University of California at Los Angeles
Current President of PSi
Of the pleasures afforded me through service on the PSi board, the interactions in which I have engaged with the Future Advisory Board have been a highlight. Before responding specifically on FAB’s collected writings in this issue of GPS, I trace FAB’s development to think about how FAB has informed and continues to mold the directions in which the organization as a whole is moving. FAB debuted publicly at PSi#22 Performance Climates in Melbourne, the same event at which I was elected PSi’s president. Our immediate futures have since been intertwined. The cohort of organizers at that time — Felipe Cervera, Shawn Chua, João Florêncio, Eero Laine, and Evelyn Wan — imagined a decentered approach to performance studies, one that would thicken in different sites at different times. They invented and materially developed structures of support that would coalesce and adhere for a certain duration fulfilling a vision of viscous collectives of labor and collaboration. Some of their jointly articulated comments published in the first issue of GPS reminded me of Marta Savigliano’s work in Tango and the Political Economy of Passion, where she also discusses viscosity. Savigliano explicitly describes power as viscous. How does one undo structures when the forces we might wish to combat stick to us, creating not neat lines of oppression and resistance but a gooey give and take where we are often submerged in the systems that we hope to change? How does one imagine a more generative and liberatory future from such positions?
The Melbourne conference provided an occasion to think through some of these questions. Bruno Latour’s keynote illustrated some mechanisms to imagine and rehearse actions that might shape the futures of performance and performance studies as well as the ecologies shaped by and in which such work takes place. As we observed at that time, the future is ours to preenact!
FAB has worked tirelessly since its inception to fulfill that remit. For example, when PSi#23: Overflow took place in Hamburg, FAB launched its inaugural summer school drawing on the minds and talents of numerous scholars and artists, FAB’s board members, and a few volunteers from PSi’s board (in the form of free seminars offered by Jazmin Llana, Caroline Wake, and myself). This new conference activity now labeled “.5” has become another vehicle for folks to engage local conference sites as well as to further but also to contest the organizing logic, infrastructure, and themes produced by conference organizers.
PSi#24: Performance as Network in Daegu demonstrated the synergies but also the uneven connections among summer school and conference participants, as few PSi members spoke the host language. Under what conditions does a network function? Where does power reside in such a structure and how can it be redistributed? What is our responsibility to particular networks?
I ask such questions as someone who sees emerging scholars and junior artists as providing templates, or perhaps rehearsals, for the future. What forms of critique and intervention might we offer through performance studies? How do we imagine forms of sustainable living in the future? The contributors to this issue encourage such ruminations.
In terms of form, the two sets of contributions that took an epistolary structure intrigued me. On the one hand the Department of Feminist Conversations used a well-established vehicle to express concerns, and I appreciated the anonymity of the collective, the shift of signature from singular to plural. The foregrounding of writing and rewriting reminded me that all of us who write do so in the company of others — some explicitly cited and others who ghost the pages we ostensibly create. Indeed, the piece invited the reader to write, to add one’s own concerns and hopes to the words authored by those one may or may not have met.
I remember letters. Or rather, I remember opening a particular letter in the early nineties when email did not occupy a percentage of my daily activities. My partner had, in addition to his handwritten prose, sent me an envelope stuffed with glitter, which sent a sparkly shower on the table before my fellow actors. Those seated around me vocalized awe as shimmers of recognition pulsed through the people in the room — a little queer pleasure in a sometimes inhospitable place, a glamorous pause that helped us regenerate and think about the material interventions we desired in the community.
Small acts taken together facilitate living and imagining differently. The other set of letters in this collection takes shape through email, a technology most people reading this journal probably most often employ for work communication. And indeed, that is how the authors begin their dialogue about the quotidian activity of walking. Their collective creation reflects on pedestrian moves but also invites readers to engage through the walking scores they provide. How do ambulatory acts change our perception of space and our relations to place? What ought walking enable us to do? And what about those individuals and other sentient beings who traverse with less ease human constructed environments?
These last inquiries lead me to the essays and the intersections of politics and performance. Living in the US under the age of Trump has produced a daily assault on my political sensibilities, including my understanding of possibility. I read specifically about media affects on the heels of the 2019 Women’s March in Los Angeles, where I live. What is at stake in taking up or taking back public space? What are efficacious modes of intervention in this particular moment of Trumpian turmoil? How do we enact the social? Who is the “we” I imagine?
I’m pushed in these essays to remember that “we” is always a projection. For this reason, performers turn to those who offer a new grammar and a new language to express modes of affiliation, of common interest, of labor that “we” might miss. I’m heartened to read, if I may riff on Suzan-Lori Parks, that future lurks in the hole because so many stories and their possible endings have yet to be told and concluded.
In this vein, I am also curious about the many intermedial works under discussion in this issue. What are the limits to seeing the body? Wafaa Bilal’s work, as one example, explores hegemonic ways of seeing and asks audiences to consider the stakes in digital realms of vision.
How will we see in the future? I cannot answer in any assertive manner, but I find that FAB has continually provoked me to question what we miss in PSi. The last essay I read concerned Saturn’s moon. Cosmography sits far outside my knowledge and purview. Not to worry! I have FAB for the foreseeable future.