Strategies of Resistance

Indent: The Body and the Performative serves as a repository for a body of writing that stems (and then takes off) from the Gati Dance Forum’s engagement with teaching methodologies, research and performance-making, with the intention of adding to the critical discourse around performance practices in South Asia.





Thinking about Artistic Micro-activisms in Brazil: Two Examples

Christine Greiner


The experiences of performance were historically marked by a capacity for action and, above all, for shared action (rituals, collective movements and so forth). Even in autobiographical works, there has always been, in one way or another, the action of a memory in the act of re-presenting it for the other, promoting the destabilisation of the body, and of memory itself, through sharing. For this reason, the recognition of political action or performative action (Austin 1979; Butler 1997), which defies the tendency of performance to irretrievably disappear (Phelan 1993), was always fundamental.


All these questions have been exhaustively discussed, but the aspect that is more pertinent to this essay lies in the fact that, before being considered a language in its own right or becoming a field of studies, performance was an operator of destabilisation,[1] the most significant political action of which would be to implode paradigms, models, habits and patterns. In that sense, once the experiences of dance, visual arts or theatre are corroded by performance they do not represent a hybridization of languages, but rather modes of thinking and acting imbued with a radical availability to emphasize the meta-stability of each of these artistic systems rendered irremediably fragile by the exposure to that which is not given a priori, but constituted in action instead.


This mode of acting of performance is only corporeally established from the moment when it opens itself fully to alterity. From this perspective, the public aspect would not be limited to the spectators, nor to public spaces, which they occupy, nor to the ideological networks of discursive practices, but rather to its aptitude to turn alterity into a state of creation, simulating an organic operation that ignites the process of cognition and affectation itself.[2]


In Brazil, there has been a proliferation of research, publications and debates on this subject. At the same time, it seems unavoidable to live side by side with the consequences of what some authors have identified as a new economic system, which could be called “artistic capitalism” (Lipovetsky and Serroy 2015) and a generalized fundamentalism of creativity – the most toxic effect of which is to transform a substantial part of creation into entertainment and show (Gielen 2015).


Against this trend, some recent projects have proved quite powerful as they try to restore the performative aptitude of the radical openness to the other. I will present two examples, referring mostly to modes of rethinking communities, to the relationship between performance and the public, to the strategies involving exhibiting autobiographies and constituting narratives based on the radical openness to the other, among other themes.



The first one is the project 1000 Casas (1000 Homes) proposed by the choreographer Marcelo Evelin and the collective Núcleo do Dirceu in the city of Teresina (capital of Piauí State). The project organized a performative installation resulting from life experiences that occurred during the years of 2011 and 2012 as Dirceu participants visited five hundred (of the one thousand targeted) homes in their districts.[3]

The proposal emerged from a concern within the Núcleo as they thought about the place of the spectator in a space other than a theatre seat. The procedure was quite simple: the artists started to go into the homes of the Grande Dirceu district (where the collective is based) to generate interest and what they have termed a “co-responsibility of residents in art”. The interventions consisted of “visits” or “break-ins”; arriving without having been invited preserved the surprise effect. Each participant chose a profile of homes to visit and a performance to do according to a list of criteria linked to the features of the chosen house (such as having tiles), or to the characteristics of the people living there (elderly residents), or also to an event (homes where domestic violence had occurred). Regardless of the choice, the artists’ focus was always on the performativity of the encounter and the dialogue with the other, as well as on the creation of environments that were real (meeting face to face) and fictitious (the narrative built from the dialogue with the resident). One of the intentions was to approach the private place with a public act. As the group explained on their website [4]:


In the actions that we developed, private became public and vice-versa, in an inversion that also blurs the notion of artist and spectator and the meaning of what art and everyday life might be. The public sphere is established politically by sharing what is common. And the private sphere [is defined] because the event takes place in the singularity of the individual, in his or her particular universe. With predefined themes for the performances in the homes – such as domestic violence –, the artists generate an interest in art in the residents while proposing a joint participation and performing a public act in a private space, which results in a deliberate blurring of the function of the actor and the spectator.


Aside from the installations that presented fragments of narratives and movements created during the visits, the project was turned into an eponymous book (2012), which gathered different documents on these experiences. In this case, the political re-enactment of the actions came to the fore because the “final result” was practically inexistent, forming instead a process in the course of the shared action.

The second example of an attempt to revitalize the sense of community is A Cozinha Performática (The performative kitchen), a proposal by the Núcleo Marco Moraes launched in June 2013. The methodology of this project consisted of artistic partnerships through which research and dynamic collaborative procedures were developed seeing the artist as an articulator of permanent creative processes.[5]


Already in its first year of work, called Ano do Cavalo (Year of the Horse) and with the Marco Moraes’ dance solo (Anatomia do Cavalo/ Anatomy of the Horse) a series of photographic essays, videos, shows, installations, performative dinners and various combinations were produced which artists usually call “combos”. At this stage, more than forty participants took on the challenge of living and creating together. In 2015, the Ano Digestivo (Digestive Year), a collaborative research and creation platform was created to organize Performative Dinners inspired by Gordon Matta-Clark’s work and his early 1970s Soho restaurant FOOD. According to Moraes, the challenge is to understand what the possible dramaturgies emerging from these encounters are. In these contexts, all artistic work is considered political. The challenge is to set in motion new ways of sharing with the public, which do not actually exist in the conventional sense, because the audience also actively participates in the experience. Perhaps the most powerful performative action in this project is precisely this one: to absorb the spectators in order to break away from the dichotomy between artists and audiences, as well as the distance between private and public.


Aside from the solo, the project generated the book Cozinha Performática (2014), coordinated by Ana Teixeira, which gathered essays by professors, researchers and artists; the video Sabroso, directed by Osmar Zampieri; and the dinners themselves, held in several cities in Brazil. Although explicitly referring only to Gordon Matta-Clark, it would be hard to overlook a resonance with the notion of anthropophagy, so dear to Brazilian culture. When proposing cultural cannibalism, inspired by the Tupinambá Indians, the poet Oswald de Andrade laid out the Brazilian eclectic appetite for devouring everything, creating outcomes which are not subordinated to any origins, matrixes or roots. By dealing with multiple languages and people with absolutely disparate histories, Moraes somehow created a dialogue with that early 1920s movement, provoking a re-enactment of old issues and metaphors from his performative dinners that challenged the notion of ready-made and narcissistic identities while valuing what is done with and from the other.



For all these experiences to be recognized as modes of thinking, researching and knowing, it is not enough to question processes of creation, but rather to reinforce sharing procedures. We could then suggest that this going through action, in action, would necessarily imply a movement that dislocates itself from what is of the self, proposing an open, meta-stable, performative and decentred political action. In other words: for aesthetical experience to be constituted, it is important to create networks of creation. Otherwise we would have to admit that creation is just an action confined to a creative subject or genius, which would compromise its most relevant feature, i.e., aesthetics as an action for life.


We are all undoubtedly immersed in capitalism, including artists. There is no instance constituting itself as an “outside”. Relationships of power manifest in the space of culture in which we act (university, academy, galleries, museums, cultural centres and institutes) and in the symbolic systems that tacitly affect us, even when we escape the institutions and public power.


Brian Massumi (2015a) suggests that a possible way out would be to recognize a plane of immanence in a capitalist economy linked to modes of perception and actions that are not always conscious and emerge from trans-individuality. Instead of highlighting the nefarious side of capitalism, Massumi's wager is on the power of affections while demystifying exacerbated narcissism and pointing towards a collective instance that could open up new pathways. At stake is not any type of transcendence, but rather a collective action, which does not differentiate between poiésis and práxis, product and process, action and production, but establishes an undeniable instance of continuity between individual and group. For Massumi (2015b), a certain mode of life that will carry on nurturing possible worlds emerges precisely from the collective and the common.



The role of performance in these networks is fundamental. Especially when it becomes “workless” or “worklessness”, a tentative translation of “désouvrement”, which occurs when a certain inoperativity is internalized, preventing any a priori functionality, but never robbing the areas of risk of their power. From this perspective, performance has nothing to do with the inoffensive zone of entertainment. Massumi himself explains that it belongs to neoliberalism, a certain type of movement, which dies because of its own success. Therefore, micro-political success is often a macro-political failure, which necessarily calls for a reinvention of collectives. While immunitary processes hinder alliances there is, on the other hand, an aesthetical dimension of life that persists, producing a network of possibilities.

Perhaps we could even think the same of performance, when it relies on a “macro” artistic production coherent with market expectations and everything that is already familiar and prone to good receptivity. However, at the same time there is micro-production, sensitive to destabilisations and to everything that is seen as failure – neither one nor the other, but a negation of this dichotomy itself. The processes of micro-production feed off alterity in the sense of strengthening the ability to destabilise this dichotomy and set in motion the systemic crisis that constitutes them. Neither one nor the other, but rather a trans-individuality operating through micro-activisms. The outcome of such cases is a set of processes, subjective networks and the setting in motion of affects. That is what political artistic action consists of: a counter-device of power that turns creation into the key to survival.

Christine Greiner is Professor in the Department of Body Languages, Graduate Program of Communication and Semiotics and the Undergraduate Course of Communication and Body Arts at the Catholic University of São Paulo, Brazil. She is the author of several books and articles on Contemporary Dance and Performance, Japanese Culture and Philosophy of the Body, including Body, clues for indisciplinary studies (2005), Body in Crisis, new clues and the short-circuit of representations (2010), Readings of the Body in Japan and Cognitive Diasporas (2015), and Fabulations of the Japanese Body and Microactivisms (2017). 

A first draft of the article was published in the collection of essays Performance na Esfera Pública, edited by Ana Pais, Lisbon: Centro de Estudos de Teatro / FLUL and Performativa, 2018.


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[1] This definition of performance as an operator of destabilization was proposed by myself, for the first time at a lecture at the Encontro do Instituto Hemisférico (Sesc Vila Mariana, São Paulo, 2010). The idea was then developed in a few essays, which appeared in the anthology Corpo em Cena (2013) and Rivista Danza e Ricerca (2014).

[2] In “Alteridad como estado de creación” [Alterity as a state of creation], a recent essay that I wrote for the book Componer el Plural (2016), I explain that, in organic terms, what the brain detects as different from itself generates diversity in the sense of establishing new modes of perception and corporeal states, which would constitute points of departure for processes of cognition and affectation.

[3] Núcleo do Dirceu participants in this project were Alexandre Santos, Caio César, César Costa, Cleyde Silva, Elielson Pacheco, Humilde Alves, Izabelle Frota, Jell Carone, Jacob Alves, Janaína Lobo, Layane Holanda, Marcelo Evelin, Regina Veloso e Soraya Portela. For two years the project was supported by Petrobras and the Ministry of Culture, with the sponsorship of Rouanet Law and the Federal Government.

[4] www.demolitionincorporada.com/1000casas

[5] The project was supported by two editions of the São Paulo Municipal Programme for Dance Promotion (2014 and 2015) and by the Funarte Klauss Viana Dance Prize, which enable the circulation of some works across various Brazilian cities. In 2014, Cozinha Performática was awarded the Denilto Gomes Dance Prize in the special category “collaborative platform”. 

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