Friday, February 08, 2008

Every Name in History is I

While the precipitating event for *Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land* was the 2002 Chechen hostage crisis in Moscow, the piece is in no way concerned with its representation or with the fast kill—notions of the spectacle as they relate to terrorism as a mediated form of political address. Also not on the agenda is a neo-Brechtian foregrounding of theater itself as a metaphor for the presentational excesses terrorism generates. Destruction aimed at the surplus of the antagonists’ “way of life” and the symbolic regimes they hold valuable, are always the target of mutual agitation. Particular to this event is the vast spectrum of trauma existent even prior to the hostage crisis; my interest is more in forms of erasure and arbitrariness—some of the extenuating circumstances of an assimilating regime.
~ Catherine Sullivan, from "According to the Good Wishes of the Tlaxcalan People, Cortez Set Out on an Exhibition"

That all of Sullivan’s work is "political art”—a nomination Sullivan would herself resist—I have no doubt. But it is political mainly in the way that all aesthetic mediations of cultural content produce indeterminate political consequences and meanings. In *Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land* (2003 and 2004), Sullivan would seem to bring the problem of political consequences qua aesthetic determination to the foreground of her work. “The project itself is hopelessly immersed in an confounded by the painful trajectories suggested by the event, what is elusive about them as opposed to what is directly consequential.” *Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land* is partly based on the submerged massacre of Chechen terrorists and theater-goers in a Moscow theater in October, 2002. If terrorism, more often than not, enacts forms of hysteria through its immediacy, *Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land* would seem to embody this hystericism through its use of pantomime to reenact the event at the Moscow theater via the Russian Broadway-style musical, *Nord-Ost*—the musical that was playing in the Moscow theater at the time of the hostage crisis.

In a time when few public intellectuals or artists would seem to know how to adequately address the terrorist as a viable political subjectivity, Sullivan has done so by articulating both the actions of the Chechen terrorists and the brutal reaction of the Putin regime as the irresolvable effects of cultural struggle, and struggles specifically for political autonomy and agency. Whereas one might typically ask why the Chechen terrorist or the Putin government acted in the ways they did, Sullivan does not interpret through her art, and instead chooses to dramatize a struggle of forces as they present political antinomies after the fall of the Soviet Union. From Sullivan’s theater of effective antinomy result aesthetic works and events radically opposed to any foreclosure of meaning, a typology of individual and collective desires as they negotiate both wills to power and to ressentiment.
~ from "Every Name in History is I: Catherine Sullivan's *Triangle of Need* and works to date"

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