Tuesday, September 09, 2008

RAIL












RAIL is:
Vikki Hill (vocals, guitar)
Simon Wring (bass, mixes, percussion)
George (guitar)

Listen at:
http://www.myspace.com/raillondon


Watch at: http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=vW0_-qtt_WY

Writing a dissertation....

Sunday, May 25, 2008

14 Stations of the Life and History of Adrian Howells - Battersea Arts Centre, 17th May 2008


The Ethical Agency of One-to-One Performance

On the 17th May, after having spent an hour in a one-to-one performance entitled ‘The 14 Stations of the Life and History of Adrian Howells’, I found myself sitting on a wooden bench tucked behind a grand staircase with coloured light reflecting on my skin from the stained glass roof above me. I was crying. I felt completely overwhelmed and shocked that I could be caught off guard by a sudden flood of emotion. My usual barriers had breached and I was doing my best to repair them, with soggy tissues and embarrassed laughter. My unexpected reaction left me feeling exhausted and shaking as I began to reflect on what had caused me to respond so physically.

Throughout the performance, I had been taken (at times led by a firmly grasping hand) to various sites in Battersea Arts Centre, from the bar to the entrance; to a dark, creepy crypt; storerooms and corridors; winding up stairs until we finished in a brightly lit back room high above the streets. At each site we visited, Adrian Howells alternately confessed stories of his life, showed me objects and images, performed actions, talked with me and invited me to participate as we navigated our way through his autobiographical reappropriation of the 14 Stations of the Cross.

It was as we climbed the stairs after the 12th station (He Dies) that I responded automatically in the positive to Adrian’s questions of, ‘are you alright?’, that I realized I was not ‘alright’, and in fact felt extremely emotional. During the 11th Station, He is Made to Suffer, I had poured a bucket of freezing water and ice cubes over his naked, kneeling body – an act in which I felt somewhat divided about participating in. The knowledge that I was about to cause pain to this person and that perhaps by refraining from the act I could reduce his discomfort, had been overridden by an acknowledgement that this was HIS responsibility – it was his choice to perform. I was also aware of a deeper sense of curiosity and a child-like malevolence. Did I want to inflict pain on him? Did I feel that he deserved this punishment for Jim, for Jordan, for Colin, for his mother, for his selfishness? These thoughts evaporated as he stood before me, naked and shivering and took me by the hand - he wasn’t performing. I felt responsible.He led me down a pitch black corridor constructed of old shelving units, reassuring me of our direction. This was the 12th station, where Jesus dies on the cross. We entered a small room, with rubbish, debris, waste scattered on the floor. As he gingerly, still naked with bare feet, clambered to a pile at the back I traced his footsteps and prayed he would avoid the sharp nails and splinters I could see on the floor. Balanced at the summit of the rubbish, naked, cold and wet, he held my gaze as he sang in a pitiful, anguished voice Celine Dion’s song ‘All by myself’. A vivid picture came to my mind from when I was at university, of an ex-partner in midst breakdown… his room full of rubbish, completely absorbed in his own imagined reality, so lost and frightened. I wanted to do something to help. As I watched the pitiful singer in front of me, I experienced another split in my reaction. The inviting dry, fluffy towel was within inches of my grasp, and I could have easily walked over to him, put it round him and relieved some of his suffering from the icy cold water, perhaps even from his mental pain as he relived his breakdown in front of me. But I didn’t. I sat and watched and felt complicit in this strangely intense personal theatre of pure misery and hopelessness.
Let’s return to the stairs, where I realized I wasn’t ‘alright’. I felt my cheeks getting hot. We climbed to the top of the stairs, hand in hand, Adrian finally wrapped in the warm towel. It was the 13th Station He is Given to His Mother. We watched an old family video of his mother holding him as a baby. I was only partially aware of what he said and what was being shown as I battled with my burning face and sweaty palms, quite disturbed by my lack of emotional control. Below the television screen was a tray with tea lights and Adrian invited me to light a candle for my mother. He remembered her name ‘Joyce’ from an earlier conversation we had had. I bent down, and offered to light one for his mother too. I can’t remember her name, but I think it was Sheila. I felt dislocated. I couldn’t let myself dwell too much on my mother, knowing that it could quite possibly send me over the edge into tears, so I attempted to compose myself. When I stood up, I inhaled a deep breath of relief.

We continued to the final station – Jesus is laid in the tomb. Adrian opened the door into a white room, brightly lit by flood-lamps and climbed into the large, mahogany bed. He asked me to wrap the duvet around him and spoon behind, which I did. I was immediately comforted by the smell and touch of the thick duvet, an object I always associate with safety - safety in my parents’ house, safety from the cold, safety from the outside world. I felt that this redemptive act, of giving comfort, was meant for me as much as for him. As I lay on the bed, I relaxed, drifted off. He got up, leaving me there by myself to listen to a poem played on a small speaker by my head. I only remember the first line. It was something like ‘You don’t have to be good’. I was told that I didn’t need to try so hard, that I should value myself as I was. Burying my face into the pillow I thought of all the times as a child I had spent in church, how I had known from the age of 6 that God was the most important person in the family, how many times I had been told that God loved me ‘even though’ I was a sinner.

I got up and stood at the end of the bed, where Adrian introduced the ‘surprise’ 15th station. The Resurrection. In the bright, white room he handed me a flying saucer sweet. Before we ate them, he said, “Next time you eat one of these, I’d like you to remember me”. The symbolism was not lost on me and I laughed out loud at this sacrilegious celebration we were having. He poured out 2 glasses of cranberry juice and asked me to remember him once again as we drank together.
This one-to-one performance produced multiple affects, and through the use of critical narrative and anecdotal theory, it’s possible to exemplify the productivity of such an encounter for the spectator/participant. Two coextensive frames of agency will be discussed, the first being that of ethical responsibility and engagement - a debate that draws upon the work of Emmanuel Levinas. As previously recounted, 14 Stations contained several events that produced a splitting of emotional, personal and physical responses, creating ethical dilemmas for the spectator/participant (for example, voyeurism, pouring of the ice, giving of the towel, wrapping in the duvet). All of which are underpinned by a notion of responsibility - responsibility for one’s own actions/reactions, and responsibility of the other.
In Ethics and Infinity, Levinas writes that he understands responsibility as “…responsibility for the Other, thus as responsibility for what is not my deed, or for what does not even matter to me; or which precisely does matter to me, is met by me as face.” (95) The confrontation with the face of the other acts as a reflection of the self, of one’s own humanity and this, in the context of the performance, is heightened by the considered use of eye contact, physical contact and close proximity. Levinas continues to say that, “…since the Other looks at me, I am responsible for him, without even having taken on responsibilities in his regard; his responsibility is incumbent on me.” (96) The ‘incumbency’ is located within a hiatus between the necessity of responsibility as care for the other and the subjective response towards the other. Within the obligation to act lies the ethical dilemma. The ethical agency of 14 Stations employs subjective choice – if one chooses to act, then one becomes complicit in particular scenarios, if one chooses not to act, then one becomes a voyeur, a witness. Through self-conscious awareness of choice the spectator/participant reflects on personal ethical decisions and produces connections with lived experience.
In Precarious Lives, Judith Butler writes of vulnerability, loss and grief and takes these as points for reflection on ethical and political life. She approaches the question of a “non-violent ethics, one that is based upon an understanding of how easily a life is annulled.”(17) Drawing upon Levinas’s work, Butler positions ethical struggle within the awareness of the ‘precariousness’ of life of the Other. Implications of mortality and of violence are echoed throughout 14 Stations, through the obvious relation to the brutal death of Christ and through the confessions and revelations of injurious actions and words; rejection, betrayal; physical pain and mental suffering. The vulnerability of Howells’ body, illustrates the precariousness of the Other as a site of grief and exposure.

This brings us to the second frame of agency (interconnected with the discussion of the ethical) which is one of autobiographical recollection. By recounting my emotional response through the narrative of the event, I hoped to capture the manner in which the performance vividly called forth personal histories. The propensity of the one-to-one performance to mobilize the spectator/participants histories was repeatedly dependant on moments of precariousness – moments of vulnerability, loss or grief. These moments, when recounted or performed by Howells, produce unexpected, empathic recollections that directly relate to one’s own experience of ‘precariousness’. This doubling, or reflection, is the encounter with the ‘face’ of the other - a revelation of the bond that exists between beings, and an acknowledgement of one’s own humanity through vulnerability.
Vikki Bell in her recent publication, Culture and Performance, questions the effects produced when vulnerability and grief are revealed to the other, how through, to quote Judith Butler in Violence, Mourning and Politics, the “enigmatic traces of the others” we become aware of our dependence on relations. Bell asks that, “…might not this feeling of exposure lead one to comprehend one’s self as multiply connected and indebted?” (24) As I progressed through the 14 stations, my experience of ethical dilemma, the recollection of past events, the sharing of stories, the acts I performed and the confessions given generated autobiographical memories within me that were very much connected to relations with others.
Nicholas Bourriaud explores the possibility of art being a relational encounter in Relational Aesthetics. He writes about his investigation of “an art taking as its theoretical horizon the realm of human interactions and its social context, rather than the assertion of an independent and private symbolic space.” (14)
I find his assertion to be a paradoxical statement. How can one experience ‘art’ in its social context without asserting private, personal and independent responses or judgments? This performance has the potentiality to bring both the social and the personal to the surface. When Howells recounted a narrative of a past, childhood incident, I - as complicit audience - felt persuaded to make a ‘judgement’ against or towards him, (or his behaviour). This ethical act was very much based upon my own recollected childhood experiences and the ‘judgements’ made about me, and by me – within a social context.
When discussing the performance within the realm of social interaction, it is the possibility of interruption that transforms moments of the performance from spectacle to participation and creates a potentially dialogic space. Howells periodically attempts to open up opportunities for communication through the sharing of stories and intimate confessions of unrequited love. His offer of autobiographical details connects to experiences had by the spectator/participant, and exposes a gap of exchange within an intense, and at times disturbing, hour. Autobiographical performance can often be labeled as narcissistic and self-indulgent, yet 14 Stations invites the spectator/participant to speak of their own ‘self’. Deirdre Heddon in Autobiography and Performance (2008) writes in her analysis of autobiographical performance that she has most often encountered…

…performances that strategically walk the fine line between essentialising the individual and assuming a common ‘we’; between insisting on lived experience whilst also recognizing the historical, cultural and discursive imperatives enabling that experience; between ‘the past’ and ‘the future’. Talking from the experience of the ‘self’, whilst also subjecting these experiences to critical scrutiny, performers enable or instigate a dialogue, recognizing that the act of performance is an act of communication.”
To conclude, The 14 Stations of the Life and History of Adrian Howells opens up possibilities for connections and relations, particularly in its employment of ethical questioning and autobiographical recollections. The productivity of the work lies in its ability to activate the subject in the construction of relations. The performative force or agency of the encounter does not diminish in its rehearsal or staged-ness, as multiple relations are produced anew each time it is performed, engaging new autobiographical and ethical responses within each individual participant/spectator.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

PHONO - A one-day multimedia exhibition in celebration of analogue


Date:
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Time:
3:00pm - 10:30pm
Location:
The FoundryStreet:
86 Great Eastern StreetCity/Town:
London, United Kingdom


With work by:
Vikki Hill
Simon Wring
Amy Visram
Nadia Visram
Emily Alexander
Cornelius Brady
Lisa Brown
Sharlene Channer
Philip MarstonSteve McInery
Stefanie Posavec

Plus DJs























Private View




















Photographs and 'Manual' (2008), by Vikki Hill

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Big Freeze




On Saturday 16th Feb “frozen in time” missions happened in both London and Toronto. They were inspired by the Frozen Grand Central mission and organized via Improv Everywhere Global.
http://improveverywhere.com/

The London event took place in Trafalgar Square at 3.30pm and had an estimated 1,000 participants.
















We turned up at Trafalgar Square at about 3.25pm, quite aware of the tense expecation that chattered around the crowd. A bugle sounded - the sign for the freeze to start, and a quiteness fell over the Square, wrapping the participants in silence. 5 minutes was not long to be standing in a pose, and as we did, others walked around taking photographs, filming and looking at the giant tableaux. My favourite comments were "What is going on?!". "Why is everyone standing still?", "Ooooh - it's like that New York thingy!". Although requested to continue moving at 3.35pm when the signal was given to break, a large cheer went up from the crowd and it was hard not to join in. There was a definite feeling of elation - a post performance buzz. It had felt quite spiritual, and I was hit by a keen and rare sense of having taken part in a large group action, where our individuality was irrelevant, and the power was in the numbers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MS65a-RKTQk&feature=related

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Vietnam & Angkor Wat - DK Eyewitness Travel Guide




























Some of my photographs and research were used in the publication of the Ho Chi Minh section of the above publication for Dorling Kindersley, 2007. The credited photograph appears on page 56 as the View of Dong Khoi from Diamond Plaza.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Discuss the use of ‘play’ as restored behaviour in Tino Seghal’s This Success/This Failure (ICA, Jan-March 2007).

‘Such consciousness of what we do and feel each day, its relation to others’ experience and to nature around us, becomes in a real way the performance of living. And the very process of paying attention to this continuum is poised on the threshold of art performance.’ (Allan Kaprow, 1979)


Berlin-based Tino Seghal’s exhibition This Success/This Failure, previously exhibited at the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, and more recently at the ICA (29th Jan - 11 March 2007) was the final part of a trilogy of shows at the London venue. This Success /This Failure was a performance where children from local schools were exhibits, participants, facilitators and audience. The school children, aged between 7 and 10 years old, were based in the lower gallery of the ICA throughout the day. The students were from at least two different schools during each day except Sundays when the participants were from a variety of backgrounds. The reason being that the children were more likely to reinvent themselves (and the space) in a more outgoing, creative manner than if they were participating within preconditioned peer groups. Workshops were held in the morning to contextualise the event for those involved (children, teachers, educators, family members). The educational experience for the children was intended, as Seghal stated in his talk at the Goethe Institute with Dr Carey Jewitt, to be a “twisted trip to the museum” .

The instruction given to the participants was that they should “create their own means of play” , the request excluded the use of toys, phones, footballs, drawing/writing materials etc. As the ‘content’ of the exhibition, the young people were asked to use their imagination and creativity whilst interacting with the visitors and each other so that they could, according to the press release, “create a living art piece, over which they have ultimate control” . A living art piece certainly, but it would be questionable as to how much ‘control’ the children had within the institution, considering they were given instructions to adhere to, and were not allowed to leave the space. The ‘control’ the children experienced was in their negotiation of play and the, at times, humorous manipulation of the visitors. The responsibility (and a certain freedom) that the children experienced within the constructs of the art piece, somehow highlights the lack of freedom and control of all participants involved, yet Seghal states that the children “are empowered because they are taken seriously ”, they know that the artwork and the visitors are dependant on them.

Throughout each session, the children would interact with the visitors, playing more traditional games of Stuck in the Mud, Chinese Whispers and Wink Murder to showing magic tricks and coercing visitors into performing for them. As one young boy noted, “The best thing was trying to scare the adults.” At the end of each 45 minute interaction, the children were instructed to approach the visitor(s) and state the following: “My name is…., and I have decided that this piece of work is a success (or a failure).” The assumption that in this technological age children no longer play games without toys seems slightly na├»ve, as most of us who work with or have children in our families know. As Baudelaire noted, “Children bear witness through their games to their great faculty of abstraction and their high imaginative power. They play without playthings. ”

Seghal’s intention is to explore and antagonise common notions of political economy, relational engagement, consumerism, technology and communication. In a culture where material objects are so esteemed, he attempts to construct an economic system which mirrors that of the museum. Critiquing the desire for the production of ‘things’, Seghal transforms the material object into a temporal relationality materialised in the body. He refuses to document his work through film or photography and attempts to keep all paper work to a minimum, reducing the production of ‘objects’ that could be seen as art commodities. The ‘matter’ produced is comprised of language, human interaction, movement and engagement. His position echoes that of Peggy Phelan when she states that “performance’s only life is in the present ”, and that the recording, documentation or reproduction changes the event into “something other .” Although he insists his work be labelled as ‘installation’ rather than ‘performance’, Seghal maintains that viewers must directly interact, through dialogue and movement, rather than relying on documentation to experience the work. The materials used (human beings), the structure (pre-chosen conditions and instructions) and the product (relational situations) are essential elements of performance.

This Success/This Failure critiques many aspects of live art experience and audience expectations of the gallery space. The work is rich in references to performance and Situationist artists of the 60’s and 70’s. Allan Kaprow explored how life experience could be the medium of his art practice by creating situations, interventions and structures drawing on the banality of everyday events and actions. Kaprow wrote in his 1983 essay The Real Experiment that, “Lifelike art did not merely label life as art. It was continuous with that life, inflecting, probing, testing, and even suffering it, but always attentively. ” It is this experimental, playful approach to the everyday which Seghal harnesses and manipulates in This Success/This Failure to create a dynamic space open to dialogue, change and disruption.

He uses ‘play’ as a mode of transformative effect within the gallery and (by employing similar strategies as used by Kaprow), he marks out a structure of interaction through the use of previously written instructions given to participants. Instructions (or rules) are essential components of most kinds of ‘play’ or ‘games’ that we see and experience as everyday occurrences, whether in the playground, park, street or home. In his classic study Man, Play and Games, Roger Caillois defines the four main designations of play into “competition, chance, simulation…vertigo. ” He attempts to define these and to pose which is more dominant. It is worth noting that This Success/This Failure contained all four aspects of play, and that the children (and visitors) drew upon a common experience of games to collaborate with each other. That Seghal chose the activity of ‘play’ to explore relational behaviour and interaction seems an obvious and simple choice, the disturbance to our perception is the location - the gallery– a space where noise, laughter, children and movement are by and large absent. The gallery space has, as Brian O’Doherty writes in his seminal text Inside the White Cube, “a presence possessed by other spaces where conventions are preserved through the repetition of a closed system of values. Some of the sanctity of the church, the formality of the courtroom, the mystique of the experimental laboratory (….) ” The reverence of the ritualistic space is interrupted, a rift occurs, when children are running about screaming and laughing. Visitors were placed in a position which, for some, was extremely enjoyable (perhaps educational), yet for others, was extremely uncomfortable. Being forced to play with the children caused a range of emotions from a touch of embarrassment to utter awkwardness, and through the disruption of normal expectations of art (a passive, ocular experience), the visitor is made to reflect on their own behaviour, and to challenge personal boundaries.

In 1938, cultural historian Johan Huizinga explored the role of play within society in his book Homo Ludens. His observations could well be used as an exhibition press release for not only This Success/This Failure, but for much of Seghal’s art practise.

“A free activity standing quite consciously outside “ordinary” life as being “not serious”, but at the same time absorbing the player intensely and utterly. It is an activity connected with no material interest, and no profit can be gained by it. It proceeds within its own proper boundaries of time and space according to fixed rules and in an orderly manner. It promotes the formation of social groupings that tend to surround themselves with secrecy and to stress their difference from the common world by disguise of other means.”

That play is removed from the production of object or profit, is fundamental to Seghal’s conception of relational artwork and his negation of material production. Roger Caillois also points to a characteristic of play being the fact that it “creates no wealth or goods. ” The rules of play are formulated outside of the everyday, ordinary routines and activities of productive work. What then, does play produce? Play, for both humans and animals, explores and develops social relations. In its multiple variations, from competitive games to character improvisation, play is performed in a space outside ‘normal’ life activities such as working, sleeping and eating, yet it draws upon the actions of the everyday and recombines them to create an exploratory event. American Anthropologist, Gregory Bateson commented upon the behaviour of two young monkeys playing together at San Francisco Zoo, noting that they were “engaged in an interactive sequence of which the unit actions or signals were similar to but not the same as combat.” The monkeys practised skills needed for survival within the group by using pre-known actions. It could be said that they rehearsed these skills, just as children rehearse the observed behaviours of others in their family and community.

Role-play, mimickery and make believe games are the primary means by which a child will imitate adults, and through the exploration of actions and reactions, learn appropriate, socialised behaviours. We can look at the case of Traian Caldarer the 7 year old Romanian boy who, in 2002, was found after living in the wild for 3 years in the forests of Transylvania. Having been looked after by wild dogs, he lost the ability to speak and displayed behaviours common to the pack, such as growling and chasing cats. The behaviours observed by this child, would then have been appropriated and normalised so that he could function as part of his new community. No doubt Traian Caldarer would have experienced imitative play as a kind of socio-symbolic tool which, through repetition, conditioned his behaviours; his actions and reactions. Kaprow observes that, “Human beings participate in these scenarios (participation performance), spontaneously or after elaborate preparations, like actors without stage or audience, watching and cuing one another…” There is an obvious similarity in the approach both humans and animals adopt towards participation in play, and how, by observing those around us, we learn skills for physical and emotional survival.

The repetition of everyday actions and behaviours outside the ‘frame’ of normal cultural interaction can be seen in play, ritual and performance, and it is within the blurred overlapping of these categories that artists such as Seghal and Kaprow position their work. Allan Kaprow in his aptly titled book, The Blurring of Art and Life, highlights the transformative effect of choosing a particular behaviour or action and ‘performing’ it within a different context. He noted that, ”…everyday routines conceived as ready-made performances change because of their double use as art/non art…” It is the double use of play in This Success/This Failure which creates tension and questions the assumed, or ‘normal’ behaviours of the visitors. Derrida emphasises that forms of communication need to be “repeatable – iterable” if they are to be affective. Repetition of a common behaviour, as a physical language shared within social groups, can be used as a powerful form of gestural communication.

Notions of repetition are embedded within Schechner’s explanation of ‘twice-behaved’ or ‘restored’ behaviour. Schechner points out that our daily life is filled with “routines, habits and rituals” which are, equally, a fusion of pre-behaved behaviours. We ‘perform’ these behaviours repeatedly, usually unaware of the causes of these actions. Those routines and habits that we repeat are hugely varied and can range from the rituals at a wedding or religious ceremony to the way we offer a cup of tea to a visitor. These behaviours do not ‘belong’ to any one of us, but are a combination of previously experienced behaviours. Schechner explains that:

“Restored behaviour is living behaviour treated as a film director treats a strip of film. These strips of behaviour can be rearranged or reconstructed; they are independent of the causal systems (personal, social, political, technological, etc.) that brought them into existence. They have a life of their own. The original ‘truth’ or ‘source’ of the behaviour may not be known, or may be lost, ignored, or contradicted – even while that truth or source is being honoured (…) Restored behaviour is the key process of every kind of performing, in everyday life, in healing, in ritual, in play, and in the arts.”

The magnitude of Schechner’s theory of restored behaviour is such that every kind of behaviour can be said to fall within it – every behaviour is constructed from previously behaved actions. We have already mentioned the blurring between life and art in the work of various art practitioners, and Schechner notes this within his definition of restored behaviour. Restored behaviour is integral to performance - just as each behaviour is restored, so each performance consists of restored behaviour. Schechner’s doubling – the ‘restored restored behaviour’ exists within performance, where the performer draws upon their knowledge of previous behaviours from life experience to re-enact them consciously within the context of an event and where particular behaviours are indicated as different. “Because it is marked, framed and separate, restored behaviour can be worked on, stored and recalled, played with, made into something else, transmitted, and transformed.” Schechner also points out that the doubling of restored behaviour within performance has been blurred not only in theatrical events, but also within everyday life. He wrote that opinion regarding the nature of the theatrical had changed so that…

“…the political action, conflictual or aharmonic behaviour on both the personal and the “social drama” levels, role playing in everyday life, emotional training using acting exercises to help professionals (police, airline personnel, etc.) to deal with a crisis … are all evidence to the increasingly complicated interactions between, and continuing convergence of, theatre and ritual.”

During such training events, participants draw upon their own knowledge of social behaviours to gain experience of learning how to react to challenging situations. When adults play at being themselves, a doubling of the restorative behaviour occurs once again. If, as Schechner states, restored behaviour is the “key process” of every kind of performance, then it deserves further analysis, and we can look to play as a model for this. Play can be defined as performance (role-play, make believe), as ritual (Halloween dressing-up), as healing (play therapy), as art (making, painting, building) and as part of everyday life; the interchange of these words and their meanings reflects the relationship between performance and life. Play can fit into each of Schechner’s 3 categories of performance (ritual, aesthetic and social), yet it is in the form of social drama that we commonly experience it. In “social drama all present are participants, though some are more decisively involved than others. ” (Seghal’s work is hinged on this very notion of participation – each individual is implicated in the action).

When playing, children explore and imagine their own social dramas.
They draw upon observed behaviours and transform them (through the restoration of behaviour) to fulfil their own needs. The child in the sandpit creates a diorama and arranges characters within a miniature world to re-enact the intricacies of relations between fictional creatures. The animation of toys through fantasy make-believe exists in parallel to reality. Huizinga wrote that the space of play is ‘outside’ everyday life, and the existence of a parallel fantasy world, gives the child a ‘safe’ place to explore relations. Fantasy can be empowering for the young child who has very little control over social situations, enabling them bring into being an interior world, creating symbolic systems of communication and meaning.

If play as restored behaviour exists ‘outside’ of everyday life, and denotes a type of freedom, an exploratory release, what then changes when the play is situated within the context of the gallery? The context of the space becomes as much the content of the work as the action happening within it. When questioned as to why Seghal situated his work in an ‘art space’ rather than a ‘non-art space’, he replied that if it was to be located within a school, it would be a ‘workshop’. “It wouldn’t be a work of art because a work of art needs a reception. ” For Seghal to generalise en masse that art does not exist outside of an art location or at least not without an art audience as ‘receptors’ (or perhaps he meant that art in schools/community settings does not count as proper art), is questionable, if not slightly arrogant. Admittedly, we would need to know more of his definition of art, but his stance seemingly detracts from his relational aspirations of community and dialogue, bringing into question the relationship between the artist and his participant/performers, as producer and produced. Seghal’s work is so intimately entwined with the economies of the gallery space and the art world, that it would be interesting to decontextualise it in this sense, and relocate it to a public space – Gillian Wearing’s Dancing in Peckham, 1994 comes to mind.

If we return to the restored behaviour of both the children playing at playing and the adults playing at playing, what happens to both within this participational performance? Schechner writes that the rituals and games that are part of everyday life are created collectively, and through the repetition and re-editing of these behaviours, we perform our lives, and we perform ourselves. The awareness of, and way in which, we perform ourselves is the basis of every kind of performance – in everyday life and in the theatrical. Schechner puts it in “…personal terms restored behaviour is “me behaving as if I were someone else,” or “as I am told to do,” or “as I have learned.”” He explains the ‘multiple me’; that through modest observation, one can analyse actions and reasons for behaviours and realise their repetitive quality which stem from learnt, or socialised behaviours and rituals. Kaprow discusses this awareness of self-performing in Erving Goffman’s work. He notes that,

“…routines of domesticity, work, education and management of daily affairs, which because of their very ordinariness and lack of conscious expressive purpose do not seem to be art forms, nevertheless posses a distinctly performancelike character. Only the performers are not usually aware of it.”

It is precisely this awareness of the self performing self that Seghal employs - the construction of an art work which presents a challenging mode of engagement and content (play, human beings as art objects rather than inanimate objects or images). The viewer has little choice but to be made aware – to be self-conscious – of personal boundaries and behaviours. Within the context of the gallery space, visitors had to readdress their own expectations of ‘proper’ art, behaviour and meaning - a process that the children also underwent, with the added support of the workshops, feedback sessions and discussions with educators. The alteration from pre-conceived social norms towards an openness to engage with the situation presented is transformational. Kaprow stated that “self-knowledge is where you start on the way to becoming “the whole”, whether this process takes the form of social action or personal transformation.” Seghal’s practise challenges personal behaviour; the awkwardness (the self awareness) that are created on the one hand and enjoyment and sense of fun on the other, are produced by the unwrapping of restored behaviours through play and relational engagement.

The problematics of This Success/This Failure, as a relational artwork, are perhaps to do with a lack of acknowledgement of the existence of ‘relational’ experiences in daily life. Whether the children gained as much from the supposedly ‘transformational’ experience as the artist did in terms of his own production of self-promotion remains to be seen. The awkwardness that the viewer experiences may not simply be due to the awareness of a restored and socialised behaviour, but may also be in part due to the performance of the children – they, not dissimilarly to zoo animals, do not have control, and are under the instructions of another. Seghal’s assurance of an educational benefit seems slightly more to do with enabling the performers to ‘perform’ their roles, rather than as an agency within itself. As one educator wrote:

“Although the concept of no objects and human interaction within the gallery space was effective with some groups it also proved unsuccessful and unpleasant with other groups. With no objects to engage them and no imposed authority from official teachers there were children who ended up being aggressive, badly misbehaved, discourteous and at times verging on violence with each other. I do not think this was entirely the fault of the children but perhaps proves an anthropological discovery that this environment can both be detrimental to some children’s behaviour whilst positively nurturing personal attributes in others.”

That challenging behaviour (to use this term within an educational context) arose throughout the exhibition perhaps only reaffirms the fact that human beings explore relations through play to test the boundaries and expectations of social groups. The exhibition promoted confidence for some of the children involved and would certainly have been a place for them to reflect on their own notions of art within the gallery context. To conclude, I feel it is only appropriate to record some of the thoughts of the young people who participated so wholeheartedly in the project.

“God, some of these adults' are really hard work.”

“I got everyone to be a ballerina ‘cos I wanted to make that man do it.”

‘‘I learnt that art can be about communication and doesn’t have to be a painting”

“For the imagination is the biggest, best, millionest object that we have and it’s usually entrapped within and by objects” (from a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome)


Footnotes
Allan Kaprow, Performing Life (1979) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, p196
Tino Sehgal in conversation with Dr Carey Jewitt, Goethe Institute, London, 29th January 2007
ICA Press release, Jan 2007
Ibid
Tino Sehgal in conversation with Dr Carey Jewitt, Goethe Institute, London, 29th January 2007
No. 22, Selection of children’s statements from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007
Charles Baudelaire, Morale du joujou in Baudelaire: Oeuvres Completes, ed. Marcel A. Ruff, Editions du Seuil:Paris, 1968, p358
Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, Routledge: London, 1993, p146
Ibid
Allan Kaprow, The Real Experiment (1983) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, p206
Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, The Free Press: New York, 1961, p12
Brian O’Doherty Inside the White Cube, 1976 (Expanded edition) University of California Press: London, 1999, pg14
Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, Beacons Press: New York, 1955, p13
Roger Caillois, Man, Play and Games, The Free Press: New York, 1961, p21
Gregory Bateson, A Theory of Play and Fantasy, (1954) in Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Paladin Books, 1973, p152
Allan Kaprow, Participation Performance (1977) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, p 187
Allan Kaprow, Participation Performance (1977) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, p 190
Jacques Derrida, Signature Event Context in Margins of Philosophy, Chicago:Chicago University Press,1982, pg315
Richard Schechner, What is Performance? In Performance Studies, Routledge: London, New York, 2002 p28
Ibid p14
Ibid p28
Richard Schechner, From Ritual to Theater and Back in Performance Theory, Routledge: London, New York, 1988, p122
Richard Schechner, Toward a Poetics of Performance in Performance Theory, Routledge: London, New York, 1988, p171
Tino Sehgal in conversation with Dr Carey Jewitt, Goethe Institute, London, 29th January 2007
Richard Schechner, What is Performance? In Performance Studies, Routledge: London, New York, 2002 p28
Allan Kaprow, Participation Performance (1977) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, pg186
Allan Kaprow, The Real Experiment (1983) in The Blurring of Art and Life, University of California Press: Berkeley and LA, 1993, p217
Educator 7, General observations collected from educators from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007
No. 4, Selection of children’s statements from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007
No. 13, Selection of children’s statements from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007
No. 19, Selection of children’s statements from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007
No. 23, Selection of children’s statements from Observations of the Project, ICA, March 2007

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