Accelerating a blaze of very tender violence: Ten experiments in writing with performance and activism
This chapter engages with projects and art works that extended what I understand performance can be, entangled with activism. I discuss artworks whose bodies I have co-formed and artworks whose bodies have shifted the potentials of my (becoming) body, over 2018 and 2019.
Running inside these performances were seams of affect that undid the known, making space for new permissions to be given and accepted, in their specificity, their intimacy, their throw of touch, blaze and safety.
This chapter is written in the first person, and attempts to do so in a way that does not place humans at the centre of the world. It attempts to enunciate an T wherein words are extensions of a fuzzy, morphing ensemble of molecules. An T that creates sense from its spine to its fingerprints to its ecological bleed as one moment swells into another. That considers a body as an always-moving-haven for encounters, a product of a flow that moves far beyond any comprehensible form.
This chapter consists of a series of experiments in writing with the affect of language, through deliberate entanglement with stylistic approaches drawn from writer-researchers Kathleen Stewart, Lisa Robertson, Erin Manning, pavleheidler and Tru Paraha. Such writing methods make space for minor ontologies and practices that resist the normative, to generate spaces of activism, imagination and possibility.
Each of the ten fragments constituting this chapter attempts to accelerate the blaze of performance and its affects through the resource of writing. Poetic, choreographic and somatic approaches to language move between clarity, ambiguity, darkness and suspension—each a re-orientation toward how body, ecology and other can be reconfigured by creative-activist events.
Each time, there is recognition of how the spaces we exist in consume us, move us, move through us, transform us into an accelerant within a set of circumstances that are largely out of our control. The sensory practice of style reconfigures differently in each of the ten parts of this chapter. Its forms are sometimes made out of resistance, other times out of momentum. This chapter deliberately engages a personal and relational tone—proposing that language excavated through rich collaboration is ignited by spontaneous intensities and enabled by everyday acts of negotiation, care and trust. Such analysis is very different to the academic essay— it’s an analysis that emerges through space, duration and instability—through non-sense, through things being un-made as well as made. Experiencing performances such as Tru Paraha’s 5th Body, Unstable Nights or workshops by Keith Hennessey and Michael J. Morris, or collaborations with artists such as Macarena Campbell-Parra, Maximo Corvalan-Pincheira, pavle heidler or val smith is an intense kind of intimacy that untethers language from its schooling to invent non- normative curricula. Such writing can be a kind of activism, enabling imagination to move beyond the known.
Mumok Hofstellung, Vienna, 25 July 2019
This transdisciplinary, ‘open evening of deviations and recoveries’ created by Vladimir Weber, Claudia Hill, Julian Weber and Roberto Martinez (2019), with guest artists joining the collaboration each night, feels like a performance made of fragments of score and action and task. It’s one of those loose-leaf works where the borders are porous, it’s a rough gallery-performance space (in a separate building to the refined spaces of mumok art museum) for uncontainable events to happen-in. A tent is rigged in the centre of the room, clay sculptures and handwritten texts at one end of the space, sound and lighting boards off to the side. Materials strewn all around. I can’t tell performers from audience. There are people who move with the surety of performers but who don’t seem to be quite in or under the work, and I wonder are they younger dancers whose desire to perform brims through their pores? This work seems to be moving through a series of open- ended possibilities that are specific in their purpose and instruction, but could go to many places depending on who is there, what the materials do and how spaces unfold into each other.
A large steel plate forms a floor at the centre of the room. He takes lighter fluid and writes in beautiful cursive handwriting to cover the entire plate:
in my bed, in public toilets, near the water, in the darkroom, on my rooftop
Another performer watches the slope of handwriting unfold, and begins to sing the words in their process of sense-making, sometimes mistaking them for other words and then correcting. His voice arrives as melody, an almost overwhelming beauty in its singularity of tone, at once high and low, at once loud and soft, at once a surround of vibration and an invitation. As the plate is filled with words and enveloped in sound, the lights descend and the fluid is lit and the letters blaze and this newly-formed song reaches a crescendo and the language is blazing orange and yellow and gold, it flames beyond its surface, licking the air, igniting the room, producing actual heat, travelling further than language, further than music, much further than its materiality, yet also much much further than its abstraction.
There are these human bodies writing and singing and making lights move, and holding spaces and attending and caring, and allowing fire at a public event, allowing fire that could potentially blaze out of control, allowing fire that could catch. There are these non-human bodies forming the stuff of this world, pliable or unpliable, forming roof and ground, producing the space, density and tone of this shifting world, giving and withholding spaces of rest. The blaze is contained within its intended steel surface, and so very brief. As the intensity of heat consumes its accelerant, the heat de-escalates and gold turns to orange turns to yellow turns to purple, and words become shapes, become fluid buoyant ghosts, otherworldly forms, bruised and depthless flickers of remains, light-in-falling, and then a series of incoherent scars on steel. And the theatre lights come up and the piece moves on. But the ignition of these soaring, flickering poetics, a voice turning the petrol shapes of another’s handwriting into song in real time, is still alight in the endless rotation of these bones.
The front cover of Kathleen Stewart’s book Ordinary Affects (2007) shows a tree on fire and a bunch of kids near it, one of them holding a petrol can. Young and inventive. Inhaled by a situation and igniting a situation. The shape of the tree is very clear, its leaf-less branches flaming, vulnerable.
Stewart’s book presents a series of short written pieces that reflect on those moments where something ignites—a realisation, an accident, a series of events. Each time, there is recognition of how the spaces we exist in consume us, move us, move through us. I don’t know how to categorise Stewart’s texts. Are they stories? Anthropological fragments? Prose-pieces? Examples of experimental poetics? The back cover description of the book describes it as:
a series of brief vignettes combining story telling, close ethnographic detail, and critical analysis (in which) Stewart relates the intensities and banalities of common experiences and strange encounters, half-spied scenes and the lingering resonance of passing events.
These texts vary in length and structure. Some evoke a singular and very precise emotional affect in very few words. In other texts the structure and coherence of a narrative throws out a sense of irresponsibility, of being untethered from a certain kind of sense-making that haunts academic, journalistic, and critical writing, to unapologetically cut to the nub of its subject. Stewart’s words cut to the affect, to the overwhelming way in which affective states blaze, catch, ignite, destroy, light-up, transform:
Things flash up—little worlds, bad impulses, events alive with some kind of charge.
Sudden eruptions are fascinating beyond all reason, as if they’re divining rods articulating something. But what?
(Stewart 2007, p. 68)
Affective states do their work inside our bodies, across our lives, and through the spaces we live, on individual to global scales. They blaze—mostly intangibly— through public and private spaces. They sing through the endless rotations of our bones. Stewart (2010) describes such writing as a process of‘worlding’:
In the everyday work of attunement to wording, spaces of all kinds become inhabited. Modes of existence accrue, circulate, sediment, unfold, and go flat. I am asking how questions of form, event, viscerality, and circulation open and problematize attention to the ways that forces take form as worlds or dissipate (or get stuck, fester, shelter something ...). How do rhythms and labours of living become encrusted and generative? How do we now describe the activity of sensual world making, and what kind of theory' is being built in this way? What happens if we approach worlds not as the dead or reeling effects of distant systems by as lived affects with tempos, sensory knowledges, orientations, transmutations, habits, rogue force fields...?
(Stewart, 2010, p. 446)
Through approaching anthropology as a process of worlding, Stewart attunes to the singularity of a situation. What approaches to language are summoned when we focus on quality, rhythm, force, relation and movement? How might the rhythm of an event move into writing, so that time itself is ignited into passages of words that move spaces, enflame feelings? Stewart’s concentration of text into short fragments of intensity enable a very different logic and embodied experience of reading to the argumentation of the essay. The writing provokes feeling and dwelling with a singular affect. Such writing can engulf sense and shift it, momentarily or forever.
The lighter fluid is style.
I performed in the Auckland, New Zealand activation of Un Violador eri Tu Camino/A Rapist in Tour Path in Aotea Square on 7 December, 2019 (Yebenes &
FranchinOj 2019). A week before this I was living in Santiago, developing the site- based performance El Otro Pais Que Eres- a part of the 18 Horns Enlre Nosolros project which has led me to work in Santiago every year over 2017, 2018 and 2019, working with practices of rough assembly. We have focused on the following principles:
The expectations for our project in 2019 were dramatically interrupted by what Chileans called at the time the ‘despertar social’ or ‘la situacion social’—the waking up of Chile. We didn’t know what to call what suddenly happened from 14 October 2019—no one did—it is (ongoing at the time of writing) a people’s uprising, a resistance movement against economic and class oppression, a saying no to neoliberal politics, a refusal to compromise with dictatorial powers in government, a demand for justice, and a demand for recognition of the human rights of all Chileans.
The feminist, activist work A rapist in your path came to international recognition in October 2019, in Santiago, Chile, during this period of intense violence and activism. Created by the feminist activist group Las Tesis, this remarkable performance /social movement/global protest has been widely documented in the global media (Yebenes & Franchino, 2019; Merelli, 2019; Islas, 2019). A rapist in your path distils feminist analysis by Argentinian anthropologist Rita Segado into a chant with physical gestures such as running on the spot, crouching hands to head, and pointing straight ahead on the word 4u’/‘you’. It has become an activist resource against sexual abuse and the institutions that enable rapists to commit sexual abuse (Merelli, 2019).
By naming the police as rapists and making themselves vulnerable to military weapons, the massive collectives of feminist performers contributed to some de- escalation of the violence of the front line of the protests, engaging art to dis- empower the Chilean armed forces, while simultaneously raising international awareness of the crisis in Chile, where rape was being used to disempower women from protesting. Internationally, its message was and remains strong for women everywhere, as there is immense power in refusing to allow women to be blamed for the sexual abuse committed against them. The key refrain in this chant is addressed directly to policemen (specifically the Carabineros de Chile, but the address has stretched universally to social institutions that protect sexual abusers): ‘el violador eres tu/the rapist is you’. This chant also names the rapist (el violador) as the state, the president, and the institutions of power that enable sexual abuse; the men who are meant to protect women, girls and vulnerable people but who systematically fail to do so. Performances of A rapist in your path spread like wildfire through the already burning streets of Santiago, where metros, supermarkets, drugstores, corporate buildings and other symbols of neoliberal economic violence were literally torched and smouldering. The work of Las Tesis brought a new weapon to the fight for political and economic reform.
This body is so tender / somehow after landing in Aotearoa NZ a few days ago you are still there in Santiago / still moving in relation to the epic scale of such generous and ethical violence against a corrupt status quo / still feeling everything is somehow being rewritten / that everything is in a bewildering flux / connections rewired/an undercurrent of terror from an unimaginable brutality—we are asking / can these disappearances be possible? / Proof is far too close.
A woman passes me a black blindfold and I tie it on. I have practiced the words in my faulty Spanish, repeating again and again, for the three-times-fast repetitions of the performance action:
Y la culpa no era mia, ni donde estaba, ni сото vestia / And the fault wasn’t mine, not where I was, nor how I dressed ... / El violador es til / The rapist is you.
I’m entering a collective body of resistance whose voice reaches across large swathes of the world / I’m a cell in a body of return/ returning the blame back to where it belongs / my eyes beneath the blindfold wince with the remembered wrench of the tear gas / wrench to witness my colleagues despair as the institution tells her the abuse, after which she had just had an abortion / does not constitute serious misconduct / I become part of a collective body of resistance alongside women and men in massive protests in Latin America, women in detention for performing this work in Turkey, alongside the female politicians who performed it in the Turkish parliament.
My blindfold is symbolic, as are the costumes of many of the women performing around me, whose clothing tends toward the black and the ‘provocative’. We are holding the right for women to wear the clothes they choose to without fear of abuse. The blindfold expresses our solidarity with the people of Chile and the many protestors who have been shot in the eye (Larsson, 2019). In the comments section of a New York Times article entitled Police are Blinding Protestors, We Spoke to the Injured (MacDonald, 2019), a writer named Togo comments, ‘They shoot us in the eye because after years of injustice we finally opened them.’
FIGURE 4.1 Publicity material for El Otro Pais Que Eres/The Other Country That You Are;
design by Eduardo Cero Tilleria, photography by Augusto Dominguez. Copyright Alys Longley 2019
El Otro Pais Que Eres
your train was lost between / the singular and the collective / each platform means standing in for these someone elses / so many vowels come from singular, interior bruises / but this roaring millions-strong body of refusal/is a kind of violent mending / shredding as the wound closes /
it’s surprising how tear gas can be ignored in the right company private dreams are crossing neighbourhoods in bacterial swells/ lemon pieces / bravado / melted public amenities/hallucinatory celebrations/ the transformation of endless compromises / to infinite waves of resistance
the other country that you are / these contagious forces that feel like emotions/ and move us in bewildering riptides, weaving a mesh of routes through a mesh of neighbourhoods / where the singular and collective bodies are just so deeply confused/ as to be indistinguishable
The stale that we are exhaled by place / We stand in for others / we wonder if the logic of bullets has formed our grammar / which now needs urgent medical attention / from student doctors wearing makeshift medic uniforms/ we break the language a little with the sound of pans and spoons, endlessly calling us / untethered/together
Extracellular punctuation, singular rules cross every cordon/ bound for misapplication/ into mass disobedience / the water canon looks so beautiful from far away/ as swells of solidarity break and bloom /
you couldn’t ever prepare your heart for this / epic sharing / across the other countries we all are (Longley, 2020).
Basta ya de represion/Enough of repression
The most recent project that has emerged in association with 18 Horas Entre Nosolros is an action where twenty thousand miniature band aid art works, each printed with the words 'Basta Ya’ (Enough Now) are distributed in downtown Santiago in January 2020 during an artist-led protest marking One Hundred Days of Resistance. The group organising the #BastaYa action (of which Maximo Corva- lan-Pincheira is a core member) is identified by the terms ‘Basta ya de represion/ Enough of repression’ and ‘Cullura en resistencia/Culture in resistance’.
This Friday, January 24, a march for arts and culture is convened at 17 pm from the plaza de la aviation. We are a group of artists in mobilization with the current social situation that is lived in Chile. Along with inviting you to the March, we call to be part of an action where we will deliver and launch twenty thousand patches in the journey of the March.
(Cullura en resistencia, 2020)
In the last few months we have witnessed how the population has been violated in different ways. This artistic action folds to the need for healing: heal the eyes, bodies, institutions, nature, indigenous territory, the country.
(Basta ya de represion, 2019)
FIGURE 4.2 Publicity material: Basta Ya de la Represion. Copyright Maximo Gorvalan-Pincheira, 2020
FIGURE 4.3 Basla Га de la Represion, Band-Aid Art Works, photographer Maximo Corvalan-Pincheira.
Donna Haraway discusses the important work of finding alternatives and forms of resistance to the ‘cynical, well-funded, exterminationist machine’(Haraway, cited in Weigel, 2019), and suggests one pathway to do this is in developing ‘emergent systematicities’ that respond to the ‘ need to develop practices for thinking about those forms of activity that are not caught by functionality, those which propose the possible-but-not-yet, or that which is not-yet but still open’ (ibid.).
I think about resistance as creating form. Of the scale of twenty thousand small gestures of healing, care, and resistance. The making of space for. The feeling of the breath rising up is enabled by the diaphragm dropping down. Falling into rising, push into pull, resistance into enablement, unknowing into knowing. To make space-for-change. A stepping-back-but-holding-space, safety and risk, borders and openings, preventions and constraints, the spilly fractures of emergence. These locks and these permissions.
How can practices of art making, performance writing, teaching, community involvement and other kinds of research entangle with activism? How do creative practices and the languages we draw in and around them hold or make space for value systems—languages of neuro-diversity, queer orientation, more-than-human recognition of the vitality and needs of diverse bodies and ecologies? For spontaneity and affect? For a viscerality of touch that sparks feelings that can’t translate to words?
Sites of creative studio practice are hubs for the development of systematicities. They are places to test worlds—to imagine what a body is outside of majoritarian currencies, systems of value, and functional responsibilities. In performance we can engage processes of suspension, experiments in duration, and time to process experiential potentialities.
Such studio practices hold resources for the resistance of extractive or proprietorial economies—instead of individualist brilliance and a commodity-obsessed mode of production, there are studio practices that focus instead on generating momentum, attention, generosity, listening, care and contagion of new ideas.
Style can be a kind of touch—a reaching beyond content into relation. Somatic practice enables a focus on attunement, respectful touch as a mode of sensing into the open, endless question of what a body can be, what bodying consists of right now in its moment of changing, со-extensive with ecologies, atmospheres, waterbodies. In this, my sense of somatics is inflected by practitioners such as Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who writes that ‘What we often call weakness is often not a lack of structure but a lack of process. When that process is actualized, we experience strength. Process is based on relationship’ (Bainbridge Cohen, 2019, n.p.).
A somatic approach to writing can be evidenced in the multi-modal writing practices of artist pavleheidler, whose writing is a kind of regular incineration of the hetero-normative—and a persistent enabling of the resources of embodied logics, activist questioning that queers spaces in various scales and ways. These small interruptions gently flame a set of potentialities. As a somatic practitioner, there’s a tenderness and care in how pavle activates a provocation through the body of a form.
pavle writes of poetry as a kind of suspension (heidler, 2019a), a place to allow meanings to fall differently, to find new angles of insight in all those accelerants of letters and words and phrases, pavle’s writing could take the form of a piece of writing on a blog, a two hour long conversational podcast on the topic of time, a provocation on social media, an instagram image, handwritten words as a provocation or a sign or a poem, a photograph, 10 seconds of dancing in a loop, a long vimeo link of improvised simultaneous moving-talking. It could be an edited writing project or a suggestion people gather together to participate in the showing of someone’s work. What pavle does with style makes possible an acceleration of practices, concepts, values, support structures and poetics. It makes way for further experiments. It touches outward by giving attention.
In his book Negotiations Gilles Deleuze writes of style;
One’s always writing to bring something to life, to free life from where it’s trapped, to trace lines of flight. The language for doing that can’t be a homogeneous system, it’s something unstable, always heterogeneous, in which style carves differences of potential between which things can pass, come to pass, a spark can flash and break out of language itself to make us see and think what was lying in the shadow around the words, things we were hardly aware existed.
(Deleuze, 1995, p. 141)
I think about using pavleheidler’s writing as a model for dance artists. I think about writing that ignites the movement of choreo-logics, which brim with feeling, ambiguity, visceralily, relationality, spatiality and texture, pavle’s 7he Process of Materialisation of Fiction is a body of work,
intended for those who have to work quickly, and transition frequently between aesthetic environments and organisational power structures. This work is intended to be rewarding for queers looking to articulate strategies that are to help maintain spaces of heightened or specific attention for as long as necessary; folk working to hold spaces of fluid but persistent nonviolent resistance. It is also intended for those who love a good challenge or are interested in nuanced articulation and precise execution of movement, sound, dance, and word.
When pavle describes their writing process, they hop between style and form with the momentum of the flow of a concept, in a following-that-isn’t-quite-a- knowing—but that generates a sensation of ease and freedom. You pretend. You skate. You flow across. You are a fluid rather than a solid. You are the movement rather than the ground. You have to work hard to be properly disrespectful. To let go into momentum. To let the spark out to the page with all the fear of what you don’t want yourself to say. The emergent words might be dirty, might be dark. This is a practice of making-it-up. It spurns clear explanation, reasoned analysis or useful summary statement. Studio practices create techniques for fine-grained experiences of feeling and sense-making, such as moving with the fluid tenderness inside the bones or the travel of oxygen from centre to periphery.
The melding space where the sensorial and the imagined fold is a space of ignition, a space of movement, and a space that can be slippery to approach with words. Erin Manning’s Relationscapes discusses ‘the necessity for language to create new parameters for thought in the passage from feeling to articulation’ (Manning, 2009, p. 5) Through concentrating on states where moving-thinking- feeling are in immanent, elastic processes of relationality, Manning opens space to consider thinking that occurs outside of the contours of language and articulation. Manning theorises the travel of thought through movements’ relational unfolding as philosophy and dance spur new textures of thought into emergence.
We look to processes of recombination and randomness that allow permission to throw set-ideas-of-what-a-body-is out the window, and start again. Manning evokes these processes as events wherein sensing and feeling open incipient potentialities for becoming, ‘through feeling, thoughts’ affective tonality is fore- grounded’(Manning, 2009, p.220). Studio practices create techniques for finegrained experiences of feeling and sense-making, such as moving with the fluid tenderness inside the bones or the travel of oxygen from centre to periphery. To release into falling, to understand the simultaneity of resistance and give.
Choreographic artist and educator val smith, working with queer somatics, suggests practicing queer kinesiology by abandoning our skeletal maps, to take pleasure in making anatomical language up. So you start renaming. You begin with a knee composed of the interstellar fabricator, the common-place spoon lift, the cosmo-hypenated fluids. In this practice you can imagine your bones newly— the pop-up float ventricle, the calendula-gold artery; the most exquisite gutter- spasm muscle. I want a joint named for a house-plant. I want the affects to smudge like pigments, to blend affect to trigger expansion. The insides of your body are entirely endless.
There are no limit to its fictions, to its recombinations, to its resources.
What resources are necessary to enable thinkers-through-performance to write of their work in a way that moves with its’ momentum and tonality? Quantum physicist and cultural theorist Karen Barad names the resource of poetics as enabling language to stretch into places where there are no words and literally create a new way of framing how we see ourselves in the universe. The following quote is from a conversation filmed between Barad and Jack Halberstam at a symposium;
What I find is that I can’t just give a linear narrative account like this, like before when I was doing quantum field theory I felt like I was holding on to the trunk of a tree, and climbing, and the way I’ve described it to other people is that quantum field theory is so strange and so little philosophy of quantum field theory has been done that I feel like I’m way out on the really fragile part of the leaves and maybe like an inchworm hanging over the void trying to describe this, and so poetics has been for me the only way I can get to rigour, as best I can in trying to speak the equations as I understand them happening.
The notion of rigour here may relate to precision and cadence—I think of Barad’s poetics, phrases such as ‘different structures of nothingness’, and ‘vacuum fluctuations’ of existence, held within a ‘frothy soup of indeterminancy’(Barad, 2018). Barad’s talk, On Touching: The Alterity Within, discusses the nature of the electron:
its identity is the undoing of identity, its very nature is unnatural, not given, not fixed, but forever transitioning and transforming itself ...
Ontological indeterminacy, a radical openness, an infinity of possibilities, is at the core of mattering. How strange that indeterminancy in its infinite openness is the condition for the possibility of all structures and their dynamic, reconfiguring stabilities and instabilities.
For Barad, poetic style is a vital resource in writing with the kind of radical indeterminacy she is exploring in quantum field theory'. The elasticity and dynamics afforded by poetic form provide crucial resources in communicating the unsettling vibrancy of electrons pulling away from the givens of culture and physics. Poetics assist Barad’s work as it unsettles definitions of touch, and thus unsettles taken-for-granted assumptions around sensation and sensing as physical experiences. Barad’s poetics blur distinctions between bodies, so the agency of matter can be felt in its travel, in its inflammatory force, disrupting normative conventions of embodiment, time and agency. Lisa Robertson’s book Occasional Works and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture also engages poetics to dismantle humanist conventions. The sensuality of terms attract and repel, creating intensities. Poetics make explicit intangible currencies of affect, revealing how bodies are moved by the texture and instance of every day spaces:
We lend mobility to the plants and deny for awhile each species’ propriety. The surface of us overlaps with other phyla. Walking and parading we mix the surface of the earth, though we might intend that march’s purpose as co-ordination. Colour marks exchange. It is border-work. Mixture is our calling.
(Robertson, 2011, p. 121)
Here, the event of reading undoes something. Suddenly the force of colour itself is named, the multiple strata of its intensities taken seriously, brought into focus.
Colour receives belief in the form of a name. ‘Blue’ ... The name bloats and travels and drifts with arcane logics. It can appear as though colour, like an army, is made from memory and fear and lust.
(Robertson, 2011, p. 124-125)
Robertson offers resources for reorientation—conventional narratives wherein humans act on a pre-organised world fall away, allowing present histories to surge into everyday life. The disruptive and lively style of Robertson’s writing is choreographic in how it slides the imagination through space, drawing connections between textures, sites and politics. The infectiousness of this reminds me of the way in movement concepts travel virally between dancers. I wonder whether such slides of imagination are enabled in the way writing is taught at universities. How much space for imagination and spatial or textural intelligence are held by conventional academic writing formats? Maori philosopher Carl Mika asserts that academic clarity reflects a problematic Eurocentric, colonial project which must be resisted through practices that allow sensing beyond analytic and explanatory registers; ‘We have to be mindful of the problem of clarity that our academic work calls for, and disrupt it’ (Mika, 2017, p. 14). Poetic, experimental, and performative writing can provide alternatives to explanatory' or descriptive clarity, making a space for distillation of affective, felt, or non-binary logics.
But what are the alternatives to writing with clarity? In Mistranslation Laboratory, which was performed in Santiago, NZ and Portugal in 2017 and 2019, we engaged a choreographic writing process where writing was improvised as a modality of dance improvisation, in duet performances where one writes and one moves, and in which the performance score involves text being written, spoken and remembered before the audience.
Every vertebra is an elegant cup, a
criss cross bundle of quickening light, every syllable your elbows say crosses the face of the clouds, the blind seas of distance reach sadly & lovingly, heart-told monstrous, inverted, i had to shield my eyes from the light. It said so much more than my peripheries could take (Longley, 2019b)
In placing listening and attending at the heart of our artistic methods, poetic language created a ground for collaboration. The affect of audience attention, time constraint and space all shaped physical and written vocabularies. We performed writing process as embodied and graphic improvisation, a site of play and a mode of relationship. Poetic encounters resisted any construction of authorship as an individual practice, instead framing writing as visceral, collaborative, a tidal etching of interstitial vocab.
Another means to resist the imperative of clarity is to let go of colonial enlightenment discourses and move in obscured, ambiguous spaces.
Tru Paraha’s choreography 5th Body (Paraha, 2017) burns through the space, leaving the room in a subtly different galaxy. Paraha’s artistic research is orientated by darkness and black out slates, in relation to Matauranga Maori concepts of te po—the night, and te kore, the void. The hours of darkness are times of speculation, of imagining, of incipience, where feeling is stronger than clarity, when forms are emerging and in processes of formation. The edges of forms bleed into other things. Dark hours can be hours of unknowing or knowing differently. Paraha’s research engages with 'the dark, occult movements of choreography provoking an engagement with concept horror and speculative philosophy’ (Paraha, 2019, p. i).
As a choreographic research project, Paraha’s work opens out space for considering what can happen when we orient from the frame of darkness rather than visuality, moving with things we can feel, but perhaps not ever fully know, when we question what it is that our bodies are and open our curiosity to the other- than-human forces that are undeniably part of our worlds. In Paraha’s case, this foreign language within language attunes audiences and readers to more-than- liuman and horror-inflected cadences of unknowing:
Choreographic practice c 11 ps s into states of blackOut wananga (philosophical searching, the dark unknowing). Obliterative scores recede and e ((((((((ho; sound, language - deforming from blacknyss. (Paraha, 2018, p.49)
FIGURE 4.4 Basta Ya de la Represion, Band-Aid Art Works, photographer Maximo Corvalan-Pincheira.
Copyright Maximo Corvalan-Pincheira
Paraha’s research slips between choreography, philosophy, transcullural poetics and performance writing. Each slip is a resource that carries choreographic experimentation to artworks-on-pages so the written form of artistic research ripples with vitality.
Every unaccountable surface ripples as if italicized.
(Robertson, 2011, p. 124)
Paraha draws on the cosmo-genealogies of darkness articulated by Maori scholar Hone Sadler (2007, p.37-38), which recognise precise gradations of uncertainty in spaces of darkness, from Те Po Ma (The White Darkness) to Те Po mangu (The Black Darkness), Те Po Whakaruru (The Sheltered Darkness) to Те Po tangotango (The Intense Darkness), from Те Po Maui (The Left Handed Darkness)
FIGURE 4.5 Documentation from Mapeo de Bordes Porosos: Maximo Corvalan- Pincheira, with Alys Longley and Macarena Campbell Parra (translations).
FIGURE 4.6 Documentation from Mapeo de Bordes Porosos: Maximo Corvaian- Pincheira, with Alys Longley and Macarena Campbell Parra (translations). Copyright Maximo Corvaian-Pincheira, Alys Longley, Macarena Campbell-Parra
to Те Pd Matau (The Right Handed Darkness). These also reflect the darkness that is necessary in order to bring Те Ao Mamma—the world of light and knowing, into being. Artistic experimentation is a destabilising practice, in which even the definitions of what can constitute a body, or a sense of humanity can become uncertain. So, too, the concept of what constitutes a book can be unsettled, extended and opened.
Coastlines of translation in the Mapeo de Bordes Porosos project
The above maps blur boundaries between paragraph, description, drawing, provocation, memory, layering of voices and statement of hope. After we made the work Марго de Bordes Porosos/Mapping Porous Borders in Chile and NZ in 2018, Maximo Corvalan-Pincheira, Macarena Campbell and I were reflecting on our interdisciplinary process. For Max writing, drawing and artistic map-making can be pretty much the same thing. The drawing and the text fall together in a poetics of affect. Coastlines of translation move into place through responses by Macarena and myself, around the edges of a poetic land mass. My translation of Maximo’s writing keeps recurring through various iterations of our project:
These maps are artistic maps, creative experiments that can extend definitions of both mapping and writing. They present imaginative propositions, for a world yet to come. Dance artist/ scholars such as Ann Daly (2004) and Jude Walton (2008) explore books as proprioceptive, performative objects which expand notions of both performance and writing. Claire MacDonald considers how practices of writing are expanding in relation to new technologies and hybrid-forms.
We might now talk about ‘writing in the expanded field’, a field in which writing’s conventional autonomy—that is its objectivity, its truthfulness and its transparency—is in question, as writing has opened out fully into its material and conceptual contexts ... in this expanded field language has weight, and it has material and visual ‘freight’. It has graphic presence that also ‘carries’ meaning. Language can act as a form of dynamic exchange, a powerful conduit between the material and metaphysical or conceptual.
(MacDonald, 2009, p. 100)
Working with graphic forms and design-based approaches to the page provides options for a translation or reworking of intensities—weight, touch, tonality, atmosphere. Passages of brittleness or flow, absence and presence can travel through visual and multi-media practices engaging scale and rhythm in graphic ways.
We can see writing as bigger, looser, more porous and less prescriptive. Writing’s horizon has moved ... Its edges have become ragged. It has burst a little al the seams under the pressure of changing technologies of sight and sound and inscription; under the pressure of the flow of new kinds of communication that mix the spoken and the inscribed; that mediate between the stable and the unfixed; that enable everyone to become an editor, a publisher, a curator of print.
(MacDonald, 2009, p. 92)
Taking seriously paper, binding, colour, texture, image, legibility and illegibility as resources in process-based choreographic and theatrical experimentation allows space for ambiguity between text, drawing, object and poetic fragment of language. Moveable scraps of time enter further iterations, allowing things to mean differently, to create alternative systems of listening, response, provocation and resistance. The Марго De Bordes Porosos project exists in multi-modal forms— installation, theatre performance, video, photography, poetry, critical reflection. You can drop into our digital archive to experience how this performance research merges film, sound, poetics, image and writing (Longley, 2020).
More than a million acts of generative violence
Chile’s recent swells of mass resistance against the neoliberal state have led to millions of acts of violence—tender violence, creative violence, disruptive violence, brutal violence—violence against the extractive status quo, violence against activism and activists. I experienced this as a performance of epic scale, which will continue until an acceptable resolve is found. I am overwhelmed by the willingness of millions of Chileans to live in a state of dramatic instability in order to make real political change for all. Months after travelling from Chile to NZ, my body remains entangled with the people and forces moving Chile into a new political space. I see a news report of Un Violador en Tu Camino creating a media storm al a Harvey Weinstein trial in YY (Garcia, 2019). The courage of the Chileans is infectious.
Our bodies move abstract values into material forces. We are witness to and participant in a breaking apart of the world, in a redreaming of what can be and a reckoning with what we are up against. Can practices of connectedness and collectivity exist between disparate artist communities during times of immense global instability? Friends are untethered from their past everyday existences by ecological and social crises. We’re asking:
How can we be with you? How can we make these acts of resistance with you? How can we realise that your resistance is our resistance? That your disappearances are our disappearances. That the tools you make to rewrite your cities can also be our tools?
Keith Hennessey and Michael J Morris’s Impulstanz workshop The Spiral of Fortune (7 of Birds) A laboratory of Political Witchcraft was a 5-day workshop in which
I participated in the (European) summer of 2019 (Hennessey & Morris, 2019). Day four was fake healing day, inflected by the work of Adrienne Maree Brown. Here Hennessey and Morris created events of intimacy and consented experimentation beyond the edges of the real, the edges of the body, the edges of the known, at the very outer-edges of what medicine can be. I worked in a trio with two strangers, who went ahead and introduced my body to made-up forms of healing of which I knew nothing, and of which they performed without explanation, without language. It sounded like a murmuration. It felt like intemperate flames of possibility streaking the spine with care. There was something intimate and something spiritual and something else. Afterward I jumped on my bike and rode to a show and barely thought of it again. I said to my friend Kristian, ‘yeah, we did fake healing, it was pretty cool’. But the bees pollinated the inside of bones, the nectar travelled, the practices initiated a random cross-country blooming.
FIGURE 4.7 La justicia es un mar con otro nombre/Justice is a sea with another name.
Anonymous graffiti, library at Parque Salvador, Santiago, photographer Alys Longley.
Copyright Alys Longley
The performances and activist actions at the heart of this chapter were largely overwhelming, disorientating, deeply moving and deeply challenging. This chapter attempts to match the affect of these events with an embodied approach to language. The writing of Kathleen Stewart, Lisa Robertson, Erin Manning, and Tru Paraha have been rich resources in allowing the blaze of these artistic experiences to move from body and space to word and page. The permissions and strategies I drew from these authors included employing tactics of fragmentation, or bluntness, or somatic tenderness, or material practices of writing, to expand the field of what writing can do. Just as the performance events discussed in this chapter resist the normative to generate spaces of activism, imagination and possibility—performance writing can also translate the affects of moments and the qualities of worlds, in all their complexity and viscerality.
In Santiago’s Parque Salvador, on the stainless steel boards protecting the public library (closed for many months since October 2019), an anonymous piece of graffiti reads ‘La justicia es un mar con otro nombre/Justice is a sea with another name’.
I think of how the work of performance makers and teachers contributes to the movement of waves of justice, stretching between worlds. How can we cross oceans through our artistic practices?
We pick up each other’s tools and face the studio. We have a pen and a camera and some friends. The room is daunting and the task is bigger than we are. In beginning we hope for a kind of ignition of affect which we can ride, so that momentum takes us. This is more than nothing. Every attempt is something. There is so much at stake and so many people with us, in millions of acts of creative, tender violence, falling and rising with the world.
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