[dance-tech] Re: March-April Discussion forum on dance/performance and participation

  • From: Alexandre Achour <a.achour@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx, dance-tech@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 8 Apr 2015 12:45:45 +0200

Dear Johannes,

First of all thank you for including me to this exciting network, I am looking
forward to exchanging thoughts, opinions and knowledge.

There are many different topics in your last email that are for me interesting
to discuss, you asked me about examples of participatory practices that were
radical and subversive, I can for sure talk to you about the examples that we
used for our own performance « Speaking about the ghost », but I’m also working
on a documentation of the research that we made in order to share it, so I will
make sure to share it on this platform as soon as I am done. In any cases, my
recommendation is the book « Artificial hell » by Claire Bishop.

The other question that I also find interesting to discuss is how to understand
those terms « radical » and « subversive ».

And lastly the notion of actualization also came up in your email Johannes,
which was also part of our own research process, can those past participatory
performances be still subversive nowadays? Do they still have the same
potential to move people?

I would like to start with talking about our own performance and process. I
worked in collaboration with Ana Vujanovic, Sasa Asentic, Heike Bröckerhoff and
Helen Schröder. My starting point for the residency was a research on different
participatory performances throughout the 20th century until today, and I was
mostly concerned by the participatory practices that were progressive,
subversive or radical in their respective artistic and social contexts.

We started with the historical avant-garde - futurists, constructivists and
dada mouvements - and then post-war avant-garde such as Situationists, fluxus
and happenings, Jean-Jacques Lebel, and Argentinians artists (Ciclo del Arte
Experimental and Augusto Boal) - and then the post 68 movements in the west
mostly community arts movements as a radical and subversive practice but also
performance Art and in the eastern bloc the Collective Action Group (amongst
many others) - and finally after the fall of the iron curtain, Relational
Aesthetics which is radical but not subversive, and delegated performances.

During the research we realized the subversity of those past performances
cannot be actualized, because they were only subversive in relation to their
own context. The audience of the past cannot be actualized, nor can the
symbolic gesture of those performances towards their own context. Furthermore,
artists of those past performances proposed something new, which was
subversive and radical, and in order to be subversive and radical ourselves
with our performance we would also need to propose something new, yet we were
researching the old in order to think of the new, while doubting that we can be
subversive nowadays with participation, since it became a genre, an art form in

So we decided after the research to make a non-participatory performance about
participation, where we would tell the stories of past participatory
performances. The title of the performance is "Speaking about the ghost" - the
spirit that is spoken of here, is participation itself. I was interested in the
potential of the past participatory performances to move people into collective
or individual imagination. I wanted to create an experience that would
stimulate audience’s capacity to imagine themselves, their environment and
their social relations anew. Choreography appears here in stories and most of
all imagination. Choreography is understood both in our performance and in the
performances that inspired the stories in terms of body images, behaviour of
the audience, and relations between human beings as social subjects. In the
stories inevitably comes forth the illusory, utopian and destructive character
of participation. In spite of it, or perhaps because of it the performance
explores a different kind of "participation" – one that intrudes the
spectators’ mind, who have no other choice but to reconstruct images of the
ghosts, past participatory performances.

Maybe to finish with this already long email, I can write about 2 of the
examples we used in our performance : Schlingensief « Please love Austria » and
Collective Action Group « Appearance ».

Schlingensief container was a response to the right wing politician Haider in
Austria who was opposed to immigration. Schlingensief made a performance, where
he put immigrants without resident permit in a container on the public square,
and he framed it as a TV-show where everyday one of the immigrants was voted
out of the container by the public and sent back to his country, the last one
standing was given the right to marry a native Austrian to get papers. The work
was very controversial it rose many discussions and debate around the
container, of people disagreeing, mobilized, enraged or just confused and for
our performance we used the point of view of a woman who, on the 4th day,
passed by the square and saw the nazis slogans above the container and went
mad; when she was explained that it was a performance, she got even more angry
and started to disrupt all activities that were going on that day around the

Collective Action Group (CAG) was active in Moscow in the 70s - 80s, censorship
was strong in that time, so « unofficial » art happened in apartments and
amongst friends. So did CAG, who invited friends to the snow fields outside
Moscow, where an event would take place. In « Appearance » the event was : the
participants were given the instruction to watch out for the horizon, 2 men
appearing on the horizon walked towards the participants and gave them a
certificate of presence. Afterwards, participants would talk about their
experience. Per se the performance doesn’t deal with political content,
however in a context of unified collective experiences, CAG was proposing the
possibility of producing individual affect and singular experience, which was
there and then extremely subversive. In our performance we take the perspective
of one of the participants and his reflected experience.

Ok I stop here, I think this email is already much too long,
I look forward to your comments and questions,
All the best,
Alexandre Achour

Le 5 avr. 2015 à 22:48, Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
a écrit :

May I ask Alexandre to give us some examples of "participatory practices that
were radical and subversive towards their own social political context"?
Examples that may have a particular resonance for us today?
(and what political context where?)

In regard to dance and choreography, especially interactive processes or
networked processes, or installations that promise affective, tactile,
haptic, auditory and thus multisensory phenomena/experiences,
the question of the "radical" is a relative one, as much experimental labor
is invested in the scientific or computational/algorithmic aesthetic (form)
as well as a formal scenographic aesthetic (dealing with
the design or design constellation for the encounter with a public audience.

I mentioned the term 'social choreography' a few weeks ago, and would not
mind going back and looking into its history and more closely at what it
means or can mean. But "participatory" practices in the arts
are not by themselves (necessarily) radical or subversive, even if ( we heard
both Nilüfer's and Jeannette's moving accounts of their processes) they
involve the public or the community or address political content.
Not that many happenings of the 60s were radical; not many situationist
concepts would work today; perhaps ritual and shamanic acts are "radical
today," and what about extremist fundamentalist media performances
and asymmetric strategies? participatory often could said to be affirmative,
no? and I asked here before, what myth underlies the idea

[Alexandre Achour schreibt]

We were specifically interested in participatory practices that were radical
and subversive towards their own social political context.

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