By Lauren Velvick, Islington Mill Art Academy; originally posted here
‘School Trip’- Art Academy at Instal Glasgow
Last November three members of Islington Mill Art Academy, including myself, travelled North-wards to Glasgow in order to attend, and take part in a series of workshops organised by Glasgow Open School (G.O.S) as part of the tenth annual Instal Festival. Given our status as an alternative art school organisation, and rather academically referential title, I like to consider our visit to be a kind of school trip.
Instal is an experimental music and sound festival, organised by Arika. For this tenth edition of Instal the aim was to present not just a festival of experimental music, but an experimental festival – challenging the conventional structure of a music festival, and exploring the dynamic between audience and performer. Improvisation and the denial of the subjectivity of the artist were central concerns. Nowhere was this explored with more dedication that within the evacuation of the great learning workshops, run by G.O.S. which we had been invited to take part in.
Ultra-red is an activist art group founded in 1994. The group proposes an alternate model for art and activism, one in which it is not the artist’s critical intervention that serves as the source of cultural action, but rather that art might contribute to and challenge the process of collective organization and relationship building itself. The focus of Ultra-red’s practice is sound-based research that “takes up the acoustic mapping of contested spaces and histories” to “directly engage the organizing and analyses of political struggles.” Their most recent project just completed its final phase in an exhibit at Parson’s Aaronson Gallery. Titled Vogue’ology, the exhibition is a joint project between the Ballroom Archive & Oral History Project and Ultra-red, curated by Arbert Santana Evisu, member of the House of Evisu, Carin Kuoni formfrom tat he Vera List Center for Art and Politics, and Robert Sember of Ultra-red.
Ball culture has existed in New York since the 1930s, but gained national attention in the early 1990s with the release of Jenny Livingston’s documentary Paris is Burning, and Madonna’s subsequent interest in the aesthetics and culture of vogue. The community is also one of those hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and has lost many legendary figures over the past thirty years. I spoke with Ultra-red about the Vogue’ology project, ballroom culture, and the politics of the archive.
Can we start from nothing, or was there
something already here? The social rela-
tion of this journal. Or us gathering in a
space. I’m struggling. Some people came
together and they struggled too. To be to-
gether. I’m trying to share that with you.
A voice for collective action. I wont be
identified. I’m here to recall a moment
– now past, being reenacted now, now
looking back at previous efforts. Let’s
claim those efforts were for us. These
things happened and we don’t start from
Can we play together this page as an in-
strument? The social relations here; this
paper, this ink, this rubbing and turning,
- this fragile context:
from stasis emerges swells of risk, safety
breached- these voices, testimonies form-
ing an all too easy pluralism –or com-
manality uncovered in dischord at this
union of difference
– improvising on a contentious
Will these extracts be assembled to give
a consensus- or to dismantle once-tight
testimonies -the publisher’s word may be
the last word here- can the writers trust
the publishers? – can they play off each
other without having done so live, still
held together by the complicity in the act
being testified to? Emerging from contra-
diction, obfuscation, reversions to
self-expression – the immanent com-
monality, the collective experience, the
struggle to improviseTo be the network
to be the rhizome each moving indepen-
dently (read deleuze) union of difference
– where is the cause – grasp it – can this
collective become whole – where does it
move – does it uncover new territory is
this added or reformulated or fallen upon
and now new?
Uncreating towards (with eyes closed)
the real. Desubjectifying. Getting out of
my warm shit. getting rid of my habitual
self. Leave it open to sabotage – make
A Confused Response to The Evacuation of
the Great Learning Workshops & Performance,
Consider tension the grounding principle
of both the drive to improvise & the
improvisation itself; of the former, the
feeling that something must change,
that something is to be overcome; of
the latter, the tension between impulse
& restraint, between call & response,
between audience & performer, between
the artificial & the real. Improvisation
is at once of the world then, but posited
against its representation. And, in its
various guises as sound-making, situation-
making, social space-making, it has the
capacity to explore tensions inherent
to social being, where that being is
grounded in the continuous reinscription
of capitalist relations of production – if
there is to be a politicised improvisation
perhaps it is to start here. Improvisation
is at once reactive then, in its response
to acceptable artistic form, acceptable
sound, acceptable space, and a method
of creative engagement in all of these
inscriptions, through the protracted and
unstable investigation of their precarious
rigidity. Utilising improvisation’s
explorative capacity, we may begin to
approach a performance that thinks, that
punches holes in visible knowledge and
our web of social relations.
With particular reference to sound-
making, ‘self-expression’ is often
invoked implicitly or explicitly as the
point of departure for performance.
Consider the symptomatic and familiar
axis of its utilisation: astride one
end, the autistic escapist who,
alone, sounds a bell in the woods,
and falling off the other end, a
catharsis of selves blowing out. At
the one end we find performative
hermeticism; the reaction to tension
takes the form of escape, in this case to
a realm deemed impenetrable by the
commodification of performance. This
reaction erases the problematic. The
performer reacts to tension, yes, but
refuses the possibility of engagement
afforded by improvisation; subsumed
under one body, the relationship between
audience and performer, for example, is
More interesting, and more familiar in
experimental music, is an approach to
improvisation that harnesses the opposite
end of this axis: the invocation of self-
expression in collective sound-making.
The reaction to tension is in these cases,
it seems, characterised by the will to
break with the mediation of exchange-
value and acceptable categorisations.
What results is all too often recourse to
the spontaneous, to the impulsive, to
some notion of direct expression, and, in its
lack of restraint, the ultimate purging of
tension via catharsis.
catharsis n. 1. Purgation. 2. Outlet
to emotion afforded by drama etc. or
(Psych.) by abreaction.
Catharsis produces a blank slate,
the potential for the performance to
last beyond itself is foreclosed. Yet,
simultaneously, this cathartic flash-in-
the-pan is utterly stable, it is completely
visible, even expected – the cathartic
crisis of the individual is an encouraged
response to social relations, for it expels
the energy of subversion, purges the
individual of their desire to engage with a
problematic, and reinscribes the
“In order to improvise truly
without constraint it is
necessary to cast off the
strictures imposed by impulse,
by spontaneous ‘will’, and by
the recourse to catharsis”
expressive romantic sub-hero as the point
of departure for artistic practice. Under
late capitalism, it is precisely the myth of
the expressive subject’s autonomy that
is most heavily proliferated. Catharsis
forecloses improvisation’s capacity to think
against what’s deemed visible in this way.
Further, catharsis is immediate in
its force. The purging of suffering
is transparent in its immediacy, but
results in opacity, in the blocking of
prolonged engagement. It reaches some
sort of universalism in its immediate
comprehension then, but this is a
universalism imbued with pathos for the
suffering human animal; the suffering
is not engaged with or overcome, it is
pitifully expelled. Indeed, we might agree
with Adorno that “To say something out
loud is to put some distance between
oneself and the immediacy of suffering,
just as screaming helps mitigate great
pain.”1 To work from self-expression
towards a cathartic release is to distance
that tension and leave it unexplored.
Moreover, the collective experience of
cathartic performance is to elide the
subversive potential of the collective
from the outset, for this gesture towards
collectivity is quickly subsumed by each
instance of individual impulsive release:
restraint is required. The resort to
catharsis, to shrugging off the tension,
is to render the problematic at the heart
of politicised improvisation over; both
‘performer(s)’ and ‘audience’ leave the
room as they came in, grasping no
lasting effects. If improvisation is to use
tension as its material, then to present
the stability of the cathartic moment is to
deny this material.
Against this cathartic purging, this
violent eradication of tension, consider
a necessary lightness in the creation of
sound, something akin to what Alain
Badiou demands of the dancer: “By
“lightness” we must understand the
capacity of a body to manifest itself as
an unconstrained body, or as a body not
constrained by itself. In other words,
as a body in a state of disobedience
vis-à-vis its own impulses.”2 In order
to improvise truly without constraint
it is necessary to cast off the strictures
imposed by impulse, by spontaneous
‘will’, and by the recourse to catharsis;
there is no ‘free’ or ‘direct’ realm to
escape to, it is towards the creation
of such a realm that improvisation is
posited. Indeed, “improvisation is not
an action resulting from freedom; it is
an action directed towards freedom.”3
To obey one’s impulses, to purge
oneself of tension, is not to be free.
But, by collectively restraining these
impulses, by keeping suffering close
at hand, the real subversion of social
relations, of acceptable form may occur.
But where does this leave expression?
The attempt to dissolve the primacy
of self-expression is less an attempt to
approach an impossibly austere anti-
aesthetic presentation, a music that
thinks but does not express, and more
the attempt to present a real collective
expression unhinged from the impulses
of one individual/vulgar body, towards
the expression of an idea, of though, or
perhaps most pertinently, of possibility
1 Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, p.171
2 Alain Badiou, Handbook of Inaesthetics, p. 60
3 Davey Williams, ‘Towards a Philosophy of
Improvisation’, The Improviser 4, p. 32.
SOME RESPONSES TO THE GOS W/SHOP AT INSTAL 10
‘The Paper’ is a newspaper for the education movement, conceived as a pedagogy in itself. It is emerging from Queen Mary Centre for Ethics and Politics and various institutions, collectives and individuals.
Was asked to respond to Stefan Dillemuth’s Hard Way To Enlightenment:
See the pdf of the leaflet here http://societyoutofcontrol.com/2010_thehardway/leaflet-brochure.pdf
Why launch a master of experiments on arts and politics ?
Since ancient times, we concur that politics is not a science but an art. Not just in the sense that politics requires technique and skill, but also in its contact with the arts, with all the arts. Connecting politics and the arts goes beyond state-sanctioned art and its sinister past. It is also about freedom, that same freedom found in artworks and that politics so stubbornly strives for. Yet when the body politic can no longer express its concerns in ways that are understood by all, it becomes necessary to turn to those with the knowhow to renew them—artists. Without the arts, no one could articulate their views publicly.
This is why, universities and architecture, design and art schools throughout the world are looking to reaffirm their interaction with cross-disciplinary programs. Hence the original project of creating a political arts program at Sciences Po to renew links between the social sciences, contemporary art practices and the enduring investigation of public policy.
Why at Sciences Po? Because Sciences Po presents a unique crossover of fundamental social science research, media and political life. As such, it is also the ideal institution in which new avenues of public debate can be explored. Just like politics, the social sciences must renew their forms of expression. The arts (in the broadest sense of the term) have historically been the place for such a renewal. Similarly, the arts have always found new resources when in close contact with contemporary thought and cutting edge ideas. These are master’s ambitions.
What is the teaching philosophy?
The master of experiments on arts and politics models itself on the pragmatic tradition, a mode of thought established in the early twentieth century by American philosophers such as William James, Walter Lippmann and above all, John Dewey; today, it draws upon thinkers who have taken up their legacy. Hence its framework of experimentation and inquiry steeped in pragmatic mechanisms that combine arts’ and social sciences’ practices. Via practical issues mooted by commission or request, the task is to investigate the creation of a problematized space that is both public, shared and participative, yet still the locus of necessarily controversial issues.
Who is the master for?
The master of experiments on arts and politics is a post-graduate program aimed at young international professionals with 2 to 5 years practical experience. It’s aimed at academics, social scientists, artists (in the broadest possible meaning, including design and architecture), as well as professionals working in the arts and politics.
What teaching body?
The main teaching body will be decisively international, composed of social scientists, artists, new media theorists, and practicing professionals. Their contributions will be in a variety of formats and tempos (periodic or regular seminars, lectures or master classes, one-hour talks or an entire trimester’s teaching). A full-time core faculty will sustain the master’s fundamental pedagogical framework.
All lessons will be held in the master’s dedicated space on Sciences Po’s Parisian campus (28 rue des Saints-Pères), at the heart of the Saint-Germain des Près district, right next to France’s most renowned museums (Le Lopuvre, le Musée d’Orsay, etc.), cultural establishments (Ecole des Beaux Arts), public libraries, etc.
NB: the 2010-2011 academic year is a pilot year that will test the master’s foundational pedagogic methods and principals in a resolutely practical way.
Bruno Latour, founder of the master of experiments on arts and politics:
This master is not about science, nor arts, nor politics. No matter the initial calling—research, politics, the arts—the task lies in front of these disciplines, it does not belong to any of them in advance. This is why we will be able to host so many different professions and professionals: what they already know is far less important to us than the trajectory that we will effect with them. We will not join science, art and politics together but rather dissemble them first and, unfamiliar and renewed, take them up again afterwards, but differently.