A New Zealand Snapshot for Performance Philosophy
What follows here is a collection of writers and artists-as-writers engaging with performance philosophy in New Zealand – each of whom are based in Auckland… This is not of course a summary of all of engagements in this terrain, as there is much else occurring here…
Compiled by Dr Mark Harvey (on behalf of the other researchers, Dr Christopher Braddock (AUT University), Dr Maria O’Connor (AUT University), Brent Harris (AUT University) and Daniel Wilson (The University of Auckland) and Dr Mark Harvey (The University of Auckland))
Braddock, Christopher (2013) Performing Contagious Bodies: Ritual Participation in Contemporary Art, London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Chris Braddock has recently focused on four key emerging Australian and New Zealand performance/ installation artists (Alicia Frankovich NZ, Laresa Kosloff AUS, Richard Maloy NZ and Alex Martinis Roe AUS). Their artworks entail installation ‘debris’ as ‘trace structure’—bodies are traced in material substances, cast in appendages, bound in harnesses, relayed through live and recorded performance in new media. Braddock discusses these trace structures through a group of overarching concepts including animism, contagion, savage magic and ritual participation.
In his approach he bridges anthropological and post-structural theories where a philosophy of language calls forth notions of erasure, naming, signature, utterance, metaphor/ metonymy and trace. From this perspective, he explores the incredible history of Western perceptions of magical ritual and, in turn, their relationship to art (including the writing of Marcel Mauss, Lucien Lévi-Bruhl, Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin and Roman Jakobson). In short, from the so-called ‘father’ of anthropology, Edward Burnett Tylor (1832–1917), to the ‘father’ of deconstruction, Jacques Derrida (1930–2004), Braddock locates a series of metaphorical displacements of the term ‘magic’.
In reviving research and scholarship into ethnocentric notions of the ‘savage’ Braddock asserts that a philosophy of language is a racial project that uncovers lingering racism about distinctions between the real and the ideal. In so doing his research re-frames Victorian ethnographies on magical (and often Oceanic) practices as, ironically, deconstructive. For example, that which Victorian anthropologists criticize as savage mentality—a breakdown in oppositional structures of life and death, organic and inorganic, subject and object (linked to the possibility of a ‘force’ that precedes those terms related and contagiously infiltrates all materiality beyond reason)— turns out to be a staple of Derridean deconstruction.
Braddock’s interest is to open up a range of questions about the temporal aspects of live art and their relation to ‘event’ and where ‘liveness’ lives. He advances a view where all traces signify the present or ‘live’ moment of performance thus problematizing any stable notions of presence.
Encounters of spatiality have provided me with a discrete entry into, or engagement with, performance and philosophy in Aotearoa / New Zealand. That is to say, thresholds for my engagement with performance and philosophy traverse micro-scenes of spatial learning and move into more expanded terrains of a ‘nation’. In beginning from the micro and pedagogically informed position of an educator within Spatial Design —a department within the School of Art and Design, AUT University— I aim here for a distinctive unfolding of P&P within Aotearoa. Philosophically receptive and informed, Spatial Design’s learning approach is highly conceptual. It is department that has troubled both interior and exterior perceptions with its rather performance driven interior architectural and urban design explorations. Its conceptual arena privileges processual design thinking in difference to (more orthodox) form-driven architectural mandates. It philosophically questions temporality and embodiment as a focus onto relations between bodies (human and non) to enable students a plateau from which to approach their design practices. Within Spatial Design, performance has become the term associated with our broader philosophical ethos — and, more formally speaking Performance Design sits alongside Interior and Urban studies as a major.
Yet, while design in relation to performance is privileged above, the role of philosophy is more significant for how thinking arrives to destabilize a scene of learning and practice within an expanded performance mandate. Spatial Design can be perceived as a micro-phenomenon within my encounter of performance-philosophy in Auckland, Aotearoa/New Zealand. Attracting a wide range of performance practitioners who have come from backgrounds in dance, visual arts and theatre, this conceptually driven design department has become a temporary home for many within a wider performance community. And, in saying this, its home disseminates across many forums and postings. It is an example of a minor-design, or becoming-minor (in Deleuze and Guattari speak) for resisting hegemonic disciplinary purviews. And in order to understand its minoring-practice, this department of performance-philosophers or philosophical-performers has embraced a deeper understanding of itself through a rigorous engagement into philosophically informed out-posts: post-structuralism, post-modernism, post-humanism, post-colonialism.
It is, perhaps, from the margins of an outpost such as Aotearoa / New Zealand with its geo-specifics, that we have a keen geo-philosophical and political mandate for understanding its multi- cultural existence. As the country’s dual-name suggests, this is a bi-cultural nation that is more significantly a multi-cultural lived reality. The lived relationship between multi-diverse bodies brings circular the performance-philosophy mandate of a micro-gestural pedagogical politics for design as a processual relation driven activity. This ‘snapshot’ will signify many similar currents from around the globe, yet perhaps, what marks its difference is the differentiator of Oceanic perceptions of space and time —such as Va (Samoan), Wa (Māori, Japanese)— that are irreducible to the multitude of western and eastern philosophical ontologies. And, yet, the name Oceanic is also irreducible to any form of abbreviated description, rather it has to be encountered and witnessed within the multitude that perform its vital and transforming relations.
The University of Auckland
The research area that I specialise in is analytic philosophy of the arts. This is primarily a theoretically-oriented discipline. Rather than engaging in performance art practices, the primary interest of analytic philosophers is to explore philosophical issues about performance arts. My MA topic was the ontology of theatre and my current PhD research is on the essential role of artistic appreciation in explaining artistic practices.
New Zealand has a small number of specialists in (analytic) philosophy of the arts across the country. They frequently present research in international forums. The American Society for Aesthetics and the British Society of Aesthetics are the main professional organisations (though there are other societies that also organise conferences and publish journals on the philosophy of art). One benefit of engaging in these international forums is that New Zealand researchers are not geographically restricted and so can engage in diverse interests. For instance, amongst other things, Distinguished Professor Stephen Davies is well-known for his philosophical investigations surrounding musical performance. Grant Tavinor’s research in the art of video games also engages with questions about performance. Sondra Bacharach researches issues surrounding collaboration in the arts (including considerations regarding authorship). And Ted Nannicelli’s work investigates the process of screenwriting.
Philosophical research with respect to performance can involve to the following sorts of questions: what is the definition of "X"? (where "X" might be "theatre", "performance", etc.) What is the relationship between notation and performance? What is the relation between narrative and non-narrative elements in the appreciation of a performance? What is the nature of the audience? What is a work? What is the nature of the relationship between work and performance? What constitutes an authentic performance of a work?
Promises Promises: Falling and the best of intentions in the work of four live artists.
By Mark Harvey
(a current writing project, that is under evolution)
Well, after this I should think nothing of falling down stairs. (Alice, Alice in Wonderland, Movie, 1951)
Whether or not it is gravity, grace, poise, love, coping emotionally, being fallen, or any other kind of falling, when falling is intended in live art and choreography it is something that artists can only ever promise. This article reflects on the promise of falling in live art and choreography through a perspective of testing informed by a range of perspectives including Avital Ronell’s The Test Drive (2005) and Friedrich Nietzsche’s Gay Science (2001). From this perspective, the test-artist promises to fall through a framework of productive idiocy or playing the fool, where amongst other things, one simultaneously questions, affirms and negates what he or she launches into. The foolish artist’s promise of falling can only promise its promises, as a perpetual state of incompletion. Other related perspectives drawn on include Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, the Maori legend of Maui the Trickster and Jacques Derrida’s reading of Martin Heidegger’s ‘verfallen’ (Derrida, 1984: 4-10). Out of what seems to be pointless such stupidity can reveal biopolitcal and psychic insights about ourselves and our desires, including our sense of ‘bare life’ or political being in the world (as Read reads of Agamben on live art; 2004: 242-249).
This article reflects on the productive idiocy of promising falls through a selection of works of three artists: Vito Acconci (1970-1973), La Ribot (2004) and my own I am a wee bit stumped (2011). Sometimes in test-falling involves suspended falling (like La Ribot), and other times a play with their own sense of embarrassment (like Acconci). Each artist activates discourse on the politics of gender and cultural identity with their promises.
Figuring Diachrony: Ethics before voice
My PhD performance practice-research explores participation, and the relation of ethics to politics. This has taken place within a reference-field occurring among my performance practice, Ant Hampton and Glen Neath’s The Bench or Hello for Dummies, two projects of the choreographer and dancer Martin Nachbar, among other performance practices; and writings of Emmanuel Levinas, Jacques Derrida, David Wills, Alan Read and others. The project explores the performances, which take place in ‘public’ places, as opening passing, attending, turning, and tethering. The exegesis explores these, as structures somewhat like the sense of the ‘quasitranscendental’ that Rodolph Gasché proposes in his engagement with Derrida’s ‘metaphoricity’–as conditions of possibility of classes or categories, and conditions of impossibility of the closure of such classes and categories. My engagement with tethering as an elastic bond and possibility of re-turn and re-cording, recalls the audio-verbal request or instruction, ‘Bear in mind that you are tethered’ that I remember hearing in The Bench or Hello for Dummies. Alongside the performer-audience binary, I propose the neologism ‘attendeer’ (or attendear), as a relation of activity or intentionality, to passivity. The project engages turning, the choreo-graphic, and prosthetics responding to David Wills’s Dorsality and his writing of ‘the tropological turn’, that would inaugurate the being that turns. The exegesis proposes a mode of resembling-itself of performances in relation to Levinas’s proposition in ‘Reality and Its Shadow’ of a passive participation in the image which suspends conceptuality, as no longer the participation of a subject or substantive. Such participation in the image would be a mode of the ‘there is,’ anonymous being, of which Levinas writes in Existence and Existents. The project explores the trace-structure of such an ‘experience’ or enigma, and considers this in relation to questions of responsibility. Concerning the relation of ethics to politics, I propose that, on footpaths, my practice engages with thresholds of recognisability and common-sense, and performs interiorizings-exteriorizings or shores of identifying. In relation to this, I attend to engagements among invited attendeers, passers-by-becoming-attendeers, and me. In the final chapter the exegesis begins to explore some relations between my practice and Levinas’s iterative, or ‘performative,’ writing of ethics¬–which Simon Critchley describes as ‘incantation’–in Otherwise than Being, or, Beyond Essence.