Bojana Cvejic
The Accursed Share:

Accounting for the open
It would be impossible to speak of unknowledge, while we can speak of its effects (Bataille)

Open, indeterminate, risky, vulnerable, failing.

When I try to pronounce them in other languages, these adjectives slip back into English. They’re roaming in the echoes of diverse role-voices, solo-project proposals, new rising programmers, generous self-reflexive critics or new theoretical propositions beyond performatives..., all merging and vanishing in the point where both a theoretically-profiled and an anti-intellectualist attitude meet at glimpsing into the limits of language. The question isn’t interesting as in how different these pronouncements mean when they terminate their speaking about a performance with the judgement: "it’s so open", as in why they gain power of an idiolect, an internationally English-spoken one, projected into the practices of dance; a self-evidence of values which could replace the obsolete terms of beautiful, functional, true... Openness, indeterminacy, risk, failure — to turn them into the predicative function of epithets demonstrates how they disentangled from their former concepts, aleatory, indeterminacy, actionism, happening. If in the 60s and 70s open work (opera aperta) could invest poetical as political procedures of making a divorce from the tradition of ideal intentional aesthetic object of artwork in performance, today it is the rhetorical nuance of the words used for viewing a ‘how’ where "open", "indeterminate", "risky", "vulnerable", "failing" bear new bastard-aesthetic terms for...what purposes?

To undo the jargon of dissonant consensus around these terms is to examine how it functions in another politicity of the situation in which performance practices do not disrupt the institutional regime of artwork but interpellate it by discursive operations determining their interpretability. Inasmuch as they don’t conform into one conceptual paradigm, the heterogeneous choice of performance-works, by Jérôme Bel (Nom donné par l’auteur), Xavier Le Roy (Product of Circumstances), Mårten Spångberg (I.e. All All Over Over All All et. al.), Tino Sehgal (Untitled), BadCo. (Diderot’s Nephew, directed by Sergej Prista_), which I would like to look into here, produce the effect of voiding aboutness from stage representation. Naming what they are about explicitly involves the spectator in the theoretical atmosphere "which the eye cannot decry". However, their political efficiency cannot be located solely within the theoreticized procedures of their making or the analyses constructing various readings of their discursive scores. It operates on a larger scale of reception, marking a gap between the spectator who "knows too much" and sees the works ‘as’ displaying some kind of ‘aboutness’, often connected with a theoretical point, and the spectator who searches for and is discouraged in seeing anything ‘in’ there if she persists with a purely phenomenal aesthetic interest in the object of performance. This place I claim as a positive hiatus with effects that thoroughly destabilize economy of reception, the habitual 19th century model of representation. "Open" and "indeterminate" recur not as a relief from failure of miscommunication. On the contrary, they unfold the condition in which the spectator cannot lean on a pre-secured self-contained motivation in the work for her understanding, but has to conceive her view as a self-reflective act of attribution to performance — the same operation by which the performance itself acquired an indifferent attitude to the aesthetics of its phenomenon. If these works join both the informed "seeing as-" and the baffled "seeing in-" perspectives in the effect of openness or lack of motivation to essentialize meaning in aesthetic phenomena of performance, I will argue this aesthetic indifference takes in performance a distinguished form of materializing concepts regardless of their different significance but in regard to the economies of reception.



States of Work in Performance

An overdetermined point of departure to look once again into performance practices which have been so extensively discussed? Perhaps it is the situation, where these performances have begun to dwell as interpretations of interpretations disclosing an ambiguous artwork status that sought for textual support, which is interesting. They do conform to all contractual obligations of work-concept, most importantly to being retrievable in performance, and based in some constitutive beyond contingent properties, thus indicating the stake of an ideal intentional object which allows them to be made, fathered, interpreted and owned. But at the same time, it is somehow within "what they are about" that these very notions - work, object, product, performance-instantiation, interpretability — are called into question.

Nom donné par l’auteur almost sets it up as a topos. Two people taking up a collection of as-if found everyday objects and demonstrating them in as-if arbitrary relations, whose logic appears to be the movement of chiasmic operations : if one presses the vaccuum cleaner against Le Robert dictionary, the other holding the cable at the other end of the vaccuum will "spit" the words from the dictionary page. Things move when you move them, as simple as that. Or they are hollowed from any presupposed symbolical or signifying motivation as they can only objectify or appear in relations which induce then physical movement — also shifting from a presented to an indicated and absent movement to be thought, like reading as sucking, moving as name-giving, watching as tracing etc. — due to correspondances of inverted parallelism making the presence of every object contingent and dispensible, agreeing at variance with itself.

I.e. All All Over Over All All et. al. (further on, referred in abbreviation as All Over) screens a sequence of excerpts from the recent major dance works together with contracts for the purchase of author’s rights, shot from a view behind the back of Mårten Spångberg who was sitting in the ‘then’ audiences during their performances. In front of the screen onstage and with his back turned to his own ‘now’ audience, the live Mårten is dubbing the recorded Mårten in his then ‘real’ spectator’s behaviour. The works reproduced in video and sold as products transform into the context for the inscription of his view and thus exteriorize and objectify the experience of watching bracketed into the institutional protocol of spectatorship. Indeed, what was once experienced as live dance shifts into the image, and the audience is frustrated in the desire to see any dance phenomena ‘in’ the event which delegates their own possible watching to the fixed fictional position of another one watching, the author of this live spectacle.

Another tactic of stripping the phenomenal object of dance is, in fact, danced in (Untitled) by Tino Sehgal. The naked dancer as the author of (Untitled) performs a permanently open collection of excerpts from Isadora Duncan to Xavier Le Roy. Apart from the intricately distinguished procedures Sehgal employs in order — not to simply quote or reconstruct — but to instantiate different choreographic writings outside the frames of the works, some of which had been retrieved through the image-frame of photo-documentation, thus also pointing out to the fine-arts condition of artwork status, what shapes these propositions is an activity of differentiation. It is an operation according to which two choreographic propositions are affirmed through their difference. In permanent reiteration of the results of divergence and disjunction a positive distance of different elements is affirmed. Instantiating them side by side, the propositions are no longer identified by contrary comparison, negation, dialectical transformation which would always centralize a point of recurrence, the same to which the different is manifest. They affirm their distance as that which relates one to the other insofar as they are "different". This precisely means positing difference as a destabilizing and decentering force which shatters any notion of fixed identification of dance object. By executing the role of performer, of one who reads, interprets and instantiates a choreographic score, Sehgal literally and emphatically exposes performance. Not anymore as a transparent medium, but as an activity that is able to produce the blank page of body, overwritten with traces of erased traces; an open ground for experiencing the possibility of choreographic writing as such.

Product of Circumstances by Xavier Le Roy calls into play all modes of productivity of the artworld disposition. Simulating the conventionality of narration with a hero in its main role, his story is to subject his own history of becoming dancer to an elaboration of all registers of artwork: from marking autobiographical, social and cultural conditions of working to the parallel deconstruction of the body as the object of scientific research, dance instrument, dancing subject as well as a commodity in dance-world. Thus the performance unravels as the most self-sufficient and self-reflexive working unit which resists separation/specialization of competences of all artworld roles (artist and critic, biographer and theoretician) by performing their discursive tasks. Its all-inclusive scope doesn’t serve to protect or enclose but make the concept of work and its productivity open, that is, fluctuating between non-fixed genres of lecture, biography, theory, performance...

Self-sufficiency would be the term to also describe the mode in which Diderot’s Nephew presents its performative production, however, different from all previous cases in the attitude of no self-reference but self-containment which dismantles the theatrical frame of representation by disallowing a vantage-point in interpretation. What it is ‘about’ or what it departs from is endlessly deferred or metonymically substituted for. Inasmuch as the event of trial and death of Socrates recurring as a topic as it is the textual regime lost, an open chain of authors (Plato, Diderot et al.) possibly worked on, serve as broken bonds of reference to reverse the causes or intentions of acts to the effects of performed events. Their singular movement-, speech- and gestural forms suggest intricate motivations which cannot be subsumed under one signifying regime or total context, but give way to a complex opaque material surface which engages spectator to derive her own understanding. Thus incomprehensibility between over- and under-determination of "what is performed" in performance renders a case of theatre standing for a contingent parallel model of world: one which operates in itself with no claim to its origin but demanding to be looked at from multiple non-privileged positions.

Restricted and Expended

It is not these works, but their situation conspicuous: where any attempt to introduce them can’t fail in - unlike most traditional performance practices which tend to conceal — acknowledging that any description won’t be but interpretation. What could be accounted for the success of mutating the traditional mechanisms of reception is that the viewer is prompted to reiterate or reconstitute a discourse in her own understanding that will cannibalize the phenomenon, that is, confirm a lack of confidence in the works as good aesthetic objects-essentially-in-themselves by which we always know the same thing they are about or made for and therefore, can appreciate at subliminal distance the doing of their performance beyond it... My writing ‘about’ them has shown that it necessarily fails in distinguishing what can be seen ‘as’ separately from seeing ‘in’ them some theoretical working.

The terms theatre and theory are comprehensible only in the realization of their chiastic interchangeability, which never works. And if a new scene (of theatre and theory) inversely involves its ‘afformance’ in the plot, it is an apostrophe of missing/mistaking in a new phase of theatre-practice as staged theory. (Krushkova: 2001, 60)

But to consider the matter of "staging theory", even if the interpretative viewpoint is hypothecized from a pragmatist distance, and thus insists on the performative act of attributing a "seeing" to the work, means to come to terms with the fact that theory pronounced so as to occupy the vacancy of traditional mimetic economy of representation in performance disavows its own postulation. If the viewer feels a connaissance with the work on the basis of a theoretical paradigm, like the twisted up-side-down configuration of body Le Roy demonstrates (from Self-Unfinished quoted in Product of Circumstances) which may be alligned with the Deleuzian concept of body without organs, and produces it into a savoir about the work (e.g. "Self-Unfinished stages BwO"), one is performing an injurious act of discourse, equivalent to reducing the work to a precedence of authorial intentionality which makes performance only representational to its concept. Furthermore, in explicitating and assigning what remains in a theoretical atmosphere to the work, it is reversed to operate within that which it formerly escaped — a restricted economy.

To submit a work to a restricted economy, first, means to satisfy the condition of sovereignty. A work has to be interpretable, constituting meaning in order to be ‘about’ something, a credit of affirmed sense to support the artwork status. The restriction already begins with the Dantonian analytic assumption: nothing is an artwork without an interpretation that constitutes it as such and what is necessarily meant by this is that the form of the work is that rearranged and manipulated portion of the material that the interpretation picks out. When I say that in All Over the situation of the audience watching Mårten’s watching is the overturn of the lack of the live phenomena of dance into a hyphenated experience of the role of audience or, if I claim that the excessive instantiation of the known choreographic styles, codes, grammaticalities, mannerisms..., offers Sehgal’s body as the void place for the writing of any choreography, I am producing (and reducing) phenomena so as to motivate the utterance ‘is’ which identifies works as objects. Even if I say that what in Diderot’s Nephew I see ‘as’ are tasks deliberated to fail in accomplishment in order to sustain and extend their execution to the point of producing an affect, or what I further interpret as constructions of the irrational ‘in’ performance, and also admit I am not certain about my ‘reading’, I contribute to the aboutness of the work. The restriction of economy of reception depends on the extent to which the interpretation claims to give the object back to the work: either with a teleological interest, searching for evidence to base it, the purposefulness, ‘in’ the work as its understanding, or with a tautological interest, wanting to prove a self-evidence of a concept in performance. If these works challenge the spectator in both ways, either by the immediate difficulty of understanding the work, or by restricting her desire to enjoy the remainder of unknown in interpretation, they manage to interrogate the process of economimesis and confront spectator with it. How much and in what way do I as a viewer naturalize my need to account for a sense, which will then provide an economologic of conservation, circulation and self-reproduction of the work? How to risk the convention of interpretability for the status of work and yet not abolish interpretative activity?

Let’s imagine a great number of people, gathered in the hope of attending a corrida that will take place in a small arena. Although the crowd is overwhelmed by the wish to enter arena, not all can come in: a great number has to wait outside. In the same fashion, the possibilities of life cannot be realized ad infinitum, they are limited by the space as the entry of the crowd is. The first consequence of the pressure will be to increase the number of the seats in arena. If the security service in the arena is well organized, this number is exactly limited. However, outside, there might be trees and street lamps, from whose top one can see the battlefield. If it isn’t against the regulations, there will be people that will climb those trees and lamps. (Bataj: 1990, 29)

This image depicts the situation where one cannot control the production of surplus, even when it is expended by way of deficient means. Even if the discussed works of Bel, Spångberg, Le Roy, Sehgal make the assumed internal connection of theory and practice seem explicit, while in Diderot’s Nephew the role of theory is constitutive in a tacit way, they cannot do away with the risk of incomprehensibility. The principle of the extended corrida, as Bataille himself uses it as a metaphor, has it that expenditure overrules the restricted production. In other words, if these works were to establish references to discourses that "represent" them, they would presuppose a relation with a limited reading. They apparently proceed in the opposite direction of disrupting a signifying order and placing themselves in the split between signifier’s excess, the performance which is as phenomenon nothing but an extremely mobile empty place, its properties contingent and non-aestheticized as they are acquired through attribution rather than motivated representation, and the signified’s lack, which is as well contingent a mobile object of interpretation, an occupant without a place (Deleuze: 1990, 41).

I may not be informed of body without organs as the practice critical of the humanist logocentric body/mind dichotomies and yet what I will see or understand in the rearranged non-holistic image of body Le Roy displays, is my relation to the lack of the expected normative organicist horizon of what human body is/can produce as movement. The procedure of purchasing the choreographic works, well pronounced in All Over, as well as the contractual frame of audience-performance relation, will make me eschew my activity of watching not only if I am theoretically initiated to address this question, but because I will have to account for the live dance performance removed from the place which provides a ritualized practice of producing pleasure. With no acquaintance with dance history I will be exposed to a diversity of dance languages in (Untitled), which may even function for me on a phonic prelinguistic level and what will I see or understand? A strict analytic answer would be: "I see nothing, yet all that is I see" (Danto:1987, 154). My impossibility to decode the history of dance still cannot silence the noise on the surface of differentiation compelling me to deal with the fact that none of the dance utterances establish themselves as points essentializing what dance is. A general economy is at work here, that which produces excesses of performance which cannot be utilized for the function of standing for something else. With a constitutive relation to theory at the same time is instituted a non-relation in performance. A point of rupture inscribed in the place where the chain of discursive knowledge which forms the theoretical atmosphere of work encounters an "unknowledge" in audience. "Un-" prefix stands not for a negative constraint of reception but for an affirmative activity of undoing its protocol, frustrating extraction of that remainder in performance which the viewer could claim as the sense in surplus "to go home with". No matter if the viewer in Nom donné par l’auteur grasps the logic of chiastic operations, she is presented within every juxtaposition of two objects with the problem of conceiving their relation with an indefinite number of variables in which they can be associated as they are not motivated to join, participate and ‘dissolve’ in one meaning (e.g. a dictionary against a ball, a battery-lamp against a fan dryer etc.). The viewer has to deal with an accursed share /la part maudite/ which is something like an undesired gift. In the lack of motivation, which is a double-coded invitation to a lack of the lack/surplus of latent (hidden) sense - e.g. "why are they putting those objects one next to the other, because it cannot only be that?" — occurs a positive absence. What might be the loss of the intended meaning in conception of the work is the gain of relation to the loss of it in performance and its reception. The spectator can’t speak about an absence of meaning except by attributing it a meaning it doesn’t have. The question whether the judgement "it’s so open" is to be an inconclusive starting-point to activate a non-restrictive economy of reception readdresses its dependency to the medium of performance: What are the procedures in performance which regulate the receptual regimes which in viewer disable desire and capacity to base and reduce a sense of ‘aboutness’ in work?


Performing an Equation

There where we thought we seized the Holy Grail, we only caught things, and what stays in our hands is only a dish. (Bataj: 1990, 136)

The problem of securing "the dish", and not "a fish", a romantic slippery sensation of elusive meaning — which will not allow the effects of openness to fall back into the myth of the gift, that is, the paradigmatic idealizations of the ineffable, unfathomable, inexpressible as the hidden latent surplus to account for incomprehensibility in this case — depends on performance. Devoid of interest to produce aesthetic idealistically interpretable qualities beyond what appears as transparent literal doing, these works shape performance that inasmuch as it discourages a deduction of essential, necessary and sufficient properties of dance or theatre, it inversely offers the effect of its constructivist deaestheticization as what the viewer will calculate as the experience of "how it looks like", the show. To attempt to describe this experience in order to test how valid a norm of correctness in description of these works could be will have to pervert their orientation and however impossible it may seem, attempt to exclude a theoretical working:

In Nom donné par l’auteur, it is a man and a woman that place everyday objects and four letters (N,S,E,O) in different positions and relations.

In All Over (1st part) it is a man sitting in a chair in front of the screen displaying excerpts from a number of dance performances. While watching them with his back turned to the audience, he is exactly doubling the movements of himself in the screened image.

In Product of Circumstances, a man is giving a lecture about his work and life. Every once in a while he announces a demonstrational example, such as: "what it was, looks like this", and then performs it.

In (Untitled), a naked body performs an as-if continuum of dance materials interspersed with breaks arising from the diversity of movement (choreographic utterances).

In Diderot’s Nephew, performers come on stage, take up an act, formed in movement, speech, gesture, affect-image articulation, in order to perform it either solo or in various combinations of each other’s materials.

With increasing pragmatist and anti-interpretative drive we could force these descriptions into even more reductive specifications, which would finally lead to the formulae of analytic aesthetics: body +x, material object +y, where x, y are tasks to be performed, rules that govern the action (Danto: 1981, 3)... The analytic formulae once used to efficiently define actionism, the development of action, happening, performance art practices from the extension of readymade by action in the 60s and 70s, now appear highly inadequate and insufficient in explaining how the reception of these performances rests on an economical model of openness. What they do remind of, however, is that only one regime of neoavantgarde actionism is installed in these performances today, not as a destined end in everydayness but as a tactic of task-oriented practice: equivalence in the literality of performance.

The actions in these performances are surfaced in equivalence of consistently literal, however, by their iterability and disseminative substitution, differentiating horizontal production. They are presented by way of intentional realizations, as if the performer says: "I do what happens". That means that performance doesn’t seek for properties that could account for interior, characterizing motivation which in turn would ask for affective response from audience. The performers present the work with the attitude of people who level with the audience on the other side by having abolished the modernist tendency to display a technicality as an objective striving beyond, progressive or idealist to the development of performance. Furthermore, the doings are devised and performed with no stimulus for the possible discrepancy between the intended and the realized. They are targeted transparent and not made to suggest that they stand as the reduced images in order to designate aesthetic qualities or represent objects or signify subjects. This strategy of exactitude cannot be considered determinative to interpretations of the works themselves, so heterogeneous and incongruous to form one paradigm of performance as they are, but in function of effectuating the medium of performance to revoke the surplus value of reception in a set of performative procedures, I propose here:

Demonstration. Actions are presented as instances of demonstrating proof or evidence (a series of operations with objects displaying their functions and possible relations, Nom donné par l’auteur) or unfolding a protocol (the artworld contract between the audience and the performance, All Over)

Exemplification.The lecture of biography is announced. Every instance of empirical reality to which Le Roy refers (scientific experiment, body reconfigurations, dance techniques and formation etc.) is either performed or specified for under the act of giving an example. Examples appear as tokens for the irretrievable but specifiable instances of experience.

Instantiation. Sehgal’s performance instantiates what could be tokens from 20th century dance history. Whether we recognize them or not, as they aren’t intentionally indexed as citations, we are invited to observe possible instances of choreography.

Objectification. In Diderot’s Nephew each performer starts from performing a complex of movement, dance, speech, gestural material which blurs the priority of cause or effect in mounting affective behaviour. Every action appears as objectified activity of the images of affected states.

How far does this somewhat pedantic scheme, albeit it cannot account for reception as such, assemble these works by claiming some sound support in a model of syntax in performance? If it is a model for formal specification of utterances, how far does it claim not only frames of cognition but actual poetics of these works?

Only a point for a problematic to be distinguished: that the distinction of "how-what" relationship in these performances is problematicized, where to determine what is performed isn’t to be deducted without considering one’s own disposition as spectator. Therefore, no opportunity to reduce interest to appreciating the qualities of execution, if spectator is occupied with questioning, "how much do I look is conditioned by how I am looked at". For this question arises, and here it is the point of taking a step in defining a common ground for what is specific in how these works are performed, by an ideal of literalness and efficacy established in performance. Whether it is a strategy of scarcity, where a tautological equation "one equals one" is installed — the situation demonstrating the watching of the watching in All Over or the regime of narration turning to examples for embodiment in Product of Circumstances — or, it is a tactic of overproduction where a function exhausts exploring its variables or combinatorial operations like exhausting the types of logical correspondances of inverted parallelism of objects in Nom donné par l’auteur or diversity of compositional techniques which shift and spin the possibilities of conceiving temporary ‘plots’ of performers in Diderot’s Nephew, or Sehgal’s citational procedures which in result produce abundance of material by enacting differentiation as such: a priority is given to the dimension of equivalence in performing.

This is not to advocate an essentialist stance for flattening these works to the same surface effects in performance, but to observe an orientation which postulates medium of performance irreducible, and apart from executing a service to work-concept, a service of containing and delivering an object of essential constitution. Thus the schematism of logical operations I used to specify different types of literalness in performance isn’t of paradigmatic self-regulation for these works. It is valid only in demonstrating something of a discipline of forging ways these works disclaim the eternal return of the same good purpose, that the work should be beyond all its determinations universally communicable by providing a surplus share or hidden sense addressing the human. These performance practices introduce an accursed share, that by which the colloquial exclamation: "It’s so open" demands taking and considering one’s position — not constitutive to the formal aesthetic phenomenon or an affective experience — but to examining and pushing one’s limits of understanding. And their performative procedures, insofar as their literalness repudiates calls for idealizing interiorizations, estrange "openness" from the Western tradition of liberal art, characterized by a type of non-exchangeable, like-nature productivity, free play at performance. Between the spectator ‘who knows too much’ and whose comprehension alligns the seeing of work ‘as’ the doing of theory, on one side, and the spectator for whom incomprehensibility stems from not being motivated to see anything contained ‘in’ and thus ‘beyond’ performance, on the other side, there isn’t an antagonistic discrimination of audience crucial, but a shared point where both are, the one having to test her disposition to the promise of ‘more’ or ‘beyond’ her understanding and the other whose aestheticizing comfort to the extent of incomprehensibility is taken away, deprived of universal communicability. Trickstered to abandon the possibility to own a presupposed universal purposefulness in performance as a place where spectator can return to herself.


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Arthur C. Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachussetts, London, England, 1981.

Arthur C. Danto, ''The Artworld'', Philosophy Looks At The Arts, third edition, Joseph Margolis (ed.), Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1987,

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Gilles Deleuze, Essays Critical and Clinical (trans. Daniel W. Smith, Michael E. Greco), University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997.

Paul De Man, ''Otpor teoriji'', Knjiûevna revija (trans. Vlatka Kalafatić), br. 1-2, 1997, Matica Hrvatska, Osijek, 3-20.

éak Derida, ''Ekonomimezis'' (trans. Branko Romčević), Treći Program, br. 112, 2001, Beograd, 175-208.

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Denis Hollier, Against Architecture. The Writings of Georges Bataille, The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachussetts, London, England, 1995.

Krassimira Krushkova, ''Actor as/and Author as 'Afformer' (as Jérôme Bel as Xavier Le Roy), (trans. Jasmina Pavlić), Frakcija br.20/21, jesen 2001, 58-66.

Ričard Volhajm, Umetnost i njeni predmeti (trans. Anika Krstić), Clio, Beograd, 2002.

Morris Weitz, ''The Role of Theory in Aesthetics'', Philosophy Looks At The Arts, Third Edition, Joseph Margolis (ed.), Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1987, 143-53.