Location: Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto, Ontario
Cost: Free (Though citizen-artists are encouraged to consider a donation to the Marina Abramović Institute [MAI] according to their economic class. Citizen-artists are reminded that MAI relies on your suffering for its success.)
Instructions for the performance piece and artistic context:
Severely world-renowned performance artist, Marina Abramović, invites you to participate in this experimental, roving, extra-mental durational performance piece. The piece begins nightly at 9pm, when the publicly accessible restrooms in Toronto’s Trinity Bellwoods Park are closed and locked for the evening. This Participant Oriented Original Performance Program enrolls Situationally Hyperaware Institute Techniques to provide Theoretically Underwhelming Research DerivativeS that are invaluable to the future universalization of the Marina Abramović Method™.
Citizen-artists are encouraged to arrive in a state of urgency and are doubly encouraged not to take on an aspect of unrest or discomfort at any time during the performance; the stoic visage is crucial to the success of this piece. Citizen-artists should first make a calm and measured attempt to locate an open bathroom in the park. They are to undertake this activity whether or not they can infer that all the bathrooms are locked and unavailable for public use. As the citizen-artist circumambulates the grounds, they should note the impact of walking on their sense of urgency, again taking care to avoid appearances of unrest or discomfort. The purity of the performative state relies on the citizen-artist’s ability to suppress any appearance of need or humanity, emphasizing the extent to which self-conscious experience achieved through unnecessary withholding of bodily needs yields to an oblivion unmatched by even the most transcendent consumer experiences.
At this time, citizen-artists might employ the following mantras:
This is my opportunity to experience the threshold of production.
My body is the gallery, the art is inside me.
My body is glowing. Excresence forever.
After attempting to locate an available commode, the citizen-artist should approach the performer installed adjacent to the medical tent area, where there is a state of the art Portable Performance Anxiety Relief Pod designed specifically for the relief of performatively generated urgency. (The performer will be dressed as a security guard, their intimidating appearance is crucial to the coherence of the piece.) The citizen-artist is encouraged to calmly explain their urgency. The performer will respond according to a specific protocol designed by Ms. Abramović herself: “Go talk to the other security guard.”
At this time, the citizen-artist should walk in calm, measured steps toward the second installed performer. The citizen-artist should be careful to maintain eye contact with the second installed performer and should communicate their urgency and need only through intense eyegazing. The second installed performer will calmly explain that, “The Portable Performance Anxiety Relief Pod designed by MAI is intended only for the use of employees of Luminato and the MAI.” The citizen-artist is encouraged to draw on contextual information such as the public nature of the space, the locked public restrooms, the underutilized appearance of the Portable Performance Anxiety Relief Pod, and the universality of the urgency and need they experience in order to relay the immanence of their embodied experience of urgency to the second installed performer. The second installed performer will empathize but will emphatically deny the immanence of the citizen-artists urgency. The denial will come in the form of a humble apology, “I’m sorry.” The installed performers are not equipped to provide any further explanation, though the citizen-artist is encouraged to seek any and all clarifying details they require. The dissatisfying nature of clarifying information heightens the reality of the citizen-artists awareness of urgency.
Once the citizen-artist is satisfactorily rebuffed, they should take care to remain in the performance zone for as long as possible. The true benefits of the Marina Abramović Method begin to take hold only after the citizen-artist has been denied what they believe to be their fundamental human right of access to the Portable Performance Anxiety Relief Pod.
Rather than creating the performance herself, Abramović indoctrinates the citizen-artist, enabling them to craft their own experience by directing their attention inwardly and connecting with their true capacities for withholding. As the Creator conveys: “If you don’t have the education or willpower, than it doesn’t make any sense at all. You just give up. Your mind is a very tricky thing. Instead of doing what you’re doing in the performance, it just leaves. Do not evacuate your mind. Achieve this by withholding evacuation from your body.”
The performance ends with the citizen-artist seeks relief in any of the businesses or backyards surrounding the performance venue. Citizen-artists are then invited to share the fruits of their participation via social media using any the following ‘hashtags’ #POOPP (Participant Oriented Original Performance Program), #SHIT (Situationally Hyperaware Institute Techniques), #TURDS (Theoretically Underwhelming Research DerivativeS).
When I was first visiting York University to decide if I would accept my offer of a place for PhD study (a little more than two years ago!) I had the privilege of seeing Eco Homo? Queering Bodies, Queering Sustainability, an incredible “textual choreographic conversation dance” between Cate Sandilands, now my advisor, and Michael Morris, now a dear friend and fellow traveler. I am delighted to know there is an HD recording of the piece and that it’s on Vimeo!
Michael’s two blogs (Michael J. Morris and ecosexuality: reorientations/reterritorializations) are linked in the Blogroll and are well worth your time.
Bouncing from the AAG to a local and amazing conference this weekend: Urban Forestries and Political Ecologies. I’ll be commenting on the keynote by Dr. Sandy Smith of University of Toronto. The session is called “Adaptation and Vulnerability in the Urban Forest” and I’m calling my contribution, which is a response in the context of my own work, “Thinking the urban with Ailanthus Altissima: Queer notes on the ecological ethics and politics of arboreal engagement.”
Other highlights include: keynotes by Nik Heynen (moderated by Jin Haritaworn of FES), Owain Jones (moderated by Cate Sandilands of FES); panels on the Rouge Valley and a field trips to York and to Humber Arboretum; closing comments by Roger Keil of FES and York’s CITY Institute.
Conference organizers include FES Prof. Anders Sandberg and PhD Candidate Adrina Bardekjian.
Conference season people!
[I am finally working my way through the reflections and responses that I drafted throughout March. These next few posts will be a loose processing of a series of incredible events (talks, meetings, lectures, performances, collective celebrations) which unfolded over the last month and to which I alluded in a post in early March. The notes, responses, reflections, and questions that I will post in the coming days/week emerge from of a series of events which have not only moved my ‘actual’ (i.e. institutional) PhD process along, but, more importantly, have witnessed the beginnings of an engagement with the community/collective of incredible folks at YorkU Faculty of Environmental Studies, as well as people located institutionally and geographically ‘elsewhere’.
The day following my first comp defense, on which I immediately, and exhaustedly/briefly reflected (below), I was honored to participate in a panel called “Doing (and Being) Queer in Environmental Studies: Research and Visibility.” For me, this was the ideal follow-up event to the more theoretically and individually inclined comp defense. I felt, as I did many years ago when I over-eagerly volunteered to discuss the history of my neighborhood association based on my very emergent experience,
a bit out of my depth. Nevertheless, I tried to listen more than speak. I will reflect more deeply on that event in another post, but say here that it marks, in very concrete terms, a distinct moment of politicization, becoming-collective, and reflexivity in my thinking and doing as a PhD student (in general) and as a queer PhD student at York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies (more specifically).
Up to that point, I had been longing for a collectivity; I was very much missing the political community of the Prospect Lefferts Gardens Neighborhood Association (see above), where I first participated in anti-racist community/collective organizing. I had been feeling isolated and uncertain about being in Toronto, but aware that there was much missing from my narrow view, framed as it was by the dashboard of the first year of a PhD in an unfamiliar city and institution.
Over the last month, I have finally begun to feel at home here: in Toronto, at York, in FES, in my apartment. But home is, as Loree Erickson explored in her contribution to “Doing (and Being) Queer…”, a contingent and complex form of ‘coming alive in our bodies,’ of reconciling the ideology of “you can do anything [in FES]” with the material realities of what ‘fits’ and ‘is needed’. As Loree explored, our survival depends deeply on making FES fabulous. This means we need to care for, accommodate, listen to, work shit out with, and also just be around each other. Radical care and support is not an option, but a necessity.
And yet, writing from my particular experience, I am aware that I don’t want to fetishize or exploit other people’s struggles for home; I especially don’t want to colonize someone else’s home. Nevertheless, at least in Canada, I am implicated in the latter even though I want to reject it, which is why decolonizing not only my thinking, but also my actions, has become and will remain an imperative. I want to be aware of the conditions under which my various movements and displacements – themselves often elaborate schemes to avoid my educational debt, to attempt to build this future-oriented structure called ‘a career’, to escape failing temporary arrangements – are undertaken. To this end, I am beginning to work on becoming a responsible and engaged ally to the many communities of which I am not a member but to which I feel an obligation and for which I hope to be a useful ally.
All of this grows from finally arriving, from allowing myself to be in
one this particular place for an extended period of time; from feeling it as a new home, even if it isn’t the only one. I haven’t been very established in once place for the last few years, so I am very much looking forward to cultivating the relationships, commitments, responsibilities, and engagements that (should and do) come along with the bizarre privilege of doing a PhD.
As this series of posts will explore, my own scholarly interest in displacement, invasiveness, nomadism, and the ethics and politics of queerness are beginning to react to/situate themselves in the settler colonial country in which I reside as a temporary and conditional guest. I am trying to come to know the history and ancestry of the occupied territory which I too have come to occupy as a scholar, a queer, and an able-bodied white guy. I am trying to navigate the the various forms of institutional support, from which I sometimes benefit, and to identify, understand, and resist the violence that often comes with it. This violence is something I unambiguously oppose, but something which I cannot always figure out how to act against.
All I know is that I cannot do any of these things in isolation, which is the first thing so many people told me a PhD would be. I hope these posts speak back to the assumed inevitability of that condition by highlighting the many collectivities, dependencies, and entanglements that present themselves as evidence – and not necessarily always positive – to the contrary.]
Today March 4, 2013 was rare magic. I successfully defended my first comprehensive examination as a PhD student. The topic was queer theory, so ‘defensive’ isn’t exactly the most appropriate mood. Let’s say I embodied a version of the knowledge-object which was the focus of my first comprehensive examination. I also accounted for the extensive amount of writing I had done and listened attentively to the insights and critiques of my advisor and committee members. The discussion I had with my committee was spirited and, at times, toasty. I mentioned Cleveland more than once; this was surprising. I talked about my personal past in ways I didn’t anticipate doing. I wore a (used) suede jacket; the lining was more than a little moist after two hours. The four of us discussed two pieces of my writing – one whose title is too long to reproduce here and one called “Ec[o]topia Remixed” – and a list of 30 texts constellated around themes of time, subjectivity, sexuality, (meta)feminism, trans history, and space. I spoke at length about concepts of sexual difference, the histories of feminism and queer theory, vegetality and displacement. I’m not sure that I feel any more qualified to ‘think’ or ‘do’ queer now, but I do feel a distinct sense of what happens when certain knowledges are formally tested, acknowledged, and represented and I definitely have a greater sense of the differences and entanglements among my scholarly, activist, personal, and emotional work.
Of what is private property the name? When so-called chains of ownership on abandoned, foreclosed tracts of houses in cities all over America are so complex as to amount to de facto collective ownership, how do we differentiate ‘civil individual’ claims to property from the violence of mass speculative markets? In the case of commodified housing, the specific form of violence is deployed by ‘collective’ market owners through an opaque exchange of fictional values; derivatives, credit default swaps, other forms of futures and various ‘market making’ activities. This ethically barren form of market exchange could easily be overtaken by a radically open relation of self-determined values (and/or non-values). The embodied collective of housing is any group of people sharing living space, broadly defined. Why should the designation stop at the household (oh holy unit of economic statistics) or at the amorphous neighborhood (thanks to endless real estate speculation and rampant gentrification)? We can also speak of the space of the laptop, the convenience store, the patch of sidewalk in front of an abandoned dry cleaner, the city, or, as Henri Lefebvre might have it, the urbanizing planet.
Rather than delving into urbanism, I’d like to take the specific example of student debt and the commodification of education in the context of global austerity and state repression of social movements. I am writing from Toronto, the austere British cousin of Montreal, just six hours to the northeast. In the latter city, a social movement departing from struggles for free, universal education has diffused into a generaliz(ed/able) strike and wave of spontaneous public collectivity. While several organizations and the state all claim ownership to the right to define the price of education, the students are uniquely positioned as creators of the commodified value which the state is attempting to define. Nevertheless, their movement doesn’t appear to be primarily concerned with the correct state-market value for education. They appear to be equally concerned with the university as a malleable organism for social movement, for physical movement, and for intellectual divulgence. I am not an expert – merely competent and interested – so I would certainly not attempt to ‘dissect’ the Montreal movement.
What I can speak to more directly is the experience of being an American in massive educational debt living in a Canada fighting the specter of massive educational debt. I grew up just three hours from Niagara Falls, a wonder of the world shared by the U.S. and Canada. The American’s have a park surrounded by economically depressed neighborhoods. The Canadian’s have built an entire industry: wax museums, casinos, towers, shops selling ‘native wares.’ Meanwhile, the waterfall still pretends to be natural, posing very well for numberless photos.
Having been born in Cleveland, Ohio, abandoned warehouses were my teenage playground. After several years of nomadism – Austin, Washington, DC, New York City, Budapest, and now Toronto – I arrived finally into a long period of delay on my debts. As a PhD student, I’m entitled to allow interest to accrue while I continue to develop my capacity to participate profitably in an ever-commodifiying academic and intellectual market. Risk deferred. My debts live in the U.S.A.; they don’t have a passport, so my credit in Canada is connected only to the great optimism of this land. So many resources to exploit, so many towers to build, so many educations to sell. Here the abandoned factories, mines, timber fields all hide in endless exurbia and the great North. The center is a gleaming excess, where abandonment itself is bought and sold with the promise of a gentry filled urban utopia. Back home, my native city is shrinking. These houses, stripped uncarefully of copper pipes, sinks, nice enough floorboards. Do my debts live here now?
So I sit at my desk in my old, cheap, beautiful house – which will soon be sold (gentrification marches on, one of the holdouts is selling) – my debt cloud raining red dollars down somewhere between Cleveland and New York City. The owners of my education, the speculators of my future earning potential, rush from dinner to a cab, trying not to get soaked. Me, I’m waiting for the law to change. Currently, it is impossible to discharge student debt in the U.S.A., even declaring bankruptcy doesn’t work. Death can help, but they might try to make your family pay. There are some ambitious bills before Congress, hoping to grant us the merciful right of consolidation or the glorious exculpation of bankruptcy. Should these noble representatives succeed, I will be free to declare myself worth nothing in America, a total broke. As it stands, I’m a sort of financial zombie. Somewhere between viable metric and indeterminate form of potentially toxic asset. The cure is always profitable, guess for whom?
Returning to the question of property and its ostensible cancellation in the collective. I think we might be missing the point when it comes to markets. It is not interesting or innovative that markets commodify; we know this from Marx but also the neo-Classicists. Phenomenally, markets are often engaged in collective activities of speculative risk assessment. This activity establishes panic as the appropriate response to lack of information, thereby contributing to the ever increasing demand for ‘accurate information.’ Such demands don’t take long to reach even the more radical of the humanities and social sciences in the academy, in the public university, in the private university, especially. Of course it is very easy to call for an abandonment of panic and the obsession with information compiled to avert panic. Perhaps we need to panic a bit. We’ve been locked so firmly into patterns of risk aversion that it is too easy to forget to unvarnished terrifying pleasure of the so-called risk. What they call risk is easily named experience, sensation, intensity; together: embodiment. Naturally, the market protests that it values entrepreneurship and risk-taking, but always embodied in the stale form of a normatively gendered and sexualized subject, aspiring to self-improvement through narcissistic investment activities, personally and professionally.
In what universe do these figures own my education? Of course the state has a strong claim to make as well. And, acting together, as they attack housing, services and all the rest, they necessarily need to co-opt the university. Having instilled the ‘liberal value’ of education for a generation in North America (since WWII), the state gradually diffused the war machine that guaranteed it for young men (mostly). Then, they were deferred from draft. Now, we are deferred from debt. Our everyday life is more militarized than ever and, since we don’t ‘go to war’ but war ‘comes to us’ we are not entitled to the right of education upon return. Instead, we must contribute to the speculative spending spree that is, at least in part, justified by an ever expandable Global Contingency Operation. We are entitled to feel the sting of this operation if we attempt to dissent, if we dare enter the street, if we collectivize ourselves.
I’ve gone afield. But militarism, debt, housing, education, social life are all interconnected, as we increasingly know and feel. As long as we are supposed to ‘avoid risk,’ it is difficult to find the courage to explore the immanent possibilities of even the most intractable positions. I do not mean to preach a struggle which is not my own, which is why I wanted to follow the through-line of student debt to this point: We must start where we are; to move we must excavate ourselves from the fear of risk, from the pricing of risk, from the definition of risk as a key factor in our existence. Aversion is not the same thing as risk; collectively decided-upon avoidance is not the same thing as risk; confronting the conditions of our existence in a radically open manner is not the same thing as risk. What must change is our feeling that this world is undertaken alone. We are impacting and impacted on every level, at every perceptual moment. This possibility for infinite becoming smacks strongly of utopia, a concept of which I am not totally afraid. Though, we may need to discuss holding utopia in abeyance for the moment. Before then, we need to reach for the same space, we need to call into being the energy which is immanent in nearly any bounded territory – Montreal, Toronto, Canada, beyond, beyond.
Tonight I banged on a pot for one hour in the middle of Toronto’s busiest intersection. It was affirmative, easy, open, noisy, visible, an excuse to talk to strangers. I will do it again in a park on Wednesday. I walk across the ‘pedestrian scramble’ at Young and Dundas, over and over. Two weeks ago I crossed a canyon in Northern Ontario over and over. The wind was raging through the canyon at points. Precarity here is deeply physical. It’s not so different walking through the canyon at Young and Dundas. The rush of encounter in the latter is brought on in the sheer unpredictability of a response.
See what happens when you smile.
See what happens when you don’t.
See what happens when you can’t see what is happening.
Hear who hears you.
Follow that person.
Close your eyes.
Change the rhythm.
Are you still standing?
From here, it’s easy to start a movement.