The bucket that came and broke the pencil

KOMPAS, Sunday, April 13 2008, Performance Art


We don’t need philosophy, culture or believe only to feel the rain fall on our backs.

Neither do we need art for that. Just feel and then just do what we want together with that rain.
A pre-cultural act, post-cultural, or possibly also non-cultural to do that. Moving the body, moving the language or the objects around us without an excessive burden of context and references so that the text reaches a certain level of intensity and quality (context and references are dissolved or eliminated altogether).
This is more or less the principal accent in the meeting of performance artists from several countries in Tejakula, Singaraja, April 1st - 6th 2008. They name their meeting “Pala Project” (Performance Art Laboratory Project). The principal topic is termed “Pre-culture”.
This topic represents a sharp division in the body of performance art itself. First there are the performance artists who still use art or cultural media in their working concept (theatre, visual arts, dance, music, literature or tradition). And secondly those who do their performance art actions using near to nothing except for themselves and the objects that are around them.
History, culture, philosophy and art have reached a high level of complexity in themselves and violate each other. They give us no space anymore to wonder, to wait, meet and honor. The eye can no longer examine and contemplate. Art is increasingly trapped in its own techniques and the basic character of each of its media. Visual arts are overly depending on visuality (various visual techniques that are used to design and conquer the object). Art has turned imagination into a ball game and at the same time into a lottery in public live (market).
That sharp division can be viewed as solution to the problem. Solution not only in the performance they make, but also towards the understanding of arts which have been treated as a “career” by most artists.
Alastair MacLennan from Ireland earlier was a famous painter.
His art journey then reached a point where he asked himself, was there still a difference between him as a painter and him as a person? When he was eating, was he then eating as a painter as well? Had being a painter already become a public function?
These basic questions arose at about the same time with his worries about the art technique he was all in for. He was facing the fact that it could hardly lead an artist to find his own expression, as a technique was almost always accompanied by mechanical or automatic characteristics. The artist was no longer in the position of the creator but the robot of the technique that was commanding him.
Nearly the same thing happened to Monika Klinger from Switzerland whose body had before been very much commanded by the techniques of ballet and modern dance which then she left behind. Indeed the majority of them has before lived in art fields like theatre, music, dance, visual arts and literature and later left that behind in order to be able to re-connect with their real self, with their “ordinary body” and “ordinary movement”.
Boedi S. Otong (who now abbreviates his name to B.O.T.), also attending this forum, calls them “a new community” that “goes stupid” in art in order to be able to wonder again what it means to be a “human acting in art” rather than “in the name of art”.
That division also has an acutely contrasting effect if we compare it to the development of performance art in several cities in Indonesia. According to Melati Suryodarmo (organizer of this meeting) performance art emerged in various cities in Indonesia in the wake of “reformasi” [after Soeharto’s overthrow; the translator] (although the phenomenon can be traced back earlier together with the development of installation art). For that reason performance art here tends to be political, issues that were alive in the public became great temptations. Their primary topics were anti-military and pro-democratic. After “reformasi” performance art in Indonesia appeared to have lost their topic, some turned to the topic of violence, and some made use of the storehouse of tradition or gender politics. Performance art then tended more and more to become again like Performing art in general that was performed in open space.
Kurt Johannessen from Norway spread paper sheets on the floor, picked up the tiniest items around them and placed those nearly invisible things on the paper or on the palms of the hands of the spectators. Then he started to break the sharp tips of a bundle of pencils on those paper sheets. The pencil for writing had been broken. It seemed like in this action a new space beyond the white paper and that broken pencil was found. The mechanical connection between the two of them had been broken.
Boris Nieslony from “Black Market” ( a performance art group from Berlin), who was also one of the curators of this meeting, suspended a big stone as high as his body and then blew at this rock with a very soft breath for approximately two hours.
B.O.T., who now lives in Switzerland, stood by the beach under the midday sun, facing the sea and holding an empty bucket in his hand for also nearly two hours. Barbara Sturm, from Switzerland too, floated on the water face down with a breathing aid [snorkel; the translator] also for about two hours.
Their actions can indeed be read as action of the bucket that was emptied (no country or homeland in that bucket) and of the pencil that was broken (no world that was written). The identity which by nature has violence in store was left behind.
Their actions become a “new reading” where art is no longer there to be in control of the audience. Their actions are like a small pebble on the beach. Art experiences a minimalisation on a certain level of intensity and quality, and on the other hand the spectator is left on his own to re-read the “new space” that was created by this minimalisation. The emerging of the new space that is also experienced by the audience as a meeting of unexpected events that come.
The word “come” is used on purpose in this context, borrowing the term from Suprapto Suryodarmo who describes the movement in his performance as “movement-that-comes” as opposed to a movement that is generated as a consequence of a concept or design. Suprapto gives the example, when his body moves downwards it doesn’t “go down” but it “comes down”. The coming is read as an event that doesn’t proceed from the validity of positions.
Post-cultural behavior can be witnessed quite clearly in Andrea Saemann’s performance art. In her action she uses two toy balls that are connected by a white string. In the beginning she stands upright, the balls in a vertical position, one above the other. The vertical position can be interpreted as the human need for metaphysical explanation about his/her existence. This position is left behind when the balls meet in the horizontal. The human being starts to depend on his/her own rationality and tools. This position changes when she starts to swing the balls in all directions, her body joining in the movement like dancing. The human being is like ridded of the position of rationality, has freed him/herself from all tools and is there as a human that plays like a child.
All through the action Andrea keeps talking, telling her biography since she entered the performance art world like a long speech.
Also present in this meeting were Hiromi Shirai from Japan, Valentin Torens (Spain), Tony Schwensen (Australia), Chumpon Apisuk (Thailand), Brian Patterson (Ireland), Jürgen Fritz (Germany), and from Indonesia: Martinus Miroto, Fitri Setyaningsih and Yoyo Yogasmana. The meeting is continued in the Forum Undisclosed Territory in Lemah Putih, Mojosongo (April10-13) with more participants joining from several countries and also from other cities in Indonesia.
At a time when our ears are already hurt by a culture that has turned into rubbish, when our eyes are sore too from that rubbish and our body gets more and more exploited by that same rubbish, maybe there is still a chance that we step back or step out and leave it behind.
At a time when art has turned into rubbish as well, maybe we can see again our own shadow on the wall or the asphalt. Or, as Jürgen Fritz puts it: how can we still believe our confession to be a “Nature-person”, if in fact our nature now consists of plastic, computers, various other electronic communication media and other technology, which force us to tell our own body a lie?

Art worker

transl: Susana Miranti Kröber,