What, if anything, made this a “Performance Lecture”?
Right before starting his presentation (is that word neutral enough?…no word is!!), Walid Raad, standing at a podium (a certain gravitas!) in a university (hallowed halls) lecture room (can we say theater?), the artist-lecturer-performer, proceeded to claim, correcting the generous introduction, “this is not a performance” (or something of the sort if I remember correctly!). It certainly was a lecture, a talk to and in front of an audience. And it was educational – we were learning about an artist’s work and projects. But was it also a performance? What separates “performance” and “lecture”? What makes the words placed adjacent a new concept rather than a tautology? Rehearsal, script, elocution, underlying narrative can belong to both. Multiplicity is also applicable and certainly for Raad, who presented “Walkthrough” in a specified atrium each week, multiple times during the entirety (October 12, 2015-January 31, 2016) of his recent New York exhibition. “Lecture” has a hold on truth, edification, facts, while “performance” relates more to the realm of fiction, some sort of deception, also entertainment and art. “Deception” at various levels of consciousness and tone seems inherent to Raad’s projects. The Atlas Group is an archive of mixed fabrications. If some sort of deception/staging is a performative element then perhaps in considering the lecture a part of his project, the latter becomes performance. But when another professor lectures, is fabrication absent? A story is created, images are fixed together, ideas tethered, jammed, put forth. Maybe even some “deception” is involved, some information is withheld, pieces that don’t fit are excised. To an observation: I was watching a woman’s reactions at the back of the auditorium as Raad spoke. She was slightly smiling, giggling to herself it seemed. Listening to a lecture about car bombs and Lebanon and horse races and war and history and facts, “juridical” facts, facts, facts! No laughing matter. She was immediately in on the performance (the fabrication inherent in his work) as I assume many in attendance were. I take it she knew Raad was not “just” giving a lecture. He was “performing” a lecture.
DGB: Quickly on this — some of you with an interest in the “parafictional” may want to check out the syllabus of the IHUM seminar I taught on “The Art of Deception” a few years back. It ended up issuing in this sort of queasy catalog essay, “In Lies Begin Responsibilities.”
CC (Chiara, in response to Lucy above):
Your question addresses that of the nature of the public, which within the context of a performance-lecture is not composed by spectators, yet by auditors who constitute what in rhetoric is called “particular audience” (PA).
In short, the PA:
- is delimited in time and space, and it is contemporaneous with the event on stage (you don’t have it in cinemas, because of the reproducibility of movies, nor in theatres, because the play pretends to be set in another time/space compared to yours);
- is homogeneous in itself (we were there as scholars);
- previously agreed in being the audience for that performer/orator (it is not there by error, nor to disturb, sabotage, waste time);
- accepts to involve the performer in a dialogue and to be involved by him/her in a dialogue, following some specific shared rules – we shall discuss this point in class, if and when you like, also because the issue of interaction is implied by David’s assignment.
These conditions are necessary in order to establish the “parresiastic pact” (see M. Foucault on “Discourse and Truth”) and we satisfied them all.
In fact I would focus on the “question time” of Raad’s performance, which I believe represents its critical and risky moment.
- Aren’t the questions on what he explicitly shows & says rather comments on his work, that in fact he foresees and elicits? (and 1 sub a: At what extent can a question in a fictional situation staged by a extremely shrewd artist and taking place in the artworld be “questioning” and not “confirming”?)
- Shouldn’t questions be “out of place” to be genuine? Yet, if this is the case, are they still questions (see point 3 above)?
I also found it particularly performative to make explicit at the opening of the lecture that Raad was going to give a “talk” a “performance lecture”. In retrospect, this statement, ostensibly making clear to the audience the format of what they had all settled down in their seats to see, pointed to the fine line between the forms of the lecture and the performance lecture, questioning where it is appropriate to draw such a line. It would seem strange to state explicitly that one is going to “only give a talk” rather than a performance lecture, but as the talk opened, I naively believed him. As he his claims became stranger and stranger and his documentary evidence increased in proportion to the strangeness of his arguments, I realized his opening statement was a provocation, not a simple statement. I think it would be interesting to try to pinpoint when it became possible to locate his “talk” within the category of “lecture performance”, for myself and for others. I personally would also be interested in reading a history of the lecture performance and how/whether its definition has changed over time.
By beginning his “performance” by telling us that what would follow would not be a performance, Raad immediately brings us into a sphere in which there is very little distinction between performance and “real life.” His presentation of his art takes place in the same liminal space, in the same vertiginous moment of “as-if,” that he deals in when he makes the art itself. Through his presentation of his art, he gets even farther than he does within his art alone toward the project of blurring the lines between art and life, between “truth-discourse” and “fictional discourse” or performance. One slides into the other. Art and performance do not exist in a totally separate sphere from “real” life but in fact make up the “real” space in which we habitually live, destabilizing it constantly, rendering real life uncanny, “defamiliarized,” strange. We are always situated somewhere in-between, in the virtual, perhaps. He surprises the audience by giving the example of being in love: “Haven’t you ever been in love?” he asks. What happens when we are in love, he implies, is somewhere between the real and the fictive, a dream world in which we act out our lives with total earnestness. He quotes Lukacs: “We approach facts by complicated mediations, through which they aqcuire immediacy,” perhaps as Swann approaches the reality of Odette through Botticelli’s portrait of Tziporah.
After the lecture, I spoke with a colleague who was experiencing discomfort. “I want to think of my discipline as a tool that I have internalized and am constantly honing in order to produce objective truth,” he said. Had we not just seen a mimicry of exactly this? Raad embodied a discipline originated in his mind and developed into an intricate and well-oiled apparatus through which he produced, interpreted, and delivered his material. My interlocutor, however, wants this apparatus to have preceded him, to be instated within him in a process of education, and to remain the mirror to which he holds up his truth. Raad’s radical subjectivity, to which he showed us no outside, performed a challenge to this pedagogical model that, it seems, called into question the nature of the scholarly equipment contained within the academician (us?).