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Theater of Pure Attention

MANIFESTO FOR A THEATER OF PURE ATTENTION

Attend! Comrades! Fellow citizens! Attend!

We gather to make a new theater, a Theater of Pure Attention!

Let us begin with some inspiring words from our compatriot in the manifestation of new theaters, Antonin Artaud:

“We cannot go on prostituting the idea of theater whose only value is in its excruciating, magical relation to reality and danger.

Put in this way, the question of the theater ought to arouse general attention, the implication being that theater, through its physical aspect, since it requires expression in space (the only real expression, in fact), allows the magical means of art and speech to be exercised organically and altogether, like renewed exorcisms. “

Danger! Magic! Theater! Space! Exorcism!

Danger is our condition. Magic is our possibility of transformation. Space is our public reality. Theater is what makes us a public. Exorcism is our way forward!

Citizens! At all times, you are being watched!

Well you know that in plazas, in city streets, in municipal buildings, in shops, in offices, even in the hallways of your own apartment buildings, cameras are tirelessly recording. Every transmission of your voice, every message, every mail, every post, every keystroke is logged in some windowless building filled with endless stacks of quivering servers.

We are a public which is always in public. How then is it possible to think, to dream, to feel, to change?

Our only hope, my friends and comrades, is a new form of public action, an invisible and unsurveillable solidarity, an alchemy of dramatic presence, a Theater of Pure Attention!

The Theater of Pure Attention is a theater of pure gathering. It is a theater of infiltration. It is boldly secret.

The Theater of Pure Attention does not pit itself against other forms of theater, or other forms of art. It pits itself against the habitus of institutions, of states of control, of removal of the public from public spaces. What theater makes is a public, and that public is constituted by a collective act of attention – by attentive copresence.

The Theater of Pure Attention returns to the originary conditions of theater, conditions which have been radically imperiled: a gathering together, a freedom in public – not merely the external freedom of appearances but the critical internal freedoms of attention and solidarity.

Our great comrade William James saw that free will consists entirely of our capacity to direct our attention. Where attention goes, action follows. The Theater of Pure attention, then, is the foundation of a new ethics and a new form of political action.

Of what does such a theater consist?

The Theater of Pure Attention is no less than an infiltration of any and all collective space by imperceptible players, plays, and audiences.

The Plays: Plays in the Theater of Pure Attention are movements of directed attention on the part of the players. The players betray no outward sign, but enact a series of attentional gymnastics and mental hieroglyphics.

The Stage: The stage of the Theater of Pure Attention is anywhere and everywhere. No platform is needed, no institution or invitation. Indeed, the Theater of Pure Attention is by its nature an invasive permeation of even the most highly controlled spaces: prisons, airport security lines, public transportation, government buildings, museums, lecture halls.

The Performers: While the Theater of Pure Attention can be performed by anyone, virtuosic actors in this theater are those who can move their attention undetectably, who can perform internal acts with absolutely no exterior manifestation. Attentional audiences, too, must simultaneously strive for this virtuosity.

Attending: How to see the Theater of Pure Attention? Comrades, you need only be made aware of its existence. The signs are hidden in plain sight. As members of the audience you are furnished with a time and place, so that you might know when and where to direct your attention. And you are given script, transmitted in secret, written or memorized, so that you might know the hidden meanings indicated by the player’s most subtle and ordinary actions.

I urge you, my fellow citizens, to attend closely. You are at the birth of a new theater, an alchemical reversal of attention’s polarities, a recovery of its magical potential as a foundation of aesthetic, ethical and political action.

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Drift

Drift is a sort of “novel” being written live on Twitter and other social media distributed around the web, with elements taking place in real space as well.

Read it here: https://twitter.com/driftictation

Catch up from the beginning here:
Chapter One
Chapter Two

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On Statement Objects

On Statement Objects

“All the things I know but of which I am not at the moment thinking” (Robert Barry)

Some of the art that is most important to me is work I’ve never seen.  I’m thinking of La Monte Young’s “Composition 1960 #5. Turn a butterfly… loose in the performance area… the doors and windows may be opened before the butterfly is turned loose and the composition may be considered finished when the butterfly flies away.” It’s a work I’ve only read. Sometimes there’s a photograph, but not one that’s up to the task of conveying the work:  Robert Barry’s “Inert Gas Series: Helium. Sometime during the morning of March 5, 1969, 2 cubic feet of Helium will be released into the atmosphere. 1969”  I like the redundant “1969” there.  Here’s a piece which is invisible, undetectable even, and still expending into space more than forty years later.  A piece which we might breathe in accidentally and unknowingly.  I’ve seen the grayish photo that Barry used to document this piece, but it added little – a few people on a dusty hillside.  The work, if it ever did physically happen, exists primarily in language.  Or Vito Acconci’s iconic “Following Piece.” Choosing a person at random, in the street, any location, each day. Following him wherever he goes, hover long or far he travels (the activity ends when he enters a private place – his home, office, etc.) Activity, various durations, 23 days. New York, 1969.  The picture I’ve seen of the back of Acconci’s head (though admittedly, a little suggestive and creepy) isn’t what tells you the piece.

I’m fascinated by this whole class of works of art I call “statement objects,” works where a short text (sometimes even a title) acts as an instruction from which the piece can be made. In a way it’s a kind of narrative impulse – the story of the work, rather than the work itself, is the work (a paradox, a bit of recursive code).  Or that moment when the story and the work actually collapse into each other, an artistic singularity. It’s a point where the work and knowledge about the work almost become one thing.  Such work can be copyrighted, but never precisely owned.

One of the genesis points for this kind of work was John Cage’s famous experimental composition class at the New School from 1957 to 1959 (which included as students George Brecht, Alan Kaprow, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low, and La Monte Young). This class influenced a blooming of event scores and performance instructions among the loose conglomerate of artists connected to Fluxus. George Brecht’s Water Yam was a box of cards with 70 – 100 of his scores (depending on the edition). One laconic example from Water Yam: “Word Event: Exit” (1961). Alison Knowles’ event scores included “#2 Proposition (1962): Make a salad,” which she is still performing. And of course there’s Yoko Ono: “Wind Piece: Make a way for the wind.” In her book Grapefruit there is a version of the text which goes on: “This was first performed in 1962 Sogetsu Art Center, Tokyo, with a huge electric fan on the stage. In 1966 Wesleyan University, Conn., audience was asked to move their chairs a little and make a narrow aisle for the wind to pass through. No wind was created with special means.” 

From another angle, the obvious prototypes of these statement objects are found in conceptual art, in Lawrence Weiner’s “Statements” (for instance “Work Nr. 029, 1969, A square removal from a rug in use”). Or Sol Lewitt’s wall drawings: “Wall Drawing #97 Ten thousand straight and ten thousand not straight lines.”

Contemporary examples include Ross Birrill’s “Envoy” series: ENVOY: United Nations: 2000. A copy of Thomas Moore’s Utopia is gifted to the United Nations.” Or more famously, Martin Creed’s “Work No. 227. The Lights Going On And Off.” Or Santiago Sierra’s “8 people paid to remain inside cardboard boxes (Guatamala City, 1999),”  Or playfully, Lee Walton’s Wappenings (web happenings): “Wappening #3: On Saturday, June 9th precisely at noon, an attractive, single and slightly bookwormish woman carrying a stack of books and loose papers will descend the steps of the NYC Public Library. Halfway down the steps, she will awkwardly stumble and spill her papers and books everywhere. Will you be there to help her?”

There are dozens if not hundreds of these works littered on the art-historical and contemporary landscape.  I’ve been collecting for the past several years towards an informal archive, a version of which is finding its way into the new edition of the Library of Art. One aspect of the general project of the Library of Art is to participate in a conversation with these works which continue to affect me.

In their nature as instructional works, statement objects are inherently participatory, whether they operate on the level of imagination or realization. They are paradoxically and simultaneously linguistic and experiential. Because they can be made by anyone, they are playful and social, eluding ownership and control. 

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Heavy Rotation

Heavy Rotation is a series of language drawings, and was featured in wordservents.

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Game of Art

I’ve been at work on the Game of Art, a transformation of the meta-instructional Library of Art – inspired now by the visual design of wheel charts (volvelles) and Parcheesi game boards, as well as by algorithms and recipes, Surrealist games, Fluxus event scores, instructional works and the legalistic descriptive captions of conceptual art (the work of Barry, Cage, Kaprow, Knowles, Lozano, Ono, Weiner and others). By reanimating instructional art in the form of a game, the new hope is pit the imaginary against the real and see who wins.

The original Library of Art categories were: Material, Process, Structure, Action, Situation, Duration, and Color. I’m adding new categories to help the game catch up with the needs of contemporary art making: Subject, Style, Antagonism, Post-Production, and Rules. The game is still in process but you can take a peek at all the permutations & categories in the giant PDF poster version I debuted at Conflux last fall.

Game of Art Poster [PDF]

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Street Studio (Money)

$34.82
September 24, 4pm.
Sarah Roosevelt Park, at Rivington Street.

$2.55
September 24, 5pm.
Sarah Roosevelt Park, at Rivington Street.

$.04
September 24, 6pm.
Sarah Roosevelt Park, at Rivington Street.

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Flashback: Sound

I’ve been thinking about making some new audio work, and about the allure of binaural microphones and field recordings. It’s spring! And as part of starting forward I’ve been re-listening to a few sound pieces from 2004/2005:

MINIMALISM was based on a recording I made at the Guggenheim museum in New York during the show Singular Forms Sometimes Repeated. Ambient recordings are processed recursively through a harmonic filter. From the present, it sounds pretty maximal to me.

[ listen ]

SOUNDSCAPE was a capture from a generative sound work I made for a one-night Be Something residency at Kathe Izzo’s Garden of Love at Cinders Gallery.

[ listen ]

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Language Drawings April 2011

New language drawings in the studio.

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Digital Monochromes (BA80A)

BAD80A is part of a new series of books and other digital monochromes, which explore what happens to color as it moves from the digital to the material and back again. Color exists as linguistic code (“BAD80A” is the hexidecimal notation used to produce a yellow-green color on a web page), as a pattern of LCD subpixels (mixing shades of red, green, and blue into millions of visible colors), and as inks, dyes, and paints (BAD80A is roughly the equivalent of Pantone’s PMS 382c ink mixing formula). As color moves in and out of the digital realm matches are imperfect and subtle flaws in translation are inevitable. Printers cannot produce a perfect, flat monochrome. One set of instructions produces varying results.

The desire here is to investigate the simultaneous materiality and immateriality of color and at the same time to push deep into the heart of anti-original impulse (information-as-copy) which is at the core of the digital.

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Notes On Slack

Slack is extra – extra line in the rope. Slack is not keeping things tight. It means not pulling, or at least not pulling so much that you use up all the slack.

In animal training, slack is a reward. When a horse does what you want, you give it slack in the reins. You release the pressure, and that release is pleasure enough. This suggests that slack itself, having a bit of extra in your rope, is something to value.

If slack is extra, it is linked to waste. Bataille suggested that what we do with our waste, our “extra,” is what defines us. And he reminds us of the (problematic) relationship between excess, waste, and sacrifice.

The kind of slack we’re talking most about here is the slack that means wasted time. And wasted time means time not given to the future. Time not put to use. To waste time is to be present. To simply be present is to waste time. If enough time is wasted in this way, (as Prayas Abhinav suggested) you are a buddha.

At work, to slack is to strike. It is an act of refusal – the refusal to be used. Here I think you can find some of its political sting. Slacking is a kind of sabotage, like those dutch workers throwing their wooden shoes into the machines that enslaved them – wreckage as resistance. Slacking subtly wrecks the productive machine of work life, it slows it down, gums it up.

I met a poet in Prague once. He told me that before the revolution, writers and philosophers tried to get work tending the boilers in big buildings. They could sit in the basement, quietly reading and writing subversive tracts, shoveling coal from time to time as necessary. They sought out the work with the most slack, and with that slack they made their revolution.

This is another bit of the sting – people with some extra in their time might spend it thinking and talking. Slack time is free time. And any kind of freedom can be habit forming.

Time is the one kind of economic capital that everyone starts out with (though of course we never quite know how much we’ll have). Industry (and industriousness) puts time to “good” use. You spend your time, trading it for a skimming of the monetary capital it turns into. The present is traded for a future (even if that future is only dinner).

To deliberately waste time is to critique the value of that exchange.

I keep thinking of that old Aesop fable about the ant and the grasshopper. The ant spent its summer hard at work, preparing for the winter. The grasshopper spent its summer slacking and singing. In the Aesop story, the grasshopper dies of hunger, filled with regret.

But I wonder. Even the Christian bible gives us a bit more slack.

“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

Slacker manifestos go way back.

Personally I spent the first two days of this summit slacking ostentatiously. During one I went to bed in full daylight and slept til sunset, and the other I mostly spent playing games. These are traditionally the slackest days of my year, and they are precious to me, slacking holy days, you might say. Time is spent extravagantly, wasted easily, work is sacrificed, burned away.

This isn’t slacking as resistance or revolution, it’s slacking as pleasure, as intrinsic time, as simple freedom.

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More slack at Cutting Slack: Paradoxes of Slackerdom

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