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Performing Stillness: community in waitingReflecting on my collaboration with the artist-led project, Open City, in this chapter I explore the potential of an active and resistant rather than passive and acquiescent form of stillness that can be activated strategically within a participatory performance-based practice. With reference to Open Citys recent work, I examine how the performance of stillness in the public realm produces an affect that both reveals and disrupts habitual patterns of behaviour, whilst simultaneously creating a space into which to imagine or even produce the experience of something new or different. The act of stillness can be understood as a mode of playful resistance to or refusal of societal norms; a wilful attempt to rupture or divert the trajectory of the dominant hegemonic social order. Stillness presents a break or pause in the flow of habitual events, whilst illuminating temporal gaps and fissures within which alternative, even unexpected possibilities for life might emerge. Collective stillness thus has the capacity to exceed or move beyond resistance by producing germinal conditions for a nascent community of experience no longer bound by existing protocol but instead newly forming through the shared act of being still. The focus then, is to reflect on how the gesture of stillness performed within the context of an artistic practice such as that of Open City might offer an exemplar for the production of an affirmative form of subjectivity, by arguing how stillness paradoxically has the potential for increasing an individuals capacity to act. Furthermore, this chapter addresses how the collective performance of stillness might intervene in and challenge how the public realm is activated and navigated, through the creation of new social assemblages for rehearsing and testing alternative critical, political and ethical formulations of community, produced in and through the act of participation itself. My investigation of the practice of collective stillness within the work of Open City will both build upon and contribute to contemporary debates that are attempting to rethink and problematize the terms of community, by conceiving its constituency beyond the determination of already defined geographical, social or economic criteria. Recent theorizations focusing on those models of participation and collectivity specifically produced in and through art-practice have typically challenged the common notion of the community as a coherent and unified social formation.1 Miwon Kwon uses the term invented community to describe those specific social configurations that are newly constituted and rendered operational through the coordination of the art work itself,2 produced through a form of collective artistic praxis.3 The invented community produced through practice, she asserts, is both projective and provisional, always: (P)erforming its own coming together and coming apart as a necessarily incomplete modelling or working-out of a collective social process. Here, a coherent representation of the groups identity is always out of grasp.4 Within Open Citys work, the term invented community can be used to describe the temporary relationships, connections and intensities that bind together diverse individuals within the specific space-time of a participatory performance. In this chapter, Kwons notion
of invented community is apprehended through the embodied evidence provided by the work of Open City, in dialogue with selected philosophical and theoretical ideas which address the shared experience of collectivity or togetherness. While Kwon and other theorists turn to the writing of Jean-Luc Nancy (specifically Of Being-in-Common and The Inoperative Community) in an attempt to redefine community, my interrogation of collective stillness operates primarily through the prism of an affective reading of Spinozas Ethics and his conceptualization of bodies in agreement. Bringing the work of Open City into dialogue with this particular philosophy of collectivity, I reconsider how new configurations of community could be actively produced through (art) practice, whilst questioning the specific critical properties of the invented communities that might emerge from the shared act of stillness.5
Open City: Performing Communities
Documentation of Open City postcards produced as part of nottdance07 (Nottingham, 2007).
Open City was established in 2006 by artists Andrew Brown, Katie Doubleday and Simone Kenyon, and has since involved collaboration with other practitioners and theorists (including myself). It is an investigation-led artistic project that attempts to draw attention to how behaviour in the public realm is organized and controlled and to what effect whilst simultaneously exploring how such rules even habits might be negotiated differently through performance-based interventions. Open Citys projects often involve inviting, instructing or working with different individuals to create participatory performances in the public realm; discrete art works that put into question or destabilize habitual patterns and conventions of public behaviour. For example, during nottdance07 (Nottingham, 2007) Open City worked with members of the public to produce a series of public performances that considered how different codes of public behaviour might be explored through observation,
mimicry or as a form of choreography; framing the spaces of the city as an amphitheatre or stage upon which to perform, hide or even attempt to get lost. Individuals were invited to participate in choreographed events, creating a number of fleeting and partially visible performances throughout the city. During this first phase of activity, I was invited to produce a piece of writing in response to Open Citys work to be serialized over a number of publicly distributed postcards which would attempt to critically contextualize the various issues and concerns emerging from within their investigative activities. Six postcards were initially produced which brought my serialized essay together with a specific time-based instruction written by Open City such as, Day or night, take a walk in which you deliberately avoid CCTV cameras or On the high street during rush hour suddenly and without warning, stop and remain still for five minutes then carry on walking as before.6 I have since collaborated with Open City (Andrew Brown and Katie Doubleday) on a practicebased research project entitled, Interrogating New Methods for Public Participation in Site Specific Projects (Japan, 2008) that investigated the affective capacity of different speeds and intensities of individual pedestrian activity in the public realm.7 In this project, we explored how performed stillness and slowness could operate as tactics for rupturing or disrupting the homogenized flow of authorized and endorsed patterns of public behaviour. Through actionresearch workshops and instructions publicly distributed on two newly produced postcards (No.7 and No.8), Open City invited various individuals to take part in a series of choreographed participatory interventions journeys, guided walks, assemblies and the staging of collective actions that echoed the visual vocabulary of certain stilled social rituals such as memorials or protests. Extending this investigation, our more recent collaborative research project Performing Communities (2009 2012) further questions how the practice of collective stillness and indeed inoperativeness within a performance practice can be used to challenge or offer an alternative to dominant behavioural patterns of the public realm, that are habitually atomizing and utility-oriented, motivated towards a specific individual goal. Stillness is often presented as antithetical to the velocity, mobility, speed and supposed freedom proposed by the various accelerated modes by which we are encouraged to engage with the world. In one sense, stillness and slowness seem to have been increasingly deemed outmoded or anachronistic, as fastness and efficiency have become the privileged speeds. Alternatively, stillness has been reclaimed as part of a resistant or perhaps reactive counter-culture for challenging the enforced and increased pace at which we are required to perform. Open Citys intent, however, is not to focus on the transcendent possibilities or nostalgic dimension of stillness. This position could be understood as a form of escape from the accelerated temporalities of contemporary capitalism, a move towards a slower and supposedly more spiritual or meditative existence. Instead, Open City attempts to recuperate the creative potential within those moments of stillness generated by the accelerated technologies of contemporary society. They attempt to appropriate and re-inhabit the situational ennui endured whilst waiting or queuing; the moments of collective impasse controlled by technologies such as traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, and even if rather abstractly the nebulous experience of paralysis and impotency induced by unspoken societal fears, anxieties and uncertainties.
(Re)inhabiting stillness produced in and by contemporary societyOpen Citys recent performance-based work has explored the potential within those forms of stillness specifically produced in and by contemporary society. Their interventions reflect on how such forms of stillness might be (re)inhabited or appropriated through an artistic practice as sites of critical action or for generating new ways of operating in the public realm.
Observing Stillness, visual research undertaken as part of the project, Interrogating New Methods for Public Participation in Site Specific Projects (Japan, 2008)
Interventions often mimic or misuse familiar behavioural patterns witnessed in the public realm, inhabiting their language or codes in a way that playfully t