Where Theory Meets

Studio Notes

Sara Giannini, ‘Maquillage as Meditation. Dis-identity, ecstasy and the feminine in Carmelo Bene’s performance philosophy’  (2019), lecture & screening. Photo: Marcel de Buck.

Sara Giannini, ‘Maquillage as Meditation. Dis-identity, ecstasy and the feminine in Carmelo Bene’s performance philosophy’ (2019), lecture & screening. Photo: Marcel de Buck.

Fall is now upon us, and we are by no means ‘post-’ anything. In some places around the globe people have remained in various states of quarantine for the last six months. Others have gone into, come out of and gone into lockdown measures again. In the city in which we reside, Amsterdam, the number of new COVID-19 cases has nearly doubled each week for the last three weeks. Our region of North Holland and, alongside it, South Holland have been identified by the bordering countries of Belgium and Germany as red zones and new restrictions are being implemented – we are all watching and reading and waiting to see what happens next.

The question of what constitutes an event, which we raised in our August communiqué has become even more acute. As we have continued to think about the readings by Octavia Butler, Paul Chan and Elizabeth Freeman shared last month, such a query has also exceeded the conceptual framing of chronopolitics and, in fact, become quite practical and pressing for us. In just three weeks we are set to present the opening activities of our Edition VIII – Ritual and Display final programme, including the exhibition From the Volcano to the Sea. The feminist group Le Nemesiache in 1970s and 1980s Naples curated by our research fellow Giulia Damiani and the symposium ‘Mythologies/Methodologies: Approaching Feminist Collectivities of the 1970s and 1980s’ organised by us. Questions of Kairos (situated time) and Chronos (sequential time) aside, there is the more basic matter of simply planning shorter-duration events like an exhibition or a symposium within the frame of the unfolding, as yet undefinable long durée event that is the coronavirus pandemic. At this point we all are left to find our way in and through the unwieldy zone of praxis – where theory meets practice. What can events within such an event look like right now? Must a symposium look like the Zoom conference format to which we have all already grown accustomed? If not, then what other options are there?

Such questions have prompted us to reflect upon the often taken-for-granted core meanings of an event genre like the symposium. From our position as an organisation devoted to exploring performance and performativity, we remain committed to producing events in time and space, and to pushing against the edges of what the choreographies of knowledge production and transmission can be. ‘Mythologies/Methodologies’ is – with this in mind – planned as an experiment in symposium choreography between human and technological bodies, near and far away. Such choreography is, of course, also what the current Zoom conference screen culture produces in some sense. But, following the lessons of Expanded Cinema that tuned our attention to the site and situatedness of our media apparatuses, what we are working towards, is a live-stream experience that spatializes and scales this online symposium situation, placing presenters joining remotely from around the globe in dialogue with their own audio-visual materials, with one another, with a few bodies gathered in real space (if conditions allow) and with the many other bodies joining in real time from elsewhere, also around the world. Here, we hope, every body – whether it be human or technological – is active and activated, and the screens both mediate and participate in these activations.

This is just one possible answer to those questions we posed above about choreographic mechanisms of knowledge production and transmission, or, we might imagine more broadly as issues of display.

Another possible answer will begin its presentation also next month: our colleague Sara Giannini, who is also one of our three current research commissions, has taken on this challenge of presentation quite directly. With the threat of institutional illegibility ever-looming, Giannini’s curatorial project Maquillage as Meditation fragments and distends the boundaries of an event. Arising from the concept of absence in the work of twentieth-century Italian theorist, theatre maker, film director and provocateur Carmelo Bene, the project is an invitation to participate in an ‘absent event’ beginning on All Saints’ Eve 2020. With such an invitation, first extended to the artists and researchers with whom Giannini is working and, next, to present and future audiences, the project gestures towards forms of transmission and encounter that lie in the margins of visibility, a key consideration in much of Bene’s work. Indeed, Bene himself, as well as his currently inaccessible archive, become absent presences in Maquillage as Meditation, moving outward along the tangential paths of reverberation (from personal memories to disciplinary interpretations) sounded by project contributors Snejanka Mihaylova, Jacopo Miliani, Aaron Schuster, Geo Wyeth and Arnisa Zeqo. Through this constellation, Giannini’s project proposes a way of approaching history in relation to what is not there, prompting us to consider how and by what means absence constitutes a mode of presence and circulation. It, in other words, throws us into ontological and epistemological tailspins, requiring that we throw out – or at least set aside –whatever we thought we knew about the infrastructural logics of events and their durations.

In such tailspins is where we all, more broadly, find ourselves in the current moment. But – and in closing – we would like to extend a few invitations of our own. The first, more practical, is an invitation to join us for ‘Mythologies/Methodologies’, From the Volcano to the Sea and the beginnings of Maquillage as Meditation over the course of the coming month – event announcement newsletters will follow shortly with more details on these happenings. In the second, more personal, we would like to invite you to take a moment and remember the innumerable and immeasurable ways that you are also continuing to live, work and build new (infra)structures of engagement from ‘in the middle of’ the complex and unclear durations of events unfolding.

Team If I Can’t Dance

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

First published: Wednesday 30 September 2020
Featured researcher: Sara Giannini