture and in the world of life. In the same way that we experience pain when we are displaced from normal time frames, we experience a pain in trying to come to terms with different worlds or different milieus of perception, of conception and of activity. So how do we solve that? Bakhtin says that for an action to be answerable, the world of culture–where we make all of our decisions that we give so much attention–has to participate within the world life–the place where we actually live. Then the theoretical and aesthetic will participate within the world of life, but of course no longer in theoretical or aesthetic terms. What’s interesting there is the matter of recognition. The theoretical and the aesthetic are inherent in the performance, but they do not have to be recognized as such for them to exist. It’s a matter of visibility.
FADO: Some artists want to privilege that aspect of what they are doing, to foreground the aesthetics, while other artists find that much less important. Maybe they want to highlight a message, or —
RODDY HUNTER: If the performance is recognized as art, then it makes things a little easier for the artist. We come back to those workable assumptions we make in our everyday life. If you organize a performance by an artist in an artistic context, then you can say, “OK, this is art, OK, I can go with that for the time being.” But whether that recognition exists or not, the performance shifts between something that can be recognized as art and something that might not be recognized as art–I mean immediately or consciously–and this brings us back to Duchamp and the problem of any phenomenon being recognized as art. If art itself is to be recognized to have value, then art is able to be reconciled with the system of quantification, which is the commodification of capital, the art market etc. So if you ask these very difficult questions of the way of making art, then you’re going to expect some problems in translation for yourself, and you have to deal with a situation where someone might not think what you’re doing has a particular value. The problem of recognition and translation can be painful. Like any form of translation, it’s usually tantamount to a form of betrayal, which causes more pain. It’s a very complex, sometimes even psycho-pathologic situation that an artist contends with in working in the public sphere. I think that’s why individual members of the public find it intriguing when they experience it firsthand, rather than through secondhand phenomena that they can make certain projections and assumptions about.
FADO: In some cases, having one’s work recognized as art can be very unhelpful for the artist, because it means there’s a whole set of things being done that will not be seen. As soon as you have a context, it determines what will or won’t be seen, whether or not it exists in the actuality of the event.
RODDY HUNTER: That’s right. It’s possible that one phenomenon or action can be privileged over another solely for the purpose of reinforcing some idea or abstraction of art, rather than a working actuality of art, which is what I am more interested in.
TIME TIME TIME presented works ranging from 12 hours to several days. Ritual, endurance, attention span, community-building, altering states of consciousness, boundaries between public and private, narrative, linearity and transformation were explored in the series by artists presenting their compelling, urgent visions of ourselves and our world at the end of the 20th Century.
Presented by FADO in cooperation with Le Lieu in Québec City, as a satellite event of Le Lieu’s Rencontre internionale d’art performance et multimédia. This event was organized and curated by Sandy McFadden with the support of Istvan Kantor and Paul Couillard.
Paul Couillard (Toronto)
Ed Johnson (Toronto)
Istvan Kantor (Toronto)
Louise Liliefeldt (Toronto)
Richard Martel (Québec)
Julie Andrée T. (Québec)
Roddy Hunter (UK)
Tari Ito (Japan)
Dziugas Katinas (Lithuania)
Gustav Uto (Romania)
Hong O Bong (Korea)
Irma Optimist (Finland)
Hortensia Ramirez (Mexico)
André Stitt (N. Ireland)
This fragrance opens us to the question, has the show started? It's winter, the theatre is colder than the street and the room is filled with people and all their winter smells: wet faux leather, down, too much shampoo, and beer breath. The atmosphere is a trickster. Am I late, am I early?
yellow mandarin, mimosa
honey, chamomile, salt
narcissus, guaiac wood, piss, beer