Accessing Performance

Preparations for “Accessing Performance”, a two-day event on Wednesday May 17th and Thursday May 18th in the Artistic Research Pavilion on Giudecca, are in full swing in the studio space neighbouring the exhibition. Access is key: access to the space is possible when the right key is found, access to the local internet is granted with the proper password, and then there are all the technical practicalities of access such as finding the right adapter between the HDMI cable and a USB port to connect the computer with the video projector, to find the right cables for the loudspeakers and the computer and so on. This is all mundane and simple compared with the adjustments needed in building the complicated performance instrument consisting of a record player, a theremin, a sampler and more that Tero Nauha constructs for his performance “A thought of performance?” Meanwhile, Pilvi Porkola is setting up a tiny skeleton sitting on a book, photographing it for an updated version of the poster for her Library Essays, an audio work translated into English for this occasion. At the other side of the studio, Hanna Järvinen is finding access to her laptop, a challenge at this day and age when the tools we use are the property of the institutions that employ us and limit our access to what files can be moved where. As the video refuses to be embedded in the plans, circumvention of the technical controls is required, a simple hack that allows documentation of a past performance be included in this performance.

Both days have a full program, divided into three sections, all of which can be attended separately. In the mornings, from 10 to 12 there is an open workshop on performative writing and related practices. After a break for lunch, from 14 to 16 there is an afternoon seminar, featuring presentations related to the Academy of Finland funded research project How To Do Things With Performance. And in the evenings, from 18 to 21, there are performances and screenings. Besides Pilvi Porkola’s Library Essays and Tero Nauha’s A Thought of Performance, Annette Arlander will screen her video works Animal Years 1 (2003-2009) on Wednesday and Animal Years 2 (2010-2014) on Thursday, making this the first occasion where the whole series is shown consecutively.

So, Hanna, how does it feel to prepare for this event today?

As someone dealing with documents of past events and documentation of presentations, limits posed by both copyright and technology are a constant frustration. It is one of the points of this Research Pavilion that there is a tension between Open Access and art. Open Access is an ideal in academe, but it is in a perverse relation to art and to copyright: an artist should be able to make a living with their work, and the aura of the art work has traditionally relied on limited access, as Walter Benjamin noted.

Performance art in particular is all about its ontological scarcity – the fact that you had to be at a particular place and at a particular time to really have access to a particular work. Yet, paradoxically, artists and academics are all in the same boat, today. Open Access rests on the idea that the researcher does not make any money out of what they produce, that their salary is paid by an institution – which is increasingly not the case. In Finland, over 70% of teaching and research faculty is on short-term contracts, most with no hope for tenure or even career development. Academics are becoming like the artists whose work seems to be important only when it lines the pockets of institutions. In the case of academe, these are the international publishing conglomerates that demand payment in exchange for access: either access in the form of payment for publications or payment for imagined revenues lost in exchange for publication as Open Access.

For artists and researchers alike, current copyright law seems only to serve the dead, their heirs, and the institutions owning the actual product we others strive to access. Technology creates only further obstacles, particularly apparent today when the document on the institution’s property – the machine I used to edit a document of a performance I was taking part in making – tells me I have no rights to access. At the moment I placed the documentation into the machine that is the institution, the reverse of Benjamin’s dream of loss of aura took place: the work acquired a scarcity unimaginable at the time that Benjamin was imagining his utopia of technological reproducibility.

And Tero, what are your expectations?

The performance is a complicated apparatus, which makes it so exciting. I am interested in the gesture of thought, which is not correlated with philosophical thought, or philosophising. So, performance is not only based on these forms of thought based on philosophy, which is somewhat decisional and in that way how we build the world in every instant through decisions. The decision cuts and produces the world, the world that it is reflecting on. So, performance has this also, which makes it accessible, but it is also something we can analyse, reduce or reflect upon and withdraw from. Still, I have built an apparatus, which seems to be expanding. At first, some time ago, it was only my voice recorded on the vinyl record, and then the experimentation with Theremin was joined with it. Very recently, I have joined a simple sample sequencer with this apparatus. It is something that I can barely control, and I have very little access to all of its possibilities. But, through this, I have come to realise, that I am not interested in possibilities or potentialities, but in the virtual and inaccessibility. That is, something that will not be in my control of decision, but each and every time creates something else. The apparatus thinks in the same gesture, where I am partaking in it as a one, rather limited and decisional operator. I am not able to reflect on the performance while I am in it. Moreover, the afterthought is another kind of register. So, what I am interested in this is that performance is for quite the most part inaccessible for reflection, but at the same time the performance is really thinking while doing it’s thing — saying what it’s doing and doing what it’s saying.

(to be continued)



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