Reassembling us again after the confinement in the streets and parks

Nordic Summer University Summer Session 2020

NSU Circle 7: Artistic Research | Performing Heterotopia

00:00 / 39:58

(Editor: Verónica Lahitte)

REASSEMBLING US AGAIN

This text is my contribution to the Nordic Summer University 2020, Pleasure and Playfulness Summer (Dis-)Symposium, Circle 7: Artistic Research | Performing Heterotopia.

This text is a compendium, the trace itself of a series of voices "in networking," even though we are in a critical situation. Here you will find a mark made like a spider-web. 

The original idea, a physical and bodily gathering, couldn't be possible to achieve. Why? Basically, we haven't had the opportunity to realize the gathering because everyone involved felt the impact of a short reopening and a new soft lockdown. We all live in Barcelona, Spain. We are cultural agents (teachers, artists, curators, writers, mediators) and also parents. 

The reality is that immediately after the "end of the strict lockdown" everybody was sucked by a series of new exigencies from the job environment. All the people involved in this project are cultural agents. As I said in the introduction of the project, Spain's cultural fabric has been deeply damaged by the Covid-19 crisis. Between the anxiety of the crisis, regarding health, the secondary and complicated situation regarded the job environment. And it is something to state: it does not necessarily relate with the fact of not having a job, but also the complexity of having them, more than one of course, during the lockdown and the impossibility of matching it with the life at home in the middle of a pandemic.

Also, some of the project's people were considered part of the "high risk" population. This fact evidently produced an understandable situation of not having everyone in the gathering. 

This is why I finally decided to have a series of digital meetings with the families involved. I audio recorded these conversations, and take them as the matter for an "essay" exploring all the relevant issues they expose through it. I also decided to share some of the records as "visual" material and not as sources of accuracy.

"It's important to know how to fail better."

Pleasure and playfulness have become a complex matter nowadays. It is challenging to situate both concepts, particularly within artistic or sensible practices impacted by the confinement. Minor gestures, invisible or unnoticed events, simple facts have probably become the surfaces through which feeling and sensing some sort of pleasure. And playfulness has been deeply stressed by the current crisis.


The experience of confinement has been very hard in Barcelona. The cultural fabric in Spain has been gravely damaged. Many artists-parents have been faced with the problematic situation of responding to family necessities and the shortage of jobs and resources at the same time. My proposal considers a gathering of artists-parents in Barcelona (no more than 10, because of the current sanitary restrictions). The idea is to share our experiences in solving daily life and artistic practices during the confinement, and how the current situation has pushed us to reconsider the concepts of pleasure and playfulness, particularly when the crisis has transformed us in constant daily companions of our children.

Participants:

Marta Camps

Aduna Olalaizola Galardi

Juliane Debeusscher

DUAE Luna Coppola - Silvia Campidelli

Ariadna Guiteras

Michael Lawton

Patricia Sorroche Quesada

María García

Javier Rodrigo Montero

Edited by:

Verónica Lahitte, visual artist

Special thanks to:

Crisitina García, Director of ESPAI AIGUA

Pedagogic project in Barcelona.

"She was born in the middle of the curve, when it was at the highest point. Bringing life into the world is always transcendental, it removes your own life, it repositions you, it is strong. But to bring life when there is so much death, is overwhelming. It surpasses you."

"During the lockdown, there was news about food shortages. That was the first time I felt real fear, because the memory of the Chilean dictatorship was evident. The feeling of what to do, what to do with mine, how to protect them."

The failure of the project's original aim responds to the specific circumstances in which we continue to live in the city of Barcelona. However, like any artistic practice, this "forced error" caused a new drift previously unknown.

 

1. To give birth during our dystopic times

* Dystopia: 1. An imaginary place or state in which the condition of life is extremely bad, as from deprivation, oppression, or terror. 2. A work describing such a place or state: "dystopias such as Brave New World" (Times Literary Supplement).

 

To be born in the middle of a pandemic. Ariadna and Michael are visual artists and teachers of art. Their child was born during the highest curve of the pandemic in Spain.

Giving birth, helping to be born with masks, and feeling a transcendental power, a power that does not belong to any figure of hierarchy: a force of life as such. It is the power of what heals, what helps, what assists, what forms asylum, shelter. This is a power that, even facing the structure built around its gesturing (the hospital institution, its architecture, its design, its protocols, its violent performativity at work), dissolves the patriarchal-colonizing power through its echoic persistence.

When Ariadna and Michael described the birth, many words came to reveal the importance of that act in the middle of an unknown territory of circumstances:

"Bringing life into the world is always transcendental, it removes your own life, it repositions you, it is strong. But to bring life when there is so much death, is overwhelming. It surpasses you."

Life appears beside the situation and relocates everything. Transcendental in the most material sense that this word needs to recuperate in these days. Transcendental as the life retaking the streets in other cities facing the abuses of the leading classes. Here, the transcendental relocates by dislocation. It certainly "removes" what exists until that moment.

2. A new distribution of the sensible

The current circumstances have generated a redistribution of the sensible that does not take refuge in the dream of the political. This redistribution summons all the micro experiences that, molecular, rise, without making noise, through forms that, unreadable for the patriarchal and institutional power, effectively carry out a transformation that still does not have any appropriate legibility. 

These dialogues, in their unusual ways, form a network. These dialogues are surfaces where a series of discourses, understandings, experiences, figures, forms of life are happily mixed! These dialogues do not try to give an account or to serve as an archive. Instead, in their fragile form, in their rapid condition, these dialogues plot, in the midst of the urgency that we experience daily, a sustainable surface of accompaniment.

The closure of the streets, the obligatory confinement, whose objective was to flatten the contagion curve, brought a halt to the known normality. From one day to the next, most had to leave their regular jobs, children had to go home and never go to their schools again. Universities were closed, the work-place was installed in the middle of the private-life if that could still be described as such. The homes, houses, and dwellings became cells where all the normalized aspects of life in the context of capitalist Europe became dystopian, abnormal, forced, and complex. All, absolutely all aspects of what we called life became restricted. Our private lives became the object of participation in a social re-engineering on a global scale.

Never before had the meaning of the word globalization been so concrete and specific in material terms.

Circumstances forced redistribution of time and the few spaces of what is left of life.

Each of the interviewees is a cultural agent in the social fabric of the city of Barcelona.
We have all felt the blow that this situation has meant. My aim was to share some words and ideas about the experience of confinement, its relationship to our children, and the obvious economic impact that the pandemic would have on us. The existing fragile network of labor has been doubly weakened, and fears of an uncertain future are looming large in a strangely natural way.
What to do? It resonates again as a phantom phrase among us. My response has been to get us talking. To find ways in which we can tell each other a common thread. Normativity/normality has kept us fixed in our activities. Now, the own COVID-19 exhibition has exposed us to a necessary reorganization of the solidarities and the accompaniments that it implies.

"In this crisis of capital versus life we have returned to the old normality, which capital first imposes and then we will see how we balance and sustain life and try to reconcile it. But first there is capital and then there will be a satellite out there that will be life. I think we have lost again. We have again lost what we have lost in 2009 and in the great neoliberal crises. This idea arises again that there is no problem because these crises in the Spanish State are sustained by families and it seems that no State measures should be taken. The discourse appeals to family ties so that the State and public policy are disengaged, and that's great for capitalism."

"This whole concept of post-Fordism, that all areas of capital become everyday suddenly comes and becomes a life experience. Work touches all those other spheres that one was protecting from not becoming productive. Post-Fordism has entered your home and you don't know how to get rid of it."

"By the term form-of-life, on the other hand, I mean a life that can never be separated from its form, a  life in which it is never possible to isolate something such as naked life. 

A life that cannot be separated from its form is a life for which what is at stake in its way of living is living itself. What does this formulation mean? It defines a life -human life- in which the single ways, acts, and processes of living are never simply facts but always and above all possibilities of life, always and above all power. Each behavior and each form of human living is never prescribed by a specific biological vocation, nor is it assigned by whatever necessity; instead, no matter how customary, repeated, and socially compulsory, it always retains the character of a possibility; that is, it always puts at stake living itself. That is why human beings- as beings of power who can do or not do, succeed or fail, lose themselves or find themselves-"

(Agamben, 2000: 3-4)

"We are a society, at least where we live, that is well-off, that is used to following the norm, that has stopped revolutionizing itself. Since the 15M, very few movements have been created to break the imposed norm, to break the factual powers"

So where is the fun in all this?
How have we been able to sustain, perhaps this is the crucial word in this whole process: to sustain, sustaining the crisis, the anxiety, the uncertainty, and to play, to play more, to try to play as long as possible?
What has it been like for us to play during this whole period?
Playing has crossed the threshold of the prescribed order. We could say that the structural biopolitics of play in the city, or rather, the play biopoliticised, the performances that sustain the system of capital in which we are invested, has been attempted to deregulate.

How? Through which mechanisms? How to decapitalize play? How to decompose the participating play of Capital during a pandemic of which we know nothing? Perhaps, and only, through its association with boredom.
At the limit of boredom, trying precariously to respond to the demands of labor, or the lack of it (particularly in the case of those who, as cultural agents, depend directly on cultural institutions and public funds), both families and children had to assume, with the psychological difficulty that it added up, the Kafkaesque evidence that we could not get out.

We could not continue "playing" as before. At the limit of our emotions, because there has been no social accompaniment to the pandemic, we had to look for other resources: performatively dislocating the houses' interior order.
Every edge, every corner, every situation, every order was redrawn, opened up to the capacity of a game that now was not only intended for a capitalist "playing." Soon the game, the playful, transcended its place, its parameters and was composed in a plot with everything else.
Many realized in the interviews that the children began to play "office." The game of imitation overflowed the place they were protecting. Aduna and Patricia, a teacher and a museum curator, came to the same critical reflection: how to preserve the place of love, of care, of affection, and also the site of our conflicts, from work, from working life, from non-life?
Even in my case, having been fortunate enough to receive the Kone Foundation's support during a critical economic moment, Play became a woven, an interwoven space between my artistic practice and my children's play. I ended up joining their games, their "work". We made drawings, recordings, photos, wrote poems, turned the room into a football stadium, a tennis court, a bowling alley. We even ended up watching videos of Japanese ceramists. But a lot of us ended doing the same. We were playing again.
Nothing was a game. Everything was a game.
Where was the playfulness in the middle of a pandemic then? Where was the playfulness when shots were fired, or a bomb exploded in the corner of my family house in Chile in the '80s? Where was the playfulness in my childhood, in my children's infancy, in the childhood of friends' children?
I believe that the dissolution of play, as that "thing" must be done within the game of Capital, made the ludic re-appeared.Each of us has resisted the current situation. Similarly, each of us does not know how we will continue to oppose this situation.
This dialogue has been the first step in a slow process of thought, reflection, understanding, healing, and solidarity.
Circumstances seem to continue to force us to reject joint action. But this new condition also pushes us to imagine different possibilities to respond to these new needs.

For now, the objective is to continue the dialogue. To find ourselves within the possibilities we manage to create. To create a network. To join forces. To look for alliances again. To rest in the wisdom of an each-other-ness.
Of course, there are more circumstances to describe. This attempt aimed to trace the possibility of a dialogue that will grow and be maintained, for the time being, in the area of the upbringing and precarious work of cultural agents in Spain.

This is the video that we played over and over throughout the lockdown. Mr. Shimizu Genji (Hokujo) is one of the finest pottery maker and been certified as a "Master of Traditional Craftsman" in 1994. Various Awards like "Choza Award Ceramic Crafts Exhibition", "Japan Traditional Crafts Art Exhibition", "Ceramic Design Competition" and "Japan Master of Traditional Craftsman Exhibition" (http://www.mingart.de/albums/hokujo/)

"We were already used to the game, this was the easy part. The hard part was everything else, how do I play if I have to cook plus answer one email plus...that's really hard."

"Yesterday he surprised me because he started to explain to me that he has dreams. I said, Oh yeah? What do you dream about? And he said, School and my friends. And then I ask him, What did you do? And he asks me, Which one? The real one or the dream one? In the one of dreams each one goes on his motorcycle and they are small motorcycles. And he begins to explain to me that he was riding a motorbike in his dreams with all his friends. I was even surprised that it was his birthday and his friends sent messages and one of them told him that he loved him. He was surprised, excited. Now I see for example that the other day a friend of mine said to me, he has said that he loves me."

"I would like my house to be a protected space from the work, even for my children."

"What about teleworking? Ergonomics, eye health, schedules, etc."