Fragments of/on process

Fragments of/on process

This piece was originally written for Next Wave’s arts journalism training programme, Text Camp.

Stephen Willats’s Model of an Existing Artist-Audience Relationship, 1973 Published in the book The Artist as an Instigator of Changes in Social Cognition and Behaviour (London: Occasional Papers, 2010 [1973]), 28. Also found in Grant Kester’s The Device Laid Bare: On Some Limitations in Current Art Criticism”, e-flux journal No 50.

This is a short text in six moments that offers up fragmented thoughts on critical process.

Moment 1 (Encounter)

Artist Willem De Kooning spoke of the content of a work of art as “a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash.” For him, content was “very, very tiny”, something both intimate and invisible.

As a critic, content is your referent; it’s that which you try and tease out of an experience that is multiple, complicated, affective, perhaps poetic. As Umberto Eco explored in Poetics of the Open Work, content is that which is opened within a work. It is that which enables you to engage in a conversation with it.

Moment 2 (Resistance)

The intellectual tradition of criticism, particularly under the guise of the market economy, posits that criticism takes two iterations: the moment of your encounter with the work, and the articulation of your own thinking about the work that takes place in the form of, most often, a text.

This is a very linear understanding of how critics- and people in general- think about works of art. It assumes that this thinking is particularly focused from the onset; that it is gathered in the moment of encounter and simply shaped into a form in the text itself.  Yet as Hannah Arendt has stated in her unfinished work The Life of the Mind, “thinking is always out of order, interrupts all ordinary activities and is interrupted by them. The oddities of the thinking activity arise from the fact of withdrawal. [..] Thinking always deals with absences, and removes itself from what is present and close at hand.”

Moment 3 (Articulation)

I want to briefly complicate this tradition of identifying the critical process in two simple stages, building on what Arendt offers to us here. We can perhaps consider that as critics, we are both present and removed; in our thinking, we are negotiating a myriad of forces of knowledge, emotion and intent that shape our perception of a work, our articulation of it, and the interpretation that is fuelled by that.

Criticism is not simply a work of beginnings, neither is it one of conclusions. We do not simply ignite or derive, we propose, question, position and engage ideas. We make certain moments of content appear on the page.

So I propose that we consider a more complex set of events in our process of criticism; I propose that:

  • this begins before our encounter with work
  • it continues after in our formation of memories, our note-taking, our research and attempt to define and delineate through old and new knowledge
  • it emerges in a process of interpretation in which we, sometimes less consciously than we would like, try and give shape to our thoughts.
  • it develops in the form of a text, in which several forces are at play: the intent, the space, the timing, the deadline, the context, the relationship.
  • then it continues on, once that text itself is released.  Let’s say it dissipates into the public sphere.

Moment 4 (Interpretation)

In some ways, criticism is a conflict with meaning. We excavate our thoughts to be able to justify and identify moments of that encounter with a work of art. Through interpretation we both ascribe meaning and try and make sense of our intuitive responses.

Thinking about process can help differentiate between what is intuition, what is knowledge and what is judgment. We can consider the ways in which a work might appear, in which a fragment can be described or teased out.

Yet interpretation can be controlled too; where you write, how you approach that writing, and how you trigger different memories are essential to being able to shape and structure your own thinking.

Moment 5 (Dialogue)

The text is the manifestation of our interpretation, and in some ways, the first dialogue that you might begin with your readers and the work itself. Although there are many ways to approach structuring a text, it’s also important to be aware of the ways in which the text tries the shape the writing.

Sometimes playing with structure to begin with might provide some interesting moments, recall some particular memories, or allow you to make connections that you haven’t encountered in your journey of interpretation.

Being aware of the assumptions you are making for what the text should be, is also crucial; allow your own thinking to dictate form. Consider the role of description in the text, and what is can enact. Then think about the action of a critical sentence, and where that should be positioned. In between will be your argument.

Any text is plural, and it has an odd quality of both distinction and equality. And, to return to Arendt, “with word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world.” So for a more aware, open-ended text, an awareness of criticism as a particular form of composition and conversation might be imperative. After all, this is merely an invitation, an extension; and the rest follows.

And You Were Wonderful, On Stage

When the social body is wired by techno-linguistic automatisms, it acts as a swarm: a collective organism whose behaviour is automatically directed by connective interfaces” Franco Bifo Berardi, The Uprising

Review written for Exeunt Magazine

We are not sure what we carry in the language of the everyday; and this baggage is an intervention into our modes of communication. We speak on behalf of, or with, or alongside, or in antithesis, without certainty of intent or control. We often recite instead of state; we are co-opted into a collective swarm, where noise and meaning are hard to differentiate.

It is precisely this tension of meaning in language that Cally Spooner’s work concerns itself with. Navigating between linguistic composition, formal theatricality and aural landscapes, Spooner’s practice questions the ways in which meaning might be co-opted, fractured by market-speak, by commodification, by the knowledge economy and the jargon of finance.  This quest for understanding linguistic automatisms is positioned in Spooner’s work in the individual and the collective, the place and the context.

In previous work, such as Collapsing in Parts, a long term multi-part project examining the relationship between the mechanisms of performance and the poetics of speech, Spooner played with notions of text and meaning. Starting with a body of writings that emerged from the artist’s personal research, then developed into episodic events through a range of collaborations presented as footnotes, Collapsing in Parts was concerned not only with processes of production, but also the notion of failure in communication. In one performative aspects of the work, Spooner speaks of a series of characters who are constantly unable to play their part onstage due to particular neuroses, such as the Copy Editor who get lost in spelling mistakes and bad grammar. The end of the project was marked by an unedited, untitled film, made up of loud bursts of language interrupting an otherwise uncanny, empty silence.

And You Were Wonderful, On Stage is a new iteration of a piece of work, commissioned as a two-part performance by Tate for the BMW Tate Live programme. The first iteration takes place in Tate Britain’s rotunda, concentrated around the newly built staircase. The second will be a developed version performed live to camera for Tate’s Performance Room.

The piece is presented as a musical for an all female a-cappella Chorus Line, drawing on the formal theatricality of Broadway musicals to consider the inflection and appropriation of language in every-day life. Built through cut-up, appropriation and linguistic play, drawing on extracts from Beyonce’s lip-synching at Obama’s inauguration, Michael Gove’s education proposal, or the Lance Armstrong scandal, And You Were Wonderful… is a playful iteration that juxtaposes the spectacle of appropriated language with the false authenticity of stage theatricality.

For an artist whose work originates in the fine art world, composition is crucial here; it forms the backbone of the work’s content, it shapes the ways in which form is deployed throughout the piece, and gives a strong sharpness and clarity to its fabric.  It navigates the comedic and the dramatic, and uses conventions of character and song to explore the ways in which meaning is shape-shifted, occupied and often, invisible.

Tate Britain here serves as a apt backdrop, with its vaulted ceilings, its architectural authority and its capacity to render bodies sculptural, and voices automatic with the particular tropes of an art institution. We enter the space as it’s filled by the sound of female voices singing; some appear as almost automatic bodies, all dressed in a sculpted, loosely patterned, geometric outfits, sometimes performing in unison and at others creating a landscape of noise. This overture allows us to inhabit the space; to sink into a seemingly empty space devoid of language, before congregating around the staircase in a ritualistic gathering, punctured by Peter Joslyn’s musical scores.

Language here is slowly revealed as a site of infiltration; in the highly stylised addresses of the performers, repeating the same phrase, speaking of values, confidence, assets and brands, meaning reveals itself to be an equally inauthentic construct, woven through PR slang, automatic speech patterns and exhausted performances. There is a disassociation made visible here between the actions performed by these bodies- hand gestures, rapid movements, ritualistic walking or a sustained gaze- and the seemingly familiar speech uttered through song, in intonations gripping in their simplistic musicality. It’s the meeting pint between language and noise, between meaning and appropriation. It’s Debord’ Society of the Spectacle turned on its head in a display of manipulative virtuosity.

Spooner’s piece, with its clever engagement with form and its use of language as a plastic material, is sharply communicative. The critique of automation, the visibility of a politics of language that removes any potential form of individual authorship are transparent, rooted in the construct of the performance itself. There is a sophisticated disjoint here between action as enacted by the body, and language itself as a form of action, one stripped of agency.

At the same time, the space itself is very much used as a two-fold site of meaning-making; as an audience, we are equally sculptured bodies in this ritual of exhaustion; through the polyphonic repetition, through the ritualistic and almost religious iteration of language in its mediatisation, we are part of a ritual of purging; and the remnants of this purging remains as echoed voices in this empty hall. Yet And You Were Wonderful… remains tentative in its representation of this problem of jargon and authenticity of meaning; it manages to skilfully make visible the automatisms that govern a system of communication, at the same time marking its position on the subject with a lack of clarity. Is this satire and if not, is this abstraction posited as a celebration? Certainly self-critique, particularly in this instance, does not equate to subversion. As an artist concerned with appropriation as a strategy, Spooner refutes the importance of presentation and context- aspect at the heart of a politics of appropriation. The language is of this work is presentation, and Spooner’s piece embeds itself so silently within the walls of the institution.

It is this very site- the gallery- that constructs an uneasy tension between the institutionalisation of language, and the institution itself. For a performance that discusses the ways in which finance and marketing has politicised language, its context of display- the BMW series itself- remains an odd shadow. If the financial jargon is so implicit in limiting a freedom of communication in language, then what becomes of this spectacle of purging? What happens to that which is exhausted? I wonder if this makes And You Were Wonderful, On Stage a purely principal work, if sharply and eloquently presented. One that is unable to engage in a direct confrontation of the very context which it is attempting to critique. What of institutional critique, one might ask? Are abstraction and formal play here merely annulled by a lack of specificity?  Are we talking institutionalised critique here? And is this what neoliberal art looks like? Because inertia is what delineates the relationship between work and place.

Language is undoubtedly stripped bare and toyed with in Spooner’s spectacle of automatic, poetic abstraction. The sheer power and versatility of the female performers, here bodies uttering and playing with voice and sound, is engaging, evocative and communicative. Yet only in the context of institutional dialogue is such a work disabled at the same time; and this tension remains a particularly intriguing, and problematic, if foundational, aspect of the work.

Review: Scenes from a Marriage

Written for Exeunt Magazine

1. This is not really a review. It has elements of re-viewing, displaced by the presence of an original image, a redacted memory. I am thinking here through and with the aid of translation; past the problems of mediation(s) that the production proposes (language; form; source; site).

2. I am watching a still from Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. “We weren’t in love at all, but we were both downhearted.” A green velvet sofa, well behaved shoulders, hands tucked in lap; being in someone’s living room. The wall patterns seem familiar; the cleanliness of it all. There is a sparse exchange of words, a loaded cinematic gaze. It’s thick with atmosphere, the beige-ness of spaces in between. I am not sure what I am looking at. I wonder if it’s history, or a history of some kind. It feels a lot more like a portrait with shifting subjects. Because who thinks about love these days; at least, who thinks about love, these days, like this.

3. I am sat on the Barbican’s main stage and the show has just started. There is no velvet sofa, but the soft texture of the walls, the sound that spills from the scene happening adjacent to me, they all shape a sense of poetic intimacy. I wonder, am I watching a portrait? This feels historical. This feels historical. Three scenes for which we move; then a spectacle of speculative philosophy.

4. These different variations, these cycles that I am confronted with in van Hove’s vision, they are unabashedly personal; they contemplate through their own form. There’s an oddly fractured respect for the shifting perspective in Bergman’s cinema, for a process of appropriation of that aesthetic intimacy that is distinctly not embodied, but playful. What is the body on this stage, when these people are not the characters? When their bodies become sites of thinking, age is fluid, persona emerges as a kind of theatrical proposition. Signs are getting so perceptively muddled up. Narrative is strongly enacted, embodied then discarded. It’s the repetition of this tension that emerges through the moments in –between; this juxtaposition of selves, that speaks more fervently than the domesticity of this character language.

5. Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage began life as a short six-episode series which went on to become a full length feature. There is a strong sense of literary authorship to its depiction of the relationship between intimacy and destruction, and the shape-shifting politics of emotional discourse. The cinematic here is a site of speculation rather than any direct representation; its language nevertheless engages with a distinct interest in what we might consider (now, with hindsight) to be a sense of the real. It is fractured yet has a particular narrative linearity surprised by self-awareness.

6. Toneelgroep’s Scenes from a Marriage moves this speculation to a different mode of thinking-through; the stage is both actual and speculative. I move through, and think relationally. My perspective is not drenched with the language of separation, or any poesis of relationships. It is enacted through people. I feel the temperature of this evolving timeline; engage in repetitive processes of emotional high-rises. Speak in-between moments of tension. Consider justification in the different expositions which Tongeelgroep present.

7. I am trying to follow the gaze of young Marianne in this spectacle of cross-characterisation; bright eyed, jumping in between with no sense of timed choreography. I can make out a portrait that keeps refusing to stand still. I can make out an exchange that morphs. This is not history, I think to myself. It’s too softly-focused, too aware.

8. I’m on a film set, bathed in harsh light and following this cycle with a sense of extreme satisfaction; it’s a humorous, densely poetic and fiercely melancholic struggle that I’m part of, and the emotional traces of any past intimacy have been wiped away. There is authorial self-awareness. Split-seconds of concrete ideas materialise. There is an overwhelming sense of intention in this unfolding social politic, be it removed from its referent, incubated on stage.

9. I am considering the position of history in this portrait which refuses to emerge; I am struck by the co-existence of a strong sense of conclusiveness, but I am also confronting a particular set of questions. The form of the piece plays with the implications of presenting this dynamic (marriage?) with a clear sense of commitment to genre-play and a particular awareness of the construction of selfhood onstage. The intimacy is a device that enables a lot of dynamic engagement. There are perceptible knots, strong releases, moments of impossible communication.

10. “What kind of world does one see when one experiences it from the point of view of two and not one? What is the world like when it is experiences, developed and lived from the point of view of difference and not identity?” Alain Badiou

Beyond Glorious

written for Exeunt Magazine

The following article is a result of a roundtable discussion organised by Rajni Shah and Diana Damian about Beyond Glorious: the radical in socially engaged practices, a symposium that took place in June 2013 to mark the end of an ambitious trilogy of work. Symposium participants John Pinder, Chloe Dechery, Theron Schmidt, Louise Owen and Susan Sheddan were invited to take part in the roundtable aimed at re-considering the symposium, its mode of engagement with practice and its scope with the hindsight of time.

Somewhere between the fresh cool air following a summer storm and the soft colours of fast approaching night time, the subject of the conversation turned abruptly. Between the collective act of remembrance and the tentative nature of my own questions, the subject began to occupy the room, to materialize amongst everyone’s memories and reflections. And because I look back to that afternoon after the sudden, unexpected passage of time, I fall naturally into thinking about the value, traces and presence of an event like Beyond Glorious.

Towards the end of the soft summer that took over London this year, I met with artist and producer Rajni Shah, artist John Pinder, Lecturers Theron Schmidt (King’s College) and Louise Owen (Birkbeck), writer, producer and artist Chloe Dechery, and Early Years and Families Convenor (Tate Modern), Susan Sheddan, to collectively think about Beyond Glorious, a symposium that marked the end of Shah’s three year project, Glorious.

The symposium was a way to contextualize and reflect on the work that took place in the project-  a large-scale collaborative musical that explored our relationship to place and community, the third in a trilogy of shows examining cultural identity through socially engaged practice, alongside Mr Quiver (2005) and Dinner with America (2008). Glorious was the most ambitious of the three; with each new location and place, Shah together with collaborators Lucille Acevedo-Jones, Karen Christopher, Sheila Ghelani, Mary Paterson and Suzie Shrubb, worked with a new set of musicians and local resihudents to reconstitute and re-invent the core material of the production. In the beautiful Dear Stranger, I love you , Shah, Paterson and Elizabeth Lynch consider the remit of the project within the politics of socially engaged practice from both a very human as well as theoretical remit, bringing together a collection of thoughts that tempt and prompt disagreements over the variables of such an ambitious project, the values of that process and its encounter, and the currencies under which they chose to speak.

Beyond Glorious emerged as a result of this project and process, positing to question the ways in which the radical can be understood in socially engaged practice. I found it a fascinating premise: considering the fragments, remains and ideas emerging out of such a complex performance project that placed participants at the core of a process of questioning and considering societal elements such as place and community. If socially engaged practice can be understood as artistic work that aims to engage in a multitude of ways with social repair and re-constitution, then how might one approach the construction of a temporary public space of debate? Infused with these aspects, the symposium seemed to be occupying that public space in its engagement with a subject at the meeting point between academic debate and artistic practice.  And it seemed like the ethos of the publication very much fed into the curation of the event itself, which sought to expand these conversations outside of the specificity of a project, bringing together an incredibly diverse group of people – from artists, researchers, theorists to punters – to consider the relationship between such practices and the radical, be that as a form of social re-imagination or new formal ground.

The symposium took place over three days in early June, and was free to attend, subject to the participants agreeing to donate their time for the duration, whatever form that might take. Alongside discussions, workshops and screenings, there were communal meals at local restaurants in Bloomsbury, provocations and evening events. Panels looked at problems and potentials of the radical and its audiences, creative documentation, theatre and radical democracy, and were complemented by presentations around the influence of other disciplines in socially engaged work, facilitated walks, letter- writing and case studies.

As Mary Paterson states in Dear Stranger, I love you, “Glorious was different things to different people. And it achieved this difference by building a scaffold of the familiar – a mixture of aesthetic and social conventions that combined to make a ladder to the unknown” (53). In light of that, I wondered what the potential of such a symposium might be. What could it enact, consider and open up in light of the material on which it is inherently constructed, but also the ethos that led to its constitution?

Shannon Jackson considers the term socially engaged practice as combining “aesthetics and politics; as a term for events that are inter-relational, embodied and durational” (12). In her study Social Works, Jackson addresses the assumption that such models of politically engaged work should measure their radicality in light of their relationship to the institutional. Although debate over the remit, impact and effect of such works – though in blurred and contested delineations – always comes hand in hand with the wider political and artistic frameworks that constitute and make them visible, it’s possible to see Beyond Glorious itself as navigating those terrains between the artistic and the social, redrawing their connections through its multiplicity of modes of discourse. I was however a stranger to these discourses, excavating through collective remembrance.  It wasn’t just a question of what remained or lingered, but also what languages might have enabled conversations, what structures might have fostered disagreement and what of knowledge and its production in light of the possibility within ideas of resistance. In other words, I wondered how can we make meaningful conversations now, in a political environment where knowledge is tied to economics and capital, when form is so visibly political?


Photo: Christopher MatthewsPhoto: Christopher Matthews

“As an opening provocation, I have a request for each of you, and that is that you leave it behind. And by that I mean whatever is going on for you, right now, whatever patterns you would automatically adopt in this situation, whatever knowledge or assumptions you brought with you today- I’m requesting that you graciously lay them down.” Rajni Shah, Opening address, Beyond Glorious

Shah speaks of the barriers that can shadow our relationship with strangers, of the difficulty of being open about not knowing, and moving outside of adopted patterns that dictate our engagement with others. When I first read Rajni’s opening speech, I think of Hannah Arendt’s philosophical poetics. “Human plurality, the basic condition of both action and speech, has the twofold character of equality and distinction. […] Speech and action reveal this unique distinctness.[…] With word and deed we insert ourselves into the human world […]. “ (128) It seems that her opening request is not only about an invitation to engage differently, but also about an openness towards different modes of engagement. Arendt’s thoughts on the nature of public appearance are echoed in this initial proposition: distinction and equality are valued in equal measure.  Action becomes that which has the potential to emerge through language- and Beyond Glorious attempted to consider that in a more complex, diversified framework, from listening and sharing, to problematising and disagreeing.

When I ask Rajni about this address, she tells me that the aim was “to create a space of listening among a very diverse group, but also, and importantly, to make a space for renewal, which feels really urgent. Glorious was an attempt to do something that maybe felt impossibly ambitious, and we did it, but I am fully aware of the compromises we made. That’s not a sustainable way of working, so the symposium also became about how and why do we keep doing this.”  So the choices that really made up the event themselves also became about place and conversation, but from a specific perspective. “It has to do with where you place yourself as an artist, about saying ‘we could also do this’. We made choices that were different from other events – choices like going to local restaurants and spending time in those places, really being there. It was an opportunity to share practice, what we’ve learnt, and to think about opening it out. But it was also about the desire to do things differently, and to share the fact that this is possible as an artist – that it’s possible to create spaces that are complex and rigorous but also kind and generous.”

Susan mentions that as someone who emerges out of an institutional and educational context, she is aware of particular issues around socially engaged practice. Working with such practices is “a complex and exciting process that necessitates the kind of responsive openness that I found in Rajni’s opening provocation, which to me framed a new space where something different could occur.” Susan reflects on a workshop that she participated in during the symposium that foregrounded a certain kind of resistance that was particular and incidental. Experiencing these feelings was fascinating, given that Rajni’s provocation meant participating in an uncomfortable and resistant state. “I am not used to being so uncomfortable. I found it incredibly rich, hearing about other people’s perspectives and being in the midst of a disagreement. For me it was about a space to express this resistance, and several of us did so clearly and openly. The situation demonstrated in practice how trust and generosity can actualise the rich potential in uncomfortable, unknown moments. As someone who produces participatory programmes I thought it valuable to experience this discomfort.“

Louise adds that she felt “part of a swirling mass of information- sounds, tastes, textures and ideas. Information was moving through, but it was more organic than directional, less about language and more about assumptions and their visibility. There was no sense of confusion, no moment of misunderstanding.”  She speaks of a similar sense of openness, and a clarity in the different modes of exchange and discussion that meant a particular sharing of perspectives.

Theron remembers responding to Rajni’s prompt with the realisation of the need to let go of a sense of regret about “all the people who I hoped would be there, who I thought really shouldbe.”  There was also the mix of curiosity and apprehension about this new mix of people: “The experience of being a scholar means that you have a lot of shared reference points and you’re part of a formed community.  I wondered whether we might end up treading familiar territory, or whether new discourses would form, and where the sense of urgency and dynamism would come from….”  Theron speaks of a community of particular people at a particular time without the usual conventions of familiarity: a relationship of strangers who have that strangeness in common rather than any shared trait or history.

John ascribes a real social value to the symposium in delineating both an act of spectating and one of exchange. “In theatre, this is quite a radical thing. In some sense, Gloriousemployed a dramaturgical structure that worked really well in creating a delay, at least for me. The show arrived much later for me, and likewise the symposium became a confirmation of the meaning of this delay. It sharpened some feelings and questions I had in relation to theatre, and it was quite remarkable.” John speaks of the letter-writing that all participants were invited to do at the end; each wrote to a stranger and added their address to an envelope, thus being the addresser and addressee at the same time. “The letter I received back later, echoed that delay; it wasn’t about any nostalgia of form, but about a specific structure that really made something tangible to me.”

In contrast to this sense of satisfying delay, of an extended temporality, was also a different form of transaction which throughout our conversation I seem to pin down to knowledge exchange. Yet this very approach proves subverted within the clarity brought by the symposium’s structures, and the participants’ different positions on that. In thinking about what these structures might create, I realize the importance of fighting kinds of knowledge efficiency and consistencies of transfer. When discourse becomes less about accumulation, structures that govern our thinking become more present. If knowledge is to escape instrumentalization, then it must deliberately place itself in a different socio-political nexus. And in Beyond Glorious there seems to be a strong presence of something more valuable and meaningful- structures of discourse.

From Chloe’s perspective, there was a real sense of fluidity in the conversations that was very inviting. “The fact that we spent all this time together, ate together and talked in different conditions, was important. There was no hierarchy to these places and it became about connections rather than transfer, about allowing yourself to access a different way of speaking and thinking, very much embodied and connected to time and place.” Rajni adds that “we went to a place that was sometimes uncomfortable but not antagonistic. The idea of knowledge transfer that you describe is what we were trying to break away from. There were challenges around those moments of tension, but the lack of consensus didn’t lead to break-down in communications as it often does. What started off as being about knowledge became about sentiment. Conversations were able to move through this place.”

One of the things that Theron valued about Beyond Glorious was the way it presented multiple ways of structuring social organisation and exchange.  Referring to the feminist manifesto “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”, he describes his suspicion of the idealisation of some universally accessible, non-hierarchical structure.  “There is no such thing (and in fact the presumption of structurelessness can be dangerous), but what can be thoughtful and artful about how we shift those hierarchies and their presence and scope,” and in this way making those hierarchies visible.  For Theron, Beyond Glorious seemed to claim an equivalency of value to different kinds of experiences and knowledges, which in itself is “a strong political claim.”  He adds, one thing which the structure of the symposium made visible was the binary that says in order for a practice to be radical, it must be antagonistic, whereas practices that are kind or generous are somehow inherently conservative.  In opposition to this binary, Theron found Beyond Glorious to be an occasion to explore “a broad spectrum of different modes of radicality that might form an ecology of radical practices.”


Photo: Christopher MatthewsPhoto: Christopher Matthews

If the structure emerges out of the conversation with precision and clarity, with a powerful and potent sense of urgency and possibility, what remains clouded is the subject itself, escaped within the scaffolds of such memories. What remains? The emotion, the thinking and sharing processes; knowledge, as that which can be pinpointed and grasped, is secondary. As for the radical, throughout the conversation it emerges as something that navigates the poetic and the public without presumed antagonism. Glorious might have touched or at least interfered with people’s lived and communities; Beyond Glorious sought to extract something equally valuable by moving outside of the project, and attempting to think collectively- it is a gently radical event. There is something very candid about a symposium that in its structure and ambition, might be able to communicate symbolically.  If it emerges as anything,Beyond Glorious seems to be a form of occupation.

This is in no way a panoramic gesture. And certainly both in writing this, and in participating in our collective reflection, the tension most present was that between forming a specific kind of chaos and removing the innate desire to order it, to construct modes of efficiency. Discourse and action are inherently tied together, just as form and politics are. I recall Arendt once more, who speaks of acting as taking an initiative, setting something in motion. “It is in the nature of beginning that something new is started which cannot be expected from whatever may have happened before.”  Something new certainly emerged from Beyond Glorious, and it slipped its way into the public sphere in ways which could be seen to be a bit more unexpected, a bit more silent. I think here of aspects such as letter-writing, guided walks, dinner table conversations.

If socially engaged practices take on spectatorship in deliberately unexpected, perhaps nomadic ways, examining the politics of that encounter between performer and audience, author and amateur, insider and outsider, then it’s also possible to see Beyond Glorious as navigating and perhaps attempting to displace those same boundaries. If I return to the idea of the stranger, attempting to piece together with memories at her tool, then I think about how much that same space that was recalled was also enacted. Place is what defines the stranger; and throughout the conversation I began more and more to inhabit these memories- to own them as much as their authors had.

There is a great deal to be found in modes of constitution, and in re-considering what we might think of as public, and I say this as a critic as much as an observer to this process of recollection. If socially engaged practice, as a nomadic and disputed category, might shed light on the assumptions made on the position and role of art, then Beyond Glorious makes visible dominant structures of critique and debate that assert an outcome. As Gertrude Stein once said, “the only thing that is different from one time to another is what is seen and what is seen depends upon how everybody is doing everything.”