University of Utrecht
2015 was the year of Fluid States: Performances of Unknowing, PSi’s twenty-first conference. Fluid States was an extraordinary conference in that it was not one event taking place at one location, but instead consisted of fifteen events taking place at even more locations around the world and throughout the entire year. With this dispersed format, Fluid States invited its participants to question and reimagine the conventional formats and communication structures of conferences, and allowed for local performance traditions to inform the events’ conception, organization, and staging (fluidstates.org: “motives”).
This inaugural issue of GPS looks back at Fluid States in the context of several other initiatives that have given shape to “how PSi thinks” international diversity and multiplicity. From its very beginning, PSi has not just aimed to establish the field of Performance Studies internationally, but has also constantly been invested in questioning and exploring what Performance Studies can be, and what it means to be international. For many years, during the “How PSi Thinks” sessions at the end of each conference, Paul Rae and Ray Langenbach have asked the question: if this is PSi, what then is PSi? What is it here and now for those who participated in it? How did PSi change since we asked ourselves last time and what new possibilities are opening up for where we might go from here? This very first issue of GPS similarly aims to direct attention to how PSi thinks, and, in particular, how PSi thinks through Fluid States as well as the Regional Research Clusters, the Manifesto Lexicon, the Future Advisory Board (FAB), and this journal GPS as related initiatives.
Fluid States’ continued explorations of alternative modes of conferencing can be traced throughout PSi’s history. Keen awareness of the performativity of practices of sharing knowledge has inspired organizers of many PSi conferences to make space for workshops, roundtables, shifts, praxis sessions, (lecture) performances, open studios, installations, walks, interventions in public space, and more. PSi’s commitment to internationalization inspired the initiative (in 2009), proposed by Peter Eckersall, to support smaller-scale and more locally-oriented events to complement the large-scale yearly conferences. Since 2010, such events — that would come to be known as Regional Research Clusters — have been organized in Rijeka (Croatia), Vercelli (Italy), Athens (Greece), Santiago de Chile (Chile), Berlin (Germany), Montemor-O-Novo (Portugal), and Auckland (New Zealand). These regional research clusters allowed the involvement of new communities of performance-oriented researchers and makers, responded to a need to bring people together without having to travel vast distances and to focus on more regionally and locally specific subjects, and contributed to further diversify the understanding of what Performance Studies can be. This GPS issue includes reflections on the decision to initiate the regional research clusters (in Felipe Cervera’s contribution titled “Planetary Performance Studies”) as well as a report on how the PSi Manifesto Lexicon started as an initiative of the organizers of the Regional Research Cluster in Athens and was subsequently continued on the PSi website. The Lexicon is a concrete example of how initiatives undertaken by organizers of regional research clusters have fed back into the organization to become part of how PSi thinks.
With the bold proposal to completely replace the yearly conference by a series of Regional Research Clusters, Fluid States set out to radicalize the decentralizing gesture that informed the Research Clusters. With the invitation to reimagine conventional formats and communication structures of conferences, it also continued PSi’s long-term dedication to creative explorations of ways of coming together to share knowledges of various kinds. Documentation of what happened during the various clusters, including the reports of many Fluid States correspondents, is available on fluidstates.org. Additionally, materials from various Fluid States clusters have been published in a number of publications. These include the Performing Mobilities catalogue edited by Mick Douglas, Australasian Drama Studies issue 69, edited by Meredith Rogers, Mick Douglas, and Bree Hadley, Performance Research 21:2 On Sea/At Sea, edited by Richard Gough & Sam Tubridge, Performance Research 21:5 On Trans/Performance, edited by Amelia Jones, and the conference proceedings of Fluid States Tohoku, edited by Peter Eckersall. An issue of Akda with materials from the Fluid States cluster in the Philippines (edited by Jazmin Llana and Theron Schmidt) is in preparation at the time of writing.
This inaugural issue of GPS differs from the above in that it does not look at (materials from) one of the individual Fluid States clusters but at aspects of the larger project in the context of PSi long-term dedication to fostering an understanding of international diversity in terms of multiplicity. These reflections necessarily only present partial perspectives. The scale and complexity of Fluid States make it impossible to reflect on the totality of the project. No one has witnessed Fluid States in its totality. Most participants attended only one of the events. A small group of people went to two, three, or even four of them. Personally, I had the pleasure of attending the kick-off event in Rijeka (an event that brought together organizers of almost all of the clusters) as well as five of the clusters. To my knowledge, Mick Douglas is the only other person who managed to attend a similar number of events. And even if it would have been humanly, travel-technically, and financially possible to be at all of the events, it would still have been utterly impossible to grasp Fluid States in all its richness and complexity. Its radical non-unitary structure exemplifies how events are meshworks of interactions, relations, exchanges, and connections that extend well beyond the actual space-time of their taking place. Over the course of a full year, Fluid States’ succession of events gave rise to ever-growing and increasingly complex sets of connections between people, places, ideas, and activities. The totality of what was thus performed will necessarily remain unknown. Fluid States can only be known through partial perspectives, and, in this way, the project demonstrates a fundamental characteristic of what it means to know in a global context.
Such partiality is denied by the way in which “global” is often used to suggest unification, transparency, and general comprehensibility. As Fluid States’ project director and dramaturg Marin Blažević points out in his contribution to the “Fluid Futures” report in this issue, the point of Fluid States was not such an illusory understanding of the global but connections between different locals. It was about supporting many connections to emerge between different localities, and a performing of unknowing of fixed and canonized understandings of what performance studies is and can be through what is evoked by these connections. A similar aim can be seen reflected in PSi’s Manifesto Lexicon as an ongoing project that aims to create a multi-lingual lexicon as a manifesto of critical discourse, multiplying our perspectives on and understandings of what Performance Studies is, and drawing attention to the untranslatable differences between languages and the modes of thinking they (co)inform. Likewise, the “G” in the name of this journal, GPS, refers to a “global” that does not operate in relation to one central point of reference on which to orientate and instead invites a practice of positioning through a constantly shifting set of relationships to many different points of reference. As an independent, fully open-access journal, GPS aims to foster accessibility and knowledge circulation in ways that do not have to transit to transit through usual centers of knowledge production and publication.
Shared by the Regional Research Clusters, the Lexicon, Fluid States, the Future Advisory Board, and GPS as various aspects of PSi’s engagement with multiplicity is what Cervera (in his contribution to this issue) describes as a “consideration of ‘the planet’ as a matrix of multiple co-presence.” Key to rendering multiplicity effectively operative and critically productive, Cervera observes, is that we “reconsider the narrative in which a single epicenter holds the historical authorship of the discipline.” Cervera points to the pivotal role of the 2004 PSi conference in Singapore in the emergence of an understanding of international diversity in terms of multiplicity, and how these informed the initiative of the research clusters, the conceptualization of Fluid States, and the establishment of this journal GPS. This first issue of GPS traces “how PSi thinks” such matrix of multiple co-presence through Fluid States and other initiatives.
In the report on the “Fluid Futures” roundtable at PSi # 22 in Melbourne (2016), organizers of Fluid States clusters reflect on their experiences and share their observations on the implications of Fluid States for PSi’s future. In “Sudden Depth,” Sam Tubridge, together with a team of co-authors, describes the Fluid States cluster at Dean’s Blue Hole (Bahamas) as a new model for multiple co-presence emerging from a gathering of artists, academics, and athletes. Katherine Mezur’s report “Parade, Pilgrimage, Passage” is a travelogue that passes between states and places and performance events that were part of the Fluid States kick-off event in Rijeka (Croatia), the pilgrimage event to Osore-zan as part of the cluster in Aomori (Japan), and the docking of the vessel sent from the Cook Islands Fluid States event to the event in Aomori. The vessel was one of the key elements of the Fluid States dramaturgy that mediated co-presence over distance in how it functioned as “the conveyance module, virtual or in some cases actual, constructed at an island and shipped off — via air, sea, radio waves or other channels — to dock at the next island. [ . . . ] Whether a live performance or a multimedia presentation, a panel or an image, a publication or installation, it is the vessels that create connections in between the clusters/islands” (fluidstates.org: “dramaturgy”). The production of the very same vessel that arrived in Aomori from the Cook Islands cluster is memorized in Dorita Hannah’s “Fluid States Pasifika” in which she presents a detailed description of the events in Rarotonga and how these gave shape to the idea of the oceanic as a connective space of currents, vortices, drifts, suspensions, sediments, tides, foams, and flows that resists fixity, an idea that was central to the conception of Fluid States. Hannah describes how she was interested in challenging the continental model, based on the terra firma of a centralized nation state, with a more oceanic paradigm and create a platform for ostensibly marginalized regions as a strategy for de-centering and re-centering on multiple peripheries linked through the transitional dramaturgy of islands, vessels, and docks. She also reflects on how the oceanic complicates the recent emphasis on a performative interweaving of cultures with an alternative understanding in terms of fluctuating entanglement just above and below an unpredictable atomized surface, suggesting the fishing net “inadvertently set adrift to collect organic and inorganic matter.”
Several contributions reflect on the potential of technology to mediate new types of relationships between different localities and to re-organize matrixes of co-presence. “PAN & ZOOM: Reflections on Panoramic Practices” is about the installation PAN & ZOOM by Kaya Barry and Jondi Keane, which allowed visitors to “move through” panoramic images created by participants to Fluid States events around the world. Barry and Keane describe how the PAN and the ZOOM section each mediated in different types of spatial awareness causing different senses of presence as viewer. Gry Worre Harberg’s “The Sensuous Society,” a report on the “Sisters Academy” project as part of the North Atlantic cluster, describes how the Sisters’ academy’s “sensuous classroom” at the Nuuk Art Museum was digitally connected to two similar platforms, one in Torshavn (Faroe Islands) and one in Copenhagen (Denmark). The purpose of the establishment of a virtual and telematic space was to investigate how to create presence, interaction, and intimacy despite the long geographical distances that defines the North Atlantic area. In “Misperforming Telematics,” Gunhild Borggreen and Hanne-Louise Johanson further investigate how the North Atlantic cluster of Fluid States explored the possibilities of technology to connect these places and mediate in new senses of closeness and togetherness between them. Two performances of the Fluid States North project — Beau Coleman’s Let Me Tell You That I Love You (Distant Islands), and Siku Aappoq (Melting Ice) by the dance company Yggdrasil Dance — provide examples of how teleconferencing may provide new aesthetic practices and modes of interaction across geographical distances through technologically-produced co-presence.
In “Planetary Performance Studies,” Cervera traces the history of the idea of multiplicity in PSi starting from PSi #10 in Singapore in 2004, and argues that the transit from Fluid States to GPS might benefit from emphasising a planetary framework for performance studies. He presents the outline of such a framework, including three ways to understand planetary performance studies: the terrestrial, the disciplinary, and the extraterrestrial. Understanding how such future framework may take shape requires a shift from fluidity to viscosity as perspective on how theory and practice from disparate geographical origins come together (or not) and “stick,” argue Cervera, Shawn Chua, João Florêncio, Eero Laine, and Evelyn Wan in their joint contribution, “Thicker States.” They observe that, “Performance Studies proudly inhabits an unruly space of hybridity and permanent epistemic and methodological negotiations and compromises; an undisciplined, broader than broad perspective of the world where knowledge is produced by bringing together many streams of theory and practice from disparate geographical origins. Within this understanding, Performance Studies is assumed to be a fluid discipline: it moves more or less seamlessly through disciplinary paradigms and geographical borders.” However, they also point out, this focus on fluidity evokes the ability to flow easily and highlights the capability to flow, thus risking to overlook any inherent resistances within the flowing materials themselves or the media through which they move. Attending to this resistance, this friction, this viscosity, they argue, might be a more productive way to consider the future of the field for how it draws attention to the very material conditions that both afford and restrict circulation, accessibility, and exchange of ideas and practices, and also because it is from sticky viscousness that new future formations and orientations may emerge.
Cervera, Chua, Florêncio, Laine, and Wan write collectively as the Future Advisory Board (FAB), initiated parallel to Fluid States in 2015. The FAB advises the PSi Board with regard to the interests of emerging scholars and artists, as well as with regard to the future of the field. They also initiate projects that imagine this future. Writing as a collective, they practice “viscous labor” which they describe as “to stick together and co-perform [ . . . ] to enact a thicker way of co-laboring that welcomes friction and attrition not as hindrances to measurable productivity but as the forces that bind bodies together.” Their contribution is not the only one that is co-authored. The majority of the contributions to this GPS issue are collectively written. Moreover, Fluid States itself would not have been possible without what the FAB describes as “viscous friendship”: the commitment to ‘stick together’ and together stick to the project, notwithstanding the uncertainties, complexities, and difficulties that are inevitably part of a project of this scope and ambition. Such commitment is hard work, as the organizers of the fifteen Fluid States clusters know well, as do the project’s initiators and organizers: Marin Blažević, who conceptualized the project together with Dorita Hannah, and who was also the director and dramaturg of the project, and Bree Hadley, who managed to manage the unmanageable as Fluid States’ creative producer and communications officer. With years of hard work, they set the stage for new connections, new collaborations, new working relations to emerge across multiple sites, and for new possibilities for continued dialogue beyond the Fluid States timeframe.
One type of relations emerging across multiple sites that could already be observed during the unfolding of the project throughout the year was that of travel companions: of Fluid States travelers connecting and reconnecting across various events. Another one was that of materials and ideas travelling from site to site, which was the idea behind the vessel and the Log. Sometimes the two combined, as with Theron Schmidt, staging his text “A Report on Our Mobility” — first presented as correspondents report in Melbourne — as part of the opening of the cluster in Manilla. Or Mick Douglas’ project Circulations that had different manifestations in Rijeka, the Bahamas, Aomori, the Cook Islands, Melbourne, and Manilla. Circulations consisted of “an exploration of salt: as matter, as substance of social and economic exchange, as a material invested with symbolic and ritual significances in different cultures, and as an element in the hydrological cycle that is essential to life” (fluid states.org). In this project, salt became a material means of performative reflection on many of the themes and subjects addressed by Fluid States. The project itself became an additional vessel following its own route through the Fluid States oceanscape, and beyond. During the event at Dean’s Blue Hole (Bahamas), Douglas’ canoe, filled with salt, broke adrift and set out for its own course, an unruly vessel on its way to unknown futures.
The PSi conference in Singapore in 2004 that Cervera identifies as having played such pivotal role in PSi’s ways of thinking multiplicity was my first encounter with PSi. This conference was what drew me to PSi, and it is perhaps no coincidence that an understanding of international diversity in terms of multiplicity would become central to my personal investment in PSi. I joined the board in 2009 at the board meetings where the regional research cluster initiative was confirmed. I had the pleasure of attending all of them except the one in Rarotonga, first as President Elect and from 2011 to 2016 as PSi’s President. These were also the yeas during which Fluid States was prepared and took place, and during which the Lexicon, GPS, and the FAB were initiated. I would like to thank all contributors to this first issue of GPS for their beautiful and insightful reflections on all of these projects. Finally, I am deeply grateful to Kevin Brown for the inspiring collaboration and for all the hard work, inventiveness, creativity, and patience he has invested in making GPS come true.