I’m Being Cancelled! Update 4

I’ve been working with the Live Art Archive in Bristol this week. I’m sat in the reading room now, writing this, sitting with the many possible directions this research could go in. Each scribbled note is an immanence of other thinking and other texts from those I originally imagined myself writing. It’s the condition I tell my students is the most fecund for research and should be embraced – to not know what one wants to say before writing means we keep ourselves alert and alive to new possibilities, new directions, new ways of crossing conceptual borders our research was woken us up to.

The formlessness of my thinking reflects (I think) something about how we can understand live art as a process of knowledge formation and transmission. This is thinking as an anxious murmurming underneath public performances of thinking – arguing, debating, maybe even just speaking to another. Or maybe even just writing – the act representing an impression of ephemeral mind matter we fear, know, will disappear if it stays in the body.

Following the recommendation of an archivist (Julian, who sadly wasn’t able to be here for my visit), I’ve spent most of the past two days watching a recording of the State of the Art Conference from 1993. It’s about live art and cultural identity. It’s a dialogue between American and UK artists and academics on the threats, injustices, and opportunities artists of colour (a new term for the British speakers at the time) experience in the live/performance/interdisciplinary arts scene.

So much to say about this event. As the hours wore on I found myself becoming invested in these people’s futures. I was sad to learn that one of the speakers, Maud Sultur, died in 2008. She was 47. I was deeply impressed by her attacks on those audience members who dismissed the pain of artists as a western fetish. I was in awe of Coco Fusco’s extraordinay articulacy, her embrace of complexity, and her amusement and impatience at the British obsession with class.

I was also taken aback by the confrontational tenor of the discussions. Each one ends in unresolved conflict. There is no consensus about what the problem is. Every thought is disassembled. Every shared experience mined for inconsistencies, assumptions, logics of power. Bob Wisdom frequently tries to orient the discussion to the future. ‘But what are we going to do?’ ‘What do we want to see?’ ‘What work do we need to make?’. To no avail.

But in this failure is hope. In this failure is the horizon of unborn futures. The invocation of immanence, of the knowledge that future artworks were pretnattally present in the room, is what makes them inarticulable. Articulation is the death of the immanence. Pre-existence is existence. Potential as object – as words, as voice, as text, as form – is no longer potential. It is past. The conditions for immanent knowledge are what matters. Knowledge as live art is hope that such knowledge may one day exist, but nothing is guaranteed.