Interventions Winter/Spring 2019/20

Issue 29.4: Political Times

This issue reflects conversations amongst the editorial team about what Interventions is for, and how it might connect with or depart from the remit of the Contemporary Theatre Review print journal. In particular, the team continues to consider how the online platform and the  formats it offers might push at the edges (or indeed operate entirely outside of) the limits and conventions of academic publishing. For instance, how might Interventions function with a remit of interdisciplinarity, engage with practice research, respond to political urgencies, represent diverse scenes or histories, or advocate for experimentation?

With these questions in mind, this issue of Interventions is organised around confluences of divergent temporalities in political and activist methods. The five contributors, who each take up positions overlapping research and activism, adopt a variety of writerly and performance modes to trace their involvement in ‘political times.’  Some of the questions posed to contributors include how one sustains an activist practice, or avoids ‘burn out’, and what are the politics of temporalities such as the prelude, interruption, decolonising or queering linear time, or critiquing the neoliberal condition of having ‘no time’? Such confluences may involve reaching across or muddling between different times, as activists and scholars look to the past in order to propose different futures. In what ‘political times’ are we working; and how might we organise temporalities of action (or inaction) in response?

This issue includes newly commissioned work by wen yau, Charlotte Cooper and Fuad Musallam, a work translated and published in English for the first time by Giulia Palladini, and a post-script to an article published by Asif Majid in issue 29.4 of the print journal. These contributions take various forms including text, video, and images, and all speak actively from or to a time of political turmoil. While the contributions are varied in terms of their geopolitical and activist contexts, they work together to suggest ways in which political temporalities might be traced and expressed. For this issue’s lead editor Eleanor Roberts, the theme is also informed, in part, by conversations amongst the community of artists and scholars in the TaPRA Documenting Performance Working Group, whose latest conference in 2019 explored ‘Wayward Temporalities’.

Giulia Palladini’s ‘Logic of Prelude’, translated by the author from her original Spanish text, frames this issue with its challenge to what she refers to as the ‘projective temporality’ of capitalism and its ‘obstinate transformation of use in consumption.’ As Palladini notes, a ‘multitude of workers’ but especially for our interests in this issue, art workers and activists, are today caught in a cycle of constantly working towards the promise of future production, that is, securing the conditions of production through funding applications, projects tested but unrealised, short-term contracts, and so on, but never actually realising ‘auto-poesis.’ Against such conditions, Palladini argues that ‘it is necessary to focus on what moves, from within the position we occupy [i.e. the present], the desire to produce: a production that is not only economic, but social, affective, political.’ To do so, she turns to the musical form of the prelude, a classical music form that originates as an introduction to the themes and motifs of a larger work, but which eventually developed into an aesthetic form in its own right, one which lingers in the pleasure of introduction, anticipation, and promise. Illustrated by recordings of compositions by Cabezon, Bach, Chopin, Debussy Rachmaninov, and the Congolese situationist Joseph M’Belolo Y’a M’Piku, ‘Logic of Prelude’ beautifully ruminates on the pleasure of the present moment as a political act.

Asif Majid’s post-script to his article ‘Entangling the British Muslim Woman: Satirizing Whiteness and Punking the State in Afsaneh Gray’s Octopus interrogates exhaustion as a performance and research modality. Following on from his article, Majid elaborates on ‘the process of making theatre with British Muslim youth in a highly surveilled and counterterrorism-oriented context’ in the UK. Furthermore, considered in combination with the exhaustion and trauma of responding to wider encroachments and erosions of human rights (such as the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ in the US), Majid usefully points out that ‘individuals who inhabit dominant social categories — white, male, Judeo-Christian, straight — do not experience the academic disjunctures and personal exhaustions of having to constantly scrutinize and make intelligible one’s own identity for a scholarly community’. While acknowledging the realities of exhaustion, through re-reading the counterpublic which emerges in the fictional world of Octopus, Majid ultimately makes a case for a transformational, relational and community-oriented sensibility and practice.

Charlotte Cooper’s contribution takes the form of a video work which uses time lapse to condense activities across a four year span into nearly four minutes. The silent video records Cooper and her collaborator Kay Hyatt experimenting in the studio at Chisenhale Dance Space, and juxtaposes the image of their moving bodies inside the studio with snatches of footage from travels elsewhere. In an accompanying text, Cooper contextualises the work in relation to her collaboration with Project O (Alexandrina Hemsley and Jamila Johnson-Small) on the dance performance SWAGGA (2014-), and her own model of fat activism as detailed in her important book Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement (2016). Cooper makes a case for ‘building culture that explores queer feminist fat sensibility, experience and possibility’, which situates ‘queer/old/fat selves at the heart of the movement’, and therefore works towards an embodied liberatory consciousness. Creating a sense of hyper-active, unsettled movement through the time lapse, Cooper’s video raises questions of what productivity (or indeed a productive person) looks like in contexts of neoliberalism, and how such notions might be troubled through play, pleasure, collaboration, and ‘oddness’. Scenes of nature on the ‘outside’ interrupt and cut through the ‘inside’ of the studio, which can feel like a separate world of endless production – perhaps an indicator of disconnection from rhythms of ecosystems in the era of the Anthropocene.

wen yau reflects on the idea of ‘a peaceful revolution,’ as well as its effectiveness and legacy, through the lens of her installation and performance Wir sind das Volk! (homage to all peaceful revolutionaries), which was shown as part of ‘The Ends of Freedom’ exhibition in Leipzig in December 2019. Her artistic project brings together traces of uprisings from different times and places, including the 1989 demonstrations in Leipzig and current protests in Hong Kong. Addressing the intersection of temporality, politics, and performance, she argues that ‘[p]erformance has a magic capability to weave the past and the future in an immediate time-space; it may also numb us with a sense of liminality and anaesthetize our alertness.’ The Leipzig demonstrations offer an almost mythical instance of a non-violent civil movement — an image that starkly contrasts with police brutality during Hong Kong protests, which was described as ‘alarming’ by Amnesty International. wen yau, however, is careful not to idealise the past. Instead, she insists that freedom is fragile, and one should not become complacent. ‘Can anyone guarantee that the freedom the people gained 30 years ago is going to last forever?’ she asks. Her question powerfully reverberates not only in Germany but also in different parts of the world.

Indeed, the unpredictability of political utopias that wen yau gestures towards becomes manifest in Fuad Musallam’s triad of texts, which trace oscillations between the euphoric and the despondent in the context of the post-October 17 2019 uprising(s) in Lebanon. Demonstrating the affective non-linearity of ‘political times,’ Musallam offers mirroring descriptions of the same walk through downtown Beirut on two separate days during the protests, through which we get a sense of the ebb and flow of collective energy among the protestors at moments in which the survival of the uprising was at stake. These moments are set against a longer record charting the material transformations of downtown Beirut, enacted variously by protestors, partisans and security personnel. Rhythmic and extra-ordinary temporalities emerge through descriptions of hoardings daubed in graffiti and subsequently torn down to fuel fires; the fluctuating ‘security architecture’ of barbed wire and concrete barricades; and a road bridge blocked and occupied not only by tents but an entire living room and kitchen scenography complete with a sofa and white goods. Like several of the other contributors, Musallam offers not just an account of an activist context or intervention, but a method of attending to – or feeling – ‘political times’ that illuminates the politicised performance of bodies and matter.

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