UTTER OPENNESS: what happens after is “our” task
A chain letter between Franz Anton Cramer and Mónica Guerreiro.
I asked the German critic Franz Anton Cramer to me by guest star. We first met in a book he was publishing in, which I organised (and co-translated); we afterwards swapped places when he asked me to contribute to a book he organised (and co-translated). So are both editors and translators of each other. But that is just one of many features we have in common: the interest in art, and performance in particular, being another important one. We are also both critics. So I couldn’t think of a better company for this trip around Going To Your Place [Vou A Tua Casa]. Hopefully, he accepted this unorthodox challenge: he had never come into contact with the project. I sent him some information and photographic material about it. He had a poor online access, so he was unable to look up most of that. Still, we kept our discussion. And speaking with Franz was, as always, enlightening.
[Mónica Guerreiro, 2006/2007]
Your letter arrived just when I was starting to wonder whether our exchange had maybe come to an end — in which case I had already been thinking about how to find a good reason to continue. It came also, as you rightly supposed, after some days of distance: of rest, of no phone calls, of long walks and some deep breath, also in the light of the habitual process of assessing the past year and its highs and lows, and of trying to figure out what the issues will be for the upcoming year. The professional doubts and turmoil will most certainly stay with us, whether we like it or not. Me, too, I have had some unpleasant experiences, probably similar to what you have been alluding to. The peak was reached just recently, in December, when a local artist had printed postcards with a text in which he insulted me and expressed his disgust over my work, the intellectualism in all of dance in general and my despicable role in it in particular. The postcard was distributed to all visitors of a major dance festival here in Berlin. And as usual with this kind of initiative you find out who actually has been waiting for this and is relieved that “somebody” “finally did it”. It is not an encouraging attitude. But it speaks a lot about the contexts in which dance and performance are taking place, the complexities of the discourse produced, and the issues raised by the very fact that performance does happen and is contained in a certain frame. I am not implying that critical action, discord of views, and difference in appreciation should not occur nor that there would be one side good, another deficient. However, I do believe that certain forms and interests may be reclaimed: what you hinted at with “ostracism” and the lack of exchange is probably what we both experience, and what seems to be inevitable. It all depends, in the end, of how powerful you are yourself, and who is backing you, if need be. My experience is that there is very little support once a true conflict breaks open. And more often than not your own power base is quite limited. This seems to be part of the game. But I didn’t want to insist that much on these issues. In fact, I have been trying to read the title of the project we are setting up our exchange on. With my rudimentary notions of the Portuguese language I come to understand Vou A Tua Casa as “I come to your place” or maybe “I go to your place”, in the sense of home, of house. Or maybe even Your House, with majuscule letters? In German this would be “Wohnung”, wohnung being the apartment, but etymologically the place were you live, in German “wohnen”, to dwell, to inhabit. Inhabit refers in some way to habit, so the situation of routine, of where you “are”, where you stay, where you go and come back to, regularly, always, where you don’t have to think or to decide, where you “just are”, until you decide to change place. During the vacation days I have been to Ikea’s in order to buy bookshelves so as to reorganise my papers and intellectual storage-systems. And the German advertisement slogan currently reads “Wohnst du noch oder lebst du schon”, Are you still dwelling or already alive; probably in Portugal you have a similar campaign. Now, Ikea is implying that the routine part of your flat, the things you have had since long, the ways and steps that you perform in it blindly, the automatically felt distances between door and table and from bathroom to living room, the spots on the floor that make funny noises when you step on them, all that which is familiar in your habitation would be something other than that what you live, or what would be your life. Of course this is an advertisement trying to stimulate people’s desire to consume and to continue consumption. The TV spot that goes with it shows “dwelling (heterosexual) couples” throwing their “old”, their “habitual” furniture out of the window in order to reinvest their space with Ikea items. It is about the strive to never be content with what is, it is about the capitalist calling for eating up resources and for creating market structures in realms of life that were sort of exempt from mercantilisation and commoditisation. Adding the different languages and their ambiguities, this campaign of Ikea’s basically states that the fact of living somewhere is not life but needs a commercial input to become “full”. By inhabiting a space and filling it in with all your habitual behaviour, knowledge, and furniture, you remain in a state cut off from life, from the real thing, from the life you can buy, obtain, purchase, receive, take — in short, from a life that would never be yours unless you make an effort and go grab it, preferably in a special offer campaign, as “saldos” (Ikea claims to be “cheap”, so the life you go buy there is supposed to be at a good price). And what would this mean to a performing arts project that goes out there in “your home”, in that place were according to Ikea’s capitalist logic life is not taking place, in order to materialise its essence (or its scope — you rightfully said you weren’t sure to have understood completely the methods, intentions, ends Going To Your Place aspires to achieve) and insist on some kind of condensed moment of life, or action to be taken, or experience to be made: the step from sheer habitual dwelling to replenished conceptual life. In this sense, there might be a subversive and “resist!” aspect to a show that is not really one and that trespasses the commoditisation-borders of common spectacle. It steps out of the spatial organisation usually (habitually) inhabited by performance, the place where the viewer’s locus is excluded (but in this very distinction of course setting up also a specific dialectics that instates the two realms as being one, as being dependent one of the other), in order to unfold an intimately artificial situation there where life would be — I am still paraphrasing Ikea — in a more authentic, or less heightened state of being. (That dance would be a “heightened state of mind” is a commonplace among early 20th century dance authors and dance discourse.) Going To Your Place, then, inscribes itself by its sheer strategy, and just by deducing from what knowledge I have gathered, into the field of the performative as political consciousness. Not in the sense of ideology, but in the sense of set-up: a place, or situation, were certain parameters have been deactivated in order to enhance others, and where there is neither/nor, not yet and not quite, in and out, life and art. Of course the relationship between both is never easy and always ambiguous. Nothing but trying to draw a distinction already presupposes so much. But what you say about Rogério’s own views, his distrust towards certain arts attitudes and the constant thrive for surprise and innovation is striking in the entire presentation, I would hold. For the newness in the idea seems proportional to the smallness of its scope, that is its public visibility, thence its spectacular value. It is innovative in not trying to be innovative; it is inhabiting and alive at the same time, to come back to Ikea; it is constructive and deconstructive without shrieking out loud all of its content. Maybe this shrieking out loud is our task — if we find terms more calm, like “speaking out loud”, for instance. Dear Mónica, as I am writing this I keep thinking about how far (maybe) our respective lives are intertwined with art, art making, art discourse, and the reality of artistic production. Maybe it is a fiction we nurture that we would be somehow “outside” the arts, the fact that it is “them” who do art and “us” who communicate about it. True, in these times there is some kind of a stagnation in this exchange, and my own professional contact to artists and their concerns is reduced; you seem to have similar difficulties, also stemming from your activity in funding bodies, commissions, juries etc., me as a critical mind too little involved in local affairs in order to be accepted there (that is: here, in Berlin, where people distribute nasty postcards and colleagues won’t let me publish any longer). But all of this is just one aspect, the commercial one maybe (we are trying to make a living). Otherwise, our form of work, of inspiration, of resignation, of combat (sometimes it is combat, don’t you think?) and of production seems in a way much more related to the artistic instabilities than to the fixations of career and commerce. I don’t know at all whether this is good or bad; sometimes I feel overwhelmed and hate what I do, sometimes I sense it’s the only thing that really inspires me in life. Not necessarily watching a show (as this is a public act malgré tout), but later on trying to understand what has been going on and what all this is about. Understanding never comes to an end; which is why I believe this dialogue on Going To Your Place never will have a solid result with respect to the original question (do we know what the original question was? Was there one at all? Or was it not rather a wish to communicate?). But this is maybe what will be worthwhile. At least I feel this debate by correspondence has opened a lot of doors in my thinking and perceiving, and it is in this way that Rogério, whom I don’t even know, has visited my house too. This is maybe the fundamental difference between “true” artists and commenting staff as we are: the first step, the coming into being is performed by “them”, what happens after is “our” task. It is not the worst thing that could have happened to us, don’t you think? Wishing you a rewarding New Year, with lots of possibilities to do what you would really like to do. I thank you again for your utter openness.
All my very best, Franz
©Miguel Melo, remodelação e re-decoração da sala onde se realizou a 3.ª parte da trilogia Vou A Tua Casa (Lado C), com base em artigos do IKEA. Festival Alkantara, (Lisboa, 2006).
Mais um teaser que sucede a pré-publicação online e parcial de Vou A Tua Casa/Projecto de Documentação [livro e vídeo-documentário] num website que foi disponibilizado no passado dia 21 de Outubro de 2011. A seguir também aqui!