Laura Brown – 21 September, 2012
What is interesting is that such concerns relating to self-improvement are not just absorbable but prove entirely devourable for capitalist mechanisms. Indeed paraphernalia like self-help books and televisions shows serve as the perfect encouragement for endless self-improvement through consumption. The Workshops' cleverness is that while the path of the everyday and the path within the work may appear alike, they run as parallels never to collide.
Brisbane [and Kassel dOCUMENTA (13)]
9 August - 1 September 2012.
With a perpetually increasing history, performance art no longer exists in a necessarily linear narrative, nor does it exist any longer as a singular form with singular effect. The live art of Australian Stuart Ringholt may be distinguished against earlier performances of the 1960s and 70s; work which by definition both of its technical form and resulting function existed as a unique one-off live occurrence. It is by this distinction that performance work established its philosophical and political worth as a situation revolving beyond the commodity, the art object.
Ringholt’s work, whilst persisting is this resistance against productive absorption, exists conditionally as repeatable and recurring. That is, not discrete. While arguments continue to orbit performance work regarding whether its documentation ultimately results in the production of a commodifiable art object, Ringholt’s work oscillates astutely within both spheres. As time-based art, Ringholt’s Anger Workshops prove the capacity of such a medium in resisting capitulation to or absorption by the paramount system currently understood as the neoliberal economy. And indeed when any attempt is made to absorb such a work through documentation or dormant display, it flips rather to function as a mirror back upon the system. This precise effect was recently flexed when Ringholt’s Anger Workshops was displayed simultaneously in the Neue Galerie at dOCUMENTA (13) and at the artist’s Brisbane dealer gallery, Milani.
In the e-flux journal entitled What Is Contemporary Art?, Boris Groys discusses ours as a time of perpetual modernisation, suggesting it as one which never quite satisfies the desire it continually induces. As a result, such persistent progress can be understood as “wasted, excessive time that can and should be documented - precisely because it never led to any real result”(1.). Groys goes on to suggest that it is precisely this “wasted, suspended” nature that produces a non-historical time which “cannot be accumulated and absorbed by its product” and thus “can be repeated - impersonally and potentially infinitely”(2.). And so, ours is a time of tireless rehearsal.
It is here that we find particular pertinence in Groys’ argument for considering Ringholt’s Anger Workshops. This work seems to exist not only as an effort to be endlessly repeated, but also specifically as an effort for perpetual improvement. Thus it mimics the system whilst operating outside of it - by proving ultimately useless to it.
The Workshops comprise of a small group of people meeting with the artist in the designated space. Here the participants take part in “a free neuro-cardio workshop … and learnt simple techniques for expressing stress and anger in kinder ways” (3.), with an accompanying soundtrack of techno at high volume. Existing as endlessly repeatable attempts at catharsis, such events seem to exist as futile endeavours. The work draws upon the Freudian notion of the importance of releasing suppressed emotion; ultimately a Sisyphean undertaking as such emotions may be released in the Workshops only to be pent up again over time.
What is interesting is that such concerns relating to self-improvement are - within the routine stream of daily life and consumption - not just absorbable but prove entirely devourable for capitalist mechanisms. Indeed paraphernalia like self-help books and televisions shows like Dr. Phil serve as the perfect encouragement for endless self-improvement through consumption. The Workshops turn unexpectedly to operate parallel to, rather than inside of, such mechanisms. The cleverness of Ringholt’s Workshops is that while the path of the everyday and the path within the work may appear alike, they run as parallels never to collide. Any similarity is in fact mimicry, even mockery. Before becoming absorbed or accumulated, the work flips as a mirror back upon the system. As a result, either the participant is involved in producing suspended time, or the viewer of documentation plainly sees the urgent attempt to turn the action into a useable commodity.
At dOCUMENTA (13), the work was only active for the specific times listed on the poster, and so spent a considerable amount of time lying dormant. In Milani however, the work was presented inactive for the full run of the show, functioning in its entirely as a document of the dOCUMENTA (13) event - a documentary video and a slideshow of photographs in a darkened room. This allowed an interesting cross-examination of the work’s effects across different contexts that by nature hold different intentions.
Presented inert, whether within the particular curatorial and institutional frame of dOCUMENTA (13) or within the commercial frame of Milani, the documentation did more than just relay an idea to be digested by a ‘secondary’ audience. Elements like the slideshow also illuminated the mechanisms at work when a viewer entered the space and felt an ultimate lack of satisfaction, turning to look back at the real emptiness, even boringness, of a space which though designed for activity, rested inactive.
Never with the focus invested in its own product, Ringholt’s Anger Workshops may only be utilised in any practical sense by those directly engaged within its live, time-based form. Saying this, they are efforts to be endlessly repeated. As a result their repetition yields “a rupture in the continuity of life by creating a non-historical excess of time through art”(4.).
If no live activity exists, the work resists absorption through documentation by turning to illuminate the system that seeks nothing more than to subsume it. In the current moment such a work poses an abrupt reflection upon the present economic, social, and political system, one increasingly under scrutiny within our vigorous contemporary discourse. The Anger Workshops serve as a kind of present-day Feast of Fools, creating a breach within present time inside of which one can inappropriately ‘let go’ and laugh back in the face of a system that attempts to make a profitable use of such a venture.
(1.) Boris Groys, ‘Comrades of Time’, What Is Contemporary Art?, e-flux journal, Sternberg Press New York, 2010, pp. 22-39. Also available online: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/comrades-of-time/.
(2.) Ibid. pg. 31.
(3.) Stuart Ringholt, Anger Workshops poster, as displayed at dOCUMENTA (13), 2012.
(4.) Ibid. pg. 32.