Something in the way she moves / Politics of Presence in the Performance Act by Sharon Smith

Something in the way she moves / Politics of Presence in the Performance Act
by Sharon Smith

Abstract / Contents / Introduction / Statement of objectives / Methodological approach

I have written this thesis out of a practice-based research in the context of contemporary performance studies in the UK.  My research has been to construct frames that can enable a cross genre understanding of presence and then to locate presence as an interrelated concern between all live art practices, as that which underlies technical training, skill and aesthetic or generic performance styles.

Performance studies move the human subject fluently across many contesting and converging schools of thought that surround, construct and deconstruct the body. I have chosen key critical texts that are influential in the field, and which reflect the themes most prevalent to my research interests: Self expression. Authorship. Improvisation. Luminosity. Multiplicity. I have used key writings as frames through which to consider and articulate my own experiences of performing and the material of performance itself: Of movement through actions, gestures, words, in space and time, inhabited and infected by a gathered crowd.

I wish to contribute to a literal and critical knowledge, the knowledge held within and between (my) actual bodies, gained through an interdisciplinary performance training and practise over fourteen years. I have taken experience as a mode of analysis, working from the premise that subjectivity and moving involvement are not dissonant with objectivity and reason. I hope to move beyond, without denouncing reason. I hope to move towards a literal fluency and fluidity of ‘the body’ by writing into and out of a practiced consciousness of the feeling of what happens to my body in performance. Performance is an extra-ordinary state of affairs. Here-in we can study more clearly the significance of how humans move through actions, gestures, words in space and time. The how incurs a politic. Throughout this thesis I will discuss why how we do what we do is political. Unconscious and real events are played out upon the body and engender the meanings sought or explored in a performance act. Spatial and physical considerations, duration, dynamic, volume and proximity tell of the performing artist’s political position. This thesis writes towards the performer in training and towards the artist who is physically and actually present within her own artwork.

It is impossible to speak of presence without yielding to a multiplicity. Within myself there are many selves and ‘I’ am the dialogues that perpetually occur between my selves. This conversation, particularly in/at performance involves the presence of the witness who observes, participates, instigates, and ponders that which is performed. I make testimony to this presence, to the affective and infective presence of a gathered crowd that makes extra-ordinary the physiology of the performer. This thesis writes for the performer in training a methodology of presence that combines historical, political and ethical considerations with practical performance devices to help the performer develop an awareness of her self(s). Presence is not what you do it is the way that you do it.

I will identify presence as the relationship between the performer and the text-act they are engaged in. I use the term text-act to describe whatever the performer is doing: reciting a script, performing an action, a dance, a lecture etc.

performer ————-text-act————spectator

The text-act has only a small part to play in the overall production of ‘meaning’ in a live event. It is not the interpretation of a text-act that I speak of here. This is for the critic and assigned to the movement between text-act and spectator. The critic’s articulation takes place after, outside of, and without the event actually. How a performer considers and handles space and time as she performs, or rather the evolution of the text-act is what I want to illuminate, all be it here, also without the event. How we do what we do is as meaningful and in my opinion more critical to performance discourse than what we do.

This is not a constructed or imaginary space/time created as part of a performance work. Her presence occurs in space and time: in the real. The more conscious she can remain of her real time state of affairs, the more present she will be.

A performer presents a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and then, a different performer presents exactly the same scene with the same set, the same lighting, costume etc. Descriptions of them after the event in another place, in another time would be similar in their re-telling. Often though we will choose our favorite performer, ascribing to them an un quantifiable quality, a charisma, an ‘x’ factor. There is no critical vocabulary available to us when we attempt to isolate a particularly engaging quality in a performance act. And of performance, as we perform we are affected differently and perpetually by their own experience of performing the same text. Our stories are various, partial and contradictory.  Our ability to speak about the feeling of what happens to us in a performance event is surprisingly under-developed. There is an unsettling lack of attention paid to the event itself. These dialogues mark for the performer the frames within which valuable corroborations dwell.

Contemporary performance theory has been influenced greatly by the unfinished yet profound study of Liminalities by Victor Turner. In the essay Frame, Flow and reflexivity: Ritual and Drama as Public Liminality in Carmello(1977) Turner introduces liminality through the anthropological term plural reflexivity, “the ways in which a group or community seeks to portray, understand, and then act on itself” ibid(p.33). Public reflexivity follows a form of ritual and of performance in that it follows symbolic ‘doing’ codes. Liminality literally means to be on a threshold, “a state or process which is betwixt-and-between the normal, day-to-day cultural and social states and processes (that register) structural status” ibid(p.33) To allow the luminal to occur, a frame is set up which allows activity outside of the everyday, suspending ordinary social structure. Individuals are temporarily stripped of their status roles within the frame as they connect through ritual activity. Turner explains that during luminal time, anything might, even should happen. He stresses the importance of play and refers to the improvisational as heightened through and around the fixed sequences of symbolic action. Ritual and performance are made up of rules and structure, but on the other hand “express supposition and desire, and possibility rather than actual fact… and (are) described… as charismatic” ibid(p.37).

Practicing improvisation develops a physiological and mental awareness of being in the present tense. I borrow Turner’s notion of the luminal and internalize this sense of social play. A performer’s skill lies in their perception of their own multiplicity.  The improvisational nature of the performance act is expressed above and beyond the act itself. The present-ness of a performer occurs betwixt and between what happens, in the actual. Liminality critically supports an articulation of the physical states and political attitudes of presence. As we move fluidly amongst notions of plurality and multiplicity ‘I’ begins to exceed the singular, distinct and tangible body-object upon which traditional forms of analysis prey (the ‘what’ that happens).  Through liminality we can reconsider ‘I’ to be in the condition of being one: A collusion, a procession bringing together of parts. This mode of engagement demands a more intimate relationship to the here and the now.

To investigate presence we need to scrutinize the gaps between the performer and the text-act, which for the performer is somehow between her and her: The relationship she has with her self . This gap, or movement between where we are and what we do is conceptual and actual. It is a movement in time and through space.

This thesis bares witness to the transformative powers of site. I explore site and space through notions of the feminine and pose the contemporary cultural relationship to space as agoraphobic, frigid, defensive and fearful of the luminal state to which we must submit in order to allow or invite transformation.

The questions central to my research have occurred through my positions within the collaborative performance work of ‘the max factory’ (always written in lower case). In chapter one I bring in my performance practice. This practice is the driver for the thesis. I write through particular performance works that reference the concerns of this thesis as they manifest in the max factory performances.  Felicity Croydon and I have been working together since 1995. This was our first proposal:

The max factory will develop methods of improvisation in performance that will work to provoke live (as opposed to not live) art. Combining their roots in dance, performance and visual art they will work under the title of none of the above. Practicing improvisation as the movement of bodies through language, we will create conceptual structures consisting of individual pathways, which collide and cross and from within which space (site) – the present and the unknown – will occur. In the present we will not pursue sameness, but will express difference to the maximum. No fear of fear. Our posture is an affirmative: Yes, a will to optimize pleasure.

In chapter two I set up what I call a Post modern Presence, locating my interest in presence at the modern – post modern shift, a moment in our recent art history when the separate genres of fine art, literature, dance and theatre began to cross over creating hybrid forms and spurning the new field of performance art. Many artists turned to the medium of performance to challenge and extend their own artistic ideas and the cannons and discourses of the art world. The movement of art into performance meant that the presence of the artist in the work was not easily or appropriately read through the established critical modes and value structures of say, dance and theatre. I refer to the American Dance Experimentalists to locate what I call a post modern presence. In a critique of modernism, these dancers developed a mode of performance that was factual, reductive and pedestrian, stripping down the artifact of dance. I look at how this mode of performance has influenced contemporary, conceptual live artwork, and particularly the dominant ‘neutral’ attitude of the performer. Whilst acknowledging the post modernists project I propose a revision of this neutrality in as not useful in our times, as fear-full and UN empowering. I use the contesting theories of Constantine Stanislavski and Bertolt Brecht to frame my interest in the lack of expressivity and the fear of it in contemporary live art. I reconsider Stanislavski’s Method for the conceptual live artist who uses the site of performance as the medium of their art.

In chapter three I write presence into Roland Barthes’ essay The Death of the Author. Barthes(1977) I position the performing body as author of a text-act and through Barthes’ post structuralism essay I approach the state of the performing body and thus the author as plural. I write Barthes’ ‘death’ into the gap between the performer and the text-act, as occurring through the performer’s awareness and negotiation of their own pluralistic state. I pick up on Barthes’ reference to the temporality of the ‘modern’ text as one that is eternally written in the here and now. For Barthes, this is because the ‘modern’ text is ‘written’ by the reader: the reader writes. I explore why in the live event, for a performer to allow the reader to write (themselves into the text) the performer must assume the posture of both author and reader of the text-act. I describe this oscillation between reading and writing as a double-bodied state of performing. One ‘me’ is committed to performing out my pre-determined text act. The other ‘me’ is part of the collective body of reader(s) present in the here and now. It is this active awareness of the ‘other’, of the whole site of the live event that moves the role of author off my body and towards the collective body(s) as author(s).  I introduce the procession movement between oppositional states as one that can be practiced through principles of improvisation.

In Chapter four I use Luce Irigaray’s essay This Sex Which Is Not One to contextualize the practice of improvisation as one concerned with the fundamental state of ‘entering’ space. Irigaray(1985). I use Irigaray’s Feminine Imaginary to define the site of the performance event as feminine, and then to illustrate how ‘what’ happens in space is valued within a pedagogic art history by its virtuosic mastery. I pose improvisation again, as a practice of the feminine and one whose value and importance for the contemporary performer is highly underestimated. I write about the pluralistic subject of the performer. This is a state of being ‘at least one other’, a presence that is both touching and being touched. Irigaray presents woman as caught between two impossible states. One being chaste virginity, a defensive organ turned in upon itself; the other, open to prostitution and to a loss of her own self caress, her own pleasure.  I present this contradiction as one that the contemporary performer faces upon ‘entering’ space. I introduce ‘entrance’ as loss of self/subject as a singular notion. In other words, in terms of the performer being plural within her self, she does not know and cannot know fully ‘what’ is happening. She cannot know future and must cope with the real time state of the live event as it is happening to her. I write that this loss is ‘her’ own pleasure. Entering space through the feminine imaginary is working to become part of the whole space and discovering it (and identifying oneself) more than penetrating or ‘conquering’ space. I write about this state as transformative in the sense that presence exceeds opposites and indeed language.

I write improvisation as a movement towards transformation, towards identification with another through loss I return us to Barthes through Jouissance, through loss as pleasure. I write that the death of the author is not a removal of all traces of the author. It is not a neutral state, not none committal or a victimized state which identifies this loss with the destruction of the subject. Barthes’  ‘death’ for the performer is achieved when her centre has shifted from the interiority of her body house to an exterior centre. In other words the subject ‘puts out’ into, amongst, part of the whole site of performance instead of ‘puts in’ their body as singular and as a ‘centre of attention’. I explain that transformation will only be reached through a declaration of the subject, an over signification of the subject, exposed without definition to the eye of the spectator. I parallel the double-bodied performer with the deconstructed subject as ‘in the condition of being ‘one’’ I write deconstruction as affirmation and as essential for an inclusion and reclamation of the feminine into the live event.

In Chapter five I concentrate specifically on the improvisation practice of Katie Duck. I write the practical use of Duck’s method of improvisation as that which practices the site of performance as feminine. I begin by approaching fear and anxiety. Duck’s methods train the performer to cope with the ‘violent terrain’ of the public act and the feelings that arise in the body when the body is exposed. Duck does not pander to these insecurities but exploits them as reasons for either an over acted performance (showing off) or an under acted one (defensive), where the performer is too passive and none committal. Both are caused by an over present ego and both serve to close down the live space and thus a collective writing of a work. I write improvisation as a technology of the body in space and time and as one that nurtures and underlies other ‘techniques’ that the performing body might practice. I site improvisation as a useful practical tool with which to practice ones presence as it inevitably manifests in a live work, no matter how scored or set or constructed that work might be. I also try to illuminate through this chapter Duck’s position as an artist who chooses to improvise explicitly. I site her practice and her position as one that undermines the pedagogy of art history. Improvisation forces the feminine into discourse, into the eye of the spectator. Irigaray refers to the female organ as ‘the horror of nothing to see’. Improvisation, in the sense that it is writing live and thus making redundant the authoritative positions of choreographer, director, dramaturge etc., strikes a similar fear into the hierarchical value structures of Dance (in Duck’s case). It is the horror of seeing the negative no thing become the positive everything; the self-caress, without any need or possibility of being ‘filled in’ by the authoring artist.

My conclusion reflects upon this research as a dialogue between practice and theory and a consideration of presence as the primary concern for the contemporary live artist, and for insuring the healthy future of performance studies. I close with a reconsideration of self-expression. I suggest that the transformation of the state of the human subject lies in self-expression, through a loss of self as centre by interlocking with the present. To embrace the transformative power of the feminine a performer has to enter and become site. This expression does not remove or hide or neutralize self it expresses her self(s). To lose the author and restore the active position of the reader, when applied to live art is to be open and receptive to real time and physical space. Through a defensive neutrality a live artist will defer site, the medium of her artwork, from being involved in the processes of signification. To be present in the whole space of theatre is, in opposition to this, a self-stimulation, a multiple touch. Understanding both physically and philosophically that every moment is improvisation (happening for the first time, right here, right now) is key to the field of live art.

Practiced based research.

In doing a practice based PhD one submits practice as a substantial contribution to the PhD writing. My approach to performance making is one that challenges the author (me) by placing myself in positions where ‘I’ am beyond control of the whole state of affairs. My own work is always collaborative and implicitly and consciously improvisational. As a performer and a practitioner I have continued to practice throughout this research period. I chose to not place the max factory’s work centrally within my research. I did not wish to analyze my own practice, but rather focus on contextualizing it via what I consider to be its specific concerns, not into what it is, but more into how it becomes. To provide me with a practice base for my research, I wished not to produce a performance work that might exemplify or illustrate a practice of presence, and then translate this into a written analysis or validation of that work. It is the notion of event that I am concerned with in this thesis, the way an artwork occurs live and the positions that the performing artist moves within.

My own training has moved through theatre studies, performance art, music and dance. My professional performance practice has never fitted comfortably into any particular genre. By dent of this the home for my practice and the main trajectory for this research is out of the field of live art.  Central to the debate of live art (formerly referred to as performance art) are the issues of categorization and definition. Live art is an open field of practice that cuts across and subverts traditional art form boundaries. Live art has developed largely from a visual arts base, beginning when artists turned to themselves as a source or primary material. Visual artists have drawn on the intimacy, tension and process of live action. Live art is a sprawling field that by definition cannot be defined but can move “fluidly and eloquently across genres, ideas and experiences… It is an area of practice that is uniquely equipped to reflect and to negotiate the intricate tapestry of modern lives and times”. Keidan (2002)

I borrow an active description of the field from Joshua Sofaer I have edited a short list from his descriptions that are useful to this thesis. The list can be found in full at

Live Art is when an artist chooses to make work directly in front of the audience in space and time.
Live Art comes into being at the actual moment of encounter between artist and spectator.
The (live) artist sets up a situation in which the audiences experience the work in a particular space and time, and the notion of ‘presence’ is key to the concerns of the work.
The artist is the performer, the director and the ‘doer’.
The physical body, even if present in the same space as the audience, is not necessarily ‘performing’, certainly not in the theatrical sense of ‘pretending to be someone else’.

In this thesis it is my assertion that a politic of presence prevails in live art and that a critical and physical attitude towards the definition of live art is what these artists share. Definition is something that these artists resist, and indelibly then live art feels itself marginalized; fragile in a culture that still has a conservative attitude towards art form categories. Within this fragility, artists perform. It is this physical attitude, the politic of presence that I feel, in all its complexity that strengthens the open field practice that is live art.

Throughout the thesis I will write site as feminine and presence as site-full: full of site, that which is in between the art object and more importantly the body, and which ultimately undermines the autonomy of either. I am writing across genres towards a methodology for the hybrid performer who arrives in the site of performance and uses site as their medium for art. The site of performance and the live event of performing are central to my writing. The condition of performance, of the live event, is an unending negotiation of ‘I’: Of whom, where and how ‘I’ is.  My writing will always in part be in the present tense, aware of shifting subjects.

The theories that surround the field of live art are often more free in form than the performer who can appear fixed, of real time, and serious or academic. Work that is not performed this way is considered less academic as it moves towards the physical (less thinking) sciences of dance or theatre. This thesis critiques the suspension of expressivities across the live arts and asks why a field so theoretically motivated by liminality, and by ‘The body’ remains so fearful of, or in denial of the transformative powers of site and the perpetual expression that occurs between bodies.

A performance study has yet to adequately study present-ness, a state that I consider to be revolutionary. The unique specificity of the event, of a work of live art – lived live considers to be absent within critical and conceptual agendas.

It is difficult at best to describe this state. It is not a thing and manifests exactly as it eludes ‘thing-ness’. It is social because it cannot reduce itself to less than two. Two is the smallest unit of a social act.  I know ‘me’ and at the same time ‘I’ becomes part of what is ‘unknown’. In theory I miss a story of the body which is allowing itself to be changeable and affected from one moment to the next ,  a body that allows this to be expressed, or allows this change to be expressed within the perimeters of a conceptual frame, exceeding the conceptualized body and bringing closer another’s body in explicit and felt ways. This body knows I (the spectator) was there. A body in two minds: One committed to activity and the other to space. I miss risk. Not the risk of falling from a tight rope, messing up a dance step or forgetting ones lines. Neither risk from the audience being unimpressed or shocked or deserting. I miss a risk that is taken when one moves slightly out of – beyond control. This event is not written. Here be dragons. It is a virgin (unknown/unexplored) terrain. This is more than using the site of theatre to make proclamations about ‘the real world out there’; it is a submission and a commitment to the real world in here. This is bliss.

For my practice based research I felt it more appropriate to curate an event for dialogue and event within my conceptual frame. I approach the event as a researcher, as one who comes to hear as well as one who comes to tell.

practicing presence event poster (1)

Telling my Self(s).
Me. The last word.


Amateur – from Latin amateur – lover – amare – to love
– To abandon – in the open – to die
Love – a score of zero ‘0’ for the love of something
No points.
Space – the – virgin – untouched by man:  – not yet
Cultivated explored exploited
– being the first or happening for the first time.
One’s –
Time the – for example – sentence
‘I confess that I was there’
Is of itself a confession – “promise”?
Expert – relative to Latin periculum – peril.
– Exposure to risk or harm, to danger or jeopardy.
Here be dragons pass me my shield
Shield – the fools (rush in)
Through my hands – sore from
Writing – shielding an area of unexposed surface
Reducing the action of light.
From maskharah clown, from sakhira mockery
The masker

This is a testimony to the revolutionary powers of the amateur and writes through the performance practice of the max factory (always lower case).
This testimony is a declaration of a kind of self and a kind of Truth.
This is a writing singled out and fantasized (undoubtedly idealized) from within the multiple lines of lived events, (other(s) times)
This is a shifty ‘I’
‘I’ tell the truth, just never the (w)hole truth.
This is an active burrowing doubt.
This is an uncertainty about the truth and conviction
‘Lies’ here

Max factory Calling Card. (2)

Mina Kaylan states that “not all actors/performers appear to ‘have presence’” and describes presence as an attention which “does not work towards the resolution of meanings, but towards the subversion of meanings“ and that present-ness is “the absence of our consciousness as discrete bodies”. Kaylan(1997 p.52) For Kaylan then, a performer is not present simply by being there. There is a specific attention which is conscious and which postures towards an indiscretion, a dispersed hyper-awareness that disables the performer from assumptions of resolve. Presence is the ultimate dissolve of subject-object as here lays a process of cognition that never ceases.

Presence: neither 1) discrete nor 2) discreet
(Our presence not contained one from another, like blood and guts.)

Our presence not contained by flesh.
Our presence containing the dust of our ancestors
Careful to avoid embarrassment especially by keeping secrets (tactful or unobtrusive)
Our presence cannot keep secrets, is not polite or courteous.
Our presence is some how.
Our presence is all that escapes and compliments and refreshes that which is civilized (brought out of savagery, barbarism).
Our presence is unrefined.

This is a premise upon which I write; that the space and time of theatre is virgin. I enter, a fumbling amateur. There is a difference between a body that is careless and a body that is critically caring less.

There is a difference in the placement of effort.
There are no experts here, no scholars, and no authors.
There is nothing No-thing No thing.

Writing is no ‘bodies’ first language. As another ‘I’ am returned to the real and as such obliterated, rubbed out of, in to, off on. I am quite literally speaking and thus, ‘I’ has no voice. As I sit here between practice and writing about practice, feeling the gaping breadth of one and the desired specificity of the other I can feel how one has what one craves. Inside me both sit viscously opposed and inside me both feel suitable complicit. They are both I are they not? Ambivalence rules me, underlines me, and gets in between me then and now. The most inspiring dialogues have led me here, in a flash there was so much clarity that I changed. Sense abandons me along with company.

The max factory does not present improvised performance. I continue the discussion of improvisation as movement from moment to moment. The max factories are primarily concerned with an engagement with real time. The work might tell a story of the real world out there, and will indelibly be our version of it. But our artistic pursuit is a revealing of the real world in here, which gets all mixed up in our telling. Improvisation is a kind of timeline and a word upon which I am balancing presence as it is lived live.

Throughout the length of a max factory project the work and content constantly changes. The components change considerably from one event to the next, as we adapt to different contexts and conditions. This evolution, over time, as a performance experience, reveals to us an invisible score, a score delicate enough to dissolve the wanderings and twitching of movement, glimpsed in a certain ‘light’, easily missed, but felt. The work ‘becomes known’ (to us) through its engagement with the live event.  The material gains history and three dimensionally within new contexts and reveals new meanings to us through a live engagement. We (re)discover it in the live. The max factory work from and to a written score and invite deviations from a score, or rather, the score will be consciously inadequate so that it will necessitate deviation, leaps (of faith) which must pass through the physical plane of the here and the now, which allows chance and forces choice: A live writing which by default renders our subjects exposed. The max factory’s project is a perusal of transformation through an attitude of improvisation, a practise of presence. Physically and mentally we are postured towards seeing and hearing, discovering and so revealing the conditions we are in. Our engagement with the event informs how we will perform our score. Our performing will never be a virtuosic execution of what it is we have come here to do.

My body is not the site for my art making. My art making is motivated by a want to expose relationships in, on and off my body. The max factory is a collaborative practice. This intensive collaborative activity has produced a form-less-ness and has been formative upon me within and without this project. In this project an explicit relationship is held between my collaborator, and me and this particular relating seeks to imply and involve the legion of ‘relations’ that are happening within our constructed performance frames. In our experience of working together as the max factory, of collaborating in order to make art we have surrendered notions of the singular. A successful collaboration is one where we do not know quite how an idea came to be. In this sense we surrender ‘authority’. There is no origin because there are always at least two points. There is no origin because there is no one points whose co-ordinates are all zero. We are no points. We are for the love of something. Our work seeks to make positive a negative, to presence this absence of points.  To acknowledge collaboration already begins to turn a negative space into a positive space, a new space of critical attention that has no ‘point’. As at least two, as co-authors of a score, we must place our focus off our own bodies towards, in the first place, each other. We work to decrease the significance of ‘what’ we are doing and to increase the signifying process of ‘how’ something happens, how it comes to be. This is because it is our ambition is to, through the vehicle of our text-act, engage with site: with the event in which the text-act is taking place.

In this collaboration I rely on her and this makes me more vulnerable. Our effort is to constantly work here, and to work against feeling more secure, working ‘alone’ to secure our selves. Our effort is to not try too hard. To not only expose our vulnerability through our reliance on another’s complicity, but to transform this vulnerability (weakness: exposure to attack or wound). Through our own will to be vulnerable, we begin to address our reliance on the complicity of every present body in the room. If a spectator becomes conscious of her own complicity then she is becoming conscious of her (in) part, her force and her presence. A loss of ‘self’ begins to gather a crowd.

In performance I enter space; the surface of my own skin, the walls of my body house, tremble with an intensification of social relations. I am intrinsically dialogic and this dialogue feels the matter of the time and space that I enter. I serve and observe both but I essentially, also, become part of both, am part. I notice I am conscious, feeling what happens, feeling this trembling.

When writing of the max factory and of performance, I fear that I might be understood as writing sameness into the individual persons of Felicity and I, and sameness into the gathered crowd of spectators. That we all enter into an experience, or have the potential to be open/effective/present, does not produce homogeneity. In its naïve beginnings, the max factory was a project that sought to ‘push individuality to a maximum’ and to find ways to allow extreme difference (individuality) to exist within the same space and time. From the very beginning we would not become ‘one’ by submerging our personalities into a dominant manifesto which the words ‘the max factory’ would define.

There is a subtle deployment of sameness that occurs within the self that is temporal, in which the protagonist of selfhood believes that she is the same person in the past that she is in the present, and will be in the future.  This is a story of development that ‘belongs’ to that person”. This is partly due to embodiment, that we live and die within this body ‘my’ body; “an intelligible selfhood depends upon this continuity but also involves compaction and an elision… the post modern self that is true: in only an unstable sense”. Munt (p.9) Collaboration demands of the body a partial submission or rather dispersion of awareness. As one, we need to shift our awareness off our own story as it has existed until ‘now’ and place it at the very edge of the future or rather ‘now’ where our senses are essentially heightened as we are beyond belief, unstable. All bodies are inscribed with their personal stories and histories. In order for my body to be as-it-is in a place, my physical presence must remain in ‘now’ time. This time is not my own, it is not ‘my’ timing. It is a clock that ticks in space, that when I close my eyes, still ticks.

Avoid editing (fully exposed). Within my choices, my transitions from one moment to the next lay ‘me’ in lists and snapshots.
Force myself into uncomfortable situations.
Submit my body house, feel it.
Cope (improvise).

Remember the bad fall
There is nothing worse than failing badly.

It remains important for me to know when I am coping with my body or when I am beginning to illustrate with my body what coping looks like.  No matter what I am feeling on stage I must not become illustrative in this sense. This is failure. This desire to illustrate is connected to my attachment to the ‘idea’, to my own reasons for doing what I am doing. My selfhood, who I was before I was here, has ideas about her future which depend on this present (I want it to go ‘well’). I understand illustration as trying too hard and in this extra effort I undermine my own politics with regards the site of my enquiry. There can be no illustration or explanation or even knowing quite why I am doing what I am doing otherwise the some thing that I illustrate will not have an optional truth.

In the construction of our performance work we attend to this submission by developing tasks that will put us slightly beyond control. We have developed a mode of presenting which we hope works to collude our audience within the rules of our fictional/per formative frame, with us and with each other. This mode involves a physical attitude and ‘does not know any better’ than our spectators, what is going on, or more specifically how what will go on. Being beyond control we may look ridiculous/confused/messy/lost. These things that we do will be impossible for us to do ‘well’ because then either we would do them well (and nothing interesting would happen for us) or worse, we would pretend to do it badly “the most disgusting artificiality”. Stanislavski (1980 p.41).  We never fake this look we are always coping for real. We wish to put the amateur body above and in front of the technically skilled body, the virtuosic master-author. The amateur body is not in control but beyond control and a body ‘better’ at being in the here-and-now. In my art making and in my performing I experience the loss of my body writing. I also experience my self as I write. The max factory does not ‘present’ us. Rather, we (re)discover ourselves through exposing and observing how self meets self. This incites a re-discovery in our spectators and we hope, a thrill (an experience) of event, through a site that is not an empty space, but an unknown, where anything could happen. (My presence has a mirroring effect. My presence infects.)

Our performance work postures what Bert O States might call the self-expressive mode. Zarrill (1995 p.24) As mentioned in the introduction, audiences might like to observe their favorite actors take on classical roles, in a way that sporting spectators hope to see athletes breaking new speed records. An audience might watch how a great actor manages to weave seamlessly the leaps he takes from one moment to the next. Stanislavski in My Life in Art talks about an actor.

(He) suddenly stopped in the middle of a sentence to portray the character feeling in his mouth for a hair from his fur collar, and went on for a long time moving his tongue around and ‘trying to take the hair out’ with his fingers while the sentence he had begun remained unfinished. Stanislavski( in Zarrillibid p.25)

States astutely describes this moment as one not simply of ‘realism’ “but an audacious display of the actor’s power to be real on the ‘micro-level’”. The actor has managed to unify to great success the physical real time dealing of his own body (a real need to remove a hair from his mouth) with the flow of theatre action.

It is not that the actor steps out of character in these moments but that he finds the fissure in the text that allows him to make his unique contribution. (ibid p.26)

He improvises. And his choice, his ‘how’ to do this is indicative of his ‘person’, his artistic self. His vision of the world exceeded and re- established his character within the limited frame of the fiction. The self-expressive nature of the max factory’s work is compatible with this example in all but one way, which is notably different. Our ‘being real’ on this micro level is not an attempt at ‘an audacious display of skill and dexterity’ and our success does not depend upon it. In fact we pursue certain ‘badness’. We hope that our audience will watch how we are getting along. In the example above the actors fate (at the fissure in the text) is either the artist-actor in a “moment of genius, or conversely, the unshielded actor in a moment of flaw”. (ibid p.26) Either way artistry becomes the object of the audience’s attention. As artists bodies the max factory do not wish to be ‘better bodies’.  Our artistry is a specific artlessness, free from deceit: ingenuous, natural, and unpretentious. We do not work to ensure our fate with our ‘genius’, rather we admire the moment of ‘flaw’, we allow confusion, we fall, and we fail.

I again refer to John Keats and his thoughts on ‘negative capability’.

The poet who possesses the quality of negative capability will be capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact or reason and it is precisely this irritable reaching after fact and reason which characterizes the search of the consecutive man.
Trilling (1955 p29)

I do not wish to save myself, or to show off any ability or desire to do so. In the reading of the max factory’s performing, when looking for virtuosic mastery, the max factory might look like ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ or ‘amateur’ performers. There is a difference between bad performance and a performance that is consciously vulnerable.

Women who make spectacles of themselves are vulnerable to ridicule and trivialization – but also vaguely demonic – Rowe (1995 p.3)

Ours is a conscious ignorance. A refusal to try and know or to think I know. This ignorance has been achieved through a self-scrutiny. An analysis of what I think I know. This is not ignorance, that is to say naivety as a lack of knowledge, but purposefully an embrace of the naïve (artless, unaffected, and amusingly simple) as a conscious ambivalence towards knowledge.

Ignorance does not come from lack of knowledge but rather it is from knowledge that one may achieve this ignorance. Then we shall be informed by the divine unconsciousness and in that our ignorance will be ennobled and adorned with supernatural knowledge. It is by reason of this fact that we are made perfect by what happens to us rather than by what we do. John Cage (1990 p.40)

Lionel Trilling manages to encapsulate Keats and his movement between the senses and the intellect as being of a kind that “the orthodox interpretation of Plato cannot approve”. Trilling (1955 p.38) Keats was platonic, but celebrated a pleasure of the senses as the ground on which he would realize an intellect. There is not, for Keats a departure from the senses and a movement towards the intellect. There is rather a characteristic mode of thought, transferable to the mode of presence towards which I write, which appeals to the intellect but which never denies the senses, which appeals to an intelligent sense.

A performer who performs within negative capability is experiencing or sensing at the same time as being consciously present to the intellectual eye of the observer. She is not a body who has experienced something, and who now translates intellectually that experience. She is not in the position of ‘knowing’ in this sense. She always speaks the truth, just not the whole truth, and it is through this impossibility that she touches another as substance, through the fluid myth that Freud called for us the libido.  She is present not as one who has lived, but as one(s), living live at and in the same time as her witness.

I cannot be wrong simply because I do not know exactly what it is I am doing. ‘Entering’ I am somehow cut out, sacral. I do not have any more responsibility, not even when everything goes wrong before a paying audience. The body finds in risk the perfect rhetoric of its own happening. The economy of technique will no longer save me. There is a presence: its wreckage. Castellucci (2000 p.27)

Augusto Boal writes in The fable of Xua-Xua, the pre-human woman who discovered theatre that “All feeling is comparing”. Boa l(1979 p.123) Xua-Xua, unbeknownst to her, is pregnant. When she enters labor and begins to give birth to the baby Boal describes Xua-Xua as a spect-actor, the term invented by Augusto Boal in his Theatre of the Oppressed. “Xua-Xua looked for answers by looking at herself… in this moment theatre were discovered” Her body is in direct communication, ‘coping’ with this event as it is happening. She is lost in the labor of her agony. She is a stage upon which she herself performs to, and for, herself.

“Keats”, says Trilling, “had not the least impulse to hold himself aloof from the common pleasures of men – the community of pleasure, the generality of geniality, is an important part of his daily life”. Trilling (1955 p.7) What humility must I feel in order to inhabit a ‘common place’?  Post structuralism seeks to transcend the polarities of the atomized individual and the structural forces that inform that individual. I am interested in notions of interdependency in light of Irigaray’s writings towards the feminine – and somewhere within sitting my own collaborative research. Existing notions of the collaborative seem to me to be superficial in their analysis. The routes ‘one’ takes to producing an artwork individually is in a way entirely different to those of the collaborating artists. However, what Irigaray helps us to understand, once her notion of the feminine is applied, is that we can bring the idea of collaboration in(side), even further, to understand the individual as a collaborator within herself as well as without. Through a developed awareness of collaborative practice my relationship I have with myself, my agency as an individual has changed. I have become more conscious and more playful, fuller of play. To realize ones own work as an individual puts one in a necessarily active role. The relationship, at first glance, seems direct, ‘one’ way; authored. In a sense the ‘centre’ of the work seems fixed within the mind body of the artist. To work in collaboration with another is to explicitly and visibly shift the centre, so then it sits in between at least two bodies. The plane of communication now rests on a pivot. The separate bodies look towards each other, away from self and work to find balance by negotiating each other’s weight so to speak. To visualize the pivot, the centre of things, and to keep balance, one must keep making eye contact (see) – tune into the other body (feel) – listen (hear). What ‘gets made’ is done so in this state: two bodies working within a luminal state, which includes these bodies and also the distance between them and every thing, else there in. My self is too luminal to refer to as a site. ‘I’ happens in the margins of me, in the no mans land betwixt and between, which does not begin or end on the surface of my skin.

Liminality is full of potency and potentiality. It may also be full of experimentation and play… a play of metaphors. In it, play is the thing. Turner (Pg.33)

I am both analyst and patient. I am cause and effect. I have an intimate relationship with myself. The ambivalence that arises from this negotiation, that practices an oscillation and so a blurring of my paradoxical state undermines any possibility to empirically test my ‘truth’. To resolve this state is to ‘cure’ the sufferer in ‘me’. I choose to neither cure nor suffer this state exactly by making public my private madness.

Julia Kristeva in her book Powers of Horror speaks of abjection and describes abjection as “a basic condition that unified rational or religious systems serve to mask”. She describes this basic condition as ‘the horror of being’:

“Is it the quiet shore of contemplation that I set aside for myself, as I lay bare, under the cunning, orderly surface of civilizations, the nurturing horror that they attend to pushing aside by purifying, systematizing, and thinking; the horror that they seize on in order to build themselves up and function? (Life as we know it is built up to mask this abjection – our basic condition) I rather conceive it as a work of disappointment, of frustration, and hollowing – probably the only counterweight to abjection. While everything else – its archaeology and its exhaustion – is only literature: the sublime point at which the abject collapses in a burst of beauty that overwhelms us – and ‘that cancels our existence’”. Kristeva (1982 p.133)

I am drawn to embrace the abject as an imagining for my performing body. I am writing towards something unreachable. The effort, the posturing towards is what ‘I’ am; ny arrival, any clarity ‘in a flash’, any moment of ‘rightness’, or exactness is momentary and I cannot have it or claim it for myself.  Considering abjection I can touch upon it; to have, or to desire or to believe that I can have, will ruin and blind me. Everything I do is ‘mask’. I want this mask to be bad, to barely veil my abject presence so much so that the spectator sees too much and stops trying to understand or look for meaning in me. In order to perform in a way that ‘what happens’ is a per formative act for the spectator (something happens to them), my presence explodes into site/sight, right into the eyes of the spectators. I am so overflowing with signs and rambling signifiers that I cannot be ‘deciphered’. In order to ensure that I do not construct my body and offer it as an object that invites or feels comfortable with ‘your’ gaze I am self-conscious. So much so that I become in part a spectator to myself. I move beyond control and thus rely on an interlocking, permission and a transaction with my spectator.

I wish to discuss ambivalence through the concept of ‘The Unruly Woman’. Kathleen Rowe in her book of the same name, provides a list derived from Historian Natalie Zemon Davis’s ‘Women on Top’, of qualities and tendencies that occur in the unruly woman:

1.     She creates disorder… She is unable or unwilling to confine herself to her proper place.
2.     Her body is excessive or fat, suggesting her unwillingness or inability to control her physical appetites.
3.     Her speech is excessive, in quantity, content or tone.
4.     She makes jokes, or laughs herself.
5.     She may be androgynous or hermaphroditic, drawing attention to the social construction of gender.
6.     She may be old or a masculinised crone, for old women who refuse to become invisible in our culture are often considered grotesque.
7.     Her behavior is associated with looseness and occasionally whorishness, but her sexuality is less narrowly and negatively defined than is that of the femme fatale. She may be pregnant.
8.    She is associated with dirt, liminality (thresholds, borders, or margins), and taboo, rendering her above all a figure of ambivalence.
Rowe(1995 p.31)

The max factory bodies let something go. What I believe we ‘fail’, or rather refuse is complicity with the unruly woman’s opposite. I am writing towards self-expression and expressivity and place it here as ‘riot’.

Riot: a disturbance made by an unruly ‘mob’ (by law, three or more persons). There is ‘riot’ within me and without. Unrestrained revelry: An occasion of boisterous merriment. I behave without restraint; Wanton lasciviousness.

Davis’s book defines the unruly woman as one who disrupts the norms of femininity. Ideology holds that the “well adjusted” woman has what Helen Cixous has described as divine composure: “She is silent, static, invisible – composed and divinely – apart from the hurly burly of life, process, and social power”; Rowe (1995 p. 31). The unruly woman, through her body, her speech and her laughter, especially in the public sphere, makes a disruptive spectacle of herself.

T.W.A.T.S. (Theatre, Women and Tartaric Sexuality)

Tartaric: as in warp, to turn, or cause to turn, from a true, correct or proper course.


When the max factory performed at the Edinburgh festival, a man, the organizer of the event they were part of, approached one of the women and said something along the lines of: “The work confused me, but I suppose, even if people don’t like your work, they can still feel gratification when watching your body. Later on, the same woman propositioned the man to pay her £25 to give him aural sex on the roof of the theatre. He accepted. He wrote a fake ‘expenses’ receipt and took the money out of the theatres petty cash box. The max factory received no other monies for their performance.

Often, in our performances, we made people laugh. It was our curiosity about this that made us look to other women in comedy. We focused on ‘woman as prop’ in the famous TV comedies of our childhood: The Two Ronnie’s, Morecambe and Wise, Dads Army, Benny Hill. Our formative years reared on women in bikinis, sexy nurses with huge breasts, aggressive housewives and men in drag. In these shows we saw women used as objects rather than subjects of laughter and out of these shows T.W.A.T.S. was conceived. For one year we played out the roles of the women in these comedies. Rowe states “we must learn the languages we inherit, with their inescapable contradiction, before transforming and redirecting them towards our own ends”. (ibid p.3)  We became the bikini clad, unintelligent, clumsy woman, the sexy nurse, and the housewife who bought into self-help, catalogue style. We became these images of women as these funny men and the culture they existed in, had attempted to understand them or position them. By ‘wearing’ these ‘roles’ and treating them as fictional frames, we hoped to transform or even liberate them. As artists, we did not approach this normatively. We did not write for them a revolution, a strategic script that would preach or demand some specific reconstruction for our audience. We wanted to expose and break these images and we did so by simply wearing them. We reduced them to cloth. In the way we wore those costumes lay the tools of this breaking and in doing so, ourselves as women, began to feel empowered by the use of comedy for women. We entered these images in order to expose them as ‘ill fitting’. We could only succeed in doing this if the distance between ‘us’ and ‘them’ was wide-open and spanned real time physical space.

How we were was an attempt. We ‘made an effort’, we tried to climb in to these images and the result of our endeavor was failure. It is through an acute ambivalence that we began to give voice to the women that we are and the women that we are not. What occurred within and without us was subtle and complicated. If one could imagine the physical within the social and literary traditions of carnival, to be everything at once, to be low class, accessed by all, there is a transgression and an ambivalence here that was an important and clarifying discovery for the performing artists of the max factory that has answered crucial questions regarding a politic of presence and presenting that the max factory’s work asks.


Fictional frame (collusion)
(Introduction – remembered/un scripted)

Good evening everyone, this is Felicity, I’m Sharon,
We are the max factory – our stage names shall be
Gold Digger (felicity) and Bomb Shell (myself). We composed this piece in a workshop organized by ourselves. This is the first opportunity we have had to perform this piece in public. We would like to thank felicity’s mum for making the costumes.

T.W.A.T.S. by the max factory (3)


We replace truths with frames. What the unruly woman provides is a way of entering into existing frames and changing them. “Implicit in the unruly woman’s heightened visibility is her potential to bring about a process Irving Goffman describes as ‘breaking frame’”. Rowe (1995 p.53) Goffman suggests that social life is an endless negotiation about which cultural frame should surround. He states that changing the frame in which it is perceived can radically alter the meaning of a social situation, and that frames are most vulnerable at their margins. Because she is dangerously situated in the margins of social life, the unruly woman enjoys heightened “‘frame-busting’ power”. The unruly woman uses the semiotics of unruliness to break frame, to disrupt, to expose the gaps in between ‘realities’. Her desire has a different economy that “upsets the linearity of a project, undermines the goal – object of a desire, diffuses the polarizations toward a single pleasure, and disconcerts fidelity to a single discourse…” Irigaray (1985 p.30)

Costume    Sharon:    Layer one (closest to the skin) – bikini. (Flesh)
Layer two -pixie outfit (fantasy)
Layer three -ladies tracksuit (domestic goddess)

Layer four -evening dress (Seductress)
Felicity:        Layer one –pixie outfit. (Fantasy)
Layer two -tartaric/tantrum dress (transformation)
Layer three -ladies tracksuit (domestic goddess)
Layer four -evening dress (Seductress)

Both:        shoes: high heels with pixie socks.

Props:     table: 4 pints lager, 1 large pizza (pre cooked), two bottles of wine, 1 corkscrew. 1 sick bucket, 1 list of ‘keep fit’ exercises (task two). 1 portable tape recorder

Music:                 1) Theme tune from M.A.S.H.: Suicide is Painful.
2) Jane Fonda Workout Audio track to Rocky theme.
3) Ambient track (source unknown)

T.W.A.T.S by the max factory (4)

Task 1:     a) play tape one track one.
b) Drink two pints of lager and half of the pizza by the end of this song.
c) Remove evening dresses to reveal tracksuits. Keep high heels on.

The audience will see any preparation the max factory might need to do in order to perform certain tasks. As an example, if we precursor an ‘act’ with the consumption of a large amount of alcohol, and if the audience see us drinking this alcohol two important things happen. One is that the audience’s attention will be divided between what we are doing on stage and how we manage to do it. This exaggerates a tension that is complicit with the hyphen. Through this tension there is a closer scrutiny on how one is causing and affecting another.  There is an irreducible plurality. The second important point is that my body is physically feeling the effects of the alcohol and finds cognitive physical logic slightly more ‘challenging’.

Max factory Calling Card (5)

It is possible to write the aesthetics of the grotesque body as an overly expressive self, as one that ‘spills’; the performer, who understands that all is improvisation, who acknowledges the virginal space of performance as an interlocking of the social bodies within, may find an appropriate justification for doing so in the grotesque body. Because human bodies bear the traces of social structures, they can be read in terms of this aesthetic. The grotesque body exaggerates its processes whereas the static, monumental classical body conceals them. The grotesque body, says Kathleen Rowe, is the body in its lower stratum” (the eating, drinking, defecating, copulating body)” whereas the “classical body” privileges the “upper stratum (the head, the eyes, the faculties of reason)”. Rowe (1995 p.33)


This is a celebration of the open orifice; her story oozing from openings, her entrances and her exits, the women drinking the lager, provoked laughter and cheering. There was much pleasure being taken in watching them (drink like men?) triumph and then struggle with the alcohol. The drinking loosened them up. They got loose and became loose women.  Their vulnerability enjoyed… until they began to eat. Cheers to groans. Heroes to losers. Yes to No. Alcohol has been imagined as a preparation. Loose enough to be filled. Food has been imagined as a replacement, filling them instead.  Anyway they choke as they swallow.

Task 2:
S.     reveals tartaric/tantrum dress.
F.     reveals pixie outfit.
Both: perform ‘keep fit’ routine remove tracksuits and shoes.

We had turned to women’s magazines and found a relentless demand on the woman’s’ body to show self control by conquering and in many cases, therefore, redesigning their bodies to show shapes and images of beauty as defined by media culture. We decided to perform a short series of popular aerobic exercises.  We always changed the order of the exercises, and thus had to refer to a list of instructions. We never practiced the exercises before hand. We kept our high heels on. We were inebriated. This task is a ridiculous one overloaded with ‘information’. We allow our selves to spill out of the action through our laughter.

For many women, the social contradictions of gender have been played out most compellingly in artistic forms centered on their victimization and tears rather than on their resistance and laughter. (ibid p.4)

We follow our impulse to laugh at our own lack of control. Much contemporary cultural criticism, especially on the left, conveys a sense that cultural critique must be somber and ascetic. In contrast, laughter undermines the notion that oppositional intellectual work must be, by necessity, a gloomy enterprise. It is our laughter that incites others to laugh. Laughter is never used as a sign in our work. Laughter is always ‘real’. Laughter is a crack in things.

We have not always laughed. In one event everything felt very serious. I start by mentioning that, upon reflection, we realized why this might have been; our audiences, in this instance were seated far away from our action. Their physical distance from us caused some loss. We remember now to ensure that these actions are performed physically closely to our spectators, and better still, amongst. We had not attended to this. The performing of the tasks was too difficult. We became sick (we never before or since had to use our sick bucket). Without the intimate presence of the others, which it seems must ‘help’ us to get through, we suffered and the whole was harder.

Our ruling idea, as authors, is to make a mockery out of these images of woman, which we do not believe ‘exist’ as ‘real’ women so much as they are cultural constructions that satisfy a masculine desire. We do not victimize ourselves within these images. We are subjects to their objects and we ‘laugh in the face’ of these images. In this sense we reclaim our ‘subjectivity’; our subjectivity is the ‘ruling idea’. Our role here is not to dictate a new ‘type’ of woman, but to cast all ‘types’ of women aside by taking and leaving imagery and actions, by exposing them as powerless to ‘bother us’. We do not arrive with a new image of ‘woman’. We do not wish to conceptualism ‘her’ at all. In T.W.A.T.S, placed within a comedic frame, we were able to use distinct female ‘constructions’ and make fun of them. Not to parody ‘women’ but to expose the images as fictional, not as women but as ‘ridiculous’ constructions of woman.


Would you rather I cried than rolled my eyes? Would you rather I absorbed your gaze without returning mine? Did I hear you think I am unreachable? Can you not feel how we are touching?

A woman has to present herself in certain prescriptive ways in order to sustain her visibility both in the domain of live art and in our society at large it seems necessary to take oneself quite seriously as a ‘female’ artist. The ‘issues’ of gender are discussed in theory at a safe distance from any leakage that might identify the woman writing as having feelings or experiences of her own. The seriousness with which a fine art discourse speaks about the body succeeds in keeping the artists body fixed (trapped almost) in a critical and potentially victimized place. She is marginal (nowhere) instead of luminal (everywhere). A female performer is required to tread carefully within the minefield of identity construction present in society and culture and in the art world.

Task 3:
s.        a) take centre stage
f.                     a) sit at table, open one bottle of wine with corkscrew
s.        b) begin to turn around and around your own  axis.
f.        b) begin to drink the red wine

Rule:  The drinker must consume the entire contents of the bottle before the turner may stop turning.

Repeat task three with roles reversed. f. Takes the tartaric/tantrum dress, s. reveals pixie outfit.
When completed, the tartaric/tantrum dress is discarded.
f. left in pixie outfit.
s. removes hers to reveal the bikini.

This whole scene works towards what is to me a transformative moment, when Felicity, who drinks then turns, throws herself into the activity of turning which has become an impossible task. The combination of drinking and turning causes her to lose her centre of gravity. Her centre slips wildly around her periphery, pulling her body with it. She is being her self lost. Her movements become extremely un-co-ordinate. She works hard at her task, but stumbles constantly to the floor. I am struggling to drink the bottle of wine. My own eyes see a room that still turns. Both the audience and me understand that Felicity must keep working to turn until I have finished drinking the wine. Something has moved too far… or beyond. What begins as a social, humorous demonstration of ‘bravado’ or control moves out of control? Felicity moves us into the anti-social, i.e. she becomes destructive. She passes through, into site and our engagement is rooted in a collective and I would say luminal state. It is by no means an emotional unity. There is a coalition, quite a tense and pensive state, expressing laughter, repulsion and desire (that she goes on, that she stops, that some body stops her). There is quiet and there is shouting. People talk to each other; move in their seats…  Transformation happens in the way that all imagery collides and falls into her as her moving body brings to life an infinity in the present. It is the present tense that dominates us, suspends our imaginings and our memory.

Task 4:
s.        Pick up the melodic and attempt to play the
Benny Hill theme tune.
f.        chase s. around the space. Use the whole space.

Rowe paraphrases Mary Anne Doane to say that the tropes of melodrama which melodrama valorize – need to be made to appear “fantastic, literally incredible”. This can happen, Doane suggests, through a kind of mimicry or masquerade, “a periodic performance of the feminine that ‘makes visible’ what is supposed to remain concealed: the artifice of femininity, the gap between an impossible role and the woman playing it”. Rowe (1995 p.33) this ‘gap’ is created by the irreconcilability (by the reader) of the text-activity with the body presenting it. The way the max factory approach their text-activity, their ambivalent and indiscreet mode of performance objectifies the text-activity and not the body performing. It is this ambivalence that is the transgress and radical vehicle. It destabilizes the patriarchal structures and shapes existent in western culture in to which the women who make up the max factory certainly do not fit.

Distinguishing pastiche and parody we can see that whilst both forms mimic the mannerisms and stylish twitches of other styles they differ in their allusions to normalcy. Parody, I would suggest, is a linguistic norm, that has an ulterior motive. This motive is to indirectly suggest that there exists something ‘normal’ in contrast to the comic over exaggeration of that which is being performed. Pastiche does not have this ulterior motive. It does not mock but rather is an engagement with a style or a cultural cliché that declares itself (perhaps nostalgically) unable to identify with an image, or have any natural ‘style’ of its own. The practice of pastiche can be seen as symptomatic of a conceptual schema which views personal experience as socially and historically determined. Parody produces an ambivalent, simultaneous image and clearly illustrates which part of that image is ridiculous. It therefore answers its own questions, or it directs its reader towards its own versions of ‘truth’. Pastiche could be said to pursue an absence or a blurring of such significant absences allowing for the spectator a more personal attachment and the generation of private meanings.  Following this comparison, we can see that the work of the max factory, and work like it, can only really be critically read in terms of the mode of it’s performers engagement with the texts and actions they perform (as opposed to a semiotic reading of the texts and actions themselves). T.W.A.T.S. is a pastiche. It does ‘mock’ like the periodic, but in contrast, what is presented is not ‘normal’ it is ‘me’ and it is ‘me’ in the condition of the here and now, which is conscious of being part of a gathered crowd. My ulterior motive is, like pastiche, to be unable to identify in a successful or positive manner with the images and actions I perform. But I do not embody this inability as a symptom to which I have ‘fallen ill’.

Because the performers perform the material somewhat earnestly or at least openly enough to allow a poetics, an ambivalent set of possible meanings. This engagement is specific in the way it is anti-dynamic. It does not point to or prefer a particular reading or image because the performers do not want to announce their version of normal. If an audience looks towards these performers for clues as to their own artistic intentions or political statement, they would become confused. Hopefully then, their focus is shifted and broadened, becoming more inclusive of the whole space, and also, as the performers are enjoying a certain liberation through their ambivalence, so too the witness might consider her own and become more self consciously and critically aware of her own experience.

Finale:    as s. completes the tune, f. catches S. Puts her up against the back wall and fakes/illustrates ‘taking her from behind’.


When life is understood from a collective rather than individual perspective, time becomes the necessary link in the process of communal growth and renewal. Within the aesthetics of the grotesque we choose immersion over defensiveness. We can exaggerate incompleteness, process and change whilst maintaining ambivalence towards time and ultimately towards ‘death’. The unruly body breaks down the boundaries between itself and the world outside it. Transgress women never escape their vulnerability. Because they are ambivalent they are open to conflicting appropriations. These conflicting appropriations are surely nourishing a fertile ground for a new social order, and equip us better than the out dated dryness of post modernism’s intellectual reluctance to say anything. Instead of the artist deferring herself from the images and actions she creates, a subtle but fundamental shift in her self image is that she is not deferred or absent, but she is so overly present that she loses specificity.  The veil of post modernism has at what must be its natural end a liberal, passive, uninvolved body that remains safe or politically correct in performance. Political correctness imposed upon any land means people will not tell their own stories. There will be no place for who they actually are. Post modernism is dead and so too must be the deadpan nonchalance of its performers especially its women. The death of the author, with regards to the max factory, has given life to the feminine site and developed for us ambivalence towards sight, towards image. Through liminality and its license to play we were able to explore our own frame busting potential.

End.        Against the wall

MOCKs – performance installation by the max factory.

Mock(s) by the max factory (6)

In MOCKs we have placed 25 examination tables in a room above a pub, in an art gallery, in a theatre space and in a dance space. A maximum of 25 people are invited to sit their G.C.S.E Drama Exam. MOCKs, spends about an hour and a half framing anxiety which is scrutinized both by the performers and the spectators as roles within the performance shift and blur. The audience member must shift positions between her roles as observer, player and collaborator within a shifting frame of a play about an exam and an exam.

In MOCKs the max factory take on the role of schoolmistresses and assume on behalf of our audience, them in the role of students. We give a social gathering a false/fictional frame, a reason/excuse to come together. We can interact freely with an audience once the fictional frame is applied. At no point would anybody ever suspect that we really were teachers, or that we knew anything about teaching. As performers we do not have to believe in this ‘authority’ as it exists within a fiction. We do not work to make seamless the gap between our selves and the fiction. We work to keep the gap there. Our selves do not relate to the character but our selves do have a relationship with character. In the simplest understanding of Role Play we are able to use the characters to say what we need to say to get the job done (to make the performance happen). It is through the characters that we can cajole the audience indirectly. (We can be cheeky, bossy, instructive, sarcastic, etc.)

We dress ourselves in costume. It is obviously not our ordinary daywear because the dresses are the same (like a uniform) and they are ridiculous. I will refer to our bodies as a means to distinguish what we wear and what we do from us, from our physical presence, which is for the most part distinctly separate from our costumes and text-activity. Our bodies in these dresses work to set ourselves against the outfits. The costume somehow becomes a character or a stereotype. We work to emphasize that this is exactly what they are. They are per formatives. We allow the costume do all the talking about this ‘character’; our bodies are doing something else, getting on with the tasks at hand. Our bodies are thinking about other things and NOT immersing in any psychology of the ‘character’ (there is no subtext, no history). The costumes provide us with ‘cardboard cut outs’ like a persona, or bad masks.

Somewhere in the way that we do things, it is not clear to the audience whether something is meant to happen or not, or whether something is going right or wrong. It is difficult to tell. This blur is pursued through our attention to ‘what is happening now’, as opposed to ‘what I am going to do now’ or ‘what do I do next’. We consciously care less, are less precious about a successful execution of a text-act because we want it to have the potential to become something we could not have anticipated. We fold into our relationship a care and attention to all that is actually happening. We would be breaking this rule if we were to pretend some things had not happened, or to priorities (through signifying) some things over others.

MOCKs are an interactive performance held together by a fictional/conceptual frame. The spectator’s role shifts as they are explicitly both watching and taking part in the work as it happens.  The frame constructs and colludes our audience. The frames and the fictions of MOCKs induce a per formative relationship by the spectator with the performance and between the spectator and the performers. We, the performers, induce a feeling of self-consciousness that we play with and on, aiming to ease self-consciousness in our guests. Through playing with this audience anxiety, we begin to trivialize it slightly; our actual feelings of self-consciousness become less problematic and maybe more entertaining, as the work begins to be, in part, about self-consciousness and audience anxiety. ‘We are all in it together’.

There was always a second room off the performance space. The audience entered this room first. They are asked to choose from a row of neckties and are instructed to put the tie on. Here then there were a collection of people busying themselves with ‘getting into costume’, sharing ‘pre-show’ smiles and feeling slightly anxious or nervous about what was to come. We were simulating a stress of examinations in order to actually speak about audience anxiety, about a conventional passivity and role of spectator or consumer in regards to this performance work, its authorship and its creative processes.

The audience looked to each other for reassurance. They gathered. The group interlocks. They will need not only to collude with our ‘play’ but with each other.

There is a three-way relationship between the performer-author, the frame (text-act) and the reader-spectator. The max factory develops frames that check, limit and restrain all involved. Of course none of us are being held there against our will. We are coaxing each other, and the work also becomes about our complicity in social situations. We work to define or ‘set up’ a standard within which all variables can be compared or rather related to: performed. Fictional narratives have the ability to substitute but also resemble real life narratives. All social spaces ask for a certain amount of ‘role play’: the mainland station, the public house, the street, and the airport. An undisclosed but ‘hopefully’ accepted set of rules, which although designate different roles for different people, do include everyone. We are all expected to comply to certain roles, as they conceptually exist. As social beings we are used to falling into line in this way. We are used to complying with the use of ‘appropriate behavior’. MOCKs take advantage of this as well as shedding light upon it. A per formative or fictional frame takes advantage of these social procedures by colluding the audience and interlocking every body, even though the roles may be different (actor – spectator) every body is working within the same fiction; the same rules of the same game. All there is a series of fictions.

Augusto Boal describes interactive performance by positioning all players as spect-actors. His Forum Theatre approached workshops as performances and exploited the rules of social forums such as sporting events.

Forum Theatre is a sort of fight or game, and like all forms of game or fight there are rules. They can be modified, but they still exist, to ensure that all the players are involved in the same enterprise, and to facilitate the generation of serious and fruitful discussion” Boal (1979 p.139)

The audience and our selves have equal control over what actually happens during the performance. It is our submission to role-play and then our view from here and there as spect-actors that we begin to work together. Our spectators grant any ‘authority’ to us. They grant us permission to control, judge, or prohibit their actions. They give us permission. We are put in control by dent of the condition everybody has put themselves in, the fictional roles that we have all accepted. We do not ask the audience to believe what they see. On the contrary we pursue, in the spectator, disbelief. True to the traditions of theatre we ask the audience to suspend this disbelief but to through this enter play. We expose the contract that is being made. In the most ideal instance this collusion is relaxed and one could say even flirtatious as it arouses without emotional commitment. It is a temporary state, a one-night stand. The max factory holds no authority over the results of these ‘plays’. We put ourselves within these controlled frames and on the level of experience, are rendered observers of (our own) action and of ‘what happens’.

Everyone is given a Vodka drink in a plastic cup. We make a toast to the ‘show’, wish everybody good luck. We proceed to come together in a circle and perform a standard warm up exercise which one might do in a variety of movement, dance, and theatre workshop situations. It is a copying and exaggerating exercise. It is performed for the duration of a seven-minute rock record. During this time a strange and hilarious dance happens, out of the copying and exaggerating of each other’s tiniest twitches and gestures. The exercise works as a chain reaction and demands the participation of everybody in order for it to work. One becomes much more visible if one remains still. To drop out now is to look even more ridiculous. Everybody joins in. I think this exercise induces anxiety and then expels it, ‘mocks’ it at the same time. At the end everybody feels more relaxed and quite energized or flushed. In our bodies we have become looser, less rigid. We have lessened the force of effort or concentration. We have laughed with and at each other and have become less formal. After the warm up is complete, the audience are lead into the exam room. They sit at desks with numbers that correlate with numbers they have been given. They must write their name and address on all pieces of paper.

At the front of the room, the direction they were all facing, we had a large table full of theatrical props, crayons, music tapes, performance, theatre and dance theory books, costumes, and a whole load of performance materials to tempt the thespian pallet. Behind that we hung two very large mirrors through which the audience could see themselves reflected. This was important. When the spectator, later on, would remember the performance, in the room, inside her own pictorial memory of the performance, she would see herself. A clock tells the real time.

The first question is read out and they are told they have one hour to complete the paper.

Question 1

Either: (a) Trace the development of your role in this devised work. Consider how your role has emerged and developed, and how is the role being communicated to the audience.
Or:      (b) ‘Young people cannot tackle big issues in their drama. They merely focus on their own everyday problems

Discuss this statement with reference to this devised work. Refer to content, theme and style.

The audiences are left alone. Felicity and Sharon visit a nearby toilet, taking the microphone with them.

MOCKs by the max factory (7)

A – It’s a really strange thing I think we both understood before hand that it was alot to do with will, to have the will to do something, he gets you to a certain place through an ‘induction’ where he works on making you quite relaxed and then says for example “you can’t move your foot” and you can tell yourself that you can move your foot, if you wanted to move your foot, that voice isn’t allowed to be there because it is what he calls ‘blocking’ you, blocking your will and so your ability to ‘act’.

B – You have to create the truth and if the truth is that that man is wearing no clothes then that is the truth and you can imagine that so fully and learn to feel it fully then it doesn’t matter that it’s not ‘real’.

A – I had to forget the number 7 so he made me count out my fingers and when I got to my seventy finger I wasn’t supposed to know that it was my seventh finger, and of course he did it twice on me and both times I said ‘seven’. It didn’t work, he kept saying, ‘oh you’ve one all quiet’, you’ve gone all serious’ and you know, I was trying to concentrate… he’d say ‘lighten up’… which of course made me very uptight, he didn’t service me.

B – You have to fall backwards and imagine a string coming out of the back of your neck, he pulls the string to make you fall backwards, he’s relaxing you, you know that the couch is there and you have to trust him.

A – He’s the voice of confidence, he’s the voice that’s asking you to try something out and then, to be a successful ‘customer’ you have to believe what he’s telling you, you have to believe that when he says that his dick is on fire that his dick is on fire, you have to believe that even though you know his dick isn’t on fire, that’s the only way that the acting will work on you, if you can block out your own voice.

B – You have to enter into the fiction of the thing, to accept it, as truth and it will eventually become truth.

A – He’s the voice of confidence, he’s the voice that’s asking you to try something out and then, to be a successful ‘customer’ you have to believe what he’s telling you, you have to believe that when he says that his dick is on fire that his dick is on fire, you have to believe that even though you know his dick isn’t on fire, that’s the only way that the acting will work on you, if you can block out your own voice.

B — It’s a massive leap of faith, a power over your own mind – but he couldn’t do anything for us, he tried once and then he just gave up.

A – He’s the voice of confidence, he’s the voice that’s asking you to try something out and then, to be a successful ‘customer’ you have to believe what he’s telling you, you have to believe that when he says that his dick is on fire that his dick is on fire, you have to believe that even though you know his dick isn’t on fire, that’s the only way that the acting will work on you, if you can block out your own voice.

Eventually I re-enter the room to invigilate. I am ‘on stage’ so to speak, sat in what is traditionally known as centre stage, in costume, taking on the role of the character of a schoolteacher. All things considered I get little or no attention from the audience as they have become completely absorbed in their own roles. The level of concentration upon the exam paper is surprisingly high. I am front stage centre being ignored. I have explored this moment by ‘acting erotic’. I push my hands up my skirt, lick my lips, dribble, and throw back my head. Still nobody notices. So intent are they at answering their question well. Over time this moment within the work has interested me the most. I wait for somebody to look at me. I make eye contact with them. A secret pocket opens and exists within the room for this time. I over-act and remain invisible on stage to the majority of the audience. Centre stage has been illuminated and eliminated. (Once, Felicity urinated in a sink in full view of the audience. Nobody noticed.)

Student Work – MOCKs by the max factory (8)

During the time given for Question 1, the max factory presents, without announcement, ten theatrical tableaux (taken from a book of theatre history). This is like a play within a play. The audience watches this play at the same time as remaining in the bigger play.  We choose at random, costumes and props from the table, and strike a pose.  This pose is an immediate response to ten titles, ten ‘styles’ of theatre, which we have written on a small piece of paper that lies nearby.

Max factory Performance Score (9)

At some point the teachers take the students through a visualization exercise.

Imagine spending time releasing your imagination, expanding your mind, following your heart, liberating your voice, healing your wounds.
Imagine taking a step out of your life as it is at the moment.
Imagine entering an environment where you can discover your ability to sing, dance and write.
Imagine a chance to study the key ideas that have shaped the way we think about ourselves.
Imagine taking a journey to discover what you really think.
Imagine an opportunity to break the patterns that hold you back from becoming all that you can be.

This text continues to become an imagination exercise. The audience is asked to close their eyes, relax, role their heads, shake out their arms etc. (Exactly what is said always changes.) I ask them to imagine a black box, they enter inside, they see something or someone, the person or object does or says something etc. In different moments I have asked for words, pictures and movements.

We work from the premise that ‘truth’ does not need to be embodied or believed once we are working within collusion.  We all play along with the game. We are not approaching the creative act as precious or mysterious. We perform with a carelessness, which undermines the grave seriousness that shrouds such preparations to create, to ‘free’.  Nobody has ever reported not being able to see any images inside their own head. Treating the exercise with less care has never prevented the student’s entry into it. The creative process is not such a fragile magic that it will be damaged or ‘upset’ by a heavy hand. It is attainable to us all at all times. Here we all are.

Student Work – MOCKs by the max factory (10)

By the end of this exercise the students have written or drawn things on paper. The teachers gather the papers. As with the warm up exercise, this visualization exercise is quite generic in theatre workshops, or in creative workshops of all kinds. These exercises construct scenes within the play of the max factory. It would be critically useless to scrutinize these scenes by their content. The play itself begins to contradict, or render futile the questions that the exam paper asks. The text-activities of MOCKs function as vehicles to facilitate this coming together, to interlock the gathered crowd.

Question 2

You should use the Pre released Stimulus Material for this question.

Use your knowledge and experience of techniques for devising theatre in order to create a piece of drama.
You may record your answer in the form of a first scene scenario, script or script extract or a storyboard or any combination of these forms.

Either:  (a) Using the Stimulus Material devise a piece of drama in the style of a known playwright or practitioner you know. Describe the drama and identify how the features (for example; language, acting style, shape of play) reflect your chosen style.

Or:     (b) Taking your ideas from the Stimulus Material, devise a piece of drama for performance where the focus is on the contrast between normality and tension.

The audience is put into groups. We give them approximately ten minutes to interpret question three. The transformation of our roles within the theatre is complete. Felicity and I sit as audience members and our audience performs for us.

Exam results are sent out in the post a few weeks late

Student Work – MOCKs by the max factory. (11)

Chapter 2
A recent history of presence

Many methodologies in the form of physical techniques and written theories within the traditions of dance and theatre offer modes of interpretation and style for the performer.  This chapter borrows from these methodologies to write for the conceptual live artist who finds herself in the site of performance from outside these genres and from fine art or literary genres that do not historically practice ‘body’ or indeed presence.

Presence or the presentation of the subject (self) can be traced backwards through cultural history as having distinctly ‘fashionable’ or dominant modes or styles. I wish to identify a way of being on stage that I will refer to as a ‘post modern presence’ as it is a presence that historically performs a critique against modernism.

I will discuss Post modern presence as a mode of performing, occurring when the artist’s own presence is not considered (by herself) beyond the completion of actions and instructions. It is an attempt at neutrality which is supposed to signify to it’s witness that the story of this art work or indeed it’s meaning will not be found in the personality, character or, indeed presence of the artist’s body. This artwork is the construction of a conceptual frame within which the artist’s body appears ‘un constructed’ in terms of the traditional live arts of theatre or dance. The performer is not pretending to be someone else, or affecting/abstracting their movements in any conscious way. The performer within this work is ‘being themselves on stage’ and is present as a facilitator of the text-act, or organizer of events. The artist’s body is part of the artwork but the artist does not wish to signify her ‘self’ through the work. Her body is present ‘as it is’, as ready made, every day, an unspectacular body. Throughout this chapter I will show how the post modern presence has come to dominate contemporary conceptual live artwork, which seeks to be about body. Conceptual artists who are part of their own work, and indeed the general consensus of critics who view the work, defer the presence of the artist as irrelevant or insignificant. There is no critical sensibility towards how the performing artist is present.

As a spectator of live artwork, I often miss fluidity, of live as a here-and-now-ness, of audience recognition and of play in contemporary live art work. Not only this. Some, I see, is live but never critically credited for this understanding. ‘Just being yourself on stage’ is not easy or natural. There is as much chance of ‘being yourself’ badly as there is of bad acting in the theatre. In my opinion, there is a much larger chance of failing to be neutral. There are often misunderstandings between the idea of ‘being yourself’ on stage and the concept of ‘being neutral’. I will look in brief at how this mode of presence has come to be.

I) Post modern presence – The neutral doer

The entry of performance into art is not indicative of artists turning towards theatre forms or conventions but rather of a resistance to the containment and fixities in ‘conventional’ art and theatre. This entry would be best read “not in terms of theatre, but as an address to the terms and assumptions surrounding the ‘art object’ itself” Kaye (1996 p.2) Contemporary performance draws freely on any number of disciplines and media. Rose Lee Goldberg says “indeed, no other artistic form of expression has such a boundless manifesto, since each performer makes his or her own definition in the very process and manner of execution”. Goldberg (1988 p.9) It remains the case in critical theory and in documentation that the manner of execution is not referred to or developed as a tangible and worthy discourse.

A description of modern dance is offered by Sally Banes in her book Terpsichore in Sneakers.

Stylized movements and energy levels in legible structures to convey feelings, tones, and social messages; the aspirations of modern dance were simultaneously primitivism and modernist. Banes (1987 p.I)

The post modern shift in dance is recorded almost solely as happening in America towards the end of the 1950’s. It’s history is centralized around the Judson Church in N.Y.C. and the Judson Dancers, a collective of dancers who were responsible for creating an independent dance that turned away from the modernist institution of the existing dance world with its clear hierarchy of choreographer, dramaturge and dancer (the dancer being a manipulating tool to realize the choreographers vision). The institution of modern dance had developed into an “esoteric art form for the intelligentsia”. (ibid p.xvi) In the post modern dance, attention turned away from modernist abstraction and a concern with movement form within a highly codified system, to an expanded field of movement that “removed the body from the gaze and return(ed) it to its activity, the condition of always doing something”. Allsop (in Allsop/dela Hunta 1996 p.103) Claudia Jeschke calls this the ‘documented’ or  ‘documentary’ body and writes that for this body the private and emotional components of all movement conventions undergo examination.

Any and all movements are legitimized. Documenting its own experience, the body no longer wishes to represent anything but it’s immediate self and presents itself as something to be dramaturgically and choreographically decoded… The interpretation of their specific selection, their meaning, their sense and their sensuality was left to the audience.
Jeschke in Allsop/Dela Hunta (1996 p.103)

The notion of authorship is debased, decentralized away from a singular vision or a choreographer’s message. Dance became a dance, not because of what was contained within it, meaning – actions – autonomous significance – but because of context. If a work is framed as a dance, then it will be read as a dance pertaining to the history of dance as understood by a reader or as defined by a venue or title. This relationship between content and context aligns dance with conceptual minimalist art in that the work negates meaning within itself and pursues an as-it-is-ness that demands from the reader a reconsideration of what dance was and is. This juncture is the negation of the presence of the performer and of what happens in the luminal space of the live event itself.

Through a decade of what were posed as experiments in dance a recognizable mode of performing emerged, one that was “reductive, factual, objective, and down to earth”. Banes (1987 p.xx) This way of being on stage was supported by a stripping away of elements such as music, special lighting, costumes, props etc., anything which lyrics or set up a certain scene or mood was removed. Performers wore ‘everyday’ clothing. This period, in the early seventies is described by Sally Banes as the Analytic Post Modern Dance, less polemical than the experiments of the sixties and more theoretical. These dances were returning to movement and structural devices.

Repetition… mathematical systems, geometric forms… the Perusal of pure, often simple movement structures to be performed without expression or any imposed illusionary effect. (ibid)

For this, the body of the dancer was stripped down also. As experiencing entities dancers pursued a ‘being them selves’ on stage. In the continuing history of the post modern dance, once this ‘stripping down’ is aesthetically attended to, or conceptually understood, very little writing can be found, from writings on dancers themselves, which attend to this mode of presence. What remains quite firmly in live artwork today is an aesthetic of this post modern presence, which to the post modern dancers was political and specific in its aim if not in actuality. Post modern aesthetics are firmly inscribed and more or less obligatory in the construction of contemporary work. Since this shift a mode of performing has been deconstructed but not reaffirmed. Self-expression has become frowned upon because it falls into a rejected expressionism that relates to modernism and to naturalism.

When Yvonne Rainer was interviewed about the activities of the Judson dancers, she was asked the question ‘why are they so intent on being themselves’? Rainer illustrates the parallels of the interests of these dancers with the rest of the arts by asking us to consider two factors.

1) The artifice of performance has been re-evaluated in that action, or what one does is more interesting and important than the exhibition of character and attitude, and that action can best be focused on through the submerging of the personality; so ideally one is not even oneself, one is a neutral ‘doer’.
2) The display of technical virtuosity and the display of the dancers body no longer make any sense. Dancers have been driven to search for an alternative context that allows for a more matter of fact, more concrete, more banal quality of physical being in performance, a context wherein people are engaged in actions and movements making a less spectacular demand on the body and in which skill is hard to locate. Rainer in Huxley/Witts (1996 p.293)

The artifice of performance is what one does and the way one performs is through a submersion of the self towards an idea of neutrality. The body in this context is refusing to embellish the virtuosic mastery attached to modernism and to the portrayal and illustration of the authors meaning; Aligned with a Brechtian approach dance challenges the spectator to enter into a dialogue with the artwork. The text-act is not only prioritized, but also isolated, detached from any expressive or personal meanings that this text-act might hold for the performer. The ‘how’ the text-act is performed is critically neutralized, the ‘everyday’ body becoming constructed, normalized.

Rainer’s neutral, repetitive ‘mundane’ post modern dances are comparable then to the body working on a production line. Movement is produced out of necessity and efficiency. This was a critical time for dance as an art form and extreme measures were necessary but the idea of neutrality is deeply floored and its connotations somewhat dangerous. Neutrality defers present-ness as it controls the body’s exposure to site and to ‘site-full emotions’. It is important to recognize that the bodies involved in this analytic post modern dance had been trained within, and thus heavily inscribed with, the highly codified systems of modern dance and ballet, (the very systems they were now performing to challenge). Their task was to refuse, critique and erase these inscriptions.

I will briefly refer to a much earlier dance phenomenon, the Tiller Girls, a troupe of dancing girls who danced for John Tiller, a Manchester cotton broker, at the turn of the 20th century. He employed young working class girls from the north of England and trained them to dance together, in unison and with military accuracy. These girls were trained to “submerge their personalities in order to achieve uniform precision”. Burt (1998 p.85) the girls were infamous entertainers on the British club circuit and beyond. Siegfried Kracauer identified the Tiller Girls as presenting a “social totality for which the individual yearned because of her or his experience of the fragmentation and alienation of metropolitan existence”. (ibid) Kracauers wrote about “The Mass Ornament” defining it as “an instance in which the individual could lose her – or himself, blurring the distinction between self and other by becoming part of a coherent, unitary mass”. (ibid) Initially Kracauer saw the dancing of the Tiller Girls both as a sign for the fragmentation and the slow fall of capitalism, and as a utopian vision of possible social harmony. But, by 1931 the mass ornament had transformed into “a symptom of totalitarianism and fascism”. (ibid)

I wish to look at the term ‘neutral doer’. In a modernist context, ‘natural’ movements are movements within the dance that represent movements from nature. They are constructed for an audience to see and they symbolize nature or something natural. In a post modern context ‘natural’ movements are so because they are performed no differently than they might be outside of a theatre setting. They are natural because they represent nothing but what they are. “It means action undistorted for theatrical effectiveness, drained of emotional overlay, literary reference, or manipulated timing. A jump, fall, run, or walk is executed without regard to grace, visual appeal, or technical skill”. Banes (1987 p.17) The obvious thing for me to note is that of course outside of the theatre we see people, individuals who move around in the world in entirely different ways. The way somebody walks, a run etc. provides the anthropologist or the psychoanalyst (in us all) with many ‘stories’ about that person.

As with the Tiller Girls one can choose to look at how post modern dance functions to speak about the development of a body culture. Within the domain of body culture and dance, the mass ornament produced by groups like the Tiller Girls exemplifies through its abstractness and precision the rationalizing process of the capitalist system. Kracauer saw that in some forms of body culture human beings expressed a yearning for or belief in a mythical organic past. Kracauer felt that this was irrational because it depended on awe, or a fear of nature. The mass ornament, for Kracauer, had the potential to increase our capacity for reason and logic. The parallel with the post modern dancers for this writing is the submerging of the personality of the dancers. Their interest was to examine the function of dance as other than one of expression of a mythical organic past. However, the submerging of personalities normalizes and rationalizes a body culture built on a fear of the irrational.

The first point that Rainer makes describes the attempt of the Judson dancers to de-construct their selves, to submerge their personalities in order to consider and present the body as an object of study and experimentation. I refer to Rick Allsop in his seminar ‘Rethinking Physical Culture’.

This move leans towards an open field poetics that rejects the closures of modernism and suggests that the processes of art are not divorced from the processes of nature and our relationship to it. Allsop (1994)

The post modern dancers, with different aims from Tiller, found a similar solution, a submerging or neutralizing of personality, of organic or idiosyncratic (felt) difference. John Tiller wanted unity that paralleled his aspiration for a social harmony. The post modern dancers wanted to escape and dismantle a modernist ‘harmony’ and did so via a similar mode of presentation to which Tiller had aspired. Dorothy Vernon in her book Tiller’s Girls tells a story of Josephine Baker, who started working on the American vaudeville circuit at the age of thirteen. The Tiller girls, often a similar age would appear on the same circuit with Baker. About the Tiller girls Vernon notes,

They were filled with admiration for her highly individual personality; they had been trained to sink their personalities into the line and were happy to do so. Although they were in the same show and of the same age, they were worlds apart as women and performers. Burt (1988 p.96)

The post modern dancers submerged their personalities because they were trained within a highly codified system of expression which they desired to strip away in order to look again at ‘what was what’, with dance and with the body dancing. There was an attempt to return to the body as-it-is. These days, ideas of a ‘neutral’ self have become somewhat confused with ‘just being oneself’ on stage and this confusion is at the expense of self-expression. I would say Josephine Baker was ‘being herself’ on stage by expressing herself fully without fear of the irrational ‘natural’. The Tiller girls, in contrast were manifesting agoraphobia, a fear of the new spaces of modernity. What functions as an aesthetic and fashionable mode of presence, particularly in more scholarly live art practices leans more towards a ‘neutral’ self, more as a body that does not express, than a body ‘just being oneself’. To be neutral and to be ones self are two distinguishable modes of performing that are subtly and fundamentally different.

II) To be or not to be ‘being yourself’.

Many discourses about acting assume that they are expressing the truth, but most narratives foreground neither the process of constructing this “truth” nor the voice or specific position from which this (version of) “truth” is being constructed. To do so would reveal the fact that this “truth” is a particular version authored by a particular person for a particular audience in a particular place and time, and is thereby open to question and revision.
Zarrilli (1995 p.8)

If the performer is not practiced at being them on stage they could unwittingly display character without trying to become or make believe that they are a character through an unconscious physical anxiety or lack of preparation.

I will attempt to illuminate the ‘truths’ inscribed upon the performing body when it is presented as ‘being itself’ (readymade) in a live artwork. Expressing the truth implies that the performer must believe in what she is doing and be intent on making that truth believable for an audience. In this sense the performer’s ambition is to focus her attention on closing the gap between herself and the text-act. She submerges self into text-act and ‘fuses’ (becomes one) with it. If the text-act is a fictional character then she becomes this fictional character, her movements are the characters movements; her sweat is the characters sweat. This fusion of self and text-act in acting begins to describe naturalism or a naturalistic style. Acting training is most indelibly connected to the body communicating a truth. To consider the acting body in a traditional western theatre context a believable presence is one that convinces the spectator that the character is behaving as she would in ‘ordinary life’ within the given circumstances of the scene, or the fiction. Reading the performer who is ‘being herself’ through the language of theatre we could say she is working within a naturalistic acting style. She is ‘playing herself’ and attempts to act just as she would do in ordinary life. For the performer, where does the notion of ordinary life meet the real time state of affairs that she is actually in? When does she let-in, or negotiate the present tense of her performance act?

Conceptual live artwork presents itself as per formative. It works then, from the conceptual or theoretical premise that ‘truth’ is optional. In this case, the performer must work to expose the processes of truth as they are constructed in place, in time and to a particular gathered crowd. This is a real time state of affairs. The performer who is not acting, who is being themselves on stage, is being their self as they exist also; in a place, in time. The performer does not want the audience to ‘believe’ that they are any body other than themselves. But, this body has a past, and imagines a future. How does this body stay present in the here-and-now without beginning to speak (in the physical sense) about their past and their future? Do they attempt to control the ‘ordinary’ subtexts that are perpetually writing on and off bodies? The present body of the performer tells many truths and indeed many lies.

Russian Theatrician Constantin Stanislavski believed that the actors presence provided the subtext, the ‘in between the lines’ of the written text. He said,

It is superfluous to say that a word taken separately and devoid of inner content is nothing but an external name. The text of a part if it is made up of no more than that will be a series of empty sounds… Without subtext the words have no excuse for being presented on stage. When they are spoken the words come from the author, the subtext from the actor. If this were not so the public would not make the effort of coming to the theatre, they would sit at home and read the printed play.
Stanislavski in Huxley/Witts (1996 p.361)

For Stanislavski, the space between the author and the text is ‘filled in’ by the performer, by her presence. The fundamental difference between his acting style and this politic of presence of which I write, is that the naturalistic actor works behind a ‘fourth wall’. This theatrical term refers to a virtual wall that separates the audience’s space/time, from that of the play, or the events that are taking place on stage. The site of the event is split in two.

In terms of a performer exposing themselves to a real time state of affairs, we need to ignore for the moment the fourth wall problem and consider real time for the performer.  Stanislavski developed a rigorous methodology for the actor in training. Phillip Auslander writes that for Stanislavski

there is no question but that the presence of the actor’s self as the basis of performance is for him the source of truth in acting: he defines good acting as acting based on the performer’s own experience and emotions.
Auslander in Zarilli (1995 p.60)

A famous story from the Stanislavski School of Method acting tells us about ‘the pin in the curtain’ exercise.  Torstov, the teacher in this scenario gives a fictional frame to his students.

Here is the gist of it: Your mother has lost her job and her income; she has nothing to sell to pay for your tuition in dramatic school. In consequence you will be obliged to leave tomorrow. But a friend has come to your rescue. She has no cash to lend you, so she has brought you a brooch set in valuable stones. Her generous act has moved and excited you. Can you accept such a sacrifice? You cannot make up your mind. You try to refuse. Your friend sticks the pin into a curtain and walks out. You follow her into the corridor, where there is a long scene of persuasion, refusal, tears, and gratitude. In the end you accept, your friend leaves, and you come back into the room to get the brooch. But – where is it? A search ensues.
Stanislavski (1980 p.36)

I have quoted Torstov’s introduction to the exercise to illustrate the fictional frame he has ‘set up’. Here lies no instruction for the student as to how they will look for the pin in the curtain. I wish to compare this framing with any fictional or conceptual frame that a body has set-up around itself and purposefully blur here, the possible interpretations of fiction and concept. The writing above is not a sub-text that the spectator necessarily knows, and as-it-is functions as information, let us say as in a program note. The action that we see and that we are focusing on here is that of some body ‘looking for a pin in a curtain’.

Torstov tells his students that he will stick the pin in a fold of the curtain and that their task is to find it. I use the word task to align this exercise with work that might describe itself as task based (the body engaged in the activity just doing something).

Maria dashed on to the stage as if she had been chased. She ran to the edge of the footlights and then back again, holding her head with both hands, and writhing with terror. Then she came forward again, and then again went away, this time in the opposite direction. Rushing out toward the front she seized the folds of the curtain and shook them desperately, finally burying her head in them… she turned quickly and dashed off the stage, alternately holding her head or beating her breast, apparently to represent the general tragedy of the situation.
Stanislavski (1980 p.39)

The story goes on to tell us how Maria feels wonderful about her performance. Torstov is encouraging but then asks her to fetch him the brooch. Thinking that the exercise is over and that she must simply retrieve the brooch she begins looking for it in an entirely different way. Her relationship to looking for the brooch is ‘real’. There is still a ‘body feeling things’ being presented to Torstov and his students on stage, but it is utterly connected to the here-and-now actuality of having to find the pin. There is no ‘fiction’ on her body, she is not expressing herself or trying to, in a ‘naturalistic style’. She is however being ‘natural’ in the sense that she is engaged with a real task in real time. Torstov tells Maria that her first search was bad and that her second search was good. The story describes how Maria is stunned by this verdict and illustrates a psychological misunderstanding for Maria in terms of what she is feeling and of what some feelings look like. Everything that Maria did in her first search according to Tolstov “only interfered with a real search”. Stanislavski(1980 p.39) The idea of ‘natural’ in a performance where the performer is being her self seems to be that nothing ‘extra’ is added or occurs out of an extraneous amount of effort on behalf of the performer.

Stanislavski’s method was developed to train the actor for the naturalistic stage. Extracted out of this context it contains a real-ism that lends something to the aims of a performer who is being her self on stage. The frame changes drastically. Returning to the fourth wall, this splitting in two of the live event renders the site of performance in the naturalistic stage as almost two dimensional, a flat, moving picture which the audience only observes. For Stanislavski to be reconsidered for the conceptual performer we must stretch the site of the theatre and Stanislavski’s discussion of it, over the whole site, inclusive then, of the presence of the audience; the live bodies gathered within.

Lauren Love in her essay resisting the ‘Organic’ reasserts a dominant critique of the Stanislavski method by stating that it is a “liberal humanist discourse (which) privileges white, middle class male ideology as ‘natural’”. Love (in Zarrilli1995 p. 276) This ideological rejection of expression in the performing subject reveals a misconception in feminist critical theory. Stanislavski and the naturalistic theatre worked to fully express the playwright’s intentions. It was “the duty of the actor to grasp the meaning of the ruling idea for the sake of which the author wrote his play”. (ibid p.279) Loves privileged male is the author who presents a moving picture of his own ideology and dictates it to his audience as ‘truth’. If we extract Stanislavski’s theory of acting from the ideology in which it is embedded and reconsider it for an artist who has different, in fact oppositional intentions, we can shift the ideological frame and reaffirm Stanislavski’s method. A rejection of ideology has brought about an almost complete rejection of an expressive self in live artwork. Psychological expression attached as it is to an ideology of naturalism is slighted in post modern critical theory and conceptual performance. The post modern performer in reaction to modernism does not psychologically construct a character. She is however a psychological presence.

Method acting demands of the actor an emotional and psychological focus which prevents her from conceiving a given productions layers of meaning.

A ‘Methodite’, is to transform into the character – to live her moment to moment reality on stage. I am not in a position of reflection during performance – I am reacting to my environment… I must do not think. (ibid p.279)

Love is insistent in her opinion that such an obedience would indeed be a blind one. There is perhaps no sharper feminist criticism of this traditional approach to acting that (the) directive to the acting student to shut off her/his mind (ibid p.280)

Shifting the frame is specifically concerned with shifting our perception of the site of the live event. The temporality changes fundamentally for both performer and spectator. Love is speaking specifically about acting within a theatrical apparatus that manipulates and provokes intelligible meanings to the spectator. I concur with Loves position here but would add that when extracted out of this theatrical ideology it is exactly the living out, from moment to moment, the condition of being on stage that begins to illuminate the feminine as site in the performance act. Love communicates being fully in the present and committed to living it moment to moment as a mindless activity. I disagree and call this a submersion of mind into body and of mind body into site.

In An Actor Prepares Torstov is quoted as saying of “delicate and deep human feelings” that they

call for natural emotions at the very moment in which they appear before you in the flesh. They call for the direct co-operation of nature itself. Stanislavski (1980 p.23)

Joseph Chaikin states that “acting is a demonstration of self with or without a disguise”. Auslander (1977 p.60) If being oneself on stage is then, a demonstration of self without disguise, then we have to say that natural emotions will occur. I would rather call them ‘site-full emotions’. By this I mean emotions that happen in reaction to being exposed on stage, a performance anxiety in and of the event rather than memories or imagination. Does a performing body wish to repress these things that ‘come up’, and then, in a sense, repress site, or, let site occur in between the body and the text act, and allow this occurrence to be affective? The opposite of an expressing subject is one that blocks the natural processes that are happening to and from the body as it performs. An expressive subject is dislocating herself from the feeling of what is happening to her in a real time state of affairs. She is, in a sense, creating her own fourth wall. She is focusing on ‘what’ happens over ‘how’ things are happening.

As the performer enters space her many truths and subject enter with her. Torstov says: “It is important to know what you are feeling on the stage and this is because otherwise one will represent feelings, and this is mechanical acting” (ibid). For the performer in naturalistic theatre there is no effecting contact from the space on the other side of the fourth wall. The naturalistic actor knows what she is feeling on stage. It is her own feelings and emotions that will provide the subtext to the text and her belief is in the idea that she is a complete presence, complicit with herself. The naturalistic actor does not let in the whole site of theatre and therefore her emotional connection to the text act is not in real time but in suspended, fictional time. If her awareness of what she is feeling on stage is inclusive of the gathered crowd, of the whole site of the theatre, of the real time, she will necessarily be in this time: In the here-and-now. She will, in dent of this shift of consciousness, allow herself to become inscribed with optional truths, her subject(s) ‘open’ then, to revision. Stanislavski’s method prepares the performer who is going to enter the stage; it does not need to prepare or dictate the stage.

III) Being and not being; a dialogue.

The German theatre personality Bertolt Brecht was critically opposed to naturalistic theatre. Brecht recognized the need for a temporal shift in the construction and the performance of his plays. He developed a dialectic theatre that would denounce the didacticism of naturalism and succeed in creating a theatre that offered a simultaneous reading and commentary of events. The audience read a double writing of a play, which caused them to remain critical of the ‘facts’ and actions taking place before them. Brecht presented the play (text-act) as a ‘set up’. He simultaneously presented a commentary upon that set up. He stimulated a dialectic debate between two views. The spectator was constructed to think within and about the collision of these views. Brecht hated theatre that anaesthetized the audience, which cajoled them into believing that what they were seeing was ‘truth’. He wanted his plays to be performed in the here and now. He used devices which would constantly remind his audience that what they were seeing was ‘a play’ and not real life. He developed aesthetic devices that opened up the site of the theatrical event.

No implications, secrets, ambiguities, half-lights, but: facts, brilliant illumination, light into every corner, absence of feeling, no laughing with a catch in the throat. The theatre as craft rather than art: avoidance of private affairs – these should make a secondary appearance, emerge as self-evident. Willet(1977 p. 147)

What Brecht was essentially opposed to within the naturalistic theatre was the fourth wall and a subsequent pacification of an audience that was only ever invited to view the action from the other side of this wall. Brecht’s methods refused didacticism or an authorship that manipulates in order to construct an audience through emotional recognition. Brecht revolutionized theatre and is an integral part of the aesthetic cannon of contemporary performance. In Brechtian theatre actors remain on stage at all times often playing more than one character and doubling up as stage hands. Scenery would be scant and basic, representative rather than imitating the real thing. Only basic theatrical lighting was used. This describes very well the look of Experimental theatre in the decades that have followed.

For Brecht, “theatre consists of the production of living illustrations of historical or imagined occurrences between people”. Brecht in Zarrilli (1995 p.230) It is not truth that lies at the heart of his theatrical productions but fable. For Brecht, the original text of the play and its interpretational re-composition were both presented as fabric due to their proximity and thus relation to one another. In other words there is a frame; the story, the historical or imagined occurrences between people. Then there is what we could call a meta-frame; the living illustration. This meta-frame is the event, the moment of translation. Brecht’s concept of Verfremdung is held herein. John Rouse, in his essay ‘Brecht and the contradictory actor’ (ibid) translates the word not into ‘alienation’ or ‘distancing’, which are popular interpretations, but instead chooses the word “defamiliarisation” and states that for Brecht “a spectator will not think about anything happening on stage if cliché conventions or a mistaken naturalism make what is happening appear too familiar”. (ibid p.234)

Brecht is important to a discussion of presence and real time because of the way he constructs the site of theatre as a living site. The ‘truth’ or the autonomy of a text is not supported by the event in which it takes place. Rather ‘a’ truth is presented, and indeed illustrated as being open for revision in the live event. Brecht’s Verfremdung shifts the temporality of the stage to one that exists here and now in difference to how it existed in the past and how it will exist in the future.

Brecht did not produce a methodology of acting for the stage in physical and psychological exercises but was thorough in his critical positioning of the actor towards the text. He made the revolutionary step of positioning the actors in the same place as the audience. The actor is both performing the play and visibly observing her own performing. Brecht’s Verfremdung sets up for the performer a dualism, two separate and simultaneous roles. One is the character in the play; the other is different to and critical of the character in the play. One presents a ‘truth’ as true to the playwright’s intentions and the other disrupts and so comments on this ‘truth’. Truth then, becomes optional for the audience. Again, as with his audience, Brecht’s actors are themselves jolted out of any possibility of empathizing or emotively falling into the character they are playing (they must play more than one character, change scenery between scenes, sing a song etc).  This is the state of the double-bodied performer. A performer wishing to engage with the real time state of site needs to be in at least two minds: One concentrating on completing a score of pre-determined actions, the other in the room, aware of the here-and-now.

Stanislavski’s method physically prepared his actors to be in real-time but then defined or dictated and constructed a fictional time around them via the story of the play. This space and time is exclusive of the whole site, separated from it by a fourth wall. The performers site is in a fictional time. Stanislavski discusses the expressive subject. I wish to push the site of the contemporary live art event towards a reconsideration of expression for the sake of revealing the transformative powers of ‘site’. I speak about Brecht to introduce a state of plurality into the performing subject(s).

IV) Showing off. The Charismatic Actor

Bert O. States in his essay The Actor’s Presence examines three phenomenal modes of performing and I refer to the Self Expressive mode here. In brief the self- expressive mode can be described as “our awareness of the artist in the actor”. States in Zarrilli(ibid p.26) States refers to the classic and ‘well known’ characters from Shakespeare’s plays and how audiences travel to see certain actors ‘do’ Richard II (for example). In this case theatre is an event charged with the competition between actor and character.  States says that “the extent that one (goes) to the theatre to see (certain actors)… one would be ‘listening’ in the self-expressive mode”. (ibid p.25) In these situations when the text-act is well known to an audience, the audience is often there to see the great actor contend with this task. In other words the performer is saying ‘see what I can do’, they are encouraged and allowed to show off their skills. The audience might observe this event as they would a sporting event. The performer breaks new records in their ability to innovate classical texts. The re-interpretation of known works has provided vehicles for self expression in what States cynically calls the Star System; Hamlet by Sarah Bernhardt, for example, provides an opportunity for Bernhardt to flex her acting muscle in an acrobatic display of dexterous, flawless skill. This ego led event, this desire for awe inspired mastery has led to post modern artist’s reaction against self-expression.

Self-expression has been suspended from contemporary live artwork. The body on stage is often a ‘representation’ of ‘the’ self more than it is a presentation of ‘my’ self. However, I suggest that much contemporary live art constructs an audience in this self-expressive mode. It is not to demonstrate how masterfully they can recite the classics, but it is asking the audience to consider “this body, my body, and all it can do in the new world order of the 21st century”. Keidan(2002 p.2) The contemporary live artist often invites the audience to view themselves without disguise. This does not mean that they are without guise.

Self-expression conjures up images of showing off, of self-centeredness. I wish throughout this essay to reconsider self-expression. By considering the double-bodied state of the performer, and thus having to reconsider self as at least two, one ‘part’ being in collusion with the real time state of affairs – then self expression is no longer necessarily an expression of ones autonomy and interiority. Neither is it an expression or an imposition of ones private thoughts and feelings upon others. Self-expression, when the self is no longer the self as a singular subject, is expressing site and the social. The collective event becomes luminal. Victor Turners words are astute in describing its value.

Men and women forget the elementary rules of conduct.
They attend to the wants of nature in the same places, which is taboo under ordinary circumstances. “Nau, a wa ha tiyi, “- The law is no longer in force… All the things of the flesh … are being brought to the fore of social attention, the pleasurable to be indulged in, and the politically and legally unjust to be given a long hard look. Turner (in Benamou/Carmello 1977 p.38)

This expression of self, within the luminal event is a presence, submission of self into the temporary collective coalition of a particular gathered crowd. Public liminality has often been regarded as dangerous by whatever powers that be that represent and preside over established structures.  Turner says that,

Public liminality can never be tranquilly regarded as a safety valve, mere catharsis, ‘letting off steam’, rather it is communities weighing structure, sometimes finding it wanting, and proposing in however extravagant a form new paradigms and models which invert or subvert the old. (ibid p.39)

Post modern neutrality attempted a disengagement of self from act, a purposeful ambivalence towards mastery. Something too awesome might anaesthetize the audience in the same way as a ‘believable’ character might. Throughout this thesis I make an appeal for a new renaissance. It is time to re-evaluate expression. For this reason I will critique a mode of being on stage for its political correctness and its impersonality, its neutrality. This self is edited and defensive against an inevitable spillage that might be mistaken for self-expression and so be in danger of advocating a rejected theatrical style, such as naturalism. Our society now has almost completely lost its innocence. Nothing is safe or sure. We no longer know what to believe. Is it time to turn back to our feelings, our flesh?

Chapter 3

Authorship – In the matter of life and death

I am writing for the performer in training a methodology of how one might consider ones own presence on stage. This methodology writes into the gaps present in theory and in practice with regard to the live event and to the body that performs within. In this chapter I take Roland Barthes’ literary idea of author and his political call for The Death of the Author’(1977) and transpose it for the live artist who is both author and performer of her own artwork. This is in order to discuss how she might begin to mediate her own presence within that artwork.

In his essay The Death of the Author, Barthes challenges the author in literature. I will parallel Barthes’ literary author and his desired absence of the person of the author from the work, to the live performer, sitting her person as present and fundamentally irremovable from the text of a live event. I suggest in this chapter, working on the premise that how one is present in an artwork is political and significant in the production of meaning in that artwork. I deconstruct Barthes’ literary death in order to illustrate how a performer cannot ‘die’ in Barthes’ sense unless they are first performing in the present tense.

Our comparative relationship is this:


Barthes describes the author as “a modern figure, a product of our society insofar as … it discovered the prestige of the individual, of, as it is more nobly put, the ‘human person”. Barthes then says of literature “It is thus logical … it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the ‘person’ of the author”.  Barthes (1977 p.143) Barthes is concerned with “restoring the place of the reader” in modern literature. (ibid) The question that I pose in this chapter is how does a performer mediate her own presence in order to restore the place of the reader in a live event?

The image of literature to be found in ordinary culture is tyrannically centered on the author, his person, his life, his tastes, his passions… The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through their more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us. (ibid)

The person of the author is the origin of a literary work. Of course there is always a hand that puts pen to paper and writes. There is always, in this sense an author. Barthes critiques an author who uses the text as a way to speak for or about herself. To remove the person from the literary work is to destroy a traceable point of origin and also then to remove a desire or need in the spectator to trace. To destroy the author is to destroy the function or purpose of trace-ability as “the whole of the enunciation is an empty process, functioning perfectly without there being any need for it to be filled with the person of the interlocutors”. (ibid p.145) The death of the author as I understand it, is the presentation of a text in such a way that does not incite the reader to look towards the author of that text in order to find out what the text means. It is a way of presenting a text that demands the reader to consider the text and ultimately their own relationship with or experience of it.  I wish to state that an author’s conscious decision to remove their person from their work, and their ambition to provide an open text for the reader is already an indication of that authors life, tastes and passions. The want to construct a situation whereby the reader writes is in itself a political one and says something therefore about the author. There is in the first place a politic of presence that has been preferred. In respect of this politic I add that the death of the author is ‘(re)/presentation’without intent to educate or impose the reader’. The Author in the first place takes an authoritative position, and secondly through a set of presumptions falsely assumes a knowing of her reader.

Writing is that neutral, composite, oblique space where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing. ibid(1977 p.142)

In respect of the live event we must also approach the death of the author by removing not so much ones identity from the writing but rather the idea of singular body writing. In other words one could destroy a singular point of origin by presenting or activating multiple origins. In a live event we must look towards the whole space of the theatre and the collected bodies within.

The idea of collective or communal creative drive is quite important. I think that is a deeply political position to take. In relation to that but also a separate political dynamic that is carrying allot, in fact… the work… carries something… that is this openness, it generates spaces rather than closures. I think this is a really simple politic, but as far as I am concerned is the most important one – it is against consuming – it demands allot from the audience – it demands that you work as hard as the person making the work. That’s what makes people say that some work is exclusive, but it isn’t exclusive, it’s just that people don’t have the opportunity to get into a position where they can work that hard. It’s important that we make work which pushes away a consumerist politic”. Lynch (Practicing Presence 2001)

In his essay, Barthes’ analysis moves between the text and the reader. It is the text itself that is scrutinized by Barthes. In order to discuss authorship within the live performance event and to write this towards the performing body we must consider the text in the first place as it becomes written upon the space of the performance by the performer. It is the movement between the performer and the text that I focus on now. To consider the author within live artwork (and by this I mean all art work that employs a live presence) we must consider performing synonymous with writing. I will look not to the text but to the relationship between the performer and the text. This is an investigation into the act of writing.

I begin with Barthes’ image of the text which functions as a transparent allegory. I suggest that for the live event the way the performer performs their text-act holds more significance than the text-act itself in terms of constructing an ultimately per formative relationship to the text-act for the reader-spectator. The body(s) of the artist-author-performer is present. No matter how much the text-act is predetermined or how much a body is constructed and focused on performing a text act, there is a leap from one to the other and this takes place in real time by a body that is experiencing, consciously or less so. In a live event, the author may be conceptually and theoretically ‘written out’. The author may secure devices and concepts in and around the performing body that serve to communicate to an audience that the text-act is ‘open’. However, the death of the author cannot be constructed into the text-act. Even if the death of the author was the theme of a live work, ‘death’ will not happen if the performing body does not consciously enter the realm and condition of the live whereby the “temporality is different… every text is eternally written here and now”. Barthes (1977 p.145)

Barthes introduces per formative:

“a rare verbal form (exclusively given in the first person and in the present tense) in which the enunciation has no other content (contains no other proposition) than the act by which it is uttered”. (ibid p.146)

Barthes is concerned with the construction of a text in such a way that it remains open for the reader to gain access, to write her into the text.


When we refer to the live event we need to fold our comparative view of the act of writing.


Peggy Phelan states that:

“The interaction between the art object and the spectator is, essentially per formative and therefore resistant to the claims of validity and accuracy endemic to the discourse of reproduction”. Phelan (1993 p.147)

Phelan supports Barthes affirmation that once the author is removed, “the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile”. If one authors a text then, a limit is imposed on its potential for significance. One closes the writing. For the performer, the only way to ultimately refuse authority is to have a per formative relationship to the text act also. In this sense, a performer needs to read as well as write, or needs to spectator as well as perform. She must, through the mediation of her own presence, induce a performativity within the reader. Writing begins with the performing authors own submission or indeed ‘death’. The “the modern scripter” is “born simultaneously with the text” and “is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing”. Barthes (1977 p.145) the performer is writing live, weaving a line into the fabric of a social space. The body of the performer is interlocked with the body of the spectator through recognition of oneself as being part of the place of performance. The site of performance is not the body, or even a focus on ones own body as a singular entity. The whole space is an absence of self as a singular notion and does not describe the ‘person’ of the author or the ‘person’ of the reader but rather blows open, fragments and interlocks the persons; the personal into the social. Presence (present-ness) announces the people of the author – the plural – the multiplied line.

But what is a stage which presents nothing to the sight? It is the place where the spectator, presenting himself as a spectacle, will no longer be either seer (voyant) or voyeur, will efface within himself the difference between the actor and the spectator, the represented and the represented, the object seen and the seeing object. With that difference, an entire series of oppositions will de constitute them one by one. Presence will be full, not as an object which is present to be seen, to give itself to intuition as an empirical unit or as an exodus holding itself in front of or up against; it will be full as the intimacy of a self-presence, as the consciousness or the sentiment of self-proximity, of self-sameness (propriete).” Jacque Derrida (in Zarrilli 1995 p.33)

In the live event I suggest that the performing body is the first site for the spectator’s inquisitive gaze. It is towards the body that performs that they will look first. The performing body is in a critical position due to the fact that, as Barthes says, the witness will be “determined to listen to (their) relation with the body of the man or woman singing or playing”. Barthes goes on to say that.

This relationship is erotic, but in no way subjective… The evaluation will be made outside any law, outplaying not only the law of culture but equally that of anti culture, developing beyond the subject all the value hidden behind ‘I like’ or ‘I don’t like’. Barthes (1977 p.188)

A per formative relationship for the spectator must begin with the per formative relationship within the body writing and what is being written. The performer must work to shift the spectator’s focus away from his or her own body as site and towards the space of performance as site. Places in which all present are a part. And then, what can she say about that space? What is the potential for knowing about a site in which we are all living, and dying from moment to moment; occurring?

It is here that I choose to set up improvisation as a practice that (amongst many things that it does and can do) trains the performing body to consider the real time nature of performing (or writing). Improvisation in its simplest definition has no pre determined plan and no pre determined goal. It is the practice of writing in real time. It is a temporal practice which asks the performing body to be in the condition of the here and now. To achieve a present-ness this considers neither past nor future. For the performer, only when she acknowledges the space and time of her performing can that the text-act can be liberated in what Bathes calls an ‘anti theological’ activity.

An activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypo stases – reason, science, law. (ibid p.147)

To achieve a state of performing in the present tense I imagine a double body, a split consciousness, which does not half, but multiples my sense of awareness; this play forces a displacement of the fringe of contact between what happens and how it comes to happen. When I perform I am oscillating between (at least) two bodies. There is ‘me’ performing, signifying, committing. There is ‘me’ receiving information, a receptor, my mind put amongst the collective energies of a gathered crowd. When I invite a public to witness my performance act I have authored this act. I have made and I am making it happen. I bring my text-act into the site, and this material is, governed by my own principles and laws, as author. My performing occurs out of the principles and laws governing the whole space of the event and so contaminated by the collective presence of all bodies within. The author must coexist between writing ‘what she came here to write’ and reading her own writing as it occurs within the condition of things as they unfold in real time.

In his essay ‘Lesson In Writing’ Barthes writes that:

The reign of the quotation, the pinch of writing, the fragment of code, none of the promoters of the action being able to take responsibility in his own person for what he is never alone in writing… the stressing of codes, references, discontinuous observations, anthological gestures, multiplies the written line.  (ibid p.172)

Barthes speaks again about a disconnection of the author from a locatable ‘origin’ or ‘person’ in his essay The Grain of the Voice. (ibid p.179) He refers to vocal music and outlines a part, “the very precise space (genre) of the encounter between a language and a voice”. (ibid p.181) The grain is the name that Barthes gives to this space of “significance” and positions the voice in “a dual posture, a dual production of language and music”. I am paralleling this dual posture with the double-bodied state of the performer, which initially must exist as a consciousness of this duality, an intentional focus for the performing body.  The performer is on the one hand part of the object (that which has entered) of her performance and on the other; she is part of the site (there where she enters) of her performance.

The grain is “the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue; perhaps the letter, almost certainly significance”. (ibid p.182)

The person who wishes to put themselves in their own artwork as part of that artwork but who does not wish to author her work in a modernist sense needs to physically understand the grain in order to relinquish responsibility for their actions, optimizing the potential of what those actions might come to mean. That person wishes to stimulate, by an activity of rubbing against, another. They wish to move towards a mode of presence which will exceed a self referential play between signifier and signified, and move into an un ending, procession play of significance, the effects or consequence of which the performer does not seek to know or control. It is a dynamically implied or enforced destination in time that will identify the person of the performer.

The death of the Author is a paradoxical state for the performing body. ‘Author’ is a position from which the performer moves towards and away, departs and returns continually as writer and as reader of the text-act. There is a submission that is essential in order to let events unfold without leading the writing, without dictating it. This submission is conscious and authored by the performing artist.

The performer is placed as both signifier and signified. The relationship between the signifier and the signified is arbitrary only in the sense that it is not absolute. The process of relating though need not be rendered ultimately subjective or personal. The grain, for Barthes refers to what he acknowledges as the “apparently abstract side, the impossible account of an individual thrill” or rather an experience of listening. (ibid p.181) For the performer, experiencing her self-performing, this inspection is useful as it gives us an image of an oscillating movement between ‘private’ and ‘social’. Here I might appropriately use any number of ‘oppositions’: action – reaction, speaking – hearing, past – future. There is‘energy’, a potency which is generated through this oscillation. If a performer focuses in too directly on her text-act (if she acts and speaks from her past and of her future) she will not ‘let in’ the present. She will only signify and thus presence, (or the live event will be reduced to) an irritation, a cough in the audience, a heckle, a mislaid prop.

Our focus is the hyphen itself. In language not an utterance, not a ‘this’ or a ‘that’, but a suspension, a tension that dissolves, that is the blur of any finite distinction between one and another. This hyphen or this oscillating play is spatial. As it concerns the live event it includes the lived space that the performing body inhabits. So, for this writing, the image of the double- body is necessary only long enough for us to understand that the space the body inhabits is part of, or gets in between what signifies and what is signified. Between the signifier and the signified the event occurs. The live performer is present: not neither but both signifier and signified. Presence is firstly a loss of self as a singular idea. One is not absent; rather one has a pluralistic presence.

For the performer I ask for a critical and practical awareness of their relationship with themselves as author, and with authorship.  Barthes refers us back to Brecht’s ‘veritable distancing’, his Verfremdung, speaking about the author being ‘distant’ “like a figurine at the far end of the literary stage”. (ibid p.145) However, he also says that the author needs to be “born simultaneously with the text”, there is no past, no future, the text “eternally written in the here and now”. In the sense I wish to reconsider Barthes’ image and to take quite literally the notion of ‘distant’ for a performer. To distance herself she would need to have a chosen point of origin from which to be ‘distant’. I take the word literally because it is taken literally in much live artwork that I see. I see an interpretation by the performing body, almost an illustration of ‘distant’ that seems to have become a post modern ‘style’; the performer has a ‘distant’ look, she is remote in her manner, possibly aloof. The notion of distance if understood literally by the performer will easily serve to separate the performer from the time and space they are in. This brings us back to the introduction to this paper and to a discussion of ‘neutrality’ as a mode of performance that whilst having no practical methodology, has become aesthetics. Ultimately, this mode of presence hopes for but never reaches a real engagement with site. I suggest that the author, in order to ‘die’ must consider death as an expansion not a removal. ‘She’ is everywhere.  Her attention is peripheral and heightened. Death of the author is not a removal of the author but a presenting of the author expanding, covering the whole space of performance, exploding almost in full Technicolor into the eye of the spectator, into the whole space of the event.

Barthes uses Julia Kristeva’s theoretical distinction between the phenol-text and the geno-text to enable a theoretical disengagement of the ‘grain’ from acknowledged values of, in this case, vocal music.

The pheno song “covers all the phenomena, all the features which belong to the structure of the language being sung, the rules of the genre… the style of interpretation: in short everything in the performance which is in the service of communication, representation, expression”.  The geno-song is “the volume of the singing and speaking voice, the space where significations germinate from within language and in its very materiality; it forms a signifying play having nothing to do with communication, representation or expression… it is, in a very simple word but which must be taken seriously, the diction of the language”. (ibid p.182)

The distinction between the pheno-song and the geno-song which is useful for the performing body to consider is that the first serves to communicate and to express something whilst the latter attends more directly to the performing of a text without communicating anything above or beyond that text through ones own performing of it. The pheno-song is such that the person of the performer relates and thus expresses her own relationship to the text whereas the geno-song describes a relationship with ones body as it performs.

I will briefly describe two examples of performance that in the first instance of describing what they do fall side by side into category, genre and style.  As part of the luminal institute festival in Berlin in 2001 two vocal artists performed. One was Grainne Cullen , the other Sarah Francis. Both of these performers appeared in the same performance space as unaccompanied solo vocalists. Both were framed in space by a single spotlight. Both performers were technically of a high standard with a similar range and ability. Neither performed from a pre determined score. Both ‘pieces’ became written live, out of choices made by the performers in real time. In the event of writing critically after these performances it is clear to see how they appear common to one another. A shared categorization is easily imposed if I only speak of the event by describing what it was. However, these two performances and indeed these two performers are worlds apart.

In respect to the pheno-song, Francis is irreproachable, but to borrow again Barthes’ words, “here is the soul which accompanies the song, not the body”. (ibid p.183) Francis, as a performer, excluded her spectators writing from her own. Her presence told us how her song felt for her. We, her present readers, could only behold her undeniably impressive performing. Francis illustrates as she performs the feeling of what happens, of what is happening to her.

Cullen describes her own performances as ‘intense explorations of the intra-action of voice/body’. She approaches and tests her own body frame as an architectural site for vocal production, placing/directing the voice to various resonating chambers. Cullen commits herself to all the processes of enunciation with what Barthes might call an expressive reduction. She says herself that her work is very formal and this sense of formality might come from the very specific perimeters she sets herself when she performs. She is though, however formally, quite clearly improvising. When she speaks about how sound is being made in her body, she describes it as a two way process: she makes a sound, listens to it and it instructs where and how the next sound should happen. For Cullen there is space between her voice and her body and there is most certainly time. Waiting is part of the process central to her vocal production. For Cullen this is not a spiritual/emotional experience, she does not use mental imagery or memory or fantasy to inspire her next sound. She sees the room she is in. She listens to how her voice sounds as it hits the wall and creates an echo, as it cracks or trembles from the dust in her throat. Within the performing of her scores there is a process of choice making in real time. She looks at me and I know she sees me. It is clear that there is a double- bodied state of consciousness for Cullen when she performs.

What transpires physically is so subtle and so fundamental to her ability to open a text which is so intrinsically produced by a very intimate relating to her own body. I can see her listening to her own voice.  I can watch her body preparing, coping, and waiting. This solid, almost matter of fact physical presence holds the weight of the powerful image and sound that Cullen is creating and at the same time not expressing but being expressed. Cullen works within an improvisational space; or rather she acknowledges and works consciously in a real time state of affairs. Her process of experiencing something, listening, responding, is an improvisational process set within a rigid structure.

It is transitive/open as opposed to static/closed. I have heard so many different images related back to me after a performance by Cullen, writings and experiences of the work that are neither imposed nor censored by her.

The mode of presence that Francis adopts we must assume in a professional capacity to be a choice. We must assume that it is her intention to seduce her audience with her performance. This is a desire, an ambition that might succeed on some and fail on others. I do not wish to dictate how a performer puts herself in front of her public but must emphasis that if one chooses to write in the domain of the live, if lived space is the medium of ones choice then how one chooses to place ones body in there is a political one. Cullen’s intent did not seduce me, but colluded, implied and involved me.  To place ones consciousness between ones self as signifier and signified, as performer and spectator, or finally as hyphen in between these oppositions is to introduce site as a genre itself; the genre of encounter, of liquidation; the grain.  In the translation of these performances from live to recorded mediums it is very possible that Francis would here become preferable. Something is lost in the recording of Cullen’s performance. That is, the live event itself. Because Francis does not submit her performance into the live, she is possibly more totally preserved in a recording.

Between the writer(s) and the written “nothing occurs to interfere with the signifier”. (ibid) We can say now that No Thing occurs, or rather site occurs. In the language of criticism, when ‘described’, the works of Francis and Cullen sit in close proximity to one another. When their presence is considered as a political and affective organizing tool, their work must be read as almost oppositional.  Barthes speaks himself of the grain as a genre between the voice and language. There is a lack of writing towards lived social spaces and spatial culture, possibly because the only way these texts could become written is collectively as dialogues, as collaborations, with multiple lines from multiple points of origin. It is because one could never write towards a point but would have to submit, in part, to a lack of knowledge or only ever a partial knowledge about the subject(s) of enquiry.

For the two vocalists I have mentioned I could borrow Barthes’ paradigm; “there is one whom I like very much (although (she) is no longer heard), the other very little (although one hears no one but (her)”. (ibid p.181) This sentence plays between two levels. On a micro level, the idea that ‘she’ is no longer heard illuminates the whole space of performance as active. The body is the whole site of which Cullen’s body is consciously a part. Cullen’s body produces sound into and out of the space we are all in. She submits her body as vessel, as a means of interlocking the entire space and time of the performance and as a spectator I am allowed in, allowed my own personal and private meaning. With Francis, in opposition, all I can hear is ‘her’, her feelings, her meaning is signified and I am uninvolved. Her body is a temple not a vessel.  On a macro level we can easily see how the place of the author remains dominant in our cultural values. In contemporary culture we still fix too much attention on the body as site, rather than the body as part of site.

Barthes contextualizes the grain into an art history saying that “the whole of musical pedagogy teaches not the culture of the ‘grain’ of the voice but the emotive modes of its delivery”. (ibid p.183) The grain occurs when presence exceeds this culture. Barthes says of the pheno-song that it will not move us to jouissance. Jouissance remains un-translated from the French language that Kristeva first wrote it. This is because ‘no thing’ exists in the English language which quite explains its meaning. The word suggests a ‘loss’ but also a pleasure of the loss of self as a singular notion or entity. The movement between signifier and signified is at once totally abstract and as it passes through a lived space, totally material. Jouissance is a transformative moment for the experiencing body as it moves in and out of site/sight. It is a loss of ones own ‘subject’, fragmented but in the sense that it is multiplied, spread over, and engaged with the present as a “space of pleasure, of thrill, a site where language works for nothing”. (ibid p.188) Here language works for ‘No Thing’, or rather for site. Jouissance is a social pleasure; it is a brief loss of identity as a singular being and a submission into a social body, into liminality.

Through my experience of performing my body has become more articulate and know better this state of ‘play’. What I have understood is that I will never know it fully. In the moments when I have panicked, resulting self conscious thought, a clinging on to some alien sense of ‘I know what I am doing’ – when my ego, exposed, has failed to cope with its on position, I have felt the live die. All that is left in these moments is I lost, and a broken bridge, my audience lost, and nobody knowing where to look. Like in a conversation, when without thinking (out of nervousness or naivety) I have said something wrong. Instead of admission, or silence, or letting time pass, I panic and say more, keep saying more and more in an attempt to rectify my wrongness, and I bury myself in a hole full of things I do not ‘mean’ but in which my flailing body is trying to ‘pretend’ meaning, to save itself. There is no live art work which, however ‘open’ in its construction in terms of its inviting the audience into a position of reader, places the performer in a less ‘tyrannical’ position.

I wish to end my comparison between these two vocalists by mentioning how their own presence affects the space through the idea of ‘mistake’. I suggest that Francis is more likely to suffer ‘mistakes’ because her mode of presence is not ‘open’ to the occurrence of lived space within her and her text-act. For Cullen, in the words of John Cage:

“Value judgments are not in the nature of (her) work either as regards to composition, performance, or listening. The idea of relation … being (that) anything may happen. A ‘mistake’ is beside the point, for once anything happens, it authentically is”. Cage (1990 p.107)

There is no emphasis for Cullen on leading the audience towards a desired response – there is instead a construction of the viewer to experience the whole space of the theatre including their own presence, as part of the performance act. The value of a work is not placed upon a successful construction, i.e., the text-act does not hold a primacy in the work. Rather it is open, in that it pursues a presencing of the spaces around the text-act. ‘Meaning’ is substituted to induce an experience as authored by the receptor. The relevant ‘body’ is the collective social body. There is, in the performer always ambivalence, a coexistence of opposition and conflict between a presence and a dilution, a fluidity of presence. One does not attempt to remove oneself from the whole picture, but one becomes (and thus incites the spectator to become) part of the whole. A useful question that a performing artist might ask themselves is whether or not something could ‘go wrong’ with their intended performance once it is placed into the unpredictable live domain or is the construction of ones text-act willing to be de/reconstructed in the live domain?

Performances major contribution to knowledge falls outside of the existing structures of language, aesthetics and certainly of documentation. Contemporary philosophical and literary debates surrounding the body often seem to ‘block out’ the body as it is lived live. ‘The body’ is removed from time and space, from local, lived contexts. When we discuss mind and body, the relationship between them is not social, lived, temporal space. In our criticism and our analysis, in order to discuss the body we need to consider the constructive frames through which we write. Is there really any reason to imagine a body outside or set apart (distanced) from the context in which it is occurring? In contemporary live art practice there is an over emphasis on the body-as-site.

Improvisation is a way we can approach the movement between thinking and doing. This movement is improvised. It is a leap (of faith). Consider the sense of time between the ideas of reaction and action. The first is immediate, instinctive, the latter is placed in time and a choice has been made. Consider site, the site that gets in between thinking and doing. Site is not abstract, it is material, and site is a condition that we are all in. Unique to the live artist, and to the live domain, is a consideration of time and simultaneity of multiple writings. The site of their enquiry is the space and time that their text-act occurs within. This occurrence is always a first time thing. An action performed then is never anything and so never known, before it happens. When a set score or text is repeated ten times, the tenth time it is performed is the first time it is performed the tenth time.

Within the performance act, the author is present and dying simultaneously, from moment to moment and a successful ‘death’ is dependent on the level and quality of engagement invested by the performer into the text. Mina Kaylan in her essay The Performance Act  writes a description of this engagement. The term Presence, she says, often connotes a ‘mystifying and metaphysical quality of being, an essence ascribed to the person of the individual actor or performer. Kaylan (1991 p.48) This ‘quality’ is eternally ambiguous and does not easily invite critical enquiry. When one is approaching the site of performance then presence is a poetics of embodied space. The hyphen drawn between the performer and their text-act is marking the place that presence is.

As a performer, I do not imagine my body to be the site of my enquiry. My body is a dynamic element within site. The presence of my body within my work serves to perform a relationship to and a reflexive position within whatever context has been ‘set up’. I build a frame around my body and invite a reading of ‘place’ as occupied and contaminated by ‘bodies’. In other words my body ‘practices place’. There is something that is almost polemical to what can be understood from a body -as- site. The body here foregrounds – makes primary a ‘pushing away’, off the body towards place and towards place embodied: Place as Body.  Therefore the witness is invited to invest in the social event: in the social, considering them selves as an active and affective part of an event.  The body is part of site, and a reflective and reflexive, organizing tool that works to presence the infinite circuitry of shifting connections and relationships that take place as part of the social (whole) body. Frame building is one major craft of the contemporary live artist; constructing a clear conceptual/fictional frame allows for a critical dialectic space within. It is the constructions and the concepts that map out the artists chosen site of enquiry. Site becomes the event. The writing of live art loses ‘site’ due to an over emphasis on the artist’s body-as-site.

Kaylan states that:
“The main problematic in investigating presence as an element in the signification process of live performance is the difficulty of placing it within the categories of analysis already offered by contemporary critical theory.” (ibid p.48)

It is necessary to stress how easily writing about the performance act can slip into the discussion of criticism – of the problematic of ‘recording presence’ as different, but constantly falling into my attempts to speak about the performance act. In terms of ‘presence’ – the grain, the geno-text, semiotic consciousness – are all assimilated from criticism, all appeal to the live presence of the reader. There must be then, writing towards the poetics of space that for the performing body becomes a poetic of self(s). Performance Studies needs a clear distinction between an imagined science of space on the one hand and an experiential knowledge of the production of space on the other, of negotiating the tension between structural/symbolic and local/illustrative explanations.

What makes the live arts unique is writing into a social present; writing as performance; a multiple writing that occurs from within an embodied site. It is strange then that within criticism the person of the author, her subjectivity, is held back or written out. It seems necessary to reconsider her person(s). I have set up the performing body as being at least double in its function within a live event. Performance theory, as a critical text, is nervous about writing the ‘self’. There is an understandable mistrust of sitting any ‘first person’ with regards to writing after the event, but subjectivity is a mode of analysis. Performance theory functions as a critical language that avoids reference to ‘self’ because it is a complex, unsophisticated or unreliable writing. However, if a performing body wishes to negotiate their own death in performance they must first come to critical terms with their own live presence. Unless presence can be discussed as part of a semiotic language, all we are left with is the singular person of the performer. The singular body is caught in our sight deferring of the plural body(s) existing fluidly and temporarily in site. The presence of the performer, if not acknowledged by the performer as critical and signifying will perpetuate paradoxically a ‘tyrannical centering on the author’. The actuality of site will be deferred, written out and filled in by the author. Thinking locally, personally, prevents us from disassociating ourselves from these potentially instantiating theories of space. We need models of habitation that respect the somatic and affective integrity of our existence.

When we draw Barthes’ critique of the author towards the live act, the author is present. A performers presence will serve to make the text-act transparent to the extent that they, the (single) person, can be seen through the text-act they perform. Their own sense of ‘self’ as constructed by the presence of a gathered crowd is effective. His life, his tastes and his passions will contaminate the unprotected text-act. Death of the author, for Barthes, is “to reach that point where only language acts, ‘performs’, and not ‘me’”. Barthes (1977 p.143) This death restores the place of the reader.

I have to negotiate death and life in order to not close my text-act, to not let it slip into a purely visual, semiotic reading, or, into an account of the personal, the charismatic ‘me’. I recognize the tyranny of authority within the production of a live artwork and through this recognition see the importance of considering how ‘I’ exist within it. On the one hand ‘I’ have intention, I will carry out the activities that I came here to do. This ‘me’ will get on with the job at hand, to perform the job as well as possible. Another me is whatever falls outside a construction or an idea in the moment of its becoming. I take in my audience, I am at the same time as quiet, anterior to the performance act itself, also front lining, exposed to the unpredictability of a gathered crowd and the unknown factors at play within the live event. This exposure I believe, incites an exposure of the reader, induces their reception, their own agency. If the performing body is not conscious of this ‘unknown’, particularly in an artwork that is explicitly exposing that body, then the presence of that body is in danger of undoing its own artistic and conceptual intent I will try to know.  We are reconsidering the person of the author, not as a key to meaning, but as a pluralistic member, an interlocutor, which makes luminal this notion. Recent critical theory has reduced subjectivity to a spatial dimension, yet it is through time that a sense of self and agency occurs. The author will not die until she first knows how to live.

Chapter 4
Something in the way “she” moves

The language of a performing performer is a lived language.
A performer’s identity is embodied in her language.
She exists in the moment.
Hers is an immediately experienced reality.
She has no illusion or re-creation.
The performing performer does not describe her experience: she lives it, live.

This chapter writes through Luce Irigaray’s essay This Sex Which Is Not One (1977) extending into a dialogic play between site and body(s). Theories of liminality, performativity and the practice of improvisation all pertain to the collaborative or rather to ‘author’ as a collective idea.

I am writing towards a pluralistic self(s) (she has a relationship with that thing and she has a relationship with herself relating to that thing). I write the body as part of site through Irigaray, to discuss space occupied by body(s) and eventually time (the here-and-now) as a dynamic player within site.

I am re-introducing the gap between performer and text-activity. The political, cultural and social effects of ones body performing are overlooked due to the allusive nature of presence and its slippage through language.  I will scrutinize how this correlates with Irigaray’s notion of the feminine imaginary as constructed within the ‘negative’ spaces of language itself. Also, I will discuss how Irigaray’s theoretical analysis of No Thing gives voice and reason to our relationship to site itself, as it refers, particularly for practitioners of performance, to the very site of their enquiries: The real time and social space of the live event.

I hope that through this critical consideration, the practice of presence gains weight as an essential craft for the performing artist in training. To practice presence is to develop a consciousness that functions in the present tense. It is the practice of being a coalition of parts, a body in the ‘condition’ of being ‘one’. I use the term present-ness to describe not just ones visible presence in a space, but a state of play achieved through a dynamic presence, which succeeds in stirring up, and presencing site. Present-ness is a state of being that we can practice. I search for an inversion of the negative position in which this presence presently sits both in performance theory and in the institutions which house the training of performance. Present-ness is feminine. Its lack of status, through Irigaray, is due to its ‘none’ sense of authority.

Irigaray offers us an insight into the problematic of presence through the dominant structures of the singular: the masculine.

Female sexuality has always been conceptualized on the basis of masculine parameters. Thus the opposition between ‘masculine’ clitoral activity and ‘feminine’ vaginal passivity, an opposition which Freud – amongst many others – saw as stages, or alternatives, in the development of a sexually ‘normal’ woman, seems rather too clearly required by the practice of male sexuality… The vagina is valued for the ‘lodging’ it offers the male organ when the forbidden hand has to find a replacement for pleasure giving. Woman… is not comparable to the noble phallic organ (she) is a hole-envelope… a non-sex, or a masculine organ turned back on itself, self embracing. Irigaray(1985 p.23).

I will set-up the concept – the site of performance is feminine. How one enters, occupies and converses with space as a performer places oneself politically towards or away from an image of oneself as Author. The Author becomes masculine, and is one who enters space as though that space has “nothing to say”. Through this analogy we are reminded of how theatre functions still.

The audience, plunged into darkness/silence/stillness, all reference to the here and now, like an ocean, suspended, locked outside the Theatre’s watertight doors, sit only in anticipation of ‘what is to come’. And, come he does, the actor, tiny, picked out by a follow spot. With the greatest, most acrobatic skill he will write his space, ‘bring it to life’. Nowadays, as well as traditional theatres persistent and abundant economic richness, we have the alternative, the contemporary: The black Box: ‘Neutral’ spaces, hidden in the corners of most performance studies courses. These spaces are small, airless and acclaimed for their transformability, their pliability. It is these that I now critique: The ‘empty’ spaces.

Irigaray re approaches ‘none’ as ‘at least two’ through a description of woman’s autoeroticism.

In order for a man to touch himself he needs an instrument: his hand, a woman’s body, language… And this self caressing requires at least a minimum of activity. As for woman, she touches herself in and of herself without any need for mediation, and before there is any way to distinguish activity from passivity… her genitals are formed of two lips in continuous contact. Thus, within herself, she is already two – but not divisible into one(s) – that caress each other. (ibid p.24)

This blurring, a mixed-up-ness, is indicative of the essential state of the performer. The text-act penetrates and fragments the w(hole). It takes space. It takes place. This intrusion must to a physical extent imply the physical bodies of both performer and audience. All that is not space is taking space – is the absence of space or rather where presence is occurring. A performer is active to the extent that she is taking space: She is the absence of space. Attention to ones presence can succeed in making dynamic this absence. This is present-ness. It is annihilation, a death if you will, but only of the singular. One is simultaneously an active subject and a conscious object; both reader and writer of ones own actions. When we look for the author in a lived event we can understand that the very word ‘author’ has no place here It is necessary to reaffirm an image for the author as a presence, as present but not singular – as an interlocutor – as a person who takes part in a conversation. She is always in dialogue, both with herself and with her site (her company).

How the social space is ‘entered’ by the performer has to be the most political statement the artist can make. And yet, its paradox is that the performer herself must author her own (express) self-falling. She must live to die. The author is the first subject to “slip away”. I suggest that when the artist’s body is present in an artwork this body is the first point of reference/contact, of the spectators gaze. Therefore a performer must understand how to shift, ‘construct’ and negotiate this gaze. One authors, or now, rather allows death, and so presence is again the oscillation, the fluid suspension of the in between, the no-thing.

Woman takes pleasure more from touching than from looking, and her entry into a dominant scopes economy signifies, again, her consignment to passivity. While her body finds itself thus eroticism, and called to a double movement of exhibition and of chaste retreat in order to stimulate the drive of the ‘subject’, her sexual organ represents the horror of nothing to see. (ibid p.26)

Performance Studies is imbrued with practitioners in training who are experimenting in local ways, procuring the subtlest of interventions, enduring physical challenges over long periods of time, physically blurring the line (their flesh) which saves (spills) their blood from the contaminating outside. These artists are hoping to show their body as-it-is (this body, my body). These artists who try to make some kind of contact with the ‘real’ or who wish to open the text of their bodies into their artwork, need to cope significantly with a crisis of nothing to show both in respect of their selves inside their work (they display no overt technical skill) and also, in how that work might move, on a macro level, within the art world; they have nothing to sell. Radical experiments, investigations or interventions into local, temporal spaces surely merit (then nurture then revise) from being conveyed in local, temporal ways: from within and about the site of they’re performing.

In his book The semiotics of Theatre and Drama, Keir Elam makes this statement about theatrical communication.

It is clear that the unifying on non-uniform messages… kinetic (physical), proxemic (spatial, linguistic, paralinguistic (vocal), etc. – is very much dependent on the actor in his or her role as multi-channel transmitter-in-chief. Over and above the mastery of specific codes and sub codes attached to each system, the actor imposes histrionic sub codes regulating his or her performance as a whole and so his or her combining of messages into discourse. The actor, from this point of view is the main agent of trans-codification on stage. Elam(1980 p.85)

In contemporary society the person of the ‘D.J.’ (disc jockey) has become at least as important as the people who write/perform the music he/she plays. In relation to authorship and to live performance, it is not so much a case of which the ‘me’ is, either the ‘me’ of the D.J., or the ‘me’ who composed the music. The job of a D.J. is to mix and blend variant tracks and beats, making (creative) choices out of an observation of and participation within a gathered crowd. Her event is a coalition of parts. It is the condition of being one: one body. The person of the D.J. is made manifest through their mixing of music that is not their own. We can correlate the role of the D.J. with the role of the contemporary performer; her life, tastes and passions are present in her choice making. Her choices are being made from an attention that is mentally and physically present in the movement between the music and the gathered crowd. It is not so much that the D.J. has authority. It is more that the D.J. (a ‘good’ D.J.) has her consciousness in real time, in the room. There is a presencing, but it is contaminated or rather it is not ‘pure’ or total.

Space and time are not elements that we control to a spectators delight, they are elements which we behold, permit and allow and which we can follow to Jouissance, to Transformation. Moving beyond control it is possible to encounter a not-self, a space of freedom. To clarify, this self is not a private interiority to be explored or discovered, but an attempt to realize oneself by cultivating a kind of transcendence of origins, something that is achieved relationally through multiple interventions with the present and imagined futures.

Henri Bergson writes,

A moving body occupies successive positions in space, but the process by which it moves from one position to another is one of duration which eludes space”. The act of motion itself is not devisable, only an object is; space that is motionless can be measured but the motion of bodies cannot. Movements, cannot occupy space, they are duration. To think of a body occupying points in space is to do so from a perspective outside the body, not from the perspective of the moving body… to be in the body is to be in time. Bergson(1999 p.33)

Bergson’s theory of time is compatible with positive desire, reproducing itself for its own sake, moving for pleasure. There is an attitude of openness that infuses it. It is an entering of time, rather than a measurement of it. If we consider time, we can say that the subject is unified in the sense that the subject is a procession ‘unity’ that does not cease to exist. And, from moment to moment is occurring, to exist, in snapshot. This is not ever a composed image. It is a blurred and out of focus.

The present tense is always site-full. She is un-penetrated. She is untouched, not yet cultivated, explored or exploited by man. When space (site/company) is treated as a force to be reckoned with, to conquer, we could playfully imagine the defensiveness of the site. My sight; I am very sensitive to ‘showing off’. I literally cannot look. Irigaray asks whether the alternative for woman is “a body opens to penetration that no longer knows, in this ‘hole’ that constitutes its sex, the pleasure of its own touch?” (ibid)

To fragment the subject, or to have a relationship with oneself as at least two; both active and passive, both performer and spectator, one is entering space and engaging with the pleasure of ones own touch which is more erotic than subjective because it is self caressing, but this self is touching another all the time, “she is not divisible into one(s)”. (ibid)

Activity: the number of disintegrations of a radioactive substance in a given unit of time.
Passivity: not participating perceptibly in an activity.

When I perform with an attitude of passivity, beyond my will, my compulsion to act, within the real time of a performance act ‘I’ am capable only of attenuating a signal, and amplifying one. ‘I’ am not capable of controlling its destination and as Barthes says, writing begins with the reader. To be passive must be approached by the performer as an active state.  To be passive is not to be inactive, as during sleep – but rather active in an idea of ‘receiving’. As a receptor she is not latent or inoperative. She is not in a resting condition. She is alert in reading and sending signs and signals. Writing the text-act is both active and passive. This is a process of transformation into the presencing state of being neither active nor passive or of not knowing one as distinguishable from the other. The subject knows she cannot know herself fully and moves away from a notion of itself as a ‘point’.

She cannot know herself because she is not (simply) herself. She is not being herself. This presencing brings the (w)hole into play. There is a blurring of ‘the point’. It gets us all inside the (w)hole. All points (all ‘point’) within this (w) hole touching and being touched, and not distinguishing one from the other.

The one of form excludes the at least two, and replaces it with a ‘no-thing’.  It is not possible to correlate presence into notions of the singular or of binary oppositions.  What gets in between these two ‘lips’, is O to its binary opposite I. It is absence. An absence of the singular makes present not ‘no thing’, but an uncompromising infinity of relations which upset ‘thing-ness’. The economic status of presence reflects a societies dominating desire to fill that (w) hole in. Irigaray’s theory equates with the presence of the performer, the gaps; the presencing of ‘holes’ – without filling them in through a want to take pleasure in what is already there.

I must visualize my state of being then, not as an irreconcilable state of opposition, but as hyphen, quite literally an alliance of both. Is this the conspiracy of language, to keep ‘me’ apart, in pieces? The hyphen: punctuation, a mark. It separates, gets in between. The hyphen is  ‘I” turned on its side: ‘-’. In language we place a hyphen between words that we hold in opposition. The hyphen separates and we discuss the states of active and passive as separate and oppositional. To hyphenate though is to bring together, to combine these ‘opposite’ states. In my practice of presence activity and passivity are overlaid one on the other. There is no way to distinguish one from the other. A performing body, fully attentive, committed to its act, cannot analyze. It has to be. In the state of active-passive, I see the hyphen as the place where presence sits. Externally, both the performer and the witness are in the position of the hyphen. The witness too has to be with the text-act. Internally, for the performer and the witness, there is a plural state of active – passive.

Through speaking of site as feminine I want to change the graphic of the hyphen: active Passive. The words cannot penetrate the O.  The author of the live text is plural and never divisible into ones. Each must understand they can never know themselves fully. This is the politic of presence that I prefer.

There is no mark inside the O.
O is the inside.
O is everything that is not the other.
O is a constant state of transformation. It never knows
O is silence (there is no such thing as silence)
O is empty (there is no such thing…)
O is no thing not knowing.
Presence is a making manifest the negative space, changing the graphic from a line to a hole.

The feminine imaginary turns the binary I into O, it shows us the ‘hole’ in language where presence is.  Present-ness is a state of being which by its very nature cannot fully know its self within the masculine singular. Presence is not the ‘person’ of the performer-receptor, it is also not the text-act and it is also not the ‘person’ of the reader-receptor. It is none of these things. Presence and the feminine imaginary emerge from within. Through a ‘self(s)’ consciousness she reveals this, incites a more active consciousness of it. Presence in dent of its occurring lacks definition and is rendered inarticulate. Barthes’ author has no place here. There is no originator, no ‘creator’. Present-ness is a socio-spatial consciousness that enables ‘writing’ to occur.

The paradox, or indeed a self-contradictory state of performance is described through autoeroticism. As Irigaray asks, “how, in the classic representation of sexuality, can the perpetuation of autoeroticism for woman be managed”? Irigaray (1985 p.24) When I perform I must enter, and I must be entered. I enter space and I become it. I touch and I am touched. I am part of the (w) hole that I enter. In this moment I decrease, by conscious choice, through my own politics, my ability to ‘speak’, or I relinquish a state of autonomy as soon as I enter because I refuse to penetrate as much as I desire to dissolve into the (w) hole space of site.

How information is let-in by the subject who is making choices in real-time, is quantifiable if that subject has spent time practicing awareness of their conscious and sensual processes. If we wish to invest only in critical theories of a ‘me’ as a cultural signifier and not in a ‘me’ that is off my body and in the room, in time, out there becoming you, infected by and infecting an-others, then why do we gather a crowd? Why do we make particular investigation into the live, into a public, social site if it is not to momentarily make positive the negative space of experience; of presence: of the live? In the live domain ‘what’ we do is only as important as ‘how’ we do it. This opinion postures Irigaray’s feminist project because it functions on the premise that a conscious, imposed autonomy is destructive as it is agoraphobic. A singular ‘I’ in the consciousness of the contemporary performer reflects a fear or a mistrust of site and it’s unpredictable, irrational possibilities. The singular ‘I’ emits defensives, as though against humiliation of being exposed, soiled.

The more or less exclusive – and highly anxious – attention paid to erection in Western sexuality proves to what extent the imaginary that governs it is foreign to the feminine. For the most part, this sexuality offers nothing but imperatives dictated by male rivalry: the ‘strongest’ being the one who has the best ‘hard-on’, the longest, the biggest, the stiffest. (ibid p.25)

It is simple to see how the virtuoso, the consummate master of technique and artistry equates in theatre with the masculine and how virtue itself, for the feminine suggests chastity, “a defensive virginity, fiercely turned in upon itself”. (ibid p.24) In respect to contemporary live art work, and a mode of presence, un-revised throughout its post modern deconstruction, this strikes me as an uncomfortably fitting analogy for the state of our culture’s ability to be open: to let-in and experience (the reality in here) the transformative potential of site.

Irigaray’s’ feminine imaginary cannot be imagined without we fall into it, identify with it, and so contaminate it again with our ‘self lost’, defiled. The purity of identity involves the splitting off of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ objects, an anxiety based on the idea of self as essence, and loss of self as defilement. We can see how this procedure is grounded in the masculine reification of insulate segregation, singularity, and autonomy.

I am entertained by a writing of presence into the feminine imaginary. When we continue Irigaray’s theory, as an analogy, penetration, or activity will never fill in space, only divide space into more spaces (shifting and multiplying and overlaying the holes). The phallic implications are humorous to me. The phallus, the point, can only divide into more and more. It cannot fill. This is the politic of presence that I prefer. When we reconsider the (w) hole as plural, never divisible into ones, the significant phallus is reduced to only ever being in-significant (t) ce – only ever part of the process of signification. Present-ness knows this. A conscious presence knows when and what it cannot know.

She is indefinitely other in herself. This is doubtless why she is said to be whimsical, incomprehensible, agitate, capricious… not to mention her language, in which “she” sets off in all directions leaving “him” unable to discern the coherence of any meaning. Irigaray (1985 p.29)

In becoming, in writing the text-act a subject cannot know or presume to know fully her self or her text-act. I suggest a reconsideration of subject and subjectivity in performance is made through understanding death (of the author) not as a diminishing of the subject in a way which erases the subject or silences the subject through a fear or shame (even intellectually) of her own instability, her inability to ‘form’ her self. Rather that the subject embraces formlessness. We are not less; we are more. Site is part of our body(s) language.

She must see her body as a text, and then weave that text into the fabric of the multiplied line, the (w)hole space and this demands of her a passivity. If she sees herself as writing a singular line she is actively filling in space, making space absent. If she understands that her text is only one within a multiplied line she is making space present, the spaces in between the lines: the ‘silent’, the ‘empty’.

This organ which has nothing to show for it also lacks a form of its own. And if woman takes pleasure precisely from this incompleteness of form… this pleasure is denied by a civilization that privileges phallomorphism. (ibid p.26)

When an artwork seeks to foreground the signifying presence of its receptor-audience it is seeking to open the text, to make it active by identifying the (w) hole space of the theatre as significance. Traditional criticism places value not on the space of the theatre, but on what is put inside that space. If the art work seeks to open a space by framing it in a certain way which simply evokes an enquiry of that space as lived in a present, in the live, there is no longer any reason for the critic to apply existing value structure upon that art work. If they do so, they will find ‘nothing’, and will be subject to the horror of nothing to see.

When an artist’s body is committed to presencing the live in a public act, it is holding primary not the extent to which it can ‘activate’, (be capable, make active) but the extent to which it can deactivate, (be less ‘effective, more inoperative -as the writer of the text). She is consciously attempting to deflect attention away, off her own body, back towards her spectator, through the (w)hole space of the ‘theatre’. She has no ‘thing’ to see. There is a kind of poverty in the structures of representation and desire. A (w) hole in its “phallomorphic lens”. (ibid) This no thing – to see, this feminine as opposed to masculine is excluded from the seen/scene of representation.

Peggy Phelan reminds us that performance is a matter of life and death, “a psychic need to rehearse for loss, and especially for death” Phelan (1997 p.3). Phelan says; “the desire to preserve and represent the performance event is a desire we should resist”. It is the fear, and the promise of death, which is also just a matter of time, upon which the empirical subject is built.

The performing body needs to practice, within and without herself a mediation of her desire to preserve and represent through an appropriate relationship with herself. She must attend to this with her present-ness and construct her audience to do this also. If performance work is a rehearsal for death, it is a fear of death and an atmosphere of death that propel us, collectively, to preserve and represent. The undernourished state of our culture in respect to space and time contribute to a posture of fear and negativity towards the multiple subject(s). And yet, to do so is indeed to affirm and to make more (w)hole the subject. The subject is herself an event in the sense that she is a unity of being, made up of constantly evolving parts. In the same sense I propose that the double-bodied state of my performing body is not a breaking down of my self as a unity-force, but a transformation and a shift in my own experiencing of ‘me’. A mobilization, to enter into and move through my own identities; a coalition, a ‘condition’ of being ‘one’ which is a procession bringing together of ‘parts’.

Through a folding of the feminine imaginary over the site of performance we must scrutinize the body’s corporeality. There is a demand for a peripheral vision and a democratization of both sense and the senses. There is decentralization, a conscious shift of ones own centre, of how and where information is received by the body and of how and where the ‘body’ begins and ends. This demands a conscious placement-dispersal (a formal formlessness) of awareness for the performer. To increase her own sensitivity towards the site of performance, she has to ‘let go’ of an empirical subject (the one she is always holding) in order to get out there, and to get here in.

Language leads me here, to the image of my sex organ covering and stimulating my body’s surface; the soles of my feet, the back of my neck, behind my knees, the base of my spine, to say nothing of my beating heart, my shallow breath, my dry mouth, space getting in; Inside turning outside.

Woman has sex organs more or less everywhere. She finds pleasure almost anywhere. Even if we refrain from invoking the hystericization of her entire body, the geography of her pleasure is far more diversified, more multiple in its differences, more complex, more subtle, than is commonly imagined – in imagery rather too narrowly focused on sameness. Iigaray (1985 p.28)

A politic of presence is found in a performer’s movement towards or away from this feminine imaginary. Does she use performance as a process through which to cure (her self unified, sterilized? Her spectator, a question answered) or to touch upon the excess, the temporal visceral state of life for which there is no cure (her body lost, defiled). We must consider on the one hand a pleasure likened to cultural enjoyment and identity, to the cultural enjoyment of identity, to a homogenizing movement of the ego; and on the other a radical and violent pleasure (jouissance) that shatters – dissipates, loses – that cultural identity, that cultural ego. For the luminal subject, to mobilize her physical pleasure, to optimize its potential she herself (must) enter into a ceaseless exchange of herself with the other without any possibility of identifying either. This puts into question all prevailing economies: “their calculations are irremediably stymied by woman’s pleasure, as it increases indefinitely from its passage in and through the other”. (ibid p.31)

Presence is not ‘a’ being, it is being. Presence is not then the presentation of self; it is a revealing of selves. To be the body ‘as-it-is’ is to be exposed. I am myself but I am not authored, I am not secure. I am certainly not a pure identity and I embrace loss. I fall and submit. The fall activates this presence and presence occurs through this submission. Presence is not just a concept for the performer, and the performer is not engaged with her presence by default. Presence or present-ness is a process: a coping, a ‘dealing with’, and a managing. It is the condition of being subject(s). To make primary this presence is to present ones self as part of.  I commit. I act. I control. I observe. I react. I surrender. She is a line, an edge within. She destabilizes but only one who considers self to be stable. She negotiates the structures and the structured of language. She presences the hyphen and invalidates opposition: private – public, you – me, me – me. When she is heard it is not as if hers is a voice we have never heard before. Hers is not an image we have never seen. She is making visible – by her mode of presence, her occupancy within, making manifest something that we already know for it has always been part of who we are. It touches us. It touches upon. We recognize something common. She seeks to make common – to behold, not to hold, the story of ‘what happens’.

Her book might succeed to exist and function, and to its economic advantage speak the language of her fathers.

When she is writing she is ‘not’ thing.
She has no ‘thing’ status.
She appears how things fail.
She is erotic – always ‘cruising’ always touching, you and herself.
She is negative space, rubbing you out.

An intense transaction such as that which the state of performing brings momentarily folds the negative into the positive, transcend the ‘text’, be the text. This flash effect casts light upon the (w) hole.

Performance Lecture – Something in the way “she” moves.

The Cube, Bristol – February 16th 2003 – In between Time Festival
Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool – March 15th 2003 – Apocryphilia 2 Conference

(Performed naked with a microphone)

(Enter) I just had or I am having this dream. Its an anxiety dream, you know the ones… (HAND SIGNALS)  When you’re standing in a public place, then you look down, and realize… and there was no fourth wall…

This performance is called
Something in the way “she” moves.
It’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it
The poetics of space
The poetics of self
Or one and of/or the other…

If we can all take, I mean if you, you who is not I, if you can all take a moment to observe the ones closest to you – they may be ones – and by this I mean at least twos – who are blurring the edges of you – I mean do they turn you on? Are they turning you on? Could you take or are you taking them in or out or on right here, right now… on the floor – taking space, your place, taking time, spending your time, always and or anyway…

What I’m trying to say is that this paper is about meaning.
(When I used to listen to the album Grease, Frankie Valley would sing “grease is the word is the word that you heard it’s got groove it’s got me-in. “I” used to think that Frankie Valley was a real show-off for singing this and thought it was a bit rich seeing as he only had a very small part) So what I’m trying to say is that this paper is about me – in.

I know what I mean – I mean I will tell the truth, just never the whole truth.

Imagine a field…
And then… imagine a bigger field…
Imagine their or even your bodies up here – next to mine – instead of mine – eclipsing mine absenting mine… exceeding mine, filling me to overflowing and flowing over and out and beyond… where I’m at.

I am a woman burned alive. I am burning a woman alive.

This paper is called in a field I am the absence of field
Mind the gap
Or mind in the gap
Or in between – what time is it? – A rock and a hard place.

About being here… things and no things wouldn’t be the same would they if Tom or Dick or Harry stood up or entered her,
I mean here and now and up in this field…

This paper is called the politics of presence in the performance act
Practicing presence
What is presence anyway or can presence be any old way?
What does it mean to perform with one hundred percent commitment in the present tense?
This paper is about how different people make us feel different things and how how we do what we do means more than what we do

If I told you that ‘I’ was masculine and that the where ’I’ wasn’t was feminine, and if you could suspend your disbelief and come with me – I mean – don’t go and come without me – and know that if you can wait with me – and if you can invest in time – that I promise you I will come… again and again and again…

Then – and now then now then now then

How ‘I’ enter space would go and be the most political of something’s and nothings.

I’m trying my best to wake up. I’ve got sleep in my eyes and dreams fading (LIE DOWN UNDER MICROPHONE STAND)

This paper is called ‘I can see myself in her (e)’

In this dream I saw a lion fucking a wolf
In this dream my palms were wet and my mouth was dry
In this dream the revolution had stopped at Starbucks
And all the beautiful people had slipped off the covers of magazines and turned straight into coffee tables.

In theory I read my palm – my hands dappled in the fluid move-moves
But to my horrorrosea – in practice they were tied and the author had chopped off my tongue.
In super 8 style and shameful nostalgia I was a small child eating sand: Some singular indulgence… autonomous prick bursting my bubble.
One binary digit making all the circles flat
And where once I had seen myself in her, where I had smelt her all over me there was nothing.
As much ado as I could do about nothing I did do.
And there was, for my own significant eternity no thing to see

I clung to my books of the marinas and the oceans… and I entered the desert.
I laid down the parchment….
I used scrolls as stepping-stones…to stop my feet from burning.
I surrendered my story and all her stories and when I awoke from this dream my body had vanished without a trace; vaporized.
There was literally no thing left. (REMOVE MIC FROM STAND AND SIT UP)

This paper is called do I have a body?
This paper is called and if so where is it? Is my body some how ‘where’?
This paper is called to be or not to be
What does it mean to be in between?
I can feel you coming in the air tonight. Oh lord…
This paper is called without words.
And when all the words have burnt to cinders in the midst of a sun that will not rise and will not fall will we forget to remember that we ever thought we knew who we were and why we didn’t get what we wanted…

And all that will be will be being in or of or at being and then what of this?

What of this field then?
Where would we be?
In this field so fearful, which prefers sight s.i.g.h.t? Over site s.i.t.e; n between you and me and me and me. Something in the way she moves touches me.
She is the relationship I have with my selves.

This paper is called – (START TO WALK IN A CIRCLE)
This is desire.
I desire to engage – to feel something… anything, to express my selves I mean to put myself out there, to revolt to turn full circle, to put my stomach in my mouth, to drown in her – and to be – washed up – exhausted and changed. Reaffirmed. Revised. Thought through. Thought  through. Thought through.

I am in two minds
I am in here in my body, only visible through it, and I am looking at you; rying to concentrate on my words. And I am out there in the room, looking in, looking like you seeing me.
Do you mind me?
Do you think of me?
Do you mind that I want to take you in, to feel you so strongly that it fucks up my head and I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on anymore.
Am I parched? (DRINK)

I is not singular
I is at least one other. And another
Can you feel me?
Can you bear to be felt? (DO THE CRAB)
Am I spilling off these pages?
Can I ask you questions from here?
How can I make you come?
Can you see me or hear me from there?
Do I have something to prove?
Can you feel me brush past you?
Can you smell my perfume?
Does this not matter? And does that not occupy space?
How am I going?
Have I gone too far?
Are you with me?
Are you me at all?
Can I ask you to dance?
Can I ask you to notice that you are dancing?
For me?
Can I feel you’re moving?
Should I be more reductive, factual, objective, down to earth, everyday, pedestrian, neutral, more and more less until I best cancel myself out completely? Should I get my coat?

This paper is called
If you think I’m sexy
This paper is called
The beginning of an ending
Just being myself on stage

I is not one.
I is collusion.
I is in the condition of being one
I is real
I is not about the real world out there
I is the real world in here. (STAND ON ONE LEG)
I no longer know what I want.
I am unable to form my desires into words.
I am formlessness.
I am hyphen
I get in between
I am I turned on it’s side
I combine
I am no thing.
I am zero – a score of nothing
I am love – a score of zero
I am an amateur
I am right here. I am right now.
I am insecure
I fall and submit

This paper is called

I am a one-night-stand
I am erotic
Always cruising, always touching you and myself.

Writing has brought me here, to an image of my own sex organ pulled right out and over my whole face, the surface of my skin tremors with an intensity… the soles of my feet, the back of my neck, not to mention my beating heart, my shallow breath, my sweating palms and my dry mouth.


This body is called a living memorial.
This body is called my you-ness
I am sampled, bootlegged, consumed, spat out, misquoted.
I am headings, chapters, subchapters, edits and postscripts.

This body is called
And another thing
I am beginnings, middles, endings, footnotes, citation, cross- referencing. I am anecdote and lie and I am inscribed with many truths that without you will never be the whole truth

This body is called
This is your life
A vote for love
An affirmation
A yes for pleasure

This paper is called
I can’t get you out of my head
Your shit and you know you are
Discourse is not my life
Its time is not mine.
This paper is called
This paper is called the end
Bring it back bring it back bring it back bring it back bring it back bring it back bring it back.
It’s freezing in here.
Thank you and good night.

Chapter 5
It’s not what you do its the way that you do it.

This chapter discusses improvisation on two levels; he first, an explicit practice focusing on the work of Katie Duck , and at the same time, improvisation as an implicit part of all performed action. Improvisation practices present-ness; how we do what we do. I will explain improvisation as a means to understanding the feeling of what happens to a performer who is conscious in and of what is happening in the present tense as they perform. Duck’s improvisation practice develops an awareness of a body(s) presence within time and space. I am writing about Duck’s work as an explicit practice of improvisation in order to then illuminate improvisation as it functions implicitly within all live acts: as a writing of the space between the performer and their text-activity: as the act of language or as the relationship they have with their self(s). I improvise regularly with Duck in the Magpie ensemble . Through this practice of improvisation I have learned more of the relationship I have with my self (s).

Analysis, academic, aesthetic and conceptual, posture towards the live in theory but circumvents improvisation, excluding actual experience or practice as part of these critical frames. Improvisation is central to the issue of analysis and a discourse that can include the present tense and the body’s condition of being.  Principles of improvisation can contribute fundamentally to an understanding of the here-and-now of live art for the performer and for the witness.

Improvisation is a de-centralizing practice. It demands a shift in the spectator’s gaze from thinking about what they are seeing to allowing all of the senses to be open, collaborating within ‘one’ producing a more total experience of ‘the feeling of what happens’. I have borrowed these words from the title of the book by Antonio Damasio (1995), one of the world’s leading experts on the neuron-physiology of emotions. In this book Damasio speaks about how our sense of being arises out of our development of emotion. At its core, human consciousness is consciousness of the feeling, experiencing self, the very thought of oneself. The feeling of what happens as it influences my writing is meaning ‘how thought feels’. What occurs to us as thought, which is as physical and actual an occurrence as it is our conscious ‘self’. Being in the present tense can allow one to experience thought on a visceral level. Thought is a conversation. It is the relationship I am having with myself. ‘Myself’ in this performing state involves the space and time over which my selves spread and thus in part become.

Improvisation is a liminalising activity, which stirs up and increases the potential for transformation in the embodied, collective and shared spaces of performance. The performer who is unconscious to the feeling of what happens; who has not acknowledged the improvisation (space) which is part of her live act succumbs to and incites agoraphobia: a fear and distrust of social spaces that produces a frigid and defensive presence.

This chapter writes through my own participation within and observation of the improvisation practice of Duck, as her student and later as a member of Magpie. I will also refer to Duck through conversations and interviews we have had over the course of my research and especially around Duck’s participation in the Practicing Presence event . Her theories remain largely unpublished and unwritten, existing almost solely within the discourse that occurs through her practice. Duck’s work is ultimately live, and through a rigorous physical practice of what we could call spatial ethics, engages the performer in the present.

This chapter discusses the teaching and the methodologies of Duck’s work using social, literary, physical, experiential and subjective planes of analysis. I am writing my ethics, my subjunctive ‘what-if’s into the morality of an existent form. Throughout this writing I ask the reader to allow my slippage between tenses and positions. This is a conscious decision to presence them all in this writing, as co-writers. The performing body is always spectator to her own actions. My references to audience-and-performer are folded into one another. They too are purposefully blurred.

To introduce Duck I analyze first her position as an improviser within western dance art. Peggy Phelan in her essay ‘Dance and the History of Hysteria writes that “the legacy of psychoanalysis” allows us to see that bodies can be endlessly remade, re choreographed, outside the traditional architectonics of human reproduction. Phelan writes about a Balanchine ballerina through the history of hysteria.

As Balanchine’s ballet enters the pedagogical institution, conscious interpretation of technique is turned into science. The pivot of this interpretation revolves around the question of femininity of the Balanchine ballerina. The success or failure of

Balanchine’s ballet will be determined and measured by the movement phrases performed by the feminine body. She will be required to have a technique that “leaves nothing to be desired” and she will be measured according to her skill at reproducing his vision of her moving. And the performance of this transference is the true agony of dance history and the history of hysteria. Phelan (1993 p.101)

In respect to the method of psychoanalysis and the traumatized body, the relationship between the doctor and the patient creates an interpretation of a symptom that gives the body temporal coherence. To internalize the psychoanalytic positions of doctor and patient the patient’s presence is occurring let us say unconsciously and perpetually. The role of the doctor is to shift unconsciousness towards awareness. To engage in a matter of discourse with and observation of ‘the symptom’ stimulates the patient to engage also with this ‘symptom’ as it shifts into the centre of the event, of the engaged presence of doctor and patient. Transformation can be said to occur out of this interlocking: A movement out of ‘centre’ of ‘self’ and into site, dispersing ones centre and experiencing a loss of self. Within the present tense, I experience myself as dialogue, as relation. Improvisation is the practice of this liminality and the straddling of this threshold and this shift of centre. In psychoanalysis this shift mobilizes a physical trauma and instigates the symptoms remission. This metaphor describes the ecology of transformation. In my opinion this metaphor can be internalized in as much as the relationship is, in dent of its opposition, a body conscious of the simultaneous presence of both, of in the first place these two positions and then as well the oscillating duplicity of existing in between. Consciousness practiced through improvisation in the presence of a public, as physically as possible passes through real time and space and feels the collective presence of others. This lends form to that which is thinking before it becomes thought and describes how ‘what’ happens can become diffused (with what ifs and possibilities) by the significant and multiple touch of ‘how’ it comes to be. Duck’s work within the field of dance fundamentally undermines the values upon which the pedagogical institution of western dance is built. The explicit practice of improvisation as performance disturbs the ground on which modern dance is built, and which contemporary dance still sits. Improvisation as discussed submerged in the feminine, which makes narrow the science of interpretation to which Phelan refers. Improvisation is “hysterical”.

If the choreographer can change roles after so many years of power and prestige in the dance field, our heroic hang-ups and our search for the master piece will go straight out of the window. This is tough for the big industries of dance to do. This is real ‘the dinosaur is dying’ stuff. The structure is in for a huge renovation once improvisation is practiced, realized and part of the way choreography is placed and aligned within dance and in music. Dance is a time art, is one of duration and therefore improvisation is the most intensive view one can possibly take on the art form for what it actually is. Duck (interview 2002)

Duck, with the collaborators of Magpie, (a variable collective of musicians-dancers-
Performers who have been improvising performances together for almost ten years), practice what would in musical terms be called ‘free improvisation’. The performances are not produced out of mathematical structures or choreographies. Duck does not author what is termed in dance as ‘structured improvisation’. Magpie does it’s best to contradict and complicate the pose of mastery, to produce and impose masculine vision. Improvisation is not in this case the moment of ‘lead solo’ left to rise above and over what is rendered chorus, as one is allowed freedom to demonstrate his wingspan, his best tricks. Duck’s improvisation works to leave no-thing to be desired. Free improvisation sets nothing, and strives to impose nothing. Rather it is a researching, a hearing silence, and a seeing space, in direct contact with the here and now.

“Everything is right, nothing is wrong”. Improvisation is often used as a workshop device that postures towards a ‘none judgmental’ mind allowing groups of perhaps untrained dancers to move freely outside the perimeters set out by the pedagogical dance art. Improvisation is often, in such cases a means of providing access into an otherwise inaccessible art form. Improvisation allows for movement for pleasure and for an improved sense of health or well being that any physical activity can provide. Improvisation can be the basis then for a movement therapy, given as an opportunity to indulge (to pay attention to) oneself in a protective and politically correct environment. I have no problem that I need to discuss with these therapeutic, esoteric explorations except to introduce the shift of focus from improvisation as a democratic, inclusive ‘anything goes’, protective site of self indulgence and place focus on space and time as unexplored territory, identifying the real-time-ness of a situation. This state is unprotected, a felt exposure.

Everything is right and no thing is wrong. All things are right and no things is wrong…
Is this a conspiracy to trick me via my unconscious construction within language? Nothing is wrong nothing is wrong nothing is wrong nothing is wrong nothing is wrong nothing is wrong;
It is all right to have a thing and any old thing will do.
But no thing? That’s bad?

Improvisation as performance illuminates how the contrasting notions of self-indulgence and self-expression can become blurred for the performer. It is a subtle but fundamental shift between what is for me live and not live. Improvisation acknowledges consciousness within real time and space, and what I am naming the feminine. To indulge one self is oppositional as this state uses site or rather plays on  not with it (as she moves she will bang into walls, have no peripheral vision, she will be off centre, ungrounded, pretending or believing that she is being moved when she is just moving around. In the therapeutic improvisation a mover might indeed be blindfolded or encouraged to close her eyes so as to not be ‘distracted’ by ‘exterior’ influences).

I am forced out of my body house and out of what matters to me. I focus on my orifices; pores of departure.

Improvisation is most often described as ‘making it up as you go along’. This is a lazy way to describe improvisation and it is incorrect. The introduction to Ruth Zaporah’s book Action Theatre – Improvising Presence, in its introduction describes “the delicious play of making it up on the spot – of improvising”. Zaporah (1995 p.2) There is a rigor and an absolute craft involved in good improvisation. The craft is to keep oneself, half an eye, one eye, in the room, in the real world in here. The real craft is to not make anything up. The craft of improvisation is to push away any identification of oneself as ‘responsible’ for ‘making something happen. One is responsible however, for letting something happen.

You have to listen to the space… as if it were an old (dying) animal, in order to understand your role. You cannot create a solo: you can only be left with one that you are now responsible for executing in time. Duck (interview 2002)

There is a placement of effort, a focus and consciousness in this practice and this focus is necessary preparation for anybody wishing to engage with and communicate through the medium of the live. I am placing improvisation as a luminal act between all performance acts. The site of performance as an embodied temporal space is also a total body in the condition of being one. Thus the practice of improvisation, for the performer in training is the most important technology for the body to practice before choosing the concepts and materials with which to work.

All performance acts are improvised. No matter how predetermined, choreographed or rehearsed a set of actions/images/words may be, on some level, we are improvising because events are unfolding in real time and space. It is more correct to describe improvisation as not knowing what is going to happen. Here is un-chartered territory. (Here be dragons.) Where we find the amateur whose sensibility, whose fragility, geniality and willingness to express are the tools of their creativity.

The performers in Magpie are highly skilled. They are engendered with trainings, experience and repertoire. Magpie work towards a dissolving and a revealing of ‘real-life-in-here’, of the space and condition we are in. This posture challenges the institutional gazes and buildings within which these improvisations take place. It does so as it defers the distinction between process and product. The economy and value structures of dance still depend on the authoring positions of choreographers, directors, and dramaturges. Improvisation disturbs these roles as the performer embodies and holds court with them.

There is no singular choreography, direction, design or narrative super imposed upon, or preconceived before the performance happens. The performer is a live and multiple writing. Duck’s work has ‘nothing to show’. No big production numbers, no external mentoring, no choreographic style. Understandably this renders Duck marginalized within the dance field.

Duck’s practice has formed itself through the symbiosis of instinct and necessity. Duck has a relationship in whatever marginal or fractious way with ‘the institution’ and this forms the decentralizing politics present in her practice. Duck is master of problem solving, reducing any dependency on or obligation towards the institution. Her practice revises the institution’s internal structures. However, the institution tends to close its ears, at best acknowledging improvised practice as ‘other’ and not part of what it is.

Improvisation is the premise of a desire. This is an expression of the subject through the site of performance as the body of desire: to express the feminine: rapture, jouissance, autoeroticism, poetry. Not to penetrate, to invade and conquer but to touch upon, and become part of; the subjects then, occurs to/as all of us and cause/effects a shift in our body’s intent.

I consider expression here as the instance of transformation. This is not an expression of private emotions by the subject/performer, but the subject as expressed through the particular meanings or forces at play within embodied social spaces. I use the word ‘expression’ to be purposefully challenging in my proximity to expressionism. Writing site into the performing subject takes the feminine imaginary into my own subject. ‘She’ becomes part of who I am. Through a conceptual and theoretical fear of expressing the subject/the author, as a singular, masculine entity she has become written out, replaced by the object, the conceptual body. It feels necessary to write the revised and reaffirmed she right into the middle of body politics. Once the subject is feminized, then expression of this subject will optimize the potential of lived social spaces and lead the subject (s) towards transformation returning us to a pleasure of performance: Of being there.

The writer writes (the performer performs) in a language and in a logic whose proper system, laws, and life his discourse by definition cannot dominate absolutely. He uses them only by letting himself, after a fashion and up to a point, be governed by the system. And the reader (audience) must always aim at a certain relationship, unperceived by the writer (performer), between what he commands and what he does not command of the patterns of the language that he uses. Barthes (1977 p.172)

The conceptual body and the post modern presence to which I have referred have stripped the body of its tendency to express emotional truths which define a ‘person’ or that explain the subject. I propose that in order to move on in our discourse of the body we must look again to expressionism after the feminization of the subject, not as an aesthetic but as an attitude, and look again then at technical training for the contemporary performer.

Mina Kaylan writes that

in terms of the practical methodology of the performance act, presence refers to the most important skill of the actor or performer, a skill which comes into play during the act of performance i.e. it is not a technique independent of an audience like juggling or fencing…Kaylan(1997 p.48)

If I approach the body as language – the technically trained body is a privileged term within this language. For the performer, a physical technical training provides a hallmark. Technique is only defined as such by how it functions as a commodity. Technical skill is problematic both in respect to the highly trained and the untrained body in performance. I pose technique as artifact and improvisation not as a technique for the body but as a technology for the subject(s) as it moves.

Techniques, no matter how hybrid or ‘new’ in style and content, are inevitably attached to a history and referred to a known ‘style’, one which brings critical concern and necessary attention to ‘it’ in the body.  Presently, it is only through these historic techniques as languages, that a body might viscerally and psychologically prepare her self for ‘the stage’.

The theorist Phillip B Zarrilli assimilates acting training with other techniques of disciplining the body, incorporating techniques “such as aerobics, weight training…military drills, etc.” and suggests that we approach all of these as “technologies” of the body, referring to Foucault’s sense that they are practices through which “humans develop knowledge about themselves”. Zarrilli(1995 p.72) What Zarrilli, through Foucault, is pointing out is that with any technical training there will always be an indeterminable relationship between that technique and the “discourses and assumptions which inform how that set of techniques is understood and/or represented” (ibid). The training and practice of a technique should only ever be a vehicle for us to have a dialogue between that thing and ourselves. I propose that improvisation practices and develops this dialogue and therefore is the most appropriate technology for the performer to consider. This defers, however temporarily, the ‘what’ of the text act. It does not concern the performer in the first place with the object of performance but rather engages her in her own shifting positions in relation to object.  Technique is object-subject. Technique is not hiding the body but writing the body.

Techniques are languages; they do not say anything in themselves. It is how we engage with language and in what context it gets used that makes language speak. The term performativity was invented by J L Austin to describe sentences or utterances which

A) Do not ‘describe’ or ‘report; or constant anything at all, are not ‘true’ or false’; and B) the uttering of the sentence is, or is a part of, the doing of an action, which again would not normally be described as, or as ‘just saying something’. Austin (1962 p.5)

Physical techniques must be approached like per formatives otherwise, true to Austin’s definition of the word they masquerade as connotative, as words/actions that mean something. Austin rightly points out that although per formatives do not by definition masquerade as “statements or facts” it is quite common that sentences or utterances that fall into the category of per formative are actually masquerading as something that means something. He gives various examples. one being the words ‘I do’ spoken in the marriage ceremony.

It seems clear that to utter this sentence is not to describe my doing of what I should be said in so uttering to be doing or to state that I am doing it: it is to do it… I am not (either) reporting on a marriage: I am indulging in it.” The name is clearly derived from ‘perform’, indicating that “the issuing of the utterance is the performing of an action – it is not normally thought of as just saying something. (ibid p.6)

When we say ‘I love you’ we perform the act of loving by saying those words. The words mean nothing in them selves and are made sense of by their context and/or accompanying actions.  As a witness of live art a person can exercise their liberty to experience the work for them selves in and amongst the signature, inscription or the hand of the artist. Performativity is a transitive score that writes meaning over the fixed score or rather over what is there. It is possible to misunderstand that the body, because it ‘performs’, need not consider performativity. However the performance act can easily transpire as connotative ‘masquerading’ as per formative. It happens all the time. (Imagine a performer standing on stage and thinking they can sing brilliantly in tune when actually they are singing slightly flat. Imagine a performer standing on stage and knowing that they sing slightly flat then singing anyway. This knowledge or this consciousness on behalf of the performer is not necessarily announced, but it is most definitely felt by the witness).

Austin warns us against ‘the masquerade’, per formatives that masquerade as statements or facts. We can extend this to the notion that a performing body, especially with regard to technique, and indeed virtuosity, succeeds in giving an impression that it either knows better what is happening or what something might ‘mean’.  I want to include a quote from Italian performance maker Romeo Castellucci. Castellucci chooses to work with untrained dancers and actors. If he uses professional performers they are routinely circus trained or able to perform spectacular acts such as contortion or trapeze. Castellucci often works with children and animals. In an essay entitled ‘The Super Technique of the Animal’ he writes,

I despise technique: it is miserable and lacks the courage to declare its misery. It feigns artfulness in order to sell itself easily. It pretends to be modest, to be a discipline surrounded with mystique. Technique cannot pretend; it is not skilled. The other side of the coin is the ideology of spontaneity; it is its destiny. Technique must be overcome: economy should have nothing to do with theatre. My goal is a technique that moves beyond itself – a super-technique resting on its own, vanished, agnostic and unprotected operation. Close to chance, to invisibility, as well as touching its opposite – the super-technique of the animal. Castellucci (2000 p.64)

The way a body performs has been written and re-written by theatre and dance theorists and practitioners. Still, virtuosity and the spectacular body, in light of their overtly sophisticated ‘text’ succeed in perpetuating a value, commodity and economic ‘status’ which are imposed upon the performing body and which leaves ‘other’ ways of presencing silenced and ‘poor’. Improvisation’s lack of visibility within the institutions of dance is due to the lack of interest that dominant art culture has in virtuosity’s opposite. Post modernism and contemporary cultural theory have attended to the virtuosic out of and against the historical paradigm of expressionism within modernism.

Mina Kaylan affirms that Barthes’ ‘grain’ is analogous to that of presence in the performance text. This quality, she adds is a “differential that is independent of the technical competence or accuracy of the singing”. Kaylan (1977 p.53) The presence of a performer is qualified by Kaylan as significance, as the grain. I borrow again Kristeva’s terms geno-text and pheno-text to theoretically frame Ducks processes. These terms are used to distinguish between the song of the voice with grain and that without: the geno-song and the pheno-song respectively.

The geno-text is not linguistic (in the sense understood by structural or generative linguistics). It is rather a process, which tends to articulate structures that are ephemeral (unstable, threatened by drive charges, ‘quanta’ rather than ‘marks’) and non-signifying. Kristeva (in Basil1986 p.121)

To improvise is to be in and of this process. Ones sense of self is ephemeral, or at least anything that one knows’ is ‘short lived’ or glimpsed, as one is in a process of losing and finding (touching) ones ‘senses’ of self(s). Improvisation is practiced between the body and the text-act and is part of the way that writing is placed in time. Improvisation opens exactly the space that the pedagogy of dance history succeeds in closing, or passing off into the nothing-ness of ‘empty’ space. Improvisation trains a body about to write, to arrive

at writing. My authorship is surrendered as the relationship that I have with myself(s) is subjected to the (w) hole space of theatre where I enter time. Space without time is a disabled concept. The practice of improvisation is specific to time and enables space to occur. The subject does not express her own ideology of space. If she enters time she is realizing herself and presencing herself as part of site.

Indelible to a time based, site specific performance is choice and the offerance of choice. For Duck, “the performer has to be able to be in constant process with choice and chance”. Duck(interview 2002) The inclusion of chance as a conscious and motivating tool in art can be traced back to the turn of last century, to the Dada movement. Tristan Tzara describes chance and a time based art in the following statement.

Referring to the occurrence of different events at the same time, it turns the sequence of a=b=c=d, into a-b-c-d, and attempts to transform the problem of the ear into a problem of the face. Simultaneity is against what has become and for what is becoming. While I, for example, become successfully aware that I punched a lady on the face yesterday and washed my hands an hour ago, the screeching of a tram brake and the crash of a brick falling from a roof reach my ear simultaneously and my outward or inward ear rouses itself to seize, in the simultaneity of these events, a swift meaning of life. Tzara (in Gordon1987 p.45)

The Dadaists were advocators of an attitude and an art work which implied the viewer and the performer, in time, in a collaborative moment/movement introducing a conscious, conceptual and explicit practice of choice and chance; of allowing space within structures which let the artwork in some ways occur by chance and, a conceptual constructing of artwork which both incites simultaneity and lifts the burden of authored artistic statement off the artist. Complicity between viewer and artist is explicitly stated by Marcelle Duchamp. His insistence on the primacy of ideas over retinal qualities in art made manifest the ‘readymade’, making art a matter not of the artist’s creation but rather of the artist’s intention.

All in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act. Duchamp (in Lebel 1959 p.78)

Chance as structure enabled collaborations by artists in different fields.  What was introduced into arts practice was the ability to see everything that the body does potentially as dance and to hear all sound potentially as music. Indeed what began was a consideration of actual lived experience, of space not as no thing, but as something. Once chance is implied there is an acknowledgement of, and re-defining of ‘the mistake’ and of the virtuosic.  There is no longer something that should or should not happen. The spectator can consider every element as an equally present and signifying phenomenon including his or her own presence and experience of an artwork. The self and the act of creating/writing, in order to incite co-writing post-Duchamp could now be submerged within and presented as dynamic accents within time and space. Art then, is serving a frame through which to see and hear life in perpetually new ways.

In Cage’s music composition, he leaves time to the choice of the musicians and sets the melodic and/or sound areas. In Cunningham choreography he leaves space, direction and the order of the movement combinations to the choice of dancers and sets the movement and movement phrases. Providing choice is how we can create moments of chance. If there is no choice given to a performer then the relativity that ‘chance’ implies cannot happen. Duck(interview 2002)

The discussion of improvisation moves us beyond aesthetics. Improvisation is not a form and what is important to stress is that improvisation is not dance. Improvisation is an approach, an attitude and an understanding of performing.

Within Duck’s practice, an intense study of the subject attends to ‘performance anxiety’ as it ‘names’ the subject. What is lacking in discourse is a useful articulation of ‘the feeling of what happens’ for the performer and to the performer who attempts to place herself in the position of reader and co-writer of a live text. This shift and placement of attention has been written for and about the reader who is simultaneously liberated and lost, but who is also writing. When applied to the performing body specifically, there is a procession movement, an intense oscillation between reader-writer, and watcher-seen. The relevant differences between the spectator and the performer are how they are named as such and how they arrive (t)here, in the permissive state of their ‘set-up’. The performer-artists ambition to blur this contract and these roles exists in how the performer takes part and observes the action as it happens: As she makes and allows ‘it’ to happen.  I wish to turn to the traumatic state of ‘the stage’ and of this oscillating gaze between the performer and the spectator (their ultimate duality as performer-spectator). When one begins to practice with Duck one is immediately confronted by performance anxiety. A performer is asked to enter a defined space in a room. There are witnesses. Entering into a site/sight she will first experience extreme self-consciousness. In Self-consciousness and Social Anxiety, Arnold Buss defines audience anxiety as “fear, tension, and disorganization in front of an audience.” He isolates as one of its immediate causes “acute public self-awareness” and describes this state.

The audience scrutinizes his appearance and behavior, inducing an intense awareness of him as a social object. As long as he remains in this state he will remain at a peak level of audience anxiety. As soon as his attention shifts from himself, his anxiety level drops sharply. Buss (1980 p.165)

The anxiety produced is thus not a result of our self-awareness but of how we perceive ourselves in the eyes of others. If I consider the performer within this equation, the same state of anxiety appears for her; for the performer there is a useful ‘opening of the ear’ and a dispersal of sights into the peripheral that works to decrease an anxiety of the perceived self.

The spectator is made socially and psychologically more self conscious: the observer becomes conscious of himself or herself as a body, as a perceiving subject, and of himself or herself in relation to a group. This is the reverse of the “loss of self” when a spectator looks at a conventional artwork. There the ‘self’ is mentally projected into (identified with) the subject of the artwork. In this traditional, contemplative mode the observing subject not only loses awareness of his or her ‘self’, but also loses consciousness of being part of a present, social group, located in a specific moment and social reality, occurring within the architectural frame where the work is presented. (ibid)

However set a piece of work may be, on the horizontal axis of the here-and-now; “…all performance is improvised whether you play something classical in a string quartet, or whether you just play something (explicitly improvised), it’s just about a different set of limitations” Steiner(Practicing Presence Nov. 2001) Improvisation illuminates the uncontrollability of live performance, because it has to happen in time and we can never know the future, no matter how well planned, or scripted or ‘set up’ we are. In any given space, the time will be different. It will be a different time.

I would like that what the public realize when they leave a performance of mine, is that they have been witnesses to something that I promise never to show or do again. I like that they understand in their own lives that. Just because we remember where we live it does not mean that we will arrive there. Life is as much of chance as it is of order. Duck (interview 2002)

The student begins, following an instruction to move in ‘flow’. To be in flow is to be in a constant state of moving without posturing towards either choice or chance. This means that as she moves she should not pause, stop, freeze or rest. She should not do anything ‘quickly’ or ‘slowly’.  This is a gentle entry into moving, which frees the mover out of any anxiety to ‘produce’ movement. She is simply moving. This exercise is a ‘zoning out’. It is a ‘getting out there’ or getting into site.  Referring to Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, the body cannot be removed, or examined out of, or away from its context or the condition it is in. In this sense, there is no body – in – itself. Merleau-Ponty states that the body therefore is not in the world, but is of-the-world. Duck invites her students as ‘ready mades’, and encourages them to perceive their subject as a body in the condition of being ‘one’, in space and time. By ‘ready made’ I mean that the students body is not an art object, designed or to be designed in Katie Duck’s vision. Rather the subject is exposed to a revision through a procession relating to her context.

The perceived thing is not an ideal unity in the possession of the intellect… it is rather a totality open to a horizon of an indefinite number of perspective views – which blend with one another according to a given style, which defines the object in question. Merleau-Ponty (1962 p.23)

This body, my body cannot see 360 degrees at the same time and must constantly shift positions (motion), in order to perceive the (w)hole. My vision in time is always partial. I am aware that my space is full of blind spots and it is in time that I keep a check, keep shifting my attention. My awareness is not everywhere at once, it is always somewhere. Because of time I am in a perpetual state of review. I am in a perpetual state of submerging my subject-body through space in time (not to think or to know ‘my’ body, but to perceive it and to allow it to be perceived: to feel and to be felt: to think and to be thinking: Being intelligence).

She focuses on her own physical body moving. She feels weight and follows the logic of her skeleton, integrating one movement into another as it makes and follows sense(s). If this were aural speech, she would not be intent on forming words or sentences, her intention would be to explore and observe the sounds that the movements her body makes. Her mind will not think about her body making movements, her mind will be in her body moving and out of her body: She moves and is moved. To use musical terms, as Duck often does, this state is like a drone or a base note, with no dynamic or inflection imposed upon it by the musician. Sound resonates as it moves through space, transforming, creating harmonics as it is warped and bent through space. It is like breathing. This is not the myth of respiration of which Barthes speaks, “the soul which accompanies the song, not the body… the emotive modes of its delivery” Barthes (1977 p.183). It is the breath as a “gesture support… the lung swells, but without erection”. (ibid)  This is the grain. The grain is not the attack, the leap from none-action to action. The grain is heard on its return to the body, after an action released, dispersed. The grain is a return and it has taken time because it is resonance.

We are now in what Duck calls a none-judgmental mind. Duck’s explicit instruction (frame) to stay in flow is giving the performer permission to get out of her mind a sense of responsibility for what the body looks like. Duck keeps us here for some time, leveling out the moving body and relaxing the mind of the body, freeing it from the pressure or compulsion to create. We will be aware of choices ‘coming up’. We ‘watch’ these choices come and go. We do not ‘do’ or ‘take’ any of these choices. My physical body is being dynamic, moving in space and time (the lung swells) and my work is to support this. I must be in the process of remembering (without member-ing) as I perform. If ‘one’ is moving from the premise that the gathered crowd is being judgmental, and one submits to being moved by an imagining of this judgment it will be a “lousy gig; If we consider the room to be full of eyes and ears, what a great thing”.  Duck (workshop, D.V.D.) During ‘flow’ Duck will ask us to begin working with the eye and the ear. Emphasizing the use of peripheral sense she instructs us to constantly shift our vision between long, mid and short ranges. Vision is not focus. It is seeing. Our focus remains in flow and begins to receive external information by seeing.  Placing our sight in site tells the body moving. Keeping our focus in flow helps the body to not immediately ‘react’ upon (emote) this telling. We do not yet act upon it. We experience our presence within site. We work against our own ‘expectations’, or what we are compelled to ‘intend’.  There is no ‘invention’ (or erection). The use of the ear is of equal importance. Duck refers to ‘clearing out the ear in order to ‘’open the face”. Duck (practicing presence 2001)

Just because you hear the music, doesn’t mean that it’s in your body… it is still in the space… you just have the very fortune of having ears… it’s a sense… so as long as it’s open it’s really there… it’s very simple to think that ‘I heard that’ but the whole space heard it… every sound that you hear is an invitation to re-open the ear and hear more, it is not an invitation to close down the ear and think ‘now I have it, that’s all I need to know’… you have to keep listening”. Duck (2001 workshop, D.V.D.)

Duck introduces choice to her students by introducing Pause. Once the option for pause is introduced the space begins to become composed. For Duck, composition in art is like science in life… The question by a physicist about how life began leads them to study how life will end. We share a mutual composition dilemma in that question when we improvise. (ibid)

Duck will introduce choice and warn of desire, of ones own desire to see something happen. When involved with improvisation, when choice is seemingly all there is, one is looking at what is happening in the room and making choices. It is easy to make a choice based on ones desire to see something happen or, one is compelled to make a choice because we feel responsible for making something happen. A performer will imagine something happening. For example I might think: ‘I will go over to the centre stage and lie down next to that person’. If I then proceed to execute this desire an infinite number of things may happen. The time it takes for me to carry out my desire is not time felt if the doing of choice is too direct. During this time I am not in the time of the room. Living out our own desire does this: It closes down ones perception of the room and of oneself as part of the room. To immediately contradict myself, I am though, filled with desire. My mediation of this is perpetual. Improvisation is exactly that I can shift my consciousness between these two. I can expel my desire, I can make that movement, but I must move with it. I must shift my self. I am (everywhere) in it. It is not the centre of I.

If what I want, for example, is to see the two of us sitting here together, forget it, because the chance is, that she is going to choose to leave. So, don’t choose that. Choose a moment, physically, in time, to do something – that’s all …  and time creates space… I create space not because I do that, but because I place that in time. (ibid)

If I imagine myself doing something and then begin to do it, what Duck’s work prepares me for is the probability that I will not reach my destination as expected. As soon as I begin I am in the here and now of the event and must let my desire go as it belongs to another time. I commit and simultaneously know no longer.  Improvisation is site specific. The medium of the live artist is site not sight. Ones subject speaks through processes of deconstruction and occurrence within that site. Perfect timing is real time. There is no time like the present.

The predominance of the visual, and of the discrimination and individualization of form, is particularly foreign to female eroticism… This organ which has nothing to show for itself also lacks a form of its own. Irigaray (1985 p.26)

When Duck is teaching she does not impose or design what the performer will do. She does not tell the performer ‘what’ to do. Duck focuses on how a performer will arrive at the ‘what’ that they do.

When art is analyzed by aesthetic, art becomes a frozen instrument. Duck(interview summer 2000)

A discussion of aesthetics continues to lose the subtle level of the work that is an affective presence and an articulation of ‘how’ it comes to be. An experiential practice is an essential part of training for a total presence in the performance act. Duck describes teaching improvisation to a group of dance students in Spain.

When I went to Madrid, I worked with these kids… I did select some ballet dancers, that I could relate to from my own background, but when we practiced, it looked nothing like my own work… the aesthetic was very different… aesthetics are a problem. For me, aesthetics get in the way of learning. Get them out of my way, otherwise I can’t see those kids in Spain can I? I want to see soul, and when I can, it is bliss. Duck (interview 2000)

If Duck becomes distracted by what her students are doing technically, or by what they ‘look like’, she will be distracted ultimately by her own ‘taste’ which refers to her own choices, experience, past and future.

A judgment of taste must involve a claim to subjective universality … if he who judges proclaims something to be beautiful, then he requires the same liking from others; he then judges not just for himself but for everyone. Jones 1999 p.40)

Duck’s aim is to get the dancers working together, realizing themselves as part of a bigger body which is dominated by time and space, and which is ruthlessly unconcerned with aesthetics or by the aspirations of the individual (herself included). There is information held within this mode of transaction by Duck of information to her students. Working alongside Duck it becomes clear how her mode of presence as a teacher is informed by the same politics held within her own negotiation of the performance act.

Barthes refers to the grain of the voice and then to the grain of writing to the same theoretical ends concluding that within the possibility of writing aloud, the voice that is writing, (and in our case, the body that is improvising) must,

Be as fresh, supple, lubricated, delicately granular and vibrant as an animals muzzle … to succeed in shifting the signified a great distance and in throwing, so to speak, the anonymous body of the actor into my ear: it granulates, it crackles, it caresses, it comes: that is bliss.  Barthes (1977 p. 67)

I am extending the idea of ‘writing aloud’ to include the (w) hole body practice of improvisation. When Duck says she wants to see soul, we can understand that this is not the soul of an individual, or some sort of ‘true’ manifestation of their ‘self’, but it is the bliss to which Barthes refers. It is the body ‘writing aloud’.

If I am given choice I might then ask the question: What should I do?  Anxiety arises when I ask myself that question. I need to consider my intentions, my desire, my ego, my expectations and perceptions. I imagine the expectations of my audience. If I make a movement from this emotive state it is never a good choice. It does not have a future because it has only served to mask or hide my anxiety (just do something… anything!) Once I react in this way I begin to perform out of time. I become trapped into making one choice after another after another and this task is immense. I am writing all on my own because I am clinging to the belief that everything depends on me. “She” is already dead as I speak for myself, rambling on and on. Trying (with excess effort) to save myself.

In this effort to contain, or hide this anxiety of her self-spilling, what I would call a reluctant, none committal performing happens. Half finished sentences or movements are driven by a presence that is anxious. Either way words are spluttered, not spoken: connotative masquerades. The performer is not looking to us, or out there for clues. Even when she is looking at us, she can only see herself. Choice alone will not lead us to transformation. She must express her exposition. She can only do this if she feels that to which she is exposed. Again I use agoraphobia and trauma as useful metaphors to describe this anxiety emitted from a body that is overwhelmed by the real time state of affairs, from one who cannot bear to look, to hear or to acknowledge site, its presence and its force. As a performer I have experienced saying too much, through panic and fear of site and spillage, and saying ‘nothing’ through an overly analytical and defensive self.

A performer who improvises dance or music using only choice as their time structure will eventually loose any perspective of the space. Duck (Interview 2000)

A performer whose attention is placed solely on choice cannot hear chance. This is simple to understand. If she makes a choice to cross a busy road but does not consider the road, and place this choice as action in time, then there is a strong possibility that she will get hit by an on coming car. A performer who only makes choices is also, to use the same example, only walking, without an awareness of her surroundings. There is no acknowledgement of context and so no play, no relationship to it. Improvisation is understood to be a practice whereby the performer ‘composes as they go along’. Explicitly this is so. Implicitly the performing body is improvising all the time. The time we refer to is always the present. A purely choice-full performance is a closed text-act. It is walking across a busy road with eyes and ears closed.

For Duck “misunderstandings are openings to the core of the room” and “are where the piece really gets made.” (Workshop, D.V.D)  When a performer is not working within a frame that allows or involves chance as an option, if and when chance happens it will be read as a ‘mistake’. To set-up chance as an option does not necessarily change the ‘what’ that happens, but it essentially changes how it will come to happen. To involve chance as an option is a posture towards the possibility of transformation in the (w) hole.

Movement equals memory, space-time equals choice, and exit equals chance. Duck (interview 2002)

Something within the logic of ones own intellect, in reaction to what is being seen and heard, brings choice and choice will be used as a departure point or as a trigger for movement. As soon as this movement is placed in time, the author of it must be forgotten: the mover then looks for exit. Exit removes the consequence of choice and places a movement in time and space. This movement still does not know and should never assume to know future. If choice is carried out into and as movement one is trying (to get it ‘right’) to form an idea of movement… and does so by merely reconstructing from a sequence of immobility.

The whole world of theatre is set up for entrance.
Duck (workshop D.V.D)

Duck will encourage us to be less precious and to not believe in what we are doing. We do not need to fill space but create space. Students at certain times during their training with Duck will become frustrated at being criticized for doing too much. These students are often of a high technical ability. We feel compelled to show off their technical virtuosity, our acrobatic agility. A misunderstanding arises because Duck will care less how high a leg moves or how far a body leaps and insist only that these movements are placed in time. She prefers that there is time and space for listening and waiting. The practice is fundamentally collaboration. We are always moving in relation to something and/or someone else.  Misunderstandings by the students might be that Duck wants them to dance ‘badly’ or to not dance at all, or to dance like her. This, compounded with a temporary phase of insecurity through self-scrutiny raises questions for us about what we want for ourselves as performers. These are questions that through an actual practice of performing ourselves through Ducks processes are not necessarily answered, but removed, as an awareness of a luminal state is developed.

In a world that is set up for entrance, Duck introduces exit as  the most important element within Duck’s practice. For her, a performer engaged with performing should always be in the state of ‘looking for exit’. This notion gives the mover a mental focus on ‘future’ that strengthens their physically being in the present: In time. Exit is the main choice that an improvising performer should make.

As soon as you see anything going on, you should leave because that thing is not going to happen unless you leave … when we are involved with sound, we don’t enter with sound, we exit with sound … we hear sound, and from thereon you are hearing … and it is just as likely when you hear it, for you to exit and not do it as it is for you to do it. It becomes determinate if you do it.  Duck(Workshop, D.V.D.)

Once we decide to do something, we must move away from it, change direction, and shift our focus to another sense. On every level we are working away from inscribing our self upon site as an autonomous protagonist of that inscription. Always there is the opportunity to trick ourselves out of the compulsion to fixate, to control, to assume or to preserve our focus or our own centre. Duck encourages us to let time pass, to let choices pass. This shifts the mind-body from a pre-determining position – from before movement happens – and trains the mind-body to be always on the other side of action, towards the ending of that action. This is the necessary paradox for performing in the present tense. Time and space do not rely on the performer to make something happen or to transform site by doing things. Improvisation is as much concerned with letting space and time affect and infect event by practicing an active understanding of ‘not doing’. The performer lets go, leaves rather than enters. In this respect Duck does not work with entrance, only with exit.

When we do exit our work is to know what we have left behind. Exit practices the understanding that as I exit space, the space does not cease to exist. When we are outside the performance space we keep the same physical engagement. We work to not presume a physical or mental distinction between inside and outside of the performance space. This works to keep a physical engagement whether I am ‘on stage’ or ‘off stage’ and works towards not engaging differently in one or the other. Ducks use of exit is a tool that the performer uses to perpetually re-remember that time is passing, that future is undetermined. I feel my selves in my own periphery, and future is found as it comes into my body(s), gets involved and performs my body(s). This is a state of constant remembering. It is not possible to know, as I depart, where or when I will arrive. Looking for exit is something that one only ever remembers to do, through time, perpetually, at the moment of fixation, when one is considering oneself, feeling the weight of responsibility for meaning. It is a shudder, an anxiety which begins to harden and fix the body, so it no longer moves as part of space and time but is becoming a dead space within space, imploding. At this point one is able to release oneself, to continue to fight preservation and to pursue a body in and of performance.

In his essay Grainne of the voice Larry Lynch (on the work of Grainne Cullen) brings into play Jacque Derrida’s thesis Dissemination/Difference/Trace. Lynch defines Derrida’s implications as “the operative procedure by which meaning does not in fact ever come to mean”.  For Derrida, there are only signifiers. “Not like the old signifiers, mere inert physical marks on the page, mere things in the world of things. These signifiers are above all signifying, that is, pointing away from themselves, pointing away to other signifiers”. Derrida (in Harland1987 p.134) There is no movement from signifier to signified, but from signifier to signifier, again and again in a perpetual state of deferral. Derrida writes,

The meaning of meaning… is infinite implication, the indefinite referral of signifier to signifier … its force is a certain pure and infinite equivocally which gives signified meaning no respite, no, but engages in its own economy so that it always signifies again and differs. Derrida (1978 p.25)

The practice of improvisation is the practice of observing and experiencing oneself as a social being. One is able to discover how one is socially, in difference, without oppressing or imposing upon others. This sense of self(s) is only attainable through an exposure to the social and a rigorous exploration of ones sense-abilities there in. The practice of improvising opens up the space in between I, and what I do. It does not instruct or inscribe how I should do what I do. It brings my consciousness to the space in between: It luminaries my consciousness.

Chance means giving time to choice:  To make choices in time. If chance informs choices that are being made, we may more safely assume that the (w) hole room is informing these choices. The mind of the performer is submerged into the mind of the room. Choice and chance can be viewed as a transformative process. Duck does not aspire to liberate ‘the self’, nor does she believe in a more honest or truer self. There is no notion of ‘getting better’ as a person-in-the-world. Duck’s methods practice and develop a presence that is not a stripping down of ones subject (gender, profession, training – whatever) towards a neutralized or designed body, but a development of a self(s) as a political agency. This is a luminal and ambivalent self(s) constantly affirmed and reaffirmed from one moment to the next. This is a deconstructed subject in the most positive sense: A coalition of self(s). A physical practice of improvisation provides us with a working methodology for the artist who is being her self(s) on stage helps train the performing body to be in real time, on stage, in performance and to ‘cope’ with what is always partially unknown. And so, improvisation is a physical practice for the body that will support instead of block its per formative artwork.

The ‘what’ of performance, exists primarily as a catalytic agent between the performer and the viewer? This comes close to contradicting Barthes concerns that the text becomes a transparent allegory through which the Author ‘confides’ in us. But of course it does not contradict at all when we look not to the text-act or to the ‘image’ but to the artist herself who has not authored, but who is looking back at another, returning as well as receiving another’s gaze. This is not the horror of nothing to see it is exposure. I am conscious of my self as transmitter and translator. Between the literary and the visual we keep losing bodies in time.

What always exceeds the text is its context. What differ are the attitudes and intentions of the artist, the politics of the artist-subject. It is the space that confides in us, that whispers as we listen. We touch upon it and another and in doing so we touch ourselves, stimulating, bringing (new) life (change) to ‘I’.

I am reviewing performance anxiety through its connection with an anxiety brought about by the deconstruction of the subject. The anxiety of being on stage is a fear of being exposed as ‘one’ with many ‘ones’ – many truths which defer, contradict and crack open the ‘one’, the ideology of the subject. Accepting the changeability of my subject does not destroy or cancel out the legitimacy of my history, my presence, or my future. As soon as I enter a space, in particular this one that has been created to perform, as soon as ‘I’ ‘speak’ I occur as a set of laws, a formulation of ideas as they exist in this time. My subject, through exposure is also full of absences. To enter the site of performance is to embrace the transformation of fear into pleasure. In performance work I see a striking mode of presence, which, in light of deconstruction, appears non-committal. The performing subject recedes through a fear of exposing and thus confronting her self, or rather a loss of self through a negative, through a misunderstanding of ‘no thing’. To be luminal, to induce and stimulate site we must open and posture a constant reference to YES. As Author then, returning to performance work, the performer is not a central subject, but is in the first place a surface upon which will be played out multiple meanings of multiple texts. I believe improvisation not only searches for and develops an awareness of this for the performer, but it searches also for the transformation of fear into pleasure. It mobilizes and inspires a future to come through the stimulation of the present.

Improvisation is a central organizing notion that deconstructs the concepts held within bodies in the pursuit of difference. It develops a consciousness of ones self read as written as well as writing. This helps the performer to not ‘say’ too much (rant) and therefore lose themselves in the text-act (as an anxious reaction to time and space) instead of losing their ‘self’ into the self(s); the space and time, the here and now.

Terror makes me jump out of my skin. When I am not here where my body is, can I perform an action in the present tense? Terrorism is what I do to myself when I am not able to act in the present tense; then I cannot occupy the present. The place I am. And then there is fear of the dangerous, the risking of ones life; performing an action with a hundred percent attention in the present tense. This is dangerous. Public action is banned in many countries. It frightens people. Kaylan, No More Metaphors (Practicing Presence event 2002)

The performer in training may arrive at this practice with no critical understanding of themselves as a social body.  The performer feels their own expressivities, dramatics, personality etc. as spillage uncontrolled. Subjectivity is their departure point. When studying improvisation with Duck, who we are is our starting point for practice. Subjectivity is not something we ‘strip away’, we do not submerge our personality, we put us out there. Duck provides her students with an understanding of difference within the subject. Duck cares less about what becomes, and pulls attention constantly toward how it becomes: towards becoming. This is the bliss that Duck seeks. It is Jouissance. It is a pleasure and a poetics of site and subject.

Duck speaks of transformation as the earned moment of an improvisation. Transformation is the reward for engaging with time and space with a precise effort. You have entered the condition of time and space and allowed something to happen to you. You have been complicit in this happening because your openness has invited it. It is perfect timing. A momentary union of space, time and body, where space has opened and all time lines land ‘here’. It is change that comes through labor. Transformation is a passage for the performing body that manages to push through and out of the dialogue that a performer is having with the space, with other bodies, a specific transaction that is ‘rewarded’ by what I will call recognition. I use this word as the best to continue this discussion of the relationship with oneself that is mediated in the live event. I could also use the words transcend, exceed, fuse. Transformation requires time. Transformation relies on a careful carelessness, where we place our efforts when we perform. It is this ‘mythological’ moment that exceeds language because it has no traceable ‘origin’, it occurs in the moment. The entire body feels transformation happen as fissure, as a momentary transcendence of a dialogic space, a change through risk, a swift meaning of life. If I do not first express my subject, with all its fragility and contradiction, I will not move the feminine to climax. It is through the transformative power of site that I will recognize her in me. In a brief moment, in snapshot, full and present.


How the artist is present in her artwork is political. There is a critical presence that has no bearing on whether one is performer, actor, dancer, musician or ethnographer. How one is present will influence, consciously or not, the text-act as (you) play upon its surface no matter what discourse or genre you are working within.

It is a simple matter of public over private interest. How one is present, how one considers their selves one, how one enters space, is a micro-ethic. I prefer to understand my self as part of a whole. For a performer to consider their own presence they must consider their selves exposed, and part of, not separate from the site they occupy. They are significant in the processes of significance.

Presence, as the loss of a discreet body, a body fully present in the present tense, needs to be physically practiced in order to become part of, to enlighten and affirm, the concepts and theories that write ‘the’ body. This body, my body experiencing, contributes to the knowledge I have of some things. I have tried to marry my own subject-once, my perceptions as a mode of analysis, with certain concepts and theories, not to set one up against the other, but to pursue a more total discourse for the body in the intersecting field of live art.

(The body) is implicitly defined as unruly, disruptive, in need of direction and judgment, merely incidental to the defining characteristics of the mind, reason, or personal identity through its opposition to consciousness, to the psyche and other privileged terms within philosophical thought. Elizabeth Grosz (1995 p.3)

There has been a substantial period of time in which it has seemed appropriate or necessary to perform in a way that attempts to remove the author-artist and his/her own private meanings from live art work. The cultural and critical theory that surrounds contemporary live art practice does not prefer to recognize the ‘person’ of the work when it reads. And, I ask again at the end of this writing, ‘why not’? I end this thesis with a conviction that it is necessary to see that person first in order to depart, see through or return to ones own self as co-writer of a text-act. As the performer enters the performance space she enters into a process of identification with her public. This moment is fundamentally irremovable from the actual experience of going on stage. It is precisely how the performer then deals with this process of identification, how they disperse or divert or seek to open up these processes that sparks the potential for performativity, conceptuality and liminality in actual live art practice and not just in its theory.

It is wrong to presume that the live art body, just because she is ‘being herself’, not pretending to be anybody else, not performing actions or movements or choreographies that are complicated or challenging, is not totally subjected to experiencing the feeling of what happens in this moment of entering, when private and public along with all other oppositional forces implode into the performing body. And this is read(able).  Ignorance of this is present and obscures present-ness.

That possibly less sophisticated dialogue, storytelling, analysis and critique from within practice are continuously written out, by concept is a mistake. ‘My’ subject body, in theory, becomes replaced or written out by ‘the’ object body. This mistake is made as much in practice as it is in theory. I do not desire the anarchy of replacing one for the other, only that my unsophisticated text is not overlooked and that ‘I’ can be trusted to be both subject and object without losing one to the other (there is a score of O; love, no points). I desire to hear more from some-body who has been (t) here.

I have felt irrelevant and mourned reason, brought here to stare at the disengaged.
I have read words that have moved me to tears.

Within the theory and writing of contemporary live art focus is placed largely on the spectator, on the social space and the concepts that frame it. In practice, a live artist, especially one that is ‘being themselves’, the performing ethnographer who wishes to make active these spaces, to open them, must surely have a self consciousness as well as a social one, otherwise their space will not be open. The self of that performer, when not conscious will occur anyway but as awkwardness, as mistake, as fracture.

Our recent history has experienced a dark age. A period of ‘absence’; of restraint; of stripping down the human subject to its most objective state has deferred the possibility for transformation, for liminality in these social spaces. For the performance act this has incurred in respect (or fear) of the expressive self, through its nearness to or indeed its inducement through ‘self’ expression. It is not that transformation in live art work does not happen; it is simply that it does not get referred to in any critical or analytical sense.

I have tried to re-approach self expression through notions of presence in the performance act so that we might re-consider bringing it back. It is not that I wish to again express my own ‘feelings’, or my utopia for the future. The self that I express post – post modernism is no longer ‘my own’. It is this self-less-ness that I wish to touch. We can begin to explore, to move in and out of our luminal selves, our another-ness. It is a heightened state of awareness that comes from experiencing transformation that will nurture and support our analytic, intellectual engagement with our human condition.

I have identified the ‘gap’ between the person of the performer and the activity they do. I have written this gap as feminine, as per formative and as improvised. I have placed all this within a discussion of presence. ‘I’ within this text has purposefully shifted positions within my own subject(s): as reader writer performer analyst patient observer collaborator participant teller and story.

Expressing oneself in public is a dangerous activity; in most theatre and gallery spaces that I sit or stand to experience performance. I rarely feel danger. The space is most often ‘safe’. I am not beside myself, outside of my own skin. But I feel danger now, as I write this. My feeling of failure is immense. Chaos is denoted in my astral chart. Now, it really is all about me, and all that I think I mean.

Liminality is more than an in between, or an other-ness. It is not a transition. The luminal state is not separate from our ‘normal’ state of being; as we exist within rational and logical structures. Liminality is part of who we are. Liminality may be seen as essentially spiritual whereas ‘this’, our ‘normal’ plane is essentially material. Liminality is integrative of all experience.

Along with analysis of the concepts and theories of the body must come a democratization of the senses, and certainly an opening of them. Critical weight must be given to the fluid nature of the experiencing subject and so to conceptual reconsideration, reaffirmation and new rationalization for the human subject to be a ‘who’ and a ‘how’ as well as a ‘what’. Luminal performance requires a specific and conscious attention to the present tense, transforming how ‘one’ performs into how ‘she’ moves.

Liminality itself is the process of transformation at work. Improvisation practices a process of consciously achieving transformation. And, this is the process of entering a luminal state. We often dismiss subjective modes of awareness as intuition, that unnerving knack that some people seem to have of perceiving the answer almost before the question is asked. Our fear of accepting ‘other’ modes of awareness is another of our many ethnocentrisms, which in this culture are all founded on fear. It is easy to see back through our fascination with and misunderstanding of rites of passage and liminality why we hold ourselves in with defensive mistrust of another’s touch. Liminality is central to the social process, and the site of performance becomes ‘empty’ and ‘barren’ without this recognition.

Post Script.

The thesis ‘floats’. Sometimes it sounds superficial in its analysis. As Scott Dela Hunta remarks in the Practicing Presence conversation (see supplement), presence can be found anywhere. But for the sake of my own professional practice, and artistic interests it anyway seemed necessary to try, by approaching presence through what are the dominant texts, theories and critiques of contemporary performance studies in the UK at present. The thesis uses ‘corner post’ examples as it searches for the most direct translation of theory into practice, in order to best focus on the practice. I lean conceptually on the resounding conclusion I can present from this research: Experience is a mode of analysis. I can write from the premise that presence is discussable only by reading indirectly, by getting close without (my) being present. In order to literally deal with presence I can play on words more usefully than I can choose the words themselves. Can I really not know quite what ‘I’ mean(s) and say it anyway?

It is useless, then, to trap women in the exact definition of what they mean”. “Women return within them… within the intimacy of that silent, multiple, diffuse touch. And if you ask them insistently what they are thinking about, they can only reply: Nothing. Everything – Irigaray(p.29)

Theory has affirmed my practice and has become it in many ways. The dialogue between theory and practice needed to remain civilized. They were there to support one another. The thesis and my performance practice remained utterly distinct as experiences, but shifting between these layers upon layers of reconsideration became a creative process in itself. I am committed to the future of performance studies and continue to make performance works, and to perform, collaboratively in varying contexts. My tools of construction and the physical awareness that I practice in performance have been fundamentally informed by this research.

Appendix 1- instructions for ‘Practicing Presence’ DVD; contents list’
Appendix 2- ‘Practicing Presence’ – description of event (from beginning?)
Appendix 3- ‘DVD content description including artists’ biographies
Appendix 4- Transcript of ‘Practicing Presence’ conversation between practitioners and audience members.

Primary materials (referenced within the body of the thesis)
Secondary materials (additional reading and research including performance work)