VENTURING 

PANEL 4, MAY 22

 

 

Video presentations are below,

followed by a panel discussion.

 ZÀO: A HISTORY OF CHINESE

DISHCOURSE THROUGH FAMINE AND REVOLUTION 

 Siri Lee 

 ECLIPSE 

 David Cross 

 CROSSWAYS. THE BRIDGE AS   READYMADE 

 Anthony McInneny, 

 Beatriz Maturana Cossio   and Museo Benjamín Vicuña Mackenna

 PERFORMANCE AS FAULT LINE 

 Chelsea Coon 

 
 
 
 

 PANEL DISCUSSION 

CHAIR: SIMONE SLEE

Simone Slee (SS): Thank you Chelsea Coon, David Cross, Siri Lee and Anthony McInneny and Beatriz Maturana Cossio for your compelling presentations. Your projects span the globe—from Chile, China, Australia to European contexts and the United States. However, what struck me in each of these presentations was the way art can reveal to us the systems of producing public space and culture which is often invisible to us. In fact, through these art interventions, it is shown how normative, quotidian public space and its implicit conventional behaviours produced by belief structure and ideologies are far less benign than initially assumed.

 

Siri Lee’s faction, ZÀO, aims to circumventing the cultural amnesia of the profoundly disturbing and devastating Maoist ideology of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, where between 20-63, million people perished. Although seemingly benign by comparison, (except perhaps now through the lens of Covid-19), David Cross’ presentation of Anthony Johnson’s artwork Eclipse investigates repeated everyday gestures, such as sitting on a bus, crossing the road, or washing windows as actions that produce public space in down-town Hobart, Australia. For Chelsea Coon, her live performance Phases of the Immanent, in Salt Lake City municipal library, Utah, exposes the dangers of contravening the tightly controlled gendered expectation of behaviour in public space; whilst Anthony McInneny uses the multiple bridges over the Mapocha River in central Santiago as a platform through which to embody the violent and social unrest that has produced these spaces.

  

SS to Siri: I was struck by your work’s concern to circumvent the cultural amnesia associated with Maoist ideology. This is also a very pertinent issue for us in Australia where we are coming to terms what has been devastated by colonisation and how we can build a new way forward. Many writers, scholars and thinkers discuss this cultural amnesia including Stan Grant, the Indigenous Australian journalist. Grant has referred to the anthropologist W. E. H. Stanner Boyer Lecture of 1968 naming “the great Australian silence,” and our “cult of forgetfulness practised on a national scale,” in regard to Australian First Nation people and the atrocities that occurred and still persist under the trajectory of colonisation and contemporary Australian everyday life. I am interested to know how the issue of cultural amnesia addressed by your faction, ZÀO has been received by your audience. 

 

Siri: Your comparison with Australia’s erasure of colonization is interesting to me, especially your quotes — “the great ... silence” and “cult of forgetfulness,” because I would use these phrases to describe mainland China’s current amnesia as well. In my research for the book I dealt repeatedly with the cult of personality (Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping), which your quote reminds me is also invariably tied in with cults of amnesia and remembrance.

It’s funny you ask about audience, because this is a question that I’ve repeatedly run into: Who is ZÀO's audience? The book is mainly in English, yet its subject matter is entirely Chinese-focused. Split between ZÀO's subject matter, language, and sensibility, my possible audiences would be: mainland Chinese readers; English readers; and Chinese diaspora. Yet as a whole, ZÀO caters to none of these groups. Most native mainland Chinese youth do not learn about the history described in ZÀO in their education. In English-speaking countries, even fewer people learn about anything Chinese whatsoever, or display much interest beyond the trade war and now coronavirus. For the most part, second-or-further-generation Chinese immigrants are also taught very little about Chinese history. So, in terms of cultural/historical understandings, ZÀO does not have a predefined target audience. Cheesy as it may sound, I think of it more as a message in a bottle, in all the Wikipedia senses of the word — “to send distress messages, in crowdsourced scientific studies of ocean currents, as memorial tributes, to send deceased loved ones' ashes on a final journey, to convey expedition reports …." I hope to be surprised by the readers who pick up ZÀO on the other shore!

Practically speaking, Chinese readers would be the most relevant and urgent audience for ZÀO, especially when the tactics of propaganda and indoctrination the book describes are experiencing a resurgence under the escalating cult of Xi. However, they are also the hardest and riskiest to reach, not just because of language barriers, but also because of censorship and nationalism. I know people who have had their WeChat accounts shut down just for sharing poetry that mentions Xi Jinping neutrally (so, not in adoration). Discussing the famine is totally taboo. My personal experience also tells me that mainland Chinese youth, for the most part, are more interested in pursuing the Chinese equivalent of MAGA than in interrogating past failures. So, given both institutional suppression and popular indifference, I have not yet figured out how to reach the few individuals in the mainland who could be interested in ZÀO while avoiding outsized repercussions. As a result, thus far my publicity efforts have been centered towards English-speaking audiences. Here, ZÀO has exposed me to well-intentioned yet total ignorance, as well as the trauma-centered memory work of other diaspora. These conversations have been stinted by the current pandemic, which has postponed or moved online all my exhibitions, but I look forward to more of them through Project Anywhere.

 

SS to David: When I heard you speak of Anthony Johnson’s work Eclipse, in your curatorial project Iteration: Again, the French film maker, Michel Gondry’s film Eternal Sunshine from a Spotless Mind (2004) and his film clip of Kylie Minogue’s song Come into my World came to mind. In both of these Michel Gondry works the notion of a circling return is investigated, where what is built up is not the repetition of the sameness but rather a type of difference and when this is layered on one another a type of poetic thickness in the world is produced.

At this exact point in time, globally and in Australia, we are in lock-down, flattening the Covid-19 curve. It certainly feels like a cataclysmic global event. We are on the precipice of returning to our public spaces. Akin to Anthony Johnson’s artwork, we will be crossing the road, and we shall be in buses, and cleaning windows. However, we will be doing this differently from Anthony Johnson’s performance work ten years ago. I am wondering if this notion of the circular return and difference with iteration might help us in some way to speculate on the everyday actions and new world we may rebuild after this crisis.

 

David: This is a timely question Simone and it’s is good to consider the relevance of Anthony’s artwork from a decade ago now and to ponder what its key imperatives might mean for most of us in assorted states of quarantine. Without wanting to make light of a global pandemic that has caused so much suffering, it is certainly the case that it has created the conditions for a reset of how we know and experience our communities and spaces. As we are a long way from returning to many of those spaces, we can only speculate as to what our return (when it comes) will mean. What I can say is that in the narrowing of my own experiences of where I can walk and who I speak to, there is certainly a shift in being more attentive to talking to locals but also to notice changes in the environment. Where in the past I may have been indifferent to an enforced sameness, now I am increasingly fascinated as to how weather patterns, seasonal changes and even building works are a greater source of interest. Ordinarily, I would rail against the same walk through the same streets because of its repetitive nature, now I feel fortunate to have this pattern and also feel grateful for the boost in sensory engagement. Anthony’s work Eclipse certainly operated as a mechanism or machine for self-awareness and specifically of the complex changes always taking place across time and space. His work in its sly and whimsical way, pressed us to reflect on our perceptual capacities to observe, to identify patterns, and to generally be more active and attuned to the public sphere. In the ten years since the work was made, we have built even more resilient barriers to participating in public space with smart phones and airpods drawing us away from our surroundings. In a sense, I feel the work would have as much, if not more, traction now than it did when phone internet technology was less ubiquitous. But of course, the real joy of the work is that it cannot ever be re-staged because its conceit is out in the world. He would have to rely on a new location and audience somehow entirely disconnected from its original context and considering it has appeared in international books on public art this would be a stretch.  I am also not convinced it needs re-staging to continue its resonance. In reflecting on it here and through the sympsosium, the work lives on and nudges each person who encounters it to consider what it is to be alive to the world of small things.

  

SS to Anthony: It was fascinating and terrifying to hear how the bridges in your project have played such a central role in the civil unrest in Santiago, only a few months ago, to the extent that there will be a forthcoming plebiscite referendum on Chile’s constitution this year. I once found myself trapped in the cul-de-sac of Trafalgar Square during the Poll Tax Riots in London, and it dawned on me in that moment that the politics of space was not only a theoretical construct, it was viscerally literal, physical and frightening. You ended your presentation on the idea of a “virtual burning of the bridge.” I would love to hear you elaborate what you were thinking of when you said this.

 

Anthony: I have thought about your question, Chelsea’s cognitive dissonance, David’s Fluxus inversion and Siri ‘s clear and present danger. The October Crisis has changed our project and perhaps connects it to the other projects in unintentional ways.

Before October 18 (O18), I’d photographed billboard art featuring the Encapuchado – the balaclava wearing protester. This figure became the O18 peaceful protester’s anonymous hero that collectively formed a self-named group, la Primera Linea (The Front Line) (PL). Every day after O18, I photographed PL’s violent ritual. Among mass demonstrations half-naked, hooded bodies sodomized each other while every night, hooded youth threw Molotovs and rocks at Police. Both sustained and enraged by rumour and alleged human rights abuse by police, the State.  Arson’s smell mixed with teargas. Macabre Mardi Gras filled our street with balaclavas. I was beaten up questioning why they had burnt the historical church opposite.  In November we ran ourselves out of town, only to return through burning barricades to our barrio renamed Ground Zero. Third church burnt and under self-curfew. March 13, a hijacked bus, gutted and burnt as roadblock. March 18, COVID19 leaves an empty Westworld set.

Chilean writer Carlos Peña discusses the interdependency of democracy, capitalism and modernity.  Peña says that Chilean society was pre-modern in mid-20thC democracy, modern under a Dictatorship and, after 1990, both modern and democratic.

The canal and bridges represent 19thC modernisation. The image of 20thC modern public space has the aesthetic of Paris 68. O18 is a parody of 68 and viral.

The virtual burning of a bridge represents the current social breach. Bruno Latour (1991) states we have never been modern.

 

Simone to Chelsea: Phases of the Imminent revealed so powerfully how patriarchal systems implicit within the Mormon faith, and within a Trumpian paradigm more generally in the U.S., were provoked and threatened by your artwork. By comparison, your durational and meditative performance offers a humbling alternative of a different type of space that could be produced which values the vulnerable, which takes care and focus to shift something as tiny and potentially dangerous as glass fragments. With the action of producing concentric circles, I am wondering if there is a nod toward a different and larger cosmological space you are making with this artwork?

 

Chelsea: In this work I was concerned with vulnerability of spaces and the body. Often, through the process of making performance, I’ve found endurance and durational strategies to address these vulnerabilities. Brene Brown, a social work researcher defines vulnerability as “emotional risk, exposure and uncertainty.” I am compelled by this definition because it empowers the vulnerable in acknowledging that it as an embrace of the unknown. 

The six concentric circles made of the broken glass mirror particles, which were developed over the six-hour duration was to literally close in on myself. This closing in for me suggested an end akin to an implosion as seen in the final phase of a star’s life. This process is called core-collapse. And what is interesting about this “end” is that it’s not an end at all—it can result in blackholes and neutron stars. So, something small transforms and evolves to become something massive. This idea is so exciting! I think the individual mirror glass particles that reflected my body and the audience bodies in the concentric circles on some level spoke to this possibility. I believe performance structures inherently challenge perception and relationship to time, both for the performer and the audience. 

When I deliver durational performances in the U.S., I am often questioned on value. Why am I spending time doing this?  This used to bother me. Over time, I have become interested in how arbitrary and subjective value is. Further, this understanding of value has become essential material of my performance work. The presentation of a live performance, especially one that is six-hours in duration, does imply that I believe what I say has value. Realizing Phases of the Imminent in its full duration despite select violent audience outbursts from those who were provoked and threatened by my body, further emphasizes that a space where value can be re-understood through vulnerability is timely and necessarily. 

 

 COMMENTS 

Comments for this panel are now closed. Thank you to all who contributed. 

  • Thank you all for the wonderful presentations, I enjoyed the panel and discussion.

    I am interested in Simone and David’s conversation on Anthony Johnson’s work, ‘Eclipse’. I agree that this coronavirus lockdown situation we find ourselves in has offered us the space to reflect on our daily lives in a way that work like ‘Eclipse’, and other narratives through the art/life paradigm have done.

    It strikes me that the potential of re-staging such a work would be exactly in that it would have to respond to a new place and time, and so can never be the same. Far from invalidating the original, it would place the piece in an ongoing contemporary dialogue.

    Simone I am wondering if you had something in mind yourself when suggesting that Johnson’s piece, if remounted today, might be help us to speculate on a new world after the Covid-19 crisis?

    In extension to this, and to all presenters on the panel, I am wondering what role you see art as having as we emerge from this global pandemic crisis?

  • Anja Mueller.

    • Thanks for your question Anja. I will let Simone respond to her thoughts about the work but my sense is that Eclipse does not need to be re-made or replicated as it spoke to particular conditions in a particular place in 2011 and that its affect continues to resonate through forums such as this. Perhaps its value over time is in its capacity to prod those that encounter it to reflect on our perceptual capacities and how we chose to employ them or not in the public sphere. It is important to preface that many people actively disliked the work when it was made because the meanings were unfolded over a significant time period and required really sustained engagement on the part of the audience member.  Many people simply were not prepared to do the work. Those that did though were rewarded with a remarkable set of revelations and I especially value the risk and reward equation that was set in train by Johnson. In relation to your last question about the role of art post-Covid, I don't see it as being especially different from before. The role of art is (and always will be) to act as a mechanism of complexity, a means by which those that make it can have agency to be critics and consciences of the society we live in.  Art has a crucial role to play in getting people to engage with- if not embrace- uncertainty, ambiguity, precarity and radical difference. It (art) is not a panacea to ward off our fear of the unknown, but it absolutely functions as a critical practice that equips those that profoundly engage with it, to develop a degree of padding by which we might navigate and learn to steer a course through the huge societal shifts we are facing. Art, in my experience, is one of the the best modalities of resilience training there is, which is why artists are so well equipped to be leaders in shaping how we might come out of the this pandemic less sectarian, insular and parochial. Here's hoping.
    • david cross 

    • Dear Anja, Thanks for your question. I am answering from the perspective of living and working in Santaigo de Chile. COVID 19 comes on top of two other global crises of what  I call a triple A-normality. The first is the Climate Crisis, known concretely since the 1980s but speculated upon in the 1820s. The second, in Chile specifically but also seen in other parts of the world - Asia and Europe - is what is called the Social Crisis -the crisis of institutions and what some call the Modern crisis. This is the second or third or fourth crisis for the public sphere that dates back to the 17th and 18thC. The third is the  Public Health Crisis of COVID 19 but pandemics are as old as we have been urban/sedentary societies, older. The most well-known is the Black Death in the 14thC that killed between 70-200 million people. There is a lot of postulating and creating around Crisis given our triple A-normality. This is because each crisis is, like the script from some apocalyptic film, coming together at one time, compounding our contemporaneity.  In contemporary art, there is a resurgence of the 1970s-80s phenomena of pointing toward the death of everything - the planet, the modern project, ourselves- a lot of post-thinking again or, posthumous thinking if you will. I don't look towards the “role” of art as such but the changes this particular set of circumstances forces upon us all and the opportunities it opens up for the methods of working, the media utilised and the distribution or audience/participation and feedback loop of this form of creating. Like the Sweedish approach to COVID 19 - only time will tell what was important, what was mistaken, what could have been, what art was lasting.

    • Anthony Mcinneny

    • Dear Anja,

    • Thank you for your question, and David for your response. I would agree with David that art is not a panacea for social conditions and that it is not necessary for Anthony’s work to be reactivated. This would be a reduction of the power of art in my view. However, for me the resonance of Anthony’s work lies in the narrative of the repeated everyday actions that occur once a week with the time they occur shifting ever so slightly to accord with the sun. I did not witness the work, and only know it from David’s presentation, so already the work commences for me as a story told by David that I hold in my mind. When I think of this work, the idea gives me great poetic pleasure. I love the simplicity of the banal gestures that we take for granted and how these gestures build meaning and a place for us in the world. Now since Covid, I am overcome by the changes we need to make to our everyday gestures in both public and private space. Those simple gestures, of crossing the street, or washing windows, entering a room, can no longer could be done in the same kind of way. In my own movements in space, my gestures have changed, I am super conscious of the way I move, the distance I hold between myself and others, the traces I may leave on surfaces. So I guess this was what I was getting at when I asked this question. I was interested in how we build new understandings of our self in space and place, now we cannot take the things we took for granted prior to the pandemic.

    • Simone Slee

  • Thank you to all panelists for their thought provoking and courageous work. I’d like to ask Chelsea to briefly elaborate on how she considers the female performer to be particularly subversive given her situation in what can be considered a temple of rational thought - a research library. Thank you again. 

  • Alison Kennedy

    • Hi Alison, Thank you for your question! In the context of SLC and the library, I thought about how subversion could be as simple as doing something differently than the usual order of things. I think the central position of my performance in the library emphasized this because anyone who entered had to see what I was doing (whether they wanted to or not). The performance was durational, slow-paced, calculated, precise, and performed by my female body through an occupation of public space for a significant amount of time. SLC is a context where a female body holding space and time subverts the way such a body is expected to behave and exist there, which is further magnified in a public space such as a library.

    • Chelsea Coon