Performance Studies International #14 took place at the University of Copenhagen from August 20-24, 2008. My contribution was The Intentions of Inattention: The Opacity of Chantal Akerman’s Peculiar Places.” (Please click on the link to see my abstract.) The talk dealt with opacity as a conceptual term uniting two disparate points of Akerman’s oeuvre, her early film je tu il elle and her 2005 installaton Marcher à côté de ses lacets dans un frigiadaire vide.
Akerman’s collected installations– save the one mentioned above, which is her most elaborate to date– are on tour as a retrospective in four American cities through 2009. I highly recommend it, and would suggest looking at the original exhibition website at MIT for more information: Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space.
Since I cannot share the argumentative crux of the talk, I’ll content myself here to including a few interesting critical asides about “opacity” that fell outside the purview of what I presented at PSi:
Édouard Glissant: “Je puis donc concevoir l’opacité de l’autre pour moi, sans que je lui reproche mon opacité pour lui. Il ne m’est pas nécessaire que je le ‘comprenne’ pour me sentir solidaire de lui, pour bâtir, avec lui, pour aimer ce qu’il fait.”
Judith Butler: “In no sense can it be concluded that the part of gender that is perfrormed is therefore the ‘truth’ of gender; performance as bounded ‘act’ is distinguished from performativity insofar as the latter consists in a reiteration of norms which precede, constrain, and exceed the performance and in that sense cannot be taken as a fabrication of the performer’s ‘will’ or ‘choice’; further, what is ‘performed’ works to conceal, if not to disavow, what remains opaque, unconscious, unperformable.”
Other interesting errata experienced at the conference:
— I was part of a fifteen minute performance, “Burden or Support” by the Korean photographer Kyungwoo Chun, who has a recent, excellent monograph published by Hatje Cantz. The performance consisted of twenty participants seated in pairs, facing each other. We were instructed to put our right hand on our partner’s shoulder and to hold our left hands clapsed in our laps during a fifteen minute period of unbroken eye contact. Chun’s work is quiet, tender, and deeply thought– I highly recommend it.
— My introduction to the work of Qiu Zhijie by USC professor Meiling Cheng. She focused on his recent large exhibition at the Zendai MoMA in Shenghai. I found Cheng’s emphasis on Zhijie’s use of coal as an artistic substance to be particularly interesting, especially in light of my own ongoing interest in William Forsythe’s Decreation, in which coal also plays a central role, and the formal use compressed predicates in Paul Celan’s poetics.
— I was able to see two of the three keynote speakers, Erika Fischer-Lichte and Gavin Butt. Fischer-Lichte’s talk, “Interweaving Cultures in Performance,” was essentially drawn from her most recent major book, Ästhetik des Performativen, which has been published this summer by Routledge as The Transformative Power of Performance. I found her talk most interesting when she addressed Ong Keng Sen’s increasingly seminal performance of King Lear. In general, her talk most interested me insomuch as it moved beyond its particular subject and began to gesture towards the ongoing questions of the role of art in the development and dissemination of aesthetic structures, as well as a split between belief and ideological resistance in regarding the “transformative” potential of art.