Wednesday, 23 January 2008

A propaganda of the truth

From Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy by Stephen Duncombe (The New Press, London and New York, 2007, p 20):

For years progressives have comforted themselves with age-old biblical adages that the "truth will out" or "the truth will set you free," but waiting around for the truth to set you free is lazy politics. The truth does not reveal itself by virtue of being the truth: it must be told, and we need to learn how to tell the truth more effectively. It must have stories woven around i, works of art made about it; it must be communicated in new ways and marketed so that it sells. It must be embedded in an experience that connects with people's dreams and desires, that resonates with the symbols and mythologies that they find meaningful. The argument here is not for a progressive politics that lies outright, but rather for a propaganda of the truth. As William James once wrote: "Truth happens to an idea."
I've just started Duncombe's book, but I'm finding many of his ideas resonating with some thinking that I've done about the construction of truth as a practice of storytelling - the side who tells the better stories possesses a stronger claim for truth. See here for more details of this, basically a discussion of ideological framings used by political actors (politicians) in their performances of policy, with a discussion of version 1.0's The Wages of Spin wrapped around this. Duncombe is far more explicit in his call to embrace dreams and fantasies, and I look forward to seeing where his analysis travels.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Thinking through festival time

It's always difficult, at least for me, to think too hard for too long through a Sydney summer. Too much heat and humidity seems to turn my brain to mush. So its somewhat of a relief that there are others out there doing some thinking on my behalf. Perhaps they have ongoing access to air-conditioning.

First up, Nick Pickard is, somewhat insanely, blogging his way through the entire Sydney Festival. I know, pick something more ambitious next time lazy man! His blog on the Daily Telegraph site is updated several times daily, and is well worth dropping into regularly.

Over at the website of Urban Theatre Projects, whose new production The Last Highway opens as part of the Sydney Festival next Wednesday, there's a fascinating update to the ongoing 'Critical Dialogue' section, an exchange between director Deborah Pollard and writer Paschal Berry about cross-cultural artistic experiences in Indonesia and the Philippines. Deeply thought provoking stuff about the nature of collaboration, cultural identity, and the function of art in different cultural contexts. This exchange formed part of the research dialogue for UTP's The Folding Wife, one of my theatre highlights of 2007. Rumour has it that there may be a tour of this work on the cards for late 2008, and if it travels near you, I urge you to attend.

Lastly on the thinking stakes, at least for this week, the annual Rex Cramphorn lecture will be held this Sunday 13th January, with Scott Rankin of big hART presenting a lecture provocatively entitled DIY Virtuosity vs Professional Mediocrity. The lecture will be held at The Mint, 10 Macquarie St, Sydney, from 1-3pm. Admission is free.

In other festive things, my personal Sydney Festival kicked off on Tuesday, attending the opening night of Force Majeure's fascinating The Age I'm In. Being the start of the major Festival focus on Australian contemporary dance titled 'Movers and Shakers', supported by a $200,000 initiative from the Dance Board of the Australia Council, it was perhaps inevitable that there was a high-powered drinkies session afterwards in the Utzon Room. I managed to sneak in, and in between gossiping and scoffing finger food, listened to speeches from Kathy Keele, Fergus Linehan, Frances Rings, and the new Minister for the Arts Peter Garrett. Lots of nice words, nice catering, and nice wine, so I can report that a good time was had by all. The night continued on with yet more drinks at the Opera Bar, followed by a cab full of drunken inner west-dwelling artists debating vociferously the merits and flaws of the show, much to the bemusement of the taxi driver. (And no, he didn't say "Are you talking to me?")

I'm planning on taking a second look at The Age I'm In tomorrow, and will blog a response after that. Tonight is the National Theatre of Scotland's Blackwatch, and Sunday night Tanja Liedtke's Construct. Beyond that there's still The Last Highway, Aalst, Mortal Engine, Aether, Insert the name of the person you love, and This show is about people to look forward to...

Luckily, all of these theatres have aircon, so perhaps I will be able to engage in some thinking after all! Stranger things have happened...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Hypothetical manifesto


I was fortunate enough to be able to do a workshop on the weekend at Critical Path with the always inspirational British dancer and choreographer Wendy Houstoun. Highly discursive and imaginative, the workshop focused on talk, reflection, and critical appraisal of performance making, niggling at the edges of the what constitutes the "urge to do something, and the forms that this takes." Curly, impossible questions thrown around, chewed through, and savored by a group of diverse, generous, and fascinating artist peers. Frankly, we don't to do things like this nearly enough, caught up in the day to day balancing act that comprises art-making and survival. The time out to wrestle with unanswerable questions, and to take the time to push these to their edges was both a pleasure and a privilege. Sustenance for the creative soul.

What is narrative? What is abstraction? What do we deem to be movement? What do we deem to be dancing? How might we face, and even embrace failure? How can we engage with in-between spaces, with "words that wobble" (Siri Hustvedt, A Plea for Eros, 2006)? Which places would your art practice occupy, but just doesn't? How can we avoid cosy certainties, and always be thinking beings moving onstage? What is movement? What is choreography? What is an ideal time? What is an ideal process? What are the limits of what we can imagine? How can we imagine beyond these limits, and what forms might this take? Must we take ourselves so seriously? Must we always tread so lightly, be so funny, or reach so obsessively for irony?

A richly provocative beginning to the new year.

As part of the sessions, we engaged in several extended hypotheticals - a group discussion of an imaginary work that we joyously (and occasionally viciously) deconstructed; another piece of movement that exists purely within language, in which we dance together in an increasingly chaotic described performance work that pushed the limits of language's ability to account for action, intimacy, and relationships. On the second day, we each proposed hypothetical manifestos, and while mine is more playful than insightful, I thought that it might be worth recording here, if only for fun. The model is of course Yvonne Rainer's famous 'No Manifesto' (1965).

Here goes:

Death to classical ballet, classic cars and classic cricket catches! Death to ambiguity and mirror neurons! Long live to-do lists! Long live manifestos! Death to anti-aging and anti-oxidants! Long live subtlety and sea spray! Death to concrete, jackhammers, and ear plugs! Death to darkness, dark curtains, and fluorescent lighting! Long live flickers and wobbles! Death to firm grips on reality and razor sharp wits! Death to humidity and air conditioning! Long live sympathy and death to identification! Death to tarquet and skeletons! Long live jellyfish and salt and pepper squid! Long live fish sauce, focus, stumbling and stammering! Long live the smells of coriander and melting plastic! Death to idiocy, intervals, and idiosyncrasies! Death to performing with children or animals! Long live pausations, hesitations, and fumbles! Death to alcohol and long live drinking! Long live excess, editing, and redundancy! Long live silliness, chaos, and confusion! Long live lunch!

Photo by Heidrun Lohr, from CMI (A Certain Maritime Incident) by version 1.0