Gestures of Proximity/ Alienation/ Violence/ Art
As a theatre practitioner who has long been obsessed with the role of performance—especially the use of community based theatre workshops– in times/places of war, my thinking about performance and gestures in the context of violence occurs on multiple levels. From considering the use of gestures in training exercises with some inspiration from the mudras of Sanskrit Drama; to thinking about the performance itself as the gesture i.e., the shows that I create with colleagues in conflict zones as gestures of/toward ‘something’; to focusing on the processes of performance workshops as the gesture i.e., the act of facilitating theatre workshops in times/places of war as gestures of/toward ‘something’. What is this ‘something’ that I want my work to gesture toward? Do I want to collaborate on performances that become gestures of hope| disillusionment| doubt| certainty| passion| banality| or another ‘something’? Do I want to design workshops that gesture toward collaborations| agendas| learning| teaching| alternatives| regurgitation | or another ‘something’?
Performance work in times/places of war usually involves working with ‘civilian’ populations – NGOs, community based organizations, schools, and on the rare occasion, repatriates from the armed forces and ‘terrorist’ groups. This concentrated use of performance only with those who fall within the context of ‘civil’ society is simultaneously a gesture of proximity and a gesture of alienation: performance based work with ‘civil society’ symbolizing a proximity between artistic processes and disarmament; the lack of this work with armed groups then symbolizing an alienation between artistic processes and those who wield weapons. This proximity-alienation dialectic might be attributed to a number of factors, not least of all, the practical concerns of safety when working with ‘terrorist’ groups, and those of bureaucracy and red tape when partnering with governments’ armed forces.
More than these practical concerns however, what interests me is the implicit/explicit ideological chasm in the relationship between those who use gestures of violence and those who use gestures of art. I have seen this chasm manifest itself in a couple of ways: artists often being bracketed off as left-leaning hippies who are likely to propagandize disarmament, which makes armed groups wary of including artistic processes within their workings; artistic gestures being a way of propagandizing the ideologies of those who wield arms, like the Mexican ‘gruperos’, thus alienating ‘civilian’ populations. The use of art with/for armed groups, then, seems to be consumed by gestures of/gestures toward propaganda; be it propaganda for peace or propaganda for violence.
What would it mean to challenge what these performance processes/productions gesture toward, in relation to armed groups? What do community based theatre workshops with militarized groups become gestures of? Is the inclusion of these weapon wielding individuals/groups within the ‘performance studies’ discourse a gesture of/toward ‘something’?
I hope to explore some of these ideas in posts to follow…