BY FRANS JACOBI
Welcome, please come inside. What we are going to do now is a kind of participatory performance. Oh, My God, you may think. Am I now to perform myself? What I want you to do, is to lie down on your back and close your eyes. All of you – in this space. This is actually the only act that you are going to do, it’s not more difficult than that. This is perfect. Thank you very much. Okay, then I need you to close your eyes. Welcome. Relax.Mind-travel & Grounding
What I am going to do with you – I don’t know if any of you have been doing yoga? At the end of a yoga session you might be resting, closing your eyes and then the instructor takes you on what they call a mind-travel. So, you just have to follow me as I guide you through a kind of landscape. Try to follow my words and imagine where we are going. First, we going to do a kind of grounding, to let us all know where this mind-travel is starting. We start here, in this space, right now.
Occupy – active and passive
This performance is called ‘Occupy’, and that is what we are going to do. Here. As a collaborative act. We are going to occupy this space and this building for a moment of time. The word occupy has a kind of strange double meaning. It is both active and passive at the same time. One version of the word occupy is to be occupied by something. I am interested in something and then I am occupied by that thing. It is a passive act: to be occupied by something. Of course, occupy is also an active word, it’s an act, you can occupy something, for instance are we now occupying this space. At the same time, you are also occupied by my talk. In a sense you are in between the passive and the active act. This is something to keep in mind while we are travelling. The active and passive aspects of the word occupy.
First, we are to ground ourselves in the institutional terrain, that we are occupying today. We are here inside Bergen Kunsthall. It is a world famous, high international standard, art space. It is a public institution, it’s very well respected, funded by public money. A high-class art space; it is the art space in this part of Norway, and it has all the classic signifiers of the perfect art space. I have been strolling around this afternoon in the empty spaces of Bergen Kunsthall: It is the perfect art space, it is the art space every artist is dreaming of. The other institution that is hosting us today, is something called PAB – Performance Art Bergen. PAB is very opposite to Bergen Kunsthall. Performance Art Bergen is a small organization run by performance artists, what we in Danish and Norwegian would call ‘ildsjæle’. They are persons who are doing a lot of work for no pay, for their own dream or some kind of idealistic goal. Performance Art Bergen is a self-organized entity, with people who have their hearts and minds in it. This Performance Festival is organized by Performance Art Bergen and hosted by Bergen Kunsthall.
How does it feel?
So maybe while you are lying here – of course you knew all these things, as you came in through the door – but how does it feel? In your body? These two institutions? Bergen Kunsthall? Where in your body is Bergen Kunsthall? Is it in your brain? Or is it further down? In the stomach? Where is Performance Art Bergen? Is it in the heart? Or is it in the knees? Is it somewhere in the legs? Try, each of you, to locate this institutional terrain in your body? Feel it in your body.
What is really beautiful about these spaces is of course the whiteness. This space is the perfect white cube. Now, the white cube is a special quality, a special term in contemporary art. It was invented by the writer Brian O’Doherty in 1976. He wrote a very famous book called ‘Inside the White Cube’, criticizing the white cube, that he saw as a signifier of high modernist art. The white cube is the perfect space for abstraction; abstract art, abstract painting, abstract sculpture or abstract sound. Abstraction situated perfectly inside the white cube. Now, let’s make a small improvisation: If you all open your eyes and look straight up, you will see a grid of light, this grid is connected to the white cube, it is the perfect abstraction. In the sixties, when the white cube was somehow at its peak, the grid was: The grid of minimalism.
Think about this: minimalism, the grid, the white cube, the whiteness. Close your eyes again, and then feel how this abstraction elevates you. How this can be a lightness in your body. You are maybe hovering above the floor, elevating a little bit. The abstraction, the purity and the whiteness is something that lift our bodies. Try to feel that abstraction.
Return of the Real
Now 1976 is a long time ago, is it thirty or is it actually forty years ago? That’s kind of crazy. So nowadays, the white cube might have a completely different meaning, a different function. Already in the nineties came what was termed ‘The Return of the Real’. Hal Foster wrote this very famous book, that changed the fate of art completely. Instead of art creating an abstract metaphysical space outside of society the artists were now supposed to fill the art spaces – the white cubes and what also arrived back then, the black box. Fill it up with society. All of a sudden, we had a lot of art that was realistic, political, fueled by social problems. Art was even social in itself; the audience was invited inside, to take part in the art. A completely different way of using the art space. The return of the real. Now the artist was supposed to be a critical member of society and the art was to be a critical engagement with the reality outside in society.
Try to feel that shift, from the elevated, abstract body. Where is that position? And to that kind of reality. Is it a heaviness that weights your body down to the floor? To the grains of the floor? Or how does it feel? The return of the real.
I myself is an artist of that generation, who returned to the real. So, I have been trying for the last, maybe 20 years, to develop that critical practice, which is really difficult sometimes. I don’t how many of you here are artists? Most of you are artists or working with art somehow? Related to art? Art students? So, we are all part of this art community? Maybe all of us struggling with that question? How can we develop a critical practice?
The problem with an art space and art in our society is of course that it needs money. Now, we all need money to produce something, we all need money to continue a critical practice. Where does the money come from? The money comes from society. In Scandinavia, it comes from the state. It comes from the tax-payers. In other countries, it comes from private companies or even from private persons; rich people. So, how can we develop a critical practice within a system, funded by the very same structures, that we are criticizing? This art event, this place, this performance festival is funded by Norwegian public money, Bergen Kunsthall is funded by public money, most of us inside this space are to varying degrees funded by public money. I am paid by public money to this performance. Yes, I am actually getting money to do it. I am performing tax-payer’s money right now. How can we deal with that problem of performing the money of society and at the same time attempting an alternative, critical position to that same society? What is happening with that balance of art and money?
Try to feel in your body this conflict between the energy we need to survive, the energy we need to work, the economy we need to survive on, and then that artistic creative position, most of us try to develop, the critical position opposing the very economy we are depending on. Try to feel that balance, try to feel these two different energies roaming wild in your body, maybe even in your mind.
The hope we have about this problem is that….no, let me take this another way: The strange thing about being an artist and doing exhibitions or performances or whatever, is that the society who finances this – and in Scandinavia and especially in Norway we are actually really well financed most of us – there are lots of money to be had to do very strange, critical stuff, even revolutionary stuff. It is a strange fact, that the same taxpayers, who are feeding us, are completely un-interested in what we are doing. An audience like this today, who is mainly an audience of the art community – I think…maybe there is one or two other persons here…I don’t know. The hope would be, that you are inside an art institution, and then the critical creativity, somehow seeps out into society and creates change out there. Maybe it doesn’t work instantly, it doesn’t go very fast, but maybe it seeps out and actually things are changing – because of the work we are doing for the tax-payers money? This would be the ideal situation, we are researching, exercising critical creativity. A laboratory of revolutionary ideas; and these ideas – they don’t change anything immediately, but slowly they will seep out into society. That would be perfect. This is what we hope for, some of us at least.
But there are other days, where you feel that a white cube like this – even a white cube like Bergen Kunsthall, the perfect art place – is like a container where you put all the discontent of society, and then it stays there and nothing will happen. So why they are funding us – in that sense – is because if they fund us to play around inside this white cube, nothing will happen out there in society.
So, this is the grounding. This is the problem. This is where we are. Try to feel that kind of frustration inside you. For some of us it a big frustration, for other maybe it’s just a small itch, somewhere in the body. For some it’s like a bitter, black bile flowing around the body with the blood. Bitterness. Darkness. It takes over. Why are we doing this? What is the meaning? What the shit are we doing? For others, it’s just a small itch somewhere, maybe on the elbow, or somewhere on your knee or on your feet? It’s not that bad, we can continue. Still, somehow. This is the place where we are now. Lying in this perfect white cube and there is an itch of something that doesn’t really fit.
Now we are grounded, now we can try to imagine doing something differently. So, imagine that instead of dreaming, we would actually give ourselves power, we would empower ourselves, all of us together here today, we could do something else with our art? We could actually change something.
I went to Brazil a couple of months ago. In Brazil, there has been a political coup. The right wing has fired the president, Dilma, based on false accusations. They have taken over society, and are now changing it rapidly. What the artists did in Brazil, in April or May, is that they occupied all of the art administration offices in the whole country. Brazil is more or less as big as Europe is, I think there is 26 states in Brazil and each of these states have an arts administration, like the Arts Council here. The artists – the musicians, the visuals artists, the performers, the painters and the writers – they occupied all these places for two or three months. Here is a quote: “We reaffirm that the public space is the place of the political fight and that these occupations are legitimate and necessary”.
What they are claiming is that art is actually a public space and what is said inside the art-space by artists is a statement that makes a difference for society. Imagine having that power.
What I suggest, right now, is that we are occupying Bergen Kunsthall. At this moment Bergen Kunsthall is occupied! By us. We take over. Out on the front I have put up a banner that says ‘Liberated area’. We liberate this institution from its place in society as it is. We claim that what we do as artists is being done in public space. Our communication is public: It is part of society and it matters.
Such an act as occupying a public institution is an act of civil disobedience. In the quote, there was this word ‘legitimate’. In civil disobedience, there is this line between something that is illegal and something that is legitimate. Something can be illegal in the eyes of society, but it can be legitimate in the eyes of the people who do it. It is an act for the better, for a better world. This occupation is a legitimate occupation. We do it in the name of inclusion and hope. We want art to be inclusive and hopeful. It’s open for everybody and it’s a public affair. Now Bergen Kunsthall is occupied by these people. Us. It’s a new, completely new situation.
Think about that. Try to feel that in your body. In our bodies. How we, all of us here have become free artists or art workers or whatever we want to do in this building, our building. Feel in your body how this freedom – is it elevating us? Changing us? Is it making us into one big collective body? Can you feel each other together here in this space? Right now. Try to embody this occupation.
Real or imaginary?
Then, before we stop, I will leave you with one question, you might take with you home: Is this occupation we have been doing – that we are doing right now – is this a real occupation? Or is it an imaginary occupation? I think that is up for each of you, each of us, to decide.
With that question in mind you may now open your eyes. I will leave you with a last sentence, it’s in Danish. It is a quote by the dead poet Michael Strunge, who fell out of a window in 1982 after writing a book of poems with this title: WE UNFOLD THE BANNERS OF OUR DREAMS
Full transcript of verbal text of the ‘Occupy’ performance by Frans Jacobi, October 14, 2016 at the Bergen International Performance Festival, Bergen Kunsthall, Norway