Neo Dada

Klein's hands selecting a sky frame.

In order to perform an action and make room for an event, we cannot rely on the immaterial. The immaterial may be made present but it is not present. To make present is not the same as to represent, since that which is represented is actually absent.

Representing is about replacement while making present is about allusion.

An oft-repeated quote by Yves Klein is: “with the void, full powers” (“avec le vide, les pleins pouvoirs”). Void is the spatial and existential condition for the immaterial to be made present. Again, it is important to reflect upon the way in which Klein invokes or alludes to the void because he actually performs a certain kind of action and makes room for an event.

To tag Klein as a “Neo Dadaist” is problematic. He was a co-founder of Neo-Realism (Nouveau Réalisme), theoretically articulated by Pierre Restany. At first sight, Dada and realism do not seem synonymous but let us look closer. New-Realism is about devoiding or deconditioning the gaze and making it ready to perceive something that has not happened yet; or to trace something past. Examples of this are the rain recordings performed by Klein while driving a car at 70mph and letting it rain on the canvas.

The Neo-Realist program plays on new linguistic values, and this is where we find a relation to Neo Dada. If Dada, as its babble-like name suggests, is about playful or seemingly naïf approaches to speech, Neo Dada takes on that to relate perception to intervention. What I am trying to suggest is that an artistic project such as Neo Dada is performative in at least two ways: 1) its drive to intervene upon reality; 2) the non-representative style that many mistake by arty eccentricity. Just look at Yves.

This is another important feature of subversive movements such as Dada and surrealism. One can hardly say that the concentration it takes to be in tune with reality allows for eccentricity, at least in the etymological sense. Concentration in a speaking body is the quality of lying at one’s own center, i.e. meditatio in Latin, while eccentricity refers to a position outside the center. Meditatio in turn allows for actualitas, the Latin word for the present reality.

An important -and still governing- distinction taken on by key German philosophers Hegel and Heidegger was introduced by 13th century Dominican Meister Eckhart, who translated actualitas as Wirklichkeit (reality). The difference between Wirklchkeit and Realität is arguably the one we deal with in performance art when we identify some given objects as parts of reality that may be treated as causes. When I identify such an object from a “middle position” (say: meditation or non-eccentricity), I adhere to the kind of intelligence that guides me towards desire. Is it intution? Is it something else?

Performance is ultimately born out of the wish to complete or go further in a necessary direction; and Neo Dada found its own way of making room for that wish in extremely concise and effective ways.

Klein's hands selecting a sky frame.
Klein’s hands selecting a sky frame.

Heavy Materialists

Half century after the publication of Jacques Derrida’s On Grammatology, Speech and Difference, and Writing and Difference (1967), three founding texts of deconstructionism, it is time for an obituary.

When I attended the Literary Theory classes on the last year of my graduation, I read its main popes, from Paul de Man to Geoffrey Hartman, and Algeria-born Jewish philosopher Jacques Derrida. I believed I was a deconstructionist too. I ranked first among the course, which had nothing to do with my brilliance: the thing was I got to write in the manner of Derrida, therefore concealing my own style, my own voice, my own difference.

This was double nonsense: on one hand, I embodied the belief that writing was not representative of speaking, but instead it had a semiotic value of its own – but I was giving up my written voice; on the other hand, I was fascinated by the critical flavor of the whole thing and I read Limited Inc. (a nefarious paradigm of intellectual dishonesty against John Searle) with about the same sadistic delight someone might found in watching their team humbling a rival. Not the most critical attitude, I suppose.

Things eventually went wilder as I kept writing in the manner of Derrida, or so was I persuaded, until an outstanding teacher and co-director of my MA told me I should not write as if I was Derrida because I was not Derrida. This conversation took place only a few months before the philosopher was diagnosed with pancreas cancer, so everyone including myself still had the opportunity to hate him without feeling guilty or ashamed. I took my chances and decided to read the indigestible Glas. When I saw the Galilée edition, whose square shape made it stood out from the other books of the same publisher, so that the double column might fit in the page, I remember thinking quite naively that everyone who writes a book should have the right to choose the format of the object. However, my naiveté had to do with the actual possibilities of providing for such diversity; it did not have to do with the importance of the work’s materiality – which is another way of saying presence, although they are not synonymous.

So now, fifty years after On Grammatology was published, it is worth noting that it was, in the first place, an unsuccessful doctoral thesis. The director was certainly not to blame: Maurice de Gandillac, a brilliant scholar and professor at the Sorbonne for more than thirty years, directed the first monographs or theses by Lyotard, Althusser, Foucault, among others. Guess what happened to Gandillac? In 2005, the year after the Derrida’s death, he published Bestiaire latéral, a poetry book, with textique founder Jean Ricardou (who died in 2016). Textique, according to Daniel Bilous, is a “heavy materialism” – not to be mistaken by a moral judgment of consumerism; it is a rigorous call to what is present and a consequential refusal of all things metaphysical or assigning equivalent status to representation and presence. Representation and presence are not equivalent. Metaphysics is always about representation. Presence is the experience of matter and volume.

Performance art is much closer to the materialist regime of textique than to the embarrassing religiosity of the deconstructionists. The performance artist lives in the world, is part of the world, and can only deal with matter, its properties and its incompleteness. Doing is unbelieving.

The Birth of Francesc Oui

Just born.

(First meal.)

It’s the faces of those you love most the ones that get erased.

(Empty bed.)

I have some truly good friends, people who do not judge me for isolated actions, who offer me a ride from the hospital. Back home though, I can tell the way things started. I am an angel of doom. Or at least I was one. How could someone fall in love with me?

When I used to say my performances would be done only once, it made you feel special when you attended one. All of you. Because you knew it would not be repeated. Well, I just gave birth to myself and believe me: this won’t happen anymore. I mean anymore.

Who told us we should live fast and die young? We love slow. And there’s no use in dying young anymore.

There is a little reindeer hanging on the door, reminding me that I am hanging on too, halfway between stillness and struggle. But in days like these, standing still is a matter of struggle. Needless to say I don’t care whether I struggle with my own strength, by my own will or with my own blood. After all, there is already so much blood from someone else running through my veins.

When I was a kid, I had strange suspicions. When I was told my blood type was A negative, I found it quite suspicious. Chances that the people I lived with were actually my parents were 1/16. But I had also been told that God was my father. What’s the use in having a father you cannot trust?

I was told I was a boy and that I should behave as one. I am only faithful to my curiosity and loyal to my Chosen Family. I don’t believe in boys or girls but I do believe in the beauty of surprising yourself as you become who you are.

Being is not something natural. Being is very much like art. The first coming into life is a trauma. So we are worth a second coming: a Be-Coming.

It’s hard to start from scratch, find new words, live beyond fear. But as I let myself be taken care of, I recognize the ones who love me. And if I love Möm and Däd it’s because I don’t have to. Möm is not the usual mother. Möm and I embraced a peculiar relationship where there is no womb other than the slight anxiety of waiting. We wait together because what we are waiting for is full of intention and wonder.

There is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.” (Charles Sanders Peirce)

If we want to change a meaning, we have to change a practice first. Sometimes the more you practise the less meaningful you are. Be spontaneous, make mistakes. Being wrong makes us true.

The first time we are born, we cannot be witnesses. Doesn’t it feel wrong not to witness your own birth? So I needed this second birth, I needed to Be-come, and I wanted you to know this. I want to tell everyone that now I have a name I chose, that I don’t believe in gender, that I am a performer, and you are free to decide whether you will ignore me or feel the urge to fuck yourself too and give birth to a New You.

Heritage is a drug. It may be inspiring or exhilarating. But it is always intoxicating. To inherit goods or money does not necessarily make us wealthier. Family burden is passed on. Engagements and expectations are passed on. Karma or whatever puts boundaries on you is passed on. Heritage is poison. Gift is the antidote.

I am not a descendant of the Shoah but there is definitely some Sephardic curse upon me. There is no use in going through so much pain. I believed art would soothe me and then I would soothe other people but no one seems to care.

When you’re tired, rest is all you wish for. We are all tired now. This is why the earth will not stand us much longer. It will become a forgotten grave, a tiny little womb in the middle of the universe.

No matter how tiny the world is, there is something priceless about the feeling of waking up and thinking of all the possibilities left to explore. In some cold nights, I toss and turn until I realize that the moon is still there, white as milk. And it feels like a promise.

Join me in my new life. It’s happening now.

Photography: Yelena Cvejic