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.

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Masochism?

During some performances, some witnesses identify with a sense of risk or pain they suppose me to feel –regardless of what is actually going on. Sometimes, they come to thank me and then express empathy and even sympathy and compassion for myself. This is most often because the nature of the action that has been undertaken cannot be easily conceptualized or somehow resists commonsense rationale.

After Europa, an action whose motivation I declared from the beginning as being related to the widely uninformed willingness to welcome Syrian refugees at European homes, several people showed commotion for my bare analogy between bodily and national borders, and even concern for my voluntary exposure. I am not sure whether they had grasped the fact that the action was aimed at our own lack of empathy, hospitality, awareness and humanity whatsoever, and that the body is not as much a material for an artistic expression as it is the very locus of speech and the center of a politics that takes actual subjects into account. Instead, I guess some of them felt reassured in the classical, rather neutral position of the spectator because a group of them identified my action with Marina Abramović’s Rhythm O.

Such identification is not striking in itself: hers is one of the most famous and quoted performances; but it draws my attention that witnesses quote it in order to get rid of the power they, as witnesses, have to appropriate themselves of my action and replicate it in so many ways, such as reinterpreting it, repeating it for the sake of pleasure (as to revisit a trauma), changing their minds about migration policies or any other policy that affects them, or making a decision of not to change at all. You may say such power is a burden. I would agree with you. You may say such power bears similarities with the power of a slave, without whom the master’s supremacy loses its object and efficiency. I would say that the power of the witnesses –which they won’t confess or will keep for themselves– has the exciting quality of being masochistic voyeurs in the double sense that they believe that what they are witnessing is primarily someone suffering (a negative jouissance), and that they are allowed an identification with that ideal pain thanks to the participation of their gaze in a space made safe by the artistic speech frame.

This is, in my opinion, the reason for such widespread misunderstanding of physically borderline performances –seemingly or actually– such as Abramović’s famous Rhythm O, as shown in a recent article published in the Smithsonian.

The burden of the performer’s subjective narrative is an important part of his material because it informs the structure of thought that belies the intended action and it conditions the way in which she deals with the unpredictable. To misinterpret one’s own feelings towards an action and the emotions and associations it may trigger for the performer’s own experience is the kind of empiricist misconception that supports the predominating model of observation. This model is the ground for the old scientific model that still prevails, and the cognitive paradigm that prevents each one of us from suspending the things we have been taught. We do not know; instead, we believe we know.

Masochism is to believe that we know while ignoring it is a belief.

Pieces of art

How right is it to talk about art pieces in performance art? What is the difference between a work of art and a piece of art? Is the difference it refers to conceptual or material? Is an action an object? If so, what kind of object is it? This is not to ask what kind of objects it may produce, nor what kind of object relations it enacts or recalls, but I will try to answer these two questions in order to exclude false hypotheses.

In the case of objects, following an article by Noah Charney in Salon, I take Ulay and JAŠA as a paradigm for performance art becoming collectible, that is to say, producing its own marketable, auction-able, consumer objects – mostly recordings and relics. Notice that both of these are remainders. Other options are to create side objects such as the Sodium photographs I did with Toni Payan for an action that had not even taken place, or to invest objects in side actions. The latter is a properly “performantic” act that must not be confused with merchandising or commercial fetishes of any kind, such as Bert Rodriguez’s heavy product placement for Apple and bedmaker Bedaga, a marketing piece covered as performance art by Josh Chesler’s misguiding (or bluntly naïf?) piece in LA Weekly.

As for the case of object relations, and following the same article, I take non-tech reach as a paradigm. It includes –and is not limited to– reciprocal naked staring or actual touch.

If we strip performance art from the material objects it may use or create, including recordings or other documentation of the action, if we could even get rid of the object relations it needs and fosters, which are not tangible objects in themselves but are part of the action value, may we still talk about pieces of art in the case of performance? May we call an action a piece of art?

Let me turn to two of my favorite contemporary thinkers, an improbable match you might say, but here they are: J. L. Austin and J.-L. Marion. From the latter, I take the theory of saturation meaning that phenomena may be known conceptually or by intuition, and they can be epistemologically described according to the proportion of conceptual and intuitive knowledge that comes into play when we approach them. Saturated phenomena are those where intuition exceeds concept. Event is one such phenomenon. Not all phenomena are objects; but since objects are phenomena, the first hypothesis I want to make is that performance art creates the possibility of an event, and if it does so it is a saturated object. Of course no one can predict whether there will be an event. The announcement of a performance is only the promise of an object; anything else is a fraud, and unfortunately for performance art, many performers play on that fraud.

From Austin, I bring performativity theory to the fore to illuminate his distinction between perlocutionary and illocutionary acts of speech. To put it very simply, perlocution produces an effect (convincing, scaring, commanding) by uttering, while illocution does something (a demand, an assertion, a promise) by uttering. That most people don’t give a damn about the meaning or the purpose of their actions is not news. But as a performance artist I cannot not-know what I am doing. I would like to expect every performance artist to know what he is doing. This is an example of what Austin called a hedged performative, that is, talking shit while pretending not to. When I say: “I would like to expect”, I am modalizing the utterance “I expect”, which is properly illocutionary, i.e., the real thing. Hedged performatives are a speech structure performance art is not about. However, performance art is not about perlocution either, or at least not mostly, although there may be effects indirectly produced by verbal or non-verbal utterances (I am considering only the intended ones.)

An intended performed action is an object not if it is what it does (i.e. not because it is identifiable with its effect on the witnesses or with a tangible result) but if it does objectively, and can therefore be actually objectified and even appropriated. It does not mean, however, that it can be commodified or purchased. On the contrary: if you happen to purchase a performance art piece before it happens (because it is an event), it is a chance what you’ve bought, and the artist cannot be held responsible if it does not become a piece, an object (or an illocutionary, complete speech act, in Austin’s terms); it is as if you bought the promise instead of the advertised product. And if you want to buy it afterwards, you will be paying for something that does not exist anymore. It is no longer available. But it is because there is no objective piece of art that you should pay for it: your commitment with the chance is that which may make it material for you.

Freud knew it: that’s why you pay for someone to listen to you. Yves Klein knew it: that’s why you pay for immaterial art. The banks know it: that’s why they sell you money they don’t have in exchange for your promise of paying money you don’t have either.

Circles

Two main milestones in the progress –or moving forward– of humankind have circle shapes: the wheel and gathering. Getting together around a fire has often been idealized as the primal gesture of socialization. Et pour cause: a circular distribution of a group of human bodies is not a matter of chance; it grants each one the optimal view of everyone else.

In one of my first performances, Hapah!, I went through a process of mourning by having my head shaven, a friend playing with his feet in a childish manner, and pretending to make love to a mannequin –something I soon realized was unnecessarily representative and coarsely poetic. Afterwards, I stepped to the middle of my witnesses, who happened to be sitting on soft matrasses, and I started jumping from one matrass to another while saying Hapah! – hapah was the after-mourning salute and a way to tell them: mourning is over until someone else dies.

That action now seems rather naïve to me: I find it particularly imperfect, not because of a lack of expertise, which I do not believe to be the case for most of performance art, but because closing the semantic circle of the action I wanted to perform was not symbolized by the circle of witnesses in a consistent way: only by the end of the action –which lasted about forty minutes– did I join the witnesses, thus inaugurating the circle too late, just as someone who has arrived too late to a meeting she is supposed to be hosting.

This exploration of the circle became more conscious after The Age of Aquarius –which, for other reasons, became a milestone in my career–, namely in Kristallnacht, where I repeatedly acted the failure of standing still and keeping balance. For this dystopian projection of a futuristic Barcelona from the standpoint of a non-tragic Kristallnacht, I asked explicitly that the witnesses stood up in a circle. This allowed me to stare at them, dance to them, and get extremely close to them, even to the point of embarrassment.

I therefore decided to provoke the formation of the circle. I did this in Killing Lluís Companys, where the witnesses were prompted to shoot me with mustard and ketchup. They immediately started to form a circle. However, as soon as they realized they were shooting each other too and getting dirty –something that stood for a shared sense of guilt–, they aligned for fusillading: breaking the circle also meant breaking the complicity in killing.

The circle shape eventually started to evolve to non-literal formations. One such formation was narrative circularity in Push, the performance I did at The New School for Social Research along with fellow scholars. By the end of the substantial seminars we had just had with Judith Butler, Gayatri Spivak and Jay Bernstein, I wanted to “act out” something that had remained unsaid about the death drive. It had to do with our inner hatred, our disavowed capacity to consciously do harm. It was a tricky question especially on the aftermath of the Orlando shooting (in fact, the grieving crowd at Union Square was the reason I abandoned Aliyah, the performance I had initially in mind). Still, I decided to prompt the witnesses to do any action upon my body, as they pleased, except those actions that could cause permanent harm or death. It did not get excessively violent, I must say, although some underlying hatred did become manifest, to which I eventually responded in non-violent ways that were meant to deactivate the death drive in them. This was probably my first non-literally circular action.

In The Independence of Spain, circularity was marked by the installation I had set prior to the one-minute action of declaring the ambiguous “independència d’Espanya” (of Spain/from Spain). Since I had been sitting down for a couple of hours, writing politically charged messages in a hundred post-its, the material circularity of the yellow sticky papers also indicated a sense of surveillance over the man-sitting-on-a-chair or the bureaucrat I could be mistakenly identified with.

One of the performances I have been reflecting a lot on shall question the speculation over the value of surfaces in art. Is it so important to use a human body instead of a canvas, if you wish to do so? Or to use human bodies as brushes, something Yves Klein is known for? In this performance, tentatively named after Heideggers’s essay Vom Wesen des Grundes, I want to investigate what negative circularity may feel like, that is to say, what degree of materiality can a human body perceive when it becomes not the center of the circle but the object that circulates and surrounds the witness instead. This points to the phantasm as a way for the performance artist to be present, but also as a way for anyone acting subversively to become invisible and therefore effective.

Palm Springs 3

Performance is a trope of speed, yes. That’s why I play with time. Time moves slow in Palm Springs and so do I. Performance can be a very slow action because the speed it binds us to is a speed of consciousness, that quickness that makes intuition so much more agile than conceptualization.

I thought I could use raw footage and show it as is. Then I remembered that I have a privilege which is: seeing the priority of the unexpected. ‎So we crafted a hybrid that is not a music video, not a documentary, not cinéma vérité, not the literal account of a performance as if there was literalness at all. My witness recorded my performance and by sharing it we make you witness something different, and we edit that writing so that you remember this is a kind of writing. Still, this is “a performance by Francesc Oui”.

Please, look beyond myself. If the action were about myself, it would be true but it would not be relevant to you. This is not about me getting high. This is me being performed. The sound came after the image and it will only fade afterwards. The music is playing for you but you can mute it for the sake of verisimilitude: there is only silence in Palm Springs.

*

Shameless is beautiful. / Time separates us.

Palm Springs 2

What matters to me is the fact that those singular temporalities abolish the internal feeling of individuality and the emergence of my superego. This is why I want to display myself out of control, although under guidance. Being out of the control of the superego means the letting go of repressive values such as morality, and negative social values such as shame.

I am okay with people laughing at me as they see me losing control and I am happy if you do because exposing the individual fears that support shame is the one of the objects of this performance. Palm Springs is about the sublime in shamelessness.

The other object of this performance is, as I say, the search for singular temporalities. Different perceptions of length unfold. Superego is cancelled. I do not represent myself. Performance is never a representative art, at least not the way I perform. But it is hard not to represent oneself. To do so, I have to unrepresent. To unrepresent, I have to let myself go. Therefore, Palm Springs is also a journey in toxic mysticism.

Performance can only be presentative, i.e. non-representative; and time tells that each performance operates upon reality by accelerating the intuition of the witnesses, and sometimes even the witnesses’ awareness and conceptual capacity, the capacity of thinking themselves through. Performance is a trope of speed.

Palm Springs

I am very interested in experimenting with time and length. I do not believe the reality of predictions; I wait for the future instead. No one has proven me the reality of death either, so why even think about afterlife. But I do seek objects that open my perception to qualities of the past and especially of the present. Those objects have different levels of materiality. Anti-wrinkle cosmetics are tangible and have an effect on the body; they are meant to modify bodily signs of age. Memory cards and other scripture supports are tangible; they store pieces of encoded information. Breathing allows for meditation, focusing on the present or bringing back memories, while some drugs allow for an expanded perception of the external time span.

They cancel the belief in a common, countable time and introduce a psychic space where length becomes singularly experienced. The projection of subjectivity in time takes the form of a singular temporality. If one is not sufficiently informed about the purity and pharmacodynamics of a given substance or is not willing to fall forwards irreversibly, there are ways of researching otherwise. And if someone adheres to the death drive in such a way that it is balanced by the principle of pleasure, which is the love of being alive and not doing harm to anyone, a guided and well-informed intoxication may open up new circuits of enhanced aesthesis or partial anaesthesia.

I made decisions through contingencies and serendipities of life that eventually brought me where I am standing. I believe I have found considerably safe ways to take the risks I, as a performance artist, want to take. I am thankful for the people I can share my singular temporalities with because they are already an evidence of the Continuous Body over time.

Queer ethics

One does not necessarily have to agree with Freud’s claim that religions are putatively the most complex products of repression. However, the religious feeling may be fundamental for alienation. Alienation is the first operation that allows for the constitution of the subject according to Lacan (the second is separation). Religious feeling is not synonymous with spirituality. The latter may be understood as a tendency to treat objects as both worth and perishable and to assign some sort of existential density to the relation to objects. Unlike religiosity, spirituality does neither depend on a capital Other to sustain the awareness of one’s own mortality, nor does it require a belief in afterlife to suspend the assumption that physical death is the ultimate end of the spirit. Spirituality is about contention (Freud would say diking), whereas the religious feeling is the leakage of the other onto the capital Other. The other, my neighbor, is made invisible by the capital Other even if the commandment demands that you “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19, 18) because the commandment is moral, grounded in a moral heritage or in the interpretation of a partly dehumanized subject as is the prophet; it is not ethical. For a commandment to become an ethical demand again, the experience it refers to must resign to the legal power it holds and embody the kind of subjective experience that founded it. This amounts to saying that law, like science, is a referential or disembodied form of knowledge. Courts, States, Governments or Corporations do not embody law. Universities, Institutes, Laboratories do not embody science. Religions do not embody spirituality or the mystical element that haunts the work of Mark Rothko and other Abstract Expressionists, Luis Buñuel, Dag Hammarskjöld, Cristina Campo, and so many survivors to the death of God. However, the religious feeling provides us with a paradigm of discontinuity between creature and agent of creation, just as science stands for the loss of embodied knowledge and law implies the death of the righteous – not the individual, ideal righteous that is represented in opposition to the impious, the wrongdoer, the anti-systemic, the terrorist. The law implies, in its own written words, the denial of an underlying continuity of the social body, or at least a continuity that comes to being between subjects who are engaged, consciously or unconsciously, in incarnating the other. This goes a step further in the direction of a non-judgmental, non-referential “queer” ethics of singular finitude, arguably the most radical form of ethics there can be.

Keep reading: https://www.academia.edu/28123750/Queer_ethics._On_justice_and_the_continuity_of_life

Anti-Romantic

Let us take the risk of losing physical integrity to a new extreme. I do not mean a sensory extreme of pain or actual loss of organs, limbs or whatever parts of the touchable body. I mean a new extreme as regards the often downward drives of desire. Let us think the pleasure principle as an upward drive and the death drive as a downward one. In sadomasochism, capitalism, and any other rule system based on domination, death drive translates a structural possibility of the Unconscious into a necessary movement. Something that could stay asleep wakes up to disquiet the joys of pleasure, the principle of regulation or homeostasis. When we think in terms of phenomena, when we are immersed in thinking you and I as indicators of for two separated masses and two distinct instances of speech, we are not yet free from sexual difference. The deictic is a deism: it stems from the belief in architectural entities, that is to say, in instances of speech or subjects of enunciation that can be positioned, disposed, put in opposition, composed, removed. Biopolitics could not do without the deictic and its diabolic separation of life from death. If I am the other, if our bodies happen to be continuous not contiguous, then we can set ourselves free from the diabolic or separating boundary and learn to forget that original belief. Physical integrity does not only imply the ‘wholiness’ of my particular body from the moment I see its incompleteness. Without the other I am not. This is not a romantic love eulogy. Romantic love is precisely one of the most diabolic objects of belief since it entertains all sorts of fantasy, dependence, and alienation that proved fundamental to other systems of domination yet ancillary to the true path of desire, which is a path of wisdom not submission. My desire is yet outside. It is always on the some other side for I am the other – no matter who I is.

Gender

Gender is a lie we tell everybody, especially ourselves.

I may not ask myself whether there’s any good or need in the gender I was branded. However, not asking those questions does not give me any right to claim truth for it. I conform to something that I have not experienced, not played with.

Both extreme conformists and so-called gender non-conformists make the most faithful parish of gender: the first believe their hypothesis so deeply they can kill the non-conformist in order to avoid breaches in their dualist faith; but the latter try so hard to stick to the other gender (as if there were only two) or to keep any gender hypothesis at bay (as if there were none) that they end up living for the gender no matter which ones they are.

Gender is not even a performance. It is not about something that may be done since it cannot be done; it can only be said thanks to the marks it left in language.

There are no such people as transgender people just as there is no such thing as gender outside language. Right now, language is gendered, but there are signs of it transgendering: not changing from one gender to another (as if there were only two) nor including a grammatical third gender (as if there was an embodied experience of that). Instead, language may transcend gender thanks to technology and poetry.

Technology will eventually bring the hieroglyph back to us, through our fingertips and onto our multiple screens, recalling our divine motion. Just like infinite matter, we do not care about gender. Only the frightened care for a fiction that bears the mark of a reproducing species. Only them care about being true to that lie. Poet is the speaking body. Performer is the poet of flesh.

There is nothing further from the belief in gender than the silent reason of incarnation.