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On Nonparticipation: Fatos Ustek, Rachel Anderson, Jeanne Dorado

In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited a range of voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s […]

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In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited a range of voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. Following up reflections by Chris Conry, Nabil Ahmed, Keli Garrett, Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, and Rahila Gupta, we conclude this week by hearing from Fatos Ustek, Rachel Anderson, and Jeanne Dorado. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

(Non) / 0
By Fatos Ustek
All prefixes are derivational and they provide lexical meaning. The prefix “non” is twofold, standing both for absence and negation. It suffices to show that what has been is no longer there or is not as it used to be. It might indicate a loss, a condition of without and/or amplify the states of lacking. Zero is both a number and the numerical digit used to represent that number in numerals. It has a function in the numeric system and fulfills a central role in mathematics as the additive identity of integers, real numbers, and many other algebraic structures. Zero is also a conceptual image sharing the qualities of “non,” furthering the concept of nothingness. Zero negates and “non” is the counter-positive of something in existence.

The arithmetic operations of addition, subtraction, and multiplication are processes that change an existing value by the force of another number. In applied mathematics, when zero is added to or subtracted from another number, it does not cause a change in the numeric value of that number. But when that number is placed in a multiplication relationship with zero, it loses its numeric value. Division is a function that seeks to break up an entity through a denominator. A complication arises in the process of division when the dividend is zero. The result is no longer definable as it attains multiple values simultaneously, hence is assigned NaN (not a number). Both multiplication and division are processes that can activate a major differentiation in value. As with relationships at large, in mathematics a singular value is always the result of multiple couplings and can be derived by multiple means. That is, the outcome of the two values—introduced to one another at a specific gravity-entropy constellation—might be reached by other relations under variant circumstances. A basic example: 60 is an outcome of 2 and 30, also an outcome of 2 and 120, 5 and 12, and so on. Hence the specificity of the mathematical operation is of great significance, especially when complicated formations and values are at hand (i.e., museum and non, museum and participation, non and participation, and so on).

Fatos Ustek is an independent curator and art critic based in London. She is a member of ICI and AICA TR, the editor of Unexpected Encounters Situations of Contemporary Art and Architecture since 2000, author of Book of Confusions (2012), and founding editor of Nowiswere Contemporary Art Magazine (2008–2012).

When This Thread Snaps
By Rachel Anderson
The revolution won’t be led by red flags and the sound of “Bella Ciao”; it won’t be written about by approved academics whose careers we’ve followed and trusted; it won’t elevate the voices of those we long to hear more of, who affirm us and raise our spirits; it won’t fill our airwaves or our ears with solidarity and the justice for which we stand. It won’t happen between respectable hours and in designated areas, and it won’t have an allocated tea station, information board, or “quiet zone.” There will be no training and organized occupations, no sign-up speaking platforms, no “burn out” support group, no PA system fueled by pedal power, no press photos, no high-visibility vests, no polite unauthoratitive signage.

It will come like a flood in the night, with boundless power and uncatchable form, with inconsistence and unpredictability; it will speak with an invisible voice in a language we won’t understand because we never listened before. It will not see us, and it won’t obey our rational demands or follow the path we prepared for it. It will swell and burst. It will be appalling, misplaced, and reckless. It will prioritize the wrong values, it will dance to the wrong songs and laugh in the wrong places; it will be unreasonable, it will be angry, it will be untamable; it won’t understand that we are the good ones who devoted our lives to this time. We will be left with no choice but to join our old enemies in order to put an end to all this, because we have real work to do and a revolution to prepare for.

Note: Last year I went to a socialist film festival to see a documentary about the 2011 London riots called Wonderland: My Child the Rioter, which presented interviews with young people who were involved in these riots and their parents. There was a panel discussion afterward with a working-class family from the north of England who appeared in the film. The young boy was politicized, angry, and radical; he was a very compelling speaker. I think he was studying politics. The first in his family to go to university, he positioned himself as somewhere between anti-capitalist and Marxist. A woman sitting behind me made a comment during the Q&A that went something like this: “You’re a really bright, articulate young man and I want to congratulate you, but most of those who joined the riots last year weren’t being political.”

The riots took place in August 2011 across London and other cities in the UK. They began after the police shot and killed 29-year-old Mark Dugan in North London. Hundreds of thousands of young people took to the streets and thousands were arrested and given severe prison sentences; five people died. Because of the extensive looting that took place during the riots, the mainstream voice of the media and public undermines these actions as not being “political.”

Rachel Anderson is a creative producer based in London. She is responsible for Artangel, London‘s Interaction program.

What Would Socrates Say?
By Jeanne Dorado
What do I have in common with Jesus, Rosa Parks, George Washington, Fidel Castro, and a Quaker? Mavericks or misfits, we offer our communities alternative paths to follow and infinite ideas to be considered outside of perceived respective norms. While we look like anyone else within our species, the whole is greater than the sum of our parts. We live nonparticipation fiercely, demonstrating leadership and perseverance while going against the grain. We ask tough questions, rock boats, and challenge paradigms collectively.

You want in? Here’s how:
1. By Discussing World History: Beauty, like history, lies in the eye of the beholder. Globalization has ensured that it’s now easier than ever to discover alternative mainstreams, occurrences, and perspectives. Experience is like a prism with many angles from which comes color and light. The shade of the Mankato Massacre of 1862 moved Minnesota forward as an immigrant state, while simultaneously moving us backwards in morality. The experience of bullying started long before the Internet. So how do we define progress? Can progress be Cuba’s coastal conservation or is progress developing resort Rivieras?

2. By Asking More Questions: Born in the 1980s, I was raised to think I was unique and irreplaceable. While I appreciate the sentiment, if I’m not a retail sales goal, I’m a credit goal, or it’s networking, advertising, unique visits. Return on investment. You’re quantifiable in the eyes of a ledger. Numbers are like origami—you can shape a statistic into almost any form and it will skew up (or down) into a life of its own. Origami is two-dimensional, like the sheet of paper you hold now—turning you into the passive subject being dazzled and deceived into responding to a prescribed need for planned obsolescence and mind-numbing consumption. Carry on. Corporatocracy has all the answers. But what is the meaning behind this, and at what and whose cost?

3. By Being Paranoid: Don’t look now, but someone is out to get you. There’s no composite facial sketch, but by taking an observant look to count the logos, brands, and hype you confront daily, you should start to get the right idea.

4. By Living the Difference: Don’t let habit get the best of you. Innovate and evolve, human! The legend of Jesus is that of ultimate nonparticipation. He said, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor … and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) The one thing that I’m lacking is no things at all? A profound shift, indeed. Prescribed common sense dictates otherwise, but it is possible to survive without 4G or NYSE—much of the world does this every day.

Why bother?

I’d like to secure a healthy blue dot for the exquisite children that shimmer among us, that they might be assured a life-sustaining planet, shaved ice, and the iridescence of soap bubbles. What could possibly be more important?

Sincerely, nonparticipation is necessary to save ourselves from ourselves. I’m leading the parade and fucking for peace.* Now who’s with me?

* By consent and signed waiver only.

Jeanne Dorado is an advertising professional based in Minneapolis. Obsessions: great advertising, cause marketing, qualitative research, ethnography, travel, Julian Jaynes, total market campaigns.

On Nonparticipation: Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, Rahila Gupta

In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into […]

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In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. Following up last week’s reflections by Chris Conry, Nabil Ahmed, and Keli Garrett, we hear this week from Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, and Rahila Gupta. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

The New New Deal in Art and Politics
By Larne Abse Gogarty
Private and public galleries and institutions are often opposed within contemporary art criticism and discourse with public equated with good, ethical practice, and private equated with corporate baddies. This is problematic insofar as very few, if any, “public” institutions are entirely one or the other. Instead, due to declining public funds for the arts, most work on a mixed income of private and public money. However, in relation to the question of the New Deal and nonparticipation, I want to suggest that this dichotomy also fails to think critically about the relationship between art and the state.

In 1940, the Walker Art Center reopened as part of the Work Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project within their Community Art Centers division. Along with hosting special exhibitions and the private collection of T. B. Walker, it began to run art classes and mount ventures relating to the local community. The WPA Federal Art Project was a huge relief program for unemployed artists and ran alongside others within “Federal One” such as the Federal Theatre, Music, and Writers Projects.

These WPA programs positioned cultural workers as useful members of society, not romantics locked away in garrets. Art, theater, literature, and music sponsored by the New Deal therefore had to straddle the divide between being “socially useful” and aesthetically interesting; quantifiers that were arbitrated by the New Deal administration as well as art critics, institutions, and audiences. Artists engaged in participatory, politicized, and social practice today are often said to face similar challenges in having to face up to “ethical” as well aesthetic criteria.

Many of the cultural workers employed by the WPA had leftist sympathies, particularly those employed by the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). Famously, director Hallie Flanagan was asked to testify in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1938 and defend the “communistic” tendencies within the plays supported by the FTP. It closed shortly after, largely due to these accusations.

However, those who created works with “communistic” sympathies felt they were indeed being “socially useful”—and that in order to be at all aesthetically interesting, the arts needed to engender forms of resistance to capitalism. This raises the question: socially useful and aesthetically interesting for whom? And how?

When contemporary art discourse derides social practice as instrumentalized, this is because artists are assumed to be doing the job of the state that contributes funding to their creation. What is missing from this debate is a discussion of politics, and intention on behalf of the artist(s). In placing The Museum of Non Participation in conversation with the idea of the New Deal, we get an image of a political order that creates a terrain for conflict, renewal, and a questioning of the relations between state and citizen within the arts. It raises the possibility of the social within artworks as something to be politicized quite explicitly, in a mode that is not didactic but instead capable of prompting a dialectical process for the viewer. All good art is involved with the social. What needs to be asked is what is the “good” in this equation—and thus, where do your politics lie?

Larne Abse Gogarty is a writer and researcher currently doing doctoral research on community art and collective practice in the United States in the History of Art Department at University College, London.

(Non) Participation
By Olga Gonzalez
There is an apparent absence of presence that suggests indifference or maybe worse, collusion and complicity. In Peru, (non) participation in the form of ignorance and prejudice has contributed to a “culture of impunity” despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) recommendations toward the pursuit of justice. In 2003 when Salomón Lerner, the chairman of the TRC, handed in the final report to President Alejandro Toledo, he said it “contains a double outrage: that of massive murder, disappearance and torture; and that of indolence, incompetence and indifference of those who could have stopped this humanitarian catastrophe but didn’t.”

In the aftermath of violence, “I didn’t know” emerged as a common phrase, particularly among upper- and middle-class citizens in Lima. It seems ludicrous to think that the estimated 70,000 victims during the 20-year-long internal armed conflict would have come as a shocking surprise to Peruvian society. The truth is that everybody knew but not everybody cared about the fate of indigenous Andean people who had become main targets in the war. With their identities conveniently conflated with terrorism, indigenous people were perceived as the enemy. Framed as such, they became what Judith Butler calls “ungrievable lives.” This is the inconvenient truth that everybody knows but pretends not to know. Silence and denial then. Denial and silence today. The absence of justice, always. And we all know it!

In “post-conflict” Peru, symbolic reparations in the form of public apologies, memorials, and museums create the illusion of a nation coming to terms, as does the paradigmatic “Never Again.” To remember is not for all. In Peru, differences between political and ethnic factions are pushed to clear delineation. For economic and political elites who justify the military violence as unfortunate but necessary “excesses of war,” to forget is the only path to reconciliation. For the Quechua-speaking peasants, to erase the traces of any sympathy they could have had with the Shining Path guerrillas, particularly at the beginning of the war, is the only path to become “the innocent victim” entitled to adequate economic reparation. These tensions with memory are reflected in the country’s “sites of memory.” The critical visitor to these places might notice the silences, so tangible in their own invisibility, and attempt to denounce and create the missing stories. In other cases, the visitor’s absence condemns the site to oblivion, making (non) participation a powerful means to question a memorial or museum’s failure to challenge the status quo. We forget that to build does not always mean to construct!

Olga Gonzalez is assistant professor of anthropology at Macalester College. Her research examines the relationships between the politics of memory/secrecy, visuality/representation, truth/reconciliation, and violence/subjectivity in Latin America.

The Journey
By Rahila Gupta
Perhaps nonparticipation should not be written off.

When it is unconscious, it is not worth remarking upon because we do not even know what it is in which we have not participated.

Postmodernism presents nonparticipation as an acceptable, alternate reality and deems the political impulse to change it invalid because that would reintroduce the binary idea of right and wrong.

Nonparticipation, however, might be an act of resistance.

If it is actively chosen because the activity that seeks your participation needs to be critiqued, then nonparticipation or noncooperation becomes a critique (compare with the teachings of Gandhi).

But to make the resistance visible and concrete, steps will have to be taken, and in that process nonparticipation will mutate into something other, its alter ego.

It has been my life’s work as a writer and activist, using every political and artistic strategy, to shift resistance and noncommitment from inaction to action.

Whether it is working with women escaping violence, fighting for the right of disabled children to be embraced by the mainstream, standing up against racism or religious fundamentalism, or treading a careful line between the competing claims of race, gender, and class.

So that it becomes an addiction.

So that it becomes as inevitable as drawing breath.

So that you feel the vibrating energy of a group of people embarking on a joint project.

My artistic endeavor is about setting up a honey trap, snagging your emotions, drawing you in, inviting identification, empathy, analysis—all this embedding a call to action.

But to be true to itself, the artistic impulse cannot live in black and white. It must heighten color, muddy the waters; it must tear at the soul with an irreconcilable sense of contradiction; it must take you to the edge of the cliff. You must experience the breathlessness of falling before it draws you back and allows you the sensation of relief.

You walk unsuspecting into the easy rhythm of a ballad, the embrace of a soap opera, the snare of a thriller.

That part of the journey must not be difficult.

I surrender experiment with form, language, and genre.

It is when you have been lured in that the difficult questions will be posed. It is then that I stand to lose my newly won audience. Will you stick with me through the rest of the journey? Will you heed the call to action? Will you resist this relationship that appears to be based on a denial of agency? Or will the attempt to live up to its standards serve the artistic impulse but strangle the political will?

And when all of that has been bridged and you, as one in a hundred, have made the leap of faith, you must face the imperatives of the political—the contradictions between the quest for numbers and the quality of the participation, the insistence on the right political analysis and the right language.

We argue about language because it embeds attitudes, and yet when language changes to signify a break with the past, the landscape of prejudice often doesn’t change but rather ambushes new words with old ideas.

You walk into this purer-than-pure ideological space of the museum, newly enthused by your brush with art, and feel confused.

The activist needs to understand your journey and needs to learn to embrace you.

Rahila Gupta is a writer and activist. Her recent e.book, The Ballad of Nihal Armstrong, a verse novella, is a love story between a mother and her disabled son.

On Nonparticipation: Chris Conry, Nabil Ahmed, Keli Garrett

In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into […]

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In conjunction with Karen Mirza and Brad Butler‘s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. This week we hear from organizer Chris Conry, artist/writer Nabil Ahmed, and playwright Keli Garrett. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

What Does It Mean to Not Participate?
By Chris Conry
Let’s start with what “nonparticipation” is not. It is not apathy, protest, or renunciation. Nonparticipation works something like the quantum mechanical concept of the observer effect: to observe a particle is to change it. Nonparticipation is an unstable state that requires consciousness to be observed, but is instantly transformed by that same observation. It starts with pain. Once aware of our nonparticipation, we tell ourselves stories: “I never wanted to be part of that crew.” “The two-party system is inherently flawed.” “I’m the black sheep of this family.” You know there is a thing and you know you ain’t part of it.

Nonparticipation, in another way, is akin to the concept of quantum superposition: a particle exists simultaneously in multiple physical states until it’s observed and gets measured as ice, water, or steam. Nonparticipation is not-yet-participating. During the pain, we have a choice. What is the meaning of our not being an active part of something? Who are we, if we’re not that?

The craft of politics is the self-serving story. I can tell you what it means that the unemployment rate is up, the Dow Jones is down, or the election is too close to call. I can tell you a story to help you be part of (or not part of) some particular set of facts. Nonparticipation, then, is the space where we get to engineer a new story that tangles with, co-opts, or succumbs to the thing we are already re/joining anyhow.

So, if there is a choice to be made, how do we make it?

Once-trusted givers of order are increasingly viewed as unresponsive and self-serving. The US Congress, the church, and the financial system are experiencing crises of legitimacy. People view them as impenetrable or foreign, with power based in history, but ill-suited to our present needs. In response, people are innovating with political forms that are decentralized and democratic: online networks, occupations, and lending circles that are open-ended, personalized, and temporary. These two entities—established institutions and self-organizing people—pose competing claims for legitimacy: one based in authority, the other in authenticity.

So here we are in a museum—excuse me, an art center—that is temporarily hosting a “museum” that is itself not a building, but a multilayered project, including a play by Bertolt Brecht and a reflection on the New Deal. Step outside. In Minnesota we are, in fact, renegotiating the New Deal. Can we afford Medicare? Should we cut Social Security? Should we expand Medicaid? Can we save the New Deal? Do we need a new New Deal? Who’s party to that deal? Should we include immigrants? Should corporations pay? Is working hard and playing by the rules going to get you ahead?

Visiting The Museum of Non Participation, I am reminded that with the pain of alienation, there is freedom. I’m a voter. I’m Lutheran. I have a mortgage. I’m simultaneously a participant and critic of our institutional authorities. As the exceptions to their rule grow more numerous, I have a choice: to plunder what’s left before it is gone or to repurpose and reauthorize what remains.

Chris Conry is an organizer currently working at TakeAction Minnesota, where he leads Organizing a New Economy, a program focused on improving state and federal tax and economic policy.

Notes on Nonparticipation and an Entangled Earth
By Nabil Ahmed
In 1990, the first assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that large-scale global migration due to climate change is the“greatest single impact” on world security. The climate is increasingly acting as a trigger to future conflicts around not only resources but also over migration at an unprecedented scale. A new contested term has entered the political imaginary through an environmental sensibility: climate refugees. The people of the mega deltas and the Island States in the South Pacific, Indian Ocean, or in the Caribbean—Tuvalu, Nauru, Kiribati, Vanuatu, Maldives, or the Bahamas—face a radical future with the rising oceans and the loss of their state.

Statelessness is in itself not a new concept. Historically, however, it is embedded in either multistate systems or it forms part of a complex national identity, geopolitically present through separatist movements that result in actions ranging from negotiating representation to guerrilla wars. Climate change will produce a completely new definition of stateless population where geographic territory submerges, redefining the very terms of politics that shake the foundations of a political philosophy understood by Carl Schmitt as an epic battle between the land and the sea. Can a state still exist without territory under international law? And what will be the rights of the people? The global north wants to protect a pristine nature that no longer exists, but at the same time use national immigration laws designed as deterrents and as instruments of antagonism, animosity, and violence on the human body.

Nonparticipation might be one way to understand this disparity between the global north and the global south. The first is responsible for the majority of the world’s carbon emissions and extractivist fetishism, while the second pays the price through their historical nonparticipation in the global economy and epistemologies of the north. But I argue it is precisely in their nonparticipation that space for politics in the global south has opened up. The people of the global south share nonparticipation with nature after centuries of domination. In politics after nature in the Anthropocene—the geological epoch coproduced by humans that resonates the deep time of the planet—the global south and nature come to the table for a proposed contract between Earth and its inhabitants, poised between a gesture and a protocol.

Nabil Ahmed is an artist and writer who lives and works in London. He is currently undertaking doctoral research at the Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, London, where he also teaches. His practice and current research interest is in nonhuman political agency and the making of contemporary ecological interventions in the Bengal Delta.

12.18
(Untitled)
By Keli Garrett

While I wrote this I kept thinking, I guess it is okay that every day approximately thirty-three people die from gun violence. That our violence is quotidian, expected, anticipated, and therefore our sacrament. That when seven women and twenty-six seven-year-olds are shot up, missing limbs and chins and fingers, life will go on here as usual. The NRA guys will get together and buy T-shirts with guns on them, renew their memberships, and assemble to heckle the grieving parents and families of the victims. Surely, I thought, the rest of us shouldn’t be condemned to sharing the same sky with such people. Really? I thought. Yes, really, was the answer.

THE NEW DEAL

I

At any point
when
the violence
has been
too hard
to bear

I’ve checked out
And

checked in
to video
moving picture,
word streams
of aimless,
narcissistic rambling
and have opted in
to commune
with the solipsistic
who center
themselves because
really, what else is there to see?

Potholes and fractures
don’t exist
except in
the movies played by
James Cagney and Matt Damon,
and, really, what else is there? besides those
or the two by two
copy cats
that follow the
same smack
injected into the arms of
nameless cats
Black,
who having no recourse but to play

the words as they are written

happily ingest the poison,
the stuff of which
their dreams will be made,
not of Kubla Kahn
but of
never.

II
In a matter of moments

We were galvanized.

Some ranted
Some ran

We drank instead and
Closed our thoughts
No more dark things

We instead
Dared dream

Nightmares can be forgotten

Deluded
We are what we think

Thanked our lucky stars

On est a l’abri nulle part

That we live in a place
Where one can
Shop all day and night

And that food is copious and plentiful

Plenty

We decided instead
To eat too much

Living the Dream

Devouring our distresses

Anything not to peer into oneself
An abyss without and within

Our holes are vast though,
And nothing will fill them

Keli Garrett is a playwright and performer. She is a 2011 recipient of a McKnight Advancement Grant from the Playwrights’ Center, where she is also a Core Member Playwright.

Non Participation: Acts of Definition and Redefinition

What does it mean to name and define not only a body of work, but a political or philosophical position, an artistic practice, or relationship to a wider social context? These are questions propelling The Museum of Non Participation, a long-running project and Walker exhibition by artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Through the very […]

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What does it mean to name and define not only a body of work, but a political or philosophical position, an artistic practice, or relationship to a wider social context? These are questions propelling The Museum of Non Participation, a long-running project and Walker exhibition by artists Karen Mirza and Brad Butler. Through the very act of naming and identifying their project under the concept of “nonparticipation,” the artists activate a collective process of inquiry around this inherently malleable and expansive term.

For Mirza and Butler, “nonparticipation” speaks to urgent social conditions and pervasive everyday realities. As they describe it, “one aspect of nonparticipation is to acknowledge that it is a life condition, both consciously and unconsciously exercised in each of our lives. Internationally it exists in the excess of one’s own society, which is often gained at the expense of another’s nameless plight elsewhere. Locally it is recognizable when, for example, people encounter an issue that they believe is valid or necessary—say, homelessness, the right to protest, the Iraq War, but in that simultaneous moment they ignore it or reject it.”

As nonparticipation surfaces in our daily lives, Mirza and Butler assert that rather than being a position of negation or denial, it is a position from which to speak.

In conjunction with The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal, we’ve invited multiple voices to address “non participation”—within the context of personal and professional lives or thinking on the convergences of art and political praxis—with the aim of bringing the expansive spirit of Mirza and Butler’s practice into literal acts of definition. In coming weeks, we’ll publish texts written by these international and local collaborators: Nabil Ahmed, Rachel Anderson, Chris Conry, Jeanne Dorado, Keli Garrett, Larne Abse Gogarty, Olga Gonzalez, Rahila Gupta, and Fatos Ustek. These responses are part of an in-gallery guide created for the exhibition, available in its entirety as a downloadable pdf.

For them, nonparticipation is understood variously in relationship to large-scale global migration and climate change, post-conflict situations, endemics of violence, daily habits, agency and identification as a citizen, social welfare, and resistance and revolution.

We extend an invitation to you to take on nonparticipation in your own terms.

Entering The Exception and the Rule

If your name is a sound, what does it move like? On Saturday April 6, fourteen people gathered in the Walker’s Barnes conference room for the first of four days working on radical political theatre practices in preparation for a performance piece applying working methods of Augusto Boal to Bertolt’s Brecht’s 1929 learning play The […]

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If your name is a sound, what does it move like?

On Saturday April 6, fourteen people gathered in the Walker’s Barnes conference room for the first of four days working on radical political theatre practices in preparation for a performance piece applying working methods of Augusto Boal to Bertolt’s Brecht’s 1929 learning play The Exception and the Rule. The impetus for this gathering–a process of workshopping, translating, and performing–is a key element of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler’s exhibition The Museum of Non Participation: The New Deal.

Led by the artists, the workshops immediately established a space where institutional roles of curator/artist/producer/participant collapsed. From the onset it was clear that we would all participate equally in the activities to come. And the roles we each play daily– labor lawyer, father, educator, student, playwright, activist–would simultaneously materialize and dematerialize. During our time together, we would confront the fundamentals of where we stand and act in the world–politically, socially, morally–exploring our mutable positions (and positionalities) through movement and voice.

But first, we have to introduce ourselves. We each do this through performing our names– crossing a circle we’ve formed as a group, moving towards another participant, and enacting ourselves through sound and movement. A trilled erre, hurried consonants, languid strolls, skips, hops, leaps. Characters begin to form and morph within the span of a few paces. This sets the tone for the days to come– rich with movement, reflection, and rigor enacted through Boal’s games.

Brad and Karen led us through a rich and complex succession of games. Following is a taste of a few.

Hypnosis

Hypnosis a game of trust. It’s also a game of power. One person holds out their hand and the other keeps their face within four inches of it. The person with their hand out leads, the other follows, and then they switch. There are two rules. Both people must be silent and need to maintain four inches between the face and hand.

If you were to float above us during this exercise, you would see pairs of people respectively running, crawling, walking at snail’s pace. Some of the leaders did so gently. Others were more aggressive. Some pairs moved meditatively, like tai chi. Others moved acrobatically.

There were three progressions of this exercise:

First–One leads, one follows. Invert.

Second—Neither leads, neither follows. How do you move with mutuality?

Third: Both resist. How do you move?

We paused every so often to scan the room to see what positions bodies had found themselves, and to digest each as positions of power.

The game called up questions of parity, mutuality, leadership, internal conflict, and the ease and difficulty of trust. We formed a collective body– one that made clear the ways in which the position of being a leader or follower, are inherently precarious.

Image Work

We stood in a circle, turned outwards and closed our eyes. We were told a word and instructed to illustrate it with our bodies. Some of these words–like silence, trust, merchant, and coolie– came directly from the group’s response to the play. We made these images silently, first for ourselves and then for the group.

We then turned into the circle and presented our body images as body memories. With some of these, we were asked to hold our position and gravitate to others in the room with whom we felt some affinity. We clustered in groups that became tableaus  and were told to freeze in place. Group by group we showed each other our tableaus. Our fellow players were asked to describe what they saw in the happenstance scene, to tease out the hierarchies of power between bodies and gestures.

This is a just a brief fragment of how we worked, building a collective consciousness and a shared vocabulary that was at once physical, emotional and verbal– bringing the body to bear in the production of knowledge. During the performance due to take place tonight at 7pm, the audience will witness the slippage between Boal’s practice, Brecht’s narrative and the life experiences of the players. The event will be improvisational and open to contributions from its audience. This framework invites consideration of the subtleties of power, not only of the play’s characters, but of the players and the audience in the space. In this way, this moment serves to open the discursive space embedded in the exhibition itself. In place of being a finite performance, it serves as a rehearsal for how viewers might engage in the Museum of Non Participation throughout its Walker debut.

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