This blog was set up as part of a research project on activist performance. Between May 2013 and May 2014, a variety of contributors posted documentation of activist performance gestures past and present. Work on this blog and through a series of events has led to a special issue of the journal Contemporary Theatre Review Theatre, Performance and Activism: Gestures towards an Equitable World. There is also additional content available on the Contemporary Theatre Review Interventions site.
Barcelona full-back Dani Alves recently made headlines by eating a banana during his team’s league game at Villrreal’s El Madrigal stadium. While the football press is frequently guilty of giving undue exposure to the minutest of insignificant minutiae, this was not one of those occasions: the banana had been thrown in Alves’ direction by a fan in what has been unanimously accepted (and subsequently penalised) as a racist gesture. Alves’ unique deflation of this long-standing trope of sporting white suprematism has thus been read as a shot in the arm for football’s faltering anti-racist movement. With a swiftness characteristic of media flows in 2014, Alves’ response generated a visual meme – players like his teammate and Brazilian compatriat Neymar Jr., Sergio Aguero, Robert Lewandowski and Luis Suarez all published selfies in which they were depicted on the verge of tucking into a banana – as well as the Twitter hashtag “#somostodosmacacos” (we are all monkeys).
There are of course issues with this fallout. The eventual inclusion of Suarez in the selfie campaign – the Liverpool striker remains unrepentant after being found guilty of racially abusing Patrice Evra on the field of play in 2011 – highlighted for some the tokenistic nature of this show of solidarity. As Jude Wanga pointed out in a column for the Independent, the impact of attempts by players like Suarez to join in attempting to ‘reclaim’ the insult launched against Alves is minimal, since these players are socially situated on the side of the abusers, not the abused. Musa Okwonga characterised a wave of responses to the event in asking that the conditions which allowed the culprit to feel ‘comfortable enough’ to make such a public gesture be examined: the affirmatory nature of the selfie and hashtag campaigns, so the implication goes, is hardly the sharpest critical tool. Finally, it was suggested some days after the incident that the ensuing campaign had actually been premeditated by Alves along with his teammate Neymar, and carried out with the help of advertising agencies Loducca and Meio e Mensagen. As reported by Spanish sports daily AS, Alves and Neymar had resolved that if a banana were ever thrown in their direction during a game, they would make sure to be seen eating it, subsequently leveraging these images for their social media potential.
Does it matter that Alves’ response was not spontaneous, or that it was conceived with its own mimetic capabilities in mind? Straightforwardly, the event’s premeditation points with even greater clarity to the need for action on racism in Spanish football than the single, central offensive gesture ever could: it reveals the absolute assurance on the part of two men of colour that they will be racially abused in their workplace in the immediate future. Furthermore, the planned nature of the gesture does not erase its peculiar force, which is one aspect of this story that has gone relatively unremarked upon. While newspapers broadly pre-empted the banana selfie campaign by enshrining Alves’ reaction as an iconic moment in football’s ongoing anti-racist struggle, few really paused to consider the singularity of this incident: Alves did not simply renounce the slur, after all, or call out the individual who had thrown it in the manner of Australian Rules footballer Adam Goodes’ intervention in an game at the Melbourne Cricket Ground last May. He peeled and ate the banana, not only mushing it into a non-sigifying pulp but digesting it in the process. If the response of white players like Suarez, Aguero and Lewandowski erred on the side of safety, then Alves’ was a particularly and pointedly risky strategy: as many have pointed out, the Barcelona player had no way of knowing that the banana had not been poisoned, laced with razor blades or some such. Even if the chances of a stadium attendee being sufficiently motivated to commit such an extreme act seem slim, the generalised paranoia regarding stadium security can never truly allow such possibilities to be precluded.
Alves’ gesture – perhaps particularly now that we know it was premeditated – opens itself up to multiple readings besides the PR-mandated one. Marcel Duchamp provides us with an opening: the pioneer of the use of “found objects” in visual art once advised that it should be possible to conceive of ‘reciprocal readymades’ like a Rembrandt canvas used as an ironing board. This gesture would serve to prick the bubble of artistic aura in an even more directly confrontational way than Duchamp’s attempt to display an upturned urinal in a major New York art institution in 1917. To convert an object suffused with expressive and cultural significance back into a state of blunt facticity – to swap exchange value for use value, in other words – is to perform a kind of alchemy in reverse. In a similar way, the banana thrown at Dani Alves, once peeled and chewed, suddenly underwent a dramatic structural shift, metamorphosing from symbolic prop with the capacity to wound to dumb, factitious foodstuff with the capacity to nourish. Racism of course perseveres in inescapably concrete ways, but for one tiny moment its symbolic basis was held up as fragile, easily rendered hollow by an unexpected act of wilful misreading.
There is a second figure of the early 20th century whose writing ties up wilful misreading with gustatory metaphors, and he is Brazilian to boot. Oswald de Andrade’s 1928 ‘Manifesto Antropófago’ (Cannibalist Manifesto) famously argued that Brazilian culture was formed on the basis of a “cannibalising” of colonial cultures. Here Oswald drew romantically on mythologies around the supposedly man-eating indigenous tribes of the Brazilian coast, but did so in the name of avant-garde renewal. As Liladhar Ramchandra Pendse argues, Oswald’s “cannibalism” is not the same as simple ideological internalisation, since ‘during anthropophagic discourse, we see a qualitative modification of the internalized values’ – elite texts are chewed up to provide sustenance for a new, self-asserting postcolonial body. In a much-repeated excerpt, Oswald mushes Shakespeare together with the name of a native Brazilian tribe known for their anthropophagic rituals since the Bard’s own epoch of colonial expansion: ‘Tupi or not Tupi’. Dani Alves’ bananaphagy, we can argue, has more than a little in common with this line: Alves is assailed from the point of white privilege with a symbol casting him as inescapably other, and his misappropriation is just so.
This article was originally published by Everyday Analysis
Hazard 2014 – Saturday 12 July – Manchester City Centre
Deadline for proposals – Friday 16 May 2014, 6pm
A micro-festival of incidental intervention and sited performance, blurring the boundaries between art and activism… cheeky, thought-provoking and sometimes raunchy sprees of eccentricity…
For a glimpse of previous outbreaks of hazardous behaviour see here.
Hazard is seeking proposals for a daytime event (Saturday 12 July 12noon-5pm) work that:
• intervenes in public spaces in the city centre;
• is socially engaged, and/or conceptually motivated;
• is low- or no-tech and self-sufficient;
• is interactive and playful – which could mean anything from street/urban/pervasive games to playful spectacles;
• we will give bonus points for creative engagement with the idea of hazard – chance, danger, risk, and/or use of yellow+black tape!
Honorarium/expenses (£2-300 per piece) available, to be negotiated on an individual basis. For projects needing significantly more money, please contact email@example.com to talk it through first.
Deadline: Friday 16 May 2014, 6pm
For more information & to apply visit hazardmcr.org
Hazard is presented by Word of Warning, produced by hÅb + The Larks in collaboration with the participating artists, a greenroom legacy project
Please feel free to circulate information about this event …
Prefiguration in Contemporary Activism
A CIDRAL Workshop
University of Manchester, 4th December 2014
Call for Papers
Prefiguration involves experimentation with ways of enacting the principles being advocated by activist groups in the here and now. ‘Prefigurative politics’ collapses traditional distinctions between means and ends in political action, and focuses attention on the possibility of realising change in the present. As Marianne Maeckelbergh explains, ‘prefiguration holds the ends of political action to be equally important as the means, and has the intention (over time, or momentarily) to render them indistinguishable’ (Maeckelbergh 2009: 88). The concept of prefiguration stimulates a focus on the form as much as aims of activism, and creates a context for thinking about how a radically democratic political process might be reinvigorated, both in the processes of political action and the broader public sphere. Prefigurative politics allows for tactics and strategies of activism to be improvised anew in response to changing environments, supporting an open process of learning and adaption which ensures that, in each moment of action, ‘the possibility for another world exists’ (Maeckelbergh 2009: 229).
Much of the literature on prefiguration explores organisational and structural issues, such as the ways in which activist groups create in their own interactions and practices a model of the society they envision (often non-hierarchical, non-representational, respectful of diversity, and based on a logic of solidarity). We invite potential contributors to present research focusing on these issues, and we also hope to include contributions that explore how this definition of prefiguration might be extended so as to encompass textual, visual, performative and aesthetic practices that prefigure activist principles and actualise them in the present. The emergence of the global justice movement in the late 1990s signalled a ‘cultural turn’ in contemporary activism (Amoore 2005: 357). Modes of activism now commonly embrace the cultural, artistic and theatrical as a means of drawing attention to, experimenting with and projecting new modes of being in the here and now. The extension of the notion of prefiguration to include the cultural domain support a stimulating range of conversations about contemporary forms of activism that traverse disciplinary boundaries.
The workshop is aimed primarily at doctoral students. Apart from the keynote presentation, the event will feature presentations by doctoral students whose work engages with the proposed theme.
We invite proposals for paper presentations (20 minutes) inspired by this theme. Please submit your name, university department or other organisational affiliation, title of proposal and 300-word abstract to Mona Baker (firstname.lastname@example.org), Jenny Hughes (email@example.com) and Rebecca Johnson (firstname.lastname@example.org) by Monday 16th June 2014.
We are delighted to announce that the keynote speaker for this event is Marianne Maeckelbergh (Institute of Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Leiden University, Netherlands, and co-founder of Global Uprisings, see http://www.globaluprisings.org
The workshop is followed (on 5th December) by a half-day masterclass for PhD students, led by the keynote presenter (unfortunately – due to restrictions on space – the masterclass is open to PhD students based at the University of Manchester only).
This event is hosted by Citizen Media Manchester (http://citizenmediamanchester.wordpress.com/)
The Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Arts and Languages (http://www.alc.manchester.ac.uk/cidral/).
I grew up collecting newspaper articles on viruses, specifically, HIV and the influenza virus. I have no idea how or why this started. But soon I had many images of viruses, and the articles talking about them, filed away in a red box, separated by index cards. I probably have it somewhere, stored amongst old photographs, letters, music certificates and lego bricks. It wasn’t the text that interested me but the images – like this one above – HIV virus attacking an immune cell.
I had this dream that somehow, collecting these viruses and looking at them from time to time, would take my mind somewhere.
It is no surprise then, that i ended up a scientist, in a lab, looking at cells and taking photographs of them down a microscope. When you work in a lab, you often do timelapse experiments, at hourly intervals 0h, 3h, 8h, 16h, 24h and so on, which also means you have to repeat these experiments over and over, to see the story the experiments tell you over time – at each time point, is the same reading recorded?
Being tied to time in this way, means you have weird hours, you are taken out of the 9 to 5 of everyday life. This, is something, now i think back to being a kid, is very ‘me’. One christmas, the whole family was given a ZX81 Computer by our next door neighbour, a teacher. It plugged into a black and white tv. This gift opened up a whole new world for our family. We could now watch TV in a room other than the living room (and watch anything we wanted!?) and at night time, when everyone else was asleep i could plug the TV into the computer and play computer games. The ZX81 was pretty limited in terms of the kind of games it could play (i yearned for a ZXspectrum and a commodore 64) and in the end what was more fun, was programming the computer to play games.
As time went on, it needed more memory, to be able to do what i wanted it to do, and eventually, i don’t know how, it became infected with some kind of virus. It meant that you could only get so far, programming, working something out and then … crash the virus would take over the screen… This was before the time of anti-virus programmes and that kind of thing.
Inbetween my timelapse experiments, i would go to the cinema and watch movies at the cornerhouse cinema. I remember coming out from watching pictures glowing in the dark, to returning to darkness and going into an empty building to harness cells, to stain them and make them visible and taking photos. And then counting the living and the dead cells and recording that in a lab book.
My other hobby, was photography – again, taking pictures, going into a dark room, doing some kind of alchemy to make an image reveal itself – the invisible becomes visible.
I am wondering about the gesture in this – science aside – and where it leads a person – working in the dark, obsessed with the pattern of what happens, not the feeling of what happened or the people in between.
And now i am facilitating citizen science (see related links to similar projects run by others – i am not alone!), where the public not only shape scientific thinking, collect and create meaning from data, but come with their own questions, own experiments, and perspectives. I wonder about the gesture of this. Could it be transformative? What do ordinary folk, non-scientists, bring to science that the scientist might not? What does the scientist glean from this? How are we shaped by this? And of course, i am looking for patterns in the gesture, the dance, the rhythm, the language that develops, and maybe some kind of revelation that a ‘people’ virus, infiltrating scientific thinking and practice, might bring… something i hope scientists won’t try to develop immunity to.
- Extreme Citizen Science: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites/
- Citizen Cybersummit: http://cybersciencesummit.org/
- Catalyst tools for change: http://www.catalystproject.org.uk/
- Reconnecting science to society: http://www.demos.co.uk/files/Citizen_Scientists_-_web.pdf
- The value of citizen science: http://blogs.plos.org/citizensci/2013/11/20/the-value-of-citizen-science/
- Mythbusting citizen science round up: http://www.southernfriedscience.com/?p=16209
- The flipped academic: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2012/dec/11/flipped-academic-research-community-engagement