Performative Topologies is an ephemeral instrument. Prepared prompts shape an interaction between several participants and a facilitator. The process is structured around open sharing of the memory of an object, and shifting between modes of engaging with this memory. Memory can be categorized in different ways. During the Performative Topologies sequence, use of semantic (fact focused) memory shifts into declarative (event focused), procedural (rule focused) and episodic (experience focused) forms of remembering. Different ways of knowing come into play, prompted through precisely worded questions. Narrative, conceptual and embodied presence is invited. Depending on the time allotted, conversations may be swift or probe an experience more deeply. Participants may assist each other with shifts between modes or just dive in.
The last step of the sequence consists of jointly performing iterations of a personal movement sequence that emerges from the process. This is when ‘art happens’ visibly, as a polyrhythmic, emergent choreography. A diagram is taking place. We tried to capture this perception of ‘art happening’ by recording the activity from the inside, using a 360 degree camera, and digitally modifying the footage to amplify the perception of the activity as diagrammatic, using custom software. This in turn led to live VJ’ing some interactions.
The process was developed in two sites. First, in the summer of 2018 in my Chicago studio, in collaboration with Vero D. Orozco, who also facilitated our meetings, Joseph Lefthand, Caroline Kawen Ng, Ed Diaz Trujillo, Giannella Tavano and others. We developed the sequence step by step, with no goal in mind, feeling our way through what seemed ‘right’. We spoke about what we did as looking for a game, ourselves as game figures, and the studio as the game board.
This work was taken to the Bauhaus University Weimar in the fall, where further development was facilitated through a seminar, part of the Bauhaus 100 program. Iterating the sequence often, we tried to work out the process, trying to understand what made it enjoyable and effective by describing it carefully, drawing our perceptions, and also by discussing related artworks and theory. Artists we looked at were Shaun Leonardo and Cecilia Vicuña. Key text references were Krämer’s diagrammatology, Guattari’s metamodeling, and Deleuze’s diagram as fluctuating process. Our emerging understanding of diagrams as fluctuations between states that determine personal and shared space led to collaboration with programmer Robert Woodley. Woodley has created custom software to topologically process 360 degree video. This was applied to footage that seminar members produced during and after the seminar, and during a follow-up meeting in January 2019.
Back in Chicago, after catching up and workshopping an adaptation with the original group, a very fast version of Performative Topologies was deployed at the Hyde Park Art Center Gala, Chicago, in November 2018, facilitated by Vero D. Orozco, Joseph Lefthand, Caroline Kawen Ng and Giannella Tavano, with media support by Gabriel Chalfin-Piney. Robert Woodley VJ’d the event, modifying live-streamed, projected 360 degree video footage on the spot, creating a crucial visual cue. Many guests participated. Feedback was that in the middle of the party mood, something meaningful had transpired.
In January 2019, Performative Topologies was offered as a workshop at the Annual Conference of the Fachverband Kulturmanagement, an association of educators of cultural management, sociology of art, and cultural economics, in Vienna. This workshop was facilitated with Sarah Hermanutz, who was part of the Weimar course, and Hanne Pilgrim, artist and professor of rhythm at the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna. There was ample time for the discursive elements of the prompt sequence, and among this group, a little less, but not too little of an appetite for movement. This allowed for the measured emergence of smaller or larger modeling patterns participants brought to their memories as they moved them through the different modes.
We had determined in Weimar that part of the role of the facilitator is to create an environment in which these models show themselves to their users free from judgment, particularly free from self censorship. In the context of the conference, I wanted to explore Performative Topologies as an art of emigration, a way to perceive own idiosyncrasies as grown in context and therefore malleable. This is a big step, but translated to cultural management, I see potential in working with individuals to directly focus onto regional, communal force fields that are often shrouded in the mystery of ‘we have always done it like that’, and which give rise to institutions that further codify the same.
In March/April 2019, a Performative Topologies Workshop was offered multiple times in Berlin, as part of the group exhibition “Membrane'” at Kunstverein Tiergarten Galerie Nord, organized by artist and professor of Media Environments at the Bauhaus University Weimar, Ursula Damm. The premise of the exhibition was to showcase work that explicitly reflected on interfaces as engines, or reality processors: neural networks, VR, and also diagrammatics. The Performative Diagrammatics Laboratory was set up to facilitate workshops, a dedicated space in the gallery.
It is always a curatorial challenge to integrate exhibition into a workshop environment, particularly when the objects present have not only different functions, but also different functions at different times. What is an object for use, what an artwork, what a trace of an event? My preference is to have an on-site facilitator, but as in a performance exhibition, this is expensive to staff.
In addition to four whiteboards, we decided to show documentation of Braid workshops on a stationary monitor, with headphones. Four silent videos of Performative Topologies performances in Weimar and Chicago, digitally manipulated by Robert Woodley, were included on mobile monitors that could be faced inward and outward, hinting at their dual function as facilitation support and art works. An associated sound track created by Weimar seminar participant Sandra Anhalt was looped and played permanently, keeping the Performative Topologies performers’ shuffling steps in the space, even in the absence of events.
Performative Topologies Workshops were advertised to general audiences and variously facilitated by myself, Joseph Lefthand, Vero D. Orozco, Caroline Kawen Ng (Chicago studio volunteers), and Sarah Hermanutz, Maud Canisius, and Ruo-Jin Yen (Weimar seminar participants). Passerby also walked in. In a similar situation in the future, I would want to find resources to also work with local and community groups.
The initial workshop was live VJ’d by Robert Woodley. Footage from that workshop was then assembled and projected in the space for the duration of the exhibition. The following video shows excerpts from that file and from the digitally manipulated Chicago and Weimar material.
Performance artists and choreographers frequently devise and work with games to generate material. The goal for Performative Topologies is not to generate performances, though, but to directly facilitate participant experiences – as art. Because of that, a second interest is to train facilitators, to keep this ephemeral process active. Still, the video material resulting from collaborator/facilitator performances has an aesthetic life of its own once digitally manipulated. What it adds is an exploration of diagrammatic space through video. Diagrammatic space is different from absolute space, which contains figures. It is inverted. In diagrammatic space, figures generate ground. Because of that, space presents as topological. It stretches and squeezes. This promotes systemic, ecological thinking: thinking as part of force fields.
I am very interested in continuing to play through this material with different groups of users. The twin premises are: all are welcome and all co-perform polyrhythmically.