Table of Contents:
II: Affective methods
Affect and audiencing Rimini Protokoll's win > < win
Joanne 'Bob' Whalley and Lee Miller
This chapter will consider the piece win > < win, by Berlin-based performance company Rimini Protokoll, as a means to explore the potential for complicity in affective states between audience and performer, especially in works that might be understood as co-created or co-constitutive. By focusing upon work that requires an audience for completion, we seek to negotiate what Jones and Stephenson (1999) refer to as the ‘complicity of the audience’ in not only in the making of meaning, but also in the wider entanglement of shared affect.
The decision to focus upon co-crealive, or co-constitutive processes in live performance allows us to foreground the potential for messy entanglement of audience/performer subjectivities, and reflects a gradual move in theatre and performance from an assumed passivity, towards a more complicit engagement. Recent explorations of immersive performance, and the academic writing which has followed, has sought to point to the potential when audience and performer are no longer kept apart. While there are doubtless arguments to be made for such an interactive turn to open up a more ‘democratic’ approach to performance, that is not the focus of this chapter. Rather than consider work which relies upon or develops a specific type of audience/performer interaction (an area already rigorously considered by academics such as Welton, 2011; Chatzichristo- doulou & Zerihan, 2012; Machon, 2013; White, 2013; and Hill & Paris, 2014), this chapter will explore the potentially messy hinterland of intra-action in performance.
Before moving on, it is necessary to reflect briefly upon the potential concern that arises from co-creative/co-constitutive performance practices, specifically in relation to the hierarchies of power at play within the performer/audience dynamic. Evidently these will differ dependent on the type of performance work, the venue, the geographic location of the venue, etc. As with any questions of democracy and empowerment, no matter the layout of the venue, nor the intended level of interaction, in the performer/audience relationship simple equality is impossible. Instead, we understand the audience/performer relation as para-social, an uneven interpersonal relationship, in which one party will have significantly more information about the other. The experience, while not onesided as such, is certainly uneven. Even in immersive and interactive performances where work is often constructed in such a way to mitigate against it, culturally speaking, the power is held on one side of the intersubjective exchange, which complicates further what is happening in the gap in-between. However, for the purposes of this chapter we must park this debate, and focus instead on the potential for entangled agencies that spring from understanding a performance exchange through the filter of ‘intra-action’. A Baradian neologism, it explores the way that we experience the world as a negotiation between ontological and epistemological framing. We understand the play in-between these two as an agentic space: the intra-, emerging from within the conjoined relationship between concepts and things. Intra-action smears the ontological and the epistemological, as a result of ‘entangled material practices’ (Barad, 2007, p. 56).
In a publication that explicitly foregrounds an interrogation of the term ‘affect’ it is perhaps somewhat redundant to spend too long on a consideration of its meaning. Nevertheless, given that we focus upon an installation by Rimini Pro- lokoll which removes the human-animal performer from the equation, it is probably useful to briefly sketch an understanding of the term, in order that we might unpack how it pertains to the potential of win > < win. When attempting to find a definition of affect, Brian Massumi turns to the originator of the term, Baruch Spinoza:
[t]he concept of affect that I find most useful is Spinoza’s well-known definition. Very simply, he says that affect is ‘the capacity to affect or be affected’. This is deceptively simple. First, it is direcdy relational, because it places affect in the space of relation: between an affecting and a being affected. It focuses on the middle, directly on what happens between. More than that, it forbids separating passivity from activity.
(Massumi, 2015, p. 91)
In dtis understanding, Massumi positions affect as proto-political in dial it requires an openness, one dial demands an agent to be both in and of die world. Despite the apparent simplicity of the observation, in this figuration to experience affective states Ls to recognise diem as die result of a distributed responsibility, to see oneself in relation to odier constitutive entities. The implied extension of die self offers the capacity to move beyond the limits of our (human) bodies and the solipsism diat might imply. This, along with Barad’s assertion dial when bodies intra-act, they do so in a co-constitutive manner, is central to understanding the very real potential for an affective exchange when audiencing Rimini Protokoll’s win>
win > < win offers a model of what can happen to the concept of affective exchange when the relationship between spectator and the performer is radically unsettled. By foregrounding the non-human animal as ‘performer’, the piece interrupts normative experiences of intersubjectivity in performance, opening itself up instead to the deliberate in-between of intra-action. In order to make this case, a case built upon our own experiences of both making and watching a wide variety of live performance practice, we will develop the concept of ‘audiencing’. First surfaced by John Fiske, he offers the concept of as a means to understand audience engagement as a sensorial, self-determined, and resistant action. He notes that ‘[wjhen audiences are understood as textual subjects [...], they are seen as relatively powerless and inactive’ (Fiske, 1987, p. 61). The significant phrase here is 'they are seen’. Fiske is not positioning the viewer as passive, only that she is seen to be so. In her introductory essay to the 2010 edition of About Performance, an issue subtitled ‘Audiencing: The Work of The Spectator in Live Performance’, Laura Ginters observes that despite the fact that in ‘all but the rarest cases, spectators are the largest number of contributors to the live performance event’ (Ginters, 2010, p. 7), audiences have been largely omitted from theatrical scholarship. In terms of writing specifically aimed at addressing theatre audiences, ‘spectators have historically been the least studied and the most generalised of all participants’ (p. 7).
This tension is explored in detail by Jacques Ranciere, first in his article ‘The Emancipated Spectator’ and then his book of the same name:
There is no theatre without spectatorship [____ b]ut spectatorship is a bad
thing. Being a spectator means looking at a spectacle. And looking is a bad thing, for two reasons. First, looking is deemed the opposite of knowing. It means standing before an appearance without knowing the conditions which produced that appearance or the reality that lies behind it. Second, looking is deemed the opposite of acting. He who looks at the spectacle remains motionless in his seat, lacking any power of intervention.
(Ranciere, 2007, p. 272)
When discussing the concept of ‘audiencing’ Ginters rightly asks ‘why does this “corporeal presence but [...] slippery concept” (Kennedy, 2009, p. 3) have an etymology' based in the visual in the singular and the auditory in the collective?’ (Ginters 2010, p. 8). The etymology of performance reception is predicated upon reception, not contribution.
Rancicre’s call is for an emancipation from the externality of spectatorship, and the resulting internalised responses, ‘“[t]he more man contemplates, the less he is,” Debord says’ (Ranciere 2007, p. 274). By equaling visuality to externality, and externality as a movement towards an imagined or projected other, Ranciere offers a perspective on the potential for a loss of agency. Of course, Ranciere’s consideration goes beyond a simple binary. When discussing Jeremy Deller’s The Battle of Orgreave (2001), Claire Bishop observed that ‘the binary of active versus passive hovers over any discussion of participatory art and theatre, to the point where participation becomes an end in itself (Bishop, 2012 p. 37). Developing this thinking, she goes on to reference Ranciere, reminding her reader that the acceptance of a passive / active binary is to enter into a stalemate. Bishop’s use of Ranciere unsettles the simplicity of visuality equalling passivity; examples abound, not least Mulvey’s conceptualisation of the male gaze, a viewing strategy' that despite critique, remains an active way of understanding the power inherent in looking. To look is to have power, it is an agency unto itself.
When focusing upon work that is co-created through a triangulation of an arts collective (Rimini Protokoll), performers (in this instance a tank of jelly-fish) and the wider audience, it becomes interesting to consider how affective exchanges function in co-creative/со-constitutive processes when non-human performers function as a lens through which audience members are able to witness themselves and one-another. Audiencing explicitly affords space for the body to know and to speak. In order to unpack this, it becomes necessary to offer a certain level of description. Installed in the basement level of MAAT’s kunsthall which sits on the backs of the Tejo in Lisbon, the installation was accessed through a sliding door opened by gallery attendants every nine minutes. Depending on the timing of your arrival, you would either be shown into the space to the left, or the right. It is important to note that although we were to subsequently become aware that there were two spaces, this was not immediately evident upon first encountering the work. While both spaces mirror one another, the initial experience of watching the work was to assume a singular experience. As it transpired, the two spaces were a mirror image of each other, with both containing two curved benches on a rake; the front row had three seats, the back row had six. Each seat had a pair of headphones connected to a switch labelled ‘PT/EN’, allowing the listener to choose between Portuguese or English language versions. In front of the benches was a wall which, at first glance, seemed to contain a round mirror.
Once the audience settled, the piece began with a slight dimming of the lights, and the following text:
You are looking at human beings.
Crown of Creation.
They are characterised by erect posture and bipedal locomotion, high manual dexterity, and heavy tool use compared to other animals, and a general trend towards larger, more complex brains and societies.
You are one of them.
Do you like what you are seeing?
The mirror became the locus of attention, with the text offering a narrative that encouraged a gentle interrogation of social interaction, sanctioning open staring at those in the room, using the mirror as a mediating device. The text then encouraged the audience to look at one another, and begin to gently interact:
Crown of creation.
How long have you been on this planet?
Put your hand up and indicate your age with your fingers.
Who of you do you think will live the longest? Point your finger at that person in the mirror.
Alia, we have a winner.
And who among you will die the soonest? Point your finger at that person in the mirror.
What kind of world will you live in? What will life be like fifty years from now?
Cover your eyes with your hands.
After a few more moments, and prompts to imagine how the world will look in ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, fifty years in the future, we are encouraged to uncover our eyes. The room is now fully dark, and the mirror is revealed to be a fish tank, filled with jellyfish that gently float around in a clockwise direction.
After some more text, the lighting state changes and the room beyond the ‘mirror’ becomes visible, and with it the audience who you realise has been watching your actions. Unsure if we are in this together, implicated in one another’s prognostications, this is often the moment where participants would leave. Perhaps their exit was as a result of the unwelcome reveal, or perhaps they were simply spurred by boredom. Whatever the driver, it was hard not to get up and follow. We sat with the piece on numerous occasions over the summer of 2018, and if there was a common moment of egress, this was it. That moment of revelation, the point at which we realise we have been observed, soon shifts to a moment of complicity.
Under normal circumstances, and by this we mean in a piece which offers human-performers as a strategy for the development of affective states (see Whalley & Miller, 2017), any anxiety that we might have felt as the result of an audience member leaving would be mitigated by the realisation that we were not the cause of the departure. If a fellow audience member appears to take offence at work we are witnessing, any awkwardness is simply social. In the case of win > < win the awkwardness is ours alone. We (and this is collective here, the we who author this piece of writing, the we who made up the temporary community of the audience, the we that includes the intra-action of Rimini Protokoll, jelly-fish performers, and witnesses) are responsible for the shared affective state in the room. The complicity of the audience expands to include a shared responsibility towards those who need to leave—for whatever reason.
A new audience is led in to the room beyond the mirror/tank, and we become time travellers; not in the sense that we imagine our future (but yes, why not that too), but because we realise that we are seeing a moment from our own past. We watch as headphones are put on, as toggles are flipped from English to Portuguese or back again, we see our past but realise that those who recendy departed have already had this realisation, that our new understanding is in fact nothing of the sort. Everything we experience has happened already. There is no interlocutor; the work is just one audience slowly becoming aware of another audience, only for them to leave, be replaced by another, and for the cycle to loop on; as infinite as the jellyfish that separate and connect us. The future is not just what happens after the Anthropocene, some distant moment where the waters are too warm, and their inexorable rise replaces the crown of creation with this four- stomached ravenous but witless jelly. No, the future is the moment that you step outside the room, the future is the moment you realise you have been observed, the future is when you put the headphones on, the future has already happened.
But let us park for a moment the elegance of the looping structure of the work. Let us park the questions we might have about the potential for affective exchange when you are unaware you are witnessed. Let us instead dwell with those who choose to leave. Not to project onto them intentions, but simply to ask what their departure means for a piece which requires the presence of two audiences for the work to exist. If our continued presence is an example of audien- cing, then what is their departure? Hall ( 1980) talks about the pleasure to be gained from negotiated and oppositional readings. Is leaving a form of oppositional reading, and if so, what is the pleasure to be gained from going? Perhaps the pleasure comes not from leaving, but from not staying. Perhaps in the light of open texts and audienced practices, ‘resistant’ is not a rejection of dominant readings, but of dominant behaviours. This is probably too simplistic, but the departure does something interesting to the assumed pliability of the audience expected by Rimini Protokoll, one that opens up ethical questions. By the time you know you are ‘seeing’ you also know you have already been seen. Maybe we are leaving so we don’t have to be tethered to our own body—shucking off our future selves through a moment of resistance.
Whatever the reason, what becomes clear is that in audiencing, refusal doesn’t have to be a yes/no binary. This recognition, and the attendant neologistic turn which moves audience from noun to verb, reminds us of the space opened up between passive and active, and it is with this move that we begin to question if audiencing might offer more than a development of active-readership, but be positioned as a performance-practice in its own right.
In keeping with much of the recent scholarship on immersive performance, we understand the audience as having real affective significance. Audiencing is to move beyond opening up space in which resistant readings afford the spectator space to actively contribute to their own experience, it becomes a process of production. The moment that we accept audiencing as a foundational element of those practices that can be understood as со-creative or co-constituilive, we believe that any act of completion becomes an act of creation. As we ‘audienced’ winXwtn, in the moment of observing other participants leave, we knew we were as responsible for the affective states generated in the room as the co-present nonhuman performers, and those absent collaborators who conceived and installed the piece in the first instance.
Perhaps it is too obvious to state that the audience is important. But hidden in those few words are complex layers of ownership, patronage, politics, and sociocultural baggage that would take more time to unpick than we have at our disposal. In any case, our intention is not to consider the socio-cultural as much as it is to explore the grounded experience of being a member of an audience. For a more detailed overview of audience theory, we would point you to the slim volume Theatre & Audience by Helen Freshwater, who offers a useful consideration of the potential for discomfort afforded by the ‘expert witness’, especially if that critical voice asserts a totalising response, which can, in the words of Elin Diamond generate ‘a fictitious but powerful sense of community that buttresses but also conceals the narcissistic claims of the critic’ (Diamond in Freshwater, 2009, p. 9).
The shift from noun to verb of audiencing invokes knowledges that range from procedural/implicit/tacit understandings, to declarative/explicit modes of knowing that place experience in a grounded context. Between these two is the ‘gap’, where the audience exists on a daily, moment-to-moment basis, negotiating between these dynamic processes. Our experience of win > < win refigures the relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm; between the human body and its environment; the audience and the performance. We experienced a reversal of the usual expectation, where the performer is considered the ‘human body’ and the contextual location of the audience and their bodies, is seen as the environment. Audiencing win > < win allowed us to identify tentative and competing narratives which afforded us as spectators a valuable space in which to generate a deeper understanding of the space for affective exchange in and amongst audiences, and recognise in the absence of a standard interlocutor, this sharing shifted radically the tenor of our experience. We were able to more explicitly understand our position as audience being part of a network, a series of agentic assemblages which serve to co-creale artistic practice. Audiencing (especially if we are thinking about it as an emerging artistic practice) functions as something more slippery, something more like the in-between-ness of Stuart Hall’s negotiated reading, where active engagement with texts that require completion does not necessarily devolve into immediate and unquestioning capitulation to instruction.
The idea of co-creation is a vexed one. In most artistic practice, we recognise that collaboration does not require an even, 50/50 split of activities for all parties to be valued. We don’t count the number of lines, or the number of steps and offer a threshold beneath which this performer is no longer an actor, no longer a dancer. Collaboration requires a range of people, contributing a range of skills. Hierarchy is often implicit. If the presence of an audience is required to activate an artwork, if an audience is necessary for the work to complete itself, then spectatorship transcends the ocular and auricular that traditional terminology implies (SPECTator, AUDience), and the potential for understanding generated ‘beyond, beneath and beside’ (Sedgwick, 2003, p. 125) the practice and the audience emerges.
For Ranciere, the co-created text is a return to the sensibility of classical antiquity, in which:
the ‘being apart’ from the stage was enveloped in the continuity of the ‘being together’. The signs displayed by the representation, signalled the being together of the community addressed by it, and thus the universality of human nature.
(Ranciere, 2009, p. 61)
This sense of community as central to the generation of meaning, is something that Ranciere believes has returned in light of more radically open texts that require active involvement from the spectator. Perhaps unsurprisingly, phrases such as ‘co-creator’ abound when discussing an audience’s relationship to open texts. These shifts in understanding how an audience responds to the material presented to them, or perhaps more accurately, how an audience activates such texts inevitably leads to questions of democratisation and empowerment. As immersive and interactive performance practices become more familiar to mainstream audiences, what an audience is or perhaps does, inevitably becomes of increased interest to academics and cultural commentators alike. To return to Ranciere:
[e]ven if the playwright or director does not know what she wants the spectator to do, she at least knows one thing: she knows that she must do one thing—overcome the gulf separating activity from passivity.
(Ranciere, 2009, p. 12)
We are not suggesting that simply to be more involved is to have more control, or that the invitation to engage is tantamount to the creation of a democratic space, rather that there are certain scenarios in performance practice that utilise an audience for more than reception. To return to win > < win, our shared audien- cing of this work instils a sense of collective responsibility. That the work is so explicidy in dialogue with the emergence of the anthropocene, and exemplifies climate through an intra-action with the jelly-fish performers, moves us far beyond an active/passive binary. Through the intra-action of audiencing, win > < win points to a co-constitutive process far beyond the co-creation of an installation; it points to the wider ecological narratives driving the work.
As such, this activity occupies a different resonance than more established viewing practices. We are not suggesting that these are new processes, and rather than conceiving of the relationship between the audience and the performance as a binary split, it is more helpful to think about the relationship in terms of a continuum. To try to untangle this, it is useful to consider two pieces from the practice of Marina Abramovic; Rhythm 0 and The Artist is Present. When Helen Freshwater writes about Marina Abramovic’s 1974 piece, she refers to ‘the now infamous Rhythm 0’ (Freshwater 2009, p. 62), an indication of the almost mythical status of work which could be seen as the apotheosis of audience/performer—but also audience/audience—antagonism. Over the six hours of the piece’s installation, Abramovic had her clothes cut off, cuts made in her skin, and eventually a loaded gun placed in her hand and pointed at her head. Evidently, these actions, and the subsequent fight that broke out as the audience split into factions—those wanting to see the experiment through to its logical conclusion, and those who wanted to protect the performer—exemplify an audience trying to work out their role in the exchange. Whatever the eventual outcome, it was the presence of the audience that allowed the work to happen. Without them, the piece could not exist. Apparently in stark contrast to this piece stands The Artist is Present (2010), a work that, for Abramovic at least, is typified by communication, collaboration, and mutual trust. We have already offered an extensive critique of our experience of this work (see Whalley & Miller, 2017), and see no need to return to it here. Instead, we wish to consider the space opened up by Abramovic’s open score- based practice, as a means to exemplify the resistance of binary thinking when it comes to audience—performer, or audience—audience interaction and affective exchange.
Rather than figuring those audience members who choose to engage in audiencing as occupying a more complex position than those that choose not to, it is more appropriate to see these positions like the witnesses of Rhythm 0; part of a continuum of responses necessary to complete the work, even if that completion comes from refusal and the ultimate ‘failure’ of the work. For the spectator engaged in audiencing, whether through active participation, outright refusal, or some admixture of the two. Which brings us back to the two bodies that we occupy, our experiences of audiencing, and the claim we wish to make for it as an arts practice in its own right. As practitioners of audiencing, we have come to think of our bodies as the site of emancipation, and have begun to reflect upon the ‘training’ (intentional and otherwise) which has led to an ongoing change at the humoral level, allowing for a somatic shift that impacts our intersubjective experience. Simply put, we have come to realise that when we are audiencing, we are not reading the work; we are making it. Of course, this statement is somewhat blunt, but we offer it here as our attempt to untangle the manifold experiences of creative knowledge exchange, and better understand our role as audience through the prism of practice.
To invoke Levinas and the contingency of language, ‘language refers to the position of the listener and the speaker’ (Levinas, 2003, pp. 11-12). The neolo- gistic turn of audiencing, the borrowing from Fiske, and the avowal that to audience is to practice, allows us to move beyond the normative power-dynamics of co-creation. By positioning the practice of audiencing as an activated moment of artistic practice in its own right, central to the production of certain types of work, we move beyond the apparent imbalances alluded to above. If we see audiencing as artistic practice, we are better able to position it within other narratives of affective exchange. By formalising the position of the co-constitutive participant through language, by framing her engagement as both agentic and generative, the space for affect exchange opens up. By invoking the work of Martin Buber, Crossley positions tliese exchanges as part of a complex series of relational engagements; with one’s own corporeal self, with the environment it occupies and through dialogue with other subjectivities:
[t]he body-subject responds to an environment. It is in dialogue with its environment and this dialogue is irreducible. Its actions can no more be understood without reference to ‘its environment’ than ‘its environment’ can be understood independently of the perception-action which gives that environment its nature [...] Subjects stand together in an I-Thou relation. Their actions interlock and engage, each motivated and coordinated by and through an orientation to the other, but without conscious positing and reflective awareness of either self or other.
(Crossley, 1996, p. 32)
When the ‘performer’ and the ‘audience’ share the same roles, as is the case with Rimini Protokoll’s win > < win, the intra-action of the affective exchange is an explicit shift from the solipsistic to the relational. The neologism of audiencing affords an embracing of intra-action, foregrounding as it does a co-constitutive approach, one that requires a ‘with-ness’, ensuring we remain in-between. Like Ginters el al before us, the use of audiencing functions to open space for an explicit conversation around affective exchange in co-constitutive events, especially in its potential to expand and unsettle the active/passive binary in spectatorship. To return to Fiske, he considers audiencing as a ‘micro-rebellion’, a process that opens up the possibility of change at a structural level through incremental incursions into the dominant ideologies of what it is to be a spectator. This recognition, and the attendant neologistic turn which moves audience from noun to verb, explicitly unsettles the shift from passive to active, instead allowing space for intra-action and an entanglement of agency.
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