DFS, An interview with Rita McBride (2007)

DFS: Something I like a lot about Arena is that it is not permanent, that it is a temporary structure that shows me the space that I am in. This enables the „performer in me“ to feel closer to the Arena, to realize that I can actively look at something, that I am not something be to looked at. What do you like about the Arena?

RM: That it is never spectacular. That it is large and structural without being monumental. That it is democratic. Everyone is implicated when in proximity to Arena. We are all looking and being looked at. It usurps architecture.

DFS: Usurping architecture seems to be a very important element in trying to get space for activities. We can relate very well to that, we always install our banners where we perform, they help us to soften the given architecture, and make the space smaller and curved. They present a kind of spatial transformation that captures chaos in words.

RM: They also evoke an anarchy of sorts, a squatters right, a protest with some poems.

DFS: Yes, poems to desire space. Like the films by François Boué which reveals different ways of desiring space, to desire any space. He edits in the camera while filming;* image and no image alternate..going from image to- no image, to image – to noooooo image. Structurally, the films let the viewer feel everything that one cannot see. They help you realize you cannot see everything and you cannot expect to be able to interpret everything. With the constant opening and closing of the camera’s shutter it is possible to feel your own body trying to look at something; all the while envisioning a situation. His films let us experience abrupt disruptions in what is the continuity of time and space. They show the moment and its memory.

RM: The films he has made documenting your performances are magical. His methods with the “ machine“ coincide with your approach to performance. I feel that Arena shares this attitude, So we all share a mechanism and an approach that never pre- determines the outcome.

DFS: Arena is not afraid of other artists, of other proposals… so many performances and interactions have happened in/on/around it. Have all these activities changed the Arena?

RM: In fact, Arena has always actively invited artists to participate and propose projects. It is what keeps the structure alive and mutating. In the last ten years, Arena has traveled to three continents, nine towns and one principality. It has had “blind dates” and “bad dates” and many magical moments. The patina it has acquired is one of people and places.

DFS: So, places and people are feeding that aliveness and mutability; people and places… like Berlin-based Catriona Shaw, who will perform here, typically assumes the role of an electro pop singer while at the same time disrupts its status through citation. Benedikt Abel who was once a DFS audience member in 2001, has since joined us on-stage. Critically-acclaimed performance artist and sculptor Michael Mahalchick will also be present to regale us with inspiring shame and lust confrontations. We first met Michael through the mail, not email but snail mail when we ordered several homemade tape recordings from his cottage business „boy dog recording“. When we received our so called „order“ we realized this was no ordinary order. It was filled with tapes, glitter, little drawings and tiny scultptures and the postage cost more than the order demanded! We immediately invited him to Munich to be part of one of our first performances.

RM: I love those stories.

DFS: The fact that you made Arena has enabled you to see a lot of performances. Could you name anything specific that this experience has activated in your posterior sculptoric practice?

RM: “Posterior sculptoric practice” sounds like I need to go to a doctor! Mostly, I have had the chance to understand what collaboration can be. How fragile the development of an idea is and how quickly a collective structure can fail. Involvement with Arena has often meant becoming the viewer of my own desire without being fully aware that I desired it, whatever it is. That is absolutely part of my work, my approach to sculpture. And a sense of theatricality will always be inherent in this process.

DFS: Yeah! that is beautiful and exhausting: encountering desires that one not fully understands through collaboration! It might be because it involves a constant dialogue, a constant change of opinion: perhaps that makes „exhaustion“ part of its intrinsic features and what might give us the key to define cooperative proposals in a way, so they do not feed the necessities of an agressive dynamic global market: becoming an imperative to survive in it. We have to embrace the fact that cooperative creative practice trusts in, builds upon and believes in a fragile constellation, and therein lies its beauty, its current relevance and its „exhaustion“.

Looking for tools to activate this „exhaustion“ as a starting point we thought about Guy Debord’s preface to an Asger Jorn catalogue. In this 1972 publication, Debord speaks about the necessity of having a good mood. Do you know it? Hey! Mr. ‚No Way Out’ speaking about good mood! In talking about Jorn’s project on a little garden he states: „ Jorn is one of those people who is not changed by success but rather continually changes the stakes for success. (…) Asger Jorn never hesitated to intervene with even the most modest terrains that were accessible to him“. According to Debord, good mood is necessary in order to realize what one may begin to do. It is wonderful that his friendship with Jorn makes him speak out with optimism and to suggest tools for action. So, good mood and a good amount of trust with each other while speaking, while working together is helpful. Our credo is in accord to what Mrs. Vaginal Cream Davies once said, just before making a performance: „there is nothing you can do wrong“ !

RM: The real problem is passivity. That’s what Debord was fighting. What we need is ACTIVE good mood.

DFS: We perceive Arena to be a place that emphasizes the powerful fictional potential of memory. Everything that has happend there, everything that will happen there is evoked in the emptied oval structure. It indulges every fantasy, any story…. Where do you wish the Arena to be in 10 years?

RM: When the Arena is full of people it’s role is fulfilled and emptied at the same time. It loses one identity, let’s say as a sculpture, and gains another identity which is theater. I sincerely hope Arena progresses out of late puberty gracefully!

DFS Because of The Ways series books you have started a practice of readings in public; writers of the stories reading them out loud in different venues. Is this something that developed out of Arena? Do you think reading poetry and fictional narratives could be part of creating a fictional memory? Can it strengthen the imagination?

RM Fictional memory is something very important. Listening to someone tell a story is very powerful and embarassing, comforting and intimate. It is so easy to fall in love with someones‘ voice or perhaps quickly discover what a fool they are. Like when we are children listening/watching adults read to us. The Arena formalizes this potential. There is nothing more beautiful to me than one person facing a semi-circle telling a tale. Now a question for you! Since the beginning of Arena, 10 years ago, there has been a change in what is perceived as performance. What do you attribute this change to, how do you describe it?

DFS: The presence of the concept ‘performance’ seems to be wider. 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. In our opinion this performativity ignores the effort of generating structures that enable other forms of producing actions and interactions with marginalized concepts. Performance is a great tool to examine the performative operations of subject formations, and therefore, becomes a field in which to challenge this exploitative concept of performativity. A lot of artists are working on it: from places of fragility, including mistake, rooted in shame, aware of the need of repeating certain moods related to previous performance research without the necessity of making something new but allowing the feeling of possibility, of novelty.