On Learning and Mishna

Picasso painting ceramics.

“We’re all creatives here, we’re all born artists. Some people are artists of business, some people are artists of composition.” -Kanye West lecturing at Oxford University.

Since my early childhood I was immersed in rites and traditions that had an impact on my learning experience. Very often, religious education was a matter of indoctrination: a rather acritical acquisition of a given worldview. Since I was led to believe I was a heir of that tradition, I was also made responsible of keeping its particular truth alive, regardless of my disconnection from a truth I could not behold.

To believe, you don’t have to see anything; something must happen instead. Believing out of indoctrination can be volatile and dangerous. Such beliefs do not belong to you; you cannot truly embody them. You don’t believe in something you’re passionate about. You believe that which you understand because it can become part of you.

True learning is believing. It has to do with unfolding your own possibilities through guided practice. A guide does not have to be a teacher. It can be a book or any other object or event that puts something else in place, or some form of otherness. No other will ever reveal your truth. Truth is that which makes sense to you as a singular human being, so do not expect sense to come from someone else; but since learning requires a guide or reference, do not pretend to find sense by yourself either.

I found a synthesis to these apparently contradictory theses in that very place of contradiction which is the encounter. A madrich, someone who studies and practices Mishna, found my teaching experience to be an embodiment of some of its main principles. In turn, I found the madrich’s understanding of learning to embody the truth of my practice as an artist guiding the artist in other people. As Pablo Picasso once put it, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

10 Things I Have Learnt From Teaching

  • Listening -not teaching- makes the teacher.
  • The way to knowledge is inside the learner as a ball of string.
  • There is no lack of knowledge; there are needs to know.
  • Teachers don’t have maps; they will show you how to find yours.
  • One person, one truth: accept diversity and you’ll be wiser.
  • Pointless is meaningless. Have a purpose. (This is also true for improvisation.)
  • To be spontaneous, let the whole body think.
  • A life grounded in rituals is a life with a ground.
  • Why not? guides creation. What if? guides change.
  • We know nothing until we can share it.
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Holocaust

Sacrifice, from the Latin sacer facere, means to make sacred. Sacred means set apart, separated. In The Idea of the Sacred, Rudolf Otto identifies it with the non-rational, while Mircea Eliade relates it in a non-opposing way to the profane. To make sacred has a strong kinship with the object of performance art, which is to do in presence. To perform requires that the artist sets theself apart and somehow consecrates an action to another. It is indeed an offertory, and as such it is worth a price as high as its symbolic transcendence. It is not a real transcendence though; price is convention just like any other linguistic convention, and its economy may be subject to speculation just like any other theology.

When you set something apart from you, that consecration allows you to recall that nothing belongs to you. When you set yourself apart from the others in a consciously manner such as a performance action, you offer yourself to consecration, and you therefore recall the other, who may be a collective intelligence, that neither you belong to them, nor does anyone belong to anyone else. One cannot be someone else’s property. This is why slavery and every form of exploitation is a perversion. This is why rape, torture, molestation, and every sort of abuse and violence is a perversion, and I will say even consensual abuse because I believe consensus to be a form of violence upon the dissent that is intrinsic to the reality of separate bodies.

I’ve been suggesting that under certain circumstances I found us, sometimes two of us, sometimes three, to be one continuous body. I even tried to reproduce that awareness while working with teams in creativity workshops. I could only find that continuity is possible to perceive insofar there is an attentive, unprejudiced, and respectful recognition of the presence, dignity and unreachability of the other. Not being reachable is not a property of theological objects or, if you prefer, metaphysical entities. The other is not within my reach, and my otherness too is out of reach for me. I need the other to be myself reachable. I need the flesh of the other to feel mine as continuity beyond myself.

If Hebrew commandments had it that you should do offerings and even sacrifice animals to god, something that can only be understood in a non-rational context of moral speculation, it was because the sacrifice is a reminder of the un-property of things created, including human beings who sacrifice goats and doves. The Shoah is so called because it was an excessive, atrocious, and unnecessary sacrifice, and one of the peaks of human perversion. The ones who performed that Holocaust set apart in ineffably violent ways a part of the humanity they belonged to. It is a mistake to dehumanize the aggressor because it exposes a drive for assimilation and annihilation that is a sacred part of the human. It is that hideous sacred part of us that we should sacrifice, or separate from us, or exorcize before any attempt to offer something that is not our property.

Suicide too is a perversion, although probably a lesser one, since it is the setting apart of oneself from being and a consecration to nothingness. However, it is also a violence that I hope would never be necessary.

Anti Warhol

After the conceptual revolution caused by Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, a work that moves artistic value away from the object towards the conceptual frame that grants it a new meaning, Andy Warhol became another milestone in art history by appropriating cultural icons and branded consumption goods. This new overthrow defines the core of pop art.

Anti Warhol is a tribute to the intricate affair between art and market as Andy Warhol inaugurated it. His Eating a Hamburger is reinterpreted within the codes of video performance, i.e. a performance artwork with a conceptual purpose that looks for the camera as a first witness and mediator of a multifocal, diversified, and potentially uniform gaze.

One-shot follows the idea shared by Lotman and Pasolini that links film editing to death. This is why the shot combines two basic elements: the performer’s face, with an emphasis on the mouth –reduced to a consumption function– and the neutral gaze, returning the camera its hollow subjectivity; and the hamburger, a metonymy of a world that is yours to buy and ready to be swallowed, evoking momentarily a sacred form, naively profaned.

Secondary elements such as the ketchup bottle, the table, or the torso, have been sacrificed in favour of a more iconic composition. A cathode TV screen with static was added though, in a gesture complicit with Cronenberg’s Videodrome –hence the 1440 x 1080 format– as well as the low-definition look John Fiske baptised as video low, whose “authentic” quality adds that hyperrealist layer that wraps all the goods that are made to be longed for.

Stuffed with subliminal references and tender ambiguities, the video is begging to be looped just like any other message or product that is as necessary as dispensable. Such an unstable and playful Real makes being anti-Warhol as urgent as going back to Andy Warhol.

Anti Warhol, 2017
Video performance, 4:12 min loop
Color / Sound
Format 1440 x 1080
Only in authorized venues. No. of hard copies available: 2
For sales and inquiries, please contact mail@francescoui.com
Produced for LOOP Discover Barcelona
GPS Lois Productions

Do not be fooled by Visibility

Do you remember OutRage!, those queer-minded Brits who outed lots of individuals from their hypocritical closets of sexual orientation? OutRage! forced visibility upon those shying away from coming out because they were aware that despite all the cocky bullies, parents evicting their own children from home, the vicious morality of hating your neighbour, and despite the institutional complicity with homophobia –and transphobia, and misogyny, and transphobia–, visibility was the weapon they had to use, no doubt a double-edged sword but still the only way to social recognition and normalization of sexual difference.

I had to come out several times in my life: as a gay man among my family of blood; as a Jew among nearly anti-Semitic friends; as a secular, leftist Jew among religious Jews; as an artist. Hell, yes. Time and again, I have to come out as an artist. It’s not that it is shameful; it’s just that it is deemed worthless. Art as a practice is generally seen as a useless activity, with no valuable contribution to the economy. I could challenge the emphasis on economy –which is so overpriced by the way– but this time I will play the market game and tell you fellow artists why does art matter to the economy, and why you should come out meaning you should be putting a price tag on every single work you do, if you are not doing it already.

I am not doing it already. And that’s because of some of the most glamorous slave-makers these days: art curators. By art curators I mean anyone who is responsible for making decisions regarding who makes it to an art festival, a gallery, a museum, or any other venue or medium (think of the irrelevant Frieze). Most of them happen to be ignorant about art, but there’s something worse than being an art curator and being ignorant about art –although you wouldn’t expect any commercial not to know what is they’re selling. Besides, they basically want to make money. Forget about cost-efficiency, low budget, no budget at all, the crisis, and all the blablabla. For art curators, be them self-employed or paid slaves too, the only thing those people care about is pretending to have a cultural status and a level of literacy they usually do not have, good taste they cannot buy, and creative sophistication that is worth money. Lots of money. Otherwise, why would they be so interested in value for money? Nice cheap art. Is that what you do?

There is a point where every art curator or anyone doing such job will justify that your work cannot be paid the way you know it deserves, or even that it is not worth a single penny, because you will be given Visibility. Oh please let me have a Capital orgasm: VISIBILITY. Are you sure you want to be given visibility by someone who actually despises your work to the point of pretending that all your talent and time you have invested in it beforehand is not worth a fair payment? I am talking about a fair payment not in terms of use value; fairness in art is paying for that which is priceless, so if you believe in the art you are making or doing, do make sure the only one who will be given visibility is that shameless, ignorant, despicable art curator. And yes, we shall out those slave-makers until their ears start bleeding.

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

Call me stupid

In 16th century Seville in Spain and, much later, in 19th century Tarragona, different communities received the same designation –alumbrados, which means “struck by light”. The religious overtones of their particular social rule put them under persecution of the Catholic Church, and their leaders on trial and then exile.

This is explained and celebrated by protofascist revisionist Menéndez y Pelayo in his infamous History of the Spanish Heterodox. His Inquisitorial zeal and unashamed bias won him a nomination to a Nobel Prize and the admiration of many academicians, encumbered by the dedication of a university in his hometown, Santander.

Set aside a common religious source, we are dealing with two different kinds of stupidity here. Alumbrados is an etymological synonym to “the stupid ones”. Stupid means stupefied, struck by wonder, anesthetized, made numb. They are said to have sought refuge in more loose a social norm while benefitting from the spiritual creativity and relative sexual freedom enacted by the mystical zeitgeist. Indeed, 15th to 16th century Iberia witnessed a heterodox peak, a God-baby boom tragically misinterpreted and decimated by a criminal and deeply corrupt Catholic hierarchy. Menéndez y Pelayo is a modern representative of this second sort of stupidity. The alumbrados’ was, at worst, a self-inflicting one, whereas the protofascist’s was downright persecutory.

This is the difference between community and institution.

The Catholic, to name only one of the most perverse and chameleonic human organizations, has traditionally arranged for the systematic suppression of the subject under transcendent excuses (the will of god, salvation, universal truth), while universities tend to occupy a part of that space with ideological ones (the need for accreditation of knowledge, sacralisation of the scientific, social prestige). The university has helped substitute class struggle for individual and corporate competitiveness; it has sanctified merit and quantifiable value. But the corporation is not a community. Value does not equal money, not profit, not academic excellence. Science does not mean truth, nor does it mean that religion has been overcome.

The primitivism of persecution and execution of the other is not only more lively in the spirits; it has been empowered by technology and surveillance, and removing it from the realm of the civilized by identifying it with the other, the foreigner, the terrorist, cannot but forge a stupefied army of fun people eager to be useful, lawful, incapable of compassion. This is what we call psychopaths.

Google co-founder Larry Page about Google co-founded Singular University:
Google co-founder Larry Page about Google co-founded Singular University: “If I were a student, this is where I would want to be.” Really? (Photo: Singularity U.)

The Singularity University, an ambitious project launched by NASA and Google, proudly states the inefficiency of accreditation and examination while it charges its own alumbrados stupid sums for its programs (back in 2013, a student reported to Forbes paying $25K for a 10-week something in Computer Science). But it is even more proud of “using technology to solve the big world issues in less than 20 years”. That’s salvation, stupid!

Vom Wesen des Grundes 2

Alex Pallí, "Happening" (Happening series). 2010. Acrilic on canvas 146x114.

Mystagogy is the introduction to something one cannot or should not speak. We can say it is an initiation to a mystery. Dystopia is the opposite of utopia and it often means a fiction about an undesirable future. But it does not have to be fictional, undesirable, and it is not necessarily about the future.

A mystagogic dystopia is a latent truth that becomes present in an unexpected way.

I am aware that I shall not remain at the center: my body is only worth seeing because it may facilitate the vision of things that are not visible.
______
Performance art does not seek an audience; it is not a show. It is an action. It is the performer who performs the action but being a performance depends on it being witnessed. Witnesses make the performance.

Performance is art because it makes invisible things become visible. This was Paul Klee’s idea of art too. We could draw on moral lessons or conclude that war is art too because it makes our hatred visible. Then I would say we do see our own hatred but sometimes we prefer to keep it to ourselves. It is a simple thing to hate secretly. Hatred is free, while love implies knowledge.
______
I wish that Vom Wesen des Grundes will not be an update to the homonymous essay by Martin Heidegger, or a study about the position a performer occupies in space, or a dialogue with one of the most relevant painters of our country. It will be all these things together and, if chance is in, it will also be an initiation in the art of not believing in anything in particular.

I could thank some people I admire and love for the conversations, complicities and revelations during the last two weeks but since they know who they are, I refrain from sharing publicly something that we do in privacy with some much pleasure.

Vom Wesen des Grundes

Alex Pallí, "Happening" (Happening series). 2010. Acrilic on canvas 146x114.
Alex Pallí, "Happening" (Happening series). 2010. Acrilic on canvas 146x114.
Alex Pallí. 2010. Acrilic on canvas 146×114.

“Performance is the messianic form of euthanasia I chose.”

By this statement I make as a part of my biography, I testify that my next action is motivated by a need and a decision: the need to die well and the decision to show that the messiah is not someone chosen by god but rather the ones who have such desire and indeed see that possibility in themselves.

The messiah is a mediator between worlds and eras that come together in works such as some paintings by Alex Pallí.

The mediator emerges as a Third person, someone who bears witness:

“At the beginning of testament and testicle there is the idea of third. While this seams logical for a testament that is authenticated by a third (other than its author and its beneficiary), how shall we think thirdness in the case of the testicles, the twin organs? (…) Testament and testicle come from the Latin testis, which means witness. The testament was an oral declaration before the comitia calata, a religious Roman assembly witnessed by the people. The testicle (testiculus) was a little witness of virility (…). And so the one who testifies draws his name from being the third in relation to the two protagonists.” (Odon Vallet, Le honteux et le sacré)

In the Christian tradition, “the Christ is the mediator of a new testament” (Hebrews 9,15), in reference to the Hebrew tradition, where the Torah tablets are also named testament: “You shall put in the ark the tablets of the covenant law, which I will give you” (Exodus 25, 16). However, in the oaths of Abraham and Israel, one literally testifies upon the testicles: “the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham” (Genesis 24, 2), “Jacob called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt” (Genesis 47, 29).

How important is the role of the witness to grant truth authority, to make it credible? The anonymous author of the Apocalypse takes on the identity of the apostle John while using the Greek word “martyria” which means testimony: “in the Apocalypse (…) the subject of testimony (martyria) is bound to the prophetic quality of the message. (…) The testimony must bear witness of what has been seen and heard in order to communicate its prophetic meaning and enact a response of faith.” (Traduction Œcuménique de la Bible, note to Ap. 1,2).

In a post-god world –soon to be post-human– what are we to bear witness to? Isn’t prophetic meaning a fraud? In Wozu Dichter…? (What Are Poets For?), written during World War II, Martin Heidegger suggests: “Perhaps the world’s night is now approaching its midnight. (…) Poets are the mortals who (….) sense the trace of the fugitive gods.” Now that midnight is past and we don’t know what’s the time, art might sense our own traces as they fade into information.