12-Hour Non-State Parade, Cooper Gallery’s marathon symposium, was presented in parallel to The Pleasure of Expense, a major solo exhibition by award-winning Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic which explores the implication of culture within nationalist ideology (see MAP review by Ken Neil below). The event presented a coalescing of newly commissioned voices in the act of steering art world debates around the status of democracy and alternatives to the contemporary state at a time when Scotland celebrates its welcoming nature against a tide of increasing conservatism.
The 12-hour timescale postponed the incoming hangover by prolonging the party (or vice versa, depending on your political pessimism). The symposium—etymologically a collective drinking process—was surgically curated, perfectly executed, homely and inclusive.
Among the contributions, highlights included Glasgow-based human rights activist Pinar Aksu’s interactive workshop (based on Theatre of the Oppressed methodology), during which the audience imagined and acted out stop motions based on the community dynamics of associating with excluded others. Exceptionally moving was the performance from The Joyous Choir, an all-female group largely comprised of migrant women, some of whom have fled war, married through human trafficking, are homeless, or have been denied the right to work in the UK. Claire Heuchan’s speech captured eloquently the ambivalences of growing up in Scotland as a black woman, the ‘colour-blindness’ that forecloses race discourse, the obscurity of Scottish imperialism and its implications in the slave trade.
Each parading contribution was introduced and punctuated by Gordon Douglas’ percussion drums and cymbals (Lovely Hallways, 2019) and each session operatically announced by Scottish soprano Rosie MacDonald. Silently projected throughout the event were Frank Ruda’s annotated excerpts from Alain Badiou’s writing:
Then comes the conviction that the existence of a separate coercive state isn’t necessary. This is the thesis, common to anarchists and communists, of the withering of the state. There have been societies without state, and it is rational to postulate that there can be others. But above all, one can organise popular political action without being submitted to the idea of power, of representation in the state, elections, etc. (Alain Badiou, The Courage of the Present, 2010)
Moments in the Parade challenged this soothing ‘conviction’ or revealed the obstacles faced in practice. ‘Is the state inherently violent?’, asked the Parade’s Navigator Angela Dimitrakaki, or perhaps, why does the idea of power persist, even in imagined or named non-coercive states that welcome their own withering?
Keynote speaker and co-founder of the Pirate Party in Iceland (she became its first MP in 2013, retiring from politics in 2017 'for now'), Birgitta Jónsdóttir warned of the impossibly complex bureaucracy of invisible law makers in parliament. Somehow both comforting and disheartening to hear, we learned of her resentment of the ministerial power she once possessed. Following an audience observation that even legal professionals cannot or will not interpret the law politically, Jónsdóttir responded by calling for a citizen's ‘assemblyism’ that distributes widely the responsibility and language of law-making. Yet, despite searing referenda and elections, the present state in the UK portrays a suspended quality of parading stasis similar to the illusory movement of wave particles intimated by William Raban in his film Time and the Wave (2013).
Represented too were the necessary roles of aesthetic and art-institutional strategies, both relevant to channelling fear and frustration through action by nascent non-states. In her Non-State presentation Jasmina Cibic suggested navigating art-institutional funding as ethically as possible and creating artistic work that indexes complex realities without dumbing them down. Critic and curator Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt (who could not attend the Dundee event due to the active National Election campaign) contributed an inspiring video presentation that elucidated paradigmatic aspects in the cultural policy of twentieth-century Cuba.
An overall highlight in upholding (art-)institutional care was Shona Macnaughton’s new performance Aquatic Needs. Many, including myself, realised only retrospectively that they were watching a performance as Macnaughton addressed the keynote panel with ‘I can’t think of a question. […] My chest is pounding. I want to speak but there’s a gap between how intelligent I think I am and how intelligent I sound. Can you help me? Can you look after me?’ The focus then shifted to the audience as Macnaughton spoke with assertiveness through a megaphone, instructing willing attendants out of the room and, later, outside. As Macnaughton announced, ‘Talent and genius are uniformly distributed. Opportunity is not. This means that you will have trouble controlling yourselves’, the performance culminated with the artist wetting herself, an act visible to us all and illuminated by a handheld torchlight. A discernible critical layer becomes apparent as the performance circled back to its initial frailty.
Particularly exciting were the commissioned literary items populating the event courtesy the MLitt Art Writing programme at The Glasgow School of Art. Adrien Howard presented a scripted video that comically touched on the fear of preparing and proposing original creative work in similar vein to Macnaughton.
As the struggle against authoritarianism seems evermore hopeless, we must focus on reducing hierarchy and exclusion. Despite including keynote names, which inevitably adds a layer of hierarchy to proceedings, the Parade gravitated towards tuning into anxieties in current art-making and art-institutional conduct, most compellingly when pinpointing the struggle for confidence and authority in one’s own work amidst a precarious and hyper-competitive art world.
Angeliki Roussou is an academic and writer based in Edinburgh.
12-Hour Non-State Parade, International Symposium. Saturday 30 November 2019, 11am–11pm. Cooper Gallery, DJCAD, University of Dundee. All images here by Sally Jubb, courtesy Cooper Gallery, DJCAD.
Cooper Gallery also hosted 12-Hour Action Group on 5 December 2016 and 12-Hour Jamming on 25 July 2014