Visitor Account by Evelyn Wan of Propositions on the Subject, De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam, 8 April 2016

      Keti Chukhrov and Nataša Ilić/WHW, Alicia Frankovich, Xavier Le Roy
    2. The following is a visitor account on Propositions of the Subject, a day curated by If I Can’t Dance for the Gerrit Rietveld Academie’s annual Studium Generale Conference-Festival, which this year took the thematic Bots, Bodies, Beasts: the Art of Being Humble as its field on enquiry. The day was hosted at De Brakke Grond, Amsterdam on Friday 8 April 2016 from 12.30–7pm.

    3. A long queue, small conversations, faces in anticipation. Little machines beeped as they registered the attendance of participants. Bodies streamed into the Expozaal in De Brakke Grond, ready for a full day of artistic and theoretical encounters at the Conference-Festival Bots, Bodies, Beasts: The Art of Being Humble. If I Can’t Dance curated the programme under the sub-theme ‘Propositions on the Subject’.

      Blue shirt, orange sneakers. A chair and a pillow. Xavier Le Roy stood behind a lectern, and performed Product of Circumstances (1999), an autobiographical lecture-performance that traced his research into the body from the discipline of biology to the practice of dance. Is zooming into a cell to understand the body too localised and abstract? Has the science of biology turned the body into a myth? Do plies and ports-de-bras and arabesques demonstrate a better understanding of corporeality? What does a dance class a day teach one about what the body can do? Le Roy criss-crossed lines of inquiry in science and dance, and shifted through subject positions of the PhD biologist, the hired body of a dancer, the masterful choreographer inventing his own movement vocabulary, and the artist who resists the structures of neoliberalism. His thin frame moved across the stage, re-enacting moments from his repertoire. He defamiliarised the ‘normal’ configuration of the body, undoing the order of where limbs should be, or how one could move otherwise.

      Le Roy may not have a conventional dancer’s body, but he sure generates a unique movement vocabulary and investigates bodily compositions with scientific precision. The body is always in the making; it holds a myriad of potentialities waiting to be activated. The question of the body and its representation gained extra layers of meaning as the live image of Le Roy multiplied across phone screens of different sizes during the performance. Little finger dances unfolded in the audience, updating Instagram feeds and Facebook statuses. Images of Le Roy’s body are now geotagged and hashtagged—what collective movement vocabulary are we creating there, through finger gestures and our digital lives?

      Tinted shades, black blazer and trousers. A philosopher opens the door to a different treasure trove of vocabulary on bodies and their posthuman constellations. Keti Chukhrov sat at her table, legs crossed, as she delivered her lecture On the New Occultism of the In- and Post- humanization. Chukhrov chartered a terrain of thought from Hegel to Marx to Deleuze and Guattari, from Haraway to Foucault, Butler to Agamben, and conjured imagery from Hamlet’s melancholia to the allegory of the cave to the legend of Faust. She challenged the audience, towing them along a journey through the halls of her mind, as she urged us to think about the implications of a post-humanist position. As we speed into an era of posthuman thought, it is paramount to revisit some foundational premises of theology and philosophy to look at what precisely is the definition of the human, and what we are leaving behind by changing our central figure from the human of Renaissance innovation to the posthuman of data and automation. Chukhrov meditated on the subject as she leafed through the pages of her paper, dispersing concepts and ideas into the air. There was a sense of urgency to the inquiry at hand. What can thought and philosophy do in an era when technology pushes us to relegate our intelligence to the algorithmic and the computational?

      The philosopher offers another entry point into her set of vocabulary through a dramatic poem she wrote, which was later staged and shot on film. Performed on a bare stage with Brechtian aesthetics, Love Machines (2013) stages the encounters of the animal, the human, and the over-human (artificial intelligence) as they look for ways of living together or spaces of emancipation. Intellectuals discuss labour and wage conditions; Lida the university student contemplates suicide; lovers cheat, make up, and break hearts. Paco and Polina the bio-robots instrumentalise desire and manipulate humans with it in cold, disturbing ways. Are the bio-technological supreme to the humans with their no-nonsense, pitiless rationality? The animal, Dawn the Cow, remains certain of love and loyalty and the undulations of ‘human’ emotions. It even laments that it cannot sing the operatic diminished 7th chord—as a cow, it is barred from that which encapsulates the epitome of human suffering. Through these characters, Chukhrov lets her words function as carriers of ideologies, values, emotions and affects, weaving together a science fiction that echoes her earlier exploration of what it means to be human and to be a contemporary political subject.

      The final performance of the day could have come with the following notice: If you have tweeted your way through the day musing on Le Roy’s robotic dance or Chukrov’s Marxist standpoints, now is the moment to drop your smartphone and tap into your senses and reserve of bodily knowledge.

      But what fun would it be if it was announced in advance?

      You could definitely smell oranges. Torches cast light in the dark of the auditorium. Eruptions of laughter came from a corner. Unknown bodies crawled up the theatre stalls. Alicia Frankovich’s work Corpus (2016) was more intervention than performance, ruffling the comfort of the audience deeply sunk in their chairs. It was a reminder of their own corporealities, overturning their subject positions from spectator to participant.

      I, too, was amongst them, thrown off the task of capturing the happenings of the festival in my notebook. The lights were out. I shifted in my seat and was passed an orange. Huh? Green and yellow hoodie ate one in the spotlight. I got hungry. The lights went out again. Performers slowly edged their way along the rows of spectators with torches. Was I just shown a map of landscapes, brain-waves or sound patterns? A hot water bottle landed on my lap. A person landed on my lap. Two people landed on my lap. The responsibility to keep a body from falling landed on my lap. I felt transported from the depths of philosophy to the materiality of the flesh in the here and now. Soft fabrics and smooth skin, tousled hair and sweat. No notations, just bodily impressions. The heaviness of a body, and the concerted efforts of strangers to carry it surprised me.

      No reflection on the position of the subject would be complete without the necessary turn to our bodily selves. I stood up and moved down to the main stage, staring back at the now-empty seats. Bags, coats, personal effects, and orange peel strewed across the rows of red theatre seats. How would I summarise this day? I reached for the smartphone in my pocket, and interfaced my Android with my thoughts.

      If I Can't Dance,
      I Don't Want to Be Part of
      Your Revolution