The Words We Do
Not Yet Have

Studio Notes

We hope this message finds you and your loved ones in good health. In the weeks since our last communiqué, conditions of life and death in the time of the coronavirus have continued to rapidly evolve.

There have been over two million people infected that we know of, and millions more that we do not know of. There have been over one hundred and fifty thousand lives claimed that we know of, and many more that we do not know of. Bodies are disappearing without a farewell, in the invisibility of quarantine and anonymous burial. Restrictions on our abilities to gather in mourning are but one facet of the measures being taken by nation-states around the world. We have seen numerous nation-states scrambling to respond to the pandemic. We have seen borders closing and, with them, new and old forms of nationalism and authoritarianism (re-)emerging. We have seen the acute differences between cultural approaches to health and mortality bubble to the surface, reinforcing political, social, and economic inequalities. We are seeing prisoners and migrants across Europe and beyond left out of the public health emergency policies. We are seeing the dire consequences of what it means to live and die in the contradiction of a so-called global community that, as global as it may be, grants rights to life and livelihood only to those with certain citizenship and/or class statuses. In The Netherlands, our geographic home, we are watching as the ministry has ceased to process asylum applications, failed to provide safe shelter to communities with an undocumented status, and has hesitated to support the project of EU solidarity as well as, internally, the economic rights of freelance workers who do not carry the privilege of a European passport. Our context is but one case. 185 countries and non-sovereign territories have been affected by the pandemic. Hundreds of millions of bodies are in confinement while hundreds of millions of others remain exposed to the circulation of the virus and the devastations of its economic impacts, which will stretch far into the future.

We are following these developments closely, as well as the initiatives of our peers, our colleagues and our comrades, contributing to solidarity efforts where we can and, where we cannot, resolutely bearing witness to the historicity of our moment.

Amidst all this, and in the uncertainty for the future, we at If I Can’t Dance have continued to ask ourselves: What is the value of silence? What is the value of speaking?

As an art institution working in the field of performance and performativity, we have always devoted our thoughts to a critical consideration of space, time and the body in all its manifestations. While we write this message, an accelerated digitalization promises a totalizing compensation for embodied presence, connection, and touch. Meanwhile, the meanings of home, safety, distance and togetherness are shifting from day to day, revealing the inherent disjunctures that those words have always carried with them for different bodies, contexts and times.

With all of this in our minds, we share with you a second cluster of readings on the topic of “Prophecy” from our Edition VIII — Ritual and Display reading group, organised by our 2019-2020 Research Fellow Giulia Damiani and including texts by Steven Connor, Audre Lorde and Silvia Federici. Cumulatively these three pieces of writing address time, silence, speaking, spiritual relationality and the embodiments of capitalism. In the excerpt from Caliban and the Witch included here, Marxist feminist theorist Silvia Federici traces the processes of philosophical and medical abstraction of the body that enabled the establishment of capitalist labour in 17th century Europe. Her words have resonated deeply with us, as we hope they will with you. The disciplining of the body that Federici speaks of was accompanied by a new sense of standardized and quantifiable time. The times of prophecy were replaced by a time of predictions. Today, four centuries later, the body itself has become perceived as a new kind of threat — a carrier — that is subject to isolation and to further disciplinary controls. In the midst of our current lockdown regime, the fiction of chrono-normative time seems to have ground to a halt. Pasts, presents and futures feel as if they have been collapsed into a state of suspension. Predictions and prophecies mingle in this stretched moment of anticipation, after “the end” but before a “new beginning.”

In this suspended now, “what was” is unveiled with revelational magnitude, and hopefully a new language is being formed on the tip of our tongues. “What,” to draw phrase from the Audre Lorde essay shared here, “are the words you do not have yet?” At If I Can't Dance we are ruminating deeply on those words that are still unspoken, and on how and where we can open up conditions for their enunciation. We are, to that end, at work conceiving of spaces and times for (re)asserting performance as a “living” methodology and an everyday practice that is open to different forms of fruition. We are also, in the process, re-imagining our relation to digital space and thinking through how the digital — and technologies more broadly — can connect to corporeality, psychic life and a slower cyclical time.

As MPA, one of our current artist commissions, repeated in her performance-meditation at our Introductory Weekend in October 2019: “Time is over time.” We return to MPA’s mantra here, in closing, to share with you one of the vanishing points along a new horizon line for our thinking at this historical crossroads — in this revelational now.

This, like so many ends, is just the beginning.

Team If I Can’t Dance

Marcel van den Berg, Frédérique Bergholtz, Anik Fournier, Sara Giannini, Megan Hoetger, and Hans Schamlé

First published:
Wednesday 22 April 2020
Featured artist: MPA