On the Capacity to Aspire
Piersandra Di Matteo
In a matter of just a few months the hurricane-like impact of the pandemic has compelled us to deal with radical changes. Our bodies have become repressed as a consequence of the lockdown. They are inhibited by an uncertainty that constrains the scope of what is actually possible; they are disarmed by enforced confinement and numbed by individualised recriminations, by biomedical analyses, by the burden of social distancing.
We are currently experiencing a whole series of restrictions to our most basic freedoms, all in the name of public health and safety.
While the virus spreads everywhere unchecked, we ourselves are captive within our narrow confines. And while Covid-19 strikes indiscriminately, highlighting the vulnerability of the human community as a whole, the crisis management is busy digging trenches in which the precarity of various life forms proliferates.
Why a ‘return to normality’ is problematic
As Judith Butler recently noted, we are all confronted with the same risk of losing loved ones and deprived of the opportunity of taking our leave of them through a ceremony of farewell. On the contrary, the system of radical inequality which permeates capitalist exploitation and heteropatriarchal violence does not act univocally.
Our days of quarantine are characterised by a fundamental affection: a yearning for physical bodies. It’s a movement that ebbs and flows with varying intensity, an emotional state that affects not just human bodies, but all bodies equally: animal, plant, mineral, matterof any form.
The action of physical bodies – the core of theatre – is now impaired and threatened by an exhaustion that comes from simply waiting for a return to normality.‘We will not return to normality because normality was thep roblem,’ shout the members of Santiago de Chile’s the Delight Lab collective. It is unimaginable to let these months pass by in a state of limbo, propelled by a silent fear of losing all that had been gained. Rather, it’s a matter of ‘inhabiting’ this transition and trying radically to change course, and set new priorities. And to adjust the apparatus at our disposal so it becomes a mechanism for leveraging change, actuated to reposition subjects and worlds.
What can we do to help this energy spread, with all its capacity to aspire? For the anthropologist Arjun Appadurai, this ‘capacity to aspire’corresponds to the force capable of bringing about material transformation, a force that originates in the imaginative exploration of alternative future scenarios.
What’s more, such an aspiration is never individualised; rather, it speaks a collective language and grows within the framework of social life. In recent years, performing arts festivals and artistic institutions have been taking a critical look at their practices, some more wisely than others.They have reviewed their relationships with power, created space fordebates, invented new ecosystems, and put production processes to the test, knowing the necessity of achieving a social outcome for their own cultural policies.
The crisis triggered by the pandemic requires a process of ‘collaborative tuning’ that takes account of the scope of this turn around. This is the moment when festivals, theatres, institutions, ensembles, large and small groups – all with their own proper firepower –can put the emergence of other temporalities to the test, other spaces, another attitude towards the performing arts as part of a ‘poetics of relation’ (Édouard Glissant).
It is time to lay the foundations for artistic procedures, practices and processes capable of producing new connections, eccentric genealogies, and local, densely interwoven inter-actions. This is where the space for ‘acting in concert’ (Judith Butler) exists, not superficially to ensure conformist action, but to sound outconverging and diverging goals. The performing arts have shown that they are the agonistic arena in which mutual forms of empowerment can be generated by the practices of commoning and reciprocity, by a coincidence between bodies that implies desiring demands. The performing arts have to be conceived as the outpost from which a collective re-education of our collectivity emanates.
Creating public space
The first challenge is to take up the fight against the shrinking of the public space that has been set in motion by the pandemic. Not withstanding the requisite caution for as long as may be necessary, we need to invest in our squares, our parks, our streets, our areas of unspoilt nature and our outskirts, specifically through a new pact between the environment and citizens. Ideally, what we would like to achieve is a broader, more intimate dialogue with nature. These new pacts should not necessarily be tied to any production output or numerical parameters; rather, they ought to be seen as a form of collective training designed to enable the creation of alliances, affective kin outside of normative familial or species-bound structures, as a practice that bridges any type of otherness, bodily postures intensified by differences. They ought to be activities in which concrete action is taken against any form of racial, gender, social subalternity. We need hegemony-critical statements that lend a voice to all the discourses that risk being silenced and rendered invisible within the context of this current crisis.
These times require artists and institutions a like to come up with imaginative and inclusive practices beyond the boundaries currentlyin place, so that reciprocal action processes can be brought back from oblivion.
They require processes that are seen as a re-appropriation of spaces and times that have now been occupied and that allow for a common influence on social models and cultural conventions: ‘Art not in but as public space.’
This text by Piersandra Di Matteo was written for the Festwochen supplement as part of the co-operation with DER STANDARD.