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[ Jointing ]

4. Path of Becoming

‘One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,’[1] is a phrase famously stated by Simone de Beauvoir. We are not born to be who we are but are born into a scripted path for becoming a socialized and culturally marked body. This can be linked to Ahmed’s description of the well-used path, in which following a traditional path provides a route that is smooth and easy to follow, ‘each time a path is used, it becomes easier to use, such that over time we can call it well used or even used well.’[2] The Panopticon is a social, legal and cultural system that is deployed to address errors, which designers predetermine could occur within the system. This also produces a long-term process of self-regulation that is built up from quotidian society (as occurring in everyday or ordinary social functions), and through which we apply the knowledge and ethics from everyday life to sculpt what we think we should become. This is the emergence of the well-used path. Prior to our entry into society, we have been placed on a standard path that has already been artificially set-up in advance by the institutional complex (nuclear family, school and social conventions). In La Familia Obrera-The Working-Class Family (1968), Bony suggests a possible route for altering this path. In an interview with Bony for Instituto Di tella Experiencias 68, the artist states that The Working-Class Family (1968):

… wasn’t a performance, because it hasn’t got a script, it isn’t body art, there’s no clear category for this work, and I like that very much, the fact that not even I can find a precise categorization. I find extremely important the fact that there is a certain feeling of being on the limit.[3]

Bony set up the premise for this piece of work, as he selected the necessary participants, made the economic decisions (as well as choosing to render them visible through a textual blurb) and designed the strategic staging of the working-class family on plinths in the gallery. However, when the exhibition opened to the public Bony’s work was able to take on a life of its own. This was due to its unpredictable performance and the chemical reaction that was produced through the intermingling of participants (performers and audience). Moreover, what happened in the gallery became a ‘glitch’ in Argentinian class construction because it provided the setting for a social confrontation. This confrontation, or glitch, provides a possibility for a more varied subject to begin its development. Russell’s glitch again provides an analogy for this slippage in the expected order. In contrast, to framing the glitch as an error that needs to be cast out or subsumed by the system, Russell describes it as compelling us to find liberation, as she argues that we need to embrace the glitch in order to break down the rules and limitations that construct contemporary society. A glitch might be produced, for instance, by the out-of-control child performers who ‘misbehaved’ amid the audience and, therefore, confused or even troubled the audience.

The ambivalent situation that Bony sets up for his performers and audience alike, is linked to my research and its concerns with the attitudes and properties emanating from materials. In Not Really Really (17-SS-4), these materials included the body of the performer, as well as the egg yolk, monocle, gallery space and audience. The ‘Grumble’ abstract quoted above, records the unpredictable context that I found myself in during the exhibition due to this multi-variant context. I repeated negative words to myself, such as ‘I am only a medium, a nobody’, ‘I hunch over’ or ‘Please ignore me’ until they perpetually whirred around in my mind. Interpreting these thoughts, I understand their documentation as a glitch produced by my work that encouraged me to question my own sense of identity. It speaks to how the frame and bounds set up by a piece of work is able to make the artist/performer feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, I treated the audience as either spectator or participant within the work and the position they took up (either spectatorial distance or participatory interaction) depended on their relationship to the work. The audiences’ position depended on whether they noticed the work and chose to interact with it or not. When a viewer is looking at Not Really Really (17-SS-4), their body often hovers around it as if they are concentrating on figuring out the identity of the yellow substance. I have witnessed several viewers directly blowing on the artwork to test its material configuration. On a few of these occasions, the egg yolk has even fallen off the monocle plate. In these instances, the audience member usually runs away because, similarly to Bony’s performers, they have stepped out of the bounds of the scripted relationship with the artwork and/or gallery.

Both ‘performer’ and ‘participant’ are terms used by Bony and Bishop, which could either constitute an individual human, material, dancer, architecture, or a networked combination of these positions. In a sense, these performers are always becoming in relation to each other, which means that they cannot lose their identities through the encounter because their identities were never secure in the first place and are always produced in relation to a network of actors (similarly to Lacan’s Other/others described above). In Bony’s artwork, the performer’s and audience members’ identities are constantly shifting from here to there. They are circulated between both the demarcated plinth, public floor of the gallery (the wandering of identities onstage/offstage in the gallery) and the offstage of their daily lives. For the audience, the onstage of the gallery is what is usually made visible to them, whereas the offstage (decision making of the gallery, from installation to economic decisions) is rendered invisible. Bony aims to make socially, economically and politically structured elements (which are often invisible) visible to the performer and audience (participants in the experiment); such as discrimination, valuation and behavior. 

The onstage elements of the exhibition could be pictured as being in the spotlight or inside the psychology of the Panopticon. This is because they produce a feeling of being watched, which in turn influences the participants’ behavior. The offstage of the exhibition, could be understood as the time and operations that are invisible to the public, the processes behind becoming visible.

The participants in Bony’s work are both effectively performers and artworks, they are laboratory materials that are becoming other. Ahmed highlights how the putting to use of use (the structure of use) gives us the ability to analyze our habitual behaviors, ‘Use gives us a sense of things, how they are; what they are like’.[4] Ahmed’s phenomenological thinking deconstructs and complicates the meanings of ‘use' to reveal different uses and the political and social motivations that lie beneath them. Ahmed searches for a methodology that can help locate and activate alternatives to the well-used path. In my practice, I intend to locate and activate the less well used path in relation to our human treatment of materials. This process also takes place in-between the offstage and onstage of making art visible and activates Ahmed’s claim about the agency of using things differently. However, usable things often disappear from view, whereas broken things or glitches will appear into view and often as problems to be solved by the existing system, as opposed to a window into a possible new system. Ahmed states that, ‘Matter can be used in such a way that it vanishes into its uses.’[5] Therefore, the everyday object often only comes into view when it is broken or refuses to comply with the system. It is when the object stops working or cannot be used that the thing itself is revealed. When a usable object becomes an unusable thing, it starts to bother the user; whether the user decides to fix or abandon it, an extra decision needs to be taken in relation to this specific unusable thing. In her first chapter of What’s the Use?, ‘Using Things’, Ahmed refers to Heidegger’s theory of the ‘broken tool’ to highlight the responses that stubborn tools encourage humans to make:

Expanding on Ahmed’s thinking on the uses of use, which provides the reader with an incentive to use alternative paths and to deploy things differently, my practice will also be analyzed in relation to the plasticity of use and the alternatives I propose to the viewer through artistic practice. Whether onstage or offstage (visible or invisible), I aim to make all elements of the art process tangible to the audience. Traditional exhibition, or installation, practice often assumes that everything is finished from the artist’s perspective after they or a curator/installer have displayed the artwork in the white cube (onstage) space. After installation, the artist is seen to relinquish their control of the work’s meaning and hand’s this over to either the performer, audience or gallery staff. In the externalizing of my internal thoughts through Grumble, I aim to render the invisible feelings that were triggered in my own body throughout the performance. Grumble records how an artwork can create great anxiety in the artist, who remains responsible for the work, both mentally and physically, after it has been installed. In instructing myself with the responsibility of replacing the egg yolk throughout the duration of the exhibition, the work transformed the traditional relationship between the offstage and onstage in the gallery. By not announcing itself as a public performance but treating it as the artist’s routine work which was to keep the egg yolk in the condition of appearing fresh, enabled the audience to take responsibility for their own interactions with the work. This intermittently brings to light the working process of maintaining an artwork in front of the audience onstage during the exhibition, as opposed to behind the scenes (out of hours) or through invisible means such as air temperature, humidity and light. I aim to confront the onstage with the offstage and offer up their circuitous operations to the audience via observation/participation. Similarly, to Bony, I aim to produce a glitch in the perpetual field of the audience and proffer them as participants in co-constructing the meaning of the work. This concurs with Bishop’s interpretation of the relationship between artist and audience, ‘The artist relies upon the participants creative exploitation of the situation that he/she offers – just as participants require the artists cue and direction. The relationship between artist/participant is a continual play of mutual tension, recognition and dependency’[7]

Similarities can be drawn between mine and Bony’s practice, in that they both aim to quietly place a misplaced medium inside the white cube in order to encourage a slip in perception or a glitch in interpretation. Therefore, we place, wait and let encounters unfurl and accept that the artwork’s interpretation is produced through the encounter between both audience and performer/artwork. Also, like Bony, I also could not predict the way in which the audience would interact with the work, as a glitch had been switched on in the gallery and was waiting to be explored. This glitch depended on the visitors’ interaction with the work. This decision reflects Roland Barthes's thinking in the ‘Death of the Author'; that the audience co-constructs the interpretation of the text/artwork, not just the author. As Barthes declared, ‘[…] the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author.’[8] Therefore, we should allow the reader or audience member to discover and co-construct the meaning of the work.

However, there is a distinction between my work and Bony's primarily in terms of the artist’s own presence in the duration of the exhibition, as I continuously needed to be a performer in order to take care of my key participant the egg yolk. Through this act, I situated myself as having to be mentally and physically tied with the artwork; we (myself and the egg yolk) formed a supplementary relationship that relied on each other. As an analogy for this type of care, indoor plants usually need to be watered twice a week. Therefore, the maintainer will have to be on duty to water the plants in order to keep them alive. Thus, I assume that the maintainers are included within the object-relation, and neither plant nor maintainer could be taken apart from each other; object and maintainer are in a supplement relationship. Therefore, I put myself on-stage to support a performer (egg yolk) whereas Bony remains off-stage after the artwork is opened to the public. Bony himself, therefore, acts as a traditional audience member; an observer who is standing outside of the frame to observe the work from off-stage. While watching from behind the scenes, he sets up a provocation between two classes and directs the work towards a specific audience. This act could be thought of as providing a stage for two classes (artwork) to compare and interact each other, while observed by the artist and/or gallery. This is an interesting act of provocation because it takes the artist out of the arena of action. This then creates the artist themselves as audience and allows them the observatory distance from the artwork. In contrast, Not Really Really aims to situate the artist on the same plane as the audience to see the type of relationship that these constructs and evolves.

[1] Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism, A Manifesto, (New York: Verso Books, 2020), 12.

[2] Sara Ahmed, What’s the use? (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 42.

[3] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 117

[4] Sara Ahmed, What’s the use? (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2019), 21.

[5]  Ibid., 21.

[6] Ibid., 21.

[7] Claire Bishop, Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, (London: Verso Books, 2012), 279.

[8] Roland Barthes, Death of the Author (London: Fontana,1977), 148.


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