Tara Fatehi Irani, Mishandled Archive, day 359, ‘Madonna of the Rocks’, 2017
In Autumn 2020, LADA published Mishandled Archive, an "endlessly reflexive record of a year long performance ... [speaking to] diasporic experience, displacement and new modes of what might be called belonging" (Tim Etchells). Marking the publication of Mishandled Archive, Unbound has invited Tara to be our guest editor for January 2021.
[with closed eyes]
We say, ‘What the hell is going to happen?’, ‘What the hell are we to do?’.
They say, …
Tara has offered this text, guiding the reader on a fal through Unbound, turning to some of our titles to ask for guidance, direction and a remedy for uncertainty. These titles will be on sale until mid-February.
It’s now early 2021. I’m sitting in a bubble floating in the sky and at any moment my bubble might hit a building or a bird or a needle ... and explode … and I’ll fall buttdown on a pavement or in a forest but most probably a pavement. So much ‘Don’t know what’ll happen’, so much ‘What are we to do?’ in the air these days.
Iranians have a remedy for times of uncertainty, for when they don’t know what they should do, when they have a dilemma or when they’re about to start a new thing – like a new year – and they need transcendental guidance. They take fal-e Hafez. If I were to translate fal-e Hafez, it would be something like ‘Hafez Fortune Telling’ but this is not at all a good translation. So let me unpack this briefly: Hafez is the most popular Iranian poet amongst Iranians – he lived in the 14th century and wrote many ghazals which are poems on love, separation, reunion and the pain of it all. His major book is a collection of ghazals known as Divan-e Hafez. This book is in every Iranian’s home – when I recently told my family that I don’t have a Hafez at home, they were shocked, disappointed and almost offended. Anyway, to take a fal-e Hafez you would:
hold the Divan [the book, not the bed], its spine held by both your hands and the pages facing you. Set an intention in your mind – this is normally a question you want answered – and ask Hafez to guide you on what to do – for this stage you might even close your eyes. Then gently rub your fingers on the pages of the top edge trying to get a feel for which page has the answer to your problem. Slowly slide your fingers amongst the pages and open the book. First poem on the right-hand page is your fal. Read it and interpret it. The meaning is not always immediately evident. The interpretation, however subjective, becomes an art in itself.
When there was no pandemic and I could go to LADA, go to the Study Room or look at Unbound books in person, I would usually take a fal: randomly run my fingers through the shelves, get out a book and randomly open that to a page and spend some time with it. O’ touching random books with unsanitised hands.
But a good guest editor should not suggest a random list of books, should she? The books I’m listing here are carefully chosen – not by fal – along the intentionally ambiguous line of ‘Publications we need to see more of’. I’ve then taken a fal from each of them. Don’t you worry, I’ve set a joint intention on behalf of us all. I’ve asked the authors and editors of these wondrous books to tell me ‘What the hell is going to happen?’ and ‘What the hell are we to do?’. I’ve then ran my fingers along their pages to find our fal – alternatively where I didn’t have the book, I’ve asked friends to take the fal on my behalf. Here, I’ve extracted what I feel is the heart of the authors’ response – I will leave the interpretation to you.
[with closed eyes]
We say, ‘What the hell is going to happen?’, ‘What the hell are we to do?’.
They say, …
#dance: My fingers move gently in the air with the sound of the water. Perhaps similar to playing a soft harp. I raise my arms as I move the fingers: left goes further away from my body and to the left. Right is further out to the right. A bit like putting a spell on the waterfall statue… #IPutASpellOnYou #siteresponsive’ (p. 82)
* I’ve been invited to be Unbound guest editor on the occasion of the publication of this book. Call it cheeky or not, it’s kicking off the list. Mishandled Archive is made with the hope that it will move its readers – emotionally, conceptually and physically – in their bedroom, their house, or down the street. With 365 dance scores, there’s bound to be one that moves you. Ehem … there goes my plug.
‘Irigaray: “The community will be composed of relations-between,
and not of one + one + one.”
Wait-with an act of political love,
Wait-with an action,
Wait-with a meditation,
Wait-with open space between actions,
Wait-with a space of resistance,
in this room,
in this moment …’ (p. 74)
[From Faith Wilding, Wait-With, Unpublished manuscript found in Bettina Knaup’s Telling Stories Differently]
* Read this book in conjunction with the incredibly rich re.act feminism website.
‘Faces made for mouthwash commercials,
each around for long enough to sing,
“It’s black! It’s white!”
before morphing into other faces
made for shampoo commercials.
Nobody saw Michael Jackson morph
into any of these faces
but it seems possible.’ (p. 34)
[from David Rule, Be Michael Jackson]
‘Time clock to be punched 8,760 times for a period of one year…
April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, December, January …’ (p.107)
‘It is a lot for one body to bear this kind of burden, but in performance the burden is shared out amongst the many ...
(a brown woman) reaches to attain (and fails spectacularly to realize) the impossible, self-negating ideal of whiteness ...
She slowly rolls her body off the platform and into the audience.’ (p. xix)
[On Nao Bustamante’s performance, America the Beautiful]
‘Changing name is negotiating history, family, inheritance, but I’ve mostly thought of the spaces it opens up. I’m forty one years old and instead of consolidating my narrative I’ve dropped the thread. I’ve taken pleasure in not knowing how to introduce myself, stuttering between names. Pleasure in the moment of recognition when someone says this new name and I get to reply.’ (p. 101)
[From Every Ocean Hughes, Ocean]
‘Asian/Russian (male or female) bride in search of tender Anglo husband. “Write your phone number on my body and persuade me you are the one”
“Authentic African queen” sitting on a throne while white men from the audience kneel and shine her boots or “tenderly wash her feet”
Arm wrestling with audience members (across race, gender, and class)’ (p. 162)
‘Enlightened by the epistemologies of both blindness and seeing, it is possible to envisage the emergence of a prudent knowledge for a decent life, a knowledge that, by going from colonialism to solidarity, opens the space for a new kind of order, a noncolonialist or decolonial order bounding current experiences and expectations about the future, actions, and consequences. The ultimate aspiration is all too human, an aspiration that I call advanced normality: the aspiration to live in normal times whose normality does not derive from the naturalization of abnormality.’ (p. 163)
Did you think we’ll finish without consulting Hafez himself? No. But – sorry mum – I don’t have a Hafez so I asked my friend Leila to take a fal for us. She asked Hafez ‘What the hell is going to happen?’, ‘What the hell are we to do?’. And here is a verse from the response:
‘I said, Did you see how times of joy came to end?
She said, Be quiet, Hafez. This grief will also end.’
Tara Fatehi Irani (b. 1987, Tehran) makes art, writes and performs. Her practice explores the ephemeral interactions between memories, words, bodies and sites and has grown through transnational collaborations with a range of artists, writers, choreographers and musicians recently including Karen Christopher, Pouya Ehsaei, Station House Opera and DARC. She has performed at the Royal Academy of Arts, SPILL Festival, Battersea Arts Centre, Nuffield Theatre (Lancaster), Toynbee Studios, RichMix, HighFest and Molavi Theatre amongst others. Her practice-as-research PhD (University of Roehampton, LADA, 2019) explores mishandling archives through multivocality, pyromania, mythology and web‑archaeography. In 2021, she will be resident artist at EoFA and the United Nations Archives at Geneva.
Read a review of Empty Stages, Crowded Flats - Performativity as Curatorial Strategy by Beatrix Joyce.
‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats - Performativity as Curatorial Strategy’ addresses the newly established and growing field of performance curation. With the inclusion of twenty ‘case studies’ dating as far back as 1969, the articles chronicle the shift of performance out of the proscenium arch theatre and into alternative spaces of the public domain. By documenting a selection of ‘staged situations’, pilot projects and radical experiments, the compilation demonstrates the sheer wealth of possibilities within the curation of performance today.
In a refreshing mix of writing styles, creative descriptions and loose interpretations of the projects were placed alongside academic essays. Karin Harrasser playfully composed an ‘alternative alphabet’ as a means to reflect on performance and Tim Etchells’ entry read, much like his work at large, like poetic prose. In keeping with a progressive editorial approach, the terms ‘performance’ and ‘performativity’ were employed in multiple ways, hereby escaping an inflexible definition. Performance could refer both to its traditional connotation of ‘relating to the performing arts’ (dance, theatre, staged acts) and its adopted usage within the visual arts (Krakow’s happenings, Fluxus, un-staged acts). Its usage within social theory (‘performativity’ after Judith Butler) was also incorporated, hereby proving the term to be open and lucid, evidently crossing from the threshold of the arts into the realm of sociological and philosophical thought.
A recurring theme was the breaking down of the distinction between artist and curator. The adoption of performance works into the programmes of galleries and museums poses a challenge to the traditional functionality and alleged separation between the role of artist and curator. Increasingly, curators are working as freelancers and are employed per project while artists become self-organised and initiate their own, privately funded, crowd funded or non-funded projects. The relationship between artist and curator, as demonstrated by ‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats’, is no longer clear-cut and therefore calls for fresh understandings of what a given job role might entail.
Although touched on briefly with the mention of Tino Seghal, famously the first performance artist to have sold his pieces as art objects, hardly any attention was given to the financial structure of performance art. A reflection on the economic position of performance in relation to the capitalist, product-driven structure of the visual art world would have added an extra spark of contemplation. A prominent question within the field is undeniably the economic (in)compatibility of performance - would the introduction of new bureaucratic structures support and emancipate performance artists or would the wide-scale recreation of works from contracts disrupt or even destroy the magic of performance?
‘Empty Stages, Crowded Flats’ gave a brilliant insight into the practice of curating performance and prompted many questions that will undoubtedly gain weight in the years to come.
Empty Stages, Crowded Flats: Performativity as Curatorial Strategy is the fourth book of the publication series Performing Urgency. The series focuses on the relationship between theatre and politics, and asks: How can theatre engage in contemporary social and political issues without compromising art or politics? What kind of knowledge or impact can art generate that activism and theory alone cannot? What are the processes and methodologies of political theatre today? It aims at a broader discussion of the conditions, aesthetics, concepts, and topics of contemporary performing arts.
House on Fire, Alexander Verlag and Live Art Development Agency, 2017. 15.5 x 22.5cm, 159 pages, paperback with black and white photographs throughout.
Unbound is celebrating its 10th Anniversary in 2016 and it's fascinating to look back on shifts and developments in Live Art publishing and distribution that have taken place since 2006.
Although LADA were partners on two exceptional publications in 2002 (Manuel Vason’s Exposures) and 2004 (Adrian Heathfield’s Live: Art and Performance), we only became publishers ourselves in 2006 when we embarked on Programme Notes Volume One. Since then we have published over 100 books, DVDs, Box Sets and Editions, including our own publications, artists’ publications, and co-publications with major publishing houses including the Intellect Live series in collaboration with Intellect Books. And we are not alone. In recent years, in response to heightened public interest, expanding areas of scholarly research, new archival initiatives, and developments in technology and online platforms there has been a relative explosion in Live Art publishing.
Unbound reflects these developments. When we launched Unbound in 2006 we sold around 50 titles and we now stock over 300. We originally set up Unbound on the advice of Adrian Heathfield partly as a one stop shop for all thing Live Art, and partly as a form of advocacy for this constantly evolving and expanding area of practice that was increasingly generating new forms of thinking and writing about art and new ways of looking at performance.
We’ve always approached Unbound as a curated site in terms of the titles we sell, the way users can navigate through different themes, and the contextualising materials we offer. Although we do sell many books by major publishing houses, at the heart of Unbound are independent, artist led books, hard-to-find publications, DVDs and editions.
In 2010 as part of her LADA Thinker in Residency Mary Paterson wrote A Navigation Through Unbound, a piece I highly recommend to everyone who is interested in Live Art writing and publishing.
In 2010 we wrote an article for Contemporary Theatre Review on New Adventures in Live Art Publishing that is probably worth revisiting on the occasion of Unbound’s 10th anniversary.
Read Contemporary Theatre Review: New Adventures in Live Art Publishing and Distribution
'doing it again... and again... and again...' by Robert Daniels
In 2012 I decided to put together a book. A book about a kind of work called "DIY": 'do it yourself' Theatre and Performance.
What compelled me to write about DIY theatre and performance was simple: it was a loosely defined label, style, ethos, and sometimes provocation, for something I felt I did with my company Bootworks, and as a teacher in higher education, and I wanted to explore the term further. I also saw it in various ways in the work and practice of a lot of my peers. I wanted to try and develop the critical and contextual understanding into something more 'defined'.
Following their reading of Pleading in the Blood: The Art and Performances of Ron Athey, the artist, writer and curator Andrea Pagnes (VestAndPage) and Lisa Newman have written a response to Ron Athey's perfomance Incorruptible Flesh: Messianic Remains.