Myths are the etymology of culture.
Pre-Christian Greece was a great manufacturer of myths apart from being the cradle of democracy. It was not the only one. The land of the wandering Aramean proved a fertile stage for myths whereby an oral tradition established itself as written law. I do not aim at reinforcing the influence of universals such as the collective unconscious or of those myths that are supposed explain human behaviour in general; nor do I wish to define what an ideal democracy or a universally fair law would look like. I do want to grasp the extension of our cultural alienation instead, and the mythification of myths is a sign of that alienation.
When Claude Lévi-Strauss coins the term mytheme by analogy with other irreducible categories in linguistics such as the grapheme or the phoneme, he goes one step further binding mythology to the scientific endeavour of comprehending humanity. Historicist and behaviouristic models generally fail to grant the subject full recognition, whereas structuralism and psychoanalysis seem unwilling to resume the repetitive failures that founded them.
As we witness technology quickly reshaping bodies and reconfiguring relations, one can hardly presume to live in a temporality that resembles even remotely that of classical and even modern myths. There’s no trouble with Faust or Antigone, and there’s nothing wrong with quoting Sophocles or even Goethe, but if we are unable to recognise our own contemporary sources of understanding in the mortal palimpsest that is our body, then the fascination with tradition and the cultural fixation on explanatory canons may be itself tragic. Ourbody is being lost to technological extasy.
The complexity of political conflicts is cut down to digestible narratives of good and evil. (Were these ever true?) Even that godly justice of punishment and reward we encounter on classic myths denies the very possibility of justice. Indeed, the idea of a primal balance that would be interrupted –by fate, excess, impure action– ignores the fact that not only ethics does not depend on religious law but also does it require the sovereignty of the political over any religion for the sake of justice.
Terrorism is no other than a mass play on etymology for the sake of a meaningful, cultural genocide. How can there be any meaning when the body is alienated –to faith, work, healthcare– and even death is forced to exile? What’s the point in killing and dying for a myth when there is no redemption beyond meaning, and no meaning beyond the nonsense of being here?
The way you use Nietzsche, Levinas or Lacan is not reassuring; it’s embarrassing.
You may impersonate someone else as an actor or a mountebank but you may not become someone else. Yet becoming other seems so attractive an endeavor to many people that I feel like speaking as a performer. I feel so because performance is my way of not being dead.
I found this way out of feeling occupied by other people’s desires and infortunes. By the time people became aware that capital had become sovereign over elected governments, crisis became the very voice of ideology. Eventually, occupation became the main action of a populist intelligentsia, the panacea for democracy’s engulfment by a governing class.
Back then, I knew I did not belong to the tribe of the saviors. Almost anyone could see oneself as a savior. Being wealthier allows you to believe you are among the most worth governing but being poorer gives your morality free reign. The sense of injustice and the feel of divide are common heritage, so why are stories about princes falling in love with peasants still so attractive? Why do such fictions still fuel the fantasy of social mobility?
Are you now wondering about the connection between performance and class struggle? Do you believe in connections rather than enmeshment? I see our complicity rather than their conspiracy. Why not bath yourselves in 5-cent coins? Why not emulate Judith’s victoriously interrupted coitus with the severed head of Holofernes? Killing is not a privilege of the powerful; it is an illusion of power. You shall not kill your enemy because there is no such thing as an enemy other than yourself.
I had a hard time trying to explain concepts or theories to people who, most often due to class inequalities, were less educated. They were not capable of grasping notions that could have been important to provide their anxieties and fears with more precise translations: better words, phrasings that were easier to handle. I in turn was incapable of creating intelligible objects out of my listening. Until something in my body spoke out.
First time was with an analysand -that’s how patients are called in psychoanalysis- who was stuck in defense. Many possibilities stay out when one’s stuck in defense, struggling to justify oneself. So I leaned forwards in my chair, I bowed my head slightly and let a spitball fall down on the parquet. That single action proved meaningful as it unlocked possibilities for the analysand that were elaborated further on.
I think it was my first performance as well. It built trust. It worked as a door that works only once. Some things only have to work once.
When something is meaningful even before it’s done, doing it can only make sense. There are no right things to say when someone trusts you to the point of paying you to be paid attention to. Likewise, there are no right things to do when both you and your witnesses believe you’re doing right.
Performance is a necessary waste of trust. I do that which is not written. There’s no screenplay, no science backing what may succeed, no failure to shy away from, even if some things may only fail once.
Performance is a lively art experience that may cause estrangement. When participating in artist residencies abroad, my main motivation is to be part of a cultural environment that is other than my own. The feeling of strangeness allows me to test at least three theoretical extremes: the singularity of the action (one-time performance), continuity (I am the other), ineffability.
Moving beyond the notion of site-specific, witness-specific actions may catalyze new forms of community founded upon the common perception of strangeness and the feeling of complicity it produces. Symbolically charged objects or surfaces may have to intervene. Among them, the body of the performer stands out as the place where to incarnate the anxiety of the other. The body is the border is the boundaries.
This is why sharing the same space with other artists, perhaps in an environment other than mine, and knowing other conceptions of what cannot be said, is vital to me.
As I embrace the stranger, I do not give up security; I give up the safety of identity.
I became a performance artist because I recognised my incompleteness in the incompleteness of the other, and I decided to complete things through action. My art is not about material or ideological achievements, neither is it about crafting objects or creating sensory experiences. These cannot but be side effects of the action or means to completeness. Since my work has to do with completing things, every intent becomes artistic by the way a specific action embodies a certain intuition and is witnessed at least once, by at least one other. There must be as little technological mediation and as much ethical implication as possible. This I call the singularity of the action.
There are fundamental laws in performance art as I understand and practice it. These laws help me in the creative decision-making regarding what might be done and what might not; and they allow me to share and discuss aspects of creative processes with other people, whether they are artists or not. For instance, I assume that an artistic performance is the embodiment of a specific intuition, meaning that I am open to both intuition as a non-conceptual form of science and to the body of the other as a marker of difference in space. However, that difference shall not distract myself from the fact that the other is also the same. This I call continuity.
Performing is about doing not making. It is action, not a play. And there is plenty of room for failure. Witnessing is therefore an essential counteraction of the performing situation. The witness must be: present; other than the body of the performer; human and able to feel. This I call being safe from failure, thanks to the presence of the one who witnesses.