Miguel Ángel Rego Robles: "When contemporary art finds opportunities, how to include those opportunities into society?"

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Excerpt from Miguel's 20 minute presentation for Speaking Without Thumbs - DAI's 3 day performance lectures marathon, July 2016

Post-Contingent Coherence


Miguel began with a talk to help contextualize his recent video work. He started by describing few works by other artists that preceeded his 2016 video. In a 2009 project by Harun Farocki called “Serious Games III: Immersion”, he looked at how some video game systems have been developed as a way of helping soldiers recover from post traumatic stress disorder by activating a new first-person reality. For the artist, this phenomenological self-model could be categorized under the term ‘mineness’. Miguel characterized the models he is thinking through using the three categories which composes the Metzingerian notion of the phenomenal self-model’: ownership/’mineness’; location/perspective, which deals with out-of-body experiences; and agency/selfhood. Some examples of artists and theorist who have thoroughly explored these concepts include Thomas Metzinger, Wilfrid Sellars and artist Melanie Gilligan. Throughout his talk, Miguel emphasized that “we are both scientific and social beings.”

Miguel then presented his work, a meticulously edited video featuring various shots of the body of a pianist (pristine in all white, playing Chopin on a transparent piano). Breaking the even tempo of the music, an occasional jarring rhythm or wrong chord would disrupt the flow, suggesting a loss of bodily control and agency. This essential aspect of the video, experienced primarily through sound, provokes the viewer to look for the origin of this disruption. Furthermore, it touches on models of self that the artist is working through.

Ekaterina Degot was interested in some of the terms that came up in the lecture such as ‘mineness’ and ‘selfhood’. She remarked that she found the video in itself quite satisfactory but she was absolutely unable to judge the relation between the video and the introduction the artist gave. For her it wasn’t clear what the introduction was meant to illustrate.

Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung began by cautioning artists not to over-theoretize because, “at the end of the day it is about the artworks.” For Bonaventure, the second part of the presentation “saved” Miguel’s talk. “Looking at the second part I had to think of Anri Sala (at the Venice French pavilion), “Ravel Ravel Unravel”. The piece was written for the left hand – but was there any possibility of doing it with the right hand?” He is interested in the lapses that occur when someone cannot use part of their body or have an impaired sense, and they then learn how to compensate. On the other hand, he asks, even if the right hand could play the piece, he asks could we see what happens through composition? How or where could we see that?” For Bonaventure, this video made him think about out of body experiences and the rave scene: “What happens? You are in search of the ecstatic. This is that transcendental moment. [There is a] possibility of getting out of oneself and looking at oneself. Music is one of the few things that could push you into that moment.”

Rachel O’Reilly followed up on Bonaventure’s point related to cultures of compensation, and questioned the inherently masculine autonomy framing of ‘the subject’ of the research question (or perhaps ‘the subject of neuroscience’) in the early video material Miguel presented. She noted that the technology used in the Farocki video works does not only function on wartime neuronal injury. The greatest undiagnosed sufferers of PTSD (and neuronal damage from this) in America are victims of sexual abuse and sexual violence, who do not get anywhere near the treatment or attention (including in the history of neuroscience) as do the state’s soldiers. This radically reframes the objectivism and ‘accidental’ eventfulness of neuronal dysfunction and gives PTSD a politic and realism that stands quite outside of the split of ‘function’ vs ‘dysfunction’ (this being what Bonaventure meant in the phrase ‘cultures of compensation’. In other words, if most people aren’t accessing expensive treatment for PTSD reserved only for veterans, people ‘live on’ through non-normative styles of coping etc). Farocki’s work in this way highlights problems at the level of knowledge production with a “politics of experience that is engendered by what counts as violence”. She encouraged Miguel not to “clean up too much the social field of what you are theorizing.”

Bassam el Baroni observed that Miguel had attempted to compress a long thesis (which was already very dense) into a twenty-minute lecture performance. He found it well thought out but he would have done better to have just focused on one part instead of trying to give a panoramic view. El Baroni found Bonaventure’s references interesting but thinks that the theory still needs to work. He encouraged Miguel’s exploration of theory by saying, “It’s not just theory for theory’s sake and it will get better and better.”

About: Speaking Without Thumbs

About: Miguel Ángel Rego Robles