Floris Visser: "Do we really want to be free?"
Floris' 20 minute presentation for CONSTANT CRAVING ~ PERFORMING UNDER CONDITIONS - DAI's 3 day performance - lecture marathon in Athens, June 2018, was entitled
Take care in beholding the self
It was on the shoulders of Floris Visser to take on the task of opening the Graduation Acts of the Dutch Art Institute as the first presenter. Starting on the first morning of these Acts, the audience took to their seats in an already quite sizzling State of Concept in Athens, unfolding within the confines of DAI alumna’s Yota Ioannidou’s installation A Case Of Perpetual No, in this room consisting of eleven lecterns and a court stand.
Floris fittingly opened the DAI Graduation Acts 2018 with some thoughts on learning and the process of graduating. Floris delivers his personal thoughts soberly when he states: ‘graduation is discharge, we have reached the top of the climb so to speak and the view is a panorama of other mountains to come’. And shortly after he introduces this cliche, we hear a sound recording of a voice, unattached in pronunciation, which presents an analytical narrative on motivational speakers and the attitude of optimism they sell. “A world unfair? Motivation will uncloud your personal horizon of possibility”. The relation between Floris’ inquiry into the ritual of learning and what is called motivationalism enfolds in the next sound recording. We hear that the implicit ethos of motivationalism is “to see opportunities and to recalibrate oneself to whatever new state of urgency is invoked by our unpredictable 21st century life world. Such is now the definition of success.” Such is the language used on university websites worldwide.
As Floris continues his verbal presentation, he moves into the terrain of art and art education, which in another way promotes the narrative of the self, most notable in its strategy of success geared towards producing a single work of art. And even though the process of art making is “messy” or conjectural and carried by many shoulders, those shoulders become mere footnotes when arrived at the solo exhibition. In this process of representation, complexity seems to become a set of gestures that lack agency.
But perhaps it is too easy to critique motivationalism as another abhorrent feat of neoliberal capitalist systems. And even though Floris doesn’t necessarily come to an answer to the question he asks us, he proposes midway a different navigation, a refocus on agency; how to manage complexity without simply curating it into artistic representation? As the sound recording states, perhaps motivationalism can be something to work with, “a new public power concerned with the question of plurality”.
Floris leaves the audience, many of them his fellow graduates, with the following statement: “… a school without a building can’t escape the stronghold of collectivity. What a word to use, right, collectivity? Bashed, damaged, worn-out, but for a lack of a more accurate term, yes it is with a feeling of collectivity that I leave the DAI. A collectivity that might not cross our pathways ever again in similar scale. Graduation. In the light of an ending, cliches become meaningful, and out of the few sparse moments that a cliche actualize itself, this is one of them. And the guilty pleasure is all mine”.
Maria Lind opened by commenting that she was intrigued by Floris’ decision to present; noting that there was a creative tension between something that is prepared and something that looks everyday and casual. The interest in motivationalism in his presentation reminded her of the artistic practice of Carey Young, who was one of the first artists to take on communication skills and negotiation skills in her artistic practice. It also reminded her of Hardt and Negri’s book Assembly, in which the authors claim that entrepreneuralism has been appropriated by neoliberalism from self organised grassroots culture. Questioning if motivationalism can be taken from its grip and can it be used as a positive force somehow, is an interesting question and she proposes to look for answers in the personal and practical: how is it used by friends, family of fellow students, as a self imposed mechanism for improvement?
Rachel O’Reilly started by commending Floris for the smoothness of the presentation in terms of the line of questioning and thinking. From the transition from the neoliberal self to the ontology of contemporary art, to questions about agency and meaning and forces of personal development and then moving towards the question of how to reconsider production, which she assumed to also mean the production of the self? In this line of questioning, she proposed to give more attention to the means of the production of the self, referencing Michel Feher’s article on self appreciation and neoliberalism and Christian Marazzi’s work on the heigthened role of language and speech acts in finance economy. In questioning the relation between the genre of Floris’ presentation, and the critique he is giving, she was reminded of the tradition of the valedictorian speech in the US academy, which could serve as an interesting example of technique and affective politics to deepen the thoughts Floris was presenting.
Bassam El Baroni
Bassam El Baroni pointed out that format of the presentation was not only brave, but it also presented an productive balance between the two voices; Floris’ own voice and the critical voice of the sound recording, which weren’t the opposite but rather presented a complexity. In this way, the presentation format wasn’t delivering a caricature of the motivational speaker, but made it more of a multi-dimensional approach to motivationalism.