On ‘Exhaustion and Exuberance’

September 14, 2011

Verwoert’s article discusses the theoretical possibility (if not inevitability) of a state of society beyond ‘exhaustion’. In today’s post-industrial, hyper-consumerist state of socity, work is no longer the common expectation, but rather what Verwoert terms as ‘performance’. “When we perform, we generate communication and thereby build forms of communality”, he writes. But our frenzied state of consumerism has led us to become victims of overperformance,  – or, rather, an expectation of performance – that we feel restrained by, if not exhausted from. Artistic practice, he argues, demonstrates a theoretical alternative to this which may help us identify ways in which we can collectively escape such constraints.

The author identifies two key alternatives: the first through the anti-performance, and the second in what I would label as the ‘alter-performance’. The anti-performance (perhaps somewhat obviously) alludes to a state of non-action and resistance. The work of Slovakian artist Július Koller epitomises this position, with a broad portfolio of works that celebrate the anti-spectacle. In one exhibition, Koller installs a ping-pong table in a gallery, while in a photographic piece a male figure is depicted painting lines on a grass tennis court. I am also reminded of the work of Diller Scofidio + Renfro, particularly their ‘Blur’ pavilion design (in which the use of water vapour determines architectural spatiality) in addition to the (so-called) “subjective” architecture of Kengo Kuma.

The alter-performance, on the other hand, demonstrates a way in which the subject transfers their energy into alternative modes of expression. The central, nomadic figure in Pasolini’s film Theorama (1968) illuminates this point. Having slept with all of the members of a household (the non-prescribed alter performance), the man ultimately transforms the lives of his once-lovers for (moreorless) the better.

To summarise, these non-performances and alter-performances can be viewed as affective acts that produce “empty moments” in time in which we attain a heightened consciousness of societal impositions. We become conscious of our own exhaustion; this state of being thus forming a collective experience which Verwoert argues could form “the point of departure for the formation of a particular (new) form of solidarity”.

My interpretation of this is that if we are to move beyond the cynical state of postmodern thinking, we must embrace societal exhaustion in order to generate a new sense of collective optimism. Referencing Nietzsche, Verwoert states:

To realise a fundamental critique of bad faith means to move beyond cynicism and embrace a radical optimism that exceeds the petty dialectic of expectation and disappointment

Diller Scofidio Renfro’s ‘Blur’ architecture, Koeller’s anti-spectacular tennis court photography and Pasolini’s cinematography may not truly answer this proposition, but at least we know there is still a sense of hope for society.

Danny Brookes

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: