Fluxus Affects of Indeterminacy: An Aleatory Point Between Art and Philosophy

Deleuze is interested in exploring the dark night, the outside of thought. He addresses the emergence of thought itself, the event whereby sense is wrested from a mute, immanent field of sensibility: “that blind, acephalic, aphasic and aleatory original point which designates ‘the impossibility of thinking that is thought,’ that point where ‘powerlessness’ is transmuted into power” (Deleuze 1999, 199). This event occurs when something forces our faculties to communicate their intensive differences between one another, producing a “phenomenal flash”: the sudden shock of sensation (ibid., 30/20). This event of thought is provoked rather than internally generated, and it is provoked by the “dark precursor”—the being of the sensible. For Deleuze, provocation of thought is an ethical imperative, yet the dark precursor is dark in relation to thought, to which it is imperceptible, unthinkable (ibid., 236–37); this is the paradox of thinking about that which cannot be thought. Our claim is that to “think” this event means to change the nature of thought, to think affectively. This is why we are particularly interested in the idea of art as a kind of thinking—a thinking by and through the intensification of affect. We are interested in the creation of new affects that have a potential to change the flows and cadences of present configurations, and in amplifying affects that contribute to or engender a sensitivity to the immanent intensive and affective processes that condition thought. Whereas thought cannot directly apprehend the dark precursor, artistic affects can usher us toward an experience that more closely resembles the intensive level at which it operates. Given that the dark precursor is both pure disparity and the absolutely indeterminate, we are particularly interested in affects of indeterminacy as possibly contributing to this sensitivity. This is particularly important for our interest in the performances of the neo-avant-garde art collective Fluxus, which creates new affective spaces by merging the artist and audience, generating the indeterminate performance. The question we wish to develop is, what do Fluxus affects do? Preliminarily, we propose that Fluxus performances are paradigmatic of resistance and mobility, providing a model of the becoming of thought and providing an affective encounter with indeterminacy.

This presentation will focus on the early musical performance of Phillip Corner’s Piano Activities (Wiesbaden, 1962) and the later performance of Dick Higgins’s Danger Music as examples of two signature features of Fluxus “score events”: the integration of chance and contingency and an intentional liberation of affective potentials through the deconstruction of traditional assumptions of the nature of the art genre itself. Both of these features are integral to developing what I am calling the “affect of indeterminacy,” which could serve as a visceral experience to bridge the gap between the dark precursor as a theoretical construct and what Deleuze truly would like us to understand—the affective power of the dark precursor as a transformative moment. Art does not provide a theoretical application, but enacts the real provocation of thought.

References

Deleuze, Gilles. 1999. Difference and Repetition. Translated by Paul Patton. London: Athlone Press.

Space and Sensation: Zoé Degani’s Art of Pluralising Signs Onstage

This presentation assumes that “art thinks no less than philosophy, but it thinks through affects and percepts” (Deleuze and Guattari 1994, 66). Artists do not only think the world, but also necessarily create worlds. Analysing the creation process of Brazilian artist and set designer Zoé Degani, whose practice couples her work and life inextricably, this proposal intends to offer an insight into her universe and its many worlds.

Working in the south of Brazil, in a specific context where scarce funds and precarious theatres do not support a profession and from a genuine environmental consciousness, Degani has built a career pinching scraps, as well as necessarily reinventing skills. This particular way of creating and thinking her work, re-signifies objects exhausted by consumerist objectivity, impresses forces upon spaces, walls, floors and structures, thus revealing a molecular theatrical quality that escapes its specificity, composed in a visual and pictorial language. Furthermore, her work presents a proliferation of signs: radiographs, keys, dolls, basins (which are “urban shells” for this artist who grew up on a beach), chairs, flowers, and bandages, among other recurrent elements thought of as a personal casting of pieces. Throughout, from performance to sculpture, from installation art to video, from public space to the stage, those signs impel performers’ bodies to athleticism through scenic objects, most of the time built from materials with no further use. The violence of encountering requires from her audience an action of deciphering. For instance, in The Bath (a dance play deployed from an already plural installation art), a giant tube was both the wave that danced with the performers putting their bodies at risk, as well as the presentification of the dry tubes from a civilisation without water. Although the object sustains a representational role and is what it actually is, its presence is more powerful than its meaning. Spectators (witnesses) sitting on tons of coarse salt experience the feeling of dryness: the lack of water is made actual through spatial sensations, not the representation of an illusion.

Degani’s signs go beyond semiology. Although a reading can be traced, they are a force opposing referentiality. In a complex arrangement of the visual and the manual, coupling the imagery and structural, bodies and objects, the undeniable concreteness of the material and the whole possibilities of its derivations, her compositions have a precise maths, physics, and geometry in their making as well as a thrust of human sensation. Before helping a character on stage, Degani’s pieces make the human figure appear: they are prosthesis or machines to athleticism, they put bodies in a state of becoming. Through manipulating places and creating objects, the “saturation of every atom” is noted as a composing operation. An example is the spatial composition for The Lesson (Ionesco), which works as the student’s suffering, allowing it to fit in a mutilated doll, in a torture chair; the space, more than representing oppression, was its real configuration, through columns dressed in corsets, through the children’s heads stuck inside a blackboard. This material operations cross scenes, resign dancer’s movements, relativise dramatic texts, and pluralise sensations. There are layers of reading, of composing, of signs. Out of the stage, which depicts a public space fixed under an overpass, The Sky, is a visual composition crossing real life, clouds contradicting concreteness. ‘In her “previous-scenic” work, the triad life-death-rebirth was a frequent theme bringing to surface the inevitable passage of time. After all, what this oeuvre do is to take the present from all representation.

References

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. 2004. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. London: Continuum.

The Caesura or Break in Time

A “caesura” is conventionally defined as a break in metric time, a pause where time is not counted. A common device in the arts, but relevant to all modes of expression involving repetition, the caesura is said to introduce a “natural feeling” into exact or “metronomic” time. This is the active sense of the caesura, where it functions as a conscious device that reflects the rhythmic intuitions of a composer or performer—when to take a breath, when to sustain, release, or attack a line. However, there is a passive or unconscious sense of the caesura. Before it is actively placed in a line, a caesura already marks a passive shift in power, in affect as distinct from feeling. Feelings of joy and sadness, as Spinoza says, are at bottom increases or decreases in our power. Power, however, does not shift from metronomic to “natural,” but from potential to actual. In this sense, the caesura is about the actualisation of affective power, about becoming-intense. The caesura is the “non-place” of power, not just a device for the disruption of metre.

Time passes intensively, and caesuras create fluctuations in intensity. They are in fact immanent to how time passes. The power of an event, that is, its actualisation, coincides with its distribution of intensive breaks. What generates that distribution? It depends on local affinities, attractions, energy traps, and thresholds. Caesuras always have content but are not bound to one. A caesura is a break that repeats, but every repetition differs in itself, just as every break in breathing breaks breathing differently, and every interruption marks an immanent synthesis of time. We can think of the genesis of an affective temporal line, or multiplicity of lines, first as this passive distribution of caesuras. It is prior to any active control (which feeds on it) and actualises potentials before they are captured by various metrics. The distribution of caesuras forms a kind of proto-rhythm or uneven oscillation, immanent to time passing, which is spontaneous and ungrounded. In other words, events in themselves actualise rhythmic potentials. Caesuras prepare those events; they are the paradoxical syntheses of potential and actual times. The caesura is the “arrhythmic” pause or “glitch” that makes time pass, creates passive rhythms, and actualises capacities to affect and be affected.

Becoming-Pig: Humanimal Proximities and Zones of Transit in Kira O’Reilly’s Inthewrongplaceness

This paper explores the resonances between the Deleuze-Guattarian theory of becoming-other and the series of bodily mutations that take place in the Irish performance artist Kira O’Reilly’s live piece Inthewrongplaceness (2005–9). Inthewrongplaceness stems from a scientific experimentation in a laboratory environment, in which O’Reilly explored the possibilities of biotechnology to recreate the body in an alternative way—by growing living lace out of her own skin cells alongside pig’s tissue. As a response to her experience in an animal research facility, O’Reilly performed a naked dance with the carcass of a pig, during which disconcerting shape-shifting transformations, boundary-crossings, and mergences occurred between the human and the dead pig. As a biotech-induced corporeal event, O’Reilly’s piece critically interrogates the distinctions between self and other, human and animal, art and science, and raises crucial questions regarding interspecies interactions, cross-species metamorphoses, and ontological liminalities.

Much of the secondary literature on O’Reilly’s performance approached these questions through spatial, representational, and pre-given terms. This recalls the issue of the reductive and static interpretations of subjectivity via the “process of naming that tends to confer stabilized being”—a problem that dominates performance art criticism, as delineated by Susan Melrose (2006, 8). The critical scholarship analyses the temporary entanglements of the human and the pig within the performance predominantly via stabilised metaphors, such as “half human, half animal” entity (Bissell 2011), “centaur-like creature,” or “hybrid” (Zurr 2008). Yet such kinds of discursive constructs, with their emphasis on the preconceived idea of the “outcome” and “renewed” identity designations, fail fully to specify the dynamic and durational aspects of the bodily amalgamations taking place in O’Reilly’s performative piece. These fixed positional paradigms, while undeniably helpful for rendering the effects of transformation in more graspable terms, steer the temporal processes of bodily change inherent in O’Reilly’s work all too quickly back onto the transcendent schemes. Citing Brian Massumi (2002, 3), on such kinds of commentaries, “there is ‘displacement,’ but no transformation; it is as if the body simply leaps from one definition to the next.”

In this paper, I look at how one might rehabilitate O’Reilly’s practice from the limitations of such readings by turning towards Deleuze and Guattari’s processual and relational ontology of “becoming-other.” Rather than spatial and end-result-oriented models, I argue in favour of approaching the transitional, intervallic, and in-between modes of being opened up in the blurring of human and animal states during her live performance; I do this through the notion of “becoming-animal,” as a way to access nonrepresentational, nonteleological, and nonidentitarian ways of thinking about those mutations and transitions. The visceral intimate performance, during which O’Reilly holds, caresses, and merges with the pig, is considered as a process of “becoming-pig” whereby the artist is momentarily put into contact with pig “affects.” Drawing on the Deleuze-Guattarian notion of “zones of proximity” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 240), this paper further contends that, during the fleeting passages and transitory moments of interpenetration, the pig and the human flesh contaminate each other to the point of indistinction and create what I call “humanimal proximities” and “zones of transit” that are common to both. This way, not only do I arrive at a reading that provides an alternative to the linear, predictable, and clichéd images of change ubiquitous in the existing literature of O’Reilly’s work, I also scrutinise the largely uncharted implications of Deleuze-Guattarian thought for the emerging field of biotech-assisted artistic praxis. This paper construes the importance of this reading of O’Reilly’s performance as posing a challenge to the ontological pre-eminence of humans and providing the possibility of an escape “if only for an instant” (ibid.) from the confines of the molar institutional spaces—laboratories and slaughterhouses—that continue to promote hierarchies and inequalities against animals.

References

Bissell, Laura. 2011. The Female Body, Technology and Performance: Performing a Feminist Praxis. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix, 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Massumi, Brian, 2002. Parables for the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Melrose, Susan. 2006. “Bodies Without Bodies.” In Performance and Technology: Practices of Virtual Embodiment and Interactivity, edited by Susan Broadhurst and Josephine Machon, 1–17. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zurr, Ionat. 2008. Growing Semi-living Art. PhD thesis, University of Western Australia.