06 06 06
No struggle against the void
The second part of Another Relationality conference on "poetry in incurable times" was hosted in the bunker auditorium of the MACBA (14-18 March 2006), the nodal point as usual – here in Barcelona - of many connections and contradictions between critical ideas and institutions, activism and the art world, and a white Great Attractor at the heart of the kaleidoscopic urbanscape of the Raval, raided by skaters all day long, the nemesis of any minimalist architecture that indulge in far too many flat surfaces.
3 days of workshop and 2 days of conference, lasting over 8 hours a day plus dinners and many bottles of wine, hanging out with our favourite free thinkers. People in Barcelona love "relationality". In Spanish the word taller translates as "workshop" but it is something more: the collective form at the basis of the social and cultural life, a kind of horizontal, informal, democratically correct form of doing all things. Jorge Ribalta and Marcelo Expósito succeeded in putting together in a taller an interesting and unconventional bunch of people to explore "poetry as a cure" [for politics] but also the future of aesthetical avant-gardes, activism and cultural workers. As the presentation declares, the second part of the conference approaches:
the problem of relationality as an alternative to those artistic processes determined by a visual paradigm-based concept of representation. Opposite to this model, the relational paradigm indicates the need to go beyond representational methods. Those relational, communicative, affective, collaborative, and immaterial aspects take on a new centrality in post-industrial capitalism which has, as Paolo Virno said it, "put subjectivity to work."
To sum up in my humble words, on the first day a vibrant Suely Rolnik, psychoanalyst and university professor from Sao Paulo introduced the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark and her "relational objects" as a therapeutic method. Suely managed to mix art and theory in a captivating way and made us see Félix Guattari's ideas in a new light. She insisted on the idea of cuerpo vibratil [vibrating body] and on the precept no luche contra el vacío [no struggle against the void]: we have to breathe in through our micro-sensorial channels rather than the macro-sensorial channels of paranoia. Vibrant and permeable bodies.
Afterwards Maurizio Lazzarato made a densely theoretical intervention on the notion of the "linguistic act" and the "absolute performative" in which he criticised (yes) the Italian post-Operaista theorisations of these concepts (Negri, Hardt, Virno, Marazzi). Hardcore theory: if you are curious check Arianna Bove's notes on Virno. Lazzarato called for a return to Guattari's notion of "a-signifying semiotics", which presents us with a multiplicity of semiotic centres: a multitude of corporeal, iconic and affective languages rather than simply a code based on the alphabet. According to Lazzarato, the fetishism found in Wittgenstein and linguistics have "dangerous political consequences".
John Beverley, professor of Spanish and Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, talked about "The subaltern interruption": a relative critique to the conference itself, an approach to institutions such as the university and the museum as intrinsically involved in the production of hegemonic knowledge and thus and as reproducing conditions of subalternity. He was aware though that this critique is far too general and too ideological.
On the second day, Brian Holmes - in his contribution The Artistic Device - suggested us to consider creativity and art practices (such as the museum itself) as a biopolitical device, similarly to Foucault's treatment of sexuality; that is, as a device to "manage the needs, desires, productivity and circulation of an entire population". He provided sophisticated examples: the first one was the conference held on the Trans-Siberian train from Moscow via Novosibirsk to Beijing, Capturing the moving mind, where a bunch of philosophers, artists, technologists and social theorists came together to "test a movement beyond familiar borders, in an explicit attempt to discover, define and cross the critical thresholds of communication and action in the contemporary world". However, as some activists pointed out: "what was actually the difference between our experiment and so-called reality TV shows like Big Brother? Or were we just imitating the model of Post-Fordist production where mixing different roles and competences, arts and sciences, is the basic method for putting to work not this or that particular ability, but the faculty of being human as such? Or were we engaged in a spectacle, a pseudo-event, a false event of marketing movement and crossing borders without, or separated from, a real capacity to experience and engage with it?". Like Maurizio and Suely, Brian made strong references to Guattari's work and I was glad to see so many Guattarians gathered in one place (even though Maurizio and I threatened Brian to pay a € 100 penalty in drinks at the bar for citing Lacan in his paper).
Later, Antonella Corsani introduced the experience of the intermittent workers in France (a related version can be found on Transversal: "Knowledge production and new forms of political action") and experimented with speaking a language she never used before and using the audience as a collaborative dictionary. Also part of the workshop was dedicated to a broader introduction of a research project carried out by Antonella Corsani and Maurizio Lazzarato on workers in the entertainment industry, which has been recently published on the website of the Coordination des Intermittents et Précaires de l'Ile de France.
Focusing as well on the psychological and economic condition of cultural (or "immaterial") workers, the KpD group [Kleines Postfordistisches Drama, small post-Fordist drama] presented the video Kamera läuft! [Rolling!], an ingenious example of "militant research": the screenplay is based on real interviews restaged by actors in a minimal studio and has the effect of a surreal sitcom.
During a workshop, John Jordan introduced a slideshow of the projects he was involved in, from Reclaim the streets parties to the Clown Army, desperately looking for new strategies for activism and life. As he said: ÒDonÕt ask what to do to change the world. Ask me what make me feel alive. John recalled Starhawk's idea that "more groups and movements are destroyed by poor group dynamics and internal fights than any number of police" and used Rebecca Solnit's admonition that "Apocalypse is always easier" as a therapeutic motto for the movement. During the final debate Marcelo Expósito expounded part of his hipótesis imaginativa [imaginative hypothesis] as yet another therapeutic strategy for the anti-globalisation movement.