1Progressive Striptease Performance Ideology Past and Present



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1Progressive Striptease

Performance Ideology Past and Present
Ever since the late fifties, when happenings and events first appeared on the art scene, performance art has carried progressive and in some cases revolutionary connotations. Especially from 1970s onwards, when the term performance became widely used in the art world and a specific discourse developed around it, this ideologization turned into a reflex. ‘Performance clogs the smooth machinery of reproductive representation necessary to the circulation of capital,’ Peggy Phelan wrote in 1993, although she might no longer endorse this statement today.[1] Yet Kristine Stiles has recently demonstrated that this discourse is still anything but dead: ‘Through its emphasis on action, performance recovers the social force of art. It remains one of the last and most effective modes of resistance to all forms of domination, from globalization to totalitarianism’, and in this sense continues the work done in the heroic era, from the fifties to the seventies, when performance was ‘the most forceful opposition to capitalism in the visual arts.’ [2] Only performance can save the world: this is more or less what this discourse amounts to.

It is high time to reconsider this rhetoric and to formulate an alternative to the ideologization of performance as an intrinsically progressive phenomenon. From the fifties to the seventies, performance could still be presented as being radically opposed to spectacle, its primitivist quasi-rituals apparently immune to colonization by the media and of the market; as a ‘progressive’ force, performance art in fact opposed progress as defined by capitalism – a future of growth, new products, new markets. By now, the accumulation of economical, social and environmental havoc suggests that capitalism’s future itself is the revival of an archaic past, far removed from the shiny promises made by the postwar spectacle; it is as if the spectacle now stages a grim version of the romantic archaisms of much historical performance art. In this situation, performance ideologists such as Tino Sehgal redefine performance’s progressive role in capitalist terms: far from being a leftist critique of capitalism, performance now is to save capitalism by deflecting its destructive archaic turn into a more benign primitivist utopia.




Dematerialization

Among other reasons, performance is regarded as progressive because it trades in the object for ephemeral action. It is hence thought to represent a break with the status of art as a commodity. In Lucy Lippard’s classic anthology, Six Years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 to 1972, the author discusses performance along with other ‘dematerialized’ art forms of the period. She lists the principle media as video, performance, photography, narrative, text and actions, and the first work of art she cites is a book by George Brecht which combines several of these categories.[3] ‘Brecht has been making “events” that anticipate a stricter “conceptual art” since around 1960’, Lippard writes, giving several examples of Brecht’s event-texts, including Time-Table Event, spring, 1961: ‘To occur in a railway station. A time-table is obtained. A tabled indication is interpreted in minutes and seconds (7:16 equaling, for example, 7 minutes and 16 seconds). This determines the duration of the event.’[4] Works such as this are ambivalent: they are textual works that could in principle give rise to performances, but they could just as well remain entirely textual. Lippard therefore lumps this art form in with Conceptual art which uses language, photography, film and video. These media provide her with her archetypal ‘dematerialized art objects’ and true performance plays at most a minor part. But although Lippard believes these art forms imply a critique of the art product as a unique, prestige-laden commodity, they still yield objects which function as commodities – if of a more ‘democratic’ complexion than expensive paintings. It would appear that performance art goes farther, genuinely abandoning the object; after all, performances are not supposed to yield even nugatory objects, but to consist purely of action. As Kristine Stiles puts it: ‘Performance (…) developed into a leftist alternative to the production of art objects and was presented in non-traditional spaces as a means to subvert both the market and the regular institutions of art. It confounded the reduction of art to undifferentiated merchandise by displacing objects with artists, subjects whose performances resisted commodification (even as the residue of those acts could still be objectified and sold).’[5] This final qualification rather undermines her argument, and in practice virtually every form of art performance has yielded objects of some kind, whether relics of the action itself or recordings on physical media such as photos or videos.

But what if there were a radicalized performance art which really left no material trace and which survived only in the audience’s memory? Would this really amount to a rift with the commodity character of art? Has such a ‘pure’ performance art totally dispensed with commodification? Not if the performance itself is sold as a commodity. After all, according to Marxist political economy, a commodity does not have to be a material object: a commodity is anything that is exchanged for money, anything that is sold.[6] From this perspective the ever rising importance of immaterial commodities such as services in the Western economy is an interesting development within advanced capitalism, as an effort to create new areas for the production of surplus value, but it does not really amount to a fundamental break. Services are still commodities, even if they are allegedly more advanced in character than ordinary goods. Of course, liberal economic theory does not claim that services constitute a rift with capitalism either, but it is more inclined to place emphasis on the qualitative difference between goods and services: services are hyped up as a more advanced, progressive economic phenomenon, the very vanguard of capitalism. Tino Sehgal, an artist who is perhaps the leading ideologist of performance of recent years, seems to have concluded from this that performance art is far from being an attack on capitalism: after all, performance seems to bear a similar relation to the modern art object as services do to goods.

Sehgal’s works consists mainly of small surprises in art shows, actions which are generally carried out by staff of the institutions concerned: a museum attendant who suddenly starts jumping up and down, for instance, someone rolling over the ground in slow motion, or a girl who unexpectedly sinks to the ground behind the visitor’s back and breaks into song. Each of these acts concludes with a pronouncement of the title of the work and the name of the artist. Sehgal’s prima facie aim in these highly immaterial works is to dispense with the nature of art as an object, but his stated intentions are ecological rather than anti-capitalist. Unlike earlier performance ideologists, Sehgal does not criticize the object because of art’s commodified status but because of the depletion of natural resources and environmental degradation. Industry is now having negative effect on humanity rather than a positive one, and art ought not add to that burden: ‘The fact that current production is possibly also decreasing the quality of life is in civilisational terms an absolute historical novelty, since the function of production was, of course, to ensure survival and enhance the quality of life.’[7] It is on these grounds that Sehgal describes the production of art objects as ‘reactionary’.[8] The implicit suggestion is of course that performance is progressive, but he does not conclude that performance escapes the market’s clutches. ‘My agenda is not necessarily a leftist one,’ Sehgal explains, and unlike Lippard or Phelan, he accepts that dematerialized art is as much a part of the capitalist economy as any other kind.[9]

While this insight is to his credit, it forms the prelude to a new ‘progressive’ ideologization of performance, which combines the old leftist slogans on dematerialization with a more recent discourse developed by economists who hype advanced capitalism. A typical instance of this tendency is The Experience Economy by Pine and Gilmore, a book which was briefly hyped up in the art world a few years ago. [10] This book, tellingly subtitled ‘Every Work Is Theatre & Every Business a Stage’, sketches a progressive economical spiritualization, leading from ‘commodities’ via ‘goods’ and ‘services’ to ‘experiences’. In Marxist discourse, the term ‘commodity’ refers to all material or immaterial products sold under capitalism, but Pine and Gilmore, and contemporary liberal economics in general, use it exclusively to refer to bulk goods – their, ‘lowest’, most primitive category. The more immaterial the product, the higher its value and status, but higher goods generally depend on the lower ones: even if a fancy coffee shop turns the buying and drinking of a cappuccino into an ‘experience’, the transaction still involves raw materials, goods and services. However, the surplus value is increasingly located in the uppermost category: most of the ten dollars you fork out for drinking a fancy coffee is for the ‘experience’.

Sehgal follows a similar logic of capitalist dematerialization, but he aims to strip advanced commodities of the hybrid, ‘inconsistent’ traits they present in the ‘experience economy’. He also aims to short-circuit the first two steps – the consumption of raw materials and their processing into goods – so as to supply a purely performative service that results in an ‘experience’. To elucidate his outlook on performance, Sehgal points to the example of striptease.[11] Striptease is ephemeral but distinct from other forms of dance: ‘what is specific about striptease is that it is generally done to be bought and sold. It is inherently commercial. It is a product like any other product, with one categorical difference: it is produced by a person transforming his or her actions.’ [12] In contrast to other service jobs which use objects (such as computers) or consist of the processing of objects, Seghal argues that the striptease is almost wholly immaterial: the shedding of material ballast has become its very content. Despite the sexist connotations of striptease, something Sehgal clearly has problems with, it forms a perfect model for the future, and for progressive performance art. The dematerialization of art has completed its capitalist turn. Sehgal’s artistic project is not only an attempt to rescue nature and our natural environment, but also an attempt to rescue capitalism from its own destructive tendencies. Only if it relinquishes producing things can capitalism have a future; the performance can prepare and instigate this relinquishment, and that where its inherent radicalism and progressiveness lies. But the fact that his neo-liberal ecotopia has barely anything to do with actual economic developments, in which industrial production continues to play a significant (if unsexy) part, turns it into a hypocritical fable – an ideological magic mirror held up to the existing order.



Ban on reproduction

‘Classic’ performance art was pitched not only against the art object or the material character of art, but also against all forms of reproduction and representation. Performance was typically associated with a discourse that contrasted performance to the alienating, fetishist nature of the mass media and the spectacle. Against these spectacular representations, performance posited, in Peggy Phelan’s words, an activating and confrontational ‘representation without reproduction’, while Erika Fischer-Lichte argues that performance attempted to transgress the limits of representation itself in order to seek a liminal experience that was simultaneously presentation and a representation. [13] When Marina Abramovic allows her audience to mistreat her, even providing weapons with which she could be killed, representation and presence have indeed become inextricably entwined. This rejection of reproduction too was motivated by anti-capitalism. Performance was trying to detach itself from capitalist spectacle, and the photography or filming of performances was regarded as an inadmissible attempt to reclaim performance and reintegrate it into the capitalist spectacle.

This view has persisted for many years; even in the 1990s, Peggy Phelan still defended performance’s by now traditional inimicality to reproduction, claiming that performance should serve as a ‘model for another representational economy’: ‘Performance’s only life is in the present. Performance cannot be saved, recorded, documented, or otherwise participate in the circulation of representations of representations: once it does so, it becomes something other than performance. To the degree that performance attempts to enter the economy of reproduction it betrays and lessens the promise of its own ontology.’[14] In other words: when a performance is reproduced it is no longer a true performance. The persistence of this discourse seems all the more remarkable when we consider that, historically, the ban on reproduction has proved futile – even in the sixties, when happenings went ‘pop’ and transformed into media events, to the disgust of Allan Kaprow and the delight of Andy Warhol who himself eagerly took part in the process. It is in any case now clear that the ‘classic’ performance art of Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic or Chris Burden owes its enduring impact largely to the black-and-white photos, films and videos that were made. These images have acquired the status of originals, to such an extent that recent reenactments of historical happenings, events and performances continually find themselves in competition with these old images; the reenactment runs the risk of coming across as the live reproduction of an old photo or video.[15] The best reenactments are not afraid to take this risk, and in general the more interesting recent performance art tends to undermine the conventional opposition between the live event and the (supposedly inferior) reproduction. Whereas classic performance art generally tried to abandon representation for presentation of a non-reproducible live experience, more recent performances draw lessons from the fact that the classic performances proved unable to avoid media representation. Live performances, photos and videos are now acknowledged as different manifestations of the same work, which oscillates between presentation and representation in a more complex way than the old performance ideology was willing to contemplate (and the live version is not the form in which that work survives).

The conclusion from this can only be that performance art has never been a real threat to the spectacle; its integration into spectacle as media performance comes as no surprise. Yet if performance artists were to radicalize the anti-production tradition, if they were to really roll up their sleeves and take the fight against reproduction seriously – couldn’t this result in a form of performance that was incompatible with capitalism? This line of reasoning rests on the assumption that ‘the media’ are virtually identical with advanced capitalism. Yet following Guy Debord, one can argue that the spectacular character of the capitalist economy is not primarily located in media like film, photography and video, but in commodity fetishism: commodities seem to maintain whimsical ‘social’ relations due to their exchange value. In the process the commodities become images, hieroglyphic representations of the relations in human society.[16] This primary spectacle of commodities-become-images is thus the prevailing social condition, which is reflected in ‘the media’ in the form of a secondary spectacle of images-become-commodities, which reinforces the primary spectacle. To get rid of the society of spectacle, it is hence not enough to get rid of ‘the media’; the whole of society must be revolutionized.

Taking the anti-media rhetoric of performance discourse more seriously than was usual in the sixties and seventies, Sehgal fights reproduction of his works in photographs or videos with an almost Taliban-like fanaticism, actively trying to prevent pictures of his works being taken and published. However, since Sehgal is not an anti-capitalist, his prohibition of photographic and video reproduction cannot be interpreted as anti-capitalist either. Like Debord, he must have come to the conclusion that a ban on reproduction is not necessarily a threat to the spectacle; indeed, his work is based on the insight that a radical ban on prohibition could have a peerlessly spectacular effect. The aura of such elusive celebrities as Salinger, Kubrick and Howard Hughes has already demonstrated that a one-sided denial of mechanical reproduction fosters mythologization and thus functions as a paradoxical form of publicity. Sehgal applies the same principle to his artistic activities. The works profit from their unavailability; it is precisely because the performance happens only in a specific time and place, and is not visible on demand, that it has an aura comparable to that of Benjamin’s cult image – the devotional object which may be viewed only by priests except when paraded publicly on specific feast days.[17] Sehgal’s rejection of reproduction and the difficult ‘findability’ of his work in exhibitions turns the work of art back into (the semblance of a) cult image, or rather of a cult act. His ban on reproduction so seems enjoy a strange parallel with the increasingly severe restrictions on the use of images and text imposed by draconic copyright laws; both of them deny freedom to the spectator or user. Sehgal’s primitivist model for a benign future capitalism serves as an ideological smokescreen for the spectacle’s rather less cute archaisms.

Sehgal is not the only artist to generate an aura through invisibility. Rirkrit Tiravanija’s 2004–2005 retrospective, shown at Rotterdam’s Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and other venues, consisted entirely of reconstructions of empty spaces where the artist had once installed his work. The actual installations were not shown; they were merely described in texts that recalled the original presentations. It is to Tiravanija’s credit that he foregrounded this mystique of absence through the show’s didactic approach, thus stimulating the questioning of his own aura-production. In Sehgal’s case, the main impression left is one of a deliberately mystifying aesthetic impoverishment. His radical ban on reproduction creates a spectacle of absence. The prohibition on photography stimulates instead the reproduction of the work in the form of rumour. The refusal of mediatization thus becomes mediagenic; the publicity machine of the museums, biennales and other artistic manifestations ensures that word of Sehgal’s ephemeral and largely invisible performances spreads like wildfire. Sehgal’s triumph lies in staging the rejection of contemporary media culture in the most mediagenic way imaginable.

At the same time, the fact that Sehgal’s work is made public through texts and rumours impedes critical scrutiny and reflection. Its limited visibility makes it harder for the spectator to get involved with it, to charge it with personal meanings and sentiments, and if need be to misread it. Exhibition visitors may have been free to discuss ‘the market economy’ with Sehgal’s performers or ‘interpreters’ in the work This is Exchange (2004), but the actual course of those conversations is scarcely relevant: all that matters is that such conversations took place within the framework of Sehgal’s work, regardless of their content; it is the representation of those conversations in the form of rumour that counts. Sehgal’s performances are invisible, intangible commodities that live at a safe, enigmatic remove in their own world, as elusive as electronic capital.
The performative imperative

In recent years it has become more and more obvious that the spectacle has taken a ‘performative turn’. Typical of the neo-liberal performance culture is the TV programme in which a mediagenic entrepreneur like Donald Trump selects a new appointee from candidates who must perform themselves in a way that will win them a highly-paid job. The spectacle of the Situationists, which involved a distinction between a dreamlike theatre of commodities and the passive consumer, has been succeeded by a participatory, performative spectacle. Thus we have entered a phase that the Situationists themselves failed to foresee: in spite of the fact that commodities need not be objects, immaterial commodities such as services were somewhat neglected by Marxist theory, including that of the SI, and the transformation of anonymous services into personalized performances is a development that was not seen or foreseen by the Situationists.

The primary immaterial commodity in Marxist theory was labour power: a statistical average of the amount of labour needed to produce a certain industrial commodity, which is responsible for the exchange value of goods (contrary to the fetishist illusion that they obtain value through mutual relations). In principle, this theory of labour power can also be applied to many services that do not depend on a unique performer. Services too are commodities in which labour has been invested, and in most cases the worker will be paid a wage that represents an abstraction – the amount of labour normally needed to do the job. Today, however, it seems increasingly difficult to base the value of goods on this statistical average – plus the surplus value, which the employer pockets. In the contemporary economy, value has spun completely out of control. A trendy cup of coffee may cost a small fortune because it represents an ‘experience’, a top manager can take home an absurdly inflated bonus because he is a unique performer: he sells a habitus with capabilities and personal qualities that are supposedly unique. The value of such performers and their performances can no longer be measured in abstract labour power. If object-commodities become images in classical spectacle, in the performative spectacle the service too turns into an image. Of course, this does not mean that the other, anonymous service jobs no longer exist, but increasingly the performative colonizes labour: even in jobs where wages are standardized (and low), the worker is expected to put his or her unique charms and qualities into the job if he or she wants to keep it. As anonymous services become performances, even abstract labour power has to be enacted in a personalized way by individual performers. [18] This turns not only performance into a commodity, but ultimately the performer as well.

The Situationists’ conception of the spectacle, which was still based on the model of the Western theatre with its audience watching a play on a stage, is not sufficient for the performative spectacle. An advert for a film camera reproduced in the Internationale Situationniste portrays a woman who wishes to film ‘the most beautiful moments of her life’. As an industrial product which produces images, the camera is a symptomatic commodity from a Situationist point of view. The caption, which is mostly about the colonization of time by the spectacle, has the headline ‘domination du spectacle sur la vie’, but isn’t the point of this ad the transformation of life itself into spectacle, rather the domination of life by the spectacle? [19] While Debord claimed that life was colonized by the spectacle, he pictured this above all as the infiltration of commodities – and of commodity fetishism – into all aspects of life. While the SI was not blind to the status of film stars or models as commodities, they were seen as more or less equal to cars and vacuum cleaners: commodity-images whose fetishist allure impoverished life, yet in the end distinct from the lives they dominate. And in fact, in the classical spectacle, stars – especially Hollywood stars – were distant and different, seemingly inhabiting a different word. But by the 1960s the inflation of stardom was well under way, as epitomized by Warhol’s famous ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ quote. The model in the film camera ad represents this new celebrity culture, just as the camera (although still a film camera, not yet video) announces the increasing availability of means of reproduction.

In the performative spectacle everybody is a potential performer, from movie stars to next-door neighbours. Reality TV, webcams and similar phenomena are the ultimate consequence of this development. The polarity between performance and media cherished by performance ideologues has been replaced by a capricious dialectic: every profession, every job, every private life – in other words, every performance – can claim an entitlement to reproduction, and at the same time every conceivable media model may be lived out and performed. Performance art, integrated into the spectacle, has become part of this wider performative culture. Dalí, that consummate media performer, was no less prophetic of this development than Pollock, who – in spite of his qualms – was transformed by Hans Namuth into a media icon, which significantly contributed to the rise of happenings and events. Both Dalí and Pollock symbolize the metamorphosis of the role of the artist into permanent public self-performance. The difference between artist and oeuvre has collapsed: the artists themselves are their main commodity on the performative market. Stiles’ statement should actually be inverted: performance has aggravated the reduction of art to undifferentiated merchandise by displacing objects by artists, by subjects whose performances have themselves become commodified. In his striptease utopia, Sehgal distracts attention from the true conditions of the present performative imperative: the culture of Donald Trump and Matthew Barney, of Germaine Greer appearing in Big Brother and of the former punk Situationist John Lydon in a jungle show, of countless business people and employees – and of Tino Sehgal. The striptease model has already long been realized, if perhaps in a less utopian way than anticipated; for what is striptease if not an extreme manifestation of the merciless economic drive to perform?

In this culture of mandatory performance, the discourse on performance has entered a new round. On the one hand it has become an academic specialism, meticulously administered by scholarly technocrats; on the other hand the increased focus on this field has entailed a continual inflation of the concept of performance. During the nineties, performance theorists like Peggy Phelan used elements from the works of J.L. Austin and Judith Butler to develop a broad notion of the performative or performativity.[20] In the days when art was just beginning its own performative turn, with Pollock and the reception of Pollock by Harold Rosenberg, Allan Kaprow and others (and several years before George Brecht’s ambiguous ‘event scores’), Austin called attention to the performative component of certain forms of speech, such as baptizing a ship or declaring a couple man and wife. Although his discourse and practice depend on the classic isolation of ‘pure performance’ as a physical act, Sehgal is a virtuoso language-performer: his ban on reproduction and his notarized sales contracts may well be his most important (linguistic) performances.

By now the terms ‘performative’ and ‘performativity’ have been overstretched like semantic chewing gum: anything can be performative, even art objects and static images. Sehgal’s partner, the critic Dorothea von Hantelmann, presents the artist as the apotheosis of the wider definition of ‘the performative’. She argues that every work of art should be seen as performative, and hence as political, in that it forces the spectator into an active relationship.[21] Sehgal’s piece in which the visitor is invited to make a statement about the market economy is one of Hantelmann’s examples of this political, activating character of the performative. [22] But if any statement and any discussion or non-discussion will do, all that seems to matter is the suggestion that everything is performative, and that this insight and its enactment constitute a radical theoretical advance. In this way the performative too becomes progressive – even if it is merely the progressiveness of a new, improved product on the theory market. Hantelmann broadens the performative to include objects, since they too can encourage the viewer to take on an active, performative relationship with the object; the glaring contradiction with Sehgal’s pursuit of dematerialization carries little weight in the domain of ‘theory-as-publicity’. What it boils down to is rhetoric – and rhetoric can indeed be very performative, particularly in the art world.

The loose way in which contemporary critics and theorists use the notion of the performative owes much of its charm to the magical, animistic suggestion it imparts. In a culture of the performative imperative, the notion of performativity (or at least its sound-bite version) suggests a world that is infinitely malleable. If everything is performative, everything is open to influence and transformation. Performative language becomes the thinking person’s magic; if contemporary society often seems to correspond to the grim picture Adorno painted of a modernity as irrational and constraining as the most primitive stages of civilisation, the performative alleviates this by returning to the overestimation of the mind’s powers which authors such as Tylor, Frazer and Freud considered to be typical for the earliest stages of civilisation: magic as an oneiric attempt at controlling a hostile environment.[23] The transformation of the performative into magic is signalled by the refusal to investigate the conditions under which an action or speech act may be truly performative; it is nicer to dream of being a heroic performer like Beuys, than to acknowledge that one is an actor in someone else’s spectacle. The first step towards preventing the further degeneration of performativity discourse into sham progressiveness is to acknowledge the conditions of the performative spectacle, which also means acknowledging that Tino Sehgal is not that radically different from Matthew Barney, or Donald Trump.



Freedom and determination

A successful example of an artistic intervention in the performative spectacle is Andrea Fraser’s reenactment of a drunken speech by Martin Kippenberger. Fraser’s source for Art Must Hang (2001) was a recording of this speech, in German, which Fraser learned phonetically by heart. Fraser’s performance is thus a reenactment of a reproduction of a performance; the work is clearly integral to a performance culture that no longer makes any fundamental distinction between medial representation and live performance. Itself based on a reproduction, her own performance again results in a reproduction: Fraser presents her reenactment as a life-sized DVD projection (in combination with one or several paintings). It is clear even to someone unfamiliar with the original that Fraser has stuck rigorously to her model. With immaculate self-control, she duplicates Kippenberger’s supreme lack of control, and it is this ostensibly slavish imitation that makes her reenactment into something beyond a mere reproduction of her exemplar, the ‘original’ recording of Kippenberger. By performing Kippenberger, Fraser also performs the performative imperative to which the artist, a manic self-performer, submitted himself.

Speaking about this work, Fraser has stated that the artist’s task is ‘to perform the inseparability of freedom and determination: to perform that contradiction without distancing it in facile irony or collapsing it in cynicism, and without forgetting that you can’t escape it through an act of will or reflection or a gesture of transgression.’ [24] In her case, performance is neither the suggestion of a realm of pure presence without media representation, nor an exercise in fake ecology: she tries to extract a potential of freedom from impure conditions, a freedom that is inseparable from those very conditions. There is perhaps one work, the text piece this sentence already performed (2003), in which Sehgal shows signs of a comparable reflexivity. The words THIS SENTENCE ALREADY PEFORMED are scattered over a number of pages, as in Mallarmé’s Coup de dés; this phrase suggests that Sehgal wants embrace the discourse of universal performativity, but the text appears to consist principally of a inventory of the materials and energy consumed in producing the considerable number of copies of the printed work. The prophet of dematerialization here acknowledges the far from environmentally-friendly economy and the industrial performance culture in which he participates. [25] Such moments are all too rare in Sehgal’s oeuvre.

While the anti-capitalist performance discourse of old would make us blind to the omnipresence of performance culture in the contemporary capitalist economy, contemporary expostulations such as those of Sehgal or Hantelmann develop into a phantasmagoric vision of that culture. Sehgal refuses to perform ‘the inseparability of freedom and determination’ by camouflaging determination – the performative imperative in today’s economy – as freedom. Thus the performative spectacle gives birth to an ecological utopia in which all fundamental problems have been magically solved. But performance is not a solution or a promise; it is an obstinate and problematical fact. Only if we avoid presenting today’s culture of performance as a prelude to utopia and instead acknowledge its normative character, is there a chance of art performance instigating little ‘truth-events’ that highlight tiny fissures in the performative spectacle, and so raise the possibility of a more fundamental break with it. [26]



1 Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: The Politics of Performance, London/New York, Routledge, 1993, p. 148.
2 Kristine Stiles, ‘Performance’, in: Critical Terms for Art History (eds. Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff), second edition, Chicago/London, University of Chicago Press, 2003, p. 85.
3 Lucy Lippard, Six Years: the dematerialization of the art object from 1966 tot 1972 (etc.) (1973), Berkeley/Los Angeles/London, University of California Press, 1997, p. xi (1997 preface, ‘Escape Attempts’).
4 Ibid., p. 11.
5 Stiles, ‘Performance’, p. 85.
6 Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie (ed. Benedikt Kautsky), Stuttgart, Alfred Kröner, pp. 127–137.
7 Tino Sehgal, ‘Jeff Koons, Hippo, 1999’, in: Artists’ Favourites Act II: 30 July–5 September 2004, London, ICA (brochure), p. 15.
8 Ibid.
9 Ibid.
10 B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore, The Experience Economy: Every Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage, Boston, Harvard Business School Press, 1999.
11 Tino Sehgal, untitled text in: Now What? Artists Write! (eds. Mark Kremer and Maria Hlavajova, Annie Fletcher), Frankfurt am Main/Utrecht, Revolver/bak, 2004, p. 170.
12 Ibid.
13 Phelan, Unmarked, p. 3; Erika Fischer-Lichte, Ästhetik des Performativen, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 2004, e.g. p. 255-260. See also Stiles, ‘Performance’, p. 90.
14 Phelan, Unmarked, pp. 3, 146. It is an indisputable merit of Phelan’s more recent writings, in particular her analyses of the presidency of Ronald Reagan, that she has replaced her essentialist anti-production rhetoric by a keen analysis of contemporary media performance.
15 See also Sven Lütticken, ‘An Arena in Which to Reenact’, in exhib.cat. Life, Once More: Forms of Reenactment in Contemporary Art, Rotterdam, Witte de With, 2005, pp. 17–60.
16 Guy Debord, La Société du Spectacle (1967), Paris, Gallimard, 1992, p. 15.
17 Walter Benjamin, ‘Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit’ (1935-1937), in: Gesammelte Schriften, vol. I.2.: Abhandlungen, Frankfurt am Main, Suhrkamp, 1991, pp. 483–484.
18 This performative capitalism has absorbed ‘radical’ 1960s notions on the importance of play and creativity. See Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, Le Nouvel esprit du capitalisme, Paris, Gallimard, 1999.
19 Internationale Situationniste, no. 11 (October 1967), p. 57.
20 J. L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (1955/62), Oxford/New York, Oxford University Press, 1980. For the reception received by Austin, see Judith Butler, Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, New York/London, Routledge, 1997; Phelan, Unmarked, pp. 146–166; Fischer-Lichte, Ästhetik des Performativen, pp. 31–42.
21 Dorothea von Hantelmann, ‘Showing Art Performing Politics. Zum Verhältnis von Kunst, Performativität und Politik’, in: exhib.cat. I Promise It’s Political, Köln, Theater der Welt/Museum Ludwig, 2002, pp. 12–30.
22 Dorothea von Hantelmann, ‘Ik beloof je, het is performatief’, in: Metropolis M, vol. 25, no. 4 (August-September 2004), p. 80.
23 See for instance Freud on ‘primitive’ people’s animistic belief in the ‘Allmacht der Gedanken’ as the basis for magic in: ‘Das Unheimliche’ (1919), in: Der Moses des Michelangelo, Schriften über Kunst und Künstler, Frankfurt am Main, Fischer, 1993, pp. 159-160.
24 Andrea Fraser, ‘Performance Anxiety’, Artforum, vol. 41, no. 6 (February 2003), p. 103.
25 Tino Sehgal, ‘this sentence already performed’ (2003), in: Perform (eds. Jens Hoffmann and Joan Jonas). London, Thames & Hudson, 2004, pp. 23–31.
26 For the concept of a ‘truth-event’, see Slavoj Zizek, The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology, London/New York, Verso, 1999, pp. 141–145.


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