Blog Salon #3: On Collectivity and Collapse
Saturday Dec 10th
Eboni Senai’s outro/Sumary
In 1967, amidst uprisings by the globally dispossessed, Barthes proposed the Death of the Author, and creators have since been playing with radical ejection from and ambiguous presence within new work. The notion of collective collapse in performance is another utterance in this dialectic between an un-apparent or irrelevant author-body and the intentional negation of the body’s mechanics and composure (straight lines, length, elevation). And in the half-century since Barthes – since so many revolutions, neo-liberalism, hip hop, social media, disenchantment with a black president – the idea of a negated author has collided with the idea of a negative work, and produced a theory of descent (a “poetics of failure”). This Blog Salon aims to push that developing theoretical canon. What’s it mean to fall [in love] with your friends? How’s it feel to fall alone? Who has more practice in which kind of fall? And which is the most talked about?
The contributors to this Blog Salon on Collectivity and Collapse play with death as a kind of fall: the end of stamina, the aging of the body, the death of the human. There also runs through these pieces an interrogation into how the presence of the collective undoes the creator and vice versa. How is the multi-ethnic duet both an expansion and a loss of one’s self? How is the shared impetus towards a militant queer front complicated by the author’s presence? And of course what would a Blog Salon on collapse be without a righteous challenge to Judith Halberstam’s The Queer Art of Failure?
Perhaps there is no better time to be critically engaging with these issues. On the heels of eight years of collective gains made by brown folk, youth, queers, and the working class, we find ourselves in a position that might be familiar to Barthes. The U.S. came frighteningly close this November to swearing in a new commander-in-chief without any information about his economic plan or donor base, and with an abundance of evidence of his neo-Darwinian logic in regards to political minorities and the disenfranchised. The hopefulness of a decentralized revolution in Southwest Asia/Northwest Africa has quickly transmutated into the complex and devastating violence that continues to erode (and reconstitute) Syrian life. And while environmentalist efforts have grown increasingly strategic since COP15, We are in the midst of a frankenstorm of cultural, political, and collective failures – even while so many of us are leaping toward once-foreign alliances and new ways of working together. This moment, then, may be our most perfect opportunity to review how we intend to cope post-collapse and, as Ibarra details in her , what we know of our ability to endure.
Now. Before you go exploring: two notes.
1. While the contributors to this Blog Salon inhabit an array of practices – from installation to dance to curatorial to a mix and more – it’s worth noting that all are people of color. We were interested in hearing from people who are most likely to live close to the realm of collapse, and with whom we are more likely to feel some affinity as we navigate the turbulence of collective stumbling. For those reasons, Ernesto and I looked to our friends and family of color to fill these pages.
2. A salon is a gathering of the minds, and that includes yours. Whatever you find on these pages that leaves you angry, enchanted, disturbed – respond.
Keep the dialogue going: we are all authors here.
Anna Martine Whitehead
The THEOFFCENTER Blog Salon Series – The concept behind these virtual salons is simple. We enlist the time and intention of 10 to 12 artists who, after receiving a prompt, are asked to produce a piece of writing. These writings then get published in rapid succession (2 a day for one week), during which time we engage with the larger community and encourage their participation in the conversation via written comments. By creating this virtual dialogue we hope to document a more grounded and richer critique of the subject at hand and our relationship to it.
Our lives (as artists, queers, and queer artists of color), historically defined by precarity, are less stable in this election cycle/fiscal year/crop season than ever before. As we find ourselves growing older and deeper in debt, deeper in our practice, deeper in drama, deeper in love and in sorrow, it may be imperative for us to distinguish the difference between an independent virtuous leap and a messy and shameful fall. To ease up on searching for the valor in always trying, and instead to consider “the political value to be found in strategies of coping and recovery [and] the continuation after the disaster.” (Bailes 2011). Because there is continuation. That is, perhaps, most important of all.
This blog salon is about coming together and collapsing. The details are open to contributors’ interpretation; collapse as a gesture, as a metaphor, as evidence of failure, as (dis)organization. Falling down as an operative of disintegration.
There are meta thoughts here, as well: How do you see the shared fall as a [queer] part of your practice? Is there anything especially queer about being together in the collapse? Is the performative turn toward failure as generative pedagogy representative of a larger collective instability? What does it mean to be a non-white body breaking down? Or are you so done with all of this talk of failure (and why can’t we just make something triumphant and leave it alone)? Perhaps a companion to these questions is the insistence on a queer aesthetic that continues to privilege pleasure and magic. And where in our mutually supported topple is the pleasure and the magic?
I’m asking you to run with this prompt. Gather friends to run with you. And if you trip over it, let us know where that leaves you – was inertia enough to keep you going, or did you find something new to explore from the ground? That’s all I really want to know.
Love and struggle,
Jefferson Pinder – Jefferson Pinder’swork has been featured in numerous group shows including exhibitions at The Studio Museum in Harlem, the Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut, and the Zacheta National Gallery in Warsaw, Poland. Although he considers his work to have a regional style and flavor, he stresses the universality of his themes and travels around the globe to seek inspiration. Pinder has spent time in Dakar, Mexico City, Khartoum and Hanoi working on projects that deal with race, identity and social mobility. Mr. Pinder’s work was featured at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery exhibition “Recognize”. Currently he is showing new work in the traveling exhibition “After 1968″, which originated at the High Museum in Atlanta. In the Spring of 2012 his performance piece ‘Ben-Hur’ was featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Pinder is represented by G-Fine Art Gallery in Washington, DC and Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.
Jefferson Pinder, a Chicago based video/performance artist, seeks to find black identity through the most dynamic circumstances. His experimental videos and films feature minimal performances that reference music videos and physical theatre. Pinder’s work provides personal and social commentary in accessible and familiar format. Inspired by soundtracks, Pinder utilizes hypnotic popular music and surreal performances to underscore themes dealing with blackness. Jefferson received his BA in Theatre from the University of Maryland, and studied at the Asolo Theatre Conservatory in Sarasota, FL. In 2000, Jefferson returned to the University of Maryland to receive his MFA in Mixed Media. Pinder was an Assistant Professor of theory, performance and foundations at the University of Maryland, College Park Art Department from 2003-2011. Currently he is an Associate Professor in the Contemporary Practices department at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. jeffersonpinder.com
As director of see.think.dance, Eboni Senai Hawkins has been responsible for connecting urban performance-makers with resources that reach past traditional staging platforms. From curated interactive performance programming for culture workers to expanded artist dialogues in private kitchens and living rooms, see.think.dance has been instrumental in rethinking what art can do where in the Bay Area and beyond. We’re pleased to include Eboni’s critical reading in this Blog Salon.