“To speak about the performative in relation to art is not about defining a new class of artworks. Rather, it involves outlining a specific level of the production of meaning that basically exists in every artwork, although it is not always consciously shaped or dealt with, namely, its reality-producing dimension. In this sense, a specific methodological orientation goes along with the performative, creating a different perspective on what produces meaning in an artwork. What the notion of the performative brings into perspective is the contingent and elusive realm of impact and effect that art brings about both situationally—that is, in a given spatial and discursive context—and relationally, that is, in relation to a viewer or a public. It recognizes the productive, reality-producing dimension of artworks and brings them into the discourse. Consequently we can ask: What kind of situation does an artwork produce? How does it situate its viewers? What kind of values, conventions, ideologies, and meanings are inscribed into this situation?”
“Play does not only include the logics of the game – it also includes the values of the player. Her politics. Her body. Her social being. Play is a part of her expression, guided through rules, but still free, productive, creative. Without the openness of play, the player cannot express or explore their ethics, their politics. The player may be guided by reason, by the instrument of play, but that does not guarantee, as the fall of modernity and the critique of Enlightenment have shown, that rationality is enough to express politics or ethics.”
“In participatory situations, game structure replaces aesthetics. Instead of events being worked out beforehand, there is a “game plan,” a set of objectives, moves, and rules that are generally known or explained. The game plan is flexible, adapting to changing situations. . . [In 1969,] I formulated three rules of participation:
- The audience is in a living space and a living situation. Things may happen to and with them as well as ‘in front’ of them.
- When a performer invites participation, he must be prepared to accept and deal with the spectator’s reactions.
- Participation should not be gratuitous.”
Multiplayer social media games, including ARGs like Top Secret Dance Off and Must Love Robots, Facebook games like School of Magic, and collaborative production games such as SF0 are inherently about performance. These games allow players to exercise their public voices, step into the limelight, and actively engage with others through performative acts such as videotaping themselves dancing, submitting fictional robot-dating videos, engaging with friends in role playing mini-games, and creating and documenting ad hoc street art interventions. Likewise, performance artists are discovering the generative and poetic potentials of the magic circle and are finding ways to make theatre-going experiences more and more game-like. One example of this productively category-defying overlap is Coney‘s A Small Town Anywhere, which is kind of like an elaborate game of Werewolf, and kind of like an evening at the theatre, and in many ways not at all like either of those things.
A Small Town Anywhere is a theatrical event. It happened at the BAC or Battersea Arts Centre between October 15th and November 7th 2009. A Small Town Anywhere casts a Playing Audience as the citizens of, well, A Small Town Anywhere. There are no actors in the Town except the Playing Audience, who are free to interact and explore as they please. Henri Georges, the Historian convening A Small Town Anywhere, wishes to stress that visitors will not be expected to ‘perform’ in any uncomfortable manner, merely conversing with other vistors and perhaps writing a letter or two. You can speak to Henri in advance of your visit and perhaps discover a history for yourself in the Town, or simply turn up to play your part. (smalltownanywhere.net)
Lyn Gardner’s piece in The Guardian summarizes the experience and impact of the event nicely:
The letter is not addressed to me, but I open it anyway. Having control over the mail is one of the perks of being the postmistress in a small French town. The anonymous writer is, I discover, making a serious allegation – and it’s about me. There are hints about a murdered baby, its corpse buried under a juniper tree. I am, of course, as guilty as hell.
I look around the town square where the baker and butcher are gossiping, watch the children going into the schoolroom, see the mayor walk by. I wonder who wrote the letter. Then I do what I have done with all the previous letters I’ve intercepted. I destroy it. Then I write several letters of my own, slyly suggesting that the schoolmistress was, last year, rumoured to be pregnant. Soon, the whole town will know.
I’m taking part in A Small Town Anywhere, a theatre piece in which the audience are the performers. It’s currently playing at London’s BAC (Battersea Arts Centre), part of a season of interactive shows that redefine the boundaries of theatre. Here, the show is both drama and game. Audience members – there are about 30 per performance – play characters in an imaginary French town. There is no script; every audience member plays a part in developing the story, and thus becomes responsible for its outcome.
And that outcome is not always pretty. The show ends with the community deciding who must be banished from the town to save the rest. (The Guardian)
More: Brendan Adkins’ description of his experience at the event, Matt Trueman’s review [and don’t miss Coney’s own notes on the production, in the comments below!].
Duncan Speakman‘s As if it were for the last time is a soundwalk and street performance wherein audiences are “invited to download an MP3 and turn up at a secret location to listen to the track at a specified time.” Speakman calls this a “subtlemob”; in contrast to flash mobs, participants in subtlemobs are urged to “try to remain invisible” throughout the event by blending into the normal flow of a busy urban space. Consequently, much of the power and poetry of projects like As if it were for the last time lie in their ability to make participants hyper-aware of their surroundings and their roles in the performance of everyday life. As one participant put it, “it was like you were given permission to look — at the people who weren’t doing it.”
From the project’s page at subtlemob.com):
When you put on the headphones you’ll find yourself immersed in the cinema of everyday life. As the soundtrack swells people in the crowd around you will begin to re-enact the England of today. Sometimes you’ll just be drifting and watching, but sometimes you’ll be following instructions or creating the scenes yourself. Don’t worry, there will be nothing illegal or embarrassing, sometimes you might be re-enacting moments you’ve seen in films, sometimes you’ll just be playing yourself. This is no requiem, this a celebratory slow dance, a chance to savour the world you live in, and to see it with fresh eyes. (subtlemob.com)
Playwright and tech enthusiast Hannah Nicklin‘s writeup:
This evening I took part in a sound walk-come-performance called ‘As if it Were the Last Time’. It was devised by Duncan Speakman and was put on by subtlemob. It took place on a small number of streets near Covent Garden. It was a (performance? Experience? Neither of these words do -) for two people. We were provided with a map, an mp3, and told to set it going at 6pm on the dot. My critical vocabulary is already struggling with this piece, because it really was very individual. That was the point. For each and every person who took part, the performance (for want of a more accurate word) was theirs. Entirely. And not, in staged theatre, as each audience member receiving the piece from a different perspective. This was each participant doing. The movements, the characters the gestures, the reflection in the shop windows and puddles, and the touch of someone’s hand on a shoulder, were all completely yours. Of your making. (Hannah Nicklin)
News of subtlemob events: http://twitter.com/subtlemob
Chicago’s Version 2010 (April 22 to May 2, 2010) is “now seeking proposals and presentations about tactics and strategies that help sustain our communities, find better uses of our resources, and maintain and expand our networks.”
For eleven days and nights, we will explore the best practices and boldest failures in interventionist, participatory, and collective social, political, and cultural practices. This year’s theme is presented in order to bring together groups and individuals seeking additional methods for connecting our networks and creating solid foundations for the practice of art, education and social activism well into the next decade. We want to use this opening during the current economic and political crisis to expand and amplify our shared ideals, values and strategies for survival and expansion. (Version 10 CFP)
Submissions are programmed under themed “platforms.”
- Free University
- Live Musical Performances
- The Chicago Art Parade
- Performance/ Interventions/ Mobile Projects
- A Catalog of Strategies
- the NFO XPO
- Version Group Exhibition
- Curatorial Projects
- Underground Multiplex (Film/Video)
- Web Selections
- The Other
I’ve always thought of Facebook as online community theater. In costumes we customize in a backstage makeup room — the Edit Profile page, where we can add a few Favorite Books or touch up our About Me section — we deliver our lines on the very public stage of friends’ walls or photo albums. And because every time we join a network, post a link or make another friend it’s immediately made visible to others via the News Feed, every Facebook act is a soliloquy to our anonymous audience. (nytimes)