NN: We – Nu Nu – feel close to your idea of invented and un-authorised institution, which is how you define your Museum.
We do things in very different ways – you a nd us – very different, yet there’s a lot we might have in common, we believe.
Your institution shares with our CASL
(Centre for Actors in a Second Language) the imagined, the ‘hoping for’ trait. CASL – CASTLE is a place where actors in a second language imaginarily retreat, exist and fulfil their potential. Like the Museum, CASL seeks to subvert the Grand Narrative of Real-ism in theatre, which teaches us that characters/actors/performers have nationality, history, biography.
Museum of Artificial Histories and CASL are imagined to be INTERSTITIAL PLACES that really have a contour. Their initiators believe that they can really illuminate those places of somewhere in-between the wish to undermine the dichotomy real – artificial and the nostalgia of wanting to be – just be. The creators of the two institutions are hopeful to give a shape to what tantalises us as being un-shape-able: that undisting- uishable moment of passage from the ‘authentic’ reality to its (most probably) concomitant leap into a hyper-real-ised production of itself.
We like the fact that you lecture. Your lectures in the naked bare similarities perhaps to our lectures about how theatre feels like dead in us. Your nakedness is a different kind of explaining, of arguing your argument. Now – when we are writing – we look at your tape round your arm in a still of your video for Artificial Mother. The tape round your arm is part of the lecture in the same way we talk about how you have to feel that theatre has died in you before even start thinking of working in theatre. Your app for dominant languages and your ‘fairly believable digital voice’ is not far from our trying to fool ourselves and the audience that
we could actually be perceived/received on the same level with the ‘native’ actors.
MD: I am interested in the way that your imaginary institution also functions (in what I have interpreted) as an imaginary space or place (i.e. an “imaginary retreat”). For me, I am interested in subverting the idea of a Museum, so often associated with a physical space that stores material objects, as an abstraction, an “imaginary” space for encounter… therefore, though it is tempting to imagine what a large-scale 5 story Museum of Artificial Histories would look like <and where it would be based, and what kinds of collections it would host> I think it is far more pertinent, even URGENT for me to embrace the idea of the Museum as wholly virtual, a mental projection, even the Museum as “performance” (and the questions of how a Museum can be performed). Andrea Fraser has done some incredible work on this regard. But when you speak of “imaginary retreats” where people can “exist and fulfill their potential” you are relating your fiction to a structure, an imagined time and place that occupies “duration”. Can you explain, or explore, or depict what kind of encounter this retreat can be ? And how you conceive of fulfilling one’s potential ? This is very interesting language, often used by organizations that have a pre-destined concept of what one’s potential
is and can be… And what does an imaginary “retreat” look like ? Do you actualize this in material reality or does it maintain itself as abstraction ? Could I undergo a Retreat ?
NN: You could definitely undergo such a retreat – the instant you decide to perform using a second (non- native) language. The place is imaginary in the sense that it is contained somewhere within the distance between the aspiration (of the actor) for a sense of artistic fulfilment/plenitude in that particular performance act and the physical limitations of such aspirations (which in our case is the mastery of language in performance). This place/this locality does entertain a rapport with some form of structured mode. However, the time and place that support the structuring mode are very concrete – they relate to the actor’s body (mainly to the enunciation, verbal flux and uttering) as place of occurrence and to the time of the performance principally (as that is the time when the ‘retreat’ is in an ‘active’, transformative or
operational mode). The actor’s body, tongue, breath, articulation, etc. help give physical dimension to the ‘retreat’ – both in performance and outside of it. The existence of this retreat is fully
dependant on the actor’s physical existence/being – the retreat therefore cannot exist (or pertain structure but according to the internality of that particular actor. For every actor the retreat will be structured differently. CASL is the place where we would like to
ideally gather traces of these retreats – memories of them, tellings of them, examples of them. Therefore, CASL should look like a very intimate mapping – or radiography – of individual retreats.
MD: You speak of characters/actors/performers without nationality /history/biography. This illuminates another unique problem of the Museum. In order to mimic, or explore the space of “authorized knowledge” I have invented authorized experts, and constructed
an entire Museum staff with a range of knowledge expertise that differs with and queers dominant models/ wings of the Museum such as: The Messiah Complex <dealing with messianic constructions>, The Genesis Complex <dealing with myths of origin and the entire concept of “beginning”> the Center for Prophecy Analysis, and the INFRARED Institute for the Study of Trauma and Religion. Each of these sections have invented directors and staff with credentials from fictional institutions and occupy a positionality that is entirely post-human (performing various species from my invented mythos). I have been exploring my
inclination to mimic the systems of nationality/history/biography in the fields of culture to subvert them through elaborate fictions. But perhaps your model attempts to disrupt the entirety of the narratives that accompany our constructions of “performed identities”… Can you explain/perform/excavate what individuals can look like without that sort of accompanying narrative ? How do you define “one’s potential” ??
NN: We are fully aware that characters/actors/performers without nationality/history or biography may not become accomplished in the grand narrative as you see it. They are indeed products of lab experiments, theatrical experiments, imaginative/utopian projects and so on. This problematic is proving quite tricky,
particularly in the West and particularly in the context of Intercultural theatre production. The formulas used by the famous architects of Interculturalism in theatre – Brook, Barba or Mnouchkine are the best examples
perhaps – have proved very problematic. They did encourage the creation of nationless, history-less, and biography-less characters (and by extension actors), however their fundamental fault has been in their approach. They have undertaken the very hard task of creating (which equates with giving materiality) to such actors and characters via a directorial (therefore an overly narrational) approach, considering therefore the spectacle before the actor/performer, who is ontically at the base of spectacle. As a result, they have had to produce theatrical constructions that very much depicted and claimed to be a theatrum mundi – inevitably a subsidiary playing out of the political, economic, social, artistic tensions and imbalances on the Globe. We instead focus on the actor as potential generator of nation-ness, history-less, etc. Not fully in a practical, material sense though. But in as much as favourable contexts (text, audience, location, etc.) may encourage an avoidance of such criteria and narratives. Therefore, the creation of nation-less, history-less and biography- less is a moment of complicity between actor and its audience leading to the temporary and mutual suspension of such conventions: we forget who we are (actors) and we forget who we are (audience). This all depends on a willingness to reach this point of suspension but also on very concrete factors (social transformations in a certain community for example) This moment of suspension of belief/narrative is the one which crucially defines ‘one’s potential’ as a second language actor.
MD: The word Interstice is one of great importance to me and my work. My entire trajectory seeks to occupy
an in-between space, but by occupying it and marking it as a space it partially loses its interstitial nature…
This is an important problem for me. As soon as we name it, part of its’ autonomy dies. Hakim Bey’s concept
of the Temporary Autonomous Zone is perhaps important here… it is an autonomous space that can only be a ctualized in temporality : as soon as it becomes solid, or concrete, or formed, it loses at least a portion of the fire of it’s inception. It is the ritual task of the “Revolution” to take all manner of existing, dominant systems and disrupt them in a chaotic upheaval : throwing things to and fro, thus birthing new problems and new systems
and new hybrids. Often within these fires of rapid and insurmountable change, dominant “institutions” are destroyed, “idols” are recognized, deemed false, and massacred, and then after the dust has settled, “NEW” institutions come to take the place of the old ones. As a side note, it is incredibly interesting that new religions when colonizing old ones, historically, most often appropriate the temples of the old religion and update them with the new iconography and precepts. Therefore, as we undoubtedly share a fascination with the “un-shape- able” we both, in our respective projects, do in some ways “give shape” to this mutating hybrid by naming, and institutionalizing it… For me, Queer Theory is especially helpful here, because it occupies a positionally within the rubric of dominant ideology (i.e it is authorized by academic and cultural institutions) and yet by its very nature it defies categorization and definition. In that way I believe it occupies its interstitial nature and attempts to maintain its’ mutating hybridity and constant temporality. A relevant quotation from theorist Shoshana Felman : “The scandal consists in the fact that the act cannot know what it is doing”. How do you react to/respond to the problem of shaping the un-shapeable ? as a performative and political act ??
NN: It has never been our aim to shape the un-shapable. Not because we do not believe that such an act may be possible (although this should be reason for further meditation) but because we do feel that by trying to do such a thing we would almost surely deny ourselves that state/frame of mind in which you really are (or can be) capable of contact with this ‘un-shapable’. From a performative point of view, we believe that there is not much to be done in the direction of giving shape to the un-shapable: the crevasse in the perception/recepation
of language by the audience begins existing with the simple utterance. Therefore the un-shapeable is already there – in our tongues that are wrongly (from the point of view of the native) twisting and phoneme-ing. Theoretically, there is no other political and performative structuring that needs to be done, we believe.
We put on stage Hamlet for example: theoretically there is no political or performative structuring/shaping needed to be done – second language will do it for us! Any eventual structuring that might need to follow – so that as to aesthetically sustain such a powerful and well-known text – is only in line with the audience’s expectations and how you imagine or want that audience to be. When you have started to speak Hamlet in English as a second language a political and performative shaping has already started and it encapsulates the shaping done by all the individual actors/tongues of the performance. Hamlet c’est moi! That is enough to say if you’re an actor in a second language. The mistake that Brook and all the others I have mentioned did was perhaps that they were directors.
MD: I am very interested in your quotation that “you have to feel that theatre has died in you before you even start thinking of working in theatre”. This is fascinating, because I believe I always knew that theatre was dead… Despite a predilection towards “the stage” I chose the disciplinary path of “visual arts” and almost immediately began to gravitate towards the “performative” dimensions of that space. Though performance art and theatre have many crossovers, I think I aligned to my “disciplinary categorization” because I wasn’t interested
in the illusion language of dominant cultural performativity (i found the theatrical conventions and spaces
to be entirely pre-meditated and scripted.. As a visual artist I was trained to examine every object and every environment as essential ingredients to the meaning of the work (i.e. how its made is what it means).
I resisted any overt relationship to to the stage (an elevated platform) the audience (seating to create passivity in audience) and space (the theatrical infrastructure i.e. lighting, set, acts, effects)… Now, however, I am occupying and exploring these dynamics in the same way a sculptor explores meaning-laden objects
(such as flags, weapons, animals, etc.). And increasingly I have been working at the intersection between theatre and live art, inevitably having to work within these pre-scripted environments, however coming at it with a different perspective. I wonder if you can elaborate upon the “death of theatre” and articulate what has,
if anything, taken it’s place, or, alternately, how its trajectory is shifting after its ritual death ? Does your work,
or my work, or the work of other practitioners who have acknowledged this death, participate in a sort of “ritual resurrection” ? Or are we simply creating effigies of what theatre, and the theatrical impulse once was ??
NN: We believe that we are all more or less involuntary priests at various altars, albeit some of us play the roles of contesters or denouncers (as you might do, perhaps) of theatre’s insufficiency and insolvency as a form. Us, on the other hand, say that theatre has to die for us, since we see ourselves as custodians of defunct theatrical elements only. We are not saying that theatre has died as a form (although that can be argued by many and quite convincingly) but we feel that we cannot exit our sort of pre-destined function of mortuary workers in theatre. Our only task is to deal with the dead bits of theatre (older or younger) – we are somehow artistically disabled. We do not work with the ‘living’ theatre, as we are impotent to do so. We acknowledge the fact that
there might be ‘living’ theatre somewhere. We are actually sure there is. But if the world of theatre would be a huge hospital, we are working exclusively in the autopsy room, with the cadavers. We have a separate entry and we never get to see the patients ‘alive’. So much so, that we’ve grown to believe that all patients are cadavers. Perhaps one day we will wake up from this illusion (if it is one). The fear is that ‘living’ theatre for us would then be a completely foreign land, in which we would be too old and mechanised in our death procedures to be able to exist anew. Whether we are creating effigies or not, is a mystery – we can only hope that one day we will come
out of the autopsy room.
NN: Could you detail the relation you envisage between artificial and fictional with regards to the Museum?
We, as theatre makers, tend to see artificiality from a point of view of the concordance or non-concordance within
a certain framework of belief (be it a story, character, etc.). How is an artificial history developed and what is the rol of fiction in such a project?
MD: “Artificial” is a crucial term for my work and for the entire project of re-examining history. The Oxford Dictionary defines Artifice as “Made or produced by human beings rather than occurring naturally, especially
as a copy of something natural.” This proposes interesting problems, particularly in the dimensions of “natural history”, and spawning outwards to archaeology, anthropology and the study of “history” itself. As soon as “objects” are taken out of either the natural world (i.e the skins of animals or the buried remnants of an ancient civilization) they undergo “museological makeovers” utilizing highly advanced technology to slow “natural” decay and to highlight or animate particular, canonized interpretations which are then stylistically imposed utilizing the museological aesthetic. Then, layers upon layers of complex scholarly research is compacted utilizing a whole other set of devices, into short, easy, accessible “factual” information. The public then experiences the theatricality of the object and its’ history in an almost identical fashion to seeing an epic Hollywood historical film : except the difference is the Museological presentation is somewhow deemed legitimate because, predominantly, “historically” a group of “qualified” white males have “approved” this history. By utilizing the same mechanical
and stylistic alchemical procedures that Museums do, The Museum of Artificial History imbues “fake” historical objects with the same aura that “real” objects are permitted, this calling into question the inherent fiction of all authorized information.
NN: What is the relation between the hyper-real (synthetic) and the ‘genuine’ played out by the Museum? Is there a direct interest to uncover for us how mythologies become histories (and inherently the politics of this transformational process)? Or is it that the Museum remains concerned only with showing alternative ways in which to ingest knowledge? If so, what do you think the Museum’s long term impact might be?
MD: The Museum resists any inherent claim for any history, or artifact, or mythology to be inherently genuine. Ingenuity is the Art of making things appear genuine. This is the stylistic alchemy I refer to in the previous response. Perhaps the most important long-term goal of the Museum is contained within its mandate to PLURALIZE the process of History. Therefore, its’ aims are to “attempt” to contain multiple histories, contradictory histories, imbuing all of these histories with the same authoritative aesthetic, and proposing a model wherein Museum ‘exhibitions’ become active sites of contestation rather than affirmative “glass coffins” of a single pre- selected idea. Mythologies and Histories are constantly mutating, and the Museum seeks to be a site of encounter
wherein the performance of the shedding of skins happens live, ritually and regularly, and where the skins, after being shed, are collected and interpreted in a variety of means. If I were to envisage the long-term “impact” of the project it would be, perhaps, to maintain a site of Authorized Contestation, wherein the arguments never settle but continue in a sort of ideological “open source” format (ad infinitum).
NN: You seem to refuse to the Museum an outright institutional face. You seem to prefer to keep it in the realm of playing/realising fictions and artificialities with the scope of dismembering Dominant Narratives. You however do not propose any post-dismemberment ways ahead. Is this a particular political statement? Who do you think will pick up the pieces after what you have dismembered? Will these pieces be located in a Museum, as artefacts, remnants or will it be down to you again to reorganise these pieces in a new narrative?
MD: I think of the Museum as an on-going, endless excavation. I believe, in order to maintain criticality whilst immersing oneself within The Alexandrian Library of Grand Narratives that have infected, infiltrated and dominated the “Human Story”, one must see the process as permanently dismembered, we must learn to become