Ben Burtenshaw (DAI, 2015): "Is it possible for artists to work in the realm of should be’s and ought to be’s without risking the transposal of some kind of agenda, motive or project?"

17.12.15 | tag: Arnhem

Excerpt from Ben's 20 minute presentation for Do The Right Thing ! ~ DAI's 3 day graduation lectures marathon, July 2015.

Running on Cruise Control 

Summary

In a choreographed performance, Burtenshaw invited the audience to stand in the center of a quadraphonic sound installation. Loud, industrial sounds – jarring but with a rhythmic beat (“The Garden Thrives” by Jam City) – signaled the start of the performance. Without any direction from the artist, who had removed himself from the picture, the crowd self-organized into a cluster. The sound recordings – static, low-fi, glitchy – featured a beat fading in and out, as the audience waited for something to happen. A voice (the only voice, and not clearly human nor synthetic) from a “smart wear” advanced sports technology device told the audience, “You’re almost at your goal, keep it up.” A subtle choreography shifted the viewers’ attention to an actor/poet dressed in black athletic clothes, delivering a speech while jogging in place.

Burtenshaw’s presentation sought to address the promise of post-human futures and the notion of the horizon in philosophy. The analogy of the runner’s high – pushing towards blankness in an exploration of the body and the process of endurance – worked as a way of linking consumer capitalism to the figure running in place. This state of mind where “the world around doesn't exist” is comparable to the situation of advanced capitalism, of being in an isolated state (running) and told to keep going. “Smart wear” technology uses audio messages to motivate the user with factual and motivational prompts, and for Burtenshaw, this prompted the question: “What does it do to the mind?” He proposes that such “technology becomes a form of Prometheanism,” and that “consumer capitalism is a Promethean project.”

In response to Burtenshaw’s presentation, Maria Hlavajova observed how the natural formation of the audience into a collectivity caused her to think that the possibility of “What if?” began to be organized there, in that moment.

Alena Alexandrova commented that we are now we witnessing a contemporary condition of ought-to-be’s, seen in “affective experience, labor and thinking.” Alexandrova asks: How do you deal with/notice/take this moment of rupture or breakdown in a state of constant acceleration?

Bassam el Baroni wondered, “is there a fear of art being connected to the should be and ought to be?” He likened propaganda to leftist projects, and in turn a form of communism. He mentioned how Burtenshaw’s project, by linking propaganda to totalitarianism, suggested that capitalism could be our communism. That idea has a stronghold on us in many ways, el Baroni says, because of “our fear of falling in the hold of propaganda. One of the things we are all trained to do is NOT to produce propaganda.”

 

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