What Forms The Present? – Sandra Man and Marita Tatari, Talk at Flutgraben Performances #4, 9 Feb 2020

SM: This reminds me of something I experience today in my own work but also in that of some others: the appearance of dynamics, of movement that is neither linear, progressive nor circular, repetitive as being funny, absurd, vain, related to non-sense and/or exhaustion. A movement or rather a way of moving that allows dynamics that do not lead anywhere but leading nowhere is not their aim. It sounds easier than it is, it is extremely difficult to work on it and it is also not so easy to watch it: the idea is persistent that once something moves it should go somewhere or nowhere. The movement I mean is not doing any of it. It is just moving…

MT: It is a strange moment we are experiencing today, because the need for autonomy, in other words, the need to address a non-given, undefinable “we”, the need to feel in the nowness of an artform a common that is not the given of any community, is paired with experiences that do not fit in the demand for greater inclusion of alterity into historical time. The same goes also for the so-called non-anthropocentric artforms, I mean for art sensitive to ecologies without nature, to the intermeshing of nature and technology, i.e. for the dissolution of their difference, for floating transforming processes with no departure point and no destination. Where is the limit that allows for something – a form, a process, a happening – to be addressed as such, to be related to others, to a public, and to address this very relation instead of disappearing transformed in it? It is not about limit as allowing newness into history to arrive…

Concretely this is obvious in the case of theater: no deconstruction of the dramatic form can have today the effect it had one or two decades ago. No overcoming of the supposed dualities in performance neither. Also the immediate demand for political relevance that indeed dominates the current art-landscape does not help us to understand what happens, for the simple reason that it can no longer be grasped in terms of an opposition between autonomous and politically engaged art. The framework of this opposition has no hold in the contemporary world. So, we rather have to redefine the way we ask and reflect on what is taking place. The change of change addresses this: the fact that newness or excess of the given in the tangible reality of a now, is not being inscribed in a history and projected into a future.

SM: If the orientation on the past loses its relevance, the understanding of what is contemporary, what is present changes, too. I guess that the relation between past and present transforms itself as soon as that which is present is no longer a product of a certain relation to the past. What else is it then? How does the present become present if not and no longer out of dealing with the past? What is new about the way we experience the present today? And how does the new come into presence if it is not the effect of a filiation or of a break-up with the past?

MT: “New” means here new in a world (in shared reality, according to Hannah Arendt), new as world and for a world: it means the taking place of a non-given and non-determinable “we”. The question how does the new come into presence, is connected to or presupposes an experience of extreme limit, that instead of being limited, finds in this limit the possibility of address as such, that is to say the emanation of relation as such. The extreme limit touches onto nothing, there has to be a touching onto nothing for address (or relation) to be addressed as such: for a non-given and non-determinable “we” to take place. As long as one horizon was being projected onto one history, this experience meant maybe the death of the older forms. But I would say that even in the past this was less driven by an “against” (a fighting the older forms), than by the drive of this touching of nothing as touching relating itself: reality, a common world – if we take again Hannah Arendt’s use of this term, reality as shared world. There had to be a touching of nothing given for the action of offering a shared place (the emanation of relation) to occur as such. I would see fighting the older forms rather as an effect than as a cause for the new. Today the given is not simply the given of one past, we do not ascribe one past neither one future to the present. Touching the non-given, bringing up new is thus not as some decades ago ascribed in a linear history, the past is not determinant for what makes the present become present.

Addressing “us” when “us” is nothing given and nothing determinable, means addressing alterity (excess of the given, other than the given) in “us”. This alterity is today no longer “ours”: it cannot form our horizon and does not originate in our provenance. This might be something that the urge for decolonialization of arts and aesthetics feels, when it denounces the oneness of western-global horizon for its blindness, as well as something that techno- and affect ecologies feel, when denouncing anthropocentrism. Becoming present, addressing the present, giving to it a form, means less overcoming the past or anticipating a future, than being reality and relating – we could even say in that sense love, the praxis of relating as such – and being reality and relating as an excess, an emanation, a floating, that strangely is now streaming out of a complete indifference for “us”: not our provenance and not our destination.

The deeper question in all this, the question that is more difficult to deal with, is what is happening to what past authorities and past overcoming of authorities had been serving: the principle of equality, which was nothing else than the projection of excessive relating or excessive alterity into future. We kept and keep understanding all kind of criticism of enlightenment still according to the logic of enlightenment: either we do so in the name of excluded “blackness”, in the name of a fluid redistribution of power, of desire, of non-human ecologies – we still keep bringing what excesses the given in the service of future. Hence maybe this persistence of the principle of equality under conditions of dissolution of the oneness of the common (oneness as colonial violence, as anthropocentrism, as ….) requires to revise our thinking categories in order to respond to the present, it requires to revise its understanding as an excess in the service of future. Coming back to your question, maybe the forms of the past do not disappear, maybe they are reaching up to us in different ways. And maybe it is the space of appearance, the space of appearance of this excessive relating called new in art, that is primarily affected by the current shift: maybe it is the public, the shared reality that is to be thought of anew.

SM: The same talk I was referring to above, the Change of Change talk you gave at a conference in Munich finishes with a very strong and inspiring sentence: “Denn das nimmt uns in Anspruch. Dass wir nicht wissen, wohin.” It says that we are challenged by the fact that we do not know where to go.

It makes me think of something like: The openness and uncertainty of the „where to“ is linked to the becoming irrelevant of the „where from“ and leaves us today in a vast, trembling, uncertain, fragile „where?“, probably even a plurality of “where?” (very contemporary images of bubbles, clouds etc. come up). It seems to me – and this is rather a feeling – that we are drifting on an endless „where?“ that has absorbed every possible „where from“ and maybe also every possible „where to“. The „where?“ is an infinite ungrounded desert. To me it feels like a precarious „where?“ without orientation and even without disorientation, beyond that; – rather it could be a being at home in being lost; or at least being lost is nothing special or exciting any more. It feels to me that this very open, very vast, very infinite „where?“ has expanded and probably continues to expand. Could this endless „where?“ be a name for today’s present?

MT: Thank you, yes, precisely this seems to me to be the point. But we should first remind that the non-givenness of a destination has been the very primary definition of art in modernity, even before Aesthetics, it has been Kant’s definition of beauty as a purposiveness with no purpose. “Wozu”, “what for” as unanswered, has been bringing art to life and keeping it alive, in motion: the fact that art deals substantially with this non-givenness, not as sheer irrelevance of a purpose, but on the contrary as a purposiveness, as what enables addressing “us”, addressing a world, enabling relating, enabling a shared place in suspense, exceeding any given (given place, given “we”, given world). “Challenged” as you say, by this not knowing of a destination, “in Anspruch genommen” is also somehow to be held or requested, called by this absence of a where: addressed. However, I do think we are facing a shift today, I think we are not facing today just a not knowing where. It is rather that this not knowing is not ascribed in a horizon and a provenance, and in that sense that it is not the not-knowing of a destination or of a purpose. If the thing of art, what is at stake in it, is the “we” as non-given, brought at play or taking place affectively in a present time, it is now a “we” that is not primarily ours. Which also means that we are facing its non-givenness not as a future, not as a demand for increased future equality. It is maybe rather reality that is challenged by excessive relating brought at play affectively in arts. “Where” as question, reality, the shared word, the space of appearance or the public, is maybe now what is challenged, addressed in and by the arts, when “we” is brought at play as not “ours”.

SM: It is tempting to think that from a linear, vertical structure of time – past, present, future – we are shifting to a more plane, horizontal organisation of space (globalisation, technologically enabled simultaneity, elimination of distances etc.). At the same time this feels too simple and too stable, as if space had no time…?

MT: Or as if space is time, yet not linear time, as if it is its own coming-up, multiplied, transformed, opening-up in different constellations, horizontally. But I agree, it is not that simple, and it is not that simple for the simple reason that what is at stake in all we are discussing about is a shared world, a “we” – a common reality. It is not enough to talk about infinite virtual spaces, because we are still asking about a common world under conditions that might be, among other things, conditions of infinite virtuality; we are still talking about the common, under conditions of dissolution of what the western-globalized culture thought as the common, and that mainly resulted in the supposed use of excess (alterity) in the service of future.

And also it is not that simple, because on the other hand, even if there is a dissolution of the linear conception of history taking place today – a dissolution due mainly to the technological transformation of the world, technology is allied with capitalism, and this alliance still inscribes the dislocation of time and space into the linearity of an empty purposiveness: nothingness, enabling newness, is felt as an imperative for transformation projected to future, an empty purposiveness commanding everything, dissolving former structures of the common, former conceptions of politics, producing even more violent inequalities, and thus appealing for concrete resistance. But resistance (as well as another word used often in art-contexts: „strategy”, artistic „strategies”) is dominated by purposiveness. So maybe we could or should rather ask: do arts today, appealed as they are to respond and address presently a “we”, take charge of a shift of this whole scheme of purposiveness? Are they to be thought of differently than in the terms of how they will most adequately respond to the demand for equality under current conditions?

It might be true that aesthetics and art have lost their hold in the contemporary world, and this is partly due to technocapitalism, I mean it might be true that it doesn’t make so much sense anymore to speak about the sensuous autonomy of art. Art has not an ascribed place in this technoeconomic reality, and definitely there is no space free of economy. Yet infinitely more is happening than the infinite capitalist technoeconomic commandment, even if it happens in it. We do have to reflect on the transformations that dissolve the frame in which “art” had its own place, we cannot just juxtapose sensuous reality or freedom to capitalism. Let’s nevertheless not ask instead how will art be able to effectively resist, but rather, in what ways do arts take charge of “us” today? In what ways are they challenged by this address? Let’s think about it all in terms that are not dominated by the logic of purposiveness and its resistance, let’s try to understand how does this demand, purposiveness, that still has its grasp on “us”, changes.

Next step to come in May 2020