net art, video, performance

Annie Abrahams

Agency Art II

collectively made, refusing hierarchy, a knitting together of artists and performers in the moment of the event, erasure of the artistic ego, practice, changing rules, choices, connecting, accepting the unexpected, responsive, shared, collaboratively authored, open to all, working with temporal behavioral phenomena, healing, enactment, improvised, including environmental conditions, attentional strategies, instructions, protocols, apparatus, meeting, embracing the ordinary, rehearsing alternatives, re-hijacking therapy, exercising our relations to others, our social (in)capacities, exploring rituals, being together, participatory,
concerns individuals and politics


Agency Art seems to be a difficult term: too much bad feelings go with the word (NSA) ; too similar sounding to Art Agency, and so it triggers thoughts about commerce. Still I want to persevere. For years I used silently the term “behavioural art” to think about what I was doing – silently yes, because for someone trained in biology “behavioural” is a stained word. It turned out that for others “agency” is just as stained. But for me it’s  an empowering word, referring to Butler, ANT theory and Karen Barad.

Agency Art is beyond disciplines. It’s a point of view, an anchor point from where to think critically about (my) artistic practices.

Let me try, while forgetting temporarily all the theoretical implications, to mention a few projects, I would like to name of Agency Art : Darren O’Donnell‘s social theater works and his book Social Acupuncture which argues for an aesthetics of civic engagement, Miranda July‘s work Somebody, where text messages are delivered by a real person. Félix González-Torres Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.) a 175 pound-pile of candy, from which visitors are encouraged to take samples, Eduardo Kac’s Darker than Night and Teleporting an Unknown State 1994/96, Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present and 512 hours, where the public became the performing body, Yoko Ono‘s Cut piece, Gego‘s work on networks and space and a lot of Lygia Clark‘s multi-sensory participative work.

gegoretiulareafg-01126-ao-700x372 Gego, Reticulárea. 1981.

To find keywords for Agency Art I choose some specific examples (from fine art, dance, theater, music, performance, digital art and electronic poetry) : Deufert&Plischke’s work, LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner’s HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US, Building Conversation by Lotte van den Berg, Deep listening by Pauline Oliveros, Poietic Generator by Olivier Auber, Lingua Ignota by Samantha Gorman and Walking Practices by Ienke Kastelein. (more info on each piece at the bottom of this post)

Why didn’t I include a relational aesthetic artists as for instance Rirkit Tiravanija who initiates ways to enable the public to be a part of the art-making process?
Because the public can’t make choices in his work – it is like a staged environment, which needs these people to make it alive, but does not give them any agency – they are not challenged to make choices besides being there or not being there.

Agency Art is art that makes it clear to the receiver via his or her body what is at stake, where opportunities for action lie, and which virtual* behaviours he or she can actualize. It demonstrates how choices work, and how to create patterns that retain their coherence while you remain part of them and transform when you move within their field of action. (* virtual understood as potentiality, not as a quality or in a re-presentable way) Mulder 2012.
(This refers to my first post on Agency Art.)

Agency Art is made of interaction, but should be constructed, looked at with intra-active glasses.
(This refers to a post on inter-intra-action.)

I still need to read a bit on Latour :) before I can write something about the many definitions, different, but related, takes on agency. Gell, Barad, Spinoza, Butler …

More information on the works :

* All the work by Deufert&Plischke; an artistic duo, who adhere to the radical notion that choreography can build society, not merely illustrate it. Theater takes place only insofar as it can be knit together by everyone – artists and spectators – in the moment of performance. The artistic ego is erased and the work written collectively. Choreography becomes a social activity, not determined by aesthetic principles, but by existential and philosophical concepts such as war and peace, freedom and truth. It unfolds as a landscape of choice and commitment for all, where the political is inherent to the act of theater, and where art is defended as necessary excess.

Keywords: collectively, horizontal / refuse hierarchy, a knitting together of artists and performers in the moment of the performance, erasure of the artistic ego, community, immediacy, practice

* The latest work by LaBeouf, Rönkkö & Turner HEWILLNOTDIVIDE.US is a participatory live-streamed performance, open to all outside the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. A mantra “HE WILL NOT DIVIDE US” acts as a show of resistance or insistence, opposition or optimism, guided by the spirit of each individual participant and the community. After 21 days the museum abandoned the project:

Keywords: participatory, community, individual, public space, politics

* In Building Conversation; initiated by Lotte van den Berg – a director and theater maker – and Daan t’Sas, uses collective improvisation to make joint creations. The performances are about exploring, together with everybody who wants to join in, how we talk and how we could talk with each other. Van den Berg wants the participants to look at conversing and themselves in conversation in a different way and so make a space in which alternative scenarios for reality are possible.

Keywords: temporary meeting place, the ordinary, participation, improvisation, coming together, rehearsing alternatives, re-hijacking therapy, exercise our relations to others, our social (in)capacity, explore rituals, being together, practice

* The Deep listening practice of Pauline Oliveros fosters creative innovation across boundaries and across abilities, among artists and audience, musicians and non-musicians, healers and the physically or cognitively challenged, and children of all ages. The Roots of the Moment:

Keywords: healing, practice, enactment, responding, improvisation, ritual, including environmental conditions, attentional strategies, instructions
?- : A lot of times the public is a listener only.?

* The Poietic Generator by Olivier Auber is a contemplative social network game. It allows everybody, all together regardless of his/her language, culture and educational background, to participate in real time in the process of self-organization at work in the continuous emergence of a global picture.

Keywords: open to all, collective, game, participation, apparatus, choice making, temporal behavioural phenomena
?- : Instances of the poietic generator are sold as artwork. ?

* Lingua Ignota (2009 -?) by Samantha Gorman. In this project a poem was converted back and forth between English and blissymbolics over three rounds of translation and negotiating consensus by diverse participants. I wrote a bit more about this project here

Keywords: protocol, apparatus, collaboratively authored
?- : The transference is collectively authored, not the project, the experiment?

* Walking Practices by Ienke Kastelein “Ultimately we wish to practice a way or ‘new habit’ of walking as a way of being nor outside or inside but opening a new space across them, and doing so in common (not just an individual contemplative practice).”

Keywords: participation, changing rules, choices, practice, connecting, the unexpected, public space, response, share
?- : It is partly staged, choreographed.?


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Annie Abrahams
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