Saturday, 9 March 2013

response to artificial hells

Will wrote this great piece at Urban Times. 

I wrote something in the comments but it's maybe useful to keep here too.

Hi Will, I really like this! I think the question regarding "actual hellish experiences" is by the audience member is, while slightly obtuse, a valid one deserving more examination.
While the asker might have been challenging discourse being fixed on the trials of production in favour of the the awakening or disruptive "experience" Dada, perhaps the question is more how do we find ourselves exterior to the process or armature of art itself, with all of its over-coding, and do we want that and is it possible?

The other night I heard a first hand description of Teddy Cruz's Political Equator event ( from 2011. A conference that would examine the divide of the global north and south whilst literally transgressing the San Diego/Tijuana border. Due to the government controls of this crossing, including siren-blaring police escort of their bus as they entered the Mexican town, the delegates found that the local population they had hoped to consult had vanished. In the words of the delegate, the border was “elastic”. It was hard not to question whether this organised transgression avoided being a spectacle and for all its good intentions the results have more than a flavour of the Victorian about them. If the border crossing what to be a transgression (it was deliberately made on foot away from official checkpoints) why was authorisation sought and can we expect it to function in any other manner? Even made completely illegally, would this cross have been able to escape the whiff of privilege seeking the (inaccessible?) touch of the material side? In researching the Political Equator project I was not much surprised to find that the Mexican state of Hilalgo tourists could pay for an “Illegal Border Crossing Experience”, completely with blank-firing “border police” (

I wonder if context, and within that specifically knowledge of the situation, means that even through the trauma of Action Hero's work the best (?) we can hope for is a brief drowning out of that knowledge? This is itself to the yoga breathing exercising that you use whilst in the work, different only perhaps in tone and the level of control). If we know something is “not”, can we ever touch it or do we always prep ourselves for the encounter somehow? Does the knowledge of an “art context”, including the incredibly complex coding of experiential and demonstrative work ever escape us? As such a Theatre of Cruelty is so familiar to us now, how can we hope to do more than kid ourselves? I wonder if we were jaded 9 years ago when Rod Dickinson staged his Waco re-enactment, as shown is this review ( But then again, this was around the millennium when sort of post-virtual-reality obsession with living a prescribed experience seemed to hit fever pitch in culture.

I'd argue that art can't leave art. Steve Power's robotic Waterboarding Thrill Ride from a a few years back ( is perhaps the most honest approach to the subject I can think of precisely because it remembers that the anticipatory promise is as real as it ever gets.

Its interesting that the quote that titles the project is from Breton when you consider his famous break with Georges Bataille, which the latter often being positioned as the Materialist opposition to the former's Phenomenology-infused Idealism. While Melvin Moti's fiction shows more than a small reference to Bataille's Acephale with its collective death-pact, I wonder what a Bataillian onto-politically minded and outwardlooking approach to that beyond performance would look like? I suspect that it would not look like anything precisely because it would need to be exterior to the meta-context of such organised cultural frameworks. More a Fantomas-like fantasy of inflicting such trauma on the public without providing them any rationalising framework. Not the Guantanamo “image” inherent in the hood and restraints but something far more horrifically and incomprehensible, a blow to the face in the dark.