And I half turn to go: invocatio and negation of the Public

Bale, Robin (2018) And I half turn to go: invocatio and negation of the Public. PhD thesis, Middlesex University. [Thesis]

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This writing is the result of a practice-as-research project that I have undertaken as a poet, performance and sound artist. The works that I have produced dwell thematically and formally on themes of broken temporality, abject subjects, waste time and spaces, and are a response to the period coincident (London and the UK, 2010-2017) with this research. The writing is intended to create a context, or map, of where and when I made the performances and recordings, the pressures and atmospheres they responded to. During this time, broadly welfare-statist senses of “public” as polity, institutions and space have contorted under pressure from a rapacious neoliberalism and the rise of nativist and racist right-wing politics, exemplified by the 2016 referendum to leave the European Union. Both forces are hostile to the model of rights-bearing citizenship as the universality embodied in “stranger relationality”, which Michael Warner describes as a necessity for a sense of public (2002, p.7). This struggle feeds into debates concerning what both "public" and “citizen” mean as political concepts.

I use relational aesthetics as an example of a communitarian tendency that superficially might seem to be opposed to dominant political tendencies hostile to the idea of a universal public. In this, it follows both nativist and neoliberal tendencies; in its artistic strategies it also prioritises voluntaristic “engagement” over contemplation. In both these matters, it replicates certain neoliberal models of ideal subjecthood, in which rights are replaced by privileges. This is, for me, a parallel to the tension between the Romantic lumpenprole figure of “artist” and the valorised, entrepreneurial “creative worker”.

As a counterbalance, I look at a waste ground fly-tipping site in east London that I have called the Bike Cemetery. This place had at one time been occupied by an anonymous bricoleur who left an extraordinary mural comprising of collaged detritus and text on a wall supporting a motorway embankment. I take the rubbish strewn site, the mural and its creator as a constellation in themselves, a manifestation of stranger-relationality and the now abjected temporality of social democracy.

In keeping with my approach to my artistic work, I use Walter Benjamin’s concept of allegory (Benjamin, 1998) as a tool for looking at the ways in which ideas can present through constellations of images and detritus, making the experience of hermeneutic labour almost haptic — a wandering across and through fragments. I use materials such as “scalies” (the figures that populate the architects’ renderings printed on the hoardings put up around the sites of speculative housing developments), UK public order legislation and the history of the temperance movement. Central to this mapping which attempts to delineate an emergent form of contemporary subjectivity, is an idea of “public”, in the dual and related sense of a political collectivity that can be addressed or appealed to and the political/social artefacts of public “space” and “services” in a welfare state. This response also necessitates, for a vocal and verbal artist such as myself, a consideration of the rhetorical structures at play: much that presents as in-vocation in political discourse, the “will of the People”, for example, is actually e-vocation — allegory to the invocation’s symbol, belonging to the temporality of waste (see Viney, 2016), ruptured or halted teleology (Agamben, 2009), the time of addiction, the time of performance.

I consider and have developed my work as an artist in relation to these questions: Is a performer “being public”? Is the audience an instantiation of the public? Where are “we” and what are “we” when (in) public? How can a performance address the public-as-public, which is to say, as strangers; what rhetoric, what form of address can be used? Can “public” be in-voked or e-voked by a performer? What part does my voice play as a vehicle of “in” or “e” vocation? What appropriate temporality can performance occupy or evoke at this time? How are tropes (turns, postures, images) of “national abjects” to be used without rendering them as decorative motifs for the creative class?

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > School of Art and Design > Visual Arts > Visual Culture and Curating cluster
B. > Theses
Item ID: 26369
Depositing User: Brigitte Joerg
Date Deposited: 09 Apr 2019 10:29
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 19:33

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