Liminoid and Walls Against the Multitude (on PSi #23, Part 2)

Considering the abundance of sessions offered in the conference I became aware of the limitations of reporting on the whole conference which was organized by Amelie Deuflhard, Gabriele Klein, Martin Jörg Schäfer and Wolfgang Sting and managed by Marc Wagenbach. So I decided to write about a few thoughts and ideas that came up in conversations and dialogues as well as moments of relaxation shared with other participants. Many of the terms and themes have already been discussed at other PSi-conferences and in Performance Research. This reappearance of themes can be seen as a golden thread which not only helps to get out of a labyrinth built by artists but also helps to catch the clue to a complexly woven pattern.

Liminal and Liminoid

Amongst the many metaphors and concrete forms of flow and overflow ‘liminal’ seems to be a revue of an old one. After Richard Schechner (one of the founders of PSi) one did not hear this reference for quite a while. It was introduced by Arnold van Gennep and redefined by Victor Turner. Thomas Isaacs brought it up again to understand the self-torturous actions of Marina Abramovic in “Lips of Thomas” . Although it was done in 1974 it seems that it has not been fully understood. Why can it be useful or even necessary to perform painful acts? If we follow Turner, we have to ask again, whether there is any reason to transfer rituals and initiations from agricultural to complex contemporary societies? Does it make sense to use this term and to understand pain in terms of a contemporary ritual? Kieran Sellars also asked such questions with regard to the performances of Martin O’Brian, which for him are part of a personal method of struggling against his disease and help him to ease pain.[1] Perhaps we have to revise the idea of transgression today. While in the 1960s and 70s it meant breaking down the limits between art and life as well as between the private and the public, today the setup of limits is being discussed again. It seems that ‘liminal’ defines the use of thresholds – seen as a beam of plank at the entrance of a house – against excess.

New Limits? (degression)

The etymology of liminal is connected to the motto ‘overflow’, considering, that thresholds, the literary meaning of which can be defined as a board holding the abundance of a rich crop like cereal. Here liminal means banning or protecting the overflow and being able to share a crop over a period of time. This seems to be the direction in which the impetus of performance art has been changing over the decades at least in the Americas, Europe and Japan. Beginning as a revolutionary act in art, politics and life, which intended to tear away any limitation set by traditions, rules or conventions. This tendency was partly reversed by accademisation, when new museums were built in the 1970s and universities expanded faculties in the 1980s. Parallel to that the private TV-channels expanded by streaming 24 hours adds and news accompanied by permanent stock-market-tickers and there was the fall of the iron curtain. Things speeded up and the internet provided digital communication to almost everybody. This led to the desire to set up new limits or strengthen the old ones by moral and religious taboos. Actually even in countries with free access to internet like in Germany limitations of free speech as sanctions on hate-speech are being discussed.

This emphasizes the taming of uncontrolled powers of violence, of overwhelming feelings as well as pain. Could it also mean to a society that it looks for ways to control aggressive youngsters, powerful intellectuals and physical fighters instead of unleashing them? There is an obligation to protect the weak and if we look at the changing of the liminal in Performance Art it finally could mean the compliance of the arts by reconciling struggle, taming violence, preventing fighting and overcoming pain in a classical way. Already now sports, arts and cultural policy provide multiple space and time in media, arenas, theatres, cinemas etc. to compensate for phenomena of the liminoid. The numbers of artists who are pushing the limits are few. They are still acting in countries, where the limits for making money are wide and for artistic expression are tight. A good example is Pjotr Pawlenski in Russia. Actually numerous biennals, documenta and art fairs have been established on the base of what was achieved by the widening of limits and providing open spaces. Now we see a tendency that these multiple spaces are excessively filled with artefacts and material. It seems that the challenge of contemporary artists consists in stuffing up places for exhibitions and gathering matter and things in panic-like efforts

The Permanence of a Construction-Site as Happening

The new project of Rimini Protokoll “Staat 1-4” approaches such implications of overflow which are provided by big construction sites. As Immanuel Schipper presented, there is a trend which can be publicly observed: The generation of problems that are raising costs and cause constant delays, which enable the prolongation of construction sites deploying more and more opportunities to earn money for companies and lawyers. “Gesellschaftsmodell Großbaustelle (Staat 2)” is inspired by the logic and the logistics of a mega-construction site forming a role model for a society. The virtual set reminds me of the compartmented structure of a Happening like for example „18 Happenings in 6 Parts”. Instead of using the theatrical frame the project provides guided tours for 5 groups of visitors taking place at the same time in the same space at different parts of the site.
At the same time the “real” reality and real estate like the construction sites at the Berlin Airport (BER), will probably never be finished. Examining this from an artistic point of view this kind of reality appears like a permanent Happening, which is not dropped from the program for years like a successful musical. Is the latest and unexpected version of blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Independent Film in Hamburg

A surprisingly detailed paper was presented by Megan Hoetger from L.A. who researched “underground” film making in Hamburg in 1969 + 1973. She came close to the iconoclastic qualities of that independent experiment, which existed for a very short period of time. The film-maker-cooperative at Hamburg’s Brüderstraße was radically staying away from film- and TV-productions. Its members were also resisting paths which were chosen in local film-festivals in Germany and abroad.

[1] “Martin’s work considers existence with a severe chronic illness within our contemporary situation. Martin suffers from cystic fibrosis and his practice uses physical endurance, hardship and pain based practices to challenge common representations of illness and examine what it means to be born with a life threatening disease. His work is an act of resistance to illness, an attempt at claiming agency and a celebration of his body. Martin loves his body and his work is a form of sufferance in order to survive.”


Culturally Transformed Industrial Location for PSi #23

A Conference titled OVERFLOW from June 8 to 11, 2017 at Kampnagel in Hamburg

Impressions and Observations (Part 1)

The Kampnagelfabrik, which is the venue for dance-, music- and theatrical performances, was a factory that produced cranes for the port until the 1970s. After it was closed artists squatted the building and evolved various cultural activities there. This all happened when ports were transformed worldwide by the innovation of containers, which required a complete revision of the logistic scheme. When housing the annual conference of Performance Studies international, one can also realize the effects of economic change on education in the actual phase of globalization, when knowledge becomes a part of profit oriented circulation of goods and services too. However the good thing that cultural knowledge also has faces bodies and minds, which can be met and experienced during conferences and festivals like OVERFLOW from June 8 to 11 in Hamburg. Probably there are hardly other fields than those of the arts, dance, theatre, music, ritual and play as well as public performances in which cultural experience and expertise are represented and kept over the centuries.

The Foyer of Kampnagel during the Conference,
photographed by johnicon

PSi is a unique organization in which ideally practitioners of various fields of the performing arts meet academics of the theatre-faculties from the leading universities of the world. That fuels conflicts with institutions, which undergo restrictions, imposed by the neo-liberal management of universities. These were discussed right away on a Friday panel, which took place next to another one, where information on activism and performances in the overflowing City of Hong Kong was given. There students, intellectuals and artists fight for freedom which they have to defend against the requirements of capital and the circulation of commodities.

An opportunity to participate in a rich field of experiences in practice and research

The title of this conference is a metaphor describing the situation of the rich countries that profit from the exploitation of labor, agricultural and natural resources of the world, but you can also read it in a different way as the gifts, which are provided by the possibilities one has, when growing up on the sunny side of the word. Overflow can also be given to somebody for example through his or her intellectual and physical qualities, which enable a person to lead a full and happy life or resist stress and unrest.

Overflow in terms of affluence as well as spill can also be poisonous and destructive. Power and wrong decisions can destroy people’s lives, nature and social stability. Streams of money are used to exploit the resources thus helping to establish a corrupt ruling-class like in Kongo and Nigeria. On the other hand overflow is created by culture in Europe these days, when the documenta 14 at Kassel and Athens. Also the Skulpturen-Projekte Münster are opened simultaneously and in addition to the Venice Biennale and the Theater der Welt in Hamburg. Those who have the resources and permits to travel can visit the presentation of works of a chosen number of creative people from all over the world. This is also true for the program of PSi #23. Every day the participants of the conference can browse through 70 titles of presentations of papers, lectures, performances, panel-discussions or workshops, and have to decide, which one to attend. Disciplined enough you sit in one out of 10 contributions of ideas, knowledge and research, ranging from artistic to cultural, political and economic topics, from personal to conceptual as well as to life acts and performances representing in itself the flow if not an overflow of human struggle with reality and the results of cultural procession of it. For those who feel that the earth is too small Maaike Bleeker and Felipe Cervera offered a 4 hour lasting session hosting a series of lecturers, who explored the possibilities of space such as Planetary Performance Theory, theatrical events on the popularization of research in astronomy (Kurt Vanhoutte), Soviet Sci-Fi-Movies (Natalija Maysova), Performances of the Leap Second (Sara Morawetz), Kinetic Theatre during a Parabolic Flight (Janez Janša), a hypnotic flight to the moon (Nahum) and more.

But what means theatre today and what conditions do we find down on the earth especially in countries endangered by restrictions of the free speech and movement like in Turkey, Hongkong, Poland, not to speak about the dangers by losing once job or terror and crime. As it has been possible for me to visit only a small segment of the affluence of thoughts, ideas, results of research and elaborated papers I have to beg the pardon of all those, who came to Kampnagel to speak and present their papers and PowerPoints and are not mentioned here.

Kampnagel Campus, photographed by johnicon

However I will try to convey my observations as an essay on what I have listening to and experienced personally in encountering participants of the conference. So please take the excerpts that have been chosen as a possible whole. It is a subjective collection of a choice I made according to personal preferences as well as by coincidence. What I personally have experienced as a gift is a growing trust in each other to share knowledge, experience and expertise in the field, that has grown over decades and has its points of contact in many countries on 4 continents – and we still missing Africa, although the continent is present in many contributions reflecting the implications of the refugee-crises and post-colonial politics!

Hamburg is lucky to have hosted this conference at such an impressive place. The link to art history however is missing. It was represented by Aby Warburg, who included contemporary pagan rituals and festivals into the focus of his research of images to understand Renaissance. The Kunstwissenschaftliche Bibliothek Warburg was founded in 1925, a few 100 meters away from the venue of the conference. It was saved from loss in London exile in 1933 and was re-institutionalized as a copy and research-institution after 1993 in the renovated Warburg-building in Hamburg. Unfortunately this promising link to Performance Studies was cut by those who are responsible for the division of the faculties at the University.

More records are prepared to follow soon!

Art-Mama of Life-Art died

One of the longest experiments Life-Art came to an end Thursday, May 25th 2017. Odai Orimoto, better known as “Art-Mama”, died at the age of 98 in Kawasaki-City. She has become part of the art-world, since Japanese Fluxus-Artist Tatsumi Orimoto included her in his Life-Art in 1996 and launched photoprints of “Tire-Tube-Communication” showing Odai with neighbors in her garden and in her living room.[1] It seemed slightly disturbing to the audience, to see three old ladies with tires as necklaces, and later also “Art-Mama”

Small Mama + Big Shoes, Kawasaki 1997, Courtesy of the artist

with gigantic custom-made shoes. But Orimoto’s work is about the burden of getting old and feeling one’s body as a weight, which becomes heavier and heavier every year. These aspects of the mature body, which have never been reflected by Body Art were introduced by Tatsumi Orimoto for the first time in art history. He started this unique artistic collaboration with his mother who was suffering from depression and Alzheimer’s disease and it lasted for 21 years. The whole artistic production of that period was labelled “Art-Mama” and focuses on the aesthetic implications of the growing number of elderly people in many contemporary societies. Beside the physical self-awareness it deals with the shrinking field of vision, deteriorated hearing and haptic sensations.

The last time, that Odai appeared in a public performance, was at a lunch for 50 grandmas in the Kawasaki-City-Museum in 2006. After that Orimoto spent more and more time taking care for his mother. Nevertheless he travelled in Japan and abroad, to show his new work (see several articles in this blog – just tick on Orimoto, Art-Mama and other key-words of this article like artist’s mothers) which he produced at home including his mother as usual and experimenting with new objects and tools related to his care-taking like diapers and wheelchairs.

The Stress with the Wheelchair, Kawasaki-City 2012, courtesy of the artist

Last year Orimoto appeared as a woman’s drag as “Art-Mama” by himself. Here he investigates the field of similarity and imitation not only of facial expression but also on body-language and habits as a topic in the arts.

[1] The first European shows of this series was realized by Aktionsgalerie in Berlin in 1999 and Fotogalerie Wien in April 2000 (Catalogue # 160, Vienna 2000)