Leire Vergara, Leire Vergara: Memory, gaze and love (2008)
Some performative procedures in the work of Discoteca Flaming Star
Memory. Sight. Love.
All require a witness,
imagined or real.(1)
Performance, like many other methods in art, works through mechanisms of accumulation. This means that the exercise of identifying may go beyond differentiating between different models or the variations between forms of production in the past and present, and be enriched through its capacity for quoting and regeneration. Accumulation is, however, more volatile and ephemeral in this type of practice, because performance as an event always depends on an exercise of credibility and memory, as the action gradually disappears during the process of its developing. From the beginnings of performance, quoting has thus been based on putting rumour, trust and imagination into play. The residual images that remain after the event, whether material or immaterial, are themselves partly phantasmatic in the sense that they function as representational substitutes of what has happened.
This idea is one of the concepts used by certain writers to underpin analyses of the performance medium in recent years, in a line of thought directly influenced by the new wave of feminist theory that emerged in the nineties to question rigid dichotomies established around gender and challenged notions of identity politics. Admitting precisely this simulated condition of the performative gesture and its close relationship to repetition – very often involving the repetition of oppressive, regulating gender norms (2) – female art critics, historians and academics have attempted to distance themselves from the urgency of reconstituting performative action in order to centre their analysis specifically on its unstable conditions and thereby study its representational effects. This clarifying of the provisional character and uncertainty of experiencing action gave the writers in question a chance to go back to performances produced in the seventies through existing photographic, text, film or even oral documents, in order to try out, several decades later, a different set of tools for interpreting.
Amelia Jones confirms this in 1996 in the text “Presence” in Absentia – Experiencing the Performance as Documentation,where she attempts an impossible exercise: to try to evaluate the experience of expectation in several performances produced in the seventies, artistic actions that, because they are held within a concrete temporality, have become irretrievable. From an apparently unsustainable position, in view of the fact that the only possible access to these artistic actions can be given by the legacy of – often incomplete – documentary material, Amelia Jones proves that it is precisely in this implicit frustration that the potential for interpretation of the disappeared action resides. Her main argument rests on the idea that, although the experience of looking at a photograph, reading a text, or seeing a film is clearly different to that of participating in a performance as a spectator, neither of these establish a privileged relationship with the historical “truth” of the performative action (3) Her premise therefore destroys any conception of a possibility of an unmediated relationship with any kind of artistic or cultural production. In other words, Jones’ observations serve to argue that neither action nor the body can be totally apprehended during the time of the performance. The capacity for understanding either of these forms of experience depends directly on a later interpretation, and must therefore always lead to some kind of retrospective return.
Beyond focusing on evaluating changes in style in performance from the seventies to the present day, it seems interesting to analyse the possibilities this type of language may offer in contemporary art, and how we might conceive the experience of expectation of the art action in relation to a memory that is yet to be constituted. Discoteca Flaming Star’s practice is a clear example of a specific way in which certain contemporary artists, collectives and curatorial projects have been working with performance in recent years; namely, responding to the real conditions of the body in late capitalism. The demand for complete effectiveness in the performativity of productive roles, and the adjusting of forms of expressing identity to the vectors of power, reaffirm the control of contemporary identity through the repetition of behavioural models established under a concrete political and economic order(4). Attempting to evaluate this new condition of identity, as well as possible spaces that might be constructed to contest this reality, the work of Discoteca Flaming Star can be inscribed within an experimental performative language which aims to condense the tensions residing between fiction, representation and action.
Their works generally include the participation of an indefinite group of collaborators – some of them, active agents of the art event; others, spontaneous participants who make up an audience which is subject, during the time framework of their performances, to a space which has largely been built up through a collage of both improvised and rehearsed performative patterns. Through their actions, Discoteca Flaming Star thus bring about the interrogating of the real limits of expectation as an experience, and allow the audience a wider role which goes beyond mere passive testimony of the action carried out. In Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer’s performances, a need can be seen to extend their work beyond a performative space defined a priori; their interest in continuing to create once the event has finished is manifested by working with the phantasmatic residues of the disappeared action. In this sense, the recordings, texts, photographs and other kinds of objects generated during their actions that the spectator encounters outside the time of the performance are strongly ambivalent in a performative sense: their status transcends the purely documentary. It is therefore very difficult to draw the limits between action and expectation in their projects. In searching for a possible meaning for an action, the public is asked to experiment with new forms of attention that transcend intellectual abstraction, confronting the matter of the gesture itself – matter which is directly related to the forming of subjectivity and reproduced during the performance in a way that opens up new spaces for resignifying.
This kind of production and provocation in the substance of the performance can be observed in the way Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer work with music, particularly with songs, as an instrument for trying out new forms of fictionalised memory. Through different strategies of appropriation and recomposition of the songs they use – such as slowing down the voice and rhythm of a commercial ballad to distort it and to make it difficult to identificate immediately, or using singing out of tune as a virtue and means to activate potential by altering the song’s melody and rhythm – the artists create a new mental space for memory and recognition.
Music, composed mainly with their voices, plus musical accompaniment of bare chord arrangements or other invented instruments, generally envelops the production of their performances. Sometimes their films – made with filmmaker François Boué – leave us unsure whether we are looking at a recording or a register of a performance or whether we should understand them as visual proof of illusory events that occurred during a collective dream. What is definitely clear is that both the music and the moving image that remain after their actions transcend any documentary intent.
A case in point would beLa Vera Super 8, filmed in June 2004 in Viandar de La Vera, a short film that, without recourse to linear narrative, records the collaboration between Discoteca Flaming Star and El Arroyo Los Cagaos, a project carried out during the Bienal de La Vera set up by Tomás Ruiz-Rivas.
This artistic collaboration between the two groups was focused on producing a social space using music by composing and interpreting songs rescued from historical folk culture and even original compositions made in a similar group spirit. The intuition perceives the session as expanded in time in a new film made for the group by François Boué. The film is made up of precisely all the materialcaptured;the breaks between sequences show the editing process used by the author during the filming. It is the music, structured through the incessant repetition of the chorus of one of El Arroyo de los Cagaos’ songs, that intentionally creates a visual loop in the piece. In the film, a banner by Disco can be seen waving in the wind on one of the buildings of the village square, becoming a form of architectural intervention and marking out the space of the art action. It becomes hard to comprehend the exact dimension of the time of the performance in Boué’s short film, or even to distinguish the intervals between acts, rehearsals and other forms of shared experience. What can be intuitively perceived is the weight of purposeful socialisation of the event; that is, the desire to share an exercise of forming political subjectivity.
Any community has its dominant fictions which are based on a collection of images and histories that are shared over time. The conceptions of tradition and popular culture consensuate these to a greater or lesser degree and they then become the dominant structures of the collective imaginary. These shared images and histories become defined through different forms of mass representation; in their expansion into popular culture, they exercise a force of control over the community’s expression of itself. The fictions in question play a vital role in projecting the identity of a community; its ability to link the individual subject with the group is developed through contradictory movements between consensus and disagreement.
The songs interpreted by the two groups in Viandar de la Vera attempt to sabotage the structures that control collective memory to unveil the virtual screenthat shows us and instructs us what and how to desire.For Discoteca Flaming Star and El Arroyo de Los Cagaos, fictionalizing memory is a way of liberating desire.
We don’t see the human eye as a receiver.
When you see an eye, you see that something comes out of it.
You see the gaze of the eye.(5)
In La Huida Fílmica al jardín (this garden I grew for you),(6) we can dream of liberating a desire that is redeemed from all symbolic constraint, and of the gaze which escapes and accompanies it. In a short text associated with a number of images printed in black and white, Cristina Gómez Barrio gathersdescriptively certain elements that make up the only public park on a Manhattan rooftop. The text was written by the artist in a retrospective exercise after returning to Berlin, while listening to Nick Cave’s song Bring it on. This contribution on paper reflects the wandering of sight emerging from the eye and its delight in the details of a protected space that represents a community’s visions of transformation. Each of the fruit trees planted in the seventies show other forms of visualising the future being put into practice. The fugitive gaze can forget itself here and mingle with the spirit of other sight from the past, proof of a spent time’s desire for change.
In Wolfgang Mayer’s 2004 video Kronprinzessin Luise und ihre Schwester Frederike,the eyes of the woman which look outwards offer the viewer another type of sight, this time even before its complete escape. The camera attempts to intercept it, but the woman evades this assumed violence by inviting the viewer to look at her while she looks back.
Love is never directed toward this or that property of the loved one
(being blond, being small, being tender, being lame),
but neither does it neglect the properties
in favour of an insipid generality (universal love):
The lover wants the loved one with all of its predicates,
its being such as it is.(7)
Discoteca Flaming Star’s performative practice shows the potentiality of artistic creation under the conditions of post industrial society as a work force rooted in love. Secret actions materialised in the promise of a new way of visualising the present. A form of acting that offers itself unconditionally up to the other to propose a new type of exchange; an operation transcending the rules of productivity. Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer have occasionally spoken of their practice as a way of transforming peoples’ memories with the intent to create some confusion in them, so that these memories may be replaced by spirits of love. But perhaps the failure of this promise, like the failure of erotic love, hides more possibilities than disappointments in artistic action. Experiences such as Aladlona (I love you green)– a collective performance orchestrated by Discoteca Flaming Star and produced thanks to the collaboration of a heterogeneous group of participants including artists, musicians, filmmakers and professional dancers – would appear to confirm this. Different individual desires came together to compose a common space, in a session carried out in 2006 in The Kitchen, New York, an experimental event which aimed to work with new methods of communication through body language. Once again, it is François Boué’s film that is what remains of the experience. Its narrative composition is worked out through the visual mechanics of a 8mm camera: the opening and shutting of the lens structures the editing and makes the matter of the recording visible, confronting us with the evocation of experience together with the impossibility of returning to the action or body. All that is left for us to do is to intuitively perceive the promise of the act of loving, the communicative exercise of individuals. Perhaps, in the hope of this promise and the repeated encounter with its possible failure, “the looker, like the lover, desires another revision of memory, sight, and love itself.”(8)
1.Phelan, Peggy, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance, London, Routledge, 1996, p. 5. 2.Butler, Judith, “The Body you Want.Liz Kotz Interviews Judith Butler” in Artforum, n.o 199
3.Amelia Jones, “Presence” in Absentia Experiencing Performance as Documentation…
4.Cristina Gómez Barrio and Wolfgang Mayer speak about this idea with Rita McBride in „Rita McBride Interview“ by Discoteca Flaming Star, Tate Modern booklet the Arena project by Rita McBride, part of the “World as a Stage” exhibition, October 2007. The artists remark that “the post industrial condition of the Western world requires everyone to perform at all times, and to always present oneself at one’s best at all times. […] this performativity ignores the effort of generating structures that enable other forms of producing actions and interactions with marginalised concepts. Performance is a great tool for examining the performative operations of subject formations, and therefore, becomes a field in which to challenge this exploitative concept of performativity.”
5.Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Remarques sur la philosophie de la psychologie, translation: Gérard Granel, Mauvezin, TER, 1989, vol. I.
6.Proposal by Cristina Gómez Barrio for Script 02 Jardines de Interior, Madrid/Buenos Aires, Gastón Pérsico, Mariano Mayer and Cecilia Szalkowicz, February 2007.
7. Agamben, Giorgio, The Coming Community,1993, p. 12.
8. Phelan, Peggy, Unmarked: the Politics of Performance, London, Routledge, 1996, p. 32.