Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Coping Subject

I am currently starting a longer essay on Catherine Sullivan's work. Can the argument be made that the subject of contemporary life is one who, more than anything else, copes?

Literally, what the performers in my works are doing is coping. They are coping with instructions and demands, and whether this produces acting or dance, I don’t know. It’s grounded in their response to the task, and their perspective on it.
--Catherine Sullivan

I am interested in how Sullivan's work intersects with biopolitical procedures in the 20th century, and how avant garde experimentalism (Dada/Fluxus/Happenings to present) may both undermine and extend the procedures of biopolitical governance--what Foucault called "Governmentability" and Hannah Arendt cited as "a society of laborers without laboring." Which is to say, a society of managers and the micro-managed rather than lords/serfs, masters/slaves, bourgeoisie/workers, etc.

See also Paolo Virno's discussion of "virtuosity" in A Grammar of the Multitude. Sullivan's performers invert Virno's notion of virtuosity--the pereptual condition of a society lubricated by intellectual labor--by instructing her actors to give virtuosic perfromances of trauma--what becomes expressed as the remnant of a repressive social content. To virtuosically assume these roles would be to "survive" them (in Elias Canetti's sense of this term) or "cope," in the sense of the above quotation from Sullivan.


dbuuck said...

Sounds interesting, & very suggestive, Thom- where might I find out more about/see her work?

Thom Donovan said...

thanks for the shout David. I would talk to Metro Pictures (Sullivan's gallery) about getting review quality copies of her vids. there is also a bibilography for her at Metro Pics website, and an interview between her and Meg Stuart online at BOMB: if you are in New York I imagine you can watch her works at Metro Pics or the Video Data Bank (in Lower East Side)...
more soon! --Thom