Stepping Out and Into the Midst
of a Creative Ecology: New Forms of Living?
[to] create in a generalized social way, new forms of life?”
There’s something happening. “Something’s doing” (James as cited by Massumi 1)1. It’s October 2012. It’s Montreal. The leaves from the trees have started to fall. There’s crunchy yellow carpets on the sidewalks. Something’s coming. An event: Into the Midst2. There’s a place. The Dome. The Dome or the SATosphere, at the Society for Arts and Technology. For the period of a week. Or so. A gathering. A gathering of people will take place. There are some in-movement questions: How to challenge the Dome as a screen, as a surface to project at and to look at? How to activate the Dome? How to activate the event within the conditions of the Dome and the SAT? How to generate the conditions for a movement of relationality? “It’s always a how question” (Manning).
Mapping out some ‘tensile’ (Manning)
strings or Learning to do Crochet
In this paper I'd like to address the event Into The Midst as an artistic “co-composed” (Massumi 5,12,18; Manning) form of organization, that contours a possible “creative ecology” (Shorthose and Strange), germinating from a collective necessity to explore different ways of engaging, creating and sharing within a world continuously proposed as driven by forces of control, imposition and determination, in a so-called era of culture as a commodity. It is of my hope to suggest — in answering Hardt’s opening question in this paper — that indeed, new ways of life were created during the “co-composing” of Into The Midst.
In order to discuss such artistic “co-composed” artistic form as an event, I will engage with an experimental approach, that will try to challenge economic views on the geographies of creativity. I’ll expose some radical principles and functions which I’ll draw from this artistic form of organization. I propose this artistic form, manifests itself as a radical emergent and ever evolving ‘action-non-action‘ — being that a possible core of it’s ecological living. From the drawing above, I will then try to extend the ‘action-non-action’ concept in relation with a concept of ‘stopping’ as a gesture of waiting and waiting longer. Attending to an alternative economy. Deflecting away from an alienated idea of production, maybe, attempting to give it back it’s creative cell(f); toward a probable new ethic for living.
This approach will attempt to interlace3 three theoretical perspectives: Antonio Negri’s ‘refusal of work’ as exposed by Kathi Weeks4 (2005), André Lepecki’s notion of ‘stopping’ (2006) and Frederick Matthias Alexander’s proposition of ‘non-doing’ as exposed by Rachel Zahn5 (2004). The first perspective, will be pulled out, from the field of Autonomist Marxism; the second one, will fold in and out, from Dance and Performance Studies; and the third one, will find it’s soft stretch, from a still very unknown terrain of Somatic Studies in relation to Cognitive Science. The malleable glue for sticking together some of the afore mentioned, will be a sort of entrance into ‘process philosophy’ (the midst) and a movement that intersects the representational field (the dome), in order to step into the grounds of a probable “ecology of power of existence” (Massumi 28), (the event).
The notion of stopping then, will be related with a call for subversion of a representational model and will try to provide an acknowledging platform for other manifestations of culture. Within that other, I intend to make a point for that which is not localized or localizable within the mainstream, toward a perhaps proposition of a ‘minor-stream’, which grows from underneath as an uncontrollable creature6 (see fig. 1). Quietly yelling to destabilize the drive for power. And although in its own way strong, acknowledging at all times the dangers of the pulls coming from the mainstream, so working at all times too, to challenge and soften the forces of control. Even its own ones. But how?
Subjective Ethics of Contemporary Labour
and Geographies of Creativity
In 2010, during the Art & Science Transdisciplinary Lectures Series that took place at the New School in New York, sociologist Pascal Gielen observes the parallelism between post fordism and artistic practice. He suggests that “the [contemporary] art scene, promotes [in a way] the post fordist labour ethics” (2010). In Gielen’s own description of post fordism, these ethics go hand in hand with the shift from an economy of material products and labour (from fordism) to a consumer economy of immaterial products and labour. Hardt adds affect labour as “one face” (90) of such immaterial labour7. Such shift in a way, establishes the conditions that define contemporary labour in our days. According to Gielen, this kind of labour is characterized by: a huge mobility (physical and mental), temporary jobs with flexible rather than fixed hours of work, doing several projects at the same time, the use of the internet, communication being most important than doing, and adaptability rather than stability (2010). This modes of production, Gielen argues, carry implications of “physical mobility” and “mental mobility”, generating mental states of anxiety, stress, depression, frustration, emptiness and even claustrophobia, as a result from a continuos demand for having new ideas (2010).
Similar to Gielen’s exposition, on introducing us to Negri’s ‘refusal of work’ Weeks displays a scenario of a growing tendency toward “work values [that] today play an even more important role in securing consent to the current system” (131). She observes a demand for motivation where “work is glorified . . . and posed as a moral duty” (131). The work ethics are driven by a constant demand for the worker's auto-motivation8, who's convinced that working is the highest value in order to attain a 'somehow' better life. We find a similar observation of a
This speculative economic turn, washes away all possibilities of becoming with it. Indeed, this new economy, aligns artistic practices to it’s modes of proceeding, as Gielen suggests above and as Manning and Massumi also assert:
Thus the geographies of creativity seem to be subsumed by an economic drive toward the capitalization of an idea of work and productivity. A no-way-out alley from a system of the capital. But what is it that holds this system and how to challenge it in order to move toward new forms of life? Some interestingly confluent ideas pop-out from the authors here explored, suggesting the holding principles of this system: A) The “glorification of work [as the] fundamental ideology of contemporary capitalism” (Weeks 132), together with “oppositional logics” inherited from the still active paradigm of a Hegelian “Dialectical” thought (Weeks 124-127). B) “[An] economy of mobility that informs, supports, and reproduces the ideological formations of late capitalist modernity” (Lepecki 16). C) A “mind-body” dualism as that in which the world ‘runs’ (Zahn 12). D) The capitalization of “creative activity” as the “dominant tendencies” (Manning and Massumi 2), and the “quantitative growth . . . [through] mechanisms of accumulation [as that which] capitalist economy is formally dedicated to” (Manning and Massumi 30).
Following Gielen’s presentation mentioned above, Michael Hardt elabourated a question addressed to artists, which I found resonating together with the pulses and impulses of this paper:
It is clear then, that a necessity for new forms of life becomes crucial. New forms of life that move across an alienated alignment with the powers and drives of the "modernity project" (Lepecki) and the auto-imposed demand for "quantitative value" (Manning and Massumi) production. Crucial as well, becomes an exploration for that which holds the system together, in order to transverse it in a "[non reversal] differential reaction" (Zahn 127-131). Such exploration I believe, could find a point of coincidence, that challenges the values of the dominant forces enlisted before. Such point of coincidence, I propose, is a practice of difficult practice. The practice of action-non-action. Such practice is the one I’m here intending to lay down.
To move or not to move. That's [not] the riddle. The adventure is how to move. In a world of pre-configured movement patterns. How to move? Stop. Stop moving. Move. Move Stopping. What's the difference between the action of stopping and the action of moving? How to move differently? How to stop in a different place from that of habit? By stopping a long time, a really long time, we realize there's no real stopping or that stopping is not contrary to moving as we might have thought in the first place. And maybe by moving we are stopping. Maybe by moving in a certain way we’re blocking some movement impulses willing to manifest. So the consideration won’t be about moving or not moving, nor stopping or not. The consideration would be on what kind of movement or stopping we could activate. If we stop for a long time. Wait. Wait longer. Pause. Freeze. Wait. Wait longer. Soon we realize that the body continues it's own becoming flow. The blood keeps torrentially moving, oxygen keeps finding it's way in and out, out and in again. There's autonomy! If you keep still yet, something begins to occur. There's movement, or is it the perception of movement? There's an already movement going on. If you attend waiting, if you allow the autonomy of that movement to continue without imposing on it the movement of your duties, you might find that it flourishes. At some point your hand may be raising, your tissues may be undulating and twisting your abdomen organs in all strange manners, your saliva may drip, new geographies may be explored. New geographies generated. What if we move from there? From the autonomy of movement. How?
The Refusal of Work Playing at Into the Midst?
“[T]he refusal of work should not be understood as a rejection of activity and creativity, . . . but rather comprises a refusal of the ideology of work as highest calling and moral duty (Weeks 121). Antonio Negri, according to Weeks says that “[w]ork which is liberated is liberation from work” (121). The “refusal of work” as a concept on the one hand is a “rejection of the present regime of work” and on the other, a “project” (Weeks 110). Like this it presents itself as a negative-positive. Not a dualistic negative-positive but a differential one. The difference between dualistic and differential is that the last one moves beyond and differently but not necessarily contrary as the former. By moving differentially the system eventually changes, by moving contrary, the system remains, perhaps displaced, but untransformed. The importance of this difference is that a differential movement allows to diverge from a representational field which in a way, produces the forces that sustain us moving within a certain ideology. In this case, the ideology of work, as a pedestal to reach for, on top of the system, and at the same time, the bottom that sustains it.
In her analysis, Weeks finds this ideology to be the problem of Classical and Humanist Marxism. While these perspectives develop important critiques of Capitalism — of exploitation, in the case of the first one, and of alienated labour, in the case of the second one —, they both fail to identify the core problem of the functioning system under consideration, for both still reproduce Capitalism most fundamental value: Labour (Weeks 112-120).
Weeks also concludes her proposal with an invitation for new forms of life:
So if the refusal seems to be differential and the ideological value of work that from which we urge to move differentially away from, what is this work liberated from work? How to proceed? I propose the practice of ‘action-non-action’ as an option (one of many possible ones as in a differential practice there is no only one option).
It’s Thursday. Or is it Friday? Or Wednesday still? During Into The Midst time blends. It is a day, one of those days. Of the event. The event. Wasn’t the event on Monday? Weren’t we preparing for the event? Oh, the event is the preparing? Actually, there’s no preparing. This is the event. So. It’s the midst. There we are. SAT technicians awaiting. Where’s the project? Where’s the projection? What to project? Where are the images? Where’s the video? Where’s the art? Where’s the work? They don’t see it. We don’t see it. Some of us see it. It’s happening. All the time it’s happening. But not in our idea of work, nor in our idea of producing an event for later. It is happening in it’s autonomy to happen, without needing us a lot. We attend. We attune. To its torsions and tensions. Where is everybody? I don’t know, it was agreed to postpone the meeting. Meeting? Which Meeting? Anyway, we’re here what shall we do? Let’s go for a coffee. The event enjoys itself as it moves us in and out of it’s spectrum. But it’s spectrum moves as well to catch us even when we’re not around or inside the Dome. Actually, we’re mostly around it, barely inside. During Into The Midst the space collapses and expands. Micro events happen all the time. Ideas fly and others dissolve. We get in there. We practice ‘relational movement’. An hour. Or so. Passes by. We play. We engage. Something happens. The event activates us into an ecology of new forms of living. We stop wanting. We practice letting ideas go. We stop working and it starts working! It works in action-non-action. That kind of working of the imperceptible. That kind of action that is already going on. Always going on. As in an ‘active stand’. Stand up and do nothing. How come if doing nothing you’re still standing up? And what happens if in that standing, in that stand, you do even less. Try it. Or not. As a matter of fact, you know what? Don’t try it. You know why? Because it already tried you out! Or not.
In 2006, dance scholar André Lepecki wrote an essay that, from my reading, proposes the concept of “stopping” as drawn from the author’s observations of dance manifestations at the turn of the 21st century. These dance manifestations, Lepecki analyses as symptoms of what the artists — the ones he chooses to focus on —, were needing in relation to an exhausted moving society ignited by a modernity project. Such modernity project, imposes movement as it’s “permanent emblem” (Lepecki 9) and therefore as well, as dance’s apparent ontology. As Lepecki describes: “[m]odernity’s subjectivity is its movement and modernity subjectivizes by interpellating bodies to a constant display of motion” (9). In this scenario, the world is presented to us in constant movement and movement is demanded from us as a way to keep the world’s never reaching peace. Lepecki centers in artists whose work took the form of a ‘stopping’ of this continual motion as a way to answer to the following question:
This is where analyses of choreographies and performances that directly address the impossibility of sustaining “flow or continuum movement” are of theoretical and political import. (11)
The call for a ‘slower ontology’ as Lepecki names it — I propose to take it further by naming it ‘stopping‘ — opens up a crack into the heart of what moves the world, as presented by the capitalist economy: representation. This “critique of representation”, Lepecki suggests, “is one of the main characteristics of early twentieth-century experimental performance, theatre and dance” (45). By suggesting a cut in motion as a cut in representation, Lepecki asserts, from my point of view, in that which drives capitalism to it’s own exhaustion: not work, not accumulation, nor production, but the fixed ideas that populate majorities. Fixed ideas are, from my perspective, the danger. So how can I find interesting Lepecki’s proposition for ‘stopping’ if I differentially refuse ideas that don’t move? There’s where the representational field plays it’s cards. As long as representation is the only mechanism in work, the idea of ‘stopping’ is a fixed one. If we start moving in a relational field in ‘conjunction’ and ‘disjunction’ with representation — not merely in opposition — we can begin to relate differently with the concept of ‘stopping’.
During a movement workshop (fig. 2) of Into The Midst we were into the Dome, exploring an idea of ‘strings’ in between our bodies. We started by imagining that threads connected our bodies with other bodies. We imagined those threads tense, but still mobile. We started moving, walking, around the space. But always trying to sustain the imaginary tensile threads in between our bodies. It was difficult. Specially because the exploration was performed in between 20 or more bodies. It felt more. How to keep attention to the invisible threads that connect our bodies with other bodies without loosing the tensile mobility in none while everyone commences to displace around a space that moves as a projected image transpositions itself around the Dome? We had to slow down. But we also had to practice rapid and sudden bursts of the experiment once we were more used to it. And then, just when we believed it mastered. Stop. There was a call for ‘stopping’. There was an observation that if we remained very long in a place of movement or in a movement occasion, we commenced to forget about the threads. In that moment when the threads commenced to disappear, the call was to ‘stop’. By ‘stopping’, the group was able to connect again the threads of relationality by being able to attend to the event’s requests and tonalities. It was a difficult practice. We didn’t master it. We tried. How important it became to ‘act-non-act’ or ‘not to perform’.
Changing homeostasis9 patterns by
stopping-stepping or non-doing
This is an Alexander Technique10 exercise that I went myself through: Walk. Just walk. Keep walking. Stop. Stay there. Walk again. Walk as you would walk in the street. Just Walk. Stop. Keep doing this for a while. Stop for longer. Stop for shorter lapses of time. Now. Notice that every time you stop, you adjust your hips. Just notice it, don’t do anything. Keep walking. Keep stopping. What if next time you stop you don’t adjust? In a way, what if next time you stop you don’t stop the flow of movement that you bring with your walking. So what if next time you stop, you stop adjusting. What if you don’t try not adjusting. What if you stop trying. Do this once more or twice. Then forget about it.
Zahn presents the concept of ‘non-doing’ with Alexander Technique as a case study. She suggests that “[i]n non-doing we are immediately confronted with the fluid architecture of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) as well as the conscious and unconscious habits that often interfere with our voluntary intentions to inhibit doing” (4).
Interested most of all on the western body-mind dissociation which she identifies as the mode that drives most of our movement creative inhibitions, she argues for a (re)association of the mind-body. As with the authors previously visited, she as well presents this (re)association not as a duality but as a process within processes. In order to explore the (re)association of mind-body processes, she links Francisco Varela’s concept of “epochè”11 — borrowed also from Husserl — with Mathias Alexander concept of non-doing. Varela’s concept has the following procedure: “suspension, redirection and letting go” (Zahn 1). Alexander proceeds similar with a user friendly (as Zahn calls it) protocol: awareness, inhibition and direction. In this protocol, “it is still possible for us to overlook or underestimate the subtle aspects of the [Autonomic Nervous System], during the business of conscious voluntary movement and certainly during intellectual activity” (Zahn 4).
In Zahn’s recall, a crucial moment for Alexander, in investigating the possibility of improving his loss of voice, by the habits of his neck’s posture, was when,
With this revolutionary idea, Alexander practitioners work with talked images and anatomical vocabulary with the body in action-non-action, in order to open new autonomic nervous system patterns capable to establish a mind-body relationality. So, Zahn explains that,
Considering the Alexander technique described above, we can conclude that ‘non-doing’ isn’t really ‘non-doing’. But the terminology works for confusing the representational consideration of the action-non-action. When we hear not do. We automatically stop moving and by ‘stopping’ the movements of our habits, other possible movements in-creation become possible. Maybe subtler and less perceptible, maybe weaker, in the beginning, but perhaps powerful enough to bring out change and transformation. This movements would be, the movements of the nervous system which are the midst of our thoughts and actions or thoughts in action or actions of thoughts: the processual relationality of chemical-physical movement.
And talking about chemical-physical processes, one of the most interesting activities, at least for me, during the event Into The Midst were the activities around food. During the week of the event, the group kept finding ways to convene in several pot-lucks. In this gatherings around food, eating became a relational technique of conviviality. On the other hand, one of the most important questions for the project was the in-out separation of the Dome with it’s urban surroundings social threads. There were many attempts to relate the project not only with the inside of the Dome but also with it’s outside. Interestingly, the most fruteful activity in this regard was that where food was involved in the Peace Park next to the SAT. During this micro event (which turned to be macro), a team of participants gather to dye some threads of yarn with raspberries. After this event, the left raspberries where shared with the community that surrounded the park. That maybe insignificant gesture, for me, accomplished a real relationality, a gesture of ‘non-doing’ in it’s maximum expression.
Practicing action-non-action as a technique
for deflecting toward a Creative Ecology
As we have seen, I have tried to relate the concepts of ‘the refusal of work’, ‘stopping’ and ‘non-doing’ with my own proposition of ‘action-non-action’. For sure, my own proposition still needs in-action investigation. Yet the experience I had as a participant of Into The Midst lead me to it. I believe that the practice of ‘action-non-action’ in daily life as in artistic practice can indeed aid to generate new forms of life and therefore new geographies of creativity. But we are not to generate them, we are better to attend to them and to non-do, in order to open space for them to manifest and self-organize themselves. Geographies of new territories yet unexplored. By practicing ‘action-non-action’ I’m as well proposing that in the discovery of this self-manifested territories we may sustain a relation of respect and non-invasion.
Ironically, process philosophy — a differential way of thinking in movement to which I’m trying to attain as an alternative to the representational model — proposes “bare activity” (Massumi 2) as its pivot. Massumi offers a possible way to relate to this concept: “the just-beginning-to-stir of the event coming into its newness out of the soon to be prior background activity it will have left creatively behind” (2). This way of relating with the concept of ‘bare-activity’, I believe, offers an angular perspective from which to move in ‘action-non-action’. At the same time, I read it as a proposition to relate with the processes of power formation, such processes I believe, are crucial to explore, in order to aid in the generation of these new forms of life that Hardt is calling for in the form of a question posed in the epigraph of this paper.
The irony of my ‘action-non-action’ in relation with process philosophy’s ‘bare activity’ is born only from a reading within a representational model. A model where every each has an equivalent. My proposal is that ‘action-non-action’ doesn’t mean non action, but is intimately related with ‘bare activity’ in ‘duplicity’ (Massumi 5). As Massumi, suggests: “[t]he relational-qualitative duplicity at the heart of activist philosophy is a differential, not a dichotmy” (5, emphasis on the original). The practice of action-non-action’ thus could be a way to listen ‘bare activity’s’ always going or the other way round. “As though thought could begin to think, and continuously begin again” (Deleuze 132), that’s the place from where ‘action-non-action’ can begin to emerge and manifest into the uncontrollable creature of creativity’s ecological existence. ‘Uncontrollable’ within the differential logics takes on a different turn. It is not an uncontrolled destructive because it moves in gentle doses of ‘action-non-action’, toward new perishable forms of life, those becoming-forms of a creative ecology.
1 I choose to cite James by Massumi in a gesture of respect for the source that for me, opened up a window to the in-process universe of process philosophy.
2 Into the Midst was an event that took place from the 15th to the 22th of October 2012. For the duration of a week or so, something in between 30 people from different disciplines came together and worked in “collaborative explorations”. On October 22nd there was a concluding public performative event for which invitation read as follows: “Join us for a performative conversation . . . capping a week of improvisational research-creation activities in and around the SATosphere, the large-scale interactive immersive environment at the Society for Arts and Technology. The aim has been to collaboratively explore the potentials and pitfalls of the digital environment. How can we activate the projection space, so as to reactivate the body, in its many experiential dimensions? How can a surround surface be made to house a field of embodied relation? How do we negotiate the complicated relation of the limited-access technology inside to its urban surroundings?” (SenseLab).
3 By approaching these three theoretical perspectives with verbs as lacing, pulling, folding in and out and softly stretching, my intention is to give perpetuation to the act of crocheting that was explored during the event Into The Midst. From beginning to end, there was an invitation to learn crocheting. This activity became a relational field and I’m trying to apply it’s science to the experiment of writing this paper.
4 Similar to James cited by Massumi on the beginning of this paper, I’m sustaining the same gesture for Negri as exposed by Weeks. While Negri himself is proposing his own work and concepts, which hopefully will become an occasion for a different paper, I found Weeks exploration central for the development of the ideas I’m here trying to propose.
5 See Notes 1 and 4. The same applies here.
6 See Whitehead, Alfred North. Adventure of Ideas. New York: The Free Press, 1967. Print. 255, 268, 294. And from same author: Modes of Thought . New York: Free Press, 1968. Print. 166.
7 On immaterial labour see also Hardt and Lazzarato.
8 Weeks supports this observation with Henwood’s suggestion that “workers [nowadays] are expected to be the architects of their own better exploitation” (as cited by Weeks 132).
9 According to Zahn, “homeostasis is a concept coined by Walter Cannon in the 1930s which identifies an organic systemic phenomenon: the body’s fundamental ability to maintain a biochemical norm. It has since been used to explain the transdisciplinary nature of embedded patterns to resist change, whether speaking of biology or organizational management” (4).
10 Alexander Technique was developed by Frederick Mathias Alexander at the beginning of the twentieth century as a series of observation based body exercises that focused on the association of the body-mind relationship. Today, Alexander Technique, is a widely known technique practiced and still under development by trained and certified practitioners all over the world. It is usually practiced by an observer an a mover, in order to release pain and to find a posture released from habits of the autonomic flow of the body.
11 Zahn defines (phenomenology exponent) Husserl’s concept of epochè as: “stopping the flow of habitual thoughts and belief structures long enough to perceive the phenomena of the present moment”.
12 I find problematic the use of the word “incorrect” as it presupposes a good over a bad posture in the body. I understand that this problem has a connection with Alexander’s moment in history (1859-1955) and I have observed that Alexander practitioners differ in perspectives toward this term. I would say that instead of incorrect we could think of “ecologycally disruptive”.
Gary Browning, Global Theory from Kant to Hardt and Negri, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, Print, International Political Theory.
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Michael Hardt, “Affective Labour”, Boundary, 2, 26: 89-100.
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Rachel Zahn, “Francisco Varela and The Gesture of Awareness: a new direction in cognitive science and its relevance to the Alexander Technique”, The 7th International Congress of the F. M. Alexander Technique, Université de Paris 1, Oxford, England, 16-22 Aug 2004, Participatory Lecture.
Mayra Morales is a mexican dance artist and choreographer. Currently pursuing her PhD in Dance, Philosophy and Research Creation at Concordia University. Working with Dr. Erin Manning at the SenseLab in the Hexagram. She also collaborates through her research with Dr. Alanna Thain and Dr. Sha Xin Wei. She is currently a guest artist at the Contemporary Dance Department at Concordia University, where she teaches and investigates choreography as an environmental practice. Her own artistic-philosophical research is centered in the relation between movement and thought through a proposition of work that she calls “mobile architectures for interminable landscapes”, with a special interest on exploring emergence of differential dimensions for becoming’s expressivity.
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